It might be designed for the first-time rider, but the Honda CBR250R is still a gorgeous machine that, while prioritising economy, rides beyond its means.
Honday's CBR250R is a beginner bike that outpaces its rivals
I can remember no single moment in my life with more joy than unwrapping (it was a Christmas present from my long-suffering parents) my first motorcycle. Others may have seen a slightly worn, 70cc Honda with wheels only slightly bigger than a wheelbarrow. But, to me, it was freedom and the promise of adventure that I had previously only been able to read about in the motorcycle magazines. I doubt if a winning lottery ticket could elicit as much joy from a now cynical me. My first motorcycle; surely, the world was my oyster.
I'd forgotten that sheer joy, the jubilation of that first ride. Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love my motorcycling; auto journalism pays the bills so that I may spend all my money on two wheels.
But with age, responsibility and, unfortunately, mortgages comes a cynicism, the loss of the wide-eyed wonder of what could be. Indeed, it was only recently, at a Honda event to watch, along with hundreds of existing and potential newbie riders, the unveiling of Honda's newest "learner" bike that I could see, from an outside perspective, what must have been the wonderment in my eyes some 40 long years ago.
The new CBR250R was rolled out to much fanfare and, where I saw a dinky little, single-cylinder runabout, the collective grasp of the rather enthusiastic audience seemingly signalled the answer to all their dreams.
What's great about this story is that I can, now that I've ridden the little tiddler, assure all goggle-eyed newbies (not to mention some of the returning bikers that Honda sees as customers for the new CBR250) that the object of their collective desire is worthy. Indeed, judged against a backdrop of its competition and its intended use, this may be the best bike on the market today.
For one thing, the 2011 CBR250R is gorgeous. The styling has all but been copied from the newish VFR1200 sport tourer. But the little CBR is that rare case of the imitator being more attractive than the original. Where the various bulges of the big VFR are a little too over the top, the little CBR250 styling is far more subtle and really looks the classier of the two. The goal of any budget bike is to look expensive beyond its price; the new CBR accomplishes just that.
It rides beyond its means as well. Unlike the original CBR125R, which was so obviously built down to a price, the 250 is lavished with quality components. The suspension, for instance, actually has some dampening, something the 125 could never claim. Indeed, the CBR250R's forks and shock are quality affairs - firm without being harsh and easily up to the task of cornering with some daring.
Ditto the tyres, which are now - again, compared with the original 125 - full sized: 110/70-17 in front and a sport-bike serious 140/70-17 in the rear. Combined with the Marchesini-clone cast wheels, they provide both traction and credibility. Given the right twisty road, the CBR250 might wag its taillight at some larger sport bikes.
Many have wondered about Honda's decision to stick with the single-cylinder engine in the 250 when its direct competition, Kawasaki's Ninja 250, offers a seemingly more sophisticated twin in the same capacity. Honda's contention that the one-lunger was chosen for its superior low-end torque seemed just an excuse for post-recession cost-cutting.
And even if Honda chose the single-cylinder format to reduce manufacturing cost, it doesn't mean the 249cc engine is unsophisticated. It is, of course, liquid-cooled, sports double overhead camshafts and four valves in its single combustion chamber and is electronically fuel injected. But it also - in a first for a Honda single - has a plain bearing, rather than roller, for quieter operation. And, in another first, the crankshaft is off-centre from the bore, so there is less friction-producing piston slap on the combustion stroke.
In fact, this single stroker is ideal for the intended audience. Unlike the CBR125 (and the Kawasaki 250) the CBR250 makes plenty - OK, comparatively plenty - of low-end torque. I managed a 50km sojourn along Los Angeles' often-frightening 405 without straying anywhere near the 250's 10,500 redline. Indeed, spin it up to just 7,000 rpm and it easily keeps up with traffic. The single does run out of breath at higher rpm (140kph would seem to be its effective top speed), but it still manages to feel pretty spunky for its diminutive size.
As for the details, the seat is comfy, the riding position excellent (if a little tight for tall people since it is designed with smaller folks in mind) and the switchgear top notch. Toss in Honda's optional ABS and you easily have the best beginner bike on the market.