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.
Conclusion 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.
**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.
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.
Like the CRF250L itself, I use longer rides to try out new stuff, new ways of doing things or whatever else catches my imagination. Below is the equipment roll call from the 2013 Honda ride around Southwest USA. What worked, what didn’t and why. The prices given in £ or $ are what I paid for the gear or what it cost. Some items like Kriega, Magadans, Trailtech and Aero stuff has been supplied to me over the years in exchange for adverts in the book.
Adventure Spec Magadan bags – £330 No complains about my Magbags; the best soft bag out there for my sort of riding. Simple and functional, great capacity, big external pockets and tough fabric. It didn’t rain enough on this trip to test them, but it lashed down on previous UK rides with no leakage, even through the fabric outer, let alone the thick PVC liners. Requires a rack but that’s the way it should be for heavy loads in soft bags. More on the Mags here. Verdict: regret giving these away with the CRF.
Aerostich wool seat pad – $67 I used this last year in Morocco on a BMW 650 twin which has a seat straight out of Enhanced Interrogation; sadly the Aeropad couldn’t save it – three inches of Moroccan mattress foam did. On the Honda the wool pad may have taken the edge off, giving another hour’s comfort but I actually found frequent dismounts were as effective to posterior durability. Another interesting thing: mostly I rode in my leather jeans but one hot day I wore thinner (slipperier?) synthetic 5-11 Tactical trousers (great gear btw, much tougher than ‘outdoor rec’ stuff). Result: sore arse arrived very soon. I also found the wool would pack down and lose its loft after a few long days, but could be easily washed and ruffled up. And after a night in the rain a vigorous rub dispersed most of the moisture. Verdict: seemingly minimal improvement but can’t do any harm.
Alpha Three tail rack – on bike Never heard of Alpha Three – could be Japanese rather than Chinese? – but this ‘Type A’ item was a neat little rack with downward pointing prongs incorporating hexhead bolts to securely attach stuff, should you wish. A tendency has developed towards racks cut out of flat metal sheets, either thick alloy or thin galvanized steel. Reason: cheaper manufacturing costs not necessarily reflected in the retail price as they’re the latest ‘thing’. Smaller ‘plate racks’ the size of the Alpha might be fine but some of the wider ones as tested in Overland Journal (Fall 2012) have nasty thin edges that I wouldn’t want to meet while tumbling down a slope, even though I’m all for wide ‘sheep racks’ in principle. Conventional tube racks are easier to use and grip, when needed. There are a few more CRF-L rack options listed here. Verdict: a slick and well-featured tail rack.
Barkbuster Storm handguards – $130 Always liked the Aussie-made BBs and even though cheaper versions are available I splashed out at more tolerable US prices US prices on some Barks with the biggest Storm handguards to keep for later. Cheapies often don’t fit so well; the key I believe is the articulated joint (available separately) at the inboard mounting end. Cheaper versions off ebay have no joint – less easy to position optimally. I like to think the Storm handguards kept my hands warmer and drier and so deferred the need for heavy gloves – I always prefer thin unlined gloves. The only time I fell off the Barks did their job, although one drawback with all lever guards is you can’t hang stuff, including a helmet, so easily off the bar ends. I’ve fitted bungy hooks on previous bikes. Verdict: worth paying out and keeping for the next bike.
Bashplate – came on bike I omitted to note what brand it was – Ricochet is a name that bounces around the forums. Engine protection is a no brainer of course, even if I only dinged it once on the gnarly Lockhart Basin track. The fit was fine – no exposed bolts on the underside and a hole to enable drain plug access without removal. But clamped directly to the frame rails I found the resonance intrusive. I reduced that by refitting the plate with some strips of closed cell foam (karrimat) on the frame rails. Like others, I also think a bit more width to either side would improve protection of the filter housing and bottom hose. Verdict: As usual, the OE plastic plate is a joke. Essential for off highway riding.
