Updating the Mind-Tweaker
HONDA CR250M1 ELSINORE (1975)
by the Staff of DIRT BIKE
“Nope, we’re just going to make them get a whole lot better. ” (DIRT BIKE June, 1973)
So here we sit some two years later (1975) and no, Honda didn’t put anybody out of business and yes, almost everybody else did get a whole lot better. The natural progression of things? Response to the out-of-the-crate-ready-to-race raves the Elsinore received? Some of both? Swords or pistols?
Ironically, today it’s the 125 Elsie that’s the frontrunner. It’s safe to say the market for CR250′s has been a mite soft the last year.
Remember what it was like two years ago? Word leaked that Honda two-poppers were on the way. Rumor has it that the upper-ups were so concerned about tainting their image with a mere two-stroke that prototypes bore the name Elsinore only. About that name Elsinore. Just why was a motocrosser named after a defunct Southern California Grand Prix? But, consider the alternatives. The Honda Hopetown, the CR250 Big Bear, the Honda Barstow to Vegas?
Glowing praise. The spring and summer of ’73. Here’s what DIRT BIKE had to say.
You beat the nicest people on a Honda. It is so stunningly right as is that the mind wobbles. With the outrageously long 57 plus-inch wheelbase, one would expect the Honda to be ponderous through the turns. Not so. Directional changes are ludicrously easy.
The engine was not at all pipey. We do agree that the Elsinore can be ridden a gear higher. We feel the excellent carburetion is responsible, rather than a “torquey” engine.
Its engine design hits the proverbial nail on the head by putting usable power everywhere in the rev range. I didn’t have to horse the bike around in the corners. Honda appears to have gotten the steering geometry just about right. Geometry is perfect for its weight and powerband.
We’ve ridden some very good handling motocrossers and we feel the Honda is as good as any. Its long wheelbase, low center of gravity and light weight make it easy to point in the other direction. Initially it was a bit of a mystery why a machine with such a long wheelbase (571/2 inches) and 5-7/8 inches of trail steered so amazingly well.
A long wheelbase, long trail bike will resist turning – unless it is used at speeds with exceptional throttle response and power. At slower speeds behaviour will not violate what the engineering books say, unless the throttle immediately dials in instant power so that the bike slides around rather than steers.
I wouldn’t change a thing, except maybe the shift lever and the brake pedal, my feet are too big for them.
You really want to show that old “tell it like it is” flash and you get handed a machine you can’t find anything wrong with. Other than that (small gas tank opening) and an occasional kick from the starter, the bike is spot on.
Honda has succeeded in building a machine that should establish a new standard of quality and performance for the rest of the industry to set its sights on.
The obvious question is, what was Honda doing during the two-year interval. Answer. Lots. Particularly about the two complaints that wiggled to the surface after the dust settled and all the mind-tweaker adjectives had spent their wad. The CR250 was a significant machine, it was ready to race out of the crate. In retrospect it did have two deficiencies. The thing wouldn’t turn easily and the power was rather radical without the right kind of track surface to accommodate the mid-range explosion. Both of these areas received attention, and the bike also had its shocks moved up.
Kill button on the left side replaces kill switch on the right side. Handlebars are black for glare reduction and/or visual splendor. Plastic fenders are white. Front is extra-wide, looks serious, drew a lot of favourable comment.
Black rubber caps replace hexagonal fork caps. Supposedly they look prettier and they are lighter, but opening up the tubes for oil changes can be a hassle compared to the ’73 model. Now there’s internal snap rings that you need snap ring pliers to remove. Use care when removing the snap rings in the new fork tubes or you might get one in the face.
Cylinder and head vastly different externally. Porting changed, too. Nine holes now instead of eight. Five transfers.
There’s an enclosed steel air box. Weighs about 31/2 pounds. The right side panel can be removed after popping the stout rubber band, just as on the new 125′s. Two Phillips head bolts secure the side of the box and one more releases the foam filter. Because of the tight fit of the box, inserting the filter is not exactly a snap.
The shocks are forward mounted. We measured 6 1/2 inches travel. Honda went to the vertical mounting method, moving the bottom mount forward four inches, the top 11/4 inches. The swingarm was shortened slightly and beefed up. Swingarm bushings are still non-metallic, but have been modified for closer tolerances. And Tom Sawyer still sells bronze bushings.
