2020 Honda CRF250R First Ride Review

Riding the 2020 Honda CRF250R at SoCal’s Fox Raceway. (Mark Kariya/)

The Honda CRF250R has enjoyed some notable success in professional racing since the latest-generation model was introduced back in 2018, mostly in the past year with Geico Honda’s Chase Sexton using it to win the 2019 AMA 250SX East Region Supercross Championship and Phoenix Racing Honda’s Jace Owen piloting it to the 2019 Kicker Arenacross title. While its achievements in professional racing are undoubtedly impressive, we felt last year’s bike lacked low-end power and had a chassis that was occasionally unstable, especially in rough areas of the track. The 2020 model received several updates targeted at increasing the engine’s low-to-midrange power and improving the chassis’ handling. Honda invited us out to a private rental of Fox Raceway in Pala, California, to ride the ’20 model and see how the changes stacked up on the track.

Related: 2019 Honda CRF250RX First Ride Review

Engine

<strong>Left:</strong> Honda made several changes to the CRF250R's engine for 2020, which are aimed at increasing the engine's low-to-midrange power. <strong>Right:</strong> Honda's 250 four-stroke motocross bike also has a new frame and swingarm in 2020. Naturally, the fork and shock settings have also been revised.

<strong>Left:</strong> Honda made several changes to the CRF250R’s engine for 2020, which are aimed at increasing the engine’s low-to-midrange power. <strong>Right:</strong> Honda’s 250 four-stroke motocross bike also has a new frame and swingarm in 2020. Naturally, the fork and shock settings have also been revised. (Mark Kariya/)

The current CRF250R engine was developed from roadracing technology. It has a completely separate dual exhaust system that makes it visually unmistakable. 2020 marks the current generation engine’s third year in production and it has received a host of changes that were, according to Honda, aimed at bettering low-to-midrange power, increasing torque, and improving drivability.

To accomplish these goals, they changed the exhaust cam profile and timing, which delays the opening of the exhaust valves and reduces overlap; in turn, hopefully improving torque and power in the 6,000 to 10,000 rpm range. The combustion chamber shape has changed with an increased volume of 0.5 cm3, which now puts it at 12.5 cm3. To keep the compression ratio up, Honda also increased the piston dome by 0.5 cm3 to 22.2 cm3. The right-side header pipe resonator from the 2018 and 2019 model has been removed to help improve the power character when shifting from second to third gear as well. Also, the muffler internal shape has been revised, the air filter is 10 percent larger for improved airflow, and the engine now has a gear position sensor to allow dedicated ignition maps for each gear.

On the track, the CRF250R feels faster. It may not be the fastest bike in the class, but it is also not the slowest. The midrange power is slightly improved and over-rev is still strong. When you want to carry third gear just a little longer than normal to avoid shifting to fourth, the engine seems a little rich. There might be a little room in the fuel mapping to possibly improve the higher rpm power and gain more on top. This can be done with the HRC PGM-FI Setting Tool.

While the CRF250R’s engine power is improved for 2020, it could still use more torque if it wants to compete with the KTM and Yamaha powerplants.

While the CRF250R’s engine power is improved for 2020, it could still use more torque if it wants to compete with the KTM and Yamaha powerplants. (Mark Kariya/)

For the transmission, second and third gears have also been WPC surface treated for improved durability and reduced friction. Honda also indicated that second gear has a revised, higher ratio We did a little digging to see how much the ratios have changed and found that not only was second gear updated to have a higher ratio, but the fourth and fifth gear ratios have also been revised to a lower ratio. From the 2019 to 2020 model, first and third gears remained the same. The easiest way to explain this is the gap between first and second is bigger, and the gaps between second, third, and fourth are smaller. I can’t say it was a very noticeable change on the track, but it’s not a bad idea for the engine’s high rpm powerband to have the gear ratios closer together. Overall, the gear selection was good and I wasn’t in between gears at any point.

