First Ride: 2011 Honda CBR250R

Honda enters the 250 arena with the CBR250R. Should the Ninja 250R be scared?

For three years, Kawasaki's Ninja 250R has been the class leader of the 250s. That's because it only had the Hyosung GT250R to compete against. It surprises me that the big four Japanese manufacturers haven't pounced on this sector like they did with 125s. Not everyone wants to go from a 125cc 'sportsbike' to a 600 and with the launch of Honda's CBR250R, your choice for a new 250 has increased by 50%. Nice work Honda.

The CBR250R is powered by a 249cc single-cylinder engine, Honda's only new motorcycle engine this year. It produces 26bhp at fairly high revs, 8,500rpm infact. Max torque of 17.5lbft is produced at 7,000rpm, so while the CBR250R is powered by a single and not a parallel twin like the Ninja 250R, the natural low-down grunt of a single has been squeezed up the rev-range in the hunt for more power.

I can understand why this new model is called a CBR250R: in the Far-Eastern markets, where 125cc bikes are normal and 150cc bikes are growing in popularity, the CBR250R sits at he top of the sporting tree. However to me and most Westerners, it looks more like a baby VFR1200 and has only the thinnest of relationships with any bike that is designed to lap a racetrack. Shouldn't it be called a VFR250?

With its 780mm seat height, it'll be perfect for those short in leg. Sat on the bike, it feels like a 125 and it largely feels like a Honda too. Just the cheap looking steel clip-ons are a giveaway to the bike's ultra-competitive price. Other than that slight hint at cost-cutting, the digital dash, analogue rev counter abd everything else form the rider's view looks smart.

On the move, the 250 feels light and nimble. We rode it in the rain but the feedback from the steel chassis was good. The suspension, even though basic, didn't reveal any real flaws, it handled everything the slippery Spanish roads could throw at it. When we picked up the pace, the 250 didn't get in a flap and through the twisty roads it switched direction with ease. It's clear the bike has been built to a tight budget and there are certain areas I'm sure you could skimp and no-one would really notice, but it seems Honda have built the CBR250R with the suspension it needs and not the suspension they could get away with.

The engine is adequate but it lacks character. Honda claim it'll return over 70mpg, which, while good is not ground-breaking. Considering the motor is a new unit, I'd have been impressed at figures of 90mpg+ but my 2011 ZX-10R will do 50mpg, no problems. If people are to be convinced to get on an entry-level bike, the running costs have to be exceptional and I don't think the CBR250R's mpg is quite in this league.

On a flat-out run I managed 90mph, but it took a decent length of dual-carriageway to get there. The CBR250R is really happy cutting a dash around town and will cruise quite well at 60mph but over this the motor feels stretched and lacking. Sure it's only a 250 but comfortable cruising at 75mph isn't too much to ask, is it?

Honda are making a rapid transition to ABS and all of their entry-level bikes are being supplied with front ABS. Our test-model 250 had Honda's combined ABS which on a bike like this is a fantastic addition. The combined ABS allows you to eek out every last drop of grip from the front tyre and every last ounce of power from the single 6-pot Nissin front caliper.

The CBR250R's tyre sizes mean you can use 'big bike' rubber, which is also great news. Junk the standard tyres and fit a grippier Sports Touring tyre and you'll get more out of the whole package and with the bike's 160kg kerb weight, tyre life shouldn't be a problem.

Its 13 litre tank means you'll get around 200 miles between fill-ups which is more than Honda's flagship tourer, the VFR1200. I'm not sure you'd ever go continent bashing on a CBR250R but less visits to the petrol station help the CBR250R achieve the 'just get on and ride' status that a good commuter needs.

There's clearly a huge potential market for this bike and at around £1000 less than Kawasaki's Ninja 250R, the CBR250R is a real contender. There are currently rumours that Yamaha are developing a 250 and let's hope Suzuki enter the market too. We're still at the early stages of what the 250 market can offer but the Honda CBR250R hints at the type of fuel economy figures and prices that will guarantee more people get into biking on a 250.

For me, this bike is all about the price. At £3600 OTR, if your commute was under 50 miles a day, you'd have to think of a good reason not to buy one.