The Looking Glass Magazine

Jack Corbett crash tests Honda 250 CBR Motorcycle

Honda 250 CBR Kamikazi
Original picture "Thunder Gods, The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story",  First Ed. 1989 Hatsuho Naito, p. 135

 

Is the new Honda 250 CBR motorcycle the best all around motorcycle for Thailand? I  broke my clavicle to find out.

I rented a beautiful example in silver, which brought back so many memories of that gorgeous silver 1958 MGA roadster I had when I was 16 and wound up in two hospitals to give you the ultimate road test while trying to relive the nostalgic moments of my youth. The constant pain of my smashed collarbone as I struggle to type proves to me that I will do almost anything for a good story, but you my dear reader deserve the best that I am capable of delivering. Perhaps Iíll call this "Jack the human projectile on a fast flying trajectory to deliver you the ultimate road test".

I wanted to thoroughly test three bikes for the Looking Glass, the Ninja 250, Hondaís new 150 CBR model, and the CBR 250 which topped my short list. Luckily I found a Honda 250 CBR for rent near Soi 13/2 on Pattayaís Beach Road. After just a few minutes of paperwork, two days rent of 1000 baht and another 1000 baht damage deposit I was off on my new silver play toy.  My greatest fear  would be that I'd love the bike so much that Iíd soon wind up buying one.

For the first two blocks I never made it out of 1st gear due to the awkward placement of the gear shift lever. So I took a right on the first soi to stop and find out why my left foot was not connecting with the little shift pedal. It was not quite where I expected it to be. A few moments later I was weaving happily between cars on Second Road in second and third.

Other than the bad placement of the shift pedal I found out three key facts in my first five minutes on the bike. FirstĖit felt narrower than I expected and far better at slicing through traffic than I had envisioned this 250 to be capable of. Secondly, it had terrific acceleration  to any speed Iíd ever contemplate taking a vehicle through Pattayaís insane traffic.  Lastly, the manual transmission and chain seemed pretty rough compared to the seamless power transfer of the new automatic scooters. The comparison is the difference between state of the art and prehistoric. Sorry all of you manual transmission lovers out there but chain driven motorcycles in horrific Pattaya traffic conditions simply donít cut it.

Several hours later I almost had to kidnap my girlfriend to join me for a short joyride. The killer was Nakluaís almost endless supply of speed bumps. A survivor of several motorbike accidents my girlfriend had developed a healthy terror of all two wheeled vehicles. The much bigger tires, substantially heavier weight of the CBR compared to my Yamaha Nouvo Elegance and superior suspension offered a smoother ride over the bumps, but I had to slow down to avoid terrifying the poor girl  resulting in  a lot of chain rattling from being in too tall a gear for crossing speed bumps (which is anything over 1st). With one of the new automatics one can approach at a snailís pace without as much as a hiccup from the drive train.

But on the highway the 250 CBR is better than Sliced Bread

CBR 250 on beach near Rayong

The here begins at the gas station. My fuel gauge is already registering almost half a tank and the attendant still gets 310 baht in. I now have the range to put a lot of distance in without refueling. The Hondaís tank holds 13.2 liters whereas my Yamaha Nouvo Elegance holds a paltry 4.8 liters. I figure the trip to Rayong should take roughly one hour so I should get back and still have well over half a tank left. Of course the Elegance will get around 100 miles per gallon whereas initial reports have the 250 getting over 60.

Heading to the lights on Naklua Road I spot a few motorcycles ahead of me and blow right by them. I figure this thing will do zero to sixty in six to six and a half seconds so at least here in Pattaya I can be the king of the road. Soon Iím on Sukamvit heading towards route 36. My Elegance will handle this well enough to be able to accelerate in and out of traffic so that I can get into the far right laneĖthe fast lane. Still, many cars are going far too fast and they arenít about to slow down or to give up the right of way for motorcycles so although the Elegance is fast enough it doesnít have nearly the horsepower to decisively put me out in front of the danger zone. The CBR does. It gets me up to sixty right now and if I pour on the power and see my way clear of some imbecile zooming up behind me in my mirrors Iíll be far enough ahead of the traffic to feel reasonably safe. The 250 has disk brakes on both the front and rear so I can decelerate fast. And the suspension makes childís play of any imperfections in the pavement that scare me shitless on a scooter. I see the sign for route 36 and get over far to my right. Here I must turn off Sukamvit to get onto the highway. But with the 250 I donít have to play defense against every motorist whoís out to kill me out of his impatience and stupidity. I have the braking power and acceleration to call my own shots instead of having to become a victim to faster vehicles. By the time Iím well under way on route 36 itís obvious this thing is going to go a lot faster while giving me the sense of no longer having cars bully me into taking the narrow stretch of pavement to the left of the main highway. This is the lane all the scooters travel on and most of the scooters are Honda Waves and even lesser beasts going only thirty to forty miles an hour.


