Does Honda’s best-sell­ing ‘mini-ad­ven­ture’ live up to its prom­ise?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Front Page - JOR­DAN GIB­BONS MCN SE­NIOR RE­PORTER @MCNNEWS mo­tor­cy­cle­news

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.

Big com­pe­ti­tion

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

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