For this edition of Classic Steel, we’re going to take a look back at Honda’s 1994 CR250R.
The winningest machine in motocross, Honda’s CR250R marched into 1994 with a list of changes aimed at broadening its pro-focused appeal. Photo Credit: Honda
When most long-time moto enthusiasts think of Honda in the early nineties one name comes to mind – Jeremy McGrath. In 1993, McGrath moved up to the 250 class after back-to-back 125 Supercross titles on the Peak Pro Circuit Honda squad and immediately asserted himself as the man to beat in the deuce-and-a-half division. His much-anticipated duels with reigning champ Jeff Stanton and Yamaha’s superstar Damon Bradshaw never really materialized as the rookie sensation dominated his way to ten wins and his first 250 Supercross title. At the time, this marked Honda’s sixth straight Supercross championship in the premier division. Add in four additional 250 National Motocross crowns over the same time span and you have the very definition of motocross domination.
No machine in professional motocross was as dominant as the Honda CR250R in the late eighties and early nineties.
During this impressive run of championships, the one common denominator was Honda’s venerable CR250R. Ricky Johnson, Jeff Stanton, Jean-Michel Bayle, and Jeremy McGrath all used the power of Honda’s blistering-fast late-eighties and early-nineties 250s to pull them to the front. Faster in stock condition than most other manufacturer’s modified machines, the CRs of this era were a huge advantage to those talented enough to make use of their full potential.
An all-new frame for 1994 changed the weight bias and geometry of the CR in an effort to curb some of the machine’s notoriously vicious headshake. Photo Credit: Honda
In 1993, this had been the case with Honda’s CR250R. Its motor was acknowledged by all as the best in the class but its ultra-aggressive handling and harsh suspension were more polarizing. The fork and shock settings that pleased hammerheads like Jeff Stanton left most mere mortals with sore wrists and bruised backsides and its penchant for breaking into vicious headshake when coming down from speed soured more than a few riders on the Honda’s other charms. Wicked fast and hyper-aggressive, the 1993 CR250R was a nearly perfect Supercross weapon that lost some of its appeal once the tracks got rough and the speeds increased.
In spite of its many significant mechanical updates, the only noteworthy visual change on the CR250R for 1994 was set of Bold New Graphics. Photo Credit: Honda
In use since 1992, Honda’s CRV motor design was the king of early nineties two-stroke performance. Photo Credit: Honda
For 1994, Honda’s goal was to broaden the CR’s appeal by toning down its Supercross focus and improving its chassis comfort. In order to accomplish this, Honda’s engineers scrapped the 1993 chassis and designed an all-new frame and suspension package for 1994. The new chassis aimed to improve stability by lengthening the wheelbase, changing the weight distribution, and altering the steering geometry. In order to accomplish this Honda moved the motor up and forward 5mm and repositioned the steering stem down 3mm and rearward 7mm. A new longer and stronger swingarm extended the wheelbase 12mm and new gusseting throughout the frame changed the flex points to improve chassis feel and precision. To further refine the riding position the bar mounts were moved 6mm rearward and footpegs were repositioned 10mm back and 10mm up. In addition to changing the bar mount position, the new clamps also altered the chassis’ geometry by reducing the steering offset by 2mm. The bodywork remained unchanged from 1993 aside from new bolder yellow “CR” graphics for the shrouds.
Old Reliable: While the chassis changes for 1994 may have pleased some, many pros like Jeremy McGrath preferred the more aggressive handling of the 1993 design. In 1994 (as well as 1995 and 1996), Jeremy chose to race with the 1993 chassis instead of the newer design. Photo Credit: Honda
On the suspension front Honda chose to scrap their 1993 fork entirely and go with an all-new design. The new Showa 43mm cartridge fork did away with the tapered design of ’93 and added a 2mm larger cartridge rod and a new oil lock system designed to reduce bottoming. The fork stanchion tubes were 20mm shorter for 1994 in an effort to reduce stiction. This necessitated the installation of a small guide at the bottom of each stanchion to prevent the fork guard from catching on the new shorter fork tubes. Travel was set at 12.2 inches and the forks offered 16 positions for compression and 20 positions for rebound adjustability.
