TESTED: HONDA CRF250 RALLY
Does Honda’s best-selling ‘mini-adventure’ live up to its promise?
When Honda launched the CRF250L Rally last year in the first month it shot straight to the top of the sales charts. Since then, Facebook groups have been awash with those who’ve bought one to ride to work or dip their toes into adventure biking. Which got us thinking: is one of the best adventure bikes of the year staring us in the face? We decided to find out.
Ever since three blokes rode some GSS around the world, adventure bikes have been etched into the public psyche as 1200cc, 240kg-plus behemoths. Proper adventurers have long shunned these big beasts (see overleaf), but us part-timers have fallen for their charming combination of rugged good looks, relaxing ride and adventure potential. Charms that the little Honda has in spades.
Firstly, the pictures do the CRF no justice. In the flesh it radiates panache - the red and white HRC livery shimmers and for a brief second you could easily mistake it for a factory rally bike. No mean feat consider- ing the 450RR would cost ten times as much – if you could even buy one. Upon closer inspection it becomes a little more obvious that the CRF’S a budget bike – the plastics in particular feel a little cheap and care will be needed to avoid corrosion – but it just about pulls it off.
Flick the ignition and the ‘Dakaresque’ dash flickers, then a whizz of the starter brings the little 250 thumper chirping to life.
Unlike the singles found in enduro bikes, the Rally engine is in a lower state of tune and has a bigger sump, so the servicing is counted in tens of thousands of miles rather than tens of hours. It does mean performance has suffered, but it still manages a respectable 24.4bhp. It revs quickly too, so is engaging to ride, even though you do have to make the most of the six-speed gearbox to keep it within the powerband.
The Rally will happily cruise all day at motorway speeds and because of its bigger 10-litre tank (compared to the 7l in the standard L), you can cover 200 miles between fill ups if you’re not riding like a nutter. The rally-style screen does a decent job of keeping the wind off, although even this leatheryarsed enduro rider found the seat a bit thin and the bars a bit vibey.
There are a myriad of accessories available, too, if you want to go full
‘As a road bike it’s a neat little package... off-road is when it all starts to unravel’
touring, including heated grips, a top box and luggage racks.
In fact as a road bike, the Rally’s a smart little package. The only letdown are the brakes; they’re just too soft (especially the front) although a pad change might fix this. Instead, off-road is when it starts to unravel...
Stumble and fall
Before we took the Rally off-road we swapped the standard tyres for Michel in AC- 10s. They’re focused off-road tyres, but they’re also fully road legal and last remarkably well on tarmac – you just have to look out for clearance issues.
Sadly the engine that’s so revvy and rewarding on road is hard work in the dirt. While it creates a decent amount of power, it only produces 16.6ftlb of torque, so it’s difficult to ‘chug it’ through rough patches. It also makes it very easy to stall, which isn’t helped by a vague clutch.
The suspension also falls foul here due to it being non-adjustable and clearly budget in nature. On road its soft nature is noticeable but acceptable and on gravel tracks it does a decent job of smoothing everything out, which makes it novice-friendly. But as soon as the going gets technical, such as in soft mud or ruts, this same softness robs of you any feel. Leaning more weight over the bars makes it worse, giving a sensation of a flighty front end that’s desperate to slip away from you. In reality the grip is there, it just doesn’t feel like it is. The ABS is far too intrusive too, although mercifully there’s a button on the dash so you can easily switch it off on the rear.
In many ways, the Rally’s looks are both its biggest asset and downfall. They set you up to believe that it’s going to be an off-road hero – but it just isn’t. Now if Honda were to make a CRF450L as a stepping stone to the CRF1000L Africa Twin, with more torque and posher suspension, then that could be a perfect adventure bike for the masses.
‘The Rally’s looks set you up to believe it’s an off-road hero – but it just isn’t’
...but it’s far too soft for more technical riding
The Rally’s revvy single is great fun on the road
The Rally is confidence-inspiring on trails...
The lack of torque makes mud a real struggle