thumbnail CBR 3I can hit 100 kph quickly and feel at one with the traffic around me. Thereís little vibration in the Honda 250 CBRís engine until then. Two or three times Iím up to 120 kph which is roughly 75 miles an hour. Thatís fast enough for Thailand. Iíve already figured out the bike is good for about 85 miles an hour. In the real world this bikeís a pretty good match for my first bikeĖa Honda 350 CB which had 36 horsepower on paper. The 250 is down about 11 horsepower but itís just as fast to sixty. A lot of bike magazines gave the 350 a 104 mile per hour top end but donít believe it. It was a 90 mile per hour machine. Vibration creeps into the Honda 250 CBR after 100 kph. Itís only a one cylinder after all. So figure the 250 is a 60 mile per hour cruiser which is just about right for Thailand yet it has reserves of power to get you around faster traffic.   But I want to make one thing clear--what I mean, "it's basically a 60 mile per hour cruiser" is that the limiting factor is vibration, not lack of power or that the engine has to work too hard at much faster speeds, and vibration is a subjective point.  Some riders will think it's not bad at all while others will feel it's a bit uncomfortable when you take it much past 60.  

My old 650 BMW boxer could cruise all day at 70 to 80 miles an hour. Neither the 350 CB or the 250 CBR is in this class but this is Thailand and if you think you can go all day at 75 to 80 and live to be an old man you can forget it. Less than a week ago I actually encountered a Thai pushing a hand cart right down the middle of Sukamvitís far left lane. Unbelievable. The moron level here is so much higher than it is in the West.

My two Norwegian pals Per and Kjell do this same drive on route 36 pretty often, Per on his PCX, Kjell on a Honda Airblade he often rents. Per tells me he never goes more than 80 kph on his PCX. When I did my road test with Per running his PCX against my Nouvo Elegance, we were going up to 110 kph but averaging around 90 or so. The PCX with its large (for a scooter tires) is a better highway bike than my Elegance. Figure that you are doing 80 on either one and here Iím averaging 100 on the 250 CBR and you are going to Rayong 20 kph faster. Thatís just 12 miles an hour which means you will arrive about ten minutes earlier. But Iím loving this silver 250. It has great brakes and I donít feel that I must relegate myself to the scooter lane. Iím no longer being bullied by much faster cars. And its brakes are designed to stop the 350 pound bike very quickly. My old Honda 350 CB had a drum in the rear with a single disk on the front. So the 250 is a much more proficient stopper. Once again Iím reminded of the silver MGA I learned to drive when I was sixteen. And my first trip to my grandmaís which was only sixty miles on the back roads of Illinois when I had the top down enjoying a sunny day when even a short trip was a big deal to a newbie driver. "If I get one of these terrific bikes it has to be silver," I promise myself. But it would spend most of its time in the condo parking lot, because realistically it is no match for my Elegance in city driving. But I sure could inject all that old nostalgia back into my life with one of these little gems.

A good friend had just bought a condo on the beach close to Rayong. My brain kept telling me, "This is a road test. Leave it at that. Just drive the bike for 1 hour then turn around and come right backóthen go promptly to the same place I had bought gas to check its fuel economy. Itís far less dangerous." But I decided to see my friend and had gotten directions from my him.

Which turned out to be lousy directions. I got off route 36 too early and spent over half an hour getting lost. It took about three phone calls for my friend to figure out where I was driving up and down the beach over ten miles from where I should have been. I had also made the mistake of renting the bike on a two day Thai holiday. Which is why I had started out early--to avoid a lot of the traffic that I was sure would come my way.  But by the time I got straightened out on my directions the traffic was getting a little heavy. I finally landed on Sukamvit in Rayong and had to drive a few miles to a stop light where my friend had  directed me to make a right turn. The street I'd turn into would take me to a long stretch along the beach that would ultimately lead me to my friendís condo.

