FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2013 HONDA CRF250 BETTER THAN THE 2012 CRF250?
A: Yes. There is, however, a caveat. It is by no means the best CRF250 ever built (we still have fond memories of the carbureted 2009 model), but it’s the most refined CRF250 of the latest generation. An improvement in the handling department has yielded a bike that isn’t as quirky as in the past. So yes, the 2013 Honda CRF250 is better than the 2012 model.
Q: HOW MANY CHANGES CAN BE FOUND ON THE 2013 CRF250?
A: You didn’t expect an all-new CRF250 for 2013, did you? With Honda spending all of their R&D money on the 2013 CRF450, there was very little cash in the coffers to spend on the CRF250. Additionally, Honda typically follows a four-year plan in bike development. The latest-generation CRF250 was released in 2010. It had a completely different frame, as well as a new engine, new body styling, a new exhaust and programmable fuel injection. In each year since the 2010 introduction, Honda has made incremental updates to the CRF250. The 2013 Honda follows this trend with five changes (listed from most important to least important):
(1) Fork springs.
The 48mm Showa cartridge forks come equipped with stiffer fork springs (an MXA recommendation on last year’s CRF250). Honda claims that the stiffer rate will deliver better bump absorption, improved tracking and more finesse. The damping has also been changed to work with the different spring rate.
(2) Fork pistons.
Honda beefed up the sub-piston (from 35mm to 37mm) for increased suspension control at low speeds. Note that the two most important changes on the 2013 CRF250 are related to the Showa forks.
(3) Electronic fuel injection.
In an effort to get a bigger hit out of the Unicam engine, as well as more response in the low end and midrange, the fuel-injection settings have been recalibrated.
The shock’s high-speed, adjuster-bolt seat diameter has been increased from 9.5mm to 11.5mm for improved control and bump absorption.
Honda has continued to improve the tread selection on the CRF250. They got rid of last year’s awful Dunlop D742FA front tire and went to a pair of MX51 sneakers. And, there is a bonus; for 2013, the CRF250 gets the latest-generation Dunlop Geomax MX51FA, along with an MX51 rear tire built specifically for the CRF250. What’s the big deal? The rear tire is 0.9 pound lighter than the original MX51 rear. Yes, you can get this same tire for your 250 four-stroke—even if you don’t ride a CRF250—but you’ll need to order it through a Honda dealer (and they won't know what you are talking about).
2013 Honda CRF250: Not altogether different from last year, the big news is that Honda used stiffer springs and bigger sub-pistons on the Showa forks.
Q: HOW WOULD WE DESCRIBE THE 2013 HONDA CRF250 POWERPLANT?
A: Pleasant, smooth and manageable are three adjectives to describe the 2013 CRF250 engine. That’s all fine and dandy for a trail horse, except that we were hoping for an explosive, exciting, race-inspired powerplant. A 250 four-stroke lives and dies by its powerband. The mostly midrange CRF250 is workmanlike, but a far cry from its chief competition, the KX250F and KTM 250SXF.
The best way to maximize the CRF250 engine is to keep the powerband pulling through the midrange. With the engine lacking bottom-end grunt or top-end pull, it takes a deft rider to shift often and churn through the five-speed transmission. Failing to shift until the Unicam engine is revved out is comparable to Usain Bolt running on a grease-covered ice rink—it’s a great way to go nowhere fast.
Q: WHAT ARE THE DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE 2013 HONDA CRF250?
A: Every motorcycle has special characteristics that distinguish it from the rest of the pack. Case in point, the Honda CRF250 is known for several unique features. Here they are:
(1) Frame geometry.
The spitting image of the 2009–2012 CRF450, the 2013 CRF250’s frame geometry is aggressive. We believe that the relationship between the head angle, fork offset, front center and weight bias is slightly askew. We don’t need an engineering degree from MIT to figure this out. The CRF250’s odd handling traits can be felt from the saddle. The handling is not atrocious; it just feels wrong.
The Honda Progressive Steering Damper was a new item on the 2010 CRF250. No other motocross bike, aside from the CRF450, comes with a steering damper. It’s sleek and functional, but it’s like putting a silk veil over a witch—merely a mask to cover the warts.
