Saturday, November 12, 2011

Riding the Honda CBR250

I'm in a bit of a quandary. A few days ago I rented a Honda CBR 250 and immediately fell in love with it. Several of the the rental places here in Chiang Mai have the new Honda and for about 25 bucks you can rent one for a day. That's what I did. Nut and I rode it to Doi Inthanon and back, a total of about 130 miles, and we both loved it. The problem is that I just bought a cherry 2005 Honda Phantom, a comfortable but underpowered cruiser. I've posted photos of the Phantom in here earlier. The thing is virtually brand new and it's a pretty bike equipped with a few farkles that I like and a few that I don't. The Englishman I bought it from put only 1000 km (620 miles) on it in 5 years. I've had it only three weeks and have put 2300 km (1420 miles) on it already. But climbing the rugged hills in northern Thailand with two riders and gear greatly taxes its little 200 cc, old technology engine.

Nut on the CBR 250 at Doi Inthanon (N18.58897 E98.48684)
Me on the CBR 250 at Doi Inthanon
As you can see I am, ah-hem, a bit on the large side for this bike, especially compared to my petite companion. (I know, I know, she's cuter too.) But the 250 can haul my big ass around easily. It's surprising how quiet and powerfully smooth the engine feels. You turn up the throttle and the power comes on quickly. At anywhere in the 4000 to 8000 rpm range its response is quick and solid. Redline is 11,500, or maybe it's 12,500, I forget, but I never got close to that in my test ride. Because I was completely unfamiliar with the bike I never went faster than about 75 mph and then only briefly. There were times when the engine lugged on a steep pitch but if I remembered to keep the revs up high enough this wasn't a problem.

The Phantom has a 200 cc air-cooled, carbureted engine. As I said, it's old technology. The CBR on the other hand is equipped with a fuel injected, dual overhead cam, 4 valve, water cooled, 250 cc powerplant. Both are single cylinder, which makes them narrow and light, but the newer bike has a sophisticated counter-balancer that was designed to eliminate much of the vibration inherent in a single cylinder motor. This seems to work quite well as I detected minimal vibration in the hand grips at any speed. The CBR can also be had with ABS as a 15,000 baht ($500 USD) option.

The reason I didn't buy a CBR at first is because it has a sportier riding position than any bike I've ever ridden and I wasn't sure it would be comfortable enough for a guy of my size and weight on a long ride. My Suzuki V-Strom was a huge bike by comparison and on it I sat almost completely upright. I was able to ride it all day without any fatigue in my arms. The Phantom has a similar seating geometry although it is much lower to the ground. I rode the CBR for about 5 hours that day and while I felt a little discomfort in my wrists it was nothing like I had feared. The seat is comfortable enough. Apparently the pillion seat is okay too because as we hustled along the highway on our return to Chiang Mai Nut yelled out, "Sell the Phantom!"

Today Nut and I took a 130 mile trip on the Phantom. Other than running around town this was our first real outing since the test ride a few days ago. I must confess to being less than impressed with the old thumper. It's noisy, underpowered and clunky. We struggled going up the hills, nothing new there, and when I got it up to the maximum speed we generally travel at, a ripping 50-55 mph, the noise was overwhelming.

So, it appears a trade of some sort is in the future. New CBR250s are not readily available. They're in short supply since Bangkok and the Honda factory there are currently flooded. A Honda salesman we talked to yesterday in Chiang Mai wasn't anxious to sell their  floor model for cash money -- he wanted to sell it on payments so they could make more money on it. In addition, they had a price tag of 129,000 baht ($4,200 USD) on it -the highest priced CBR I've seen anywhere in Thailand.

Buy new, buy used, keep the Phantom? That's my quandary. The CBR250 is a dream to ride. I hear tell they're very popular stateside. And they should be. As a low priced, high performance small-bore bike, it should be an ideal starter bike for new riders.

We're holed up in a nice little hotel, it's actually called Nice Apartments, on Ratchadamnoen Soi 1 (N18.78881 E98.99238). It's costing 330 baht per day. We walk down the street to Sailom Joy for breakfast and across the street to a little hole in the wall reatuarant that serves up some of the best northern Thai food I've ever eaten. Moo kum waan (hot, sweet marinated pork salad) and tom sap (pork bone soup with tons of Thai basil) and grilled fresh tilapia are our faves. Dinner for 2 sets me back about 200 baht - about 6 bucks. Oh, and Sailom Joy makes a pretty tasty, and good looking, latte - take a look.