Is it really fair to call the 2017 Honda CRF250L a dual-sport motorcycle? After all, once you get off the pavement and into some dirt with a modern 250cc, it becomes apparent that what can seem small on the street can deliver a pretty substantial punch of power of the trail.
Both Honda and Kawasaki make and sale a small-displacement 250cc, dual-sport motorcycle, although this segment of the motorcycle market seems to be the last to receive major upgrades. But the 2017 Honda CRF250L comes with the thirty generation of the 249.6cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine equipped with the latest PGM-FI and additional fueling and exhaust technology which for 2017 added 2 more horsepower compared with the 2016 CRF250L model.
Based on the same engine used in the previous CRF250L and introduced a good amount of upgrades in what makes it a 3th generation engine.
Operating and feathering the cable-operated clutch is an easy, two-finger operation that conveniently allows the remaining two fingers to hold onto the hand grip when bouncing over rocks and roots in the forest. The six-speed transmission shifted smooth as butter with light effort. Once, as I stood on the serrated pegs during a stretch of technical, single-track trail, my shift lever hit a large rock and shifted the transmission into neutral while I was accelerating. Recovering quickly, I jammed it hard back into first and took off before the person behind me ran into my rear tire.
When we stopped for a break, I borrowed a couple of adjustable wrenches and straightened my shift lever back to normal. The trauma of that episode had no ill effect on the transmission whatsoever.
While the single front-brake rotor had a very thin contact area from the brake pads, the front brake worked well and offered good feedback, even in loose dirt. The rear was also quite effective on pavement but was easy to lock up in the dirt. Handy for sliding into corners with MX style riding.
With a generous ground clearance of 258mm (3mm up from 2016) and long suspension travel on both ends, it easily soaked up everything that we threw at it in the bush. I thought the Showa 43mm inverted fork seemed a little soft on the road, but it worked perfectly on the trails and is well suited for the casual dual-sport enthusiast. The front suspension is not adjustable, but the rear monoshock is adjustable for spring pre-load. With substantial ground clearance comes a tall seat 875mm, it’s a stretch to throw a leg over, although it tapers at the front, allowing my girlfriend with 165cm to touch the ground with tippy toes. (Apparently for 2017 Honda also has a CRF250LDH which has a seat height of 830mm and ground clearance of 211mm).
In true Honda fashion, the CRF250L is very quiet, which is nice when running through the forest… but is it possible to be too quiet? At one point we came across a group of Thai military in full jungle uniform, they all startles by the appearance of our motorcycles as we rounded a corner; they clearly hadn’t heard us coming.
Most of our time was spent on trails, but one of the beauties of a dual-sport motorcycle is the ability to ride on the road in order to get to the trails. The 2017 Honda CRF250L is well ronded in its design, as it also makes an excellent road going motorcycle. The seat is wide and comfortable, and the hands and feet seem to naturally fall into the proper places. I did find, however, that when I stood up on the foot pegs, the handlebar seemed a little low and I felt excessively bent over. This made it awkward when maneuvering tight, single track, but an easy fix would be to add taller handlebars.
Unfortunately, the first part of my ride was single track, and my initial impression was that the Honda CRF250L was too small to be enjoyable, but after being on it for a whole day in a variety of terrain, and once used to it, my thoughts changed and I really enjoyed my time on it. The liquid-cooled engine is a jewel; the throttle is responsive, the fuel injection never skipped a beat, and I felt no engine vibration, thanks to the engine’s balance shaft. It’s a fun, agile motorcycle that should appeal to a wide range of riders.