In 1994, no machine in motocross was as broad, powerful, and fast as Honda’s CR250R. If you had the skill, it had the performance to take you to the top. Photo Credit: Motocross Action
In the rear, the 1994 CR250R featured an all-new Pro-Link system with revised ratios and upgraded components. Both the Heim joints and linkage bolts were beefed up to improve durability and a new linkage curve was installed to provide a more progressive action. The Showa shock was similar to the one used in 1993 but new valving and a slightly stiffer spring looked to improve its action. The damper offered 22 positions for compression and 20 adjustments for rebound to go with its 12.6 inches of travel.
With its motor already garnering rave reviews, Honda chose to focus on refinements for 1994. Small porting changes, a larger silencer, and minor reed-valve enhancements aimed to improve throttle response and boost low-end torque. Photo Credit: Honda
On the motor front, Honda chose to focus solely on refinement for 1994. Originally introduced in 1992, Honda’s Composite Racing Valve (CRV) motor had proven to be one of the most potent in the sport. It was less smooth than the older Honda Power Port (HPP) mills used from 1986 through 1991, but far more potent from the midrange on up. For 1994, Honda looked to improve throttle response by altering the intake and exhaust porting slightly and massaging the reed valve. They also added a new “works style” venting system to the carburetor that prevented it from vapor-locking when landing from jumps. While not aimed at improving power, the silencer was also enlarged for 1994 to give the machine a less raspy tone.
Far and away Honda’s weakest link in the early nineties was the performance of their forks. Regardless of the size, design, or brand of the fork, they always seemed to offer disappointing action on the track. For 1994, Honda once again offered an all-new design they hoped would break their string of grim performers. Photo Credit: Honda
On the track all of these changes added up to bit of a mixed bag for 1994. As in the previous five years, the CR’s motor remained its strongest asset. The 249cc mill produced the longest and strongest power spread in the class. The minor porting and reed changes for 1994 allowed the motor to pick up cleaner off the bottom and run on pump gas without the pinging some riders had noticed in 1993. This stronger low-end response and smoother transition to the midrange made the bike easier to ride but no less potent. It continued to offer the meatiest midrange power and strongest top-end pull in the class. There was useable power available at virtually any point on the curve and the motor was both easy to manage and brutally effective. Add in a bulletproof clutch and excellent shifting and you had by far the best motor package available in the 1994 250 class.
An all-new swingarm for 1994 was stronger and slightly longer. Photo Credit: Honda
The 1994 season turned out to be the last for six-time AMA champion Jeff Stanton. While his farewell season was certainly a disappointment to Jeff, he did capture seven podiums on his way to sixth overall in both 250 series. Photo Credit: Dirt Rider
Where things bit astray for the ’94 CR was in the handling and suspension categories. In 1993, the Honda CR250R had offered the sharpest-turning chassis on the track. The red ripper turned circles around most of its rivals and awarded aggression with beautiful arcs of precision. The flip side to this, however, had been epically nasty headshake when coming down from speed. The combination of the CR’s aggressive geometry and sub-par suspension created a perfect storm of instability that was violent enough to tear the rider’s hands clean off the bars once the front end started dancing. For Supercross champs like Jeremy McGrath this was a worthy trade, but for the average Joe at Chicken Licks Raceway, the CR’s wandering nature could be a handful.
Strong off the bottom, blistering in the midrange, and shrieking on top, no other motor in motocross was close to the performance of the CR250R in 1994. Photo Credit: Honda
Once again, the front forks turned out to be the biggest disappointment in an otherwise winning motocross package. Undersprung, overdamped, and harsh in action, they were easily the poorest-performing forks in the 1994 250 class. Photo Credit: Motocross Action
For 1994, Honda’s chassis changes were aimed at toning down this this epic oscillation while not hurting the machine’s legendary turning. In this, they were only partially successful. The new chassis did provide a small increase in stability over the ’93 CR but the bike remained a very busy ride when coming down from speed. Where some riders were less enthusiastic was in the steering response of the new chassis. Compared to machines like the ’94 KX250 and YZ250, the CR remained a scalpel, but when you rode it back-to-back with the 1993 CR, the ’94 version felt far less precise. The changes to the wheelbase, geometry, and weight bias all gave the front end a less-planted feel and more concentration was required to hold a line the ’93 could have executed easily. For many riders this tradeoff was a welcome one, but most fast guys preferred the more aggressive feel of the 1993 CR.