Bell Mag 9 helmet – $70 Probably discontinued by now but great lid for the money. Full review here.
Benchmark atlases – $15 I’ve been using these for years in the US and on this trip they came into their own for riding off pavement across Nevada and Utah. Yes they’re big to carry on a bike and may well be available as a tablet app, but give me a paper map any day for getting the big picture. I barely use the additional guidebook-like recreational info you get in a Benchmark but it’s good to know it’s there. As with all paper maps, dirt road accuracy got a bit mushy at times, and here I found the US-sourced Garmin satnav filled in the gaps. And then when the satnav was wanting, just like a proper map I could read a long-lat easily off my Garmin 62 against the Benchmark’s incremental long-lat grid (above) to find exactly where I was. Verdict: I’ve tried Delormes but Benchmarks are to the US what OS maps are to the UK.
Double Take mirrors – $100 pair! A mate had these in Morocco last year and I admit I fell for the hype – or wanted to see if they lived up to it. At over $100 a pair (iirc) the RAM ball-mounted DT mirrors provided infinite positioning and crash-proof toughness. I took one and left the OE Honda mirror on the nearside (on the right side in the picture, left) but soon wished I’d either kept both Hondas or ran them the other way round. For seeing what’s behind you the OE Honda was a better mirror – bigger (wider), clearer and immune to vibration or movement. That was until my single, low-speed fall on the right side when the Honda glass shattered in the otherwise undamaged plastic housing. Honda dealers at the time only sold the whole mirror assembly which had to be ordered. Perhaps they’re suited to more aggressive off-roading where falls are more frequent, but where you probably want mirrors to get to your riding location. Here a Double Take or the like soon pays for itself, although I found at road speeds it blurred too much to be reliable and moved around on the dirt or in strong headwinds, no matter how hard I clamped it. And with that nifty mirror-base RAM mounts they are rather nickable; RAM’s theft-proof clamp is not the slickest design. Verdict: built for crashing, but on the Honda less good for seeing.
EJK fuel controller – on bike I’ve had 4×4 turbo-diesel engines ‘chipped’ through I never knew exactly what was being done – it seemed to be one unprogrammable map and the sort of performance chasing meddling that doesn’t interest me that much. For petrol engines EJK’s fuel controller is a bit more sophisticated: an ‘electronic jet kit’ enabling you to increase fuel delivery (richen the mixture) as you experiment with performance enhancement. Short version: at $200 a useful bit of kit to experiment with or optimise the mixture; long version here. Verdict: another good reason to bid adios to carbs.
FMF Q4 pipe + Megabomb header – on bike (sold for $350) The bike came with this set up the suitably calibrated EJK (above) and holes in the airbox, but one day’s dirt riding convinced me the Q was not at all Quiet and would have driven me nuts on the long road. Even at double the weight I was happy to refit the weighty OE cat silencer and flogged the FMF set up. Verdict: way too noisy and can’t say I noticed any significant power loss once removed.
Garmin GPS 60CSx – £160 used I used the bulkier GPSMap 72 for years to log tracks for my off-roading guidebooks until it started playing up. I was happy to replace it with the more compact and popular 60 series using the similarly intuitive interface. This one had Utah topo maps on it and took the UTBDR tracklog without any undue gnashing of teeth. And a RAM cradle mount performed securely without vibration issues. Verdict: CSx not made any more but still preferable to touch screen Montana/Oregons.