There’s a handily-located grease nipple at the front of the swingarm. The kickstarter has been widened.
The seat is more substantial and cushier. Weighs a feathery 3 pounds, 6 ounces.
A one-piece crossover up-pipe, exiting on the left side just beyond the number plate. It slips off easily. There’s a humongous accessory spark arrestor/silencer for folks who want or need a quieter ride. Only weighs 51/2 pounds.
Colors. Green is gone. Red, black and silver, similar to the new 125 except for the white fenders.
Rubber intake manifold this year. Rubber’s a good heat insulator and helps minimize carburetor vibration.
The right footpeg, as well as t c left, is now welded to the frame instead of just bolted on. Pegs were lowered 3/4-inch to a height of 12 1/2 inches.
Same fork dampers but a single heavy-wound spring replaces the two springs used previously. Heavier spring seems ideal for 180-pounders who go very fast.
Never-load-up carb about the same but the needle appears to be leaner on the bottom.
The rear brake anchor arm was shortened from 11 inches to 51/2 inches. Regular Elsinore riders felt it induced some brake chatter in what was previously a fine brake setup.
Front brake is still super stopper. Both are water resistant.
Chain isn’t the good (and also expensive) D.I.D. TM variety found on the ’73 model.
Same rotor and points ignition. The rotor is now secured by a nut instead of a bolt. That’s the reason for the change in the cover.
The rear sprocket is different. Concave. Looks expensive to replace.
Some of the geometry changes we noted. The engine was lowered 1′/2 inches and moved forward 3/4-inch. This lowers the center of gravity and puts more weight on the front wheel for better turning. Ground clearance is almost ten inches even with the lower engine.
Fork angle is 32 degrees, about the same as the ’73. Trail is about the same at 5.8 inches.
The triple clamp offset has been increased four millimeters to 56.5mm for quicker steering.
What do all these changes add up to out on the track? A sampling of comments: Fun. Doesn’t turn like a real motorcycle. Quick power. Skips along, doesn’t dig in. That’s a good bike. Ride it like a 125. Decent but not spectacular. It’s better than I thought it would be. Doesn’t feel like it’ll spit you off in a slide. Don’t trust it when I’m sliding. Smooth power. The forks jolt you into reality. It’s OK but it seems Japanese. It’s competitive. Eh, it’s OK, I guess. I like it. It’s a good bike up to its limits – those limits are suspension. I’m going to buy one.
Get the picture? Some riders really dug it, particularly after we changed the suspension. Others remained lukewarm. It’s a multiplechoice machine. Great. Good. Adequate. Pick one.
It definitely turns better. The increased triple clamp offset, the shorter wheelbase, the engine lower and further forward all help. The bike has a light, whippy feel and you can fling it into a turn like a 125 featherweight. But you still can’t call it the zot turner of its class.
If the forks were a little softer it would corner better. We tried raising the fork tubes to see if it helped the cornering any. It did. This year there’s just one notch (not five) for lining up the two tubes. We used the old eyeball-it technique and moved them up to the imaginary second notch. Nothing like a little experimenting.
The suspension contributes to this skipping rather than digging-in feel.
Both the forks and the shocks seem a step backward from the ’73 unit relative to the competition. On the straight-ahead stuff the bike is stable but the rear end feels deficient on up damping. Spring rate seems OK. Take a modified forward mounted ’73 with Konis across the whoops. Then try the ’75 across the same stretch and feel the seat come up and whap you in the rear. On smoother tracks the suspension is sufficient.
Dave Haugh, local hotshoe, and AI Baker, Baia hasher, rode it. Their expert-type comments. 1 could square it or hit the berm. The front wanted to wash out a little bit, I thinks it’s more the forks than the geometry. It’s got good power. It comes on low and doesn’t level off like it did last year. 1 tried getting in trouble deliberately but there was always power there to get me out. Didn’t have to sit on the tank to corner. It turns better, the harsh suspension is the limiting factor. Set up the suspension to personal taste and it’s definitely competitive.
