Pics: Phil Steinhardt
Right, let’s get this straight; the Honda CRF250L is not another indulgence of Chris’ infatuation with stupid raucous off road bikes that make no sense to anyone other than him. What it is, is a useful second bike that won’t cost you the earth to buy, insure and run and won’t explode in a shower of Titanium valves the first time you ride it to work. The little CRF250L has 8,000 mile service intervals, with the valve check waiting until 16,000 miles. It has a key, a proper dash, indicators and even mirrors, although these are currently stashed in the workshop to avoid breaking them. It’ll cost you £4,199 new and Honda is currently offering 0% finance. Being 250cc it’s in the cheap tax band too. It’s not sexy to talk about fuel consumption figures (unless we’re talking drag bikes and gallons per mile), but the CRF will return over 80mpg. It’s more frugal than a company director who’s just paid his tax bill.
So, it only has 22bhp, there’s nothing exotic about the way it’s made or put together and it doesn’t do wheelies off the throttle in third gear; so why the hell is it here? As I’m sure you’ll have spotted, the CRF250L is, in it’s own way, a dirt bike. It’s no rip-snorting motocross racer like its sibling the CRF250R; no, the ‘L’ is a good old-fashioned trail bike. It ain’t fast, it ain’t loud, but it is a ticket to play in the mud for those who can’t afford the luxury of a second bike that’s only good for firing up trees. The 250L will haul you to work all winter while your sports bike stays warm, clean and dry. It’ll step in to get you to the shops when it snows, it’ll laugh at the floods up round your knees and it doesn’t fall to pieces when you crash it. If you launch the CRF down the road at 30mph, the resultant crash repair bill wouldn’t even match the price of a single side panel on a Fireblade.
And when you’ve finished being all smug and practical, you can dive off onto the dirt tracks and have a ton of fun. Yes, you’ll develop your riding skills and become a more confident, better rider, but you’ll be so busy laughing and flinging mud anywhere that you won’t care.
So, first ride out on the ‘L’ I hooked up with photographer Phil for an afternoon trail riding round Surrey. While the roads were a wet, potholey mess, the dirt tracks just get better and better the more it rains. The first thing that impressed me about the little Honda is how civilized it is. After all that schpiel about how much of a practical bike it is, I was still surprised to find a proper dash and controls that felt like any other commuter bike. It’s basic by road bike standards, but everything you actually need is there. Except the mirrors – they’re safely tucked in the workshop because, when there’s no expensive penalty for crashing, I do enjoy a good tumble or two. And tough though the CRF is, there’s not much you can do about how fragile mirrors are; nobody needs seven years of stupid superstition spoiling their ride. Off road, it’s a capable bike, happy at a decent trail riding pace and easy to ride slowly when things get real slick. Sure, if you try and ride it at enduro pace, the soft suspension calls time pretty quickly, but that’s what a CRF250X or R is for. Stick with the ‘L’, and we will, and it’s a chance to learn all those silly little tricks you want to do on your road bike, but feel you shouldn’t. Skids, wheelies, jumps and stoppies are all much easier to learn on something that doesn’t set fire to your wallet when it goes wrong.
The CRF250L has impressed already, now it has a couple of hard months’ proving its worth on road, dirt and anything in between. By the time it goes back everyone on the SB team will have had a turn at wheelying, skidding and jumping it in the mud. If it stands up to all that, it’ll cope with anything. And you know what, I think it will.