Garmin Nuvi LM50 – $80 used I hoped that a US-sourced Nuvi would have maps which featured the countless miles of unsealed roads in the western US, and so it did. When the Benchmark atlases got a bit vague the Nuvi led me out of the mountains, providing it was set up right and you took the suggested directions with a pinch of salt. Don’t know if it was my basic unit but I found that the full range of tracks around me would only display once a ‘Go to’ was set (a memory saving feature perhaps?). It meant I couldn’t scroll/zoom out to see the possibilities around me without a ‘go to’. Also, I was too lazy to address what I knew would be problem with vibration. Last year using a similar unit in Morocco I was smart enough to lay it on foam on the tank, this time with a cobbled together Garmin/RAM set up the vibration at higher revs caused it to cut out. I’ve since modified my home-made mount to incorporate a foam sandwich (above left) that may work better with future moto Nuvi-ing. Used Nuvis are cheap and easy to find on ebay; Garmin’s moto-focussed waterproof Zumo is not. You can buy waterproof pouches for a Nuvi to fit your bike. Verdict: as long as it has worthwhile mapping, a used Nuvi is a good value nav aid.
Old iPad $200 vs Macbook Air $600 I soon found that trying to update this website on the road from an iPad was frustrating, even with an accessory keyboard; WordPress have not got to the bottom of it. Luckily craigslist Phoenix had several used Macbook Airs within arm’s each. What a relief to get back to Mac’s laptop platform at about the same size and barely twice the weight of an iPad. Verdict: a tablet to read but a laptop to write and edit. Nearly six years, many trips and a couple of dents later, I’m writing this in New Zealand on the same well-used airbook. What a brilliant machine!
Kriega R30 backpack – £135 I’m not so keen on tank bags but can’t fit all my essentials in my jacket so a backpack like the R30 takes the laptop and other valuables, sandwiches and quick access day items. Too heavy a backpack accelerates backside pain but the R30 rested on the Watershed when seated so took the weight off my shoulders. Like a lot of Kriega stuff there’s some very clever but over-complex strap adjustment system that I never investigated; for me it fitted well enough out of the box. It includes a double clip joining the shoulder straps across the chest which along with the grippy mesh on the back helps keep it in place. On the back are cinch-down straps to stop a loose bag flapping. But when unclipped the chest clip arrangement doesn’t hang naturally off the shoulders when walking and who wants to walk around clipped in as if you’re ready to make a parachute jump. On the move I can’t say I ever noticed it which is the point and the capacity is expandable enough for all my needs; if not camping you could probably get a superlight touring load all in there.
Best thing about it was a simple, zip-free roll-top closure which, unlike around-the-top zips, won’t matter too much if you forget to do it up – opened zips see stuff fall out. The small outside pockets do feature water-resistant zips which are a bit stiff to use, but then zips do need cleaning from time to time. The R30 has a velcroed-in, removable waterproof liner which I hear is up to the job and easy to replace once it isn’t. Or just use your own dry bags. The chunky top handle is another good feature, the reflectives are probably useful and the quality of construction is what you’ve come to expect rom Kriega. Verdict: expensive for a backpack but actually designed for biking not hiking.
Liquid Containment 5L fuel bag – £60 I figured this was a compact way to inexpensively increase fuel range and rated fuel bags as such in the book: rolled up out of the way when not needed; handy when they are. That may be true for the odd occasion when you need extra fuel, but I found a fuel bag was less well suited to near daily use on a motorcycle. The rot set in when the o-ring cap seal fell out and blew away unnoticed at a fill up in Vegas – didn’t notice that until that evening when everything reeked of 85 octane. A day or two later I picked up a replacement o-ring for a backstreet garage, but had gone off the bag by then. The other pain on a bike is securing a wobbly bag of fuel reliably, securely and without faffing. Sure, the tough plastic LQ has holes on every corner but at a fuel stop you have to release the bag, prop it up, fill it up, cap it and then secure the load to the bike. If I had stuck with it I’d have found a good method, but these sorts of repetitive tasks need to be foolproof for the day you rush it and make a mistake. Like scores before me, I found a red plastic $10 one-gallon can strapped to the tail rack better for near daily use. To fill up simply undo the cap, like an auxiliary fuel tank; to decant into the bike tank undo the straps, pour in and refit. A bigger tank in a worthwhile size was not available for the CRF-L at the time. Note; the fuel bag I used was not the same as the 7L item which Zen sell in the UK. Theirs is an older, bigger and superior model with an integrated pouring spout inside the cap and a handle. Verdict: in practise not so convenient for regular use.
