For years now, the Kawasaki Ninja 250R has been the only sportbike-inspired street motorcycle aimed at entry-level riders. Despite the fact that the Ninja 250R has sold so well over the years, no other Japanese manufacturers have entered into the class with a bike that would compete with the Kawasaki - until now that is. Honda’s recent release of the 2011 CBR250R means that Kawasaki may now have some stiff competition in the lightweight division.
While the Honda may at first seem conventional at best, a quick look at its spec sheet proves otherwise. In fact, the Honda plays host to a number of innovative tech features that set it apart from the Kawasaki - despite being one cylinder down. Many of the features, including the fuel injection and optional ABS (more on that later), were incorporated into the lightweight machine’s design so that the bike was easier to ride and easier to work on – something all entry-level riders will appreciate.
The DOHC liquid-cooled single-cylinder 249cc engine of the 2011 CBR250R is an all-new design that was erected specifically for this bike – as was the chassis. The power plant plays host to a counterbalancer for reduced vibrations, roller bearing-equipped rocker arms that activate the valves and a spiny-sleeve cylinder that will keep the engine’s temperatures down. An interesting side note is the fact that the rocker arm design of the single-cylinder engine allows for valve shim adjustment without removing the cams. And speaking of valve adjustments, Honda says valve adjustment intervals are right at 16,000 miles – which is similar to the intervals of the 250’s larger CBR relatives.
As previously mentioned, the chassis of the CBR250R is an all-new design that was constructed specifically for this model. The steel frame features a diamond twin-spar design that uses the engine as a stress member. In terms of suspension, the CBR250R offers a 37mm non-adjustable conventional fork and Pro-Link rear shock. And while the seventeen-inch front wheel is mounted with a 110/70 series tire, the seventeen-inch rear wheel is mounted with a 140/70 tire.
When designing the bike, Honda engineers worked meticulously on the CBR’s rider triangle. The result is a bike that features a 30.5-inch seat height and is surprisingly comfortable – even for riders topping the 6-foot mark such as myself. The upright bars put the rider in a comfortable seating position with little to no weight on the rider’s wrists or arms.
Needless to say, we at Sport Rider were excited to try out the CBR and see if it was as capable and innovative as its spec sheet made it out to be. Thanks to Honda’s press intro, we finally had the opportunity to do just that.
Throughout the CBR250R press intro, press was able to ride in areas where I, admittedly, thought the single-cylinder machine would be out of place and begging for mercy. But low and behold, the bike never came up for air. Instead, the Honda took on every obstacle with relative ease and asked for nothing more than a few additional gear changes.
To my surprise, the lightweight machine felt stable at highway speeds and even crossing large grooves failed to initiate any type of squirm. At cruising speeds, the motor runs at a consistent 7500 rpm without hesitation, and that’s a decent ways away from the 10,500 rpm redline and 8500 rpm point where peak power is made. Rolling the throttle on at 60 mph does however remind you though that you are on a 250cc machine and additional speed is hard to come by without a downshift.
Also apparent on the freeway were the transmission ratios. While the lower gears we ran on the side streets were slightly short and more apt for bottom-end power, the slightly taller sixth gear was perfect for the highway speeds. Also prevalent on the freeway was a slight vibration through the CBR’s handlebars. At lower speeds however, the vibrations died down and were never a concern or nuisance.
Thanks to the great fuel economy of the 250 and decent-sized 13-liter fuel tank, we were able to put just over 100 miles on the bike without using more than half of the full tank of gas we left with in the morning. That being said, riders should be able to hit the 200-mile mark before hunting for a gas station.
Though already apparent that the lightweight machine was plenty capable on the highway, whether or not it could take an abuse on tight, twisty roads was still in question. So that’s exactly where we took it.
In the hills of Southern California, the 37mm non-adjustable conventional fork and Pro-Link rear shock did an admirable job of absorbing the larger bumps and providing stability and comfort through corners. On sections of road where rough patches were more prevalent, the suspension package provided a welcomed feel and unlike the suspension of most sportbikes, the CBR’s conventional fork absorbed the bumps without juddering your insides. However, in some of the tighter sections, where the riding style turns to slightly more aggressive, the suspension feels rather soft.
One of the more positive things about the CBR is something it doesn’t have, excess weight. At 359 pounds, the single-cylinder CBR is almost 20 pounds lighter than the Kawasaki. The result is a light and nimble feel that will provide entry-level riders with a feeling of total control.
The braking system of the CBR, which is composed of a 296mm disc and dual-piston caliper up front and 220mm disc and single-piston caliper out back, is no monster but gets the bike slowed down with relative ease. In terms of braking, the real fun comes when riding the ABS-equipped model. The ABS version of the CBR, which features a partially linked brake system that initiates one piston of the front caliper when the rear brake is engaged, removed any concerns I originally had while riding on the slightly damp and dirty roads along the coastline. And although you could feel the system cycle when mashing on the rear brake, grabbing a handful of front brake proved that the system worked without adversely affecting the suspension.
After a full day of seat time on the CBR250R, one thing is apparent and that is Honda’s emphasis on building the perfect bike for entry-level riders. In addition to the optional ABS and linked brake system that make this bike safer, weight is cut to a minimum and clutch disengagement is easy (Leaving from a dead stop, the clutch is extremely easy to disengage and very little throttle is needed to get the bike rolling – which limits the chances of stalling the bike). All of these things combine to make the CBR a great option for new riders looking for a cheap, easy and safe way to get into riding.
The truth is the CBR250R is the perfect machine for Honda’s lineup. The bike was designed with entry-level riders in mind and the final product is a machine that anyone can ride and have fun on. And at just $3999 for the base model and $4499 for the ABS model, the bike is the perfect option for riders looking for a cheap, safe entry into the world of motorcycles.
Be sure and stay tuned though for the promising comparison test between the Honda CBR250R and its obvious rival, the Kawasaki Ninja 250R.