Review: Honda CRF250L

Review Information
Name Honda CRF250 LA-H (2017)
Price 4,899 GBP (purchased in UK)
URL Read specification on Honda website (current model)
Duration 653 days (1 year, 9 months, 13 days) since 08/06/2018—36,459 miles—still in use—duration paused because of pandemic since 21/03/2020
Countries Ridden uk france spain gibraltar morocco western-sahara mauritania senegal the-gambia guinea-bissau guinea côte-d'ivoire ghana togo benin nigeria cameroon gabon republic-of-congo angola democratic-republic-of-congo namibia south-africa lesotho eswatini mozambique zimbabwe zambia malawi tanzania rwanda uganda kenya ethiopia sudan

Here's my review of the Honda CRF250L for a round the world motorcycle adventure. I purchased the motorcycle brand new, rode every mile on its clock, and have learnt lots about the CRF250L.

The information in the box above provides some quick information about the motorcycle, how long I've used it, and where I've used it.

The CRF250L is a dual sport motorcycle that gets you to a trail and back home again on the tarmac road. First produced in 2012, it has grown in popularity. The CRF250L is a budget motorcycle that is easy and forgiving to ride. With a track record of reliability, this is an appealing motorcycle for a round the world adventure!

Collected my brand new 2017 Honda CRF250L motorcycle.
My Honda CRF250L after I rode it home from the dealer in June, 2018.

My views are from the perspective of the motorcycle and me for long-distance travel. It's important to consider the following:

  • Prior to this motorcycle, my only experience was 3,000 miles with a '99 Honda CBR600F on UK roads. My skill level is different to others and is a large variable in my views and how the motorcycle performs.
  • I'm 169 cm (5 foot 7 inches, I weigh 57 Kg (125.6 pounds), and my luggage weighs 35-40 Kg (77.2-88.2 pounds).

What's good?

For myself and others, the motorcycle is and has been a work horse for people travelling round the world. Capability for long-distance travel is crucial. So, is the CRF250L good for this?

The CRF250L is a tough and durable motorcycle that was relatively unscathed from offs—Mauritania and Namibia—and being hit by a vehicle in Senegal (read about the repairs here). I was fortunate because I rode away from the offs and only suffered from a snapped subframe and split water reservoir from the impact with a vehicle. I was not stranded.

It's capable on tarmac and road for long distances. Humming along on the tarmac or bouncing over rough terrain all day—no problem! Trail riding is fine, but this is not an enduro motorcycle considering my skills. I've ridden without issue on tarmac, shallow sand, dirt, gravel, twisty tarmac roads, and through river crossings—all fully laden with panniers and roll bag or top box.

It's a small and reasonably light motorcycle for adventure riding. Great when you need to pickup the motorcycle from drops or carry the motorcycle into a pirogue to be paddled across a river.

Service intervals are long at 8,000 miles; however, I aim for about 5,000 miles between oil changes. Although the power is low, the benefit is that longevity of consumables is extended—such as tyres, chain and sprockets, brake pads, and brake discs. An important consideration for long-term travel. Also, there are Honda dealers in many countries for parts and work.

Maintenance is simple and easy. With minimal experience in motorcycle maintenance, I have learnt lots and undertaken all maintenance myself. The spark plug is slightly fiddly to remove, but no parts needed to be removed for access to the spark plug. To access the air filter, the seat and right side panel must be removed. I found it easier to remove my aftermarket bash plate to drain the oil; otherwise, the bash plate catches the oil.

Good value for a modern motorcycle with electronic fuel injection and front and read ABS.

The rear ABS can be switched off for dirt riding but the front cannot.

Looks good, but that's a matter of taste! Lots of people in Africa have commented on it's appearance—its size looks big for what is a comparatively small engine (250 cc) in more developed parts of the world.

Online forums, groups, and channels are active and bustling with advice and guides. There's lots of help and advice available online.

Many aftermarket parts are available. I've found everything I wanted except a long-range Safari fuel tank.

The pegs are decent enough for long distance travel. I haven't felt the need to change them. The pillion pegs don't have much grip and look like they'd be slippery in the wet.

There is a power cable (right of tank) for connecting auxiliary electronic devices. There is no need to splice a switched live wire to connect auxiliary electronic devices. I didn't know this and spliced a switched live wire!

What needs improvement?

The seat is hard and takes it tole for rides over 150 miles—however, this issue is shared amongst most motorcycles.

The rear shock is soft. An uprated spring is required for heavier riders and also carrying panniers. For me, the motorcycle was perfect when I sat on it in the showroom, but I upgraded the shock to a YSS. It's a well-needed upgrade regardless of load. I consider this to be a priority over upgrades that improve power and torque.

Under powered. Perhaps my biggest complaint of what is otherwise a decent motorcycle. This hasn't just made it slow to get places, but combined with inexperience it played a part in a tank slapper in Namibia. Riding sandy corrugations, I was flat out in sixth gear—trying to conserve fuel by not being in a lower gear—when the bars started to wobble. This progressively became worse to the point of loosing control and being flung of the bike at speed. Unfortunately, twisting the throttle produced no power to lift the front wheel and overcome the wobble.

