2011 Honda CBR250R Review

Honda gets serious about luring new riders to motorcycling

CBR250R Honda
Thomas T./Flickr

Manufacturer's Site

Only two of our 10 Great Beginner Motorcycles are fully-faired sportbikes: the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Honda's new 2011 CBR250R.

Challenging the Kawi in the underrepresented genre of economical, easy to ride sportbikes, the CBR250R is priced at $3,999 or $4,499 with ABS. How does Honda's newcomer compare to the venerable Ninja? To find out, let's ride!

>>Click here for a 2011 Honda CBR250R Photo Gallery

The Goods: Sporty Styling, Single-Cylinder Power

Though it shares styling cues with the pricier and massively more powerful Honda VFR1200F, the CBR250R's underpinnings are far kinder and gentler—- ideal for less experienced motorcyclists, or folks who are simply looking for a milder ride.

Power comes from a liquid-cooled, dual overhead cam, single-cylinder 249cc engine that's fuel-injected (unlike the Ninja 250R's parallel-twin engine, which is carbureted.) Honda's thumper routes exhaust through a large muffler, and is mated to a six-speed transmission that uses a chain to drive the rear wheel, where a Pro-Link single-shock can be set with five positions of spring preload. Up front, a non-adjustable 37mm fork offers 4.65 inches of travel, while braking duties are supplied by a single 296mm disc at the front wheel, and a single 220mm disc at the rear. ABS is a $500 option, and the anti-lock system is linked rear-to-front (which means that applying the rear brake will also trigger the front, but not the other way around.)

Seat height matches the Ninja's with a measurement of 30.5 inches (which Honda says comfortably accommodates riders between 5 feet, 4 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches), and the CBR250R tips the scales at 357 pounds—- 18 pounds lighter than a comparable Ninja 250R—- or 366 pounds with ABS. A fuel capacity of 3.4 gallons yields an estimated cruising range of over 200 miles.

The CBR250R is available in red and silver, or black.

Swing a Leg Over: Mildly Aggressive But Entirely Approachable Ergonomics

Seat height is always a hot topic for new riders, and the Honda CBR250R's 30.5 inch tall saddle enables a relatively easy foot reach for most body types. Once seated, the cockpit view places a big tachometer front and center, with a digital fuel gauge, clock, odometer, and temperature gauge just below. Among the few warning lights are turn signal indicators, a check engine lamp, an ABS light (which switches off after the system successfully initializes), and a high beam indicator. Controls are laid out conventionally, with high-beam, turn signals, and horn on the left handgrip, while the starter button and kill switch are found on the right handgrip.

The CBR's ergonomic triangle enables an easy reach to pavement at a standstill, while peg positioning results in a fairly aggressive knee bend and a modest tilt forward to reach the handlebars. The rear curvature of the CBR's fuel tank creates a some snugness in the crotch area, which is probably more noticeable to male riders than females.

On the Road: Flickable Fun for Lovers of Low Displacement

Fire up the engine; lift the bike vertically; flick up the side stand; click the shifter into the gear; let out the clutch and gas the throttle. These ritualistic steps of riding a motorcycle are easy on the CBR250R, thanks to its light weight, relatively low-effort interface, and fuel-injected powerplant. The shifter's crisp "clickyness" and the relatively low effort clutch are both easy to master, and once underway, the counterbalanced engine offers mild vibrations that increase in intensity as the tach winds its way closer to the indicated redline of 10,500 rpm.

The CBR250R's steering is extremely light, and even with a passenger aboard, the bike feels maneuverable enough to warrant sensitive handlebar inputs at low speeds in order to maintain a smooth trajectory. While the single-cylinder engine feels-— at least by the seat of the pants—- like it produces a bit more low-end torque than the Kawasaki Ninja 250R's, power delivery is soft enough to require a bit of winding up between gears. The middle portion of the powerband is generally a good spot to shift, but if you've got a pillion aboard and are aiming for hard acceleration, it's a good idea to wind the engine further—- at least past 6,000 rpm—- in order to wring it out and get into the sweet spot of the next gear. Fully unrestrained revs push the tachometer past the indicated redline and into a soft, electronically limited overrun.

Riding up Interstate 405 between Honda headquarters in Torrance and Santa Monica, California, the CBR exhibits a smooth ride, comfortable ergonomics, and relatively short gearing that yields around 7,000 rpm on the tachometer at a speed of 65 mph in top gear. But the bike's sexier attributes are revealed when Pacific Coast Highway gives way to winding canyon roads in the foothills of Malibu. My test bike's 366 pound curb weight makes it easily flickable through turns and quick to change direction—- which comes in handy, since recent storms had washed all manner of gravel and small organic obstacles onto the roadway shoulder. Also encouraging is the CBR250R's anti-lock brake system, which makes itself known under heavy lever or pedal application with a light but noticeable pulse. The front and rear disc brakes feel strong, though initial bite isn't grabby enough to endanger hamfisted (or footed) beginners.

>>Click here to read the conclusion on Page 2, along with Key Specs and Who Should Buy

Manufacturer's Site

Manufacturer's Site

Bottom Line: A Winning Formula of Affordable Style and Unadulterated Fun

Year after year, Kawasaki was the only manufacturer offering a sporty, quarter liter beginner bike—- which made Honda's primary alternative the solid but uninspired Rebel 250. It was a baffling dominance, and Honda's new-for-2011 CBR250R (which happens to be identically priced) is a long-overdue entry that finally challenges Kawasaki's Ninjette.

The good news for Honda is that the CBR250R is a potent contender; though its rev ceiling is lower than the Ninja's, it offers more usable low-end power in a package that includes a fuel-injected engine, fresh styling, and instrumentation that makes the Kawi's analog dashboard look archaic by comparison. The Honda's curb weight is lower—- even when equipped with the optional ABS, which is not available on the Kawasaki.

But more important than comparisons against Kawasaki are the CBR250R's qualities that stir desire: it’s an attractively designed, well-engineered bike with fun performance and nimble handling. Thanks to its aggressive price point and slickly packaged mechanicals, the Honda CBR250R is not only a great bike, it's one that should attract a new generation of riders into motorcycling.

2011 Honda CBR250R: Key Specifications

  • Price: $3,999, $4,499 (with ABS)
  • Colors: Red & silver, black
  • 249cc single-cylinder fuel-injected engine with dual overhead camshafts
  • Peak horsepower @ 8,500 rpm, peak torque @ 7,000 rpm
  • Six-speed transmission with chain final drive
  • Diamond twin-spar steel frame
  • Rear suspension: Pro-Link single-shock with 5-way spring preload adjustability (4.07 inches of travel)
  • Front suspension: 37mm fork (4.65 inches of travel)
  • Seat height: 30.5 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 3.4 gallons (estimated cruising range over 200 miles)
  • Curb weight: 359 pounds, 366 pounds with ABS
  • Available accessories: Passenger seat cowl, carbon fiber tank pad, carbon fiber fuel lid cover, outdoor cover

Who Should Buy the 2011 Honda CBR250R?

Manufacturer's Site