Honda CRF250L vs XR250 Tornado


updated 2020

Two 250 Honda trail bikes: one which I used in the UK then owned in the US; the other which I’ve used as a rental in Morocco several times. How do they compare? First, some stats, mostly gathered from the web and referring to the pre-2017 CRF. ymmv.


Scan over them and there looks to be very little in it: same weight fuelled up; same number of gears; suspension travel within an inch. Even the power’s the same, though  the XR’s tank is half as big again and there’s 10% more claimed torque at 1000 less rpm on the Tornado (23.7Nm @6000rpm).


That could be down to the Tornado’s 1980s carb-and-air-cooled technology which makes the same claimed power as the modern water-cooled, fuel-injected pre-2017 CRF. But as you may have guessed, any benefits of the CRF’s greater compression and modern efficiencies are swallowed up by the catalyser and other gubbins to meet today’s demanding emissions legislation.


And that’s the biggest difference of all. Both are inexpensive bikes, but as far as I know there’s no place where you can choose between one or the other, well not new any more. The Thai-built CRF met Euro-3 emissions requirements in richer (or should that be ‘leaner’) western countries. The Brazilian-made Tornado won’t, so got sold where bike emissions were less strict or are not enforced.


Riding the 250s
Although I rode them a few months apart, my impression was the XR was a more agile machine that lived up to its XR prefix. Much of that may have been because most of the time my CRF was loaded with some 15-20kg of baggage plus a rack, bashplate and screen, all which adds some 15% to kerb weight – quite significant on a 23-hp 250. But even unloaded on Utah’s fabulous White Rim Trail (left), I still feel the XR would have been a nippier and better-sprung machine. Fuel consumption is the same – so much for the mileage benefits of efi. Rider weight and payload will have a bearing on this: one light Tornado rider in Morocco was getting close to 100mpg (35.5kpl). I only got close to that a couple of times on my CRF in the US and – interestingly – nowhere near that on a UK test bike direct from Honda.


Suspension felt longer and more supple on the Tornado (in RSA they did a low seat model some 40mm lower; see table above left), the back disc is much better on the CRF. Both can sit on 100kph all day until you encounter steep inclines, headwinds or high altitude. Though it ran up to 10,000 feet without issues, some days my CRF certainly felt the elevations in Nevada and Utah. Add an incline and it struggled to do 80kph at times, though it might have been the local fuel which, in my experience, varies greatly in USA. At 2300m (7300′) on a rough track in the Moroccan Atlas, the Tornado also gets strung out between first and second gear but still fuels surprisingly well once off the pilot jet.


The Tornado felt better all round and were it available in the UK cheap I’m sure I’d have bought one by now**. But maybe that’s the way it is with an ‘exotic’ unobtainable machine, let alone one whose old school technology recalls a simpler era which someone my age can relate to. Apart from being annoyingly tall for some, it’s everything you want from a 250 trail bike: light, good brakes, economical, fast enough and well sprung. For travelling the weak point on both 250s will be the subframe, but people have managed, so long as you don’t load a bike like a refugee’s GS12.


tornado** Fast forward a few months.
I met a TRFer last week and he told me 250 Tornados from around 2003–4 are found in the UK and as I check the usual places I find he’s right. The one on the right had 8000 miles on the clock and looked in great nick but was going for a rather optimistic £2200. In 2016 a UK dealer was even looking for £3500 for a near-new 2004 Tornado! There was another one on gumtree, same age and mileage for a more reasonable £1400.

And in 2015 they stopped importing the Tornado into Morocco where the all-conquering CRF250L joined the line up. The XR250 Tornado is no longer made in Brazil and, at least in South America, has become the XRE300 (left) – a  Tornado engine bored to 291 plus efi, rear disc, optional ABS and cool, rally styling for same price as the CRF250L. However, the 300 has a poor reputation in Brazil; riders even lower the compression to try and make it last. More here.



If you like it old style you can still get a similarly basic XR250Rs until 2004, or TTR250 (right) in the UK until around the same time. They sold new in Australia right up to 2012 but elsewhere are getting on.
As an alternative to the CRF, the injected Kawasaki KLX250B9 (an old carb’d KLX250S in the US) has been around for years, but for some reason never created the impact of the CRF when it came out, even if the suspension is way better than the Honda. The injected version is said to be power restricted in the upper gears, but there’s a dodge or two to get round that here.


Used prices of the more powerful and unrestricted WR250R make it a less obvious choice for a travel bike as opposed to a fun weekend dirt bike, and they’re pretty rare in the UK which stopped importing them in 2008 (still sold new in parts of the EU and the US and Au where the WR has a strong following). Both the EFI Kawa and especially the Yam WR are significantly pricier used in the UK – from £2500. But they’re more sophisticated and come with a higher spec than the CRF which seems to have caught up, price wise.

