2016 Honda CRF250R First Ride Review

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Highs
  • Improved overall power
  • Great performing air fork
  • Excellent cornering
Lows
  • Spongy clutch feel
  • Airfork malfunction

The bottom line of the 250F class is all about horsepower. Strong, usable power often trumps handling simply because 250Fs are lighter and easier to manhandle than a 450. Honda’s CRF250R has always been a great handling bike, but riders always craved more power. In the never-ending quest for more earth-churning force, Honda made a number of changes to the 2016 CRF250R engine while also revising some suspension components.

2016 Honda CRF250R

Added power for 2016 helps the Honda CRF250R appeal to wider range of riders. 

Updates and Changes

Visually the 2016 CRF engine looks much the same as the 2015, but internal changes are all about higher rpms, more power and improved reliability. A lighter piston and connecting rod allows for higher revs while the increased compression ratio (13.5:1 to 13.8:1) heightens power. An all-new cylinder head utilizes improved intake and exhaust ports while lighter titanium exhaust valves and a new cam increase the CRF250R’s ability to rev higher, with the intake valve buckets now DLC (diamond-like coating) to reduce friction. The new exhaust header features a resonator, designed to enhance bottom-end power, with larger muffler internals improving flow and performance. A revised airbox, with a new inner duct length, feeds the engine more efficiently. And to keep the more powerful engine cool, the CRF’s left radiator has increased capacity.

2016 Honda CRF250R

The 2016 CRF250R looks the same from the outside but revisions to the engine means it produces more power. 

The 2016 CRF250R still uses Showa’s Separate Function Fork, with Triple Air Chamber (SFF TAC), but it has been updated. As before, the air chambers are incorporated in the left leg, while the right leg is devoted to damping. Honda houses all three air chambers (inner chamber, outer chamber, balance chamber) inside the fork, which is consistent with the factory Showa fork and helps reduce the chance of impact damage to the balance chamber. Honda also switched to a new inner seal, reducing friction of the fork legs by 25%.

When compared to the 2015 CRF250R Showa fork, pressure in the inner chamber (the chamber that acts as the primary spring) has been reduced to make the initial travel more plush. A third adjustment valve (Schrader valve) was added to the outer chamber so pressure can be increased to resist bottoming. (Previously, only the inner chamber and balance chamber could be adjusted, while the outer chamber used to have a bleeder so it was at atmospheric pressure.) The forks are now 5mm longer while the ride height remains the same, with the stock position of the fork tubes in the triple clamps rising 5mm. This gives a rider more adjustment of the fork legs if they choose to change the height. As with coil-spring forks, Honda recommends that most tuning be done through valving, using the rebound and compression adjusters. The air chamber pressure should be adjusted only to alter spring rate. The Showa SFF-Air Support smart-phone app can help determine proper air-pressure settings.

Out In The Dirt

A lot of little revisions and tweaks can add up to a substantial change and this is exactly what Honda’s engine changes have accomplished on the CRF. The 2016 Honda CRF250R has improved power from idle all the way to the rev limiter. Last year the Honda wasn’t the fastest bike in the 250F class, in fact it was one of the slowest, but a great handling chassis helped make up for some of the missing grunt. This year riders will be much more satisfied with the Honda’s engine and power character. After our day at Cahuilla Creek motocross track we weren’t blown away with the CRF250F’s power but still pleased it has more than last year. The ability of the 2016 CRF250R to pull nicely all the way to the rev limiter will make aggressive 250F pilots happy and Honda succeeded in taking away that empty feeling of the 2015 engine in the higher rpms. The 2016 engine’s broader powerband makes upshifting and riding a gear high much easier than it was on the 2015 – even down in the lower rpm.

We really like the easy-to-use engine mode select button located on the handlebars. Three preset maps are available, with mapping selection indicated through blinks from the blue LED in the button itself. One blink for the standard map, two for a smooth map and three for an aggressive map. Depending on the track and the conditions, the stock map (map one) works very well, while map three (aggressive) gives the engine a more aggressive and faster revving feel but doesn’t let the engine rev out quite as far.

Cornering prowess is what the Honda CRF250R is known for and thankfully that hasn’t gone away in 2016. Revisions to the suspension retain the CRF’s balance and, as always, the Honda remains a very easy bike to get along with, especially when the track gets rough. The CRF250R is at home railing ruts or carving a nice arc in a flat corner. Some riders feel the Honda exhibits a bit of nervousness at high speeds but thanks to the now longer 5mm fork legs, it gives riders the option to slide the forks down in the triple clamps, increasing overall stability.

