Honda’s CR250 is a staple in the MX world. Despite (US) production ending roughly a decade ago, Honda’s CR range continues to be a favorite with off-road aficionados, and for good reason. In the CR250’s 34 years of competition. it achieved 15 US Supercross championships and a dozen US Outdoor National championships, making it regarded as the winningest dirt bike in history. But it was only because of a random series of events and set of circumstances that the CR would even come to be.
The existence of Honda’s iconic CR range owes a lot to the marque’s earlier road racing experience. When Soichiro Honda first set his sights on international racing, he poured almost irresponsible amounts of funding into the program in ensure Honda’s competition success. While there is an undeniable marketing benefit to high-profile racing – not to mention the advancements born out of race program’s R&D – old Soichiro was willing to fork over whatever it cost to win. So after finally achieving his road racing competition ambitions, Mr. Honda felt he had accomplished what he had set out to do. At the end of the ’66 GP season, Honda threw in the towel.
A side effect of Honda’s decision to withdraw from road racing was that the marque now had a cutting edge race department with state of the art facilities and a staff made up of some of Japan’s brightest engineers with absolutely nothing to do. Maybe that is why Honda’s first CR can trace its lineage back to the RC166 — a 65bhp, 250cc, six-cylinder, race engine with four camshafts and two-dozen valves, a claimed redline of 20,000 rpm, and a supposed top speed of 150 mph. Mike Hailwood famously piloted the RC166 at the Isle of Man TT as well as other historic European events.
Honda’s race department now had a lot of free time on its hands, so a few engineers got the ball rolling on the development of a two-stroke dirt bike — despite Soichiro’s famous distain for oil-burners. According to dirt bike forum lore, Soichi was left in the dark on this little project, at least at first, meanwhile a group of Honda engineers who called themselves “The Association to Study the Motorcycle” met secretly off the clock to work on the two-stroke project.
Word almost certainly must have reached Honda’s bigwig by 1971, as that year the company took a prototype of a two-stroke MXer to a national motocross event in Mine, Yamaguchi, Japan. The appearance of the protobrapper reportedly garnered an enormous amount of hype, and this momentum was enough to convince Honda’s higher-ups to pull the trigger on making the two-stroke an official company project, dubbed “335C”.
Part of the Japanese marque’s efforts to develop what would become the CR250 consisted of sending teams of engineers to high-profile racing events where the world’s best MX teams of the era were competing. Honda’s lab coats snapped thousands of pictures and took rigorous notes that were brought back to Japan and analyzed. The data gleaned from Honda’s little MX field trips was put to use in the development of what was dubbed the “CR250M Elsinore” — with the latter part of the moniker being a nod to the American town that held the legendary off-road race event. This was obviously done to further appeal to the US market which, at the time, was selling dirt bikes like hotcakes.
In 1973, Honda finally released the Elsinore and right out of the gate the model was an enormous success. The thing came from the factory with forks that offered more than seven inches of travel and over four in back, a six-speed close-ratio gearbox, reportedly solid brakes, and a peppy engine all in a bike that weighed in at less than 200 lbs wet. The CR’s quarter-liter mill also boasted light weight alloy cylinder heads with center-mounted spark plugs, light weight alloy barrels bonded in steel liners, teflon coated piston rings, Kelhin self-lubricating brass-chrome slides, and quite a bit more all in an impressively narrow package. Magazine reviews raved about the first CR250, and for a couple years it was the dirt bike to have. At $1,145, it was affordable, too.
In ’74, Honda released a largely unchanged CR250, but as the rest of the manufacturers played catch up, Honda opted to put the hammer down in ’75 in an attempt to regain supremacy in the segment. The 1975 model year sported rear suspenders with bottom mountings which had been positioned further forward, as well as a new upswept exhaust that replaced the previous generations downswept pipe. The frame that year was also revised with the engine being positioned further forward as well. ’75 also saw the 250 undergo a pretty extensive cosmetic makeover, replacing the 250M’s green and silver livery with a new red color scheme.
The CR250 would receive more mostly cosmetic upgrades over the next few years, then in ’78 Honda unleashed a thoroughly refined machine that definitely earned the additional “R” Honda had tacked onto the model’s name. The ’78 250R came equipped with 37mm Showa forks and twin shocks in back – both of which boasted almost a foot of travel, making them best in class at the time. The fully revised model also received a new “Euro-style” engine that featured lightweight magnesium cases shrink-wrapped around the internals. The new mill also came with Honda’s first ever six-petal reed valve, a chrome bore, and an externally adjustable ignition. The output shaft on the new mill was located on the right hand side, too. The most obvious change however was undoubtedly the model’s appearance, which for ’78 had been given a whole heap of red; everything, even the engine, was painted red (well not the wheels I guess, but still. Lots of red).
Honda further upped the CR’s game the next year in ’79 when it opted to spec the model’s porting. A new “GP reed-valve” was also thrown into the mix in an effort to bolster low-end grunt. 1980 was another year that saw subtle changes to the model, however what makes 1980 so important in the history of the CR is probably what directly followed it. The ’80 model year did include a center exhaust port and a double-down-tube chassis. Plastic fuel cells were also a welcome addition for 1980. On a semi related note, 1980 was also the year Honda fired back at Yamaha and its YZ80, with the release of its on mini racer, the mini Elsinore.
In ’81 Honda released a heavily revised version of the CR that included a liquid-cooled power plant and a “Pro-Link” mono-shock rear suspension setup – both firsts for the 250. The ’81 model year was arguably a little ahead of its time, though its cutting edge components still needed another year or two to iron out the kinks. The CR250R would remain in production for another quarter-century, during which time it received countless changes and updates.
This particular 1980 CR250R was the final year the quarter-liter thumper featured a dual-rear suspension setup and an air-cooled engine, making it the last of the “original” CR’s. What makes this example so noteworthy is that it’s brand spankin’ new with zero miles on the odo. As one might expect with an example that’s never been fired up before, this CR is cosmetically stellar. I’d go as far as to say it’s in concours condition—still wearing the bubble wrap around its fender and forks that it left the factory with almost four decades ago.
You can find this zero miles, 1980 Honda CR250R “Red Rocket” for sale here on TheBikeShed in Chichester (West Sussex), England with a price of $13,400 (or £9,999).