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2011 Honda CBR250R: The Babyblade is back!

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January 31, 2011

Honda's 2011 CBR250R

Honda's 2011 CBR250R

Image Gallery (44 images)

Twenty years ago, quarter-liter sportsbikes ruled the roost in many regions, offering a mix of racy looks, light weight and snappy performance. But in recent years, with all the other major players leaving the segment, Kawasaki has enjoyed unchallenged sales success with its sharp-looking, yet friendly Ninja 250. But the mini-ninja will soon face stiff competition from Honda's totally re-conceived babyblade CBR250R, equipped with a 249cc single-cylinder, fuel injected engine, a tasty fairing that mimics the CBR1000RR and the first instance of optional ABS to grace the market segment. This will be a killer learner machine and a great introduction to the sport for legions of young riders. It's good to see the quarter-liter segment getting some love again. Oh, and check out what the aftermarket's already coming up with for these new machines.

Back in the early 1990s, the 250cc class was red-hot -– Honda's CBR250RR battling it out with Kawasaki's ZXR250 and Yamaha's YZF250 in a stand-up mini racebike brawl that saw power figures escalating to ridiculous heights. 45 horsepower from a quarter liter, 4 cylinder 4-stroke? That's a heck of a lot, especially considering we're talking more than 20 years ago, when top-flight liter bikes weren't making much more than 130 horses.

But that's what the kids wanted: bikes that looked fast and had lots of power. And the 250cc 4-strokes fit conveniently within learner license regulations in countries like Japan and Australia. They sold like hotcakes.

But like any hard-edged sports machine, they took a lot of skill to ride. You can't make big horsepower from a 4-cylinder engine without sacrificing a lot of low-end torque, so the CBR250s of old were very easy to stall. Low-set clip-on bars would crush your thumbs against the tank as you tried to do u-turns. These things were great on the open road, but a right pain around town – and I think it's fair to say they put a fair few learners off the idea of riding altogether. They had their shiny, fast-looking bikes, but they just couldn't get their heads around how to ride the things.

Fast-forward 20 years to the learnerbike market of today -– while many countries have graduated license schemes based on power-to-weight ratios, allowing learner riders to get on big, friendly bikes like the GS500, GSX650F, CB400 and the like, the bike that has really been setting sales figures alight is the Kawasaki Ninja 250.

And the Ninja got a lot of things right; it looks fast, but it's not as highly strung as the old ZXR. In fact, it's based on the old faithful GPZ and ZZR bikes that rounded out Kawasaki's 250cc offering for decades. Practical and rewarding machines that always seemed to play second fiddle to the racier looking machines.

The Ninja 250 put a coat of glamor on top of the fantastic GPX platform, creating a learnerbike that was both desirable AND rideable, that drew new riders into the sport but gave them something encouraging and friendly to develop their skills on. Released in 2008 and more or less unchallenged in its segment, it's still selling like crazy.

So the real question here is: why did it take Honda four years to catch up?

Honda's 2011 CBR250R

Catch up might not be the right word; Honda's upcoming 2011 CBR250R release will push the game a little further on from the little Ninja, but it takes a few big cues from the Kawasaki's success.

First of all, it looks great, every bit the younger brother of the popular CBR1000RR and VFR1200F with its glossy paneling, triangular exhaust and underpants-shaped headlight. It looks quick and it looks *now*.

Honda's 2011 CBR250R

The engine choice is an interesting one – Kawasaki has had great success with the Ninja 250R's parallel twin, but Honda has opted for a single-cylinder 249cc 4-stroke, fuel injected and very much oversquare, with a bore of 76mm and a stroke of just 55mm.

No power figures are quoted as yet, but that engine configuration suggests a very torquey bike, easy to get off the line and quick to build revs. It's also light, tipping the scales at 161 kg wet. Seat height is a fair bit higher than the Ninja 250R, at 78 cm versus the Kawasaki's 74.5 cm.

Honda's 2011 CBR250R

Most significantly, the Honda CBR250R will be the first bike in the segment to offer an ABS braking system – in this case, Honda's Combined ABS system, which in addition to managing wheel slip, also makes a proportion of the rear pedal braking pressure activate the front brakes.

It cannot be overstated what a good idea this is on a learner bike. I've had my reservations about motorcycle ABS systems in the past, but the simple fact is, you can grab and stomp the brake levers like a baboon in the pouring rain and Honda's ABS system will get you safely to a stop. And the combined braking system will nurse learners through that ubiquitous period where they're too afraid to get on the front brakes hard because of all the weight transfer issues. This combined ABS system alone will certainly save a legion of young riders from expensive and painful drops and crashes they would have had without it.

ABS is an optional addition, adding additional cost and 4kg of weight to the package. I would thoroughly recommend it.

Honda's 2011 CBR250R

So there you have it; in some ways, you might look at the new CBR250 and see it as a step backwards from what we had in the late 80s and early 90s. It will certainly not match the stratospheric power figures of that era, but as an entry machine into the world of motorcycling, it will serve new riders much better – without sacrificing the desirability factor of the older machines.