A low-powered motorcycle will still get you around the world. It may be slow but you see more and you have more time to react to hazards such as animals, humans, other riders/drivers, and so on.

In deep sand and thick mud, more power could help to displace the sand/mud and give more drive. For ascending hills and inclines, more power or changing the front sprocket to a 13 tooth could prevent the need to drop down from 6th gear.

Above, I said the motorcycle, is reasonably light; however, this changes once panniers are loaded. The motorcycle is thin and tall, and panniers make it top heavy when lifting from a drop. This can be especially bad if dropped on a slope. This happened to me and I dragged the motorcycle on the ground so the wheels were lower than the top of the motorcycle. This resolved the predicament but at the cost of causing the unprotected radiator to leak.

My CRF250L seems to be very sensitive to dirty fuel. First problems occurred in West Africa, and I had to clean the fuel tank, fuel pump, and fuel filter on multiple occasions (Benin, Angola, and Namibia). From conversations with others who have fuel injected motorcycles, it seems that some bikes can be more sensitive than others. Not sure if the sensitivity is real. Perhaps I'm doing something to cause the problem—I don't know. I use fuel filters that sit inside the tank. Note: read here for my guide on how to clean a fuel tank, filter, pump, and injector with limited resources.

The fuel tank is 7.8 L, so the CRF250L has a small range. A larger fuel tank is essential for long-distance travel where fuel is scarce. The CRF250L Rally has a 10.7 L tank, but I wanted even more range. I use an Acerbis 12.5 L fuel tank (read my Acerbis 12.5 L fuel tank review here) to increase the range to 200+ miles.

The judder plate gives the feeling of less bite in the clutch. I think the softer feel is more accommodating to less experienced riders. I upgraded the clutch plates and springs after burning them when stuck in mud in Gabon.

The engine crankcase seal is leaking oil at the front of the engine (behind the bash plate) after about 20,000 miles. It's a very small amount—I can't see any change in oil level through the sight glass.

Oil leaking from engine crankcase cover on Honda CRF250L.

I suspect the causes are vibrations from corrugated roads and my lack of attention when inspecting and servicing. The top engine mounting bolt had worked loose, which I think damaged the engine crankcase seal, thus allowing oil to pass through the join. This happened within warranty. There aren't many Honda workshops in Africa, and I'm also very uncomfortable with anyone working on my motorcycle. I live with the problem, which means regularly checking the engine mounting bolt, oil level, and any oil on the engine case. I'd like to fix the problem, but it's not a priority for me and requires removing the engine, splitting it open etc.

My subframe was held in place by one bolt after the other bolt and two nuts worked loose. I noticed this at 13,936 miles in Benin. Again, I should have noticed this when inspecting and servicing my motorcycle.

Nuts and bolts had worked loose from top mounts of subframe (Honda CRF250L). Parakou, Benin.
Missing one bolt and two nuts on subframe of Honda CRF250L. The remaining bolt is held in place at the top of the image.

Riding more technical sections off-road, it feels like there is a large gap between first and second gear. In first, the engine revs get high so I change up a gear to find the revs are too low. I'm running stock 14/40 sprockets.

The light aluminium rims are soft. I have three dents on the front rim. The first dent was my own fault after coming off in Mauritania, and a man with a dodgy eye and hefty hammer repaired it. The second and third dents—although much smaller—create wobbly U-turns on tarmac.

Maintenance and repairs

Click here to read about all my maintenance and repairs, which I've documented and regularly update.

Fuel economy

The CRF250L has a small capacity engine and fuel economy is favourable. I recorded the following data from riding in Africa.

Notes:

  • I weigh about 60 Kg (with riding gear) and my luggage weighs 35-40 Kg.
  • My Acerbis fuel tank is 12.5 L; however, this is inexact because of variability in the manufacturing process.
Distance Average speed Fuel economy Notes
225 miles 50 mph 18 miles/litre All tarmac in Gabon. Think there was less than 5 miles left in the fuel tank.
195 miles ? 15.6 miles/litre All tarmac in South Africa.
165 miles 60-70 mph 13.2 miles/litre Tarmac for 5 miles and gravel for the remainder in South Africa. Full tank of petrol.
229 miles 50 mph 18.32 miles/litre All tarmac in Zimbabwe. Think there was about 10-15 miles left in the tank.

Verdict

The CRF250L is a reliable, strong, and budget motorcycle that is serving me well for my around the world journey.

Choosing a motorcycle is a personal decision and I hope this review helps those interested in the CRF250L. Frankly, it doesn't matter what motorcycle you choose, it's more important that you ride it and go on adventures!

Would I buy the CRF250L again? Possibly—however, I value variety in life! I'd consider a motorcycle that is lighter, more powerful, has more torque, and cheaper. Nothing is perfect, and that seems like a lot to ask for!