Road Test Review
Forget everything you thought you knew about 250 singles. Honda’s 2011 CBR250R has shredded the rulebook, packing brainloads of fresh thinking into a small motorcycle with results that look to be more magic than engineering. How else can you explain that the new CBR is powerful, but efficient? Small, but comfortable? Economical, but exciting? Or beginner friendly while still a hoot for experienced riders? To top it off, the CBR has excellent range and was designed for easy maintenance.
With a goal to build a 250 for the new century, the wizards at Honda opened a fresh CAD file and conjured up an engine that would pump out low-end torque that carried into higher revs. All the while keeping buzziness to a minimum. The HR folks call that a “stretch goal” where I work, one that you might attain if you kick butt all year, but will likely not achieve. Honda stretched, and then some. The result is a new liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve mill that likes to rev, thanks to its short stroke design. The lightweight valve train features a patented roller-rocker arm design to reduce friction, and small diameter stems on the valves to optimize filling and emptying the cylinder. A 10.7:1 compression ratio allows use of regular unleaded fuel (87 PON) and the quiet but bulbous exhaust system has a catalyst to help manage emissions.
In another attack on power-robbing friction, the short-skirted piston gets tiny, oil-holding grooves and a slippery molybdenum coating. That’s not all—with a tap from Honda’s magic wand, the cylinder sleeve grew spines! They help cool the cylinder so it maintains a constant bore, reducing blow-by and oil use. A new, lighter crankshaft/rod combo drives a counterbalancer that spins between the crank weights to quell vibrations. The new motor powers a bike that’s rideable at any rpm, but starts to get your attention at around five grand and will rev out in every gear. Vibes come and go, mostly through the bars, but don’t intrude.
Honda’s PGM-FI (programmed fuel injection) was a natural to feed the modern, compact powerplant. Its straight intake path from the airbox through the 38mm throttle body and into the cylinder head increases the efficiency of the closed-loop system. For good measure Honda fitted an air control valve to prevent uneven throttle response. The payoff is precise mixture control from low rpm right up to the CBR’s 10,500-rpm redline—no hiccups or hesitation to spoil the fun as you rev through the gears or blip your best Ricky Racer downshifts. EFI has its detractors who don’t like its complexity or inaccessibility for tweaking, but when it performs like this, I say take it and run!
The CBR dishes out low-end torque and high-revving performance that almost made me forget I was riding a single, while its smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox served up the right gear for every occasion. Honda claims that peak torque arrives at 7,000 rpm, with horsepower topping out at 8,500. On the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno the single eked out 24 horsepower at 8,700 rpm at the rear wheel and 16 lb-ft of torque at 6,500. Seven grand is 65 mph on the surprisingly accurate speedometer, and the bike feels pretty relaxed at that speed. Economy and entertainment run neck-and-neck with the CBR—our test bike returned 65 mpg after a day-long duel with the Kawasaki Ninja 250R. That’s a potential 227 miles from a full 3.4-gallon tank, but I’ll bet a tank of gas that I can go over 250 miles on a fill-up by riding with a gentler hand.
The CBR’s Nissin brakes are a good match for this machine, bringing the bike to a halt quickly and without excitement. Our test bike had the optional Combined ABS, which substitutes a three-piston front caliper for the standard dual piston unit to implement rear to front brake linkage; tapping the rear brake operates the center puck up front. I’ve ridden linked-brake Hondas before and have never been a huge fan of the system, but the linking was barely noticeable on the CBR. The only time I felt it was doing tight U-turns, where trail braking helps reduce the radius. At those slow speeds, the front dips a bit but it’s nothing I couldn’t get used to. The ABS performed well, free from undue shuddering or too-early engagement when I tested it on gravelly pavement. New riders, listen up: do yourself a favor and pony up the $500 premium for ABS. It’s a lot less expensive than bodywork, yours or the bike’s.
Handling is good, but falls short of magical when cornering at higher speeds. There’s a vagueness in the front end that doesn’t show up on slower, tighter roads. It didn’t impinge on my fun, but did let me know that there might be limits to it. In traffic, the CBR is almost as agile as a small dual-sport, and zips through holes that would strip the fairings off larger machines. The nonadjustable 37mm fork provides a comfortable, if not plush, ride up front, though heavier riders may want stouter springs. Rising-rate Pro-Link rear suspension incorporates a single Showa shock; it won’t win any awards, but it does keep the rear end stable over all kinds of pavement. Cast 17-inch aluminum wheels, IRC Road Winner tires—a 110/70 up front and a fat (for this bike) 140/70 at the rear—give the Honda a full-sized feel on the road, though its 53.9-inch wheelbase creates a seriously compact machine. Hmm, think I could sneak one into the garage without my wife noticing? It would disappear behind my BMW GS.
Honda pulled off a neat trick in creating ample rider space on a small bike. At 68 inches tall with a 31-inch inseam, I fit the CBR like it was built for me. There’s a comfortable reach to the bars, my head stays up, and legs are bent but not cramped. The 30.5-inch seat height makes the bike accessible to smaller riders, but taller pilots can stretch out until their backs hit the tiny pillion pad. With a full tank of gas, the CBR weighed 361 pounds on Rider’s scale, 5 pounds less than claimed for our ABS model. Honda did not have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating for the bike at press time, so we can’t give you its calculated load capacity.
The cockpit is a blend of old and new tech. A large analog tach gets top billing above an LCD display that shows speed in large digits. The remaining info—odo/ tripmeter, bar graph fuel and temperature gauges and clock—is tucked into the corners and too small to read in daylight, but shows up fine at night. The turn signal indicators are also too small. Switchgear is standard stuff that works well—my fingers found everything I needed without a fumble. Wind protection is surprisingly good, thanks to a full fairing and small windscreen. The effect is a modern look that won’t soon be out of style. And it’s absolutely bewitching in black.
Economical to buy, operate and maintain, the CBR is the product of an engineering effort that massaged design and technology until a fine balance of weight, power, gearing, ergonomics, handling, price and rider appeal emerged. There’s no hocus pocus here, just creative engineers making a little magic.