First Ride: 2018 Honda CRF250R

The 2018 Honda CRF250R is one fine looking motorcycle. Photo by Jason Zindroski

A week ago, a group of very lucky media made their way to the Zaca Station MX track in California for the launch of the all-new 2018 CRF250R. The Zaca Station track is a favourite among the California riding community, with incredible loamy soil, spectacular elevation changes that is surrounded by very interesting scenery. It makes for a perfect location to test ride a new bike. After arriving from Toronto on Tuesday afternoon with GDR Fox Honda rider Dylan Wright, we made our way from the Santa Barbara Airport north to the small town of Solvang. From there we were presented with all of the juicy details of this new bike before heading to bed so we could rest up for the upcoming, long day of riding.

Even though the forecast called for temperatures upwards of 35C for our ride day, the early morning was cool and clear when we arrived at the Zaca Station MX track. As we drove into the paddock we were welcomed by the excited American Honda crew and a fleet of brand new, shiny red 2018 Honda CRF250Rs. With numerous changes to both the chassis and the engine for 2018, as well as the fact that we would be the first media group in the world to ride this new bike, it was no surprise that everyone at Honda was very excited for us to hit the track. It was an incredible day of riding and one that everyone in attendance won’t soon forget. With so many changes to this new Honda, let’s go over a few of them and how they’ve made this bike better on the race track.

The new 2018 CRF250R looks great from the front and from the back. Photo by Jason Zindroski

Electric Start:

This is one of the most important new features on the 2018 CRF250R. I never thought I needed an electric start option until I had one last year on my KTM. Not that it’s difficult to kick start a 250F, it’s just so darn easy to hit a button and boom!, your bike fires up instantly. Also, in the situation where you have a simple crash in a corner and your bike quits, this is really when you’ll be thankful that you have this option. The 2018 CRF250R’s electric start is powered by a small, lightweight, lithium-iron phosphate battery, so it’s super durable and obviously very light. The electric start works very well, and it definitely adds to the entire package.

New Chassis:

While the new electric start is all about convenience, the new chassis on the 2018 CRF250R really brings this bike into the new generation of 250F machines. This new frame is a spin-off of the frame on the new CRF450R, so we know it works. The new frame is more rigid and a little narrower through the seat and tank area than past models. For 2018, Honda has given the 250F a shorter wheelbase for improved cornering, but they also increased the fork and triple clamp offset to help with the stability. The result is an amazing handling motorcycle that corners well, feels light and precise in the air, and is stable at high speeds. Everyone who rode this new bike at Zaca Station raved about how good the chassis felt.

With the Zaca Station MX Track having just about every type of obstacle and corner you could imagine, it was a great place to test the new chassis. This track also has a few steep downhills, which in my mind really tests a bike’s handling prowess. For the test ride, I had the Honda technicians (thanks to advice from Dylan Wright) increase my sag from 106mm to 110mm, plus
we also went a little stiffer on the front fork compression. This change really made a big difference as it kept the front end up under braking as I blasted down the big hills. For whatever reason, I’ve felt that Hondas have always turned well, and this new CRF250R is no different.

I think it’s safe to say that Dylan Wright felt very comfortable on Honda’s newest red rocketship. Photo by Jason Zindroski

New Showa Spring Front Forks:

For 2018, Honda has given their new CRF250F the same great forks that come stock on their CRF450R. The Showa coil-spring forks are virtually A-kit forks that work great in any situation. Even on the big jumps and elevation changes that we encountered at Zaca Station, these forks worked great, and they gave the new Honda a predictable and precise feel. Honda has also given the new CRF250R a more centralized rear shock location and a lighter swingarm. Both the front and rear suspension work in perfect unison whether I was jumping, cornering or riding in a straight line.

New Engine:

Over the past few years Honda, for whatever reason, fell behind in the horsepower department with their 250F package. So, for 2018, Honda has completely redesigned the engine on this motorcycle. With a new dual-overhead-cam to increase power, Honda has also introduced two completely separate exhaust ports for 2018. These two exhaust ports allow this new engine to not only have increased throttle response, but also an increase in horsepower, especially in the higher RPMs. Honda has also given this new bike the same downdraft intake that is on their CRF450R. This downdraft intake provides a symmetrical air path into the engine for improved power and air flow.

With a completely redesigned engine, the 2018 CRF250R has a lot more horsepower than past models. Photo by Jason Zindroski

With all of these engine changes, the big question was whether or not the 2018 CRF250R was faster than past models. Well, I’m happy to report that yes, the power has been increased for 2018 but not as much as everyone had hoped. While the new 2018 CRF250R is a lot faster and easier to ride, it still does lack the raw horsepower of some of its competition. However, all of the test riders agreed, including Dylan Wright, that this new bike is much more rider friendly, and it will be easier to make it better. What this new motor lacks in bottom-end and mid-range torque, it more than makes up for in top-end power. This bike pulls very strong in the upper RPMs, and on the Zaca Station MX Track, this came in very handy. This new engine could use a little more bottom end, but compared to past models it’s a massive improvement. The Honda technicians told us that the power has been increased by 3%, and they’re very pleased with it. With all 250Fs getting faster and faster each year, Honda is now on par with their competitors.

It was obviously a great day of riding at Zaca Station MX and every rider in attendance enjoyed themselves. As we all gathered for dinner after our day of riding, I asked GDR Fox Honda rider Dylan Wright what his thoughts were on the new CRF250R. Dylan said that he really enjoyed the new Honda and couldn’t wait to begin testing it for next season. “Although the team had my race bike working really well this past summer, it took a lot of testing and effort to get to that point. I think this new 2018 CRF250R provides a much better starting point for us as this bike is much better in stock form than my 2017. I love how it handles and how the suspension works, for a stock bike I felt completely comfortable on it when going fast. This was a great day of riding, and it was fun to test out this new bike and hang out with everyone from Honda.” I agree with Dylan, and I think all of the Honda riders out there are going to be impressed with this new 2018 CRF250R. We would like to thank Honda Canada and American Honda for this incredible opportunity and a fun day of riding.

Zaca Station MX is definitely one of the best tracks in California. With steep elevation changes, flowing corners and fun jumps, it really is the perfect track to test ride a new bike. Here I’m looking over at Dylan Wright and admiring his cool one leg sway. Photo by Jason Zindroski