Overall the 2016 Honda has a very comfortable feel. It is plush and forgiving while still holding up well in the bigger bumps and hard landings. While we praise the Showa TAC fork, the left leg that is home to all three air chambers had a one-off malfunction during our first day aboard the CRF250R. The balance chamber lost pressure and created a pogo stick-like fork. After refilling it we quickly discovered it was leaking, requiring us to switch out the forks. We realize things malfunction and can break for no reason, but little mishaps like this make us miss conventional spring forks more every day.

The Dunlop MX52 works decently on the 2016 CRF, but we’d prefer MX32 meats in every track surface minus hard pack blue grove. We aren’t saying to immediately rip off the stock MX52s, but when they are worn consider trying a set of MX32s, as they generally improve handling.

2016 Honda CRF250R

Cornering is still a highlight of the 2016 Honda CRF250R. Test rider Kai Mukai making the  MSR Max Air gear look good.

Bottom Line

After just one day on the new 2016 Honda CRF250R we are happy with the changes and like the improved overall power, especially on top. The engine has more grunt everywhere, allowing a rider to ride right up to the rev limiter or upshift and use more of the added bottom to mid grunt. In the world of air forks, the Showa TAC fork works pretty well on the CRF250R chassis, better than most air forks on 450s (despite its fluke failure during our testing session). It could be in part to the lightweight of the 250, but the Showa TAC fork is plush while still resisting bottoming, a feature not common with most air forks. Overall the 2016 CRF250R is an extremely likable bike with a little more get up and go than last year.

Second Opinion   Kai Mukai 5’5”/140 lbs/ Pro

“My first ride on the 2016 Honda CRF250R was amazing. The track at Cahuilla was perfect and the handling of the bike felt great with just little adjustments to the fork and shock. The Honda handling is sharp and precise. Even with more bottom end power for 2016 I’d like a little more hit. The over rev felt longer with more pull all the way to the rev limiter. This bike is good for long, rough motos.”

Suspension Settings

Fork
  • Inner chamber: 156 psi
  • Balance chamber: 156 psi
  • Outer chamber: 12 psi (we ran 6 psi)
  • Compression: 7 clicks out
  • Rebound: 29 clicks out
  • HPSD: 7 clicks out
Shock
  • Sag: 103mm-105mm
  • Hi-compression: 3 turns out
  • Lo-compression: 10 clicks out
  • Rebound: 7 clicks out

2016 Honda CRF250R Specifications

  • Engine: Single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Displacement: 249cc
  • Bore x Stroke: 76.8 mm x 53.8 mm
  • Compression Ratio: 13.8:1
  • Transmission: 5 speed
  • Fuel System: Keihin 46mm throttle body
  • Final Drive: 13/49
  • Cooling: Liquid-cooling
  • Clutch: Wet Multi-Disc
  • Front Suspension: 49 mm inverted Showa SFF-Air TAC fork, rebound compression damping adjustability; 12.2 in. travel
  • Rear Suspension: Pro-Link Showa single shock with adjustable spring preload, rebound and damping adjustability; 12.3 in. travel
  • Front/Rear Brakes: Disc Brake 260mm/240mm
  • Front/Rear Rims: 1.60 x 21”, 2.15 x 19”
  • Front/Rear Tires: 80/100-21; 120/90-19 Dunlop MX52
  • Silencers: Aluminum
  • Wheelbase: 58.6 inch
  • Ground Clearance: 12.7 inch
  • Seat Height: 37.4 inch
  • Tank Capacity: 1.7 gallon
  • Weight (with fuel), Approx: 231 pounds
  • MSRP: $7599

Kai Mukai shows off the drain bolt on the 2016 Honda CRF250R.

Cornering is still a highlight of the 2016 Honda CRF250R.

The 2016 Honda CRF250R feels light and nimble.

Flickable is one way to describe the 2016 Honda CRF250R.

The 2016 Honda CRF250R.

From the outside the 2016 CRF250R doesn’t look any different than 2015.

The Showa TAC fork now features a adjustable valve on the outer chamber. Honda recommends 12 psi.

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