Small Bikes Rule! Honda CRF250L Rally, Suzuki GSX250R and Yamaha TW200 Reviews

One day we happened to look in a darker corner of the Rider shop and realized that a number of smaller new motorcycles were back there multiplying, like tribbles. If it kept up, pretty soon there wouldn’t be any room left for the bounce house and kegerator, so we sucked up our big-bike egos and got to work reviewing them. Surprisingly, we liked the Rally, GSX250R, TW200, VanVan and Vespa so much that instead of beaming them onto a departing Klingon ship, each of us has stashed one in our offices behind a desk or a plant. In addition to a lower initial cost and fantastic fuel economy, these machines are versatile, good looking and downright fun to ride. Every one would make a good second or third bike. Just be careful, they do tend to multiply….

Read EIC Tuttle’s “Man on a VanVan Without a Plan” adventure

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
Airing out the Rally is a breeze, but the rear shock needs more rebound damping to prevent pogoing. If you can handle the 35-inch seat height, this bike is a real winner. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Essential Adventure: 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
By Arden Kysely
My first ride on the CRF250L is documented in our February 2013 dual-sport 250 shootout, where Honda’s new model drew down on the Kawasaki KLX250 and Yamaha WR250R. Though not as hardcore an off-pavement machine as the others, the CRF/L made its mark as a top-notch recreational motorcycle, perfect for daily duty in town and weekends exploring the boonies. This year brought a host of updates to the counterbalanced DOHC single: a 2mm larger throttle body, updated fuel injection, a new ECU and reworked intake and exhaust systems. Honda attributes lighter weight, better throttle response and beefier low- to mid-range power to the changes.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally (Photo by Kevin Wing)

The new Rally model takes the CRF/L improvements to the next level for all-surface travel, adding better wind protection, longer-travel suspension, larger brakes, optional ABS ($300)—and 24 more pounds. Frame-mounted Dakar bodywork, hand guards and asymmetrical LED headlights earn it the Rally moniker. Judging by the many favorable comments I received, the new look is a hit.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally (Photo by the author)

The easy-to-flick Rally rules the twisties, in spite of the IRC knobbies sliding when pushed hard on the pavement. Rock steady on the freeway, it hangs with traffic but prefers two-lane highways and back roads (who doesn’t?). And while it won’t win off-road races, it will keep many riders smiling all day in the dirt—me included. With 11- and 10.3-inches of front/rear travel, the Rally soaked up bumps on a brisk ride over a rough two-wheel route, though the rear shock could use more rebound damping. The 43mm fork is impressive for non-adjustable stockers and key to the Rally’s plush ride. Both single-disc binders are effective, but the ABS can only be turned off at the rear.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally (Photo by Kevin Wing)

The Honda’s 35.2-inch seat height, amplified by a near-vertical posture on the kickstand, may deter newer or shorter riders, who will be more comfortable on the lighter base model. Once aboard, it’s easy to pile on the miles with upright seating and a comfortable saddle; bar risers would help for extended off-pavement riding and a buzz begins at 7,000 rpm. Packing more fuel than the standard model, the Rally has longer range, but fell short of my 200-mile comfort zone. No worries—a gas gauge and dual tripmeters on the compact digital instrument pod help maintain fuel awareness. Given the choice, I’d spend the extra $750 for the Rally over the standard CRF/L, partly because it looks so darn good—but mostly because it works better.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Specs
Website:
powersports.honda.com
Base Price: $5,899 ($6,199 w/ ABS)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, DOHC w/ 4 valves
Displacement: 249.6cc
Bore x Stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 57.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 28.1 degrees/4.5 in.
Seat Height: 35.2 in.
Wet Weight: 346 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 2.7 gals.
MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 59.8/60.1/62.2

Think touring on Vespa scooters is out of the question? Think again.

2018 Suzuki GSX250R
User-friendly Katana DNA wrapped in sporty GSX-R styling: the 2018 Suzuki GSX250R is an approachable sportbike. (Photo by Enrico Pavia.)

Approachable Sport: 2018 Suzuki GSX250R
By Jenny Smith
Whatever you do, don’t call it a “Gixxer.” Suzuki is making it clear that despite its nomenclature, the 2018 GSX250R carries more Katana DNA than it does superbike, with some dealer and press materials going so far as to call it the “GSX250R Katana.” It’s true that the GSX250R is a milder ride than its competition, but Suzuki figures anyone looking for true sportbike performance isn’t going to be happy with anything less than a full-on 600cc or larger machine anyway. So with the GSX250R it focused on creating a fun, easy to ride, affordable, cool-looking bike.

2018 Suzuki GSX250R
2018 Suzuki GSX250R (Photo courtesy Suzuki)

The GSX250R is powered by the same 248cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC parallel-twin found in the GW250, but Suzuki says it incorporates several changes, such as new roller-type rocker arms and intake valves with a slimmer stem profile that optimizes airflow into the combustion chamber. Practicality takes precedence over performance—this is a bike designed to perform best at “real world” speeds between 15 and 55 mph—and the little 250 is pretty much wrung out at 80 mph on the highway. With its longish 56.3-inch wheelbase, manageable 31.1-inch seat and fairly stout 392-pound curb weight, the little Katana does convey a sense of stability, adding to its approachable nature.

