It's now been two years since Honda's CRF250L Rally first made its New Zealand debut, and while there are without a doubt more powerful and dirt ready machines available in the market, the Honda CRF250L Rally still holds a few aces up its sleeve.
We first rode the CRF250L Rally back in 2017, and absolutely fell in love with the little dual sport. While it lacks suspension adjustment to any substantial degree like its Japanese 250 competition, the Rally does have that windscreen, and importantly the braking system is backed by ABS. It was because of these important factory additions to the Rally that we chose to part with our hard earned cash and make the Rally a permanent addition to the On Throttle garage.
But while we chose to make this Rally ours, we're not under any illusions that it is the perfect motorcycle. At least not yet.
With that said, however, we think that the Honda Rally is still hands down the best looking 250 in today’s motorcycling market. Okay, that’s just our opinion, but with its HRC Rally Team inspired aesthetic seemingly plucked straight off the Dakar Rally race bike the little Honda has the good looks to whet your appetite for adventure.
If that bright red HRC colour scheme doesn't take your fancy, since it was launched the Rally now is also available in a svelt charcoal grey and black colour scheme. When it comes to embarking on that adventure though, is the 250cc engine that powers the Rally enough?
If you take away the Rally's bodywork, 10.2-litre fuel tank, and long travel suspension what you’re left with is essentially an update on Honda's CRF250L which debuted in 2013. Now the CRF250L is no meek little city trail bike either. In fact, the CRF250L is a favourite of tour operators in South East Asia for its dependability, non-threatening engine, and no-nonsense easy-to-use nature. The Rally builds on this quality little adventurer with that previously mentioned 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 it had a very limited fuel range.
On the face of it then, the CRF250L Rally has the looks of a fun go-anywhere machine, but the only way to find out if that was true was to hit the road, with a little bit of gravel and mud thrown in for good measure.
Unlike some of the other bikes in the class which are much more like a dirt bike in terms of setup, swinging up onto the 894mm high seat of the Rally doesn't require a step ladder and, despite its tall height, and once aboard the suspension sags down enough which allowed me to comfortably plant a foot down when at a stop.
In another departure from its trail bike looks, the seat of the Rally is in fact quite comfortable, with the only annoyance coming from the pillion grab strap which caused a bit of pain after a couple of hours in the saddle – thankfully this was easily removed and is temporarily stored in the factory toolbox.
The rest of the cockpit feels purposeful, with a wide steel handlebar with plastic 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. Those wind deflectors aren't particularly sturdy and won't protect the levers in the event of a fall. We've already binned them and invested in a set of Barkbusters for our Rally.
As an entry level adventure machine sophisticated electronics such as those found on the top dog of the CRF-L family – the Africa Twin – are a bit much to ask for, but that doesn’t mean the Rally does without. With ABS now being a requirement for all bikes over 125cc to get Euro 4 compliance, Honda have given the Rally a switch next to the high mounted dash to deactivate the rear ABS for off-road use – just like the big brother Africa Twin.
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 (read: fat) 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 off the beaten path, every ride felt like an adventure, and each time the knobbly IRS tyres hit gravel I felt like a hero thanks to that easy-going nature which has filtered through to the Rally from the base CRF250L.
With a low 157kg kerb weight (by ADV standards, admittedly the Rally is quite porky when compared to the stripped back WR250R and KLX250S) that low power output isn’t so much of an issue on the highway as the 250cc motorcycles many of us came through the ranks on. It’ll hold 100km/h all day long, and I even find myself easily 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 of speed to get you into some expensive trouble.
To my surprise even shod in knobbly tyres the little Honda was a dream to link corners on while out enjoying some of New Zealand's best back roads. While the factory IRC knobblies are meant to be a 50/50 split between road and off road, they definitely don't lack grip. With the throttle sitting on the stop for most rides the knobbly tyres offer an reliable amount of grip.
There are a few annoying bits with this incredibly fun little machine that are worth noting, however. The suspension is VERY soft and heavier riders will notice both the forks and mono-shock running out of stroke with the factory settings, so turning up the preload at the rear will be a must for many riders. Sadly the front is non-adjustable and needs some big dollars spent on the forks to take away the squishy nature Honda bestowed the Rally with.
The engine, while punchy enough, will probably get tiresome for some 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. Even two years later Honda are stubbornly sticking to their guns and keeping the Rally as a 250.
Then there is the quality of the HRC graphics which adorn our bike. We were one of the first to ride this very bike back in 2017 and found it incredibly easy to scratch up the graphics with the most gentle of riding. Now the bike is a couple of years older and the graphics really look like its gone through the ringer in its short 4500km life. Thankfully replacement decals appear to be inexpensive to buy over the internet, but it is a pain nonetheless.
With that said, the service interval of the tried and true CBR250 derived 249cc single-cylinder is a mind boggling 12,000km which allows for plenty of adventures before you need to look at heading to the dealership again - although, the dealership we picked up our Rally from recommended following a tighter service interval to ensure nothing was forgotten along the way. With that said however, a decent service interval is something the forthcoming CRF450L can't boast with its MotoX derived high-performance 450cc single.
But with that all said and done, the Rally is a fantastic budget adventure bike for the money, and at only $9,250, it makes for an excellent entry in to the world of adventure riding. We know exactly what we'll be doing with ours that's for sure.
Honda CRF250L Rally Specs
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
CC Rating: 249.6cc
Bore and Stroke: 76.0mm x 55.0mm
Ignition: Full transistorized ignition
Final Drive: Chain
Suspension Front: 43mm telescopic inverted fork; 11.0 in. trave
lSuspension Rear: Pro-Link® single shock; 10.3 in. travel
Brakes Front: Single 296mm disc w/ twin-piston caliper; ABS
Brakes Rear: Single 220mm disc; ABS
Tyre Front: 3.00-21
Seat Height: 894mm
Kerb Weight: 157kg
Fuel Capacity: 10.2l
Dimensions: 2210mm(L) x 900mm(W) x 1425mm(H)