In theory it’s the quintessential beginner’s bike: low displacement, lightweight, good handling, and easy on the wallet. But here’s why a 250 cc sportbike does not fit the bill.
Full disclosure: the headline is unapologetic clickbait. I am talking specifically about the pictured bike, a 2012 Honda CBR250R. It’s not a bad motorcycle if I’m being honest but there are several reasons why it’s not the ideal choice for someone who is just starting out.
I can hear the knuckles of self-righteous Internet commenters cracking as they prepare to flame me to a crisp, but to those with a bit of patience – hear me out! You may be wondering why am I hating on this little Honda? Recently my significant other, sick of riding pillion on my uncomfortable supersport, decided to get her own motorcycle. She chose the CBR over the equally ubiquitous Ninja 250. On paper it ticks all the boxes but after several rides I still see her struggling to become familiar with it. Even I found the Honda more difficult to operate smoothly than my first bike; I have come to the conclusion that a bike like the CBR250R is much better suited in the hands of someone with existing riding experience.
The Problem: Not Enough Power
Typically a first time rider is steered away from the direction of fast or brawny bikes for their own good. I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly, which is why I was reluctant to formulate the opinion that the CBR is too low on power. However, this characteristic is at the root of the issues the bike has.
Getting off the line is difficult
With a small engine and low power figures you need to be very precise with the clutch and throttle when taking off from a stop. Alternatively, you can keep the engine revving at a constant 4k RPM and slowly release the clutch to start moving without any theatrics. Both of these are strange concepts to someone who is new to the world of motorcycles. If you are a bit low with the RPMs the bike will buck violently which, more often than not, results in an abrupt stall. In general, first gear on this bike is not a fun place to be at all. And that’s exactly where a beginner will find themselves for the first little while.
A larger, more powerful bike actually makes this process significantly easier. During my MSF course we rode CBR125s and I remember the toil associated with initiating forward momentum. An entire afternoon was fraught with unsuccessful starts which quickly diminished my confidence levels. When I eventually purchased and jumped onto my first bike, a Ninja 400R, this dance was way easier! Heavier engine components typically aid in finding the friction point and make rolling away fuss-free a simpler task.
The bike can barely get out of its own way
Pin the throttle and the 250R will continue puttering along at its own merry pace. It doesn’t have enough guts to beat anything off the line, but aside from not being able to race leased BMWs and Mercs, this becomes a legitimate safety concern when you are on the highway and someone decides to wander into your lane. On a more powerful bike you can give it some gas and move past the danger, but on this thing you better hope that you have some space to your side.
On a recent jaunt along the highway I pinned the throttle in 6th gear but was barely able to keep up with fast-moving Ontario traffic because of a slight but steady incline on the road. As soon as it levelled out I began to pick up some speed but that was not a situation I felt comfortable in. The bike feels ok at 110 km/hr; it begins to run out of juice at 130 although I did once manage to hit 150 in full tuck.
Always being in the correct gear is imperative
Let’s remember that a first-time rider has many things to worry about on the road to just survive. Their time on a bike should be as straightforward as possible while they gain experience and become familiar with the ins and outs of street riding. The 250’s meagre engine creates an additional concern because it is all too easy to be caught in the wrong gear. I am not saying that shifting is a skill one can put on the back-burner but, on occasion, a rider can find themselves in a situation where there isn’t an opportune moment to shift. If a stronger bike is put into the wrong gear then its performance only suffers; on the 250 it feels like you’re robbed of power completely.
You’ll outgrow it quickly, or you never will
It’s not hard to get bored of the bike quite quickly. The guy we purchased it from said he no longer felt excited by the CBR after just a few months of ownership, and upgraded to a faster bike. There is nothing wrong with this course of action but it is annoying to deal with selling a bike so soon after acquiring one.
Yet at the same time the 250 has a loyal following. Dedicated fans do incredible things with these small bikes, like tour for over 100,000 kms. And if you find that the CBR meets all your requirements why would you ever get a different bike? If I argue that it doesn’t have enough power, you would say “it’s got me to everywhere I’ve wanted to go, plus it is great on gas”. If I complain that the suspension is so soft that it’s bouncy which doesn’t bode well for cornering, you would say “but it’s comfortable and cheap to replace”.
On The Positive Side
I spent a month on the CBR and grew to enjoy the ride. Sure, the pace at which things happen is slower than I am used to after owning a 600 class supersport but the bike maneuvers well. It is lightweight, and still fun to wring out to its 10,000 RPM redline. Cheap to buy and maintain; fill-ups are far and few between. All of these traits combined sound like a recipe for a bike to hoon! Indeed I can see how taking this to a track or a twisty road and trying to keep up with bigger bikes can be a great time, even if there are minimal suspensions settings to play around with. That being said, I was still grateful to put the 250 aside and throw my leg over a faster bike when I bought my Triumph Daytona.
I’m aware that the CBR250R can be viewed as excessive when compared to global bike market. India has the largest number of motorcycle and most of them are 125 cc or less. In North American and Europe, where bikes are typically toys for the warmer months, a 250 has barely enough guts to stay safe on the road when surrounded by distracted drivers in behemoth pickup trucks and SUVs.
What’s a Beginner To Do?
As I mentioned before, this review is somewhat unfair. The 250 has since been replaced by a CBR300 in Honda’s lineup. Similarly, if you are looking to go with a Kawi product then you will see they now produce a Ninja 400 to take the spot of their older 300 which in turn nudged out their 250. Only Suzuki is still in the game with their new-for-2018 GSX250R. There are also many 250s available on the used market.
Online reviews say that there are several changes that make the 300s easier bikes to ride. They not only feature bigger engines but have a host of other improvements that make them more modern bikes. Another option is Yamaha’s R3 which has a 320cc motor outputting a claimed 42 HP.
So I would recommend passing on the 250. I agree that beginners should not get a bike with a lot of power but the opposite – less commonly discussed – is also true. Remember, when you take your MSF course you will most likely be on a 125 cc. It’s fine for a parking lot but in the real world you require more oomph. And it just so happens that more power equates to a friendlier ride. For a list of good first bikes click here.