After a quick glance at the adventure bike market, you’d be forgiven for thinking you need years of off-road experience, incredible bike control skills and a six-foot-five-inch build just to get started. The majority of headlining bikes in the segment — the Honda Africa Twin, BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, Suzuki V-Strom — are 500+ pound bikes with 1,000cc engines or more. Just walking up to them and hopping in the saddle — to say nothing of the apocalypse-proof styling and Dakar-ready electronic systems — can be unspeakably intimidating to the uninitiated. But even if you’re an experienced rider, you don’t need the biggest, meanest ADV bike on the market to enjoy a good road or even a good trail.
Honda’s 2017 CRF 250L Rally is the newest representative in the severely under-marketed category (at least in America) of dual-sport bikes. Dual sports, in a sense, can easily be described as compact or entry-level ADV bikes. (I wouldn’t describe them simply as bigger dirt bikes; they’re not as dedicated to dirt as motocross bikes are, nor as hardcore.)
The Rally started life as a CRF 250, which is a fairly bare-bones bike. Then Honda added a slightly larger fuel tank, another inch of suspension travel at each end, a longer wheelbase, larger front brakes, a wind screen and extra fairings down the sides to better manage the wind on highways. All of that adds up to a bike that you can comfortably take on longer on-road stints and then head down a dirt trail when the time calls for it.
Honda CRF 250L Rally
Engine: 250cc single-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed manual
Curb Weight: 342 lbs
Setting out from Jersey City for the Mid Atlantic Overland Festival — a four-hour, 244-mile journey — I had my reservations about taking a bike with a 250cc engine. The Rally’s presence isn’t a problem; it’s not massive by any means, but it’s not a Grom either. I was afraid the engine wouldn’t be able to keep up at highway speeds. But it did. There were a few uphill sections and stretches of highway that demanded the wide-open throttle of the bike’s topmost rev range, but I never got the sense that it was straining to hang on to 65 mph and passing speeds.
On the tighter twisty roads just west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and around the festival grounds itself, the Rally felt much more at home. In open grass fields, on dirt roads and over one particularly rocky two-track incline, it was in its element. Its small, lightweight character and smooth throttle were perfect for a rider with off-road experience, like me.
Most dual-sport bikes are neither set up nor designed for long excursions and consecutive days in the saddle. Where they shine is on the quick jaunt out of the city in the morning, an afternoon on the trails, and getting you back home before dinnertime. My excursion was a little exaggerated in that sense, but it proved that, like adventure bikes, dual sports are a perfect middle ground. They’re just as adept on-road as they are off-road — and since they’re more approachable, you’re more likely to find out for yourself.