Of all the new bikes in the 2017 Honda line-up, the CRF250L Rally is arguably the most interesting. Honda claims it’s inspired by the factory CRF450 Rally – but despite its name and looks, the little Honda is not a rally bike. More accurately, Honda describes the CRF250L Rally as being ‘ready for a weekend adventure, long-distance touring, or the daily commute’ – which makes sense when you consider its competition, a range of new smaller capacity adventure-oriented machines, including the Kawasaki Versys X-300, BMW G310GS and Suzuki V-Strom 250.
To get under its skin, Ross took the CRF250L Rally on a tour of Lincolnshire’s innumerable back-roads and green lanes, taking in its varied coastline and the Wolds area of outstanding natural beauty over the course of a weekend.
Building on the growing appetite for adventure motorcycle, and capitalising on the overwhelming success of the new Africa Twin and recent results in the prestigious Dakar Rally, the CRF250L Rally was designed to be a small-capacity adventure bike for the masses. On first impressions, there’s no denying it looks the part, taking its styling inspiration from the factory 450cc Rally bike with its clear screen, engine shrouded in bodywork and even a left-hand side tool kit disguised as the race bikes secondary fuel tank.
Under its shiny, stylish plastic exterior, the Rally is essentially the inimitable and near indestructible CRF250 – Honda’s good fun, last-for-ever, trail bike – so you’re in good hands. I don’t know how that fairing would handle a tumble though, so unlike its more spartan sibling, you’d have to be careful not to drop it.
Settling into the saddle for the first time, and its 894mm seat height is the first thing you’ll notice. Noticeably higher than its CRF250L counterpart, the Rally isn’t the easiest to mount, but once you clamber aboard, the long-travel suspension should settle enough to allow you to get at least one foot on the floor – and at 6ft 1” tall, I could get both down with no trouble. As a quick aside, the seat isn’t especially comfortable, and after a few hours in the saddle you’ll be looking for any excuse to get up on the pegs and take the weight off. Weight-wise, the Rally tips the scales at 157kg fully-fuelled. Admittedly, that’s slightly on the heavy side for a smaller-engine off-road going machine, as a result of its frame and non-race spec engine – but it’s no problem, as the weight is distributed well.
On the road
The Rally’s Thailand-built, CBR250R-based 24bhp 249.6cc four-stroke single is no speed demon, prioritising rpm over torque. There’s enough power to sit between comfortably between 60 and 70mph, and if you push it, you should be able to squeeze up to 90mph. Off-road it offers more than enough oomph, with its progressive power making it perfect for a day of light green-laning. The engine’s smooth fuel-injection is spot on, delivering clean throttle response, which would instil confidence in the most inexperienced of off-road riders, without getting them into too much trouble.
For stopping, Honda have got you covered with a 296mm wave-style disc and Nissin twin-piston calipers at the front and a 220mm disc and single-piston caliper at the rear, delivering smooth and controlled braking. Plus, there’s ABS, so on the road there’s little to worry about when you need to stop in a hurry – but it’s switchable, so you can have lots of fun getting the back end out on the dirt.
If there’s one area where the CRF250L Rally is a little lacking, it’s in the suspension department. Despite its coil spring Showa inverted front fork and Honda Pro-Link suspension, the added weight of the Rally’s bodywork and heavier fuel load can make the suspension feel a little sloppy once the pace picks up. Of course, it’s setup for both road and off-road riding, so it’s unlikely to be exceptional in both situations – plus, Honda has been working to a strict budget to try and keep the costs down for consumers, and compromises are inevitable.
The Honda CRF250L Rally really comes into its own towns and cities. Its seat height offers a superior view of the road, while its wide bars offer plenty of control. The chassis also delivers a stable feel, allowing you to push much harder than you’d think you could – even its long-travel suspension is perfect for soaking up the worst of potholes with little drama. Out on the open road, as we meandered across Lincolnshire, taking in a wide range of roads and terrains, the bike continued to be great fun. Ok, so the knobbly tyres fitted (50/50 Continental TKC80s) aren’t as street-friendly as more adventure-oriented rubber – offering a slightly vague feel in faster corners, but they’re more than up to the job at the speeds you’re capable of reaching on the little 250, they just take a little getting used too. But, it’s off-road where the bike really shines. It’s never going to be an out-and-out off-road monster, but it’s more than capable of handling what the average rider (and adventure rider) would throw at it. Its soft, non-adjustable suspension lets the bike bounce over lumps and bumps with ease while the brakes do a grand job keeping you in control. It’s not sensational – but it’s assured, easy, and confidence inspiring.
Should I buy one?
In short, the Rally is a lightweight adventure bike that’s happy on road or off. Ok, it’s a shame it doesn’t go quite as well as it looks – but once I accepted that the CRF250L Rally is not a Dakar-ready rally raid machine, I stopped being disappointed by its limitations off-road, and began to embrace and enjoy its versatility, and ease of use – plus it’s miles better off-road than most larger adventure bikes.
Ok, so top speed is limited and the seat isn’t especially forgiving, but inevitably Honda has had to make a few compromises to deliver the Rally on a budget. Ultimately, the CRF250L Rally is a very capable machine for the entry-level or casual dual-sport rider – it delivers just enough engine performance, comfort, handling and braking. Sure, more experienced riders might wish for a little more power or better suspension performance off-road, but regardless, that isn’t enough to stop me from wanting one of these little Hondas tucked away in my garage.
Honda CRF250L Rally (2017)
ENGINE: 250cc four-stroke, DOHC, liquid-cooled single
POWER: 24.4bhp (19kW) at 8,500rpm
TORQUE: 16.66lb-ft (22.5Nm) at 6,750rpm
SUSPENSION: (F): Non-adjustable inverted 43mm forks with 11.0 inches of travel (R): Linkage-assisted non-adjustable shock with 10.3 inches of travel
TYRES: (F) 3.00-21 (R): 120/80-18
BRAKES: (F) 256mm disc with twin-piston caliper (R): 220mm disc
SEAT HEIGHT: 894mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 12.2 litres