​During our last few 250F Shootouts, one of the most standout bikes when it came to pure fun on the track was the Honda CRF250R. In the end however, solely a lack of pure grunt and hit from the engine has held it back from being at the top of the class. Along with some nitpicking with the forks, although they made some great improvements in this field the last two years. After this year's shootout, we wanted to take the CRF and see what we could do to bring it to a Shootout winning level, but without breaking the bank or costing reliability.

To solve both or engine and suspension fixes in one stop, we dropped off the bike to Race Tech in Corona, Ca. Long known for their presence in the suspension world, Race Tech has added engine services such as head porting and machining, ECU tuning, crank mods, and more to their list of services. When we dropped it off we gave a simple instruction, best bang for our buck, please. To start things off they went to their bread-and-butter, the suspension, which meant eliminating the SFF TAC (triple air chamber) system from the fork, and replacing it with a SFF spring unit produced by Race Tech themselves. Basically, the entire cartridge is removed from the left fork (leaving just the upper and inner tubes, along with the lugs) and replacing it with their own cartridge that uses a single spring. This kit of course dumps the need to change air pressures, leaving only an air bleed screw at the top of the new cap. Unlike the production Showa SFF spring forks found on some past models, the Race Tech kit doesn't have a preload adjuster at the top. Why? Simple. With the Race Tech kit, the setting and spring rate are decided upon based on your needs, and the preload is already set to match the setting. Where with the past Showa SFF spring fork, the preload adjuster could be considered a bit of a crutch to help someone try to work with the stock settings and spring rate. To put it bluntly, this feature wasn't needed on the Race Tech kit and keeps the pricing down. At about $500 (without spring), this kit is quite a bit more affordable then hunting down a set of A-kit spring forks or even older production forks to put in their place. After this, they also re-valved the damping unit on the right side fork with a Gold Valve kit, along with the same job and new spring for the rear shock.

Even though I personally like airforks, I'll admit whole-heartedly that Race Tech's spring conversion would solve many rider's woes when it comes to Showa's TAC fork. Even with a higher-than-average knowledge of suspension, consistently setting up a TAC fork around different conditions can be a bit of a chore. The lack of needed setup is the first positive, while the second was the overall initial feel that Race Tech was able to achieve. While the Honda already has fantastic handling traits, the changes Race Tech made improved the overall front feel and was especially noticeable on hard packed conditions where ruts were lacking. All this while still keeping plenty of bottoming resistance and overall stroke characteristic that most would be familiar with from a spring fork. At the rear of the bike, the shock had better control and hold up while hanging off the back in aggressive sections, while still settling a bit better and not quite as "stink bugged" when guided into a rutted corner. Between the spring conversion kit and RT's Gold Valve kits, the action was smooth, predictable, and easy to tune to work for our needs. With eliminating the air side from the fork, it really simplifies you thinking of mind to revert back to working with your compression and rebound clickers.

As for the engine, things were kept simple as Race Tech ported the cylinder head and decked the cylinder, then we added a stainless/aluminum FMF 4.1 RCT system, and a bit of VP U4.4 fuel. For the head Race Tech improved the flow of the head with a port, polish, and valve job, along with decking the cylinder to raise the compression just a bit, while still utilizing the stock piston. You can either have your cylinder head or the actual cylinder decked (removed material to change the distance from the top of the piston to the combustion chamber on the head), in our case we requested to have the cylinder decked so a replacement cylinder can easily change the compression back to stock if needed. 

To help get the most of our limited upgrades, we used Honda's available mapping software to tweak the ECU on Race Tech's dyno and get every little bit out of the bike. Our ultimate goal was to find a little better snap and hit off the bottom, but mostly give it the pull through the top of the rev range to compete with the best bikes in the shootout. On the track, the mods really hit the spot with more response down low, hitting cleaner and with a bit more grunt before moving into the already competitive mid-range the Honda has. But overall, the most gains were felt through the top of the range as the CRF now pulled longer and harder then before. This gave the lil red machine a more complete powerband to compete with the likes of the top bikes in our comparison, the Husky/KTM, while having the flick-able and nimble characteristics the CRF250R is well known for. In the end, we ended up with $575 into our head and $200 into our dyno time and tuning. For someone who hasn't had a bike actually placed on a dyno for tuning, it's hard to explain how much crisper the bike is, unless you've ridden one heck of a bike with a perfect carburetor.

A quick peek at the bike will show you we seriously kept this CRF close to stock as outside what's mentioned above, as we only added a Polisport plastic kit chain slider, along with a graphics kit from Piston Bones that wasn't mean to stray too far from the stock Honda's clean look. All-in-all, today's bikes are very capable and we did what most are looking for, a little more power without sacrificing reliability and tuning up the suspension to our exact needs...then cleaning the bike up but without spending our leftover dollars on bling.

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