Tag Archives: Honda XR250 Tornado

Honda CRF250L vs XR250 Tornado

updated Summer 2020
torvscrf

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.

compo
tornadoa

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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tornado

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.

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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.

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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.

Alternatives

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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.

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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.

Late 2016 – uprated and Rally CRF250Ls announced

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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 
My KLX-S in SW USA

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Morocco: 1000 miles on a Husky TR650 Terra

Since writing this I got myself a broadly similar BMW 650X Country then went off big singles

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I organised a short tour in Morocco renting bikes from Loc2Roues in Marrakech. The ride report with lots of photos is here.
With their BMW XCountrys no longer offered, I picked a 13,000km-old Husky Terra for myself, a bike I took for a quick spin in London last year. You may want to read that to get some background info on the TR and it’s competitors. Previously I’ve ridden an XT660Z Tenere in Morocco and a BMW F650GS twin last year.

Terra in a line
Brilliant canyon carver, but hard work on the dirt beyond fire roads and too juicy for long range travel.

Liked
Soundtrack
Power
Seating position
Brakes while they worked
Gearchange
Robustness

Didn’t Like (excluding delivery faults)
Dashboard
Weight and suspension on rockier tracks

As we know, since then Husqvarna was flogged by BMW, production stopped and they’re discounting the remaining stock, including the TR650 Terra and Strada for as little as £4500 new in the UK. At that price you wonder if it’s a viable contender as a travel bike.
I gave that some thought over a 1000 miles of bendy Moroccan roads and mountain pistes, riding with a Sertao, some XR250s plus an unexpected a car carrying the baggage. Because of that this isn’t the usual review based on self-sufficient travel, but you’ll get the gist.

Comfort
The Husky comes rather naked for long highway rides, but perhaps because I was having such a blast, on the road over 2-300km days I found the seating position no great problem. The whole set up suited my 6′ 1″ height. Vibration is something that’s only just occurred to me so that’s not a problem either. A stepped seat can limit moving about but never caused soreness, although after a while it helped to stretch the legs forward on top of the crash bars. I never had a pillion on the back for long but I imagine it’s not such a cushy perch out back. If the bike was high, I can’t say I noticed with the getting on and off, as I did on the Tenere.
With the bike unloaded, the suspension is certainly on the hard side but that must have reaped benefits in the bends on the road. I didn’t meddle with it or even look to see if that was possible.

Economy
HS03I knew the Terra would be the thirstiest of the bunch and my fuel consumption came in at:
76 mpUKg – bendy mountain roads
62.5 – flat road
58.5 – backroads and gnarly piste
75 – fast twisties
67.5 – tricky mountain pistes (ave: 67.9)
90 – (may have miscalc’d) easier mountain  piste and road.
A fuel converter for US gals and kpl is here.
Generally the XR250s and the Sertao were 20% better.

In 1000 miles no oil was used that I could tell. Never even thought to check the water and even without oiling the chain hung in there.

Performance
HS12The Husky comes with some noticeable poke which adds up to more than just the rorty pipe with a crisp response that reminded me of a TT600. It made the bike a whole lot of fun to ride on the road. Even then I rarely felt the need to rev it much over 5000 rpm to crack on. It’s really more power than you need on a travel bike where economy is a priority, but it sure is nice to play with. And all this was with the efi hesitating from low rpms, something I just got used to. On the dirt the road tyres made pulling away smoothly a bit tricky, but you just spin until the bike caught up with the tyre.
The ABS wasn’t working but the single front and rear brakes were fine until the front went soggy following an early puncture. We gave it a partial bleed after which it was good enough. The back tended to lock up, especially when panicking on the dirt, but that was not helped by the mushy front end. For the short time the both were working the balance seemed fine. No need for double discs as on the Yam Tenere.
The suspension felt hard front and back: good for the road, less good when going slow on the dirt where with the tyres it was hard to push the bike too far. The stiffness gave the bike and rider quite a hammering but amazingly nothing broke on the bike.

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I was filming this bit; what a shame the wind drowns out the Husky’s stirring soundtrack.

