The main reason the Honda CRF250L deserves a place among the best bikes for experiencing Vietnam is that its extra power makes it easier to ride.
Its nimble handling makes it less tiring, it’s a motorbike that will supply all the fun you’ll ever need when riding in Vietnam. In other words, it won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been arm-wrestling an octopus all day.
When it comes to dirt bikes, 250cc motorcycles are an iconic engine size. So when Honda wanted to push their CR250M in the mid-’70s, who did they get to make it happen? The answer is one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood and the undisputed king of cool, Steve McQueen.
Not only the biggest name in Tinsel Town at the time, but also a seriously good off-roader. When McQueen endorsed a motorbike, people stood up and took notice.
Billed as the bike Soichiro Honda swore he would never build, the ‘Elsinore,’ as it was known, became one of the ’70s most popular dirt bikes. Complete with the slogan, ‘for a man’s ride. Honda.’ How could it fail?
Fast forward almost half a century, and Honda 250’s are still making lots of friends worldwide and especially in Vietnam. Launched in 2012, the Honda CRF250 has stood the test of time. It remains a well-accomplished off-road motorbike that is more than comfortable on the dirt and off-roads of Vietnam.
What is the CRF250L doing in Vietnam?
So what exactly is the Honda CRF250, and why is it needed when there’s a perfectly capable XR150 in the Honda repertoire riding Vietnam? Comparing the bikes alongside one another, you’d ask yourself the same question. Without a doubt, they aren’t that dissimilar in looks and general stance.
Dig deeper, and the spec sheets begin to widen the gap. Ride them back to back on Vietnam’s dirt roads, and it becomes an open and shut case for the CRF250L.
A lot is written about the best size of bike to use in Vietnam. The general consensus of opinion may say that anything over 150cc is a waste, but the CRF250 certainly makes a good case for itself.
While the Honda XR150 is happy to roam the streets and roll in the dirt, the CRF250L dominates the road and powers through bad terrain, whatever the weather in Vietnam.
Yes, the difference between the two motorbikes is that pronounced. Don’t be fooled though into thinking the CRF250L is some untamable bucking bronco.
‘It’s all wrapped up in catchy bodywork and is as reliable as a self-winding TAG watch.’
Like all Hondas, the CRF250L is the perfect combination of balance, weight, and power. What’s more, it’s all wrapped up in catchy bodywork and is as reliable as a self-winding TAG watch.
Honda has upped the stakes with the CRF250L, starting from scratch in several departments such as the chassis and suspension. Together with an extensively re-worked engine, the Big H has produced a competent off-roader that still provides poise and comfort on the blacktops of Vietnam.
Who is the Honda CRF250L’s Target Market in Vietnam?
The Honda CRF250 is geared towards riders who’ve been broken-in on smaller green-laners. These motorcyclists take their fun in the mud seriously and want to step things up a notch.
Demanding multi-terrain joined by stretches of challenging roads are commonplace throughout Vietnam. Nevermore so than for anyone exploring the area around Indochina’s highest peak, Fansipan.
The CRF250 will also take the remote mountainous back roads and trails close to the Chinese border in its stride too impress riders in Vietnam.
So whether you’re still honing your skills or are an experienced trail hand, the CRF250L will lap it up on the wild backroads Vietnam has on offer.
Quick Look Stats CRF250L
|Cubic Capacity||Gears||Horse Power||Max Torque|
|249cc||6||24||22Nm @ 7000|
A Detailed Look at the Honda CRF250L Engine
If you think this motorbike is just a CRF230 with a face-lift, you couldn’t be more wrong. The bodywork may look similar, but that’s about where it ends. Out goes the air-cooled thumper. In slots a liquid-cooled de-tuned version of the CBR 250R power plant.
The DOHC 4-valve, single-cylinder engine retains some of its road-going siblings’ ability to rev. According to Honda, it’s been re-worked to provide ‘satisfying torque at low revs’ making it ideal for the endlessly challenging countryside of Vietnam.
You can thank the engine’s three bearing crank and a primary balance shaft for leaving your fillings intact too.-Good vibrations from the CRF250-
Wind it up though, and instead of getting all out of breath, the Honda CRF250 will still accelerate in that tall sixth gear. You can thank the engine’s three bearing crank and a primary balance shaft for leaving your fillings intact too.
One of the big differences with this engine’s performance and reliability is the use of electronic fuel injection.