The aftermarket is already getting in on the act, anticipating this machine will be a big hit. The recent Thai Motor Expo saw big-name players like Mugen and Moriwaki showcasing an array of aftermarket gear for the new babyblade, including a couple of full fairing kits to make race replicas. Expect this part of the market to take off even harder when MotoGP's 125cc 2-strokes leave the grid forever, replaced by 250cc 4-strokes. Check out the prototypes below:

Honda's 2011 CBR250R
Honda's 2011 CBR250R
Honda's 2011 CBR250R
Honda's 2011 CBR250R

Loads more photos in the gallery, by the way.

The only thing that remains to be seen is how the new CBR goes against the Ninja 250R – and you can bet your hat there'll be a rash of comparo tests hitting the magazines and the Web the second the CBR250R becomes available – which will be in Q2 this year. Whichever one takes off quicker from the lights, my vote's with the Honda and its ABS system.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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11 Comments

looks like the runt in a litter of baby VFRs

Yannick
1st February, 2011 @ 05:23 am PST

"A killer learner bike..."?? Not a learner killer bike??!!

sutski123
1st February, 2011 @ 05:59 am PST

" You can't make big horsepower from a 4-cylinder engine without sacrificing a lot of low-end torque, so the CBR250s of old were very easy to stall. "

You mean a 4-stroke? The whole article is about 4-stroke, 1 cylinder 250cc engines, so I believe you mean 4-stroke and not 4-cylinder.

Grant Adams
1st February, 2011 @ 04:29 pm PST

No, specifically 4 cylinder bikes. The older CBRs were tuned for big horsepower, which was achieved by giving them stratospheric rev limits. They were gutless at low revs, making them actively harder to ride for most learners - especially compared to 250cc twins and singles, which were torquier and easier to ride in most situations, but lacked the outright firepower of the screaming CBR, FZR and ZXR 250s.

The older CBRs were great bikes for experienced riders and for the racetrack, but it's my contention that they sucked as learner bikes, and this new one will be a whole lot better for developing skills and confidence on. ;)

Loz
1st February, 2011 @ 05:45 pm PST

I had one of the early Kwacker ninja 250s, black with the red graphic, 2 cylinder. Quick when you cranked it but a fair bit of vibration through to the old backside. It got run over by a reversing truck while parked and with the payout I got an almost new Suzuki Across 250 4 cylinder. The red line jumped to 17,000rpm and she was a bit docile lower down but when you opened her out and kept her above 9000rpm, oh man what a joy to ride. The sound was exhilarating and the acceleration left you hanging on, but the real delight was the lack of vibration coming through and the smoothness of the engine compared to the ninja. I never had any stall problems either.

So my main concern about this baby blade with a 1 cylinder is it going to sound like a trail bike and vibrate like a jackammer? The ABS, yeah damn good idea.

Simon
2nd February, 2011 @ 06:07 am PST

Like it's yet smaller counterpart the 125r (or 150r in thailand), you can bet my ass that it will have quite a number of "fairing" complaints due to the vibration..

though, it is still interesting to see how this bike will hold out to kawa..

Abdul Hafiz
10th February, 2011 @ 06:44 am PST

I run cold on most new Hondas but I really dig this bike. I'll be willing to bet they have the vibes tuned just so..... to make it interesting but not too rattly. It would be a fun book end to my 955i and an absolute hoot in Boston city traffic where the Trumpet is a bit on the heavy side.

Christopher King
1st April, 2011 @ 04:20 pm PDT

I really appreciated Honda being a contender to the baby Ninja. But after its launch here in Asia especially in India, we've been seeing numerous break-downs and quality issues on every bit of the bike right from the radiator cooling system, front forks and even engine stalling and power loss.

If Honda is nearly as interested in taking the fight upto the Ninja they better pull up their wings.

Lionel Lobo
7th October, 2011 @ 03:45 am PDT

The all time best Honda 250 surely has to be the parallel twin from the 1960s. In Britain at that time a new law had been introduced that limited learners to 250cc machines or smaller. In any case in those days the bike market was split into commuter machines such as the BSA Bantam (very slow and gutless) and 650cc machines for people who wanted performance. Honda's 250 broke the mould as it was a 100mph bike that learners could ride! Allegedly those bikes used special metals like Nimonic valves and it used to be said that later models were never as good as the original. Possibly the original was built with no expense spared in order to destroy the competition. It certainly did that and the police had to get rid of their side valve "Noddy bikes". (Noddy bikes by the way were extremely reliable and water cooled but were too slow) They became museum pieces long ago.

Davey1000
30th November, 2011 @ 03:14 am PST

Id agree with loz on this. I actually have a Import 1988 Honda CBR250R Mc19 sitting in my garage, It is only just able to keep up with a V8 sedan in acceleration. But once you start moving it just keeps going.. Think quickest i ever been on mine was 135 mph. Which for a 23 yr old 250cc bike; Its quite impressive, But not suited for a learner, Which i can say for certain as its the bike i learnt to ride on.

But i'm moving up in the world. Getting a 2011 Kawasaki ZX6R this month; love the power! ;) CBR Get used to the dust >:]

ßen Hartley
1st December, 2011 @ 06:14 am PST

It may feel too light and too slow on freeway. Although it's probably ok as a campus bike for a student.

I think a better beginner bike is something with 500 cc 2-cylinder. At least you won't outgrow it after a few days. Just be a little more careful in the beginning.

MrGadget
19th June, 2012 @ 01:05 am PDT
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