CRF250L Rally: Honda's road-ready raider
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Honda's CRF250L Rally is hands down the best looking 250 in today's motorcycling market. Okay, that's just one rider's opinion, but with its HRC Rally Team inspired aesthetic seemingly plucked straight off the 2017 Dakar Rally bike, the little Honda has the look to whet your appetite for adventure. When it comes to embarking on that adventure, is the 250cc engine that powers it enough? You bet!
If you strip away the Rally bodywork, 10.2-litre fuel tank, and long travel suspension, what you're left with is essentially Honda's updated road legal trail bike, the CRF250L. It is a favourite of tour operators in Southeast Asia for its dependability, easy going engine, and no-nonsense, easy-to-use nature.
The Rally builds on this quality little adventurer with that aforementioned taller suspension, which increases ground clearance by 14mm to 269mm, the rally raid inspired bodywork, and a larger capacity fuel tank, which addresses the main complaint riders had with the 250L which was a very limited fuel range.
On the face of it, the Honda CRF250 Rally has the looks of a fun little go-anywhere machine, but the only way to find out if that was true was to hit the road, which is exactly what I did as soon as I grabbed the key.
Swinging up onto the 894mm high seat of the Rally isn't a chore, despite its height, and once aboard the suspension sags down drastically which allowed me to comfortably plant a foot down when at a stop. Despite its trail bike looks, the seat of the Rally is in fact quite comfortable, the only annoyance coming from the pillion grab strap which caused a bit of pain after a couple of hours in the saddle.
The rest of the cockpit feels purposeful; a wide handlebar with wind deflectors nestled behind the raised dash and rally raid inspired windscreen. The screen itself creates a worthwhile air pocket that reduces pressure on the rider, while the asymmetrical LED lights that call it home do a great job lighting the way at night.
With an entry-level adventure machine, sophisticated electronics such as those found on the hero of the family -- the Africa Twin -- are a bit much to ask for, but that doesn't mean the Rally doesn't have its own party pieces. With ABS now being a requirement for all bikes over 125cc to attain Euro4 compliance, Honda have given the Rally a switch to deactivate the rear ABS for off-road use just like the Africa Twin.
ABS is great in road situations, but off-road it isn't so desirable on a motorcycle and can actually increase stopping distances drastically. As a result of holding down the ABS off switch for three seconds, you can lock the rear brake up and skid to a stop just like you did as a kid on your BMX!
Taking the Rally to the annual Cold Kiwi motorcycle Rally, it soon became clear that despite the 249cc engine's low 17.9kW and 22Nm power output, that it has enough to carry a heavy rider and camping gear on the highway with ease. After 700km in the saddle the little Honda was still begging to be ridden.
But it is when the road gets rough the little Honda comes alive. With eyes peeled for every opportunity to take the Rally onto the road less travelled, every ride felt like an adventure, and each time the knobbly IRS tyres hit gravel I felt like a hero thanks to the easy-going nature that filtered through to the Rally from the CRF250L.
Thanks to the low 157kg kerb weight, that low power output isn't so much of an issue on the highway as with the 250cc motorcycles many of us came through the ranks on. It'll hold 100km/h all day long, and I even found myself overtaking the slower country traffic on my adventures with the Rally.
It is no speed demon though and runs out of momentum when the digital display reads 130km/h, which is still plenty to annoy the local constabulary.
With the lower Coromandel loop painfully close to my office door, a weekend fun ride was always going to be on the cards to see how the Honda Rally handles the beautifully twisty sealed roads.
To my surprise, even shod in knobbly tyres the little Honda was a dream to link corners on. With the throttle sitting on the stop for most of the journey, it's safe to say you don't need big power to appreciate this gorgeous stretch of State Highway 25.
However, there are a few niggles with this incredibly fun little machine that are worth noting. The suspension is very soft and heavier riders will notice the mono-shock running out of stroke with the factory settings, so turning up the preload will be a must for many riders.
The engine, while punchy enough, may get tiresome for riders who don't venture off road, and I'm still wondering why Honda didn't opt for their slightly punchier 300cc version (as found in the CBR300) for the Rally.
But with that all said, the Rally is a fantastic budget adventure bike, and at only $8695 you can't really ask for much more from this awesome Dakar hero wannabe.