Maxxis IT Desert tyre – $110 Amazingly the CRF-L’s OE rear IRC tyre was finished in 3000 miles – a record for me, and on a 18-horse 250, too! I found the meaty-knobbed Maxxis (like an MT21 or D606) was easy to fit with short levers and some WD40 lube, didn’t play up on the highway (bike not heavy or powerful enough to stress and flex the knobs) while on the dry and rocky dirt I rode at road pressures it did the business and I’m sure would have outlasted the IRC. Verdict: performed as well as better known brands; a pair goes for <£100 on ebay.
Panasonic Lumix FT2 – from £60 used I’ve had this camera for a couple of years now and use it almost every day. When it was playing up recently I looked around but newer models in the FT range all had compromises (smaller battery, less megapixels, unnecessary gimmicks like GPS, expensive) as did other brands. So I got another old FT2 off ebay for £60 but which time my original camera had fixed itself. What I like about Lumixes is they commonly feature wide-angle lenses (28mm or less) over excessive zooms. An FT2 camera is also shockproof and waterproof to a few metres so rain or sand won’t bother it and it’s robust enough to survive ‘carefree’ treatment. Yes, the enclosed lens is tiny and the zoom is limited, but slipped into my jacket’s chest pocket and hung around my neck on a cord, it’s easy to use while riding. And just occasionally the auto exposure captures the scene as well as any DSLR. At other times – especially on full optical zoom, the quality drops off; better to shoot wide at max resolution and crop later (I always disable digital zoom). With landscapes, a trick I use with these types of cameras all the time is half press the shutter and expose off the sky, then lower the camera, compose and click. The resultant ‘tricking’ into under exposure often gives a richer result (or one that can be more easily edited). I didn’t film on this trip, but have done a lot elsewhere and the results are up to youtubing. I even sold my annoying GoPro a while back and am now happy to use the FT2 for movie making. The tougher, DSLR-sized Gorillapod also works well as a steady tripod or clamp. Verdict: until it wears out or breaks up, can’t think of a better P&S camera.
Riding gear On this trip to save weight I bought a lid once in the US (see Bell), wore my heavy leather trousers and old Altberg boots on the plane and brought my Aerostich Kanetsu electric vest to make up for my regular ‘M65’ desert jacket; no armour, Gore-tex, mesh or reflectives – just light, quick drying and with enough big pockets to make up for not being a Darien. In the event of heavy rain I had my old Rukka one-piece suit, but never needed it. For gloves I has my similarly ancient unlined Aerostich Deerskins (sadly MIA) and a pair of Armr Moto WXP8 gloves for cold days. Apart from the Rukka, all got used all or some of the time. Temperature-wise this trip was quite extreme but I felt protected enough to be comfortable, while never feeling over-laden with clobber, as you can do with moto gear. Verdict: for the local conditions, the best set up I’ve ridden in.
SealLine XL map case – £15 I normally use this for sea kayaking or packrafting, the zip-lock seal keeps maps and other bits dry and the big size gives you the all-important big picture without the need to open up and refold a map too often as the crashing surf closes in. In the Southwest the map case took a folded back Benchmark with room to spare and stopped the pages flapping in the wind. I found a neat way of holding the maps case down was stretching a thin loop on inner tube from one side of the engine to the other (right). Note: they also make roll-top map cases, not as reliably waterproof as the zip lock version. Verdict: moto or boto, great bit of kit.
Slime anti-puncture fluid and compressor (both $10) Can’t say the luridly green Slime fluid stopped any punctures on my ride, but for ten bucks it was worth the squirt. Also on the shelf in Walmart was a Slime-branded 12-volt compressor (right) also for a tenner and with a pressure gauge too and the ever useful flashing light. More compact and lighter than my Cycle Pump, I actually used the Slimepump a few times and it performed fine. Verdict: well worth $20 for peace of mind.
