Honda has been the leader of the 250cc four-stroke class for the past several years. If you look down the starting line at a pro event you will see an overwhelming number of red bikes; as many as 63 percent of the field in this year's East Region supercross series rode Hondas! And consumers are banking on Honda's notorious reliability and performance when they head to a dealership to buy. There's no question: The CRF250R has been a successful model for Honda. For 2015 the engineers at Big Red have made some refinements to the bike as a whole and have also gone with a completely new front fork. That Showa Triple Air Chamber fork is the focus on the new machine.
Before we dive into the front forks, let's look at what else Honda has done on the bike. It has a new Engine Mode Select button mounted on the throttle side of the bars. This button allows you to choose from three different pre-programmed EFI Ignition maps for rider preference and conditions. Mode one is standard, mode two is a soft mode (for mud and extremely low-traction situations), and mode three is an aggressive setting for pros or deep-sand conditions. With Honda's optional HRC accessory tuning tool, you can create and upload as many as two of your own EFI settings right to the engine mode button (the standard mode will always remain constant). The exhaust system received larger diameter openings while still keeping the decibels to a minimum. Fuel mapping has been altered to work in conjunction with this exhaust change. A new throttle return spring gives the throttle a lighter pull. The front brake rotor has been increased in size to 260mm, a noticeable change on the track. Some of the plastic accents have been changed to black, Dunlop's new Geomax MX52 tires grace the new machine, the fork covers are new, and the Showa rear shock settings have been updated to match the new fork.
The fork itself is the same triple air chamber fork that is becoming the gold standard for motocross forks. However, at Honda's request, the CRF version contains all three chambers within the fork rather than having one at the bottom of the right fork leg. Also, the chambers are all located in the left fork leg—another Honda request. Showa engineers didn't give us any other explanation for the variance other than to say, "Honda requested it to be that way." Despite looking different, the fork works exactly the same way. The inner, outer, and negative chambers all affect different parts of the stroke, and offer an infinite number of setting and adjustment options. Of course, you still have compression and rebound on the right fork leg.
Interestingly, the CRF does not come with a valve to adjust the outer chamber, but a plug instead. For liability and, as they suggested, reliability reasons they do not recommend putting air in the outer chamber. Their theory is that if a large dent were suffered in the slider, the outer chamber would lose its pressure and change the feel of the fork. However, Showa technicians insist that the feel and action of the fork would not be catastrophic and certainly wouldn't end a moto. Bottom line: If you want to get the full adjustability and performance out of this fork, you will need to remove the outer chamber plug and replace it with a schroeder valve so you can adjust air pressure.
On the track the Honda is as nimble and light feeling as ever. The powerplant remains very smooth and rider-friendly while delivering potent horsepower. Changes to the exhaust and EFI were difficult to feel but, all in all, the motor works well. The front brake is a good change, and getting this bike slowed down is an easier task with the 260mm rotor. The rear shock has always been stable and predictable on the CRF250R, and that trait hasn't changed. The new valving works great with the rest of the chassis. The fork is good, but don't expect to hop on and have it feel amazing right away. On my first try, the front end was too low in the stroke, leaving the bike with a stinkbug feel. They added several PSI to both chambers, and I tried again. This time the ride height was good, but I was getting a harsh feeling in G-out sections and in small chatter. I came in again and we took two clicks of compression out to handle those bumps. At that point I was satisfied enough to keep riding for a while … like, several hours. I was having fun. There is no question that I could get the fork to work even better if I kept making adjustments and dialed it in. The TAC fork gives you a huge range of adjustability, but you have to go through the process.
The TAC fork requires a slight learning curve. We are all going to have to add a small shock pump to our toolboxes and get familiar with what each chamber does. The days of just jumping on and taking off are gone. The good news is that once we get the pressure right, we will have performance like we've never had before. Honda's tweaks and suspension upgrades make an amazing motorcycle even better.