IN THE GREY
Only a few days of faff between my first Sunday on the Honda and a mid-week dawn raid on Wales. We’re (that’s nearly all of RUST) heading to Mick Extance’s for some photos of things that’ll be in the magazine at some point, but it’s a great opportunity to catch up with my Dakar buddy Mick and Adam – Mick’s son who was also out in Saudi with us, and is a Pro Speedway racer, with a decent enough track record at the European enduro stuff. He’s also in his back garden and is about to show us all up!
Despite not staying next door and driving up in the morning I’m up and ready before Warren and JB, but it’ll be my only win of the day. I’m fully expecting a photo reel with every one a ‘£250 you’ve been had’ contender.
Mick’s venue is a cracker, he’s got some great loops suitable for everyone from a total novice to WESS riders. Adam’s keen to get me and the little Honda stuck, so we’re straight out of the car park, from cold, up and over a log step up into a soft, soggy loam of sopping wet Welsh peat and pine needles. I don’t make it. Neither does the Honda. Adam settles in for a day of looking at the underside of the CRF, or the back, or essentially everything but how it looks in the promo photos.
Wales is wetter than normal to be fair, but the 250RX is a challenge in these conditions. Despite all photos to the contrary I’m not a bad rider. There were however many questions from bystanders (there wasn’t a lot of other folk having a go to be fair…) as to whether I’d had stand-ins for the Scottish, Romaniacs and the Dakar.
Now the particular Welsh hillside we’re playing on isn’t much use for anything other than challenging moto riders to get up it. Even the trees fall over in it. It’s cracking. I’ve been here before, with some of Adam’s speedway muckers. Mick runs a fleet of 250 KTMs for the school, but the speedway boys are all pro racers so y’know, speed is the answer. Only it’s not. I’m surprised to learn that most have never ridden anything other than speedway, until I see them try and ride ruts. Or up hills. Or use a front brake. If they weren’t big boys you’d feel bad, but they’re racers, bullet proof and all mates. It was hilarious. They were all also firmly stuck at the bottom in rut number 1 whilst Adam lapped them and took the piss.
Today is wetter. It’s very wet in fact. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get one clean lap of the little up and down loop that we hastily set up. Not one. Most laps ended up with me facing the wrong way, upside down or firmly stuck. Embarrassing.
Now to the bike… I’d said at the moto track I didn’t like the clutch feel. Well here I REALLY didn’t like it. There wasn’t any feel, it’s very much a digital effect. The revvy motor needs revs to find the power. In these conditions any attempt to lug it leads to a stall. If you try and catch on the clutch, it’ll either spin up instantly and break traction or you’ll not feather it with any finesse and it’ll stall. Sometimes it just stalls on its own with no hamfistery needed on my part.
We’re riding extreme stuff here. It’s not a sportsman loop at all, but me and the Honda are down in the rut, home of the speedway lads. Adam did manage a couple laps on the Honda without crashing. But there were plenty of revs, some stalls and a decent amount of flailing legs. An impressive dead engine downhill log hop I grant you, but stalled nonetheless. No photos of him upside down though. And not just because JB knows where to not photo a host, but because he got round it. As I say though, it’s his backyard and his loop. Now the Honda is on rubbish tyres for this job – they’ll last forever – but this isn’t just tyres.
Mick’s venue is sponsored by Bridgestone and they’ve developed a cracker of a tyre in the Battlecross E50. Adam has the extreme version on his bike, with a very soft moose, but I ride the standard version on a school bike on a super slippy, rooty, and sopping ascent and the tyre is incredible. I also jump on Adam’s and it’s such a surprise where it finds grip that my legs are flailing behind me. It’s a signature style, but not necessarily mine!
So it’s to the workshop for the Honda. I’ve given it a kicking here, but Warren also jumped on it, and was initially blown away by its handling (outside of the slippy, sloppy woods) but as I warn him of the woods behaviour I can see the scepticism. It’s impossible at this stage to imagine. And then we pass over a trail littered with slop, felled, bald tree stumps, logs and roots and the honeymoon stalls. I have to mention (as I guarantee you’ll see the clip) that as catch up and then ride around that I find a front wheel trap which sees me graciously and with style, yet without swearing, exit with a flourish over the bars. At least that’s how I recall it.
Out of the woods, and remember here that this isn’t trail riding stuff we’re talking about, I’m still on the school’s KTM as Warren commandeers the Honda, so make of that what you will. It was only me riding (or not) the super woods route though. And I’ll be back once I’ve made a few tweaks to see if it’s just me, or more us. Me and the Honda are still talking, we just weren’t mad keen on the carpet. And I was going to remove the indicators anyway…
JB & Honda reunited (briefly)
Riding at Mick’s taught me one thing – my injured knee is not yet healed enough for extreme stuff, probably not even for standard enduro riding as yet. That’s a shame as riding enduro bikes in woods is a special pleasure.
