2013 Honda CRF250L Review: The Talented Mr. Dual Sport

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Introduction: Honda's Brand New Steed for Road and Trail

2013 Honda CRF250L
The CRF250L on the trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California. Photo © Kevin Wing

The late, great Honda CRF230L was an exercise in on and offroad minimalism: its air-cooled engine was a mellow little lump, and it had the characteristics of a simple dirtbike with street capabilities, rather than a road bike that happened to be capable on trails. Its price later swelled from $4,500 to $5,000, but Honda eventually dumped the dual-purpose ride and developed something with a tad more fire in its soul.

Enter the new 2013 CRF250L, which boasts a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 249cc engine adapted from the spunky CBR250R. Not only is the new bike more capable than its predecessor, it's priced at $4,499, which makes it stiff competition for the carbureted, liquid-cooled Kawasaki KLX250S ($5,099) and the fuel-injected, air-cooled Yamaha XT250 ($5,190.)

The new Honda CRF250L's engine has been retuned for more low-end power and incorporates a new airbox, pipes, and other bits to make it ready for dirt duty, while the gearbox and clutch have also been strengthened for the rigors of offroading. These components are held in a high-tensile steel cradle frame, and the suspension-- new, and designed specifically for this model-- offers a generous 9.8 inches of front travel, and 9.4 inches at the rear.

The CRF250L's seat height is 34.7 inches, and a fuel capacity of 2.0 gallons coupled with its estimated 73 mpg EPA figure should yield a modest theoretical range of 146 miles... but how does it ride? I tested Honda's newest dual-sport on winding highways and dusty trails nears Santa Barbara, California; come along to find out.


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Riding Impressions, Part I: On the Road

2013 Honda CRF250L
The CRF250L hits the pavement. Photo © Kevin Wing

Straddle the Honda CRF250L, and its 34.7-inch seat height feels less daunting than it looks on the spec sheet-- mostly because its soft suspension easily compresses and allows most rider's boots to reach the pavement. Though a rubber brake line arcs awkwardly above the handlebars, there's a slightly more grown-up feel to the cockpit compared to its predecessor the CRF230L, mostly due to more comprehensive digital instrumentation that includes a bar graph-style fuel gauge.

The single-cylinder engine comes to life with a mellow put-put-put sound, and clicking into first gear reveals a low effort clutch and a shifter that moves with precise, light, positive action. Whereas the CBR250R's motor feels strongest as it winds up to the middle of its powerband, the CFR250L's gruntiness comes in earlier and peters outs as it reaches its upper registers. There's no tachometer to indicate engine rpms, but the motor offers enough auditory and vibrational clues to make it clear when it's time to shift.

The fear with any dual-purpose motorcycle is that its suspension will be too soft and wallowy for the road, but the CRF didn't disappoint on the twisty stretches of tarmac in the hills above Santa Barbara. Though there's no hesitation when throwing this 320 pound bike into turns, there's also no hint of instability or overly light steering feel; stability reigns supreme in the corners, which can at least partially be attributed to the bike's generous trail figure of 4.4 inches.

Despite its knobby tires, the CRF feels grippy while leaned over, and the communicative-- if, slightly soft-- suspension encourages relatively quick corner speeds for such a small-engined bike. The 2-piston front brakes and single disc rear requires a bit of lever and pedal effort, but they're capable enough to provide strong stops when necessary. While not as dialed in on the road as its sportbike cousin the CBR250R, the CRF250L comes across as a surprisingly capable canyon carver, especially considering its offroad capabilities which you'll read about in the next section.


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Riding Impressions, Part II: On the Trail

2013 Honda CRF250L
The lil' Honda puts some air below its knobby. Photo © Kevin Wing

Following its surefooted performance on public roads, there's a faint fear that the CRF250L won't deliver offroad-- yet during an afternoon of trail duty this quarter-liter pussycat performed rather well, thank you very much.

Disclaimer: I tend to be more confident on paved surfaces than rough ones, and I'm usually not the guy backflipping my way through motocross courses. That said, for my purposes I found the CRF's nearly 10 inches of suspension travel confidence inspiring when it came to cutting through some of the rougher stretches of rock-strewn trails during the offroad portion of the ride. Despite a few deep ruts and generally unfriendly terrain, the CRF felt plush and controlled in the wild, charging ahead while offering enough feedback to encourage a spirited pace.

Only when I hit looser bits of dirt did my confidence wane; it seems the CRF's knobbies are actually more comfortable on the road than they are on loose dusty trails, a point proven when I nearly lost the front end several times while cornering through some of the more challenging stretches. At least while negotiating the gnarly bits, the Honda offers absolute ease of use: its gearbox never felt balky, instead enabling quick, easy shifts accompanied by smooth throttle fueling and predictable power delivery. While the old CRF230L sometimes felt overwhelmed by steep grades, the new CRF250L comes across as more capable and ready for action. Sure, you'll have to use momentum wisely and downshift early sometimes to maximize the power at lower revs, but with a bit of judiciousness the latest CRF will reward you with solid performance and surprising competence. More importantly, if you wander off the beaten path with a Honda CRF250L, you'll likely never regret leaving pavement.



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Bottom Line, Specifications, Who Should Buy the 2013 Honda CRF250L?

2013 Honda CRF250L
The 2013 Honda CRF250L. Photo © Basem Wasef

Bottom Line

The Honda CBR250R may seem like an unlikely parts donor for the CRF250L, but by inheriting the same basic (if slightly modified) engine from the tiny sportbike, Honda's newest dual-sport becomes a vastly improved beast compared to its smaller ancestor, the CRF230L. Not only is the CRF250L more affordable, it's also more sophisticated, more powerful, and more capable-- and it also gains a considerable edge over its pricier alternatives from Kawasaki and Yamaha.

While you'll never confuse its performance with a dedicated sportbike, the CRF250L proved surprisingly fun to pilot on winding roads, and impressively resilient offroad. Gripes are few and minor, among them the fuel tank's tiny 2 gallon capacity, a stiff saddle, and an unwillingness for the tires to dig in on the dry, sandy stuff.

For most road-biased purposes and a majority of trails, Honda's CRF250L is a fun, involving ride at an attractive price, making it a clear winner in the entry level portion of the dual purpose world, not to mention the newest member of our 10 Great Beginner Motorcycles list.


  • Price: $4,499
  • Engine: Fuel-injected, 249cc four-stroke, single-cylinder
  • Transmission: 6-speed, heavy duty clutch
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 2.0 gallons
  • EPA Fuel Economy Estimate: 73 mpg
  • Final Drive: Chain
  • Brakes: 256mm front disc (2-piston), 220mm rear disc
  • Wheels: 21-inch front, 18-inch rear
  • Suspension: 43mm inverted fork (9.8 inches travel); Pro-Link, single shock rear (9.4 inches travel)
  • Warranty: 1 year, transferable
  • Curb Weight: 320 pounds

Who Should Buy the 2013 Honda CRF250L?

Road going and dirt riding enthusiasts looking for an affordable, fun way to split the difference between tarmac and trail.