Many greetings! I’m Vinay Raj Somashekar, a 25 year old Bangalore born and bred motorcycle enthusiast, product designer by profession, car and motorcycle designer by passion.
I augur most of you know enough about the Honda CBR250R’s little history, so I’ll skip the boring stuff and get straight to it. It’s been a little over one month to this day (1764 km on Odometer) since I got my Tri-Colour ABS Honda CBR250R, and I figured this might be a good time to share my thoughts and experiences with my mini Blade. Please note that this is a collection of observations and experiences on my bike, and it is something I’m writing with the idea that it might help another person choose this bike if he (or she) is considering it but just can’t seem to take that last step into the showroom. Along the way, I’ll also be jotting down my opinions and critique on certain things. I hope you find this helpful.
WARNING: I’m in overflow mode and I suspect this might turn out longer than I presently imagine, so if you dare to go ahead and indulge me, please get yourself some snacks and a cola, sit back, and enjoy my report.
Well, let me start by saying, and I mean this with all my heart, that my experience with this little CBR/VFR so far has been nothing short of breathtaking. I rolled it out of Silicon Honda in Basavanagudi, Bangalore, on May the 4th, a bright, sunny, but cool Friday. The showroom manager was a very enterprising guy, and the showroom in general is very good in my opinion. I bought my Honda Unicorn from them seven years ago, and apart from a slight change in location and size, not much has changed in the showroom, and it is, in my opinion, the best place to buy your Honda in Bangalore. On multiple occasions, they allowed me take their test CBR250R out for a substantial solo ride when I expressed desire to do so. I told them that if I were to buy the bike, I’d be riding it alone 99% of the time and that made it necessary for me to experience it as such. They were really cool about it, and this made it so much more easier for me to experience the bike enough to go ahead and buy it. The manager personally handed me a cool complimentary Honda tank pad too, the reason for this being that I’d booked my bike before the excise duty hike in April when the bike was cheaper by about two grand. A sweet cherry of a gesture on top of the icing that would be the start of an undoubtedly amazing experience with my bike that was to follow in a few minutes.
So, I swung a leg over the bike, thumbed the starter, and the bike settled into a familiar and eager idle. As is their custom, the manager was beside me trying to familiarize me with the bike’s features, but I don’t think I was paying attention. I can only recall a gargantuan imaginary grin plastered across my face as I sat on my very own Honda CBR250R and woke it’s engine up to a pleasant humming sound for the very first time. One of my oldest and best friends was there with me that day and I’m sure he could relate to that feeling because just a couple months back, he’d received his Royal Enfield Classic 350 after a year’s wait, and I was there to watch him glow like a gigantic firefly. Anyway, as an involuntary reflex, I thanked the manager after he was done explaining, shifted the bike into gear, released the super smooth clutch, twisted the throttle, and there it was – one of those experiences I’m sure a biker would never forget, and I remember it all too well.
The bike moved ahead calmly and cleanly up until a crossroad a few hundred feet from the showroom. The adrenaline was already kicking in and I felt adventurous enough to try and lean my bike over a bit as I turned a left towards an uphill road. Surprise! The bike responded clean and sharp and I executed the right angle turn to perfection without anything left to be desired. Now I’m stressing this because I was not the least bit happy with the bike’s handling and flickability when I test rode it the first three or four times. The fifth time and after, I was too busy throttling the life out of the engine to test the bike’s agility. Anyway, I’d made a mental note that if I were to buy this bike, I’d have to compromise some on agility in city traffic. Little did I know back then that I’d soon realize that this was not the bike’s shortcoming, but mine. Maybe it was an apprehension or a mental block that made me think that fully-faired bikes are not agile, but anyway, coming back to the present day, the imaginary grin had quickly turned into a real one inside my helmet. Another important box ticked. Good handling? Hell yes!
The bike pulled effortlessly in third gear up the road where I continued further down. And that’s when I saw someone riding a presumably new Hyosung GT650R, and it was one BIG bike. Well congrats to him, but even something like that was not enough to distract me from what I was experiencing, so I twisted the throttle and the bike quickly surged down the road towards the famous ‘Bull Temple Ganesha’ where I planned to have the bike’s pooja performed. Along the way, I cut across one of the busiest pedestrian roads in Bangalore, but the bike just refused to be fazed by this kaleidoscopic obstacle course that was thrown it’s way. Just brilliant!
