How would you imagine a motorcycle that is meant to go on the trails, accommodate riders of different sizes and yet exert attraction like a track motorcycle? The CRF230F seems like a perfect balance between compactness and motocross style, a tweak often encountered on bikes in this category.
With the need of a low seat height and low center of gravity, designers started from there, resulting into practically a motocross replica. There is a nice and aggressive front fender on top of the 21-inch front wheel and a sharp rear fender covering up the 18-inch rear wheel. In between those two, you can count the pieces on the fingers of one hand: aggressive side panels and graphics covering up the 19 gallons gas tank, the narrow seat and sharp number plates.
The color of choice for Honda trail bikes is generally Red, including the CRF230F. In combination with the white number plates and aggressive black and gray graphics, they seem to have sorted out this model quickly and efficiently. By the way, it looks modern even though not changed for quite some time.
With a bike such as the Honda CRF230F you simply know you’ve made the right choice as it fulfills your expectations in almost every matter. Not with much, but with enough to get you hooked.
Seeing this bike is like meeting an old friend, the XR200R, one that instead of growing a beard has slimmed down and refined in a way you just knew it can. The engine starts easily with the push of a button and idles nicely underneath you providing a healthy (for its cylinder capacity) exhaust note. I had no problems flat footing the ground and at a 34.1-inch seat height, no teenager will be disappointed either.
But this is an air-cooled engine, meaning that you either hit first gear and rev your way into the forest or shut it down. I certainly went for the first alternative and noticed that the first gear is fairly short, but the bike handles beautifully at low speed. It is quite inviting and yet forgiving to a beginning rider, but my recommendation is to leave it guided you as the CRF knows best.
Throttle response is immediate, but not surprising while a smooth clutch makes for easy engagement and contributes at building confidence. This doesn’t take as long as on other off-road bikes and because I was quite familiar with the package, I went for the whole thing. Have it go through small rivers, pass over logs and climb hills and notice that this bike is practically built for this kind of activities. They shake the stress away and again add experience.
In my “courageous” incursion down an open field, I’ve managed to push it up to 60 mph, in sixth gear and the motor sounded like it could definitely do more. Hell, even the 195cc XR200R could manage with 60 mph.
Even though a little bit heavy (249 pounds) but quite small, it is very easy to handle the thing and, as I mentioned before, it requires motocross-like turns above 20 mph or so. The chassis does a great job in maintaining stability so handling feels natural and the bike’s moves are quite anticipative.
Coming from an early Honda XR200R, what impresses me are the more than nine inches of suspension travel front and rear as well as the effectiveness of the front and rear disc brakes. In collaboration, these two offer a plush ride and a reassuring feel that is very often increased by the rider’s legs being dragged on the ground, but hey…that’s how we all were at the beginning.
Like in the case of the Yamaha TT-R230, the 2009 Honda CRF230F manages with a $3,699 MSRP which is good considering that the Honda is slightly superior to the Yamaha (I mean it has a disc rear brake instead of a drum unit and it is a little bit lighter).
What I would expected to see was adjustable damping suspensions, some weight loses and a slightly punchier engine, but Honda doesn’t revamp the 2009 CRF230F, just carries it on as the same reliable and easy to ride off-road bike. These kinds of bikes rarely change (take the example of the XR200R) as they are successful packages right from the start, but when they do there’s nothing to stop them.