All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day
What do you do when you get a chance to ride a motorcycle you've been drooling over, but you can only have it for 100 miles? It's tough finding twisty, technical roads within 50 miles of Lakeville's Motoprimo, but finding the kind of roads and traffic a rider will encounter as a daily commuter bike was an easy task. I decided to ride to Red Wing for lunch.
The most competent and attractive CBR250R sitting at the head of the line at Motoprimo (WR250X in the background, as another standard of beauty.
The CBR250R is a 369 pound, single-cylinder, small sportbike with a lot of technology under the tank. The 23-hp CBR idles at 1500 rpm and, hauling my 200+ pounds from a dead stop stop required spinning the motor up to 3,000 rpm with some clutch work for smooth and quick transitions. If you like motorcycles with lots of low end torque, this won't be your can of oil. At a radar-verified 60mph the engine is turning 6,200 rpm. The motor is still pulling in 6th gear above 70mph, so I think the little 250 is a capable commuter. Redline and the rev-limiter coexist at 10.5k.
Honda claims there are 27 patents behind the power plant's motor, so this is an unusual little engine. The fuel injection makes itself known from when you turn the key as the bike goes through it's self-inspection routine while the fuel pump powers up. The engine fires up on the first bump of the starter and pulls evenly at all engine speeds and with all but the most unrealistic loads (like hauling my butt up Red Wing's Prairie Island Blvd in 6th gear). The first break-in tank burned fuel at a 55mpg rate and I would expect that to improve slightly with age.
The six-speed transmission is smooth, positive, and flawless. The clutch is light with a large, predictable friction zone that should be extremely new-rider-friendly. Shifting the CBR was as effortless and intuitive as any motorcycle I've ever ridden. The power train is incredibly smooth. I had a hard time "feeling" the engine speed and found myself checking the tach regularly to verify my gear selection.
The front and rear disk brakes are strong, but have an extremely progressive feel. If you make an effort you can haul the bike down from 60 to 0 quickly, but Honda has designed the CBR to be new-rider-friendly and that means the brakes are more "friendly" than "aggressive." They do the job well, but they won't surprise you if you are a little heavy handed.
The firm, seat, narrow frame, and modified sportbike riding position produces an adult-comfortable sport-riding stance that allows the rider some freedom of movement. I was comfortable on the firm seat and could have done at least another 150 miles for the day. The riding position is a little hard on old knees, but less so than a full-out sportbike. The CBR does lean you into the wind, so if your abs and back muscles aren't providing support, your arms will and you'll fatigue quickly as a result.
The passenger seat is small, but acceptable and the passenger riding position is sporty and tolerable. Two-up capacity is limited, with a 365 pound max load.
The suspension is more like the sort found on standard bikes, rather than the firm and short-travel suspenders sport bikers suffer. The suspension sucked up railroad tracks and County Road 46's cobbly surface without delivering much of the impact to the rider. Under all that plastic is a pretty cool looking trellis-frame with the engine as a stressed member of the structure. I expect a lot of hip looking naked bikes will evolve from used CBR250's in a few years. The CBR's structure is exceptionally stiff, which results in a small, lightweight bike that feels a lot larger than I expected. The bike is stable at highway speeds, while remaining nimble and quick for the usual urban traffic situations. The suspension, frame, and motor all serve to keep vibration and shock to the rider minimized.
The CBR's console is full of useful information, without being cluttered. At the center of attention is the large tachometer, which might be Honda's hint that this motor needs to spin to work. The console has a large speedometer in the middle of the digital information, surrounded by a clock, fuel gauge, switchable odometer and trip odometers and a reserve fuel odometer, and temp gauge. Moving away from the center, you find the turn signals and the usual array of idiot lights. The fairing works surprisingly well, with the smallish windshield pushing air up to my shoulders without noticeable turbulence at the helmet. The long-stem, fairing mounted mirrors are incredibly adjustable, but you may not be able to find a setting that lets you see closely following vehicles.
Unlike a couple of motorcycles I've test ridden for MMM, the CBR250R has almost nothing in common with this Ford Tractor. I just thought they looked nice together. .
Under the passenger seat, the CBR's tool kit is sparse: consisting of a helmet cable and a 4mm Allen wrench. There is a good sized locked compartment under the passenger seat for more tools and a thoughtful accommodation for a large "U-lock." Two Allen screws and the seat is off, which exposes the battery, air filter, and fuses. The fairing panels are removed with 3 Allen screws, one on the side and two on the inside of the front of the panel, and three snap tabs. Once the right side fairing is removed, the radiator is accessible. You have to pull the lower fairing to get to the oil filter, but the oil drain plug is exposed without plastic removal and it takes about 1 1/2 quarts of oil for a change. Honda recommends 8,000 mile oil changes, 12,000 mile air filter replacement, and 16,000 valve adjustments. Service appears to be an infrequent consideration for this little "dependable cross-town or cross-country" motorcycle. Parts are priced fairly, too. All of the major plastic bits run from about $14 to $60, including the windscreen, resulting in cheap repairs compared to similar motorcycle plastic.
RIGHT: The beautiful and highly ergonomic Honda CBR250R parked in front of an ancient Minnesota concrete religious totem.
If you know Honda's past 250cc sport bikes, the CBR will be a surprise. It is very different from the VTR250 Honda imported in the late 80's. The CBR feels larger, more suited to an adult, and the motor isn't as peaky as the VTR. You can't connect the dots between the 250 Nighthawk and the CBR, either. The Nighthawk was an air-cooled standard parallel twin and it was infamous for running hot and being carburetion-ally temperamental. The CBR is less standard and the fuel injection takes a hard swipe at starting and jetting tantrums. The new CBR is lighter, more rider-friendly, smoother, more versatile, and higher-tech than its predecessors.
Honda has aggressively price-positioned the CBR. The sticker price is exactly the same as tag pasted to Kawasaki's 250 Ninja. ABS adds another $500 and is a real improvement in rider safety. That is a lot of technology for the buck. Kawasaki may have to step up the Ninja's game to stay in the race. Honda can add a seat cowling for the passenger seat, a carbon fiber tank pad and fuel lid cover, a tail pack, and several aftermarket companies offer exhaust systems and slip-ons, mirrors, cosmetics kits, and tune-up components.
I'm a 250-kind-of-guy and my regular commuter is my WR250X. The CBR250R is dramatically different than my WR. The CBR is smoother, more comfortable at freeway speeds, presents a more forgiving motor and clutch, and has a lower seat height. When I returned the Honda to Motoprimo, Dean Cross asked, "Did you like it?" I liked it a lot. Thanks for asking and for giving MMM the opportunity to test ride this very cool motorcycle.
LEFT: The silliest "tool kit" I've ever seen.
- Engine Type: 249.4cc, 23.7hp, DOHC; four valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
- Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
- Fuel Injection: PGM-Fi, 38mm throttle body
- Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
- Transmission: six-speed
- Front Suspension: 37mm fork
- Rear Suspension: Pro-Link single shock with five positions of spring preload adjustability
- Front Brake: Single 296mm disc
- Rear Brake: Single 220mm disc
- Front Tire: IRC Road Winner 110/70-17 radial
- Rear Tire: IRC Road Winner 140/70-17 radial
- Rake & Trail : 25.0 degrees & 95mm
- Wheelbase: 53.9 inches
- Seat Height: 30.5 inches
- Curb Weight: 359 pounds. includes all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel-ready to ride.
- Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gallons
- Estimated MPG: 77 MPG EPA
- Available Colors: Metallic Black, Red/Silver
- Price: $3999 MSRP