A few weeks ago James left a comment on YouTube asking about everything I’ve done to the CRF250L since I bought it. In the back of my mind, I’d already been debating doing a long-term review of the 250L; after upgrading some video equipment and software I decided to finally give it a go.
Considering that the average watch time on my YouTube videos is less than two minutes, a lot of content lands on the cutting room floor. For folks that are looking for “the long story” I also wanted to publish a long-form blog for a more in-depth look at life on a CRF250L.
First, to answer James’s question, what have I done to the bike versus stock? When I bought the bike it had a little over 2,000 miles on it. The previous owner(s) had installed various items (listed below).
- Two-Brother’s Exhaust
- Zeta Hand Guards
- Seat Concepts Seat
- Pro Moto Billet Cargo Rack
- Flying Tiger Graphics
I, unfortunately, did not get the stock seat or the stock exhaust. The Seat Concepts seat is probably 80-90% of what I expect from a seat, especially on a bike like this. I do however wish I had the stock seat so I could use that if I plan on racing, blasting local trails, or just commuting to work, that way I can save the “upgraded” seat for long days in the saddle. The Two-Brothers muffler sounds excellent. That’s, of course, a matter of taste; I like to hear the “Braaap” of the engine when I’m flogging the 250L around the backroads, but that’s not for everyone. Off the street and the race track however, I wish I still had the factory exhaust. There are a number of “trails” on the outskirts of the city I want to explore for photo opportunities, but I want to avoid any “Imperial Entanglements”. The aftermarket “silencer” is anything but.
Modifications I’ve done:
- GoCruise Throttle Lock
- Tusk Folding shift lever (Fits CRF150R)
- Honda steel folding Shift Lever (from CRF250L Rally)
- Oxford Heaterz (Heated grips)
- ROX bar risers (2” only use for ADV riding, remove for racing)
- RAM Mount 1” ball handlebar mounts x2
- Pro-Taper 7/8” bars (CR High Bend)
- Flatland Racing Skid Plate
- Flatland Racing Radiator Guard
- Double-take mirror (still need a second one)
- Giant Loop Exhaust Heat Shield
- Kriega Luggage OS Base (“back-bone”)
- 13 tooth front sprocket
- 42 tooth rear sprocket (still use stock chain length)
The 2014 CRF250L came with a traditional steel shift lever. I guess Honda assumed the majority of 250L owners weren’t venturing too deep in the woods, that was mission two after heated grips.
Oxford Heaterz have been game-changers on the Scrambler, so to extend the “dirt season” I bought a second set for the 250L straightaway. Evolving from adventure riding a Scrambler to riding a (more) proper dirt machine took time. At first, I felt like my hands were totally in the wrong place for standing up while riding the 250L, so I installed a set of 2” ROX bar risers. ROX risers add a lot of flexibility, you can bring bars closer or further away from you depending on the bike. After getting more acclimated to the skinnier bike, I found the risers were problematic for riding the bike hard off-road, especially on the hill climbs. Swapping risers out is a cinch, so I remove them to race and put them back on for “adventure” duty. I ran the stock Honda bars until my little mishap back in February. The Honda bars bent like tinfoil in the crash, so I bought a set of Pro-Taper bars at a local store so I could go out and ride that weekend. The Pro-tapers are lighter and a direct bolt-on replacement. That said, they have the crossbar that looks cool, but is somewhat problematic considering the busy “dashboard” I have. I expect I will swap the 7/8 bars for a newer set of 1-1/8” to 7/8” “fat bars” in the future; which unfortunately means the expense of new adapters/risers and so on.
Street Bike Pros
The 250L is only one year newer than my Scrambler, and yet comes with a handful of creature comforts that are not included on a bike almost twice the price:
- Digital dash
- Fuel gauge
- Helmet lock
- Locking tool compartment
- Locking gas cap
Service Intervals on the 250L are every 8,000 miles; which is actually longer than the intervals on the Scrambler.
The Honda’s quarter-liter mill also sips the gas when you stay off the highway. I’ve not sat down to do the numbers, but I’ve heard high sixties and seventies tossed out on various forums. The stock suspension is also pretty plush for street duty. I cross the heart of the city during my morning commute; while not Detroit, Dayton does a pretty lousy job of patching potholes so that dual-sport suspension makes for a much smoother ride.
I find the steering on the Scrambler to be a bit lazy, whereas the 250L’s 21″ front makes for very “precise” steering through the twisties. Now, this is also a matter of taste, some folks will find the 21″ front wheel “twitchy”, and that “precision” does fade away once you get the bike up to interstate speeds, at which point it wants to “stand up” pretty much all the time.
