Getting down and dirty with the CRF250L
I HAVE to admit that not since I was in my late teens have I woken up excited at the fact there was a 250cc motorbike sitting outside my house.
The bike in question then was a Honda, too. An old X-reg XL250R in fact, in cherry red with big white lettering on the side of the vinyl- covered lump of foam that passed as a seat. It was a real go-anywhere, do-anything bike and I loved it.
Fast forward from the late eighties to 2013, and it turns out Honda are still playing to the same crowd, but this time with the much more desirable CRF250L. This is one of those bikes that brings a smile to your face every time you go near it. It's smart, it's funky, and it weighs about the same as a suitcase full of Maltesers.
It's cheap to run, cheap to insure and will take you anywhere you want to go, on- or off-road, at a very respectable pace. And it's a Honda, so you already know it's reliable.
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The CRF250L inherits the familial single-cylinder four-stroke DNA pattern of so many of its predecessors, and is in fact a detuned version of the current CBR250R's motor. It's been remapped slightly to boost low and mid-range power output at the marginal expense of some top speed.
It's not quick if you're used to riding big road bikes, but it's still a decent step up if you're graduating from a 125.
The CRF is nifty enough on B-roads, and through Bristol's rush-hour traffic it's a complete gem, offering great views over the tops of cars without taking up much more road space than a bicycle. A bit of weave at higher speeds is to be expected as it runs on semi-knobbly tyres
But we'll forgive it that because it is, of course, off road where the CRF250L really comes into its own.
Tipping the scales at just 144kg, the little four-stroke combines just the right amount of punch with soft, user-friendly delivery to allow for decent progress down the green lanes of the beautiful countryside around Bristol.
Fowlers Honda made it quite clear I was to get their demo model dirty, so I headed for one of my favourite sections of track – the Fosse Way, from Acton Turville up towards Brokenborough. It's a seven-mile run that's mostly gravel, with a handful of gradients and an excellent river crossing with lots of good entry and exit points.
The CRF250L coped beautifully with everything that was thrown at it, including copious amounts of water.
The relatively gentle power delivery is more than adequate for off-roading of this nature, and keeps progress smooth without making the bike jumpy or nervous through the dips.
The rising rate rear suspension is relatively softly sprung, making things that little bit easier on the legs, while the 43mm upside down forks on the front offer an even more plush 250mm of travel.
A key feature of the CRF250L is the way the motor thrums along, sewing-machine style, in near silence. Despite the fact it's legal to ride on certain trails and by-roads, you still won't make any friends with the rambling fraternity. But you've got more chance of avoiding being glared at if your bike purrs than if you've taken the baffles out.
Ground clearance is good on the lightweight Honda, and the semi off-road tyres do a decent job through the mud, finding traction where at times there appears to be none.
All round it's a very stable package, particularly stood up on the serrated footpegs, and even after a whole day's riding my aches and pains were few.
Features on the CRF include a handy little dash with digital speedo, trip meters and even a fuel gauge, as well as bungee points and a helmet lock. Electric start makes life much easier, too, compared to all those times spent kicking and kicking to get your bike up and running.
The frame may look aluminium, but is in fact painted steel, although the swingarm is alloy. Spoked wheels can be a swine to clean, but they look the part and offer more strength than their cast counterparts.
Almost £4,000 seems a fair whack to pay for a 250cc machine, but it's still around £500 cheaper than its closest rivals. What you get for your money is a very well put together bike that oozes Honda build quality as standard. It's a completely new machine for 2013 and, if it follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, there's no reason to expect it to suffer any reliability issues.
The CRF 250L is a great little all-rounder that constantly brings a smile. And however you ride it, it will return in the region of 90 miles per gallon, meaning a £10 tank of fuel will see you over 150 miles.
â To book a test ride on the CRF450L, call Fowlers Honda on 0117 977 0466.