2017 Honda CRF250L Standard and Rally
Yes, as a core motocross rider, I've done some laughing at small-bore Dual Sport bikes...and after spending some time with the Honda crew aboard their new 2017 CRF250L and Rally models, I'm slightly regretting my previous laughter. Now I've enjoyed some bigger Dual Sport bikes and some of the latest Adventure models, but small Dual Sports haven't quite pegged my interest in the past. Probably because I struggle to keep myself relaxed on a trail, as my ADHD kicks in when I see a roller that can be launched or a corner I can rail like a berm. And on this fateful day my ADHD definitely kicked in, but I realized I had been missing out on some serious fun.
So before I get into why, let's start off with the rides. Honda invited us out about 15 minutes from my home (nearest press intro I've ever been to!), up to legendary off-road racer Johnny Campbell's home in La Cresta, Ca. Which is nestled between the moto haven of Temecula/Murrieta and the ocean coast, up in a mountain range. Up at his home, we were introduced to the updated CRF250L and the all-new Rally version of the same bike. Now the CRF250L has been around for quite a long time and is Honda's small-bore Dual Sport bike, featuring a 250cc four stroke engine that shares very little with the motocross version. This version is much tougher but a bit slower...although it produces its power right where it's need for its work, down low in the RPMs.
To learn more about the updates to the CRF250L and what's different about the Rally version, go here - First Look: 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally. But to keep it simple, it features a two millimeter larger throttle body, new aribox/airboot, exhaust system, and ECU for improved power. Beyond that though is the funner part of the story, the all-new Rally model. Inspired from the Dakar bikes, the CRF250L gets the big fairing treatment, larger fuel tank, longer travel suspension, and a few more goodies to spice up the off-road experience.
Once I had looked over the bikes, I jumped aboard the standard CRF250L for my first 60 plus mile loop of the day, around the mountain roads (both dirt and asphalt) while making my way out to Temecula's wine country. My initial guesses about how the CRF250L would ride turned out to be quite true as I got started. It's low to the ground, easy to ride, and holds steady traction; especially on the asphalt. The power is mellow but produces very usable torque down low, ultimately making the bike feel like a toy. Between the low ride height, skinny profile, and easy to use power...it was easy but still rewarding to throw the bike deep into asphalt curves, bouncing off piles of dirt along the road, and launching the bike wherever possible.
It didn't take much energy to ride the bike on the edge and ultimately left a huge grin on my face. The standard CRF250L definitely felt more at home on the street, mostly due to the stance of the bike. For any road speed 50mph, the bike felt more than adequate. On the dirt, the traction was still quite good but the shorter travel and soft suspension was just a little too mushy to have the fun I was looking for. But, this meant the bike was quite comfortable for my journey and really stood out as something that would be a joy to ride on short commutes to work or on weekend adventures. Which realistically, is what this bike is made for, comfort with a bit of fun. The overall cockpit was just right for my size, not too small and quite comfortable when compared to the motocross bikes I mostly spend my time with. The seat offered a lot of area to move about on, so I could sit anywhere I wanted on the bike and not feel like I was upsetting the way the bike worked.
Once I arrived at my destination, I re-evaluated my time on the CRF250L and realized the small ride was really on one of the more enjoyable bikes I had ridden in quite a while. Ultimately one thing popped into my mind, this bike is like a toy. The fun factor it delivers is the feeling of being superman as you ride it aggressively on the edge, along with the relaxing and rewarding notion you get from wandering anywhere you want with relative ease. Now I was onto what I'll consider the "deluxe toy", the Rally version. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for anything that looks like a rally bike because deep down...I WANT ONE! I want the do-all bike that's closely based off the motocross bikes I've grown up to love, and just the look of this thing sparks some excitement.
So as I mentioned above, the Rally version has the fairings and look of a Dakar machine, a longer travel fork, different suspension settings, larger brake rotors, and a bigger fuel tank when compared to the standard model. And as I took off, pulling gears down a dusty dirt road, I had an even larger grin that I had earlier. While the Rally gives up some of the planted and easy to ride feel the normal L had on the street, it gained oh so much more off the asphalt. The stance of the bike and fairing setup made it so much more comfortable to ride standing up, aggressively over the front of the bike. It was just so much more familiar coming from a motocross or off-road bike, as you can really move this bike around the way you normally would. With the changed stance, came plenty of rear end sliding through the dusty, washboard roads...bouncing off the rev limiter in fifth gear as I exited each corner, more excited for the next one ahead. I said the normal L made me feel like Superman, well I take that back, the Rally wins that award.
Even though the Rally holds no power advantage over the standard model, it just handles everything at speed so much better that you can really enjoy the bike to its fullest. But at the same time, it's so comfortable to just cruise the streets through town and ride down to get some lunch. By my amazing math skills, I'd say you give up about five percent of the street abilities of the L but gain about 50% more off-road smiles. Especially in the mountain single track of the OHV areas this bike is meant to rule in, or the fast "over the front" desert conditions that the normal L just doesn't quite suit.
At the end of the day, both bikes impressed me for their price. Yes, the power isn't as much as a 250 motocross bike but it does its job. The suspension isn't as trick, but it handles exactly what each bike needs. The quality of the controls; such as the bars, clutch, brakes, and pegs were above what I expected, giving more of a quality feel than I expected. Honestly, both bikes are a blast but if it was my money, I'd spring the extra $800 for the Rally without a second thought. While the L is great to ride around on some fire roads, commute to work on, and run some short errands with...the Rally can take you for some adventures the L just can't quite do in stock trim.
Small dual sports like this aren't for everyone, but neither are large adventure bikes. If you're on the fence on which would suit you, don't count out these littles guys because of their small engines...because they really swing above their weight in the fun department.