Road riding
The Terra had a Dunlop Trailmax radial on the back and something similar on the front. Despite the lame front brake and stuttering efi I don’t recall having so much fun on a bike in years. Warm, sunny weather with dry, empty roads and no luggage all helped rekindle a rediscovery of the raw joys of biking. Even with the large front wheel the Husky makes a shit hot canyon bike: pipe, brakes, firm springs and a lithe build all add up to  thrills without the need crazy speeds. The Strada version comes with a 19-inch front, but with a 17 on the front it might even give a KTM Duke something to think about and costs £2000 less.
hs-gashavenI’m not an especially fluid road rider but I’ll long associate this Terra with chasing Andy on the Sertao from Tazenacht up to Gas Haven, playing the box and the pipe on a blast down the Todra Gorge, leaving the other bikes far behind while launching off the concrete ramps in the fords. And the final day swinging left and right and left around the hundreds of bends up and over the Tichka pass back to Marrakech, passing overloaded DRs and GS trundling southwards. Never mind the piste and adventure motorcycling, Morocco’s deserted southern blacktop is a fabulous place for a sporty road ride.

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Off road riding
All that sporty taughtness unravels a bit on the dirt, especially rocky Moroccan tracks. First piste we took just made me feel sorry for the beating the bike was getting (it soon undid a puncture repair from the previous day). And while they proved to be much better than expected in the dry conditions, the road tyres held you back. On the toughest climb, controlling the weight of the Terra’s mass rebounding off football-sized rocks was exhausting and required drenched backed, dry-mouthed rest stops every couple of kms, while the XRs tiptoed up without a worry. You’d hope more sophisticated after-market springs might make the bike more manageable here but the old Sertao was substantially worse. The fan came on a few times on this climb, but overheating didn’t cause the efi to flip out like it did on the BMW 650 twin last year.
As usual, high and wide lower gearing mean you had two speeds on the dirt; second and first for steep descents with brakes. I didn’t record a speed but tickover in first was just too fast at times for the terrain.

Equipment
hy-clocks
I didn’t get on with the digi speedo or dashboard. Rpm was very clear of course but the speed reading was only sometimes legible in the sunlight while the other numerical data was way too small to read on the move. The seat lock was broken on my bike but there was a wire to pull and if the Terra has a toolkit, I never found it.
Didn’t need the rack much but good to know it’s there and my rental bike came with engine bars, a bash plate, Barkbusters and bar risers which made standing just right as the knees tucked in the narrow waist (unlike the Sertao). I never clanged the bash plate.
The lights were on full-time and survived the beating better than the other bikes, but I never got to try them out in the dark.
HS02I wired up my own 12 volt PTO plug directly from the battery for the satnav which I eventually mounted over the dashboard on a piece of foam with rubber bands.
I was having so much fun I neglected to check the odometer reading against the satnav as I usually do, but at one point I noticed the XR had recorded 185km alongside the Terra’s 195km.

Durability
It was only 10 days on a 13,000 rental bike but I suspect not too many have taken it on the dirt in that time. Nevertheless it stood up to the beating very well when you think of the weight of it and typical rental user profile. Yes the seat lock was broken, so was the ABS for some reason; the dodgy  fuelling could be diagnosed out I imagine.

Terra in a line
Brilliant canyon carver, but hard work on the dirt beyond fire roads and too juicy for long range travel.

Liked
Soundtrack
Power
Seating position
Brakes while they worked
Gearchange
Robustness

Didn’t Like (excluding delivery faults)
Dashboard
Weight and suspension on rockier tracks

HS07

Compared to the Sertao
hs-sertThe well-used Sertao (45,000km) was much more comfy on the road and more economical overall and so makes a better travel bike. Supposedly there’s only 6kg difference, but the BMW feels more like 20 kilos heavier on the dirt, although the softer power was easier to use. Standing up was awkward because of the wide underseat tank. A barely experienced rider on the tour preferred the Sertao to the TR. It had better clocks, cushy seat, amazing economy and a bit of a screen. If only it could lose a couple of stone.

… and the XR250
hs-xr25Amazingly, on the road the Brazilian-built 250 XR Tornados (3LA5 model) held their own up to, but couldn’t sustain the pace through the mountains. Having said that, at one point Andy was flying on the Husky down a tough mountain piste on which I was unwilling to catch up on the XR, even with a front knobbly. The engine just purred like only a Honda can, brakes were great, and at least 10 inches of suspension. Dashboard was a bit of an enduro computer job I didn’t get to grips with, but stood up on the dirt the XR’s slides and skips were all just part of a ride rather than giving you a fright.
Compared to the CRF 250L I had earlier in the year, the XR felt at least as good and lighter. The carb fuelled fine up to 2200m (7000′) and returned up to 100mpg, hitting less than 70mpg only once. The gearbox was silky and the electric start was a treat. More…