Rally and L – with a tad more power. Then in 2021 they became 300s.
KLX1 - 30

In 2016 I got a WR250R in the UK and also bought a carb’d Kawasaki KLX250S (left) in the American Southwest, a well put together machine – an efi ought to be even better. More news on how my WR compares with the above 250s here.

• Dual Sport shootout (CRF, KLX, WR_R)
• Tornado thread on Horizons
• Ed’s Yamaha WR250R in Russia
My CRF travels in SW USA 
Honda RSA Tornado brochure 


25 thoughts on “Honda CRF250L vs XR250 Tornado


    tengo la Tornado la uso para viaje en todo tipo de terreno si bien su velocidad punta no es la mejor al igual q el consumo lo he solucionado con un tanque de 22lts lo cual me permite 500 km de autonomia Buenas suspenciones para meterse en todo tipo de caminos excelente en los caminos rurales o fuera de ruta ripio Es alto el aseinto y duro al igual q todas las trails Tambien la tengo equipada con baules de 35 lts cada uno bastantes livianos ya q son plasticos de fabricacion nacional Muchas motos en Argentina de este modelo esta probadisima..como dicen es a prueba de bombas aqui les dejo mi pagina para q vean fotos y lugares dela patagonia argentina Saludos y suaves vientos


  2. robertopoz

    I am very late to the conversation. I just wanted to add that I am in Costa Rica and both bikes are an option at the dealership currently (as of May 2020).

    I thought your article was useful. I was getting stuck on the idea that I had to go with the CRF250, but it seems like the Tornado is just as capable at a significant price drop.


    1. Chris S Post author

      Thanks for the update, Roberto.
      Assuming it’s the same Tornado 250XR I have used so much in Morocco, I find it hard to think what a CRF-L can do better.
      Possibly a bit lower? Probably clearer emissions? Carb limitations > 2200 metres.


      1. robertopoz

        Can I ask for your opinion?

        If I were to buy a used Tornado or CRF, how many KM on it should I be looking for? I am having a hard time finding a good deal with low kilometers. I have heard that both of these bikes have bulletproof engines that require low maintenance, but how many kilometers are too many?

        I know this is a hard question to answer (with many variables), but I am struggling with finding a balance between finding a good bike without breaking the bank. I could buy a brand new Tornado right now, but I don’t know if the benefits outweigh the cost.


        1. Chris S Post author

          High mileage is always a risk – especially with a small motor and especially if there have been many owners.
          I old lady owner is best ;-)
          So it has to be really cheap and then still a risk.
          But then I have ridden Tornados with nearly 100,000 kms and 100s of rental users. They still kept going.
          All depend on the care and maintenance and regular oil changes.
          With new of course you cannot go wrong but I find its best to buy nearly new. Big savings, low miles and fewer or 1 owners.
          With an XR i would not get anything over 20,000km if there are new ones to be had. Wait for a good one.
          good luck.


        2. xr250tornado

          My wife and I got our Tornados serviced in Ecuador last year at a shop that has the contract to service all the Police Bikes in Quito. Most of the police ride Tornados there and the owner ofthe shop said that he regularly sees Tornados with 180000km on the clock if looked after. He said that the highest mileage one he had seen was 220000km.

          My wife and I bought ours with less than 5000km on the clock and have each added 45000km to them without any issue. We adjust the valves every 20000km and change the oil every 3000km and that’s all. The engines are bulletproof.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Pablo

    Hi everyone, in Argentina, Tornadoes are still one of the best selling motorcycles. You can buy accesories like front shields (mandatory for long cruising), racks, for tail or saddle bags, engine bottom protection, and even a 23 lts very good quality plastic tank, like acerbis. You can even fit an excellent front suspension valves (this I think is the number one accesory, inexpensive, easy to install and incredible improvement in every condition). Also stainless steel exhausts and aluminum silencers if you want to cut down weight (the stock one is bulletproof but heavy). Everything is locally crafted. I’m using all theese for ten years now with excellent results. Tornadoes are still manufactured by Honda Argentina. Of course many parts come from abroad, like the DID aluminum rims. It’s been sold for years in most of south america, so It’s a good option to travel around the continent.

    All the best,


  4. André Zeitlin

    The issue with the XRE300 is a crack on the engine head: it may take a while but basically all the 300 engines (XRE and CB) will crack at the spark plug hole. If you intend to arrive in Brazil and get one, be sure it has already cracked and been fixed. How Honda Brasil managed with regulators to avoid a recall is the mistery of the century… Don´t beliebe me? Check out some local blogs…


  5. Toomas

    Thanks for an informative article. I consider xr 250 tornado the #1 candidate for my S. American ride. What makes me scratch my head is luggage limits and attachment options. Have you got some close-up photos? Can you recommend some pannier manufacturer, preferably available in Bogota, Colombia? To put it into perspective, I plan to buy a new bike upon arrival from Germany and travel with minimal possible luggage. So, I have decide whether to buy the panniers in EU (hence the question, which ones?) or rely on finding something locally (which I’m fairly skeptical about).