When I reached the temple, I was told that I’d have to wait about half an hour before the pooja could be performed. Now, I’m not a religious guy, and I draw my spirituality from experiences in my immediate environment and by imagining and wondering about those outside of it. The only reason I was at the temple was because my parents would be really happy if I had the ritual done, and that in turn would make me happy. But still, 30 minutes was an eternity, what with the CBR standing there quietly, it’s pilot lamps staring at me like a tiger’s eyes burning bright, and the way they whisper in your head to just get on the bike and get the heck out of there is a prospect that’s impossible to resist. And that’s exactly what transpired. I got on my bike with my friend in pillion, rode towards a less busy temple lovingly named ‘Vehicle Ganesha’ where I had the formality completed, rode back to the first temple to drop my friend off, and rode back home through a plethora of traffic, turns, humps, jaywalkers, more traffic, and a few free stretches. As you can imagine by now, the bike took all of this in it’s stride like Master Yoda. Calm, quiet, completely in control, and ready to pounce like a tiger on steroids if you asked it to. Manners, manners. And all this while, the ear-to-ear grin, imaginary or real, had never disappeared. My love for the bike had already come full circle.
But wait, a newer bigger circle was just beginning to form. I hadn’t even touched a highway yet.
The next day was Saturday, but I decided to go to office anyway. Mind you, I said office. Not work. Now, there are three different routes I can take to get to my office. One of them takes me through a 15 km stretch of the awesome NICE road section between Bannerughatta Road and Mysore Road. For those of you who are not from Bangalore, NICE Road is a kind of a ring-road expressway that connects important roads around Bangalore. I can’t even begin to stress how awesome this road has been to a lot of peoples’ commutes. Anyway, it was a no brainer that I was going to use NICE road that day, so I reached there, paid the toll fee, and taxi’d off the connecting ramp and onto the road. It was time to take off! Now, since my bike was brand new, I was taking it easy on the RPM and avoiding hard and sudden acceleration, as tempting as it was. But man, the bike got rolling and before I knew it, I was already at 125 kmph, and rising. Let me stress this. Once you get to 6th gear and keep the throttle open and your eyes off the speedometer, you will not realize it, but the bike will steadily and relentlessly build up speed, and before you know it, you’ll already be cruising at speeds close to 130 kmph, and while doing all this, the bike just yawns like it’s all child’s play. I remember hitting something like 136 kmph this way, and that’s when I decided to back off and take it easy on the bike. But yes, there was a lot more power left to be tapped as I’d just barely grazed about 8500 RPM. Major ass whooping stuff gents! With this little highway jaunt, the bike exceeded all my expectations. And my expectations were nothing short of stratospheric.
Now, I’d be remiss if I did not mention that there definitely were vibrations through the handlebars at around this region. The bike was really peaceful until about 125 kmph, but beyond that it did develop some vibrations that increased with speed. I admit, this did leave me a bit disconcerted, but I was not ready to write it off yet. Fret not my friends, the vibrations story is far from finished. We’ll get to this later. Now, it’s time to let you know categorically, exactly what I think of it and what my experience has been with this gem of a bike so far.
CBR250R LOOKS, DESIGN, STYLING, ERGONOMICS
Now, this is a very subjective topic, but I’ll give you my two cents worth. To say the least, the VFR250R (yes, you heard me) is a great looking bike, and I absolutely love it. I had the good fortune of seeing it’s cousin, the mammoth VFR1200F put on display in Silicon Honda, and it’s sheer presence just blew my mind. It’s daunting size packaged in beautifully flowing seamless surfaces overlapping one another in keeping with Honda’s new ‘layered’ design philosophy is an absolute treat to behold. The CBR250R in it’s scaled down VFR attire is no less of a treat to the eyes. When viewed from the rear three-quarter angle, the bike looks especially superb in proportion. The layered or floating panels are an original design touch from Honda, and they look as good on the CBR250R as they do on the VFR. The rear cowls on either side of the pillion seat carry the same soft and flowing design towards the back of the bike and they round off the package very well, but it makes me wonder how much better it would’ve been if they were connected around the back to house the tail lamp. Keeping things busy on the leading end, is a nicely designed ‘Y’ shaped headlamp and parking light cluster that once again gives significance to the softness of this bike’s design character. It’s interesting to note that the ‘Y’ shaped front design language is carried across by Honda not only on their motorcycles, but also on many of their concept cars (like the new Brio based MPV concept) and a couple of production cars (such as the 2009-2011 Honda City) as well. Anyway, the bike in itself is beautifully proportioned, and while it may look all big and bullish from the outside, it is a lot more compact than you’d immediately perceive.
