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Honda CRF 250 Rally – Small Adventure, Defined

The CRF 250 Rally was replaced last year with the bigger 300cc Rally but the 250 remains a much in demand used bike. Here, owner Paul explains why the little Honda is a great bike for those seeking a lightweight adventure bike.

The History – a long time coming

CRF Rally
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Take a ride on the wild side

After the success of the relaunched Africa Twin in 2016, Honda was in the phase of growing it’s “True Adventure” offering having witnessed the increased popularity of adventure motorcycling and the lower capacity bikes appearing on the market from the likes of BMW, KTM and Royal Enfield.

With the popular CRF250L having proved its worth since it replaced the CRF230L back in 2013, Honda took the best possible base to create their own low-capacity adventure bike, the CRF250 Rally.

Using the opportunity to update the CRF250L and launch it side-by-side with the new “Rally” variant, Honda tweaked the engine to give more power and torque, increased the suspension size at the front and rear, increased the fuel capacity, updated the dash unit, gave it a larger front brake disc with switchable ABS and to top it all off, installed a fixed headlight, some wind protection and fairings that replicated the look of their HRC Dakar CRF450 Rally Bike.

The 250 Rally had been born.

CRF 250 Rally Performance

With the continual growing popularity in the adventure motorcycle market and thirst for one that didn’t weigh in at over 300 kg the CRF250 Rally was an instant hit.

For years, CRF250L owners had been modifying their motorcycle to travel further and more comfortably both on and off the normal roads. Honda had read the market right at this point and created an out-the-box version for the masses, and at a price of £5,299 it was a bargain.

Its 249 cc engine can hit motorway speeds however it’ll be high up in the rev range and its fuel range is frankly poor if you are consistently riding on high-speed roads. Honda claim the CRF Rally will do over 200 miles on a tank but realistically this would only be if you were hypermiling. And yet with this aside, it’s an absolutely fantastic bike.

As a motorcycle it truly shines when the tarmac runs out and the real adventure begins. It may not have the full setup of the HRC Dakar spec 450 but it’s more than capable off-road in any terrain.

It’s important to remember that the CRF is NOT an enduro or motocross machine. The suspension system is stiffer and non-adjustable, it’s 250 cc motor puts out just 24 bhp and the whole thing weighs over 160 kg so it won’t keep up with your friends on their 2-stroke KTMs.

BUT, it will do absolutely everything you ask it to, at its own pace, and being a Honda, it won’t break down and you won’t need to rebuild the engine on it every few thousand miles like your friends.

The suspension is its weakest point and usually the first thing owners change if they plan to go off-road with it. There are now a huge number of aftermarket parts for the CRF 250 Rally and L model so you can set yours up however you wish, which as all CRF owners know, is a big part of the fun of owning one.

CRF 250 Rally Spec

  • Engine: Water-cooled DOHC Single-cylinder four-stroke 
  • Capacity: 249.6 cc
  • Max Power: 25 [email protected] 8,500rpm
  • Max Torque: 22.6 Nm @ 6,750 rpm
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual
  • Top Speed: 85 mph / 137 km/h
  • Fuel capacity: 10.1 L / 2.67 US Gal
  • Seat Height: 895 mm / 35.2 inches
  • Wet Weight: 157 kg / 346 lbs

CRF 250 Rally Vs CRF 250L

The CRF250 Rally is essentially a CRF250L with a focus on longer distances, off-road riding and made up to look like a Dakar Special.

The changes between the models are as follows:

  • The Rally version has more fuel capacity with a 10.1 L fuel tank capacity vs the 7.9 L of the L

  • A hinged fuel cap vs removable one

  • Dual headlight set up vs single light

  • A fixed light/dash set up (not connected to the handlebars like the L)

  • A windscreen

  • Larger front brake disc and taller suspension.

  • Larger rally replica fairings

  • Switchable ABS

The engine, frame, sub-frame and swing arm is all the same as the L version.

2021 CRF 300 Rally

The 2021 CRF 300 Rally came with many subtle differences to the 250 Rally. Just looking at the bikes side-by-side and with exception to the more obvious colour change and lower seat you’d be hard pressed to notice the changes.

And rightly so. Honda have made more “under-the-skin” adjustments to further the functionality of the CRF Rally, making each bit slightly better for a much bigger overall improvement.

Starting with the biggest change. The “300” in the title indicates the increase in power from 249 cc to 286 cc. All in comparative to the 250 Rally, the bhp has increase by 2 to 27 and torque taken a significant jump from 22.6 Nm to 26.6 Nm all in a Euro-5 compliant casing.

