I have to put a couple of things on the table… I love the look of the new Honda CRF250L Rally but I’m so far removed from its target market that it’s not even funny, and it looks far better than it goes. To put it in the language of love; it’s not you… it’s me.
Ok, now let me explain. Firstly the little Honda is an absolutely stunning looking bit of kit. I think it even looks better than my own Africa Twin… sadly for me. It looks so good, like a truly Dakar-capable beast and a killer adventure bike.
This is what the cynical old racer in me wanted to experience when I threw a leg over the Rally. I really wanted to believe it’s the real deal. But the reality is quite different. This is all about expectations, in case you hadn’t realised yet.
Firstly the engine is a mellow, frugal, but capable 250cc single that is massively over-geared in standard trim. It is not the fire-breathing 450cc, or larger machine, I projected onto it that I wanted it to be. I put the Rally on a stand, wheels off the ground and revved it out in top gear. 171km/h showed on the dash.
You could lower the gearing and the top speed by 40km/h and still have a properly illegal final gear. But you’d be rewarded with a far more responsive engine and more capable and flexible gearing for adventure rides.
Then there is the small matter of the suspension that is extremely soft and aimed at the novice trail rider. I think the reasonably long travel suspension is perhaps even a little soft for the ‘larger’ novice rider on the road; well for my 100kg of ex-farmer mass it is anyway.
Now, this might be starting to sound like I don’t like the Rally, but the opposite is actually true. It’s a very cool little machine only slightly let down by these two things. And really, it is only my background as an enduro racer that really brings these two issues to light.
It’s very hard to put my experience aside and see myself in the shoes of a sixteen-year-old novice rider with little or no offroad experience, and appreciate what that rider actually needs. So, what do they really need? Above all (almost) they need a reasonably relaxed seat height for ease of balance when stationary. Next they need a relaxed, user-friendly power plant that won’t bite the hand that feeds the fuel to it.
Lastly, and quite importantly, they need soft suspension. Suspension that will cosset them, give a comfortable ride and generally match their ability is vital for a learner – hard suspension that is likely to deflect from bumps and rocks is a nightmare for an up-and-coming rider.
So, for the market the Rally is aimed at – the budding adventure explorer/commuter rider, Honda has nailed it… with the exception of a fairly tall seat height. However, the Honda’s soft suspension helps here, because the shock sags generously once the rider is onboard.
So, enough with the overview, what is it like to ride? Well, heading out on a cold but sunny day the first thing that came to mind was how terrific the screen was. It offers excellent weather protection with no buffeting, a welcome joy in the colder weather. Next up, the hand guards are fantastic too and really are a must for all-year riding. The DOHC, liquid-cooled engine is perky with extremely linear power and a high revving top end.
It has reasonable torque that means you’re not continually hunting for gears, despite the tall final gearing ratio. Keeping up with the traffic is no problem although it has little punch for getting on with things quickly, but that’s the nature of a non-race 250cc four-stroke engine.
The seat is comfortable and the general travelling environment is very nice. The large single disc up front is a little wooden in feel, but adequate enough… nothing a change to more aggressive pads couldn’t sort out, while the rear stopper is great.
To be honest, the more I rode the Rally the more I appreciated what it was trying to achieve and how genuinely capable it is, in a nurturing kind of way. No, it won’t set the world on fire in the performance stakes, but it deliveries practical performance and is definitely fun, particularly for the novice adventure rider while gaining experience.
For these riders it will be a delightful and effortless joy to manoeuvre through their first forays in to the adventure world – and all the while looking like a Dakar hero. I would happily adventure ride one too, with a suspension upgrade and lower gearing – despite the small engine it gets the job done well. On top of that is the fact it feels less than half the weight of a larger multi-cylinder bike… and that pays huge dividends for all riders, particularly in tighter going, but also in and around town and slow traffic.
Despite it clearly not being my dream CRF450R-based rally machine, the CRF250L Rally is a fantastic entry level, all purpose adventure machine at an excellent price point, that makes even a beginner look like a Dakar hero. Honda Australia have the CRF250L Rally on special for $6990 ride away until June 30.
Second Opinion with Trev
Jock has done a pretty good job of representing what an experienced rider might expect when looking at the CRF250L Rally in person, excitement, but then being a little disappointed when seeing the 24hp and 157kg on the spec’ sheet.
However, a serious off-road ride with a dozen riders that were all on hard-core enduro bikes gave me a new level of respect for the CRF250L Rally. In testing terrain I was never far behind many of them, and actually in front of quite a few of them more than once.
The supple long travel suspension and modest power output means that the bike is nowhere near as physically taxing as you might suspect.
That 21″ front wheel sticks to a chosen line and does not get bounced around the track, ensuring a surefooted trajectory which ever way it is pointed. The confidence this will give new riders off-road in comparison to something with a 17″ or even 19″ front can not be overstated.
An enduro specific 18″ rear rim also allows for a huge range of serious off-road tyres and the massive 250mm of suspension travel makes for a plush ride, even on the roughest of terrain.
I headed up the hardest approach I know to Mount Terrible. There are numerous ways to ascend this 1325 metre peak, most are relatively easy, but Donald Track is a next level challenge. The only way is up, but with three particularly steep and rocky pinches along the way, it’s enough of a test for most on a hard enduro bike shod with proper off-road knobbly tyres, and I would never take a large adventure bike up this particular challenge, even if it was someone else’s…
I must say it was quite a bonding experience to make it all the way up Donald Track on a CRF250L Rally rolling on stock rubber. Once on top I certainly looked at the CRF250L Rally in a new light. That bike had to work bloody hard for the new found respect it had gained from me, but gain that respect it had.
Combine the cheap price of admission backed up by bulletproof reliability assured by its CBR250R based engine, a true go anywhere off-road amenity with a non threatening nature, and the CRF250L Rally would be hard to go past for a new rider looking to get seriously adventurous.
2018 Honda CRF250L Rally Strength & Weaknesses
Plus – Stunning looks, well priced, easy to ride.
Minus – Engine is a bit soft, over-geared, very soft suspension
Honda CRF250L Rally Specifications
Engine – 249.6cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, four-stroke single
Bore x stroke – 76 x 55.0mm
Compression – 10.7:1
Power (claimed) – 18.2kW (24.4hp) @ 8500rpm
Torque (claimed) – 22.6Nm (16.7lbft) @ 7650rpm
Starter system – Electric
Ignition – Digital electronic
Fuelling – Electronic fuel injection
Clutch – Wet, multi-plate
Transmission – Six-speed, chain
Frame – Steel twin tube
Swing-arm – Aluminium
Front suspension – Inverted 43mm telescopic fork, 279mm travel
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