By Sean Klinger and Kris Keefer
Photos by Drew Ruiz
With Eli Tomac piloting a ’13 Honda CRF250R to an AMA National Championship, there is no doubt that Big Red’s quarter liter thumper was created with a winning combination. Yet in the fickle world of professional motocross racing, especially in the 250F class, things can change rapidly and a small tweak here and a little change there can mean the difference between sweet victory and crushing defeat.
For 2014, Honda decided not to rely on small changes but rather look to the 250F’s bigger brother for inspiration and take many of the major changes the CRF450R received for 2013 and apply them to the 2014 CRF250R. Starting with the obvious, the 250F’s frame geometry has changed reflecting the last year’s 450R frame changes. These changes are to lower the bike’s center of gravity and improve the handling with a new framespar/headtube junction. Next, the radiators have been lowered to increase mass centralization and help create a lighter, more maneuverable feel. Also, the CRF250R has new debris-shielding footpeg mounts. Basically, this is a small extension of plastic that covers the footpeg hinge to keep malicious rocks and mud from accumulating.
Another glaring change is a return of a dual-muffler exhaust system which originally graced the ’06-’09 year models of the CRF250R. According to Honda the original twin-muffler design was focused on improving handling and balance, yet was abandoned in 2010 since that year’s frame was new and a single sided exhaust better complemented the new frame. This year’s muffler configuration is again aimed at balance but also has more to do with meeting sound regulations (producing 94 dB.) and engine performance gains.
In a practical application, we felt that the bike handled better than the 2013 model and direction change is also improved with the 2014 CRF. You can get into a rut easier and if you want to turn down early from a berm, it is done better with the new chassis. Straight-line stability hasn’t been sacrificed with this newfound carving ability.
Next, you’ll notice new plastics and these are also shared with the Honda’s 450, as well as the 1.66-gallon gas tank (up from 1.5 gallons), air box, and subframe. And they are not just similar, they are exactly the same. The heart of the red beast has the same engine architecture as last year’s model, yet boasts a new cylinder head, new piston and higher compression ratio. Honda engineers said that these changes were really focused on bottom-end hit, claiming that the ’14 CRF250R is noticeably snappier. To complement the powerplant changes, the EFI has a new Dual-Timing PGM-FI fuel injection system that is still a single injector, yet splits the squirt of fuel into two pulses. The amount of fuel used is the same as well as the amount of time that the fuel is being injected, but the first pulse is right before the valve opens which cools down the intake valve slightly. A change in engine character isn’t necessarily noticed on the dyno, but is aimed at bettering engine response and making for a crisper jetted machine.
Immediately, we could tell that the 2014 model had better throttle response and more torque out of corners. It pulls harder than the 2013 in second gear and will get you out of loamy berms or tight ruts in a hurry. This is where our smile started to turn upside down. Mid range and top end seemed flatter than the 2013. Shifting into third gear, the bike felt like it didn’t pull as hard or as long as its older brother. Shifting into fourth gear also felt like it wouldn’t pull as quite as hard unless you had your finger on the clutch to help it along. If you’re precise with your shifting the 2014 feels similar to last year’s bike. The window of error just happens to be a little smaller through the middle and top end.
The front suspenders haven’t changed externally, retaining the same 48mm Showa cartridge fork, yet internal valving changes were made to complement the new frame characteristics. In the rear, the shock is mounted 14mm lower than the 2013’s to further mass centralization. This also creates a flatter linkage ratio that shouldn’t have any effect on handling, just something Honda had to do because of the lower shock. The 250R still uses a Honda Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD) but this isn’t noticed too much on a motocross track.
The suspension felt similar to the 2013. It is comfortable and predictable, but soft. The front fork seemed to dive under hard braking. It also bottomed out going up steep jump faces. We stiffened the compression more than a few clicks and this helped bring the front end up along with stiffening the high-speed compression on the shock. Once this setting was achieved the bike had better balance coming into corners and up jump faces. The track wasn’t too rough on this day so we will continue to ride the 2014 CRF250R at a combination of rough Southern California tracks to see if we have the same opinion.
Overall, the 2014 CRF250R continues i’s pedigree as a potent and crowd-pleasing race bike. Receiving many of the recent changes that are found on its bigger brother, only time will tell if these hand-me-downs translate into a blessing or a curse. Be sure to keep an eye out for the full test in the December issue of Dirt Rider and for the CRF250R’s appearance in the Dirt Rider 250F MX Shootout.