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After enjoying updates each year since its radical revamp back in 2018, the Honda CRF250R returns as the exact same model as the prior year for 2021. While Big Red’s 250cc four-stroke motocrosser has plenty of positive qualities that make it an enticing option, especially for those who are looking for a fun 250F to ride, it still has a number of areas that could be refined to make it a better overall racebike. And in a class as competitive as the 250F motocross segment, having even just a few aspects to improve upon can push a bike to the bottom of the rankings, as is the case with the CRF250R.
2021 Honda CRF250R Engine
After taking delivery of Honda’s 250F motocrosser, we took it to our shop, mounted a Dunlop D404 street tire on the rear wheel, and ran it on our in-house dyno. Churning out 39.0 hp at 12,900 rpm and 18.8 pound-feet of torque at 9,500 rpm, the red machine ties the Yamaha YZ250F for the least peak horsepower and ranks third in peak torque.
The Honda produces the most horsepower of all the bikes from 3,400 rpm 5,000 rpm, at which point it gets passed by the KTM 250 SX-F and Husqvarna FC 250, then gets overtaken by the YZ250F at 5,700 rpm, meets the blue bike along the horsepower curve very briefly from 7,300 to 7,500 rpm, then passes the YZ250F from that point until the two machines hit an identical peak horsepower figure of 39.0 at a similar rpm (12,900 for the CRF250R, 13,000 for the YZ250F). After matching the 250 SX-F and FC 250 from 8,200 to 8,400 rpm, the CRF250R makes the most horsepower of all the bikes from 9,700 to 10,800 rpm, at which point it gets passed by the FC 250 and later the 250 SX-F at 11,600 rpm. The Honda makes more horsepower than the Kawasaki KX250 from 3,400 to 12,000 rpm, then is passed by the green machine from that point until 14,000 rpm.
As far as torque, the CRF250R makes the most of all the bikes from 3,400 to 4,500 rpm, where it meets the FC 250 from that point until 5,200 rpm, where it also gets passed by the Husky and the 250 SX-F, then by the YZ250F at 5,700 rpm. It meets the blue bike at 7,300 rpm, passes it at 7,500 rpm, and produces more than the YZ250F from that point until peak. The Honda meets the Austrian duo on the torque curve from 8,000 to 8,500 rpm, then gets passed by the two until 9,600 rpm, meets them again at 10,600 rpm, then is passed by them one final time at 11,700 rpm until peak.
The CRF250R’s free-revving engine is one of the characteristics that make it so much fun to ride. It offers a smooth, linear powerband from bottom to top with no real hit anywhere in the rpm range, all of which contribute to the bike’s ability to get great traction. On the flip side of that, although its bottom-end and midrange power have been improved in the last few years since the latest engine design was introduced in 2018, it still needs work to be competitive with more hit and overall torque. The most effective way to ride the CRF250R is by maintaining as much momentum as possible and keeping the rpm sky high as it takes a while for the engine to get back into the meat of the power when letting it dip too low in the rpm range.
Although there isn’t a world of difference between the three maps toggled via the handlebar-mounted engine mode select button, test riders preferred map 3 for its increased torque feel at low rpm. Minimal engine-braking is a praiseworthy quality of Honda’s quarter-liter engine. As one of the two bikes in this comparison test equipped with a cable clutch, the CRF250R has the hardest clutch pull and its clutch fades a little too much under heavy use.
Related: 2020 Honda CRF250RX Dyno Test
2021 Honda CRF250R Suspension
Having the most performance-based suspension setup of all the bikes, the CRF250R’s Showa 49mm coil-spring fork and Showa shock offer a fair amount of comfort, and have reasonable holdup and good bottoming resistance. Both units, namely the fork, are a little firm in the initial part of the stroke, but offer a plusher feel deeper in the stroke—most notably on bigger impacts such as jump landings—and get better the faster and more aggressively you ride the bike.
2021 Honda CRF250R Chassis/Handling
With light and nimble handling characteristics combined with having the shortest-feeling wheelbase of all the motorcycles in this comparison test, the CRF250R is very maneuverable and the easiest bike to corner. It leans more toward turning ability than straight-line stability, which leads to it being prone to some headshake in rough terrain. The Honda gets excellent rear wheel traction despite its stink bug (high rear end) stance, which can be reduced by lowering the rear end of the bike by adding more shock sag. Contributing to the CRF250R’s sharp handling is that the chassis is a bit on the rigid side, which decreases rider comfort on bumps and becomes more noticeable as the track gets rough.
Ergonomically, the Honda is the easiest bike to hop on and get used to right away as a result of its comfort and neutrality. The rider triangle is well-proportioned and its flat seat makes it easy to move forward and back on. The only downside to the CRF’s ergonomics is that its radiator shrouds and midsection are a little wider than most of the other bikes, the latter of which is due to the dual exhaust system.
Why the 2021 Honda CRF250R Should Have Won
Excellent cornering ability, a light and nimble feel, and great ergonomics make the CRF250R an enticing option. It’s also the least expensive bike of the five gathered here.
Why the 2021 Honda CRF250R Didn’t Win
Having the least low-end power and torque feel throughout the rpm range, the firmest clutch pull, and being the most unstable bike in the test hold the CRF250R back from standing atop the podium in this competitive class.
Helmet: Bell Moto-9 Flex
Goggle: Oakley Airbrake MX
Neck Brace: Alpinestars BNS Tech-2
Jersey: Thor MX Prime Pro
Gloves: Thor MX Agile Plus
Pant: Thor MX Prime Pro
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10