THE HONDA CR250 STORY 1973 TO 1980
THE HONDA CR250 STORY…….Today, if we want to purchase a new motorcycle, car or 4×4, it`s taken for granted that Honda can provide the buyer with a supremely engineered collection of machinery to choose from. You may be forgiven for thinking that because Honda have been around for all these years, all their products should be supremely engineered & if not, then it`s time for them to pack up. Unfortunately, as far as other manufacturers are concerned, Honda have a pretty good track record of getting things right from the very start, or if they have suffered a few teething troubles with a particular project, it hasn`t taken them very long to sort things out & catch up with the opposition & more often than not, blow the opposition into the weeds. It appears that most of the Japanese manufactures followed a similar path when it came to motorcycle racing. Firstly they sent a team of engineers to all the major motorcycle racing events around the world, they went armed with note books, cameras, & lots of questions, everybody thought they were a bit of an oddity & laughed. Many notes were written down & many photographs were taken, then the engineers went away. After a while the Japanese returned, this time they came armed with their very own creations, everybody laughed & made comments such as, “far to heavy”, “they don`t handle” & “not very pleasing to the eye”. Luckily among all the criticism one positive remark could usually be heard “the engine shows potential, fast but not quite right”. The engineers went home to Japan but when they returned nobody laughed anymore, this time their machines were good, very good. The engineering team responsible for developing the very first CR250 was originally brought together by Mr Soichiro Honda not to build a motocross bike but to create a world conquering road racing machine. This they did with what can only be described as stunning brilliance ! How does a… 250cc, six cylinder, with four camshafts & 24 valves, being fed by six miniature carburettors, that could rev to 20,000rpm, creating 65bhp & a top speed of 150mph… sound. This piece of engineering art work, the “RC166″, along with the late great Mike Hailwood claimed the world 250cc road racing championship in both 1966 & 1967. At this point, so the story goes, Soichiro pulled the plug on the road racing program because his team had won everything it had set out to win, some disagree & say it`s because the victories had come at a huge financial cost to the company, either way, a group of very talented designers & engineers suddenly had nothing to do. The now redundant Honda engineers started a pet project to develop a 2-stroke dirt bike, it`s a well know fact that Soichiro Honda was not a great fan of 2-stroke engines & nobody knows for sure if Honda had given the engineers official permission to play about with their dirt bike idea. What we do know is that in 1971 the prototype bike was seen competing at a national motocross meeting in Japan & once word got around & questions started to be asked by the inquisitive press, it was decided to make it an official project & was assigned the name “335c”. The largest & probably the most enthusiastic dirt bike market in the world at the time was the USA. As a little sweetener for the American buyers, Honda decided to give their new dirt bike the subtitle of “Elsinore”, named after the motorcycle race held in & around the small American town with the same name. This may seem a little odd when you consider the early history of scrambling / motocross & the famous race tracks both here in Britain & Europe but remember, the USA was & still is a huge market for dirt bike manufacturers. Hears what the original magazine testers of the day thought about the finished “CR250M Elsinore” when it finally went on sale in 1973. They found the general appearance of the machine very pleasing & commented on how narrow the new bike was. Track testing revealed a motor that had a vey wide spread of power, more akin to that found on a big bore bike. Drag racing the CR against pretty much every other 250 motocross machine available at the time showed it could out run them all, even when the rest were given a head start. Other aspects of the bike that received a rave review were the light weight alloy cylinder head with it`s centre mounted spark plug design & it`s equally light alloy barrel with specially bonded in steel liner. They also liked the forged duel ring piston that had undergone a special “Etching” process to help oil adhere to it & prevent seizures along with it`s “Teflon” coated piston rings that aided the initial breaking in period. The huge crankshaft main bearings that suggested many hours of trouble free racing & the fact that the engine could be started while still in gear, also received praise. The favourable comments didn’t stop there, also on the list of things that sent them into a state of high excitement were the new “Kelhin” carb with it`s new self lubricating brass-chrome slide that reduced the chances of sticking & the previously unavailable “factory riders only” re buildable rear shocks with their 4.1″ of travel.