The fuel capacity has increased from 10.1 L to 12.8 L, sorely needed and Honda continue to quote over 200 miles per tank.

The seat height lowered from 895 mm to 830 mm with the revised suspension and overall weight has come down from 157 kg to 152 kg, these will both be warmly received by the smaller riders out there. An assisted slipper clutch has also been added.

All of these when compared to the CRF250 Rally seem like very small numbers. However they all add up to a much better, more refined machine. It will now sit a little happier on motorways without sitting at the top of the revs, you’ll move a little sharper off the lights and out the corners and you should, in theory, be able to travel further with the larger fuel tank.

These changes are a lot more than most people think. It’s an all new 300cc engine and not just shoe-horned from the cbr300r (CRF250 owners have been doing this for a few years).

Even the frame, swing-arm and suspension systems have all been subtly changed, much to the deference of the 250 Rally owners who had hoped that all the extras they had bought for their 250 would bolt straight over to the 300. Maybe next time.

Brand new the CRF300 Rally will set you back £6039 ($7,290) however the wait and increase in production cost have pushed dealer prices up to around £6,400 ($7,730), which taking inflation into consideration is still cheaper than when the 250 Rally launched in 2017 which priced for inflation would be around £6600 ($7,970) today.

It’s worth mentioning that the 2021 300 cc similarities between the Rally and L versions increased further with them sharing the same engine, frame, sub frame, swing arm, suspension system, seat height and larger brake disc as well.

Buying an original Honda CRF 250

Honda CRF 250 Rally
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Honda CRF 250 Rally. Image via Honda

Second hand prices have skyrocketed in the past year due to the production issues with the CRF300. Wait times for the 300 had been averaging between 6-9 months due to the Honda’s factory in Thailand suffering alongside the rest of the world with material shortages. This has very recently improved, however there is still a waiting list.

A good conditioned 2017 CRF 250 Rally with 4000 miles that would have sold for £4,200 ($5,700) in 2021 is now selling for £5000 ($6,040). There is a huge demand for CRF in recent times that dealers have not been able to fulfil, as a result, owners who are selling are very aware of the market for any CRF 250 either L or Rally and have priced accordingly.

Second-hand prices have only just begun to cool off in the past few weeks with delivery of the CRF300s finally coming to fruition.

Verdict

There is now a mind-boggling selection of lower capacity adventure bikes available on the market now. Several years back and we had very little to choose from.

Now we’ve BMW G310GS, KTM 390, Royal Enfield Himalayan, Benelli TRK502, Voge 500 DSX, Suzuki V-Strom 250, Kawasaki Versys-X 300, Sinnis Terrain T380, Honda’s own CB500X and many more lined up for release in the coming year. 

However, for me, until a good quality, affordable 450 cc single cylinder rally bike hits the market, the CRF is where I would spend my money.

In fact, my current motorcycle is a 2014 CRF 250L and am riding it on my way to Norway to play on the TransEuroTrail while writing this article.

It’s been heavily customised with a WP rear shock, DIY Rally tower with tall screen and LED headlights, Acerbis 12.5 L fuel tank, rally foot pegs, top box rack, pannier racks and aluminium boxes, custom seat, handguards, fat bars, Yoshimura exhaust system and EJK controller and I’m not finished yet. I’ve truly made this one my own.

I’ve taken it on-road and off, on road book rallies and it always does what I need it too. I’m not a dirt bike rider, I’d love to be, but the fates haven’t quite aligned and nor has my skills.

I go off-road for personal enjoyment and the CRF, despite being heavier than nearly all motocross offerings, is extremely forgiving and gentle.

It’s a joy to ride on the rough stuff and I never feel like I’m holding onto a rampant bull for dear life.

Next year I plan to take it slightly deeper down the rallying rabbit hole and take on the Hellas or Bosnia Rally Raids and I’ve no doubt that we’ll get through, the CRF will at least…

One day my trusty CRF250L will be replaced with either a CRF450L (A Rally version doesn’t exist outside Rally Raid Competition but fingers crossed!) when Honda fix the issues and bring it down to an affordable price or I’ll be buying the CRF300 Rally.

Until then I’ll happily be racking up the miles on my CRF 250L and cannot recommend it enough for those looking to go off-road for the first time or looking for a nice low-capacity adventure bike to head off into the unknown.

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