2020 Honda CRF250RX Review
We race test Honda’s latest CRF250RX and revisit the fun and challenges of GNCC racing.
Photography by Ken Hill, Jesse Ziegler and Phoenix Racing Honda
Three laps. That was a long-ass time during the morning race at the Ironman GNCC in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Three laps took me two hours, 42 minutes and 39.820 seconds. I felt every tick of the clock in oft-cramping hip flexors. But, people spend a lot of money to sit in mud for nearly three hours. So, what am I complaining about?
At the end of the morning race, we were soggy tired messes. Unrecognizable, really. And the brand-new Honda CRF250RX I was testing looked like an archeological artifact yet to be extracted. But we made it to the finish where my respect for the GNCC world, Honda’s CRF250RX and riding in the mud, was taken to a new level.
Oh, how my little motorcycle friend and I bonded. This was my first GNCC on a Honda, and it was certainly memorable.
The Honda CRF250RX is one of my favorite CRF models. It’s fun and feisty without all that 450RX nonsense of trying to smash me about (not the Honda’s fault, really, but the fault of all that 450 power). For 2020, Honda updated components and systems on the open-course CRF250RX racer to make it more competitive. Engine updates give the bike more torque across the rpm range and dedicated ignition maps for each gear are now in play to keep the red rocket ripping. It has a new exhaust system, new air filter, new mapping, new transmission ratios and surface treatments, increased clutch integrity and chassis updates, as well. It even has a larger radiator this year. Yes, the 2020 CRF250RX is really, really new even though it was totally new about a year ago.
Admittedly, the only legitimate review I can give of the little machine from Indiana is that it held up to nearly three hours of the worst non-stop competition abuse I could possibly put it through. It was very much a survival race—fighting for positions were more about battling for a slot in the only “good” lines around the root-laden and rutted course. Passing was attrition based. With the passer taking advantage of the inevitable ground inspection of others. It’s just survival when it gets this way and we survived!
Here are a few standout performers from the bike:
2020 Honda CRF250RX Review | The Clutch
After the first few turns and spastically flopping through the trees, I was sure the day would end with a clutch as toasty as my continental breakfast. There is simply no way around nearly murdering the poor plates in these conditions. Since I was aware of this early, 80% of my bike control attention went to keeping my hand off the damn clutch lever. Still, there were times it was hammer the clutch or sink, and I chose to hammer. The clutch certainly faded, but a few turns on the quick adjuster gave me some bite back and when I felt comfortable enough to release it, I was happy to back off the tension, too. I don’t know how much life is left in the stack now, but it’s not a lot. Just enough to get to the checkered flag, I suppose. I mean, I had at least two miles per lap where my legs were out to the sides like ski-laden outriggers as the bike tracked through axle-deep ruts. Clutching was necessary to get up-and-over hidden logs, rocks and ledges marred in the ruts.
2020 Honda CRF250RX Review | The Engine
I do think the improvements made to the power delivery on the 2020 Honda CRF250RX are in the right direction. The Honda 250 powerplant has always been a midrange money maker, leaving something to be desired in the bottom and top departments for all-out speedsters and a less-than-exciting ride compared to others. It’s been hard to beat on a fun factor, however, and the same holds true. Hopefully, the updates Honda has made will make it a more well-rounded racer across the nation and in conditions where you can actually feel that sort of thing. Our time in Indiana was spent with me mostly apologizing to the engine as I blatantly ignored its wails. Still, during our tortuous time together, the Honda never did me wrong. It stalled a few times—understandably. But, I mean, the clutch abuse!
2020 Honda CRF250RX Review | Chassis / Suspension
As GNCCs go, this was remarkably low-speed and smooth (in a sense). Generally, you’ll be hitting roots and ruts at a good clip when the flag waves at the GNCC party and compliant suspension (for mortals) is welcome around the halfway point. I’ve ridden the CRF250RX enough in the dry to know it’s probably right in the nice zone of compliant yet stiff enough to handle a g-out or annoying jump miscalculation. Ergonomics are homey and the Honda feels great to ride. The biggest snafu I have with the Honda off-road platform is the placement of the 2.2 gallons of fuel. When full, the weight balance of the bike is placed high in the chassis. It gives the bike an unnecessary top-heavy feel, but this is with all the RX, X and L models of the CRF lineup. You can’t get around it with the perimeter frame and stock tanks.
I went in knowing it was up to the bike to survive this race—it wouldn’t be pretty, and I couldn’t baby it. It kept pace just fine and got me to the finish in a well-earned fifth place in class (Sportsman A Senior 25+) even after I stopped for a pee break on the last lap. This is a completely stock bike save for hand guards and heavy duty tubes. I’m not sure, but I think Honda owes me some contingency for that finish!?
Given the rampant updates, and my previous fondness for the little Honda (I think Honda’s GNCC racing future is looking bright. Especially if you consider the Phoenix Racing Honda team’s long-term plans.
