Honda CBR250R (2011) Review – Most Important Bike in The Line-up?

Honda’s CBR250R  represents the future of motorcycling. Okay, that might be a little rich. Still, it’s a darn fine bike that punches far above its own weight class.

You often hear this comment: “They don’t build small bikes any more. I remember learning to ride on a Ducati single that I paid $300 for. Why don’t they make bikes like that?“

Beyond the rose-coloured glasses there is truth in the statement. It is simpler to market a bike that is lighter, has more power and better performance. That’s an achievable proposition when the bikes keep getting bigger. It’s easy to be a fan of the Hayabusa and Honda’s long departed Blackbird but it is difficult to argue the true validity and not just the awesome visceral appeal of a 160-hp superbike. The challenge is to take that displacement, cut it by a quarter and argue for the same visceral excitement and do it for a much lower price. This is why the category just isn’t very deep.

It is a challenge but one the new Honda CBR250R embraces. The obvious competition, the Ninja 250, has had the market to itself pretty much since the mid 1980s. Long gone are the RZ350, the NSR400R, the Suzuki RG250—and these, while undeniably exciting, wouldn’t have been considered entry level bikes.  

red honda cbr250r riding on the street

Beyond North America, consumers buy small displacement bikes by the factory load. When Honda Canada first brought in the CBR125R it had to do so without the support of its US counterpart. The theory being that North American riders would not buy small displacement bikes. But these bikes are not long-distance tourers intended for riding between Vancouver and Winnipeg. 

Within the urban confines, their intended focus, it is as far from your office to the local coffee shop whether you live in Vancouver or London. Okay, Vancouver might be a poor example as there are Starbucks on kitty corners.

Honda has launched the most significant bike in its lineup with the CBR250R. The CBR125R has been out for a few years and is the second most popular bike sold in Canada. That’s a lot of units. The CBR125 is a test-the-water bike, but it has a limited shelf life for many riders. While there may be some who are satisfied with the 125 and appreciate the uniqueness of riding such a small displacement bike, there are many who want something with more power, not a whole lot more power but enough to make a difference. The CBR125, particularly the 2010 model feels like a small bike. And it rides like one as well. The 250 is an entirely different animal. 

Honda may be counting on some customers upgrade their 2010 CBR125R to the new 2011 version, and some just might do so—but only those who have not yet ridden the 250 yet. The difference is a lot greater than 125cc. 

The extra 125cc moves the CBR250R quite comfortably out of the beginner bike segment and into a category that could be considered a full-time ride. The key of course, as it is with any motorcycle, is the engine. The CBR250R employs a single cylinder engine which explains the additional torque.

Honda likes to say that the CBR250 single is really 1/4 of a CBR1000R. The fuel-injected, DOHC engine has a compression ratio of 10.1:1 and employs a counterbalancer to reduce the inherent vibration of the single. Odds are the owners of a CBR250R will not know that there is an inherent vibration in a thumper engine and the 250 won’t do anything to convince them otherwise. 

The bike has a sound from that big-boy muffler that is surprisingly throaty considering the size of the engine—it even sounds bigger than it is. No longer are you clicking through three gears before you get across the intersection on something that sounds like a 50cc scooter—that wears thin after a short time. 

The transmission is a six-speed and the clutch very light. Stalling the bike at an intersection would require some effort or confusion. The bike pulls strongly and evenly from first gear right through to its observed top speed of 153 kmh. The smaller 125 managed a top speed of 120 kmh, but it felt laboured. 

Riding the CBR250 around town you have the comforting sense that the bike’s engine, though small, has a little in reserve when you need it. On the highway it will pass traffic though you need to give it a little extra time and space to get the job done.

The bike weighs a little under 163 kg when filled with gas and sitting in the driveway. Honda wants the bike to be easy to live with and the low weight is only part of the equation. 

For a complete change of pace they have made things like changing the oil and air filter simple. The bike has a 13-litre fuel tank which should allow for 200-plus km around town. Comfort-wise the CBR250R does not feel scaled down or cramped. The seat height is a little over 762mm and while the riding position is sportbike-like it is not extreme.  

The styling cues from the 250 obviously come from the big VFR1200 which is a good place to start. The bike has a fine fit and finish that go well with available upgrades like ABS. 

ABS on a 250? Yes, you heard right. A nice additional safety feature even though the standard 296mm front disc and dual calipers and 220mm single caliper rear are easily up to the task of stopping the bike. It is by far the freshest looking bike in the segment as even the VFR1200 has only been around for one year. 

The CBR250 retails at $4,495, while the CBR125 carries a $3,499 price point. (ABS will set you back an additional  $500.)

The best recommendation that can be given about the CBR250R is more an observation of others. At its press introduction in Georgia, the track day was essentially for the 250 alone although there were a couple of spare big and quicker bikes available for other rides. The day started at 9:30 a.m. and almost everyone was still riding the 250s around the track seven hours later. The CBR250 was so good it kept everyone interested until the end of the day and after a  lot of laps around the track. Every one of those riders had been on bigger, faster and more exotic bikes, yet the CBR250R still provided for a very enjoyable day on the track.

The CBR250R is important because it has brought excitement back to the small displacement portion of the Honda lineup. The 125 looks exciting but the 250 can also be ridden with excitement. The CBR250 is an excellent addition to the market. 

The Ninja 250 needs competition as competition will  make both bikes better and encourage new entries into the segment that are just as competitive. It has been said before and now it has been heard. The small end of the market is going to be what preserves all of motorcycling into the future. New riders need a bike that is accessible and enjoyable, the CBR250R is that bike.

by John Molony Canadian Biker #272

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