Slipstreamer Spitfire windshield – $70 Just what was wanted for the CRF; a small, inexpensive, one-size-fits-most screen to keep the wind and rain off. Mounting is a bit rudimentary but adds up to a quick, tool-free way of temporarily removing the screen while leaving the bar mounts in place, something I was slow to catch on to for dirt day rides when the screen was not needed. With only two mounting rods (no triangulation) high-speed runs into headwinds or rough tracks caused the screen to inch back – this could have been fixed by anchoring the base of the screen to the headlamp cowling. It seemed hard to get a tight fit on the screw down screen mount lugs too, but meddling with spacers or rubber shims would fix this. Verdict: Great value, simple fitting and effective.
Trail Tech Vapor digital guage – $90 A great gadget for a travel bike like the CRF-: with limited instrumentation. Click the link for full review.
Watershed Chattooga dry bag – £65 Another kayaking item that works well on bikes. Watershed dry bags use a tough fabric, but unlike your average roll-top bag, they feature a chunky ziplock-like seal that makes the bag immersion proof. At about 20 litres the Chattooga model is compact but big enough to take my infrequently used tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and a spare pair of gloves. It didn’t happen on this trip but it’s good to know in heavy rain you need not worry at all about your camping gear getting wet until you take it out. For smooth closure the zip seal can use a bit of WD or 303 once in a while. Verdict: Watershed when it absolutely positively has to be kept dry.
The last leg of my Southwest tour followed the southern UTBDR down to the Arizona border (map, right or zoom here) to arrive in time for the Overland Expo near Flagstaff in a few days time.
In late 2020 a few miles south of the Lockhart Trail, the mysterious Utah Monolith made global news but within a week of its discovery it was removed by the ‘Leave No Tracers’.
The remains of the BDR could be broken up into three stages:
• The Lockhart Basin alternative route for experts only.
• From Montecello over the Abajo mountains, around Elk Ridge and back down to Blanding on the highway.
• Then over Snow Flats Road towards the Valley of the Gods scenic loop and the Arizona border near Monument Valley.
After a few days of rain in Moab, temperatures were set to soar again.
Canyonlands to Mormon Pastures short cut
The Benchmark Utah Atlas showed a possible direct route towards the UTBDR as it ran west of the Abajo mountains round to Elk Ridge. It avoided the road section to Montecello where fuel may not be needed and was also a way around the Abajos, should they be snowed under or too muddy.
I took a day off at Canyonlands Outpost, and rode up North Cottonwood Creek to see if I could connect with the BDR. (If you want a GPS .kml tracklog for this route, it’s in this post).
Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge
Pleased my recce to Mormon Pastures had panned out, next day I headed down to Montecello. The L was a bit more underpowered tha normal; old fuel at the Outpost? You never know.
Snow Flat Road to Monument Valley
The last section of the BDR was set to be a hot day, with soft sand and bull dust on the menu, but spectacle right up to the AZ finishing line.
My bike came with the commonly fitted Stage 1 performance kit: an EJK fuel controller, FMF Q4 pipe with MegaBomb header, drilled air box sides, spark screen removed from air filter element and a 13T sprocket. All probably great for recreational dirt biking; not so well suited to slow backroad touring where fuel economy and not breaking something is a priority.
To help ensure the former I’d done my old trick of marking the throttle (right) to see at a glance how open it is. In a headwind or on a gentle upgrade it’s possible to not realise you’re unnecessarily WFO, bogging the motor and possibly wasting fuel.
Before I even rode the bike I refitted the original 14T, and after a dirt ride in the hills I knew that FMF pipe had to go too, even after we tried quieting it. I was also not so keen on extra holes in the air box sides; that’s the last thing you do for long-range desert riding, though apart from sandstorms, it’s trailing others’ dust that’s usually the problem.