The 250L’s engine came out of the CBR250R. While I’ve not had the pleasure of riding the CBR, I assume it’s as predictable as the 250L with smooth throttle response and linear power delivery. The 250L has about 18HP (22 on paper), so it’s very forgiving for new and returning riders. In a similar vein, as a dual-sport, the 250L is built to withstand some punishment. Like a dirt bike, it’s expected owners will drop this bike on the trail, so it’s not a big deal if you forget to put the kickstand down in the parking lot or have a low-speed spill at a stop sign.
While not exactly built with dirt bike DNA, the 250L is still really easy to work on. The wheels are designed to be changed easily, which would be expected from an off-road race bike, and oil changes are a breeze (despite cartridge oil filters). I usually get services done on the Honda in about half the time I spend working on the Triumph (sans 200 pounds doesn’t hurt either). Parts are also cheap. Brake pads and oil changes are both half what I pay for the Scrambler. Being a Honda, I have access to something like four dealerships within a 50-minute drive, and OEM parts are cheap and easy to get online.
Street Bike Cons
The 250L’s max speed is about 80~85 mph. I have no beef with riding the highway to work through some 65 mph zones, but I don’t feel comfortable with sustained speeds above 70 mph for more than about an hour. I suppose the engine can handle it, but ultimately I just don’t think it’s good to run the bike that high in the rev range for that long.
I’m ambiguous about the rev range because the 250L doesn’t come with a tachometer. I guess I’m old school, I like dual analog clocks. The digital dash is nice, it’s easy to see how fast I’m going, but I really wish I knew how hard I was pushing the engine. Especially because it’s not uncommon for me to spend an entire day on the bike.
That locking tool compartment is really awesome. You know what would be more awesome? If there was a factory Honda tool kit in it. For every other country on earth, Honda ships the 250L with a tool kit to do basic maintenance tasks. US built 250L’s have a slightly lower MSRP, but no tool kit. I’d really like to have a conversation with the decision-maker over at Honda USA so I could understand what that’s all about.
While I have no qualms about riding the 250L just about anywhere, I admit it could use a little more poke. The 250L is down a few ponies compared to the other bikes in its class, like the WR250. It gets the job done, but I’d give up such long service intervals for just a little more juice.
Speaking of juice, the Honda will sip the gas when you’re putting around the backroads and trails, but if I’m running 60+ from home to Kentucky I need to make sure I find a gas station every 100 miles or less. Admittedly, I’m typically ready to take a break every 100 miles, but there are certainly places in rural America where it’s tough to find a gas station and I wish I had just a little more reserve.
Dirt Bike Pros
At 34.4 inches, the Honda has reasonably low seat height (DR200 and XT250 are lower). Now, some folks are still going to say the 34 inches is still really tall, I’m 5’10” with a 32-inch seat height, once I sit down on the 250L and the suspension settles, I can flat foot the bike no problem.
With an MSRP of $5,200, the 250L is the cheapest bike in its class. While five-grand isn’t exactly cheap, that’s really affordable compared to a dedicated dirt bike.
The 250L is also fuel injected. In the street bike world that’s nothing revolutionary, but off-road, there are still a lot of bikes rocking carburetors. On the same note, I know some folks want the simplicity of carburetors, but I have a hard time complaining about the ease of starting the 250L on cold winter mornings.
Per my comments above, the service manual says to change the oil every 8,000 miles. That’s eons by dirt bike standards, many of which hover around 8 hours. The 250’s sister bike, the 450L requires a lube job every 600 miles.
With the seat concepts seat, the 250L is long-distance comfortable. In the last year, I’ve done multiple 300+ mile days on the saddle, and at least one 500 mile day.
Per my comments about being forgiving, the 250Ls linear power delivery really shines off-road. I love power sliding the rear wheel and riding on-the-pipe as much as the next guy, but there’s something to be said for reliable, predictable power to the ground when there’s no trailer waiting on you back in the parking lot.
Tanner from the Attention Deficit calls the CRF250L the “Too Fatty”. That nickname is pretty apt considering the 250L is the heaviest bike in its class at 320 pounds.
The “low” seat height I just mentioned also comes at a price; the 250L has about 10 inches of ground clearance. That’s plenty for dual-sport and adventure riding, but when I’m chasing my buddies with orange bikes around the woods it takes a lot more finesse to get over those logs.