 

Nurse I pulled alongside Sukamvit to call David a final time to see if this was the light I should be turning at. But by the time I got off my cell phone the traffic had gotten to be far worse. A large knot of cars zoomed by me as I waited for my opening, then I accelerated over to the far right lane and threaded my way through the traffic that had just piled up on my way to the light. The light had been working but by the time I got to the spot I needed to be to make a ninety degree turn onto the street that would take me to Davidís condo, it was no longer working. Then I heard the police carís siren one lane to my left and behind me. The policeman had to be after me, I reasoned. He just couldnít get right behind me due to the pileup of traffic. Iím a Westerner driving a brand new Honda 250 CBRĖa prime target for any policeman wanting to pocket an easy 500 baht. Heíd figure there was an excellent chance I was driving a rental and that I wouldnít have a Thai driverís license. A German friend of mine had been ticketed driving his Kawasaki 650.  The policeman accused him of speeding but when Michael suggested that speeding was impossible due to the traffic congestion all around him, the policeman initially backed off. When the policeman accused him of another heinous crime he never committed Michael told the officer, "Fine, I drive to the police station, go inside, and they can decide in there if I should pay or not". But when he drove to the police station and discussed the situation inside, he was informed, "Itís up to the officer outside waiting for you. You must pay something." Michael paid and got on with his life. So here I am first in line to make the right turn at the traffic light with a police car practically on my ass with his siren blaring. There should be a right arrow on the traffic light, but there is nothing and thereís cars behind me wanting to make the right onto the street that will take me to my friendís condo.

"Do I go for it or not?" Surprisingly the northbound traffic on Sukamvit back to Pattayaís not moving. Thereís three lanes of northbound traffic to contend with and Iím scared shitless that a car will cross the intersection and drive right into me. I decide to go for it, and Iím in luck. Iíve make it safely to the other side of Sukamvit, but out of habit I decide to go for the left shoulder of the road to see if the policeman is after me or not. Iím hitting both brakes as I head to the far left side of the left lane heading West when suddenly the bike goes down. There is no warningĖno sliding of the tires. Nothing. One second Iím in total control of the bike and probably going no more than 30 kphĖthe next my beautiful silver rental is inexplicably hurled into the pavement. Iím still on the bike but I feel the sudden jolt to my shoulder. It feels like Iím a half back on an American football team who has just been tackled by a building. The pain is massive. And I canít move my right arm at the shoulder. Something is very wrong. Then I see blood seeping onto the bikeís instruments and handlebars. Most of it is coming from my right hand.

Nurses at Bangkok Pattaya HospitalThe bloodís the least of my problems. My first thought is, "How much is it going to cost me to repair this bike? I manage to pull the bike off the pavement and get it up on its kick stand. But my shoulderís feeling like itís been hit by a 45 automatic. Now donít ask me how I know what it feels like to be hit by a 230 grain slug from a 45, so if you choose to argue that I donít know what the hell Iím talking about, Iíll just leave it at, "It feels like Iím hit by a 45, or perhaps a 30-06. Something very powerful and my shoulder simply isnít working. Suddenly I start to feel very sick in my stomach and almost vomit on the spot. Leaning into the bike I wait for the nausea to pass and for my brain to start functioning again. Meanwhile, thereís no police car stopping for me. Thereís no one around. No oneís helping. But Iím so pissed off that Iím beyond the point of caring. If it had not been for that policeman shooting off his siren I wouldnít be in the situation Iím in. And if it hadnít been for the traffic lightís failure to keep functioning I would be happily cruising down this road to Davidís condo. Itís then that I see the sand sprinkled heavily along the pavement. The strip of sand is only four or five feet wide. Itís not even a sand patchĖjust a heavy sprinkling like an egg would look after you put salt and pepper on it.

It's time to do a damage assessment. I manage to get to the bikeís right side. The large gas tank is still letter perfect. But the chrome muffler shield that protects human legs from getting burned from a hot exhaust pipe is scuffed up pretty badly. The right front turn indicator is bent. The right rear view mirror has abrasions on it so it must be replaced along with the muffler and right turn indicator. Other than this, the bike has emerged almost unscathed.

"If I can get this bike started, I should forget about seeing David and just turn around, and take route 36 straight back to Pattaya. With luck my shoulder is only bruised. I can get the bike straight to my Honda dealership, they can order new parts from the large Mityan dealership it's affiliated with and I can get my shoulder checked out at Bangkok Pattaya Hospital. Perhaps my girlfriend wonít even know whatís happened and my shoulder will only be badly bruised," I tell myself. I'm deluding myself.  "And if my shoulder is badly damaged perhaps I have a good hour to get the bike either to the hospital or dealership before it becomes completely immobilized.  But I feel like my shoulder's been crushed by a bulldozer blade.