So when I left Phoenix I was on the original heavy but quiet pipe, the non-standard air box holes taped up but with the EKJ programmer unmodified (i.e.: still set at Stage 1 settings). I kind of hoped the ECU might deal with it, but realistically expected the bike to run rich now it was ‘choked up’ to near original specs. Heading into Nevada against strong winds, sudden increases in elevation, a full payload and little experience of what was normal, it was hard to tell how the bike was running but it didn’t feel fabulous. After a couple of days blown around at 55mph and with mpg as low as 42US (50UK) and even just 54US (65UK) while coasting 5000 feet down to Death Valley and dirt road plodding, I was ready to try something and improve things.
After Death Valley I pulled off the air box tape and immediately thought it ran better (certainly a nice induction throb was apparent). Sure enough, the bike climbed steadily along Highway 395 from 4000′ to nearly 8500′ in the Sierra Nevada after which I stayed at 7000′ most of that day at up to 65-70mph. The tank was now returning 58US or 70UK mpg, peaking at 73US/88UKmpg around Lake Tahoe. That was more like it.
I could have left it at that, but preferred to tape up the non-standard air box holes to preserve the air filter which was already a little grubby (right), having followed Al on his KLX250 and Christian on his KTM950 along dusty dirt trails for a couple of hours. This of course would require leaning out the EJK programmer which was initially confounding; I’d not come across these ‘black boxes’ before.
In fact they are exactly what they claim: an ‘electronic jetting kit’, just like swapping jets, needle heights and float levels on a carb to get your bike running better following performance mods or as a response to radical altitude variations. Only now it’s done by simply pressing buttons on a black box to tune three fuelling modes: cruising; acceleration and WFO – as well as the rpm ‘switch’ point between those modes. Importantly the EJK (Gen. 3) only increases fuel delivery (richens) – it does not lean out the Honda’s original settings which as we all know, for emissions purposes are probably leaner than a kangaroo steak.
It took me a while to get my head around modulating the EJK, not wanting to bugger up the settings and end up with the CRF running like a tractor. The online guidelines, videos and users’ versions were a little unclear or contradictory, but once you’re pretty sure what to do, it’s easier than most TV remotes. One source of confusion is the so-called ‘yellow’ light mode (acceleration) which is more orangey-red (left) although red (wide open, max power) is clearly red.
I presumed my EJK was on the Stage 1 settings as shown left: 3 cruise, 3 acc, 6 WFO with switching at 5, 4 and 4.5.
An email to Dobeck who make EJKs (my red unit is branded ‘FMF’ but is an EJK) came back with a very quick response suggesting: 1.5, 1.5, 2.5 and with the switch points unmodified.
So, running at tickover, Light 1 flashes slowly in green; blip the throttle and it flips up to three green lights then down to one or two green lights.
Press the Mode button once and you should get three green lights flashing quickly (‘3 cruise’ Stage 1 setting). It means the green mode is live and ready to be modified with the + or – buttons to either side. But as Dobeck admit, the sensitive Mode button can jump to the next ‘orangey-red’ yellow phase. No worries, either scroll through the other 5 modes by pressing Mode until it comes back round to 3 greens flashing. Or do nothing for a few seconds and mode change will deactivate and revert to whatever the settings were. There is nothing to be risked pressing Mode to see what happens or just to establish your settings (mine were indeed set at ‘Stage 1’ as above). Only pressing + or – buttons will modify things. And of course best of all there is no need to plug into a laptop, smart phone or remote programming device; it’s a self-contained programable unit.
Once I understood all this I went back to first three green lights flashing in Mode live, and pressed minus until it was flashing green between lights 1 and 2 which equates to 1.5 as Dobeck suggested. Press Mode again and the same setting change for yellow (orangey-red) mode. And then Mode again for the big drop from wide open red (which I rarely use) from 6 to 2.5. As mentioned, Dobeck recommended not changing the three switch points so that was it. Once understood it took less than a minute. After cleaning out the dusty air box and greasing the inner surfaces (below left) to catch dust before it got to the element, I taped up the six 1-inch holes on the air box side lid and went for a run.
