CYCLE TORQUE TEST - 1999 HONDA VTR250

YOU can’t get away from the fact that Honda’s VTR250 looks like a junior member of Ducati’s Monster range – but its charms are are completely different from the brawny twins from Bologna. Four-stroke 250cc twins have come a long way in the past decade or so. They were once the object of scorn and derision (despite the fact that they sold so well) because of their low power output, high weight and indifferent handling – but that’s pretty well all changed now.

Nowadays the four-stroke 250 twins are seen as good entry-level bikes – but in actual fact they are also good for anyone, regardless of experience, looking for an easy to ride, economic machine able to turn its hand at just about anything. And the new Honda VTR has to be one of the best, because it does everything right and looks fantastic into the bargain. This is by no means the first 250cc Honda V-twin – far from it. That was the 1983 VT250F, a bike I remember well, because it was a sportsbike when I was a teenager, and I thought all the hi-tech was just great – eight valves, four camshafts, a screamingly high redline and futuristic styling. It sold well initially, but sales suffered on the back of some reliability problems.

Later examples included a fully-faired version (VT250FII) and a beam-frame unfaired model, the VT250 Spada. The latter models had had their engine woes exorcised and were competent little machines which proved that four-stroke 250s need not be slow, fat or ugly. But it has been some years since Honda discontinued the Spada. Priced at the time at $5890, it was too expensive for the early nineties and didn’t sell until Honda and dealers started discounting – which meant no-one was making any money from the bike and it quickly disappeared from showrooms. So now we have its return – certainly not the same machine, but pretty close. The price has gone up $1100 to $6990, which now makes it inexpensive, but without losing any of its appeal. There have been plenty of changes – although outwardly similar, this is an almost completely new bike.

On the road

The VTR250 is a sporty but not uncompromising machine. The riding position reflects this, with a short reach to the handlebars so you lean into the wind a little. There’s no significant weight on the rider’s wrists, nor are the footpegs so high as to cramp anyone up; however, reasonable cornering clearance is retained.

Power delivery from the V-twin is spirited, but you do have to rev it before it will give its best. The upside of this is how the engine simply thrives on a high-calorie diet of throttle – it spins up easily and will eat up the miles, all the while buzzing happily at over 10,000rpm. For many this takes a bit of getting used to, but in this respect, the less experience you’ve had, the better – if you haven’t known any difference, revving a bike hard all the time doesn’t feel strange at all. Power delivery feels pretty linear – that is, there are no nasty surprises to catch you unawares – power simply builds from idle to redline without any real steps, unlike the high performance 250s, whether they be two-stroke or four-stroke. probably the only way you could be caught out by the VTR’s power is you may be going faster than you thought, because of the relaxed (for a 250) nature of the beast, despite its high revs. Sure, there’s a little bit of vibration coming through, but it’s nothing more than a mild annoyance you soon forget about.

The engine is hung is a steel trestle-type frame, there’s an alloy swingarm and Honda’s Pro-link rear suspension. Up front is a set of non-adjustable 41mm forks. The VTR also uses the pivotless-design Honda pioneered on the VTR1000, where the swingarm bolts directly to the engine cases. This means the engine acts as the swingarm pivot point, which in theory means the frame can be made lighter without compromising rigidity. I found the suspension cried foul long before the frame did when pushing the VTR to its limits, so the chassis designers seem to have done a good job.

Handling is confident and easy.The best feature here is the bike’s really neutral steering, which makes the bike confidence inspiring, so important for learners and returnees to motorcycling. The suspension does its job reasonably well, but some will find this area a little disappointing – especially the heavier set among us. Being a small, lightweight bike, the VTR does suffer under heavy lugs like me (93kg) – after all, the poor thing does only weigh only 139kg (dry). Under hard braking the suspension can bottom out and hard riding can see some wallowing and a lack of damping at both ends – but I feel I’m being a bit hard on the bike here. It’s design brief isn’t to go hard scratching with a very experienced rider on board, so the bike was never designed to cope with those sorts of antics – and if that’s what you plan to do with your bike, I’d suggest you consider finding the extra dosh for the CBR250RR.

For the lighter and less experienced (or simply less demanding), this is a great bike. My wife, who has been riding for a couple of years and uses a Yamaha Majesty 250 scooter to commute on, enjoyed riding the VTR and never complained about the suspension or handling. She also found it quite powerful. Honda seems to have also designed the brakes with the less-experienced rider in mind, too. Although powerful, they do require a firm squeeze at the handlebar – which just might prevent a front wheel lock-up. Given this is not a bike likely to find its way to a race track for anything more serious than a ride day, this is probably the best thing. Just don’t try to stop with two fingers – the other two could end up jammed between bar and lever. The rear brake will lock, but you need to be a bit ham-footed.

There are not too many ancillary features of the bike – there is a helmet lock, but it uses a small steel cable to connect the helmet to the pin under the seat, a time-consuming and inconvenient arrangement. The headlight, levers and controls are good, but not fitting span-adjustable levers on a bike which is bound to be popular with teenagers and women was a really dumb move.

The VTR250 is a bloody good learner’s bike, no two ways about it. It has few, if any, real failings, has sporty styling without an aggressive riding position, produces reasonable power without feeling peaky and should be easy to look after. It’s also a compact size, which means smaller people should find the machine confidence inspiring, without being so slow that you might hate the machine before you’re allowed to trade up to a bigger bike. Definitely a nice machine which would be a good introduction to motorcycling.

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