Because the forks were shorter for 1994, Honda added a pair of caps to each stanchion to prevent the lower fork guards from catching at full extension. Photo Credit: Honda
The chassis updates for 1994 altered the CR’s handling slightly but did not change the basic DNA of the machine. Slight improvements in stability were offset by a commensurate reduction in steering precision. Even with these changes, however, the Honda remained one of the best-turning machines in the class. Photo Credit: Dirt Bike
On the suspension front, the opinions were far more unanimous. Put frankly, no one much liked the new forks on the ’94 CR250R. The 43mm Showas were undersprung, overdamped, and harsh in action. They hung down in the stroke and pummeled the rider’s wrists in the rough. Big jumps also taxed the fork’s new bottoming system and usually resulted in a substantial “thud!” If you upped the spring rate and lowered the fork oil height slightly their action went from grim to moderately livable but they remained by far the worst forks in the 1994 250 field.
While not perfect, the action of the CR’s rear suspension was far more adequate than the performance of its forks. With an upgraded spring and some careful setup the shock could be raced without too many issues. It was never going to be as plush as the damper found on the KX250, but it was certainly raceable without serious modification. Photo Credit: Motocross Action
In the rear the outlook was not nearly as hopeless. The stock spring was probably a bit too soft for anyone fast or over 150 pounds, but its action was pretty decent overall. Like the forks, bottoming could be an issue for bigger and faster riders, but the overall performance of the shock was much smoother than the front forks. Some riders also commented that the shock seemed more sensitive to track changes than many of the others and required constant fiddling to find the right settings for the conditions. Overall, the shock was a slight improvement over 1993 but far from the best damper available in 1994.
In 1994 these were the best brakes in motocross by a wide margin. Photo Credit: Honda
Jeremy McGrath raced his CR250R to his second straight 250 Supercross title in 1994. Photo Credit: Ken Faught
On the detailing front the CR offered class-leading performance in most areas. Its brakes were the strongest and most trouble-free in the class. They offered excellent power, great feel, and never needed bleeding. The additional red pigment added to the “Nuclear Red” plastic in 1993 made it much less prone to sun fading than the original 1992 version but the bodywork remained less durable than older Honda designs. Any sort of crash would leave ugly white streaks in the red fenders and the white tank and airbox were perpetually dingy and in need of scrubbing to remove marks left by the rider’s boots. Overall fit and finish were excellent with the CR offering the best grips, most-durable components, and highest-quality fasteners in the class. Reliability was class-leading as well with the CR offering a bulletproof motor that ran forever as long as you did not allow dirt to make its way into the intake.
Light and feathery in the air and with the power to conquer tall buildings in a single bound, the CR250R was a serious Supercross weapon. Photo Credit: Dirt Rider
Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of the CR’s few foibles in 1994. If you did not disassemble the airboot and airbox and carefully clean and reseal everything, small particles of debris could make their way into the intake. The stock DID rims were pretty soft as well and not up to the pounding of a hard charging rider. For them, a switch to the stronger Takasago Excel rims was advisable. Lastly, some riders were not a fan of the new bar and footpeg placement for 1994. The revised layout was more cramped for tall riders and most of them opted for a taller bar and Honda’s optional taller saddle.
The new Honda CR250R offered a slightly different take on the Honda formula in 1994. It remained the most-powerful machine in the class with the worst suspension, but chassis changes neutered some of its handling appeal. Photo Credit: Honda
Overall, the 1994 Honda CR250R turned out to be a slightly mellowed-out version of the machine that had dominated Supercross the year before. The motor was smoother and the handling was less aggressive, but the bike remained a serious machine for serious racers. With its busy chassis, powerful motor, and harsh suspension it remained a pro-level bike in need of a little polish for the common man. If you were looking for an off-the-shelf winner, the KX or YZ may have made more sense, but if you were in search of machine with the pedigree and potential to dominate the standings, the 1994 Honda CR250R was the bike to beat.
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