The clutch spring rates have been increased adding a claimed 18 percent more clutch capacity. I experienced some minimal clutch fade at the beginning of the day; maybe because of the engine breaking in or getting up to temperature. After the first 45 minutes of riding, it seemed to go away.

Suspension

Better stock suspension settings make the Showa components feel more compliant compared to the 2019 model.

Better stock suspension settings make the Showa components feel more compliant compared to the 2019 model. (Mark Kariya/)

With my 170-pound weight and Vet A riding ability, the stock suspension settings are a little soft for my liking. We made some adjustments throughout the day and easily got the bike to a point where the holdup was good without losing much comfort. For my first ride day on the bike, I set the fork at 5mm in the triple clamps, stiffened the compression adjuster five clicks so that it was four clicks out from fully closed, and left the rebound stock. Out back, we set the sag at 100mm (measured by the directions in the owner’s manual), went two clicks stiffer on low-speed compression to nine clicks out from fully closed, went in a half turn on high-speed compression to two turns out from fully stiff, and left rebound stock. Overall, the suspension feels more compliant than the prior year model, offering good comfort.

Chassis/Handling

Fortunately, the chassis on the CRF250R received all of the major updates as its big brother, the CRF450R, did last year. This includes a new frame and swingarm. Naturally, the fork and shock settings have also been revised. Some of the smaller, more minor updates include new lighter footpegs and a new battery that has been repositioned 28mm lower. The rear brake has a shorter and lighter brake pedal, and the lower rear brake guard has been removed in an effort to reduce weight and improve cooling. The bodywork remains unchanged with the exception of new graphics.

The chassis on the CRF250R is very clean and streamlined. There are no gaps in the plastic across the side of the bike from the radiator to the rear of the number plate. The rider cockpit area seems well thought out with equal proportions, forming a comfortable rider triangle. It definitely has the feeling of sitting on the bike and not in the bike.

How Does The Honda CRF250R Ride?

The CRF250R corners excellently.

The CRF250R corners excellently. (Mark Kariya/)

I enjoy riding the CRF250R because it has a very fun and lightweight feel. The bike corners so easily and intuitively. The balance between stability and turning is surprising because you would think it might get unstable at higher speeds. Initiating and entering a turn is very easy and once you commit to the corner, the bike pretty much does the rest for you. One new sensation I got on this bike was when you drag the rear brake just right when approaching the corner, it feels like you are almost backing the rear in without losing rear wheel traction.

When accelerating out of the turn, the bike easily transfers plenty of weight on the rear wheel and just hooks up. I know it’s a 250 so the wheel does not want to step out as easily as a 450; however, the CRF450R has the same feeling of very good rear wheel traction. I am going to say it’s a chassis thing.

I would say the engine power is improved but could still be better. You still need to keep the rpm up and be ready to downshift in the tighter corners. If you hit your marks and don’t stick the bike hard into a berm, everything is fine, but a mistake can be costly. The bike makes decent power and a faster engine may not even mean a faster lap time, but it would just give you a little more confidence around the track.

Gearbox

The 2020 Honda CRF250R feels faster than last year’s bike.

The 2020 Honda CRF250R feels faster than last year’s bike. (Mark Kariya/)

Helmet: Shoei VFX-EVO
Goggle: Scott Prospect
Jersey: Fly Racing Evolution DST
Gloves: Fly Racing Evolution DST
Pant: Fly Racing Evolution DST
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10

TECH SPEC

PRICE $7,999
ENGINE 249cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 5-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER N/A
MEASURED TORQUE N/A
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 49mm inverted coil-spring fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 12.0-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa shock adjustable for spring preload, high-/low-speed compression damping, and rebound damping; 12.4-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin 2-piston caliper, 260mm disc
REAR BRAKE Nissin 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc
WHEELBASE 58.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 37.8 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 1.6 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 237 lb. curb
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT powersports.honda.com

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