"This is fucking embarrassing," I then tell myself. "I want to get this bike out of here, on the road again, away from prying minds and Thai motorists muttering to themselves, "Stupid falang. Thinks he can drive a Honda 250 but obviously heís out of his league."

"But shit, Iíve driven BMW motorcycles at over 220 kph. This bike might be Thailandís latest and greatest, and along with the Ninja 250 the fastest thing on two wheels selling for less than 150,000 baht brand spanking new, but itís still only a 250 which is a far cry from that gorgeous K-100 RS BMW I had bought as my last street bike in the U.S. I had once made it to Chicago from my farm with my wife sitting behind me in just 2 Ĺ hours when it should have taken me over four hours. I remember that Z-28 Camaro sneaking up behind me to fuck with me and how I completely blew him off. That bike could cruise all day at 100 miles an hour and it would feel like I was just doing 60 on a lesser machine.

Luckily for me this was only a 250. Because I had only 350 pounds to manhandle back into an upright position. Which was not bad for having just suffered a broken clavicle. My BMW would have weighted 504 pounds dry and its narrow handle bars wouldnít have given me much leverage. I tried to start the 250. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing happening. "Now whatís wrong?" I asked myself. And then I saw that the emergency engine shutoff switch was in the off position. I must have shut it off right after the bike had gone down. Either that or I my hand had been in a perfect position and had brushed it into the closed position upon impact.

The bike started instantly as soon as I turned the switch back on. Managing to get back on the bike with my legs on each side of the large gas tank I did a final assessment. My shoulder hurt like hell. But dammit, I could still drive. If it hadnít been for that useless cop who probably had his siren on because the lights had quit on everyone and he was in too much of a hurry to see his mistress or to have coffee with his buddies, I wouldnít be in this situation. Whatever he was doing with his siren blaring had to be for some selfish purpose or another. Thatís because the American motto adopted by police departments all over the country of "serving and protecting" is practically unknown here. I had long ago decided that Thai policemen are as useless as tits on a boar. And if the Thais had scraped that sand off the road I wouldnít have had to scrape myself off the pavement either. And why had the traffic light suddenly stopped working? Just a couple of minutes before it was working?  Perhaps that cop had been running interference for one of Thailand's upper caste heroes. 

"Why hell yes, I can get myself out of this one," I promised myself.

I knew my shoulder was a goner as I drove the next 10 kilometers to Davidís condo. Although I wanted to wait until I could get back to Pattaya to go to the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital, David and his wife convinced me to get treated at the Rayong hospital instead. David made the very valid point that it was part of the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital chain. At the hospital the emergency room doctor told me after looking at my x-rays that I had two choices. Either I could be operated on or I could simply use a sling and allow my clavicle to heal itself. I had two nurses doting on me as the doctor stitched my right hand up. A half an inch chunk of meat had been gouged out. My right knee was cut up pretty badly. Other than that, I was perfectly fine. The nurses injected anti-biotics and pain killer into my left arm and put a dressing on my right knee and right hand after the doctor finished making his sutures. Suddenly a bright idea hit me.

"David, do you still have my camera with you?"

"Yes. Itís in my truck."

"Go get it. Weíre taking pictures. If Iím writing a review on the 250, then we are going to make quite a story about it.

A few moments later, David came back with my latest jewel of a camera. It was Panasonics latest and greatest with a 2.0 Leica lens on it that I had bought because I felt it could do terrific video out of a very compact package.  David managed to only get two or three shots off, when the prettier of the two nurses started to go ape shit, telling him to stop taking pictures.

I then pulled out a business card which said in both English and Thai that I was a writer, and that I wanted her for my story, that she was very beautiful. Earlier after she had managed to get my shirt off she told me I had an excellent body.  (Well, I think she really meant to say, "relatively speaking--it's good for an old sucker like you"). She wasnít really all that beautiful but she had an attractive petit figure and seemed very nice overall.

Now Iím getting off subject. Iíll write about all those attractive nurses in my next issue of the Looking Glass and call the sequel to this bike review, "After the shit happens." So back to the bike. Luckily David had a pickup truck. We hired a couple of Thai guys to get the 250 into the bed of his pickup. They found a wide board lying about. Iím almost certain that had the bike been my BMW K-100 RS that its over 500 pound weight would have smashed right through the board resulting in further damage to the bike. David had a short bed and it wasnít quite long enough to contain the length of the bike so we ended up mounting it so that its rear tire crossed the tail gate. David had some straps in his condo that he had once used to strap his Honda Air Blade down but the Air Blade only weighs around 220 pounds. The 250 CBR weighs 350 which is quite a difference. The straps werenít real bike straps either. Luckily we were able to get the bike back to Naklua without further incident. At the condo building near mine where David used to live we got the condo security guard to get a couple of other male employees to get the bike down to the ground and off his pickup bedĖthis time without using a board.

