Not just a new motorcycle; a new way of thinking
Honda is the wild card for this year’s shootout. The
other five bikes have minimal changes, but the 2018
CRF250R is completely different for 2018. You hear terms
like “total redesign” and “all new” tossed around every
model year, but in this case, the very philosophy of the
bike has changed. It now has double overhead cams with
finger-followers and a super-short stroke. The motor is
electric start only; no kickstarter at all. Clearly, there’s a lot
of KTM influence here, but not everywhere. The air fork is
gone, replaced with a Showa coil-spring fork. The chassis
is completely different from the old CRF250R, but we did
get a preview of it on the 2017 Honda 450. The 250 uses
the same frame with minor variations around the engine
cradle. Like the 450, it uses an intake that goes over the
rear shock to eliminate the turn and give the throttle body
a straight shot down into the intake valves.
STRONG POINTS: The end result is that the Honda is
a screamer. There’s a massive horsepower increase over
last year, and it’s all from the mid-range up to a crazy
top-end scream. Even with all the changes, the Honda still
handles like a Honda, which is to say it’s very nimble and
easy to turn. The bike is actually much more stable than
last year’s model, too, and the suspension is nothing short
WEAK POINTS: All that peak power came at the
expense of torque down low, so now we have yet another
pro-oriented powerband that requires an aggressive riding
technique. Despite the sacrifice down low, the Honda still
doesn’t match the power output of the KTM or Husqvarna.
It also gained considerable weight. The Honda weighs 228
pounds without fuel, which is almost 10 pounds heavier
than the KTM. You can feel it too.
BOTTOM LINE: Honda took the fight to KTM and made
an impressive effort. In many ways, the new CRF250R
equals the Austrian machines, but that’s still not enough
for a regime change in the 250 class.
Weight without fuel: 228 pounds. MSRP: $7999.