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ADV BikesFirst Ride: 8 Things to Know About the Honda CRF250L Rally

First Ride: 8 Things to Know About the Honda CRF250L Rally

 A fun, simple and affordable adventure bike with a willingness to explore.

Published on 05.05.2017
Honda CRF250L Rally Power Slide

When Honda first unveiled the CRF250L Rally concept at the Osaka Motorcycle Show in 2015, the idea of a fun, affordable, small-displacement Adventure Bike that looked just like the factory CRF450 Rally race bike used in the Dakar Rally generated a lot of attention. At a time when there were few options in the small ADV category, most people were skeptical it would ever become a street-legal production model.

But things have changed in the last few years and the cries for lighter, more nimble Adventure Bikes have continued to grow. Taking note, Honda answered the call, and brought the CRF250L Rally to market with few changes to the original concept. While it may look like a Rally Racer, the CRF250L Rally was designed to be a simple, economical, off-road-capable Adventure Bike — appealing to new riders entering the sport or anyone just looking for a more manageable Adventure Bike for the trail.

Last week we got an opportunity to evaluate this new model during the Honda CRF250L and CRF250L Rally US Press Intro. The event was held in scenic Murrieta, California at the JCR Honda Race Team headquarters and home of 11-time Baja 1000 winner Johnny Campbell. We spent a full day testing on both bikes, riding over 120 miles on everything from rough fire roads and highway to technical hill climbs and deep sand sections. Here are 8 key takeaways from our Honda CRF250L Rally test:

1. It’s Not Just a CRF250L With a Rally Windscreen

Honda CRF250L Rally Windscreen

The CRF250L Rally is heavily based on the standard CRF250L but there are some differences between the two models, most obviously in appearance. The clear rally-style windscreen, asymmetric LED headlights, faux-carbon navigation tower, integrated sump protection and HRC graphics closely resemble those of the CRF450 Rally race bike. But the equipment isn’t just for looks, the LED’s provide powerful lighting and a full wrap-around skid plate gives good protection against rocks. The headlight assembly, digital dash and windscreen are all frame mounted instead of on the bars, giving the rider a lighter steering feel.

The distinctive clear rally windscreen design also has a purpose, it gives riders more visibility when scanning the ground for obstacles directly in front of them, and of course it also helps block the wind and reduce rider fatigue. The tank shrouds are also designed to redirect wind around the rider at speed, while ensuring adequate airflow to the engine when moving slowly. Other equipment differences on the Rally model include a larger rear storage compartment, hand guards and a bigger fuel tank (2.7 vs. 2.1 gallons).

To compensate for the weight of all of this additional equipment on the Rally, a larger front brake rotor was installed (296mm vs. 256mm) and suspension travel was increased by about 1 inch front and rear. Changes to the suspension have raised ground clearance by 0.6 inches to 10.6 inches and seat height by 0.5 inches to 35.2 inches.

2. Same Powerplant, Different Power

Honda CRF250L Rally Power

Both the standard CRF250L and CRF250L Rally receive a new ECU, enlarged throttle body, revised airbox, larger diameter header pipe and a lighter, more-compact muffler design for 2017. The changes have led to an increase in peak power from 22.8 horsepower to 24.4 horsepower. Performance has been increased in both the top and bottom end, and throttle response is improved throughout the RPM range.

Both bikes share the same powerplant, 6-speed transmission and gearing, but it’s the standard CRF250L that feels the peppier of the two — no doubt due to the additional 24 pounds the Rally is carrying (341.6 vs. 317.5 for non ABS models). The power difference was most noticeable in the dirt where the CRF250L rally didn’t carry speed as well up steep inclines and more often required a downshift from second to first. Passing power on the highway was also noticeably better on the standard CRF250L.

Overall, both bikes felt fast for the 250cc category and you are able to cruise on backcountry roads in 5th gear without the need to constantly downshift, but we were left a little concerned about how the CRF250L Rally would perform loaded up for traveling with an additional 30+ pounds of gear.

3. Hits Highway ‘Sweet Spot’ at 65 MPH

Honda CRF250L Rally Highway Performance

Getting up to speed and negotiating lanes in the city is no problem for the Rally 250, and for that reason, it would make a perfect commuter bike. But on the open highway where speeds typically average 75-80 mph, the bike struggles a bit to keep up outside of the slow lane. A slight tingle in the bars is also noticeable starting at 50 mph in 6th gear but it still cruises comfortably at 65 mph and 6,800 RPMs. At this speed there is still ample power on tap to get past slower-moving cars when you need it but accelerating up to 80 mph sends the revs to 8,000 RPMs and significantly increases vibrations.

