Prepping Honda’s CRF250L Rally for True Adventure, Part 1

It’s no secret that Honda’s CRF250L is a CityBike favorite. Editor Surj’s Race Tech-suspended 250L gets passed around whenever one of us needs off-road capability, and I pretty much fell in love with his well-sorted dualie after covering over 100 miles of dirt at Johnson Valley OHV Area. A year later, I began to grow embarrassed at how often I was borrowing the bike. I started looking for a CRF of my own, and a short time later Honda gave us a Rally version to test. The addition of the LED headlight and surprisingly good windshield won me over, and I acquired a lightly-used Rally with some cosmetic issues from Moto Java. 

My plan for my Rally? Duplicate Editor Surj’s 250L, with better lighting and a more enjoyable freeway experience thanks to the windshield. I began by mimicking many of his mods: Pro Taper’s CR-High bend bars with Highway Dirt Bikes NexGen handguards and their little flip-out mirrors, Zeta adjustable levers, and Fastway Evo Air footpegs, in red, of course. Comfort was addressed by the addition of a Seat Concepts seat. It was pretty much a standard issue farkle-fest.

Ergos sorted, I needed capacity for both fuel and stuff.

Ventura sent us their updated Evo rack system, CRF-specific mounts, and their Evo-10 and Evo-40 Bike-Packs.  The mounting rails use existing holes in the subframe and installed in mere minutes, providing posts to mount a rack. Even by itself, the Evo rack is thoughtfully designed and quite useful, but Ventura’s thing is their line of interchangeable bags that use a sleeve system to quickly attach to the rack. They lack the security of a topcase, but these semi-rigid packs can be quickly removed and taken with you. The system seems incredibly versatile, and the bags are sturdy, with proper zipper closures and heavy-duty stitching. Unfortunately, I ran into an issue that prevented me from utilizing the Ventura system beyond test-fitting.

Editor Surj’s 250L had spoiled me with its large-capacity IMS tank. The Rally enjoys 2.7 gallons of capacity, .6 gallons more than the standard L, but Surj’s bike carries 3.1 gallons—pretty handy when you’re taking the long way, intentionally or not. Plus, my tank had to be bigger than his.

Editor Surj suggested I look at Camel ADV’s Camel Tank, which replaces the unused toolbox on the left rear of the Rally with a 1.58-gallon tank, for a total of 4.28 gallons. An excellent solution, if a bit pricey at $399 (or $429 with tethered cap) but the downside of the system is it rules out use of a rack like the Ventura, or any of the others that use those subframe holes.

Fortunately, Surj had a used top-mount Pro Moto Billet rack hanging on the garage wall at World Headquarters that he’d planned to add to his bike, so I swapped it on in place of the Ventura rack and continued with the Camel Tank install. I regret not using the Ventura system, but upcoming adventures require that fuel capacity take priority, and we’ll mount the Ventura system on our other CRF and report back with a proper review.

I’m not an ADV guy, but I’ve seen giant 7-gallon tanks on “round the world” bikes and had heard that some require an additional fuel pump. I believe that parts left off don’t break, and the location of the Camel Tank had me worried it would require some kind of nonsense like an additional pump. I was wrong.

Camel ADV’s system is ingenious. The tank has a single outlet and a vent, and the fuel is drawn into the factory tank via the vacuum created as fuel is consumed. For many bikes, the plumbing process is a no-brainer: use the provided hose barb and hose, connect the aux tank to the vent, run the aux tank’s vent to atmosphere and ride away! The Rally is not “many bikes,” and since it’s a California model it’s equipped with a charcoal canister and purge valve. Some would remove these but I left them in place, so I had to study the diagram printed on the canister and plumb the Camel Tank’s outlet into the OEM tank vent and the vent into the canister. On a standard 250L, I wouldn’t have needed to remove the bodywork and tank, but I was forced to pay the for the luxury of the Rally at this time. Panel removal aside, installation was pretty straightforward.

I got everything correctly plumbed but my first couple rides saw my factory tank level lowering without drawing from the Camel Tank. I re-watched the install video (which features a Canadian 250L) and feared the system wouldn’t work on my bike. I sent an email to Camel HQ, but I’m impatient so I also removed the CRF’s body panels again, followed the fuel line routing and eventually found a kinked line. Repositioning the line resulted in: Ta-Da! A completely functional auxiliary fuel system!

My Rally can average about 70 MPG, so 4.28 gallons gives me a street range of well over 200 miles even when pushing it. The tradeoff compared to simply replacing the stocker with a bigger tank is a second fuel tank when it’s time to fill up, in a position that dictates dismounting to fill—not ideal for those “leaving late and low on fuel” moments. But beauty of the system is that the stock tank is unaffected when the Camel Tank is empty.

I also wanted to address a complaint I have about Surj’s 250L: lighting. The Rally’s LED beam is a step up from the standard CRF’s crappy headlight, and one of the better OEM headlights I’ve seen, but is still lacking for off-road night riding.

Light placement can be a difficult, and since the Rally is new to the market I had to fabricate my own mounts. I decided on a four-light arrangement: two on the fork and two fixed on the fairing, just below the headlight, and used generic LED lights for my trial run—in case my mounts weren’t secure, I wanted to keep my losses low. The results were better than I had expected, and I was now able to easily outride my CRF’s stock suspension at night.

That brings me to the last key upgrade. The CRF is a rather undersprung and underdamped for my 200-pound frame, so I called up Cogent Dynamics, who are well known in DR650 circles for their treatment of the back half of those bikes. After a few phone conversations with Todd from Cogent, we decided my bike would serve as their test mule, and I shipped my shock and fork tubes east.

By the time you read this, I’ll have my shock and fork back and will be prepping for the OMC’s Sheetiron event, where I hope to see my efforts come to fruition. Stay tuned for part two!

This story originally appeared in our May 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

Fish is Founder and President of the CityBike Society for the Preservation of Front Tires, which makes the CRF250L Rally kind of a weird choice.