Phoenix Racing Honda
Honda’s official GNCC race team is run by Phoenix Racing Honda, which provided our race-base and bike setup at the Ironman GNCC for our first review of the 2020 Honda CRF250RX. Most well-known in ATV MX and Arenacross worlds (where they are 2019 champions in both with Joel Hetrick in ATV and Jace Owen in Kicker Arenacross), the Salisbury, North Carolina-based team is going full-steam into GNCC in 2020.
Andrew Delong is their XC1 top dog with a storied XC2 win list, a National Enduro championship and plenty of off-road credibility. Delong is coming into 2020 as healthy as he’s been in a long time. His 2019 race season was a rebirth, of sorts, after a serious wrist injury in 2015. His consistency in the top-10 every round and seventh overall in the championship will have the Phoenix Racing Honda big rig on the main pit row in 2020. And that’s all part of the plan according to team owner David Eller.
Eller, a general contractor business owner, owns and manages the Phoenix Racing Honda program, and he knows it’s going to take time to contend with the dominant European teams. But he’s investing in people that know off-road, like longtime Johnny Campbell Racing technician Eric Siraton and the veteran racer, Delong. His goal is to bring in more XC2 racers and build them up through the system, as Delong keeps them in the top 10 in XC1. Soon enough, he thinks, they’ll be winning races. He certainly seems like he’s in it for the long haul.
GNCC Racing 101
Racing a GNCC is a rite of passage for every off-road racer. It’s something that should be done to wake you from your comfort zone. It will hurt (but in a good way). And it is very humbling. But for some twisted dopamine-induced reasoning, you’ll really want to go back and do it again.
The Ironman GNCC is one of the most impressive venues to see a gathering of off-road motorcycle racing citizens in the United States. The Ironman gives you real perspective of the Heartland’s undeniable off-road market and depth of talent—a valid reputation that is often overshadowed by inaccurate perceptions of where the heart of American off-road motorcycle culture lives. This event should be on your must-race list, for sure. I’ve been lucky enough to race it twice now.
If you live in California, like me and much of the motorcycle industry, you may consider GNCC racing as woods races of sorts—competitions in tight trees with mud holes and a bunch of people drinking out of hydration packs behind hand guards until they hit the finish and start drinking beer. And you’re not wrong. That’s what I do at most GNCC races.
What you won’t realize until you personally invest yourself into the intensity of GNCC competition is, A: how many people are there and, B: how gnarly it really is. Make no mistake; GNCC racing is brutal, fast, and the competition is fierce. And it’s massive. During my morning race session there were over 600 riders on staggered lines waiting for a chance at a nearly impassable course of waterlogged soybeans and autumn leaf mulch. Six. Hundred.
GNCC racing is the hardest form of off-road racing in the United States. This claim is backed by pseudo-science I conducted earlier in the decade when I raced every series, tracked heart-rate data and noted my state of despair at the conclusion of each event. When you calculate intensity plus fatigue, taking in consideration for how beat up the pro racecourse is when they race, GNCC racing beats you down most. The pro-ranks are made up of absolute beasts.
There are scarier races (NHHA and SCORE quickly come to mind), faster paced races (WORCS, NGPC, etc.) and more grueling races from an all-day endurance standpoint (National Enduro), and there are certainly more technical events that test your bike handling skills to a different level (EnduroCross, Extreme Enduro, etc.). But in the down-and-dirty grit of what’s just plain hard—GNCC takes the cake. The pace is fast, the duration is forever, and the courses are often unpleasant and riddled with obstacles. Just for fun, it sometimes rains like a hurricane. I’ve raced them with frost on the ground, and I’ve been in sweltering heat in the Florida sand with no whoop end in sight. There is no warmup lap or transfer section. There is a dead-engine start and then checkered flags wave at two hours for normal people and three hours from the top dogs who are far from normal.
If you haven’t raced a GNCC before (like a few of my media colleagues on this trip), I highly recommend it. You will come away with newfound respect for the racers and in awe of the massive participation. Being around families, teams and manufactures (motorcycle and accessory) that commit so much to their favorite racing series makes you feel good about the future of off-road.
Go GNCC Racing. You will bang bars and have contact with fellow racers. In the trees. Sometimes at speed. You will also possibly be lapped so practice holding your line and getting out of the way respectfully. Depending on your bike, you may need to do a gas stop for the two-hour race—which is fun, and I recommend doing it no matter what so you can feel cool (it also allows you to rest). CN
2020 Honda CRF250RX Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single
||DOHC, 4-valve, 33mm intake, titanium; 26mm exhaust, titanium
|Bore x Stroke:
||79.0 x 50.9mm
||Programmed fuel-injection system (PGM-FI); 44mm throttle bore
||#520 sealed chain; 13T/48T
||49mm Showa coil-spring fork; fully adjustable
||Single shock Showa, Pro-Link; fully adjustable
||Single 260mm disc, 2-piston
||Single 240mm disc, 1-piston
||Dunlop Geomax AT81 80/100-21 in.
||Dunlop Geomax AT81 110/100-18 in.
|Rake / Trail:
||27°18 in. / 4.5 in.
|Weight (curb, claimed):