The single camshaft on the CRF250 is a simple design. Whereas its competition uses two camshafts, the Honda Unicam is a more compact unit that still aims for high-rpm operation. Honda’s goal was to make an engine with a minimum reciprocating mass. The single cam simplifies the chore of measuring valve clearance and is less expensive when it comes time to replace the camshaft.
(4) Frame cradle.
Honda is the only manufacturer to produce a four-stroke that doesn’t sit level on a standard bike stand. The rounded frame cradle on the CRF250 forces the bike to lean back. If you want to keep the rear wheel off the ground, you’ll need to invest in a wedge (www.matrixracingproducts.com) or a lifting block (www.worksconnection.com).
Pleasant: The CRF250 engine has great midrange power, but lacks hit.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2013 CRF250 RUN ON THE DYNO?
A: Maximum horsepower on our 2013 CRF250 was 38.44 ponies at 11,000 rpm. Maximum torque was 20 foot-pounds. The updated fuel-injection settings could be felt on the track, but didn’t make a ripple on the dyno curve. On the dyno, the power output rises steadily. The engine makes over 38 horsepower from 10,300 rpm to 11,300 rpm. The CRF250 still makes 35.60 ponies at 13,200 rpm. Truth be told, the 2013 CRF250 dyno chart is a yawner. There isn’t a serious spike in horsepower at any point. It’s a vanilla powerband.
Remove before flight: Get rid of the brake guard in order to improve stopping power.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2013 HONDA CRF250 STACK UP TO THE COMPETITION ON THE DYNO?
A: Two years ago, the CRF250 produced the most horsepower in the 250 four-stroke class. A lot has changed since then. Kawasaki came out with the dual fuel-injected KX250F in 2012, which nearly reached 40 horsepower. Now, the 2013 KX250F hits 41.16 ponies, and that’s not even the cream of the 250 four-stroke horsepower crop. The 2013 KTM 250SXF breaks the 42-horsepower barrier with 42.89 ponies.
The 2013 Honda CRF250 is the best of the rest. At 38.44 horsepower, it beats the Suzuki RM-Z250 (38.01 ponies), Husqvarna TC250 (37.86) and the lowly Yamaha YZ250F (37.17). The CRF250 produces the fourth-most torque (the TC250, KX250F and 250SXF are better).
Q: HOW DOES THE 2013 HONDA CRF250 HANDLE?
A: It loves those new fork springs. In years past, the undersprung forks dove under braking, shook like a wet dog at speed and failed to keep the chassis balanced. It sat like a stinkbug, which worked well on tight tracks where traction was at a premium and speeds were slow, but in many situations the geometry caused tremendous headshake on fast straights and oversteering at turn-in.
In last year’s CRF250 test, we stated, “Half of the battle is getting the front and rear suspension balanced out while finding a compromise head angle for your riding style.” We then proclaimed that handling could be improved with stiffer fork springs and by dropping the fork legs and tweaking the damping settings. Guess what? Honda listened. The stiffer fork springs along with the larger fork pistons on the CRF250 are noteworthy changes because they calm down the shaky handling. The CRF250 can cut inside lines with ease, but there’s still a wiggle from center out and a case of the shakes on fast, rough terrain.
Amen: Our prayers were answered when Honda beefed up the forks. As a result, the handling has been improved.
Q: WHAT WOULD WE DO TO IMPROVE THE 2013 HONDA CRF250?
A: It’s a good package out of the crate. A 2013 Honda CRF250 owner need only focus on two changes—and one of them is free.
The muffler outlet diameter is too small, the length of the canister is too long and it doesn’t flow air as well as an aftermarket exhaust. Although the CRF250 passes the two-meter-max test (at 115 decibels), the exhaust hampers the powerband. Simply tacking on an aftermarket slip-on is a dramatic improvement, but for the full effect, we recommend a complete system.
(2) Front brake.
We discovered long ago that the front brake guard on the CRF250 impedes airflow to the rotor, causing the front brake to heat up and fade over the course of a long moto. In years past, we had to remove the axle spacer by pressing it out of the plastic brake guard. No more! Honda redesigned the mount by using two bolts to attach the brake guard. The benefit of getting more airflow to the front rotor outweighs the protection offered by the flimsy plastic.