The top speed of the bike is between 80-85 mph depending on the wind and the speedometer is only about 2 mph optimistic when compared with the REVER GPS app we used for navigating the course. The rally windscreen works effectively to block the wind up to about eye level (I’m 6’2″) and it is a significant improvement over the windscreenless standard CRF250L in helping reduce rider fatigue. Although, the Rally uses the same seat as the standard CRF250L and doesn’t provide much comfort for longer distances. There is also a strap running across the seat that can become an annoyance. Luckily, the seat strap can be removed with a few screws.

We found the CRF250L Rally to be better than a lot of the available options in the 250cc range and good enough for riding a few hours on the highway to reach the trails around your house, but if highway performance and comfort is a major factor in your purchasing decision, you may want to consider other larger-displacement options.

4. It’s Very Off-Road Capable for an “Adventure Bike”

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Wall Ride

Getting into a good rhythm on the dirt is no problem on the CRF250L Rally. It has a nice supple suspension that makes loose rocky surfaces disappear under the tires. It’s fun to ride at a fast pace on beat up dirt roads, but the stability of the chassis begins to suffer if you get too aggressive. The spring rate feels soft for a heavier rider (I’m about 225 pounds with gear) and when the bumps get bigger, the front end quickly bottoms with a clunk reminding you that this isn’t a hardcore dirt bike.

After switching to the standard CRF250L, everything seemed to work better. Despite having less suspension travel and ground clearance, the standard CRF250L is able to handle tough terrain at a faster pace with more stability. The power also feels snappier, allowing you to steer with the rear tire, un-weight the front tire and utilize 2nd gear on steeper hill climbs more easily. The difference is the weight of the Rally’s extra equipment and the fact that the Rally’s suspension valving, spring rates, power and gearing remain unchanged from the standard CRF250L. The standard CRF250L is already on the soft side for dirt bike standards, so with the added weight, the Rally feels even softer.

Putting it in perspective, the CRF250L Rally may not be considered a top performing enduro but it is a very capable off-road machine when compared to many 650cc and larger adventure touring bikes. With its handling and relatively lighter weight, it can bang through whoops, maneuver tight single track and handle steep descents with ease. Whether it’s deep sand, a failed hill climb or getting your bike unstuck from a deep rut, it’s less intimidating doing it on the CRF250L Rally. Although more advanced riders may desire better suspension and more power, the bike is capable of opening up a whole new level of off-road exploration for those looking for a more accessible adventure bike.

5. To ABS or Not, You Decide

Honda CRF250L Rally sliding turn

New for 2017, both the standard CRF250L and CRF250L Rally get ABS as an option for just $300 more and a 4.4-pound weight increase. Braking performance on the Rally is reasonably good, but does require two fingers for emergency stops. When ABS is activated on slippery surfaces, strong pulsating can be felt through the brake lever and foot pedal. It feels a bit primitive compared to the sophisticated ABS systems on the expensive big-bore Adventure Bikes, but it’s still effective.

Riding with the ABS on in the dirt, it won’t send you off a cliff and it might save your bacon if you are an off-road newbie. Experienced off-road riders may prefer to turn ABS off in the dirt to enable sliding turns and more control over braking. ABS can be disabled with the push of a button on the dash (after coming to a stop), but only on the rear wheel. The non-ABS model may be the best option for experienced riders spending much of their time in the dirt. But if you are planning on spending significant time on the street, you might want to opt for the ABS model.

6. Ergos Fit Taller Riders

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Ergos for taller riders

With a wheelbase of 57.3 inches, the CRF250L Rally has one of the longest wheelbases in its class and is just 1 inch shorter than the CRF450X motocross bike. Stand up ergonomics feel good for riders over 6 feet tall and the distance between the foot pegs and handlebars is only slightly cramped. The handle bar height also felt adequate, but rolling the bars forward a tad could open up the riding position even more.

A set of wide serrated dirt bike pegs were a welcome surprise on the Rally 250, giving excellent traction and leverage during stand up riding. The seated position on the highway offered ample leg room with just a mild splaying of the knees from the larger fuel tank. With its dirt bike geometry, the bike also allows you to slide far forward in the seat during sit-down turns to weight the front tire.

7. The Price is Nice

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Price

Starting at just $5,149, the price tag of the standard CRF250L is one of its greatest strengths and a major reason it’s the top selling motorcycle in the dual sport category. Honda has also worked hard to ensure that the new CRF250L Rally is a good value, giving it a starting price of $5,899.

When considering all the upgrades you get for an additional $750 like a windscreen, wrap-around skid plate, LED lighting, hand guards, larger fuel tank, longer-travel suspension and more, it’s a relative bargain compared to what it would cost to adventurize a standard CRF250L with aftermarket parts (not to mention your labor cost), and the end result probably wouldn’t look nearly as cool.

Compared to the big-bore adventure bikes, you may not be able to travel with the same speed and comfort but it can go anywhere those bikes can go and more. It’s a personal choice whether it’s worth paying two or three times as much for a bigger bike. If you plans are for short to mid-range trips that include a good amount of dirt, the CRF250L Rally’s value is hard to beat.

