By Bud Wilkinson of RIDE-CT.com
It may not be small enough to fit under a Christmas tree, but a bright red Honda CBR250R would look festive parked next to one, and probably small enough to squeeze through a door and into the house to have there on Christmas morning. While it’s too tiny, lightweight and lacking in power to be considered a crotch rocket despite its looks, this entry level sport bike can aptly be called a crotch cherry bomb as RIDE-CT learned during a cautious 31-mile test ride on Wednesday afternoon.
The 2011 demo model wasn’t red, rather black, and the ride capped a more than four-month effort to get a baby CBR out on the road. Back in August, Honda agreed to a week-long loan of one from a dealership in Long Island City, N.Y. but the logistics never got ironed out. A few weeks ago, though, when visiting Jim Batterton for a column on Kent Road Motor Sports in Cornwall Bridge, I noticed what looked to be a new CBR250R tucked in the corner of his shop.
Batterton’s brother-in-law owns a Honda dealership in Pittsburgh and occasionally funnels him used bikes to sell. The CBR was a trade-in with only 971 miles on the odometer. Some newbie had obviously bought it, learned on it and the decided to upgrade to something larger. Batterton said that I was welcome to take it out whenever I wanted, and Wednesday turned out to be the day.
Driving from Harwinton to Batterton’s shop on Route 7, I noticed farm ponds covered with an ice glaze and worried about the wetness of the roads. With the temps in the mid- to upper-30s, maybe low-40s, visions of unmelted black ice from the previous night danced in my head. Was this really a wise idea? With no other column ideas, though, I mentally vowed to be ever-watchful of road conditions and careful when maneuvering.
Batterson had the bike ready when I arrived. Signing a requisite “you break it, you buy it” agreement was much easier than it was for the pricey Ducati Diavel power cruiser road test back in the spring. The MSRP on the 2011 CBR250R was only $3,999. (The ABS version is $500 more. The price for 2012 models hasn’t been announced.) Hitting the starter button, the fuel-injected, single-cylinder motor instantly fired and off we went. My 100-yard first impression was that the bike was much peppier than expected, with very smooth throttle response.
The clutch on my 1974 Honda CB750 Four has two positions – engaged and disengaged. The friction zone is non-existent. The clutch on the CBR250R seemed just the opposite. The result is a bike that’s very difficult to stall on takeoff, something new riders will appreciate. And the CBR250R is primarily a motorcycle for newcomers, with a 53.9-inch wheelbase, 30.5-inch seat height and a weight of 357 pounds. The 26-horsepower, 249cc engine is pleasantly lacking in vibration due to counterbalancing but what really makes it fun is a comfortable riding position that doesn’t force contortions.
Heading north on Route 7, I took Route 4 east to experience the uphill curves heading toward Mohawk Mountain. Having previously scoped the road, I knew this section was dry, so getting a feel for the bike’s handling was possible. It handles effortlessly, although downshifting was necessary to keep the speed up.
If the cold was too much to handle or the road conditions too hazardous up reaching Cornwall Village, I was going to backtrack and call it quits, but neither seemed to be a factor. I headed north on Route 125 and then west on Route 128 to West Cornwall. Crossing the covered bridge, I went into Forrest Gump running mode, figuring why not keep going. Route 7 north beckoned, and I rode on to Lime Rock and Lakeville. A ring-necked pheasant flew across my path on Route 41 southbound heading to Sharon as I briefly cruised along at about 60-65 miles per hour, just to see if the bike was freeway capable.
The only questionable section was the downhill ride on Route 4 heading back to Cornwall Bridge from Sharon. The curvy road was wet and traffic intermittently backed up behind me as I played it safe in case any ice existed. By this time my fingers were a bit numb from the cold. Fortunately, the remainder of the ride was uneventful.
Conventional wisdom for new riders is to buy used and buy small, because newbies inevitably drop their bikes or have other mishaps. But for the newbie intent on buying new, the CBR250R is a great option. It looks faster than it is, but it does have sufficient power that I never felt inadequate. My only quibbles are the short first gear – you barely get rolling and it’s time to shift into second – and the degree of difficulty in downshifting at slow speeds.
With its 3.4-gallon gas tank, the CBR250R has a range of 200 miles. It’s not only an excellent newbie bike but also one for more experienced commuters or frugal longer-range riders. And, in red, it would look nice next to the Christmas tree.
(Originally published in “The Republican-American” on December 17, 2011.)