So how would I assess the Honda 250 CBR overall? First off Iím going to say straight off that if you are living in a city such as Pattaya or Bangkok that a Yamaha Nouvo Elegance or Honda PCX is a far better choice. The pros and cons of automatic versus manual transmission can be debated endlessly. But hereís the real kicker. Iím going to fast forward to after I finally got an operation at Bangkok Pattaya Hospital and had a titanium plate screwed into my shoulder to get my clavicle into the correct position. I had a German friend take the 250 back to the rental place. We had to wait for parts to arrive from Bangkok. This meant my having to rent the bike for several more days while it waited at my local Honda dealership for the parts to arrive. My total cost was just 2900 baht for the repair. Around here itís speed bump city and whenever I rode on the back of either my bike or the 250 every time weíd hit a speed bump the pain was excruciating. My German friend couldnít drive that 250 from speed bump to speed bump smoothly and once had the engine cut out on him because he tried to take a speed bump in 2nd gear. My friend is a retired architect and heís one of these typical German perfectionists who appreciate fine machinery. He had once owned a Honda PCX and had been telling me exactly what itís fuel economy was and what a great bike it is, but the bike had been stolen while he was visiting his mother at Bangkok Pattaya Hospital. And then he bought a Honda Scoopy once his Honda dealer told him that the PCX was a theft magnet. Together Ludwig and I concluded that a bike such as the Honda 250 CBR absolutely did not belong in a situation such as ours that called for a steady diet of city driving. Ludwig followed my girlfriend and me on his bike to a favorite restaurant of mine. I wonít be able to drive a bike for at least six weeks so my girlfriend was the driver while I being her passenger had to endure everyone of ten speed bumps on the way to the restaurant. My girlfriend was able to feather the throttle of my Nouvo Elegance so that she was able to carefully drive over each speed bump at a speed barely fast enough to keep the bike from tipping over. The power transfer is so smooth on these new automatics and the shifting of gears is non existent. The automatic transmission coupled with a drive belt is simply superior technology. The constant stop and go of city traffic and having to slow down for obstacles including but not limited to speed bumps not only is not the CBRís forte, it makes driving an unenjoyable experience. Not that itís all that bad but because the new automatics are magic carpets in comparison. But if your driving consists of a lot of country roads with little city traffic, the CBR is probably about as good as it gets. Itís more sport bike than a cruiser so it subjects the driver to a slightly crouched position but overall the driving position is not bad. Iím 64 and bikes such as the Ninja because they look like racing machines would make an old guy such as myself seem out of place. The CBR doesnít or if it does, it doesnít make me appear nearly as ridiculous. The power comes on very strong all the way to sixty miles an hour and the bike is only 1 inch wider than my Nouvo Elegance from mirror to mirror or across the handle barsĖso yes, it can slice and dice through city traffic pretty well. The bike at 350 pounds is still relatively light yet itís got enough weight and tire size to make highway cruising a very enjoyable proposition. Itís fast enough to put its driver on an equal or even superior footing with fast moving automobile traffic. It offers enough fuel economy and fuel tank capacity to allow its owner to go over 200 miles between fuel ups. Lastly in my mind, itís a good looker, that can match for most purposes my first bike, the Honda 350 as far as all around ride ability in a variety of conditions.   As far as how it is going to stack up against its sibling, Honda's newly redesigned 150, I can't say because I haven't driven the new 150 except for a brief stint in a supermarket parking lot.  Some will say the 150 will be better in high traffic conditions because it's smaller or narrower.  I think the 250 will be just as good.  Keep in mind it's just 1 inch wider than the Nouvo Elegance.  I doubt that the new 150 is going to be much narrower than its bigger brother.  And I don't think the weight difference will be that noticeable. 

The trouble with it is itís got only two wheels. After this latest accident Iím starting to feel like those Japanese suicide kamakazis must have felt in their rocket propelled Ohkas that would allow them to crash into American ships at over 600 miles an hour.  Right now a car is starting to look very good to me in combination with my Nouvo Elegance for the shorter trips

Honda CBR 250 1Honda CBR 250 2Honda 250 3

Honda 250 4Honda 250 5Honda 250 6

In the next Looking Glass Issue----the sequeló"When the shit happens"Ėthe hospital aftermath.

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