I’m at 5500 feet right now, among hilly backroads and it was a chilly morning, but a short run showed the bike running a little quieter (less induction throb with taped box) while it cruised and accelerated up to 65 as well as ever, if not better.
The Dobeck man did say running stock with his suggested settings would improve torque and that was my impression (or it’s what I want). The next few mpgs will tell; I’m expecting it to stay at around 60USmpg (73UK) or above – just what you’d expect from an efi 250. To optimise everything I may even nip over to Reno and buy a new air filter element (but then grind off the restricting spark screen, as most users do).
When efi came on the moto scene some complained that meddling with the fuelling was no longer possible. Clever techy types soon came up with aftermarket software to do just that, but the foolproof, self-contained, adjust-on-the-fly EJK black box has got to be the best tuning solution so far. Off course it cannot alter timing to deal with very low octane fuel in the AMZ, but the CRF-L runs a low-compression engine that needs only 86 RON or more. That leaves ECU-generated error codes disabling the bike, but again the Honda seems simple in this respect. Certainly swapping pipes didn’t cause the ECU to flip out and anyway, it seems lately that vehicle manufacturers have learned their lesson and ‘limp home’ modes (where present) are only implemented as a last resort.
Finally you ask, is the EJK as it is set up now substantially better than the stock bike? Is it worth spending $225 without taking the full Stage 1 route which includes modifications less suited to overland travel? I guess I’d have to ride a stock CRF alongside my current bike to find out but I suspect there’s something in it – perhaps 10% more power with fuel economy barely altered, compensating for the stock super-lean fuelling. If an EJK hadn’t come ready-fitted to my bike I’m not sure I’d have bothered; if I wanted more power I would have bought a bigger bike. But as it is now I’m pleased it’s there and is so easy to retune further down the road. It seems to run about the same as the press bike I tried in February, but as I say, I suspect that bike was tuned a little above standard and possibly as result returned fuel consumption a good 20% below what I’d expected.
Next day I took dirt tracks over to Reno, highways out to Virginia City and back on the freeway (no luggage or screen: 69US/83UK. ;-).
Wasn’t sure where I was heading today other than up Highway 395. I had two days to get near Roseville near Sacramento for a talk at a moto shop. Al had recommended a ride up to Mammoth Lake and I wanted to check out Mono Lake which I’d read about recently in Mark Twain’s Roughing It.
First I needed to find a new o-ring for the Leaking Containment fuel bladder, or better still a regular red plastic fuel can. I’ve lost faith in the LC. It’s definitely the answer for occasional use, but not every bleeding day! I was getting tired of petrol splash. A rigid can may be more bulky but will be easier to lash down securely. Anyway, a guy at a tranny shop in Bishop gave me a seal and up the road a couple of Subways would placate the day’s appetite.
Just after I’d left Big Pine I remembered to deploy Plan B – untape the extra holes drilled into the air box to lean out the mixture. My immediate impression was a bit more induction growl and perhaps it was running better – hard to tell for sure as you always think that with more noise. But out of Bishop on the long climb from 4000- to over 8000 feet the L was indeed trucking along and headwinds notwithstanding, was touching 70 on the downgrades (all speeds are true, read off the Trail Tech not the under-reading Honda speedo).
By the time I got to Mammoth town I had some power loss but I’ll accept that – I wasn’t feeling so sprightly myself. Mpg at the servo clocked in at 58US or 70UK – that will do nicely. The snow barrier was only a couple of miles on at around 8500′ and to me was just your regular alpine scenery – pretty enough but nothing very Yosemite on this side at least. I swung back down to the 395 and continued north sitting at around 7000′, snuggly wired in to my Aero Kanestu vest. Where yesterday I could barely crack 40 now it was pulling up to 65.