2018 Suzuki GSX250R
2018 Suzuki GSX250R (Photo by Enrico Pavia)

Running through its six gears, the GSX250R is smooth and easy to ride. Like most 250cc-class machines, it takes some wrist twisting to urge it forward, with most of the fun happening above 6,000 rpm. With a 4-gallon tank, our 61.6 mpg average fuel economy and surprisingly comfortable ergonomics, as long as you’re not in a hurry the GSX250R is a road trip-worthy ride. Fit and finish are good for a bike in this category, with cool surface-emitting LED position lights, a full LCD instrument panel and an LED taillight reminiscent of the GSX-R1000R. Dual petal-style disc brakes look the business and work well, but ABS is not an option. Now the question is: when will we see a GSX400R?

The 2018 GSX250R is available in Pearl Nebular Black or Pearl Glacier White, for $4,499.

2018 Suzuki GSX250R Specs
Website:
suzukicycles.com
Base Price: $4,499
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, parallel-twin, SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 53.5 x 55.2mm
Displacement: 248cc
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.6 degrees/4.1 in.
Seat Height: 31.1 in.
Wet Weight: 392 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gals.
MPG: 87 PON min. (avg) 61.6

2017 Yamaha TW200
Those oversized tires and the Yamaha TW200’s tough off-road styling make it look bigger than its 196cc. It’s a great beginner’s bike and capable small dual-sport. (Photo by Kevin Wing)

Diminutive Dual-Sport: 2017 Yamaha TW200
By Mark Tuttle
Yamaha has been cranking out this great little dual-sport for three decades. It even made world headlines in 1987 when Shinji Kazama became the first to ride a motorcycle to the North Pole on a Yamaha TW200. We spent a lot less time on the bike than Kazama, but a long loop down Highway 1 and through the local Santa Monica Mountains as well as some regular commuting—even a few dirt roads—on the fat-tired Yamaha was enough to make us appreciate its versatility. Although the TW200’s SOHC 2-valve 196cc single is air-cooled and even carbureted, the engine is good for a 70-mph top speed. It takes a while to get there of course, it vibrates at high rpm and its vague gearbox and clutch make shifting more of an event than necessary. That 28mm Mikuni carb is also jetted quite lean and the engine takes a long time to warm up with the choke on.

2017 Yamaha TW200
2017 Yamaha TW200 (Photo by Kevin Wing)

Off-road the TW200’s bulging 130/80-18 and 180/80-14 knobby tires grab the dirt and soak up bumps like foam rubber. Its 33mm fork and single-shock suspension are non-adjustable but firm and have enough travel to take a hit from ruts and rocks, making it a fun and competent plaything on the trails. Seating is low and roomy for a 200 and the TW200 is able to carry a passenger quite easily, but the long seat is typically dual-sport narrow and hard, so on-road I was ready to get off well before I had run the bike’s 1.8-gallon tank down to its 0.5-gallon reserve at 86 miles. The hydraulic 2-piston disc brake up front and drum in back actually work quite well, and there’s a toolkit under the right side cover and a flat deck on the rear fender for strapping on a small cooler or seatbag. The TW200 also wears enough tough styling to repudiate its size. Whether you’re riding to the North Pole or just around the south 40, the TW200 is fun and gets it done.

2017 Yamaha TW200
2017 Yamaha TW200 (Photo by the author)

2017 Yamaha TW200 Specs
Website: yamahamotorsports.com
Base Price: $4,599
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, SOHC, 2 valves
Bore x Stroke: 67.0 x 55.7mm
Displacement: 196cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 52.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.8 degrees/3.4 in.
Seat Height: 31.1 in.
Wet Weight: 280 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 1.8 gals.
MPG: 87 PON min. (avg) 66.6

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

6 COMMENTS

  1. The TW200 is a great little bike. I have had one since 2003. I take it with me on vacations. It’s easy to haul on a hitch mounted motorcycle carrier. It’s quite capable on the most technicl of trails. It’s an easy bike to keep maintained. I will point out that it is not liquad cooled as your specs sugjest. It’s a simple air cooled SOHC.

  2. “sucked up our big-bike egos”. You hit the nail on the head with that statement.
    So many have ridden big heavy bikes for so long that when they become to heavy for them, they get a three wheeler. If they would let go of their ego and downsize to a smaller lighter bike, they would see how much fun they really are. I downsized from a 1200cc sport tourer, to a Honda CB500F. It is so much fun! Have ridden it 14,000 miles in 11 months. Also just got a second bike, 2014 CRF250L.
    Go back to your roots. Before you TRIKE, go light. You’ll be glad you did.

    • Yeah, your right! I’m downsizing from a ZX11, Spiegler super bar Handle Bar kit sports tourer and a ZRX1100 well just a fun, crazy, twisty bike. Both of those and I’m going to the FJ-09 sports tourer. Yes I know it’s a Tracer 900GS now. Going lighter, 540 to 463 with luggage. Still 104-105 RWHP. The suspension is the only cost. Power is already there. Oh yes, what I want is an FZ-10. What I “NEED” is an FJ-09. It might turn out to be an FZ-10 with hard bags, LOL!

    • I’ve been on two wheels since 1965. Two stroke twins and triples, four stroke550s,750s,1000s ,1300s and a 1200 Voyager putting in excess of35000 mi on each. I recently retired and picked up a new V Strom 650 ADV.(this was in 2015).I do 400+ mi weekly rides to Door County. Back road blasts.Haul cases of wine ,50# bags of bird seed,get50+ per gal. Cheap insurance and having a blast. I feel like a 17 year old kid again. I had the most fun motorcycling on 305s to 550s. And now I’m doing it again.Welcome home!

  3. I just made the move to lose weight and enjoy the ride. Got off my Electra Glide for a Trump Street Cup.! So much more fun … three-wheeler, I would go convertible b4 I go trike!! Can’t wait for Spring weather.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here