Traction control: Although not new for this year, the larger footpegs are much better than the old pegs.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
Although improved, thanks to stiffer forks, the CRF250 still handles like a leaf in a hurricane from time to time. We suffered from headshake and knifing from center-out. You can work this out with grass-roots fixes, but there are bikes that don’t need to be tweaked.
They’re weak, and the front brake will start to fade if air doesn’t get to the rotor and caliper. We removed the guard and felt an improvement in brake performance during long motos and fast tracks.
For the third year in a row, the CRF250 comes with the same graphics scheme.
(4) Frame cradle.
It’s irritating that the CRF250 doesn’t sit level on a normal bike stand, but there are special bike stands (or blocks of wood) to solve the problem. Why does it bother us? Because it makes working on the bike more of a hassle than it should be.
Hush puppy: Do yourself a favor and kick the stock exhaust to the curb. An aftermarket system will yield more ponies.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
The predominantly midrange engine is competitive across a wide range of skill levels. Although the CRF250 powerplant will have difficulty keeping up with the KX250F and KTM 250SXF, it’s still a solid package.
On the hate list last year, the Showa forks are on our good side for 2013. The forks received larger pistons and stiffer springs. As a result, the forks prevent the front end from diving, which improves handling performance.
(3) Front brake guard.
In years past, Honda pressed the front axle collar into the front brake guard. Removing the guard was troublesome. No more! The brake guard is now attached by two bolts.
A set of sneakers that work well and reduce unsprung weight? Eureka! We like that the new Honda-spec Dunlop MX51 rear tire shaves 0.9 pound off what a normal MX51 would weigh.
The popular trend is to ride with oversize handlebars, but Honda has stayed the course with Renthal 7/8-inch bars. We love ’em.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: Honda has made a concerted effort to improve the CRF250’s odd handling traits. Good move, but while they were balancing out the chassis, KTM and Kawasaki were leapfrogging over them in the horsepower race. The 2013 Honda CRF250 has a Pro-level chassis with a Novice-level engine. Investing in aftermarket hop-ups makes a difference, but in stock form, the CRF250 needs a little more oomph.
Wham bam: The 2013 CRF250 is a blast to ride. It’s not the best bike in the field, but it’s mighty good for many skill levels and riding styles.
MXA CRF250 SETUP SPECS
Are you looking to get the 2013 Honda CRF250 suspension set up? Use these specs as a guide and adjust accordingly.
SHOWA 48MM FORK SETTINGS
The stiffer 0.46 kg/mm fork springs and larger pistons make a noticeable difference in the handling. Instead of the front end diving under braking, the chassis stays relatively balanced. However, in certain situations and track conditions (overly dry or wet dirt), the front end still knifes at turn-in, straightens out and knifes again at the exit of corners. Fortunately, there are several free fixes to alleviate this sensation.
(1) Sag. The CRF250 is very touchy when it comes to race sag. We ran 104mm.
(2) Fork height. We ran the fork legs down into the clamps until they were flush with the triple clamps.
(3) HPSD. There’s a steering damper on the triple clamps for a reason. Crank it in and tighten the steering stem nut while you are at it. For hardcore racing, these are MXA’s recommended 2013 Honda CRF250 fork settings (when changed, stock settings are in parentheses):
6 clicks out (7 clicks out)
9 clicks out (11 clicks out)
7 clicks out (9 clicks out)
Flush with top clamp
Honda dropped the oil height by 9cc in the outer chamber. Last year, we decreased the oil height after going up in spring rates. We don’t believe that it’s necessary to remove excess oil on the 2013 model. Also, stiffen the HPSD until you feel excessive drag on the handlebars.
SHOWA PRO-LINK SHOCK SETTINGS
Here is what the MXA wrecking crew ran in its 2013 CRF250 (when changed, stock settings are in parentheses):
Hi-compression: 1-3/4 turns out (2 turns out)
8 clicks out
9 clicks out (11 clicks out)
Notes: The shock is very sensitive to high-speed compression. Heavier riders should go in 1/4 turn on the high-speed compression and set the sag at 100mm.