Now, if the slightest mention of EFI starts you shouting ‘electronic voodoo that you can’t repair in the field,’ then it’s time for you, like me, to evolve.
The CRF250’s 37mm, flat-sided Keihin with a throttle position sensor allows for such precise fuel flow that acceleration throughout the rev range is silky smooth.
Add to this more than 75 miles to the gallon, and OPEC is going to cross you off its Christmas card list.
Gearbox and Clutch
Unless you’re in the pit crew of a factory-sponsored Enduro team, giving you a list of gear ratios is a waste of time. Suffice to say that at initial glance, the first gear looks short. While two, three, four, and five are evenly spaced with six more of an overdrive.
Having said this, where some bikes we experienced in Vietnam may need a table-flat road with the wind behind it to engage sixth, the Honda CRF250L doesn’t. The engine, with its great combination of rev-happy torque, means you can accelerate in top gear quite happily.
‘It’s capable of handling all manner of muddy booted clobbering.’-Honda CRF250 gearbox-
The gearbox is typical of Honda. It’s well put together with a positive feel and no false neutrals. In other words, it’s capable of handling all manner of muddy booted clobbering.
Clutches are the unsung heroes of the engine department in my book and don’t get enough praise. As per usual, though, Honda hasn’t exactly busted a gut in their description. Instead, stating that it’s a ‘wet multi-plate with coil springs.’
What that gives you though, is a very light pull at the handlebar and nice positive changes without the Yamaha crunch or Suzuki clonk.
Being specially designed for the bike, one look at the stripped-down frame, and it’s clear the guys at Honda have put some real thought into its execution. You can see where they’ve cut corners for mass-production purposes, but the CRF250 still manages to be both lightweight and very strong.
This feature is thanks to the combination of twin, oval-section, high tensile steel spars around the steering head, and a semi-double-cradle lower section. A major plus for anyone tackling Vietnam’s mountainous terrain.
The design gives a nice slim frame profile, while the lower double-cradle provides better protection for the sump. It also provides extra rigidity, the benefits of which shine through in the bike’s handling.
‘It may look smooth and a bit flimsy, but it keeps that back end super neat.’-Honda CRF250 swing arm-
The tapered aluminum monoblock cast swing-arm also helps with the CRF250L’s superior handling. It may look smooth and a bit flimsy, but it keeps that back end super neat. In a nutshell, it can take any abuse you or any of Vietnam’s rutted roads care to send its way.
What is nice to see is, they’ve gone for aluminum rims and a 21” front-18” rear, combo instead of the usual halfway house, street-orientated 19-18 route.
You’ll be able to nadger the CRF250 through Vietnam’s loose, wet stuff with ease, while the slightly wider 18″ rear provides extra grip for powering through the terrain.
The only limiting factor comes with the stock tyres. There isn’t a budget dual- sport motorbike in the world that falls out of the box wearing quality rubber. Unfortunately, the Honda CRF250 is no exception.
Don’t get me wrong. The OEM IRC’s aren’t bad and are some times better than the Royal Enfield Himalayan’s stock offerings. They even come with half-decent knobbles on them.
Honda mentions a 70/30 road to dirt bias for their stock tyres which in reality is about right. Touring around Vietnam will see you hitting good size spells of tarmac before heading off-road. So yes, 70/30 is a realistic split.
Unfortunately, that large percentage of road bias does make its lack of presence felt when you’re up to your spokes in the wet stuff, and you need to give it a handful.
It’s nowhere near being a deal-breaker, more of personal preference. When the OEM tires do wear out, though, swapping them for something like a Pirelli or a Michelin will make the difference in handling very noticeable. But do your homework finding Dual sport tyres in Vietnam can be a challenge, sizes and products for this market are limited, due to lack of volume in tyre sales for Dual sport.
When swapping the stock CEATs for Pirelli on her RE Himalayan, adventure bike riding icon, Noraly’ Itchy Boots’ Schoenmaker found the same thing.
‘The front suspension is the only area where the Honda CRF250L comes in for some constructive moaning.’-Honda CRF250 front forks-
The front suspension is the only area where the Honda CRF250 comes in for some constructive moaning. The 43mm Showa USD forks are non-adjustable and have a 250mm stroke giving you a handy, 8.7” of travel.
In reality, the criticism probably comes from desk-jockeys reading through the stats. Out on the dirt, the forks feel great, giving plenty of performance and good feedback on Vietnam’s back roads and tracks.