Once you’re astride the bike, what grabs your attention is a wonderfully designed cockpit cluster. It is so small and tidy that it makes me smile every time I see it. The matte silver flank that touches every part of the instrument cluster is beautifully conceived. What’s contained within this frame is a large central tachometer with a cool blue and black stickering. Under this sits a flattened hexagonal digital cluster which shows you the speed, time, total distance covered, trip distance, fuel level, and engine temperature in ample clarity. At night, this part of the cluster lights up blue in color which gives the whole experience a very futuristic feel.
I do have a couple of gripes about the design though. For instance, the tail lamp, though adequately styled, could have been made a lot more interesting in my opinion. Though it is nowhere near as big as those on the likes of the Karizma ZMR, it did not need to be as big as it is in it’s current form. Something more petite (like the CB1000R), adorned with LEDs, and connected to the rear cowl which in my opinion should’ve continued around the back to from one single piece (like the R15 V2.0) instead of two pieces on either side of the rear seat, would’ve considerably improved the aesthetics of the bike. Another gripe I have is with the exhaust. Though well styled, it sticks out a bit awkwardly from the bike when viewed from a few angles. And the exhaust heat shield, while good looking and well finished, is an absolute disaster magnet. For some reason it seems to get easily scratched or dented without any serious incidents. Weird.
But now, I’d like to address in my words, a question that’s scratching a lot of peoples’ minds – why name it CBR? Why not a VFR? The answer is simple – marketing. Honda made the CBR250R under the banner ‘world-bike’ which meant that it had to be universally acceptable. The CBR is almost a household name all over the world, while the VFR is not, and Honda couldn’t hope to sell their bikes without some marketing adjustments. While I do agree that it is slightly confusing, and even offensive in principle to true blue racetrack enthusiasts, I do not see any reason to raise a hue and cry over it. Sure the bigger CBRs look sharper, sportier, and are meant for the track and not for touring, but this brings me to a cliche’ all of us have heard – ‘What’s in a name?’ – especially when the bike is as good as the CBR250R is and has the potential to be just as great on a track as it’s bigger siblings with a few little modifications. But I digress. We’ll come to that in a jiff.
Anyway, how is the CBR to live on, ergonomically speaking? Well, with it’s not too sporty yet not too upright riding position, Honda has somehow managed to make this bike so comfortable, even a 6 foot tall guy like me has no problem adapting to it. I’ve been on two long rides, and even after over 100 km of continuous riding, I did not find a pressing need to get off the seat to shake my bum and find an ice pack for my palms. Great stuff!
All in all, the CBR250R is a very beautiful and impressive looking motorcycle that definitely looks the price you pay for it.
CBR250R ENGINE, GEARBOX, PERFORMANCE
Now guys, lets get back to a story I left unfinished before – vibrations. Today, I came to office via NICE road. At 145 kmph, there was not a single vibration. None. Nada! End of story. Post first service, all of it seemed to magically vanish into thin air with every ride, and I must say that now this bike just oozes it’s abundance of magic every second you spend with it. It’s getting progressively smoother every time I ride it. Add to this the exhaust note that now has an amazingly bassy growl to it. Menacing, but refined. With the CBR250R, I find there’s always something new waiting to be discovered, and this bike takes it’s time and lets it out in controlled, subtle packages, and if you’re perceptive enough, this bike connects to your psyche and thrills you in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
And now, I feel I must take a couple of minutes to give testament to one of the best things that’s happened in the long and beautiful timeline of automotive engineering. That thing is Honda. There’s a very good and palpable reason why Honda is number one in the world. Their most important trait is not their top notch engineering, but humility, and I find this most appealing about them. You do not see them blowing their own horn and beating their own drum and turning themselves into self-proclaimed best of the best of the best of the industry unlike some companies we know (Cough! Cough! Bajaj! Cough!) just so they can brainwash people, sell sub-standard products, and make loads of quick bucks. They focus on better engineering instead of smart-ass marketing, and their CBR250R is a perfect embodiment of their relentless quest for perfection. There’s no two ways about it. This new 250cc engine from Honda is an absolute gem!