    1. Chris S Post author

      Glad the article was useful.
      Because this model was never sold in Europe officially, there are no racks that I know of, but I think the police use them in some SA countries so I am sure a rack will exist locally. Otherwise, get one made or just have your own bags to throw over. Or consider the rackless ‘horseshoe bags’ from Moto Mosco or Giant Loop (both quite expensive). If you get the more traditional throwover saddlebags (like here), you will need to fit some sort of bar from the tail light to the front footrest to stop the bags swinging into the wheel. You could easily do it with a stick and some cable ties, or get a proper steel bar made locally. This will be a minimal rack.

      I would consider a XRE300. In Colombia only 5% more pesos than a new 250, 10% more hp, +10kg and discs all round.
      Slightly lower compression too (good for bad gas) – but maybe 250 is more economical.


  6. Raul

    Excelent piece. I am looking for an affordable bike for a trip in South America and these are 2 very interesting choices. Some notes you may find interesting.
    In South America ( Chile up to 2015 and Argentina up to today) Tornados´ and CRF L´s coexisted. Why? Probabley because the CRF name and reputation would justify paying up to 30% more for the new bike and emission laws have been voted but are not being enforced yet. For the same price of a CRF you could buy a Falcon 400 (conceptually an old NX with the XR 400 engine also made in Brasil) which looks and sounds like a much better ADV. About the Tornado´s status you are correct. It is no longer sold in most countries and It got replaced by de XRE 300 by 2015 because of emission laws. Also made in Brasil, the XRE 300 it is basically a Tornado 250 bored to 300, with added fuel injection to put out the same HP and gaining quite a few more kilos. Looks nice, costs the same as a the CRF L or Falcon 400 and it has gained a reputation in just a couple of years for completely loosing ignition and fuel pressure at anytime for no reason. Imagine passing a truck on a single lane doing 50 and suddenly have the motor go dead. Scary.

    Hope you find the data entertaining.



    1. Chris S Post author

      Thanks for clarification and extra details, Raoul. The XRE300 is a great looking bike. Who knows how they managed to add 10-15 extra kilos and shame it’s the same price as the CRF. Same price, weight and power as the CRF… But the CRF has been amazingly reliable from what I’ve heard and as you’d expect for a Honda. All it needs is some suspension.


  7. Pingback: Horizons Unlimited - The HUBB

  8. Nyx

    Hah! I just got back from a tour of Iceland on my XR250 Tornado and was idly wondering how it compared to its newer sibling, because apparently I can’t stop bike shopping. Your article was not only a great comparison (of course, I’m chuffed my bike came out on top in your opinion) but that picture of the used one you found on eBay is actually of my very bike – I haggled the PO down to £1.6k, which I think was a bit more reasonable.

    The bike proved to be a very capable adventure steed. She got up to a (reported) 150kph, leaving my partner’s DRZ400 behind; blazed through river crossings; was easy to escort over terrain well above my abilities as a rider; and carried my daybag, tent and sleeping bag with only minor complaints. Admittedly I had to drop her to the lower suspension setting to get either foot down safely, I don’t think she’d hit that 150kph fully loaded, and my light weight (50kg) was contributory to her speed, but it’s nice to just hop on an old stock bike and get the sort of performance you’d expect from a modern, clogged-up machine only once you’d uncorked it.


    1. Chris S Post author

      I was eyeing that bike up too but his original £2200 was ridiculous – I think he dropped it to 1800 or so before my attention darted off to something else (including DRZs for a bit).
      Glad you got it for what it was worth and have already put it to good use. Point us to some pics from Iceland if there are any. Wlt go back there but with a bike.
      Like you say modern is often heavier and slower with all the emissions paraphernalia, though we assume it will make the planet last a bit longer.
      IMO subframe is the only weak point, as it is on the CRF. Will be back in Morocco in Nov with 6 Tornados.
      (I haven’t been 50kg since I was 12 ;-)


      1. william taylor

        Chris …
        I am considering buying a UK registered Tornado but wondered about availability of spares/accessories etc ….is that likely to be a pain /slow/expensive when compared to the L model because it was not generally imported into Europe?…would appreciate your advice
        many thanks
        Bill in exeter


        1. Chris S Post author

          Hi Bill, I would not be put off buying a UK Tornado on account of spares availability. Sure, some bits may be harder to get than an L but it’s not a rare model, it’s a Honda, and these days with internet you can get anything from anywhere. You just have to get one in good nick at a good price.


      1. Chris S Post author

        Thanks Gustav.
        You find the odd grey import Japanese NX400 Falcon here in the UK.
        I looked into it but not quite an XR400 – or too much needed to make it a travel bike.
        Plus prices are crazy and they’re old.



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