As just about any other 250L review will tell you, that plush suspension I love on the street starts showing its weaknesses when ridden hard off-road. With 9-inches of travel, thus far the Honda suspenders have been well suited for my flavor adventure riding, but I admit I’ve started to notice their limitations at John Vincent. The stock travel is plenty for recreational riding, but when competing against real dirt bike adjustable forks with 12-inches of travel, the Too Fatty is clearly outgunned.
Speaking of those logs, lofting the front wheel with the stock gearing (14T front, 40T rear) takes more effort than I think it should. That linear power delivery is great, but much like my Scrambler, it’s mid-range power, so the 250L doesn’t have the meaty low-end grunt or outright horsepower to be pulling dank whoolies without a little help.
Living with the CRF250L
Like I said in the video, I wish this bike was lighter. I wish it had an extra gallon of gas. I wish I didn’t have a reservation about riding three hours on the highway (I’ve towed it… then I’m in the car for 3 hours which is worse).
I wish this bike would loft the front wheel with less effort. And I wish this bike’s suspension spec was a couple notches higher. Unfortunately, that bike really doesn’t exist. You can find a used CRF250L as low as $3500. For that price, you can buy a KLR or a reasonable dirt bike. The KLR, DRZ400, and XR650L all bring a lot to the table, less weight is not one of them. I’ve been eyeballing a few XR400’s on the market, but that does mean I’ll have to live without EFI and the “magic button”. Already owning a Honda, my first thought was upgrading to the 450L. I’ve seen quite a few barely used ones listed for a couple grand under MSRP. That bike would probably do exactly what I want it to do; it’s also about 35 pounds lighter than the 250, but as I mentioned above, I’ll be changing oil every other weekend. That in itself isn’t that big a deal, but what about valve maintenance? I’ve heard a few comments from folks talking about “adventurizing” the KTM 500 EXC (in lieu of the 690 Enduro), which is arguably a competitor to the CRF450L, but in both cases, I’m mostly concerned about the frequency of valve maintenance (I’d love to hear comments about this topic). The trouble is, the 250L is just about smack dab in the middle between adventure, big-bore singles, and 250-pound un-plated dirt bikes. It’s hard to find a bike that dabbles in all of these disciplines that costs less, requires less maintenance, and can still cruise the highway without drawing attention from the constabulary.
I will also say the WR250R (at least on paper) is everything the 250L is, and more. However, “better” does come with a price; from the listings I’ve seen, the WR commands about a $1000~1500 premium over a comparable year 250L. I was seriously considering that switch until I finished the Race at John Vincent. $1000 more could get me on a bike with fewer el-bees and a little more poke, but it would still be 45 pounds heavier than a lot of other bikes on the starting line. That combined with the hassle of trying to sell/trade the 250L, I’ve started window shopping for a dedicated dirt bike.
Assuming my body will keep putting up with it, I want to keep racing. I really enjoy gnarly woods riding, so I’ve been flirting with the idea of bringing home a 2-stroke as a third bike; assuming I can successfully negotiate with the Minister of War & Finance. If I brought a third bike home, I would then have an “extra” bike so I could take one of my buddies riding in the woods that doesn’t have their own off-road machine. Having the 250L around also means I have a very capable bike that doubles as a teaching tool for friends that want to learn how to ride on or off-road, or buddies that want to sharpen their off-road skills before jumping on their 500-pound adventure bike.
If I had a dedicated dirt bike in the shed, I could potentially see trading the 250L for a KTM 690 Enduro or something of that ilk. The new 690 engine (also in the 701) is counterbalanced, so it won’t be as buzzy on the pavement. The 690 only weighs about 20 pounds more, which is a small concession to pay for a bike that’s arguably better in every category except price and weight. Right now the price delta is high enough that I’m not interested in pursuing it; combined with the fact the last thing I need during a race is 20 extra pounds to pick up.
Despite wanting more performance out of the CRF250L, the bike has done everything I’ve asked it to do. Any trouble I’ve had with the bike in the woods up to this point has been my lack of skill and my lack of conditioning. I admit, similar to wrestling and adventure bike in the woods as your first off-road experience, the 250L is probably retarding my learning curve a little bit, but for the most part, both of us are fat and my conditioning as of late is laughable (motocross is the most physically demanding sport, I’m just saying).
For the money, it’s really hard to find a more appropriate bike (for me) to replace the 250L. As I said, it’s a great bike to commute, adventure ride, explore a little deeper in the woods, and teach someone else to ride. The 250L has done 500 mile days without complaint, and I’ve still ridden the next day. If “jack of all trades master of none” is a trait you appreciate in motorcycles, the 250L has you covered… and thus I shamelessly have two swiss army knives parked in the shed.