Complimenting this brilliant engine is a super slick, super precise six speed gearbox that’s mated to a light and progressive clutch. The gearshifts are buttery smooth and I haven’t had a single false neutral so far. The only thing I did not like was the angle of the gear shift lever. The front felt a bit too high and I developed some pain in my foot the first few days, so I had my local mechanic angle the gear lever down a few degrees. Now it feels absolutely perfect, and I like how the gearshifts have gotten shorter, slicker, and sportier. Also at traffic signals, you will not have trouble shifting to neutral from either gear above or below it unlike on the the KTM Duke 200 which just refuses to shift to neutral from second gear. Also, the gearshifts on the CBR are tall, so you can hold your throttle a lot longer and enjoy each gear as compared to the Duke 200’s super-short gearing which forces you to shift up gears very quickly and frequently, which personally I found very irritating. Anyway, like the engine, the CBR’s gearbox is perfectly set up and is a piece of engineering delight too.
The mechanicals are great, sure. But how does the bike perform? Well, I do not have the adequate instruments to record how many seconds and milliseconds the bike takes to cross a certain distance, but I can definitely share a piece of my mind and the state it’s in when I ride this bike. The first thing I noticed is that the engine has a very cool duality of character. It’s kind of like a wild mustang running around on plains and rolling hills on a green countryside. On one hand, you have the calm and cheerful side that just likes to trot around and mind it’s own business without any hustle or drama. And then there’s the other side that makes the bike rocket forward like it’s trying to outrun a nuclear explosion. This surge of acceleration is so relentless and addictive that it will leave you shouting ‘wooooooooaaaaaaaah!’ inside your helmet every time you get a chance to open it up. All this action happens above the 4000 RPM mark and it continues all the way to the red line. And that’s when you start appreciating the 25 odd BHPs and the 22 odd NMs of torque, but not as much as you appreciate the manner in which all this action is delivered. The spread of power and torque over 4000 RPM all the way to the red line is thick and is delivered in abundance in every gear. I’m a hefty guy, at 6 feet tall and over a hundred kilos, and with me in tow, the bike managed to hit a top speed of 147 kmph, but I had to slow down because of traffic. I haven’t had the chance to push it that much again, but I felt there was more power left to be tapped, so I don’t think the bike will have any problems crossing the 150 mark even with a goliath like me on board. The performance figures and times, as stated by many magazines and websites all over the world are more than adequate for a 250cc motorcycle running on 25 horses. A 150+ top speed has been unanimously agreed upon, and I think that’s pretty awesome.
It’s also worth noting that the CBR’s performance figures come very very close to it’s bigger, more powerful, and considerably more expensive (in our country) rival, the Kawasaki Ninja 250. With a substantial advantage of 8 BHP over the CBR, you’d think the Ninja would teleport ahead of it a jiffy, but that’s not the case at all. The CBR is lighter and makes a lot more torque lower down in the rev range, and that helps it keep up with the Ninja very very closely. But yes, the Ninja’s top speed is an easy 15 to 20 more than the CBR because it makes a lion’s share of it’s power high up in the rev band. This means that the Ninja is not too friendly in the city, but an absolute hoot on a free highway. The CBR on the other hand strikes a perfect balance between the two. But I can’t help but wonder how the CBR would fare if it made 33 BHP. Sure it’s fuel efficiency would plummet down to the Ninja’s level, but how would it perform? Some aftermarket additions and modifications will answer the question, I suppose.