Mono Lake was an eerie spot, if for no other reason than the wind had dropped out of sight. The strange tufa columns exposed after LA’s water department drained half the lake in the 40s added to the ambience. I’m sure the Owens Valley was mentioned in Chinatown set in that era just as LA started booming.
That’s the great thing about riding around the US of A; from The High Chaparral to Breaking Bad I’m as steeped in modern US cultural iconography as the rest of the world. It’s not unusual to find a place that’s in a movie, a TV series or mentioned in a great song. The fabulous theme from Chinatown itself is surely in that category.
Al had suggested I swing out to Bodie ghost town but I wasn’t sure of the fuel situation, having given my bladder a day off. Plus I don’t think I’ll be short of ghost town action on this ride. Instead, I filled up in Bridgeport where mpg was still a promising 58 and where they advised I head another 40 miles plus two feet over the border to Lake Topaz Casino, NV, if I wanted cheap lodging. I set the satnav but a few miles up the road a dirt track heading in the right direction caught my eye. Shall I, shan’t I, it’s getting late, WTH let’s do it – satnav suggests it’s only an 8-mile detour.
There’s got to be a name for the sort of dirt you get up here in the high pine country – a kind of sandy loam that agrees very nicely with the L’s dirtish tyres. Soon I passed a parked up MAN overland truck – Germans to be sure saving a penny and having an adventure. Then up ahead I came to a flat grassy clearing and wondered should I camp – this nightly moteling is getting expensive after all. The place was on a pass, exposed and with little cover from the wind, but dry and with some firewood. I dithered and looked for a sheltered spot but then checked the satnav again: 8034′ – I don’t think so. It will freeze for sure and with only my flysheet for a tent I’d spend the night huddled against the chill. It will warm up somewhere sometime soon.
Down the far side of the pass there were still patches of snow and muddy ruts to navigate. I came across an even more idyllic pitch at only 6500′ plus tree shelter and snow to melt (right). And like the other place, there was not a speck of rubbish. Well it’s good to know these places are out here.
I carried on downhill through more mud and snow and rock falls and had a mini panic when at 8 miles it was another few miles of dirt. But round the ridge and riding along the top, down below I could see the road to Topaz that I was cutting around.
Pleased with my late afternoon adventure, I pulled into the casino which was no real bargain at $70. Plus it felt like the sort of place I’d want to take all the luggage indoors.
Next day I chose to forsake the Chevron and take off up over US89 towards Lake Tahoe, but soon regretted it when the two villages up the road weren’t serving fuel. Let’s see if the satnav can help. “7-11, Gardnerville Ranchos, 12.3 miles”. So it was, plus a quick snack and then over the windy pass into Lake Tahoe’s pine-rimmed bowl where the air was sharp enough to slice week-old tomatoes and the scenery redolent of a Redwood Creek poster.
I pootled round the east shore, past glittering Emerald Bay, ending up at a mate’s cabin out of Truckee, scoring a record 73US or 88mpg on the mpg-o-metre. Opened out airbox holes have fixed the mpg and power. Now I have to fix the air box holes.
Before I had a chance to do that, Christian insisted we go out for a burn up in the woods, him on his 95o Adventure. OK then. Unhitch the bags and off we go – me soon eating dust spun off his TKC as wide as my head. As before on the dirt, the Honda’s wide gearing was exposed and so was the harshness of my jacked-up rear shock (see this). Still, I’m not complaining – the bike is as light as a feather and the preload is keeping the loaded bike level. Too hard is better than too soft, IMO. Plus I’d just read on Thumper Talk that Hyperpro in the Netherlands have brought out a fully adjustable shock for the CRF (unlike Race Tech’s basic unit). So it’s there if I want it.
The little L was being hung out to dry by the KTM, but that 950 has got to be running five times the horsepower with only half as much weight and top of the range suspension. A decent shock would sure improve CRF-L dirt riding at this sort of pace, but it wasn’t all bad; I was lucky enough to have a few days’ house sitting for Christian – a chance to reorganise and sort out that fuelling once and for all.