8. Some Improvements We’d Like to See

2017 honda crf250l rally improvements

While we think it’s a great start for the CRF250L Rally and we’re thrilled Honda actually brought the bike to production, we do have a few suggestions for improvements. First, the gearing didn’t feel well matched to the weight of the bike off-road. Yet gearing the bike down further would only worsen its highway performance. A feasible solution could be to improve power by slotting the “already available and compatible” 300cc engine from the CBR300R into the Rally’s chassis. The CBR300R motor fits right into the existing frame and would give the bike just enough extra boost to help carry 2nd gear in the dirt and more torque to maintain higher speeds on the highway while carrying luggage. We’d also like to see a set of heavy bar-end weights added to help reduce the vibes in the handlebars on the highway.

We feel the bike would also benefit from a stiffer set of springs in the suspension to improve the Rally’s stability during more aggressive off-road riding. And if we are nitpicking, we might also ask for a more comfortable seat and rear luggage rack to give the bike better touring capability, but these two items can easily be addressed on the aftermarket and luckily there is no lack of available options for the CRF250L. All of these changes could be made without significantly increasing costs, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of these updates occur over the next few years.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Jump

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Specifications

Engine Type:Single-Cylinder, 4-Stroke, DOHC, 4-Valve
Displacement:249 cc
Bore/Stroke:76mm x 55mm
Compression:10.7:1
Cooling:Liquid Cooled
Oil Capacity:1.8 L
Transmission: 6 Gears
Fuel System:PGM-FI, 38mm Throttle Body
Final Drive:#520 Chain; 14T/40T
Starter:Electric; 12V 7Ah
Alternator Output:324W @ 5000 RPM
Clutch:Wet Multiplate Hydraulic
Frame:Steel Twin Tube
Front Suspension:43mm Inverted Fork; 11.0 in Travel
Rear Suspension:Pro-Link Single Shock with 10.3 in Travel
Front/Rear Brakes:Disc Brake 296 mm/220 mm
Front/Rear Wheels:21”/18”
Front/Rear Tires:3.00-21; 120/80-18
Rake:28º10′ (Caster Angle)
Trail:114mm (4.5 in)
Wheelbase:57.3 in
Ground Clearance:10.6 in
Seat Height:35.2 in
Fuel Capacity:2.7 gal (10.1 L)
Wet Weight:341.7 lbs / 346.1 lbs (ABS)
Available Colors:Black/Red/White
Pricing:$5,899 / $6,199 (ABS)
  

Photo Gallery

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Gear We Used

• Helmet: KLIM Krios Vanquish
• Jacket: KLIM Carlsbad
• Pants: KLIM Carlsbad
• Gloves: KLIM Mojave Pro
• Boots: REV’IT! Discovery OutDry
• Helmet Cam: Sena 10c

Photos by Adam Booth and Brendan Lutes

Author: Rob Dabney

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16 thoughts on “First Ride: 8 Things to Know About the Honda CRF250L Rally

  1. Too bad Honda didn’t build this bike with the 500x motor. That engine and a little bigger fuel tank would be about perfect. Would easily keep up with the big bikes on the street and leave them in the dust in the dirt…

  2. Got to wonder if that stock skid plate will hold up, I’m sure it’s built to a budget just like the handguards which look like they only have one fall in them. Tank is too small for the type of riding you’d be doing on this bike. Wonder how much weight can be sledded by the aftermarket.

  3. Great write up. That was a fun day getting to ride these two new bikes from Honda. I noticed a bit more seat vibe from the rally than the standard. Probably the best 250 trail/adv bikes out there.

    • Thanks Eric. Yes, it was a fun day of riding. Liked how they let us ride our own ride. Found some good detours off the main tracks to really test the bikes. Yep. Both are great trail bikes. But I think you and I both agreed the standard CRF250L felt better off-road than the rally, even though it has 1″ less suspension travel.

  4. I would consider it ONLY with a 300cc engine, even bigger fuel tank and a stator that can power heated grips, and all my electronics.

    • Thanks for the compliment Glen. I always say don’t skip the small bike phase. A lot of guys enter the sport with the 800cc+ Adventure Bike and miss out on all the fun. If you aren’t doing massive stretches of highway, a smaller ADV Bike makes a lot of sense. You’ll never regret all the good times you had on a smaller bike and it pays dividends in skills and confidence if and when you decide to move up to a larger bike. And if you don’t mind cruising at a slower speed (like the speed limit), you can knock off a lot of highway miles comfortably on a smaller bike.

  5. How does the performance increase compare to the WR250R? I like the CRF250L and it’s price, but I really like the performance and suspension (and adjustibility) of the WR250R.

    • Hey CarlT. The WR250R is still a step up in suspension, ground clearance and weight over the standard CRF250L. The power output is pretty similar but the lighter weight of the WR gives it an edge. A $1500 savings on the CRF does make it a tough call though.

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