Anyway, I’m extremely happy with the bike’s performance. Every single ride on my CBR has been an absolute delight so far!
CBR250R CHASSIS, SUSPENSION, HANDLING
The CBR has some kind of a ‘semi-trellis’ diamond chassis frame which is perfectly set-up for the bike’s needs. One thing I wish was slightly different though, is the softness of the front suspension. While it works perfectly fine in the city, it can get slightly bouncy when you’re riding fast on undulated turns. It is by no measure something that will make you lose control, but it’s still something I definitely wish was harder. But hey, that’s where the great aftermarket world steps in. You could just get a couple of front fork pre-load adjusters that cost a little over 4 grand, and I think you’ll be good to go. Now, the CBR250R is not a track bike. It was not made to be one either. A few magazines and sites take pleasure in comparing it to the likes of the R15 (which was built exclusively for track purpose), and handing it bad reviews because it did not corner well enough. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s just the dumbest thing to do. They call the CBR’s suspension setup soft and soggy, and while I kind of agree with them about the front forks, I think the rear suspension is perfectly set up. On our less than perfect roads, I think that anything harder than it’s present form will make things very uncomfortable. Besides, I haven’t had any problems from the rear when it comes to cornering, even with it set to it’s second softest level. In any case, if you really want to harden it up more, you could just set the pre-load hardness level to 5 from it’s factory setting of 2, and get those front fork adjusters I mentioned earlier.
But one thing that’s worth a mention is how light and nimble the bike feels in spite of it’s 167 kilos of weight. The powerful engine and chassis work beautifully in tandem, and they make the bike feel so monolithic and easy to maneuver. The grippy and fat 140 section Continental tyre at the rear blends into this monolith seamlessly and offers you superb road-grip and cornering composure. Great stuff, really!
To summarize, the setup is extremely comfortable for city and touring purposes, but if you want to go racing with this bike, you cannot do it unless you make couple of small modifications. It’s worth mentioning though, that the track potential of this bike is really very good thanks to it’s punchy engine and super stiff chassis, but with it’s default suspension setup it is meant to excel at something else – touring with a touch of sports and in my personal experience, it excels in abundance in this department.
With all the menacing forward motion the bike throws around, there has to be something worthy of it to rein in all the action, and that’s where the Nissin made combined-ABS system on my CBR rides in and shines. Now fellas, this is my advice to you, or rather a strong recommendation. If you’re going to buy this bike, please dig deeper and just go for the full blown ABS version. Another 30 grand is not a big deal, especially if it can save your arm or your leg, or even your life. You may be the world’s most professional and talented and gutsy rider, but there’s not a thing you have to prove to anyone, and especially to yourself. Our roads are far from perfect, and peoples’ riding/driving sense just seems to be diminishing with every passing day, and we’ve reached a point where your life is not completely in your hands anymore. In this light, Honda is offering you this safety net system that works beautifully in bringing you to a clean and perfect stop no matter how hard you jab the brakes. I had this little incident a couple of days back where I was riding on the right lane and some guy in an Alto suddenly decided he had to cut across from the left lane to the right and take a U turn at the junction. I had not much distance or time to react as I was riding at over 80 kmph. Adding to that, there was dust on the road blown in from heavy winds. As I applied both brakes, I could feel the ABS pulsing through the foot lever and I was able to safely swerve out of that lane and out of danger. If you’ve ridden on our roads for more than a month, you’ll know that these little incidents happen all the time, but sometimes, they can transpire in a more serious manner where you may not have any time to react, and that in turn may cause an involuntary panic-braking situation which will lock up your wheels and give you a fall. If you’re lucky, you’ll get away with it with just a few bruises and scrapes. But when you’re riding a bike as powerful as the CBR, you risk getting hurt more seriously. If you’re a stuntman, your choice is easy because the ABS will be useless for you. If you think it’s too expensive, ask yourself, whats 30 grand more when you’re already paying almost six times that amount. If you go around flaunting a badge that says ‘I’m a true biker and I don’t need children’s stuff’, well, I can only wish you the best.
