Often overlooked by new motorcyclists, small dual-sports are a great way to learn how to ride. They’re lightweight and easy to maneuver, and thanks to an upright riding position, they’re relatively comfortable.
“It’s a bike you can come in at the entry level and it’s not intimidating,” says Johnny Campbell, a legend in off-road riding and 11-time champion of the Baja 1000. “The power’s subtle enough that it’s not going to rip out of your hands. Really, it’s the nimbleness of having a dual sport that’s easy to ride.”
For the dirt-curious, these do-it-all bikes are not only fun but also great at expediting the learning curve; riders who spend off-road time in the inconsistent world of dirt, sand, and mud learn how to handle a bike when things get squirrely.
Year over year, the Honda CRF250L has been the go-to choice for small-displacement dual sports. Honda sold 4,000 of these bikes last year, and representatives claim the category is experiencing double-digit growth. (The dual-sport segment overall is one of the few currently experiencing growth.) Thanks to a major overhaul for 2017, the CRF250L has never been better.
But you shouldn’t buy it. Throw down the extra $750 for the all-new CRF250L Rally instead.
Before we get into the CRF250L Rally, here are the details on the CRF250L: At 317 pounds, it’s 26 pounds lighter than the previous model, thanks to new exhaust. The 2017 model also boasts a larger throttle body, for more power and better response at low and medium RPMs.
The CRF250L Rally shares the same 250cc power plant that’s mated to a six-speed transmission. It produces a reasonable 24 horsepower so it won’t get too squirrelly — even if you unintentionally whiskey-throttle it.
We rode both bikes for about 60 miles each recently, on the roads and trails around Murrieta, California. Aesthetically, the Rally wins in the badass looks department thanks to a windscreen, aviator-like goggle headlights, and a different cowl, as well as radiator shrouds. On the highway, the windscreen provides some protection from the wind and can help squeeze out a little more speed.
The Rally has 11 inches of front suspension via an inverted telescopic fork and 10.3 inches in the rear, and did a fine job negotiating the massive on-trail crevices caused by California’s recent record-breaking spring rain. The Rally is also available with ABS, which adds about $300 to the price of the bike as well as a few pounds, but will help newbies control the bike, especially on the pavement. The Rally also has a 2.7-gallon tank, about half a gallon larger than the standard CRF250L. And it’s the larger tank, windscreen, and improved suspension that make the Rally the better choice.
A great choice for the beginner or the seasoned rider who wants a fun, small displacement bike to bang around, the CRF250L Rally is not for riders who want to go deep into the world of adventure riding — for that you’ll want a larger bike with better suspension. But it is a great starter bike. [$5,899 (non-ABS); powersports.honda.com]