When the first Honda CR250M went on sale, with it`s 248cc 2-stroke engine, 5 speed gearbox & down swept exhaust, along with it`s brushed aluminium fuel tank complete with green stripe across the top, silver side panels & silver plastic mud guards, It instantly turned the world of motocross on it`s head. Fast, light & powerful, it became the bike that all other manufactures had to match & this would take them quite a while to achieve. In 1974 the CR250 remained unchanged, this was ok as everybody else was still shell-shocked & playing catch up. Honda made some changes in 1975, these included a new upswept exhaust system & the bottom mountings for the rear shocks were moved further forward along the swing arm. The brushed alloy fuel tank now sported a red stripe across the top, along with matching red side panels & the mudguards changed from silver to white coloured plastic. More cosmetic changes followed in 1976, the brushed alloy tank was now painted completely red to match the side panels plus the mudguards & frame were in matching red also. Unfortunately by this time the buying public had started to notice that not a lot had actually changed & the job of trying to improve on the original design had been left to the ever growing list of tuning companies that offered all sorts of goodies to help keep your CR competitive. It was also obvious that the Honda factory riders were campaigning machines that bore little resemblance to the production machines that were now starting to linger a lot longer in dealers show rooms. What made things even worse was that most of the other European & Japanese manufactures had caught up & over taken Honda with their latest offerings. The old saying of “if you don`t know what to do, it`s best to do nothing” must have appealed to Honda, because in 1977 that`s exactly what they did, changed nothing, one can only assume all efforts were now being concentrated on their new motocross weapon. In 1978 Honda lit the fuse, stood back & watched the all new, totally redesigned Honda CR250R red rockets blast off & retake the lead in the war of motocross. The most striking difference being the bang up to date long travel suspension, the front forks could now boast an impressive 11.9″ of travel & the rear shocks 11″. Starting gates across the world suddenly filled up with a sea of red machines & just like the original machines of 1973 the new red rockets, weighting in at 99kg & pushing out 36bhp, could win straight out of the box. The accessory & tuning firms went into overdrive & started to offer a whole range of goodies for the all new Honda but the truth of the matter was that the machines were in fact closely based on the type II RC250-77 factory bikes & thus were extremely though & reliable, especially the engine. Again the magazine testers of the day, thought the new CR250R, with it`s bright red fuel tank & matching side panels, mudguards, engine & frame, was very good indeed, more often than not Honda`s new motocross weapon quickly became the pick of the bunch when the annual 250cc “shoot out” tests were performed. It was common knowledge at the time, that a lot of the factory supercross riders were using pretty much standard production engines & on many occasions the bikes were more than a match for the high-tech Yamaha factory machines ridden by the likes of Bob Hannah. 1980 saw Honda give the CR250R a re-design, there were changes to the suspension & frame geometry, the most notable difference was that the single front down tube became a double down tube design. To accommodate the new frame layout the exhaust port on the barrel had to be repositioned, this seemed to alter the way in which the engine delivered it`s power, the previous motor required plenty of rpm before it hit the sweet spot, the new motor now delivered it`s punch lower down the rev range. The CR250R Red Rocket carried on being a top choice for racers until it was replaced in 1981 by the all new water-cooled, monoshock machines. There’s no doubt that some people might say the new Evo bike was worse in some areas than the air-cooled, twinshock design it replaced & Honda took a while to sort things out & get back to where they were but that, as they say, is another story. Looking at the bikes today they still offer the vintage motocross racer everything he or she needs to get the job done & are still a common sight at race meetings up & down the country. For the pre 74 racer the early CR250`s seem to offer an almost unfair advantage over other period machines once they have been properly restored, the biggest problem appears to be a fragile gearbox. With something like a “DG” pipe bolted on, a freshly rebuilt 73 / 74 bike sounds pretty crisp indeed. For the late 70s twinshock racer a “Red Rocket” must be one of the best bikes to buy, restore & race. There appears to be an almost endless supply of spare parts for Rockets, with lucky owners having several specialist companies based here in the UK to shop with & once you have carried out a thorough rebuild, Rockets have a reputation for being extremely reliable. A quick spin around the internet will soon show that the potential buyer has plenty of vintage 1970s CR250 machines to choose from, with more being imported into the UK every week. Apart from the fact that the bikes were & still are very competitive as well as being very easy to live with, especially the later Red Rockets, the best reason for any rider to buy & race one of these iconic machines is you get to wear the famous red, white & blue Honda jersey, one of the coolest race shirts ever designed…….Mr J
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