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2018 Honda CRF250R | FIRST IMPRESSION

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The 2018 Honda CRF250R is all-new and unquestionably one of the most highly awaited bikes of the year. The small-bore CRF received a plethora of changes including a dual overhead camshaft (DOHC), electric-start-equipped engine with two entirely separate exhaust systems, a new frame, Showa 49mm spring fork, and new bodywork. We tested the all-new CRF250R on a perfectly groomed Zaca Station track and found the bike to be much improved in nearly every area.

Perhaps the biggest change to the 2018 CRF250R is the new DOHC engine. Honda used a SOHC Unicam engine design since the bikes inception back in 2004, so the switch to DOHC is a big one and Honda did this with the goal of increasing power in the higher rpm. The new electric starter fires the bike to life immediately with a click of the button once the bike is warm, but we found it liked to be given a little bit of throttle when starting it at the beginning of the day when the engine was cold. Otherwise, the engine would continue to turn over without firing right away.

The motor is very free revving with a crisp throttle response throughout the rpm range. The powerband is notably different than the previous-generation model. The meat of the powerband on last year’s machine was in the bottom-end and midrange, whereas the new engine revs to the moon and makes its best power on the top-end. The midrange is still good as this is where the engine really starts picking up and hitting harder. Honda did sacrifice some bottom-end power on the new engine in comparison to the previous one, but the gains made in the top-end are well worth the decreased bottom-end hit seeing as most 250F riders spend the majority of their time in the upper rpm anyway.

Similar to its big brother, the new CRF250R is equipped with three engine maps that can be selected via the button located next to the kill switch on the left side of the handlebar. Map one is standard, map two is smooth, and map three is aggressive. Map one has excellent midrange and top-end, map two is a mellower version of map one, and map three has a bit better bottom-end hit than map one but also slightly less top-end and over-rev. We found map three to be the best option as it increased the bottom-end hit that we were looking for yet didn’t sacrifice too much on the top-end, especially because of how high the new engine revs.

The new CRF250R is spec’d with a Showa 49mm spring fork, which is the same fork gracing the CRF450R but with a softer spring rate and valving to match. The previous-generation CRF250R was equipped with a Showa SFF TAC fork, and to say the new spring fork is an improvement would be an understatement. It works extremely well and has an excellent balance between a comfort and performance-based feel. The fork is plush in braking bumps and has fantastic bottoming resistance on big impacts with no harshness in any part of the stroke.

Both of our test riders opted to go two clicks stiffer on the compression to help the front end feel more stable and alleviate an occasional, slight twitchy feeling on deceleration and prior to corner entry. The firmer setting helped the fork stay higher up in the plusher part of the stroke, which helped the front end stay better connected to the ground and not try to wander in search for traction. The shock works in unison with the fork with a plush feel up higher in the stroke helping the bike stay planted in the rougher, choppier parts of the track. Similar to the fork, the shock has excellent bottoming resistance and predictability.

The new chassis shares many of the great characteristics of the previous-generation machine but is improved in nearly every way. It feels even lighter and more nimble than the 2017 model and it turns on a dime. The chassis is sensitive to rider input and responds immediately, making direction changes quick and easy. The bike corners effortlessly and has a small overall feel to it, which further adds to how nimble it is on the track. The Honda feels stable at speed, but every once in a while had some minor headshake on deceleration, which we were able to fix with two clicks stiffer on the fork compression. After the adjustment, the bike had an excellent balance between great cornering ability and confidence-inspiring straight-line stability.

The all-new Honda CRF250R is a major improvement over the previous-generation model. Honda’s decision to develop a DOHC engine for the bike accomplished exactly what most riders yearned for from the small-bore red machine: more top-end power. The bike retains its meaty midrange power and quickly transitions into the higher-revving, stronger top-end. Losing a little bit of bottom-end is a small price to pay for the gains made up top, and there are easy ways to gain a little bit of bottom-end without breaking the bank. The suspension provides a near perfect combination between comfort and performance. Both ends are well balanced with a plush feel in the chop and plenty of bottoming resistance on bigger impacts. The chassis has razor sharp handling and is easy to corner and put where you want it. It also stays planted on the high-speed sections of the track with minor adjustments. The 250F MX Shootout is right around the corner, and Honda is bringing a very potent weapon that could very well be fighting for the top spot.

• Strong top-end power • Balanced suspension

• Razor-sharp handling