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First L.A. Times ride: Honda CRF250x and CRF450x

May 08, 2013|By Charles Fleming
  • Honda's 2013 CRF450x, above, is a dirt monster. So is its little brother, the CRF250x. They look almost identical.
Honda's 2013 CRF450x, above, is a dirt monster. So is its little brother,… (American Honda )

Honda has produced, again, a terrific motorcycle. No, two terrific motorcycles. The 2013 CRF250X and CRF450X are tremendous pieces of two-wheeled engineering. As an old dirt bike guy, I fell in love with both of them.

But even after repeated outings and several hours on each bike, it's almost impossible to say which of them is the better machine.

For a start, they're very similar. They use almost the same frames, suspension, brakes, gearbox, carburetion, electric start systems and other essential elements -- down to the liquid-cooled, dual-radiator Unicam engines that power them. They even look almost identical.

They're slightly different, on paper, in the ways you'd think. The 250 weighs 15 pounds less (254 pounds to the 450's 269 pounds), and sits a tiny bit lower (though both have a seat height of more than 37 inches). The 450 has more horsepower (an unofficial 43 to the 250's unofficial 32). Sitting on them, in the showroom, you'd hardly be able to tell them apart.

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But get them in the dirt and their individual personalities come into clearer relief. 

The CRF250X is a lighter, nimbler ride, slimmer around the middle, snappier off the throttle, and wearing a narrower back tire. It sticks a little better to the goat trails and has somewhat better footing at slow speeds. It has a wide power band, easy to find, easy to maintain. In short, it's more of a trail bike.

The CRF450X is a burlier, beefier unit, with tons of low-end torque. It climbs effortlessly, making molehills out of mountains, and tracks steadily, powering smoothly through heavy, sandy washes and whoops. (A steering stabilizer, not included on the 250, helps.) It doesn't have a power band, per se, because it's all power band. In short, it's more of a desert bike.

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The differences don't make either bike superior. On a handful of visits to northern L.A. County's Rowher Flat/Bouquet Canyon area, I was as happy on one as on the other. I only wound up preferring the smaller 250 because there weren't as many high-speed, flat-out, wide-open spaces to appreciate the 450's capabilities in that riding environment. Had I been riding at Jawbone or Cal City, I might have come away with a preference for the 450. 

But they're both seriously fine pieces of machinery -- two of the best out-of-the-box dirt bikes on the market. (And every CRF250/450X owner I met told me a secret or two for improving on the out-of-the-box basic bike and adding to its already awesome handling and horsepower qualities.)

In the end, if I had to buy one, I'd have to buy both. The CRF250X has an MSRP of $7,410, the CRF450X of $8,440.  

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