Having relinquished custody of the Honda to Craig it is at least some recompense to see him enjoying it so much. Well, sort of. Boy, he’s picky. I seem to have the capacity to jump on anything and enjoy it for what it is, working around any limitations it, or I, might have. Craig – much like Warren in fact – seeks perfection. So after hearing him waffling on about need for a hydraulic clutch, different tyres, different handlebars etc, it was reassuring to jump back on the 250RX and find it exactly how I left it. For me, it’s still one great package. Warren actually agreed with me on this, but the wee Honda’s ace card is the chassis. That alloy beam frame gives it a level of handling integrity that is so hard to find. The wee bike tracks so sweetly and you can boss it into turns (more so in Warren’s case, without a dodgy knee) with such assurance and it goes where you point it. The motor, too, it may not be the torquiest, but boy does it howl, it revs and revs. So it’s an easy bike to get on and ride fast.
I also like the quality, Honda make nice things. That said, I smiled when I recently saw the 2021 RXs now get one-piece bodywork panels. The two-piece ones on our 2020 RX can be a right fiddle – and for no conceivable reason do they need to be in two parts. But yeah, after riding the school KTM 250EXCs I liked the feeling of ‘tightness’ in the build and dynamic of the Honda.
And the more time I’ve been around the Honda the better I’m understanding its placement. Its range of uses, for me, stretch from motocross into cross-country and then just into enduro. The KTM EXCs are the better enduros, but in the faster flowing courses of cross-country I can see the Honda would be a flier and in a motocross setting it would probably burn the EXC bad. The RX can’t hide nor deny its ‘R’ DNA, it’s born of a motocross bloodline and that’s where its strength lies. So tricky wet loamy Welsh woods – no, not the best place for it.
Anyway, Craig took the Honda back to Lincolnshire with him, with a loose plan for some RAW events, so we’ll see how he gets on.
It was a long time coming to get my first ride on the little 250RX. Thankfully Craig brought her down to Wales to play the part as an extra in our photo shoot down at Mick Extance’s off-road training school. Let’s start with the caveats: eight months of no riding and a good dose of nerves given my big crash earlier in the year on the Beta trials bike and I was not on my best form. Paired with a school KTM 250EXC-F in the sloppy forest and I’d forgive you for thinking I was a complete novice. Man, I couldn’t even execute a proper pivot turn or get myself up a muddy root-littered rut. Normally this would have been a cinch but instead I’m heaving and puffing, fighting the bike and feeling pretty deflated. Thankfully I don’t seem to be the only one struggling. Craig’s looking unusually ropey given his normal prowess on two wheels. I’ll find out why soon enough. Adam (Mick’s son) is an ace instructor who’s a genius on a bike and is the only one looking the part. JB, as photographer, at least has someone to point the camera at. He eventually takes pity on us and gets us out of the woods into a little loop that is more rock than slop and it’s where at last I’m able to pry Craig off the Honda.
My first impression is that the bars feel narrow and the tank feels wide, but both of these thoughts vanish within 30 seconds on the bike. As an ex-motocrosser this bike feels like home. The suspension is immediately better than the EXC-F in these conditions. The WP suspension feels rangy and unstable compared to the Showas on the Honda. I’m immensely grateful to the little RX because with every minute my lost confidence is being restored. The bike tracks true through the rocks and has a front-heavy nimbleness that lets you rail corners in a way that the EXC-F just can’t. Although the steering is more front-oriented it’s not unstable at speed, which is surprising. This is an XC weapon. It could do with more gears; more often than not I’m searching for the non-existent 6th gear. But at least the thing revs to the moon so it’s not lacking in top speed, but to make it better it could do with an extra gear.
The power is explosive and torquey and is a refreshing change from the very linear EXC-F. We spend about an hour out of the woods, then its back in and although Craig warns me that the non-hydraulic clutch won’t like the more typical Welsh enduro conditions I’m keen to see for myself. Well, 20 metres later and I’m all over the place on the Honda. The clutch lacks the precise actuation needed in snotty terrain and the power is too brutal down low – this is not a winning combination and I now know why Craig was struggling earlier. It needs a hydraulic clutch, a flywheel weight and another gear to make it a true enduro capable machine. Given the price gap to the Euro bikes it’s not an option I would explore. However, as said, the chassis on this thing is the nuts.
My conclusion is that it’s a good XC and fun bike for trail riding; stay out of the snot and it’s great but with a little more refinement Honda would not be a long way away from a truly capable enduro contender.