Ok, take on some decent air or serious ruts, and you’ll be in all kinds of trouble. If you want to go down the pot-holed route, though, buy yourself a KX450F along with a kidney belt.
Bringing up the rear is Honda’s tried and tested Pro-link, set-up featuring a Showa Shock, adjustable for spring preload. Honda quotes 240mm of axle movement, which translates to 9.4” of travel before things start banging out.
Considering this is a budget model packing bottom-shelf suspension, the handling on Vietnam’s challenging roads, green lanes, or forest tracks make it feel like a class act.
Is CRF250L Performance a Match for Vietnam?
When it comes to smaller capacity motorbikes, you shouldn’t look at the performance figures and believe they tell the full story.
Like the Royal Enfield Himalayan and to some extent, the Honda XR150, the output of the CRF250L doesn’t appear to be enough to get your pulse racing, which is fine on Vietnam’s busy and sometimes unexpected road sharing events.
That’s on paper, though. In reality, the engine is a gem. It revs like a hot rod but still gives plenty of low down grunt right where you need it most.
For anyone interested in the stats, the Honda CRF250L kicks out its max power of 24hp at 8,500rpm with a torque output of 22Nm, 1500revs lower at 7000rpm.
As I said before, it’s nothing to write home about. When you go down the DOHC, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected route, though, it lets you fine-tune the delivery and deliver it does.
While back on the loose stuff, the engine offers that rare combination of smooth yet revy power that gives a hesitation-free linear push of forward motion.
‘can get you out of trouble without having to do a Michael Flatly-style River Dance on the gear lever.’-Honda CRF250L’s rev happy engine-
Acceleration is predictable rather than squirty. What’s more, it can still get you out of trouble without having to do a Michael Flatly-style River Dance on the gear lever.
In the past, many Honda models in Vietnam show rooms with their ultra-reliable engines and predictable power delivery are considered to be the ‘Captain Sensible’ option.
Admittedly, there are no lumpy cam profiles, peaky ignition timing, or gulping carb to get your pulse banging. Then again, it won’t set your behind twitching either as you go hurtling off the trail towards a tree thanks to the kicking in of a razorblade power-band.
Weights and Measures For Vietnam Models
Comparing CRF250L to Vietnam’s Honda XR150
We’ve already seen how versatile the Honda XR150 is with its willing engine and easy maneuverability. Similarly, the Himalayan has made many new friends in Vietnam for its no-nonsense tough as nails, dirt-laughs on a budget.
The CRF250L takes the XR150’s build quality and Himalayan’s dirt credentials and adds to both.
This motorbike is a competent machine both on and off the road and produces excellent linear power without getting breathless.
The fit and finish are typical Honda quality, and although the suspension is budget, it still manages to come across as a competent machine.
‘Push it too hard on a deeply rutted road, and the suspension that previously felt capable suddenly gets overwhelmed.’-Honda CRF250L handling-
The bubble only gets burst though in two ways. Push it too hard on a deeply rutted road, and the suspension that previously felt capable suddenly gets overwhelmed.
Secondly is the price. In any western country, putting the likes of the Honda CRF250 up against the RE Himalayan, the Him would probably lose despite it being cheaper. In the more affluent west, bang for the buck isn’t such a priority.
The XR150 may very well stand the Hawk Moon school of scrutiny and shine when compared to the rag bag of two-wheeled deadbeats on offer. However, (link to XR article), the Honda CRF250 has enough of everything to make it stand out in its own right for Vietnam routes..
Is the Honda CRF250L the Right Tool for the Job in Vietnam?
As with any bike, we have to ask ourselves the question, is it the right tool for the job for Vietnam riders? After all, if the Honda XR150’s lightweight makes it so appealing, how can the CRF250L at 17kgs heavier feel so right. Especially when riding in countries with tough terrain such as Vietnam.
If the Himalayan with its relaxed thumper characteristics hits the mark so accurately, where does the techno-savvy, rev-happy Honda figure in the equation?
The answer is a combination of several factors. The Honda CRF250L’s rock-steady handling inspires a feeling of confidence even in novice hands. Plus, those extra pounds add to its feeling of stability.
Additionally, the bike’s power characteristics are so cleverly mapped-out, that it remains novice-friendly. It will, however, still provide more performance than you’ll ever be able to fully exploit. Whether you’re beach- hopping in the south, negotiating the central highlands or heading for the mountains of the north riding the tracks and trails of Vietnam Honda CRF250L’s are a strong choice of the limited model off-road bikes available in Vietnam today.