You don’t hardly need a scat of the pants to notice how the power’s been changed. We got a peak horsepower reading of 26.9 on the dyno. 1973 Elsinores got 28 or 29 horses when they were the fastest 250s around. But look at the power readings across the spread. The torque readings from 6000 rpm to sign-off give a really flat curve. Y’all remember how the old 250 came on with its mid-range rocket act, shooting up from 12 horses at 4500 rpm to 26 at six grand? Then it leveled off, making maybe another horse till it redlined at 7500? The torque curve actually peaked at 6000 rpm. The new torque curve is much smoother. Hit the throttle on our famous no-traction adobe cement and you may get a little sideways out you’re not worrying about sliding off the track like with the old CR. Throttle control doesn’t have to be as precise out of a corner as it was with the ’73 Mid Range Rocket. Gunnar thinks it could use a flywheel weight for the rotor or even the MT flywheel to give it that European power to the ground hook-it that makes for easy riding.
The wider power range means less shifting. Short-shift it before the really gnarly stuff and it’ll pull.
Seating position is good. The saddle is higher because of the forward mounted shocks, and the pegs are low. Short-leggers m ay have to tippy-toe. It’s about as narrow between the legs as a bike can be.
What broke during testing? The rear pipe bracket snapped at the frame crossmember. The steel is very thin and it would probably be a good idea to beef the brackets up before they break. A rear motor mount cracked. Small crack in the rear fender at the mount. The transmission drain plug bailed out, luckily just as our rider was completing his last lap. He pulled into the pits just as the last three drops of transmission oil dripped to the ground. We put in a new drain plug, added oil and the tranny worked fine.
And now a word about good ol’ Honda four-stroke . . . ah, twostroke dependability. One staffer has lived with a CR250 for the past two years. It’s been cowtrailed, motocrossed, enduroed and Two Day’d. It’s been cut, welded, forward mounted, ported, fork kitted, MT’d and otherwise modified. Significant problems after two years of typical meticulous put gas and oil in it and go riding care. Once, after a crash, it took two kicks to start and five seconds to clean out after being upside down. And a couple of times the plug was wet fouled when the gas was left on overnight. One of the twin bottom frame tubes broke near the down tube juncture. That’s been it. Cow, trailer reliability.
Our test bike was still strong at the end of the testing. It was always running and there was always somebody waiting to climb on, even the guys who said they weren’t that crazy about it.
BITS & PIECES
Doherty-type hamigrips. Good rubber accordion-type lever covers, not so easy to button up. Teensy tiny gas cap opening. It’s vented. D.I.D. shoulderless alloy rims, one rimlock up front, two out back. Footpegs are serrated, spring loaded and folding. Foot levers are aluminum. We suggest the old drill-some-holes-in-the – shift – lever – to – protect – the shaft routine. Gas tank is alloy, holds 1.8 gallons. Ignition is still points, unlike the CR125. Can’t figure out why. Rubber. Bridgestone four-ply nylon. 3.00×21 and 4.00×18. The 4.00 rear measures out to about 41/2 inches. Irregular, erratic knob pattern. Good hard-surfaced paint on the frame. AI Baker told us it costs twice as much to have it sandblasted off for the red paint treatment. Depending on riding style, some may occasionally fry their right leg near the front of the up-pipe. This wasn’t a common complaint.
There are two, sort of. If you’re into spending some bucks on suspension you’re looking at a bike some of us thought was really neat. But not everyone. it’s that kind of bike. Love it or leave it. Or at least like it a lot if you’re not the overly emotional sort.
Summation number two. The totally stock bike. An improvement over 1973′s mind-boggler. It doesn’t have as much peak horsepower but it turns better, the power is wider and not so radical, and it’s easier to ride. Twenty-seven horses is still in’ the ballpark. Consider other peak pump readings. Pursang: 28.9 ‘ Husky: 28.0, Ossa: 27.4, Montesa: 28.0. The CR is right in there.
The power alterations reflect a change in Honda’s thinking. Instead of going for the 30-hp club they shifted course and went for less radical, wider power. Instead of a breathtaking two grand burst up to six grand and then shift there’s a wider, less wild, run up to 8500 rpm.
The ol’ Ready to Race Right Out of the Crate Special, the first of its breed, now needs some fettling. Unless you run smooth tracks you have to fix the suspension. And ‘ of course, the pipe and hole guys will be probing for ponies.
What’s on the showroom floor is not thee 250. Dial in the suspension, mainly the shocks, and for some of you it probably will be thee 250. For others it may be just another 250 in a market of near race-ready 250s. It’s all happened in the last two years since somebody came out with a mind-tweaker that made everybody get a whole lot better.