But guys, there is a flip side to this. For those who think that having an ABS system is no fun, I say different. When you know there’s a perfectly functional safety net, if gives you the freedom of mind to push your bike around on road conditions you normally would hesitate to play with, and in my experience, your ride becomes a lot more fun. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s some really cool ammo to have in your arsenal, so I’ll sign out of this section by once again stressing on how perfect, stable, and progressive the braking on my CBR is and how much better that’s made by the presence of ABS.
CBR250R FUEL EFFICIENCY
An extended full throttle highway blast from Mandya to Bangalore gave me a figure of about 30 km/l, but that’s about the only time I bothered to record my bike’s fuel efficiency. This was just a week after I got my bike and well before the first service. Most CBR owners report an increase in mileage after the first service. If I’m not throttling it to it’s hilt, I’m sure I should get over 35, but like I said, I never bothered to check because I was too busy enjoying the bike’s performance. In any case, I think that anything around and over 30 km/l on a performance bike like this is more than adequate.
Here are some things about this bike that I feel are deserving of a special mention or re-mention.
- Tremendous performance! Punchy, powerful, and refined engine that gets better with use. The way you can turn it from a peaceful pony into a thundering stallion with just a full twist of the throttle is fantastic.
- High speed stability is stupendous. Riding at 145 kmph with crosswinds all over is not a problem at all. Very well planted motorcycle.
- Suspension setup is very good as it soaks up bad roads like a magic carpet and still gives you adequate handling for city and touring purposes.
- Braking is powerful, progressive, and effective. ABS works very well and is an added bonus.
- Seating is plush and riding posture is very comfortable.
- Compact size coupled with torquey engine makes this bike surprisingly flickable in tight traffic conditions.
After living with this bike for over a month, I can frankly think of nothing to complain about. But if I were to nitpick, I’d say that I’m not particularly a fan of some design elements such as the tail lamp area, but that’s an entirely subjective and personal matter. Besides, it looks really good, just that I can imagine it being a lot better. I’d also mention the soft, or rather, spine-friendly suspension setup can be slightly un-nerving when you’re trying to turn a fast corner and you will not be too confident leaning it over when you’re in Rossi mode. But hey that’s not really a problem with the bike because it works perfectly well where it’s supposed to, and seeing that the bike is not an out and out sports machine or track bike, and I wasn’t looking for one of those, I wouldn’t have it much different either. Honestly folks, I just spent over five minutes here to think up something else, but it’s next to impossible. Funny that I should say this under the ‘cons’ section, but the bike is just THAT good!
It’s not often that a bike of such class, charm, and charisma rolls into our market. The CBR250R is one such bike with a trait that follows the ‘Still Waters Run Deeps’ saying. Not that the bike is a slow sitting duck. Not by any measure. Trust me, there are a lot of people who mistake the softness of this bike for it’s weakness, and when they challenge you to a traffic light Grand Prix, and they will, you’ll have a world of fun thrashing them up and down the road and leaving their loud and obnoxious bikes choking in your dust! If you’re considering not buying this bike because you think or you heard from someone or read somewhere that it’s not exciting enough, you have no idea what you’re missing. But still, it’s your choice in the end and I can respect that, and in this regard, I urge you to test ride every bike you’re considering at least thrice before you make a decision. After a lot of test rides on a lot of competing bikes, I cannot think of any reason why I should or would not have bought this motorcycle. Simply put, it stole my heart. The only other time this has happened before is when I bought my Honda Unicorn seven years ago. To this day, it remains the same beautiful machine I rolled out of the showroom way back then, albeit with a few loose panels and broken plastics that need tending to when I service it next. Anyway, I have not a shred of a doubt in my mind that seven years from now, I’ll look back on this day and feel the same amount of love (or maybe more) for my new CBR250R that I have at this very moment as I write this.
So, that’s about all I have to say about the Honda CBR250R folks. I hope you guys enjoyed my report, and more importantly, I hope you found it helpful. I’d love to hear your queries, thoughts, opinions, feed-backs, disagreements, and anything else you need to share, so please leave your comments so I can read and enjoy too. Think smart, choose well, ride hard, and take care! Thanks for your time!
– Vinay Raj Somashekar.