Small Ones are More Juicy – 250cc Selection

There is Something About a Quarter Litre Bike

I don’t quite know why but somehow over the course of the 40 years I have been riding bikes, I’ve somehow managed to own quite a few 250cc machines. They are just big enough to be a ‘proper’ bike and still small enough to be light, flickable and fun. Well some of them are…

So my 250cc odyssey started just after I passed my bike test in 1984: I couldn’t afford a big capacity bike, something like a GPz550, so I went for the quickest 250 then on the market: The Yamaha RD250LC. That was 36bhp of pure two-stroke fun. What a great bike it was. Fast; just over 100 mph could  be squeezed out of it when your mate with the slightly downhill private test track gave you free reign (ahem). The LC also handled and stopped well. Compared to the CB100N that I had been riding up to then it felt like a major upgrade.

Man I loved that LC

I kept the LC for about a year and enjoyed some brilliant adventures on it. Ride-outs to rallies with my bike club, a superb trip down to Cornwall with a mate on a GS250T Suzuki. On one memorable ride while on that trip I massively out-braked myself on a twisting downhill section. I wound up taking to a dusty escape road!  The LC bounced along it gradually loosing speed, while I was barely keeping the thing upright. We came to a halt right at the end , swathed in swirls of dust. I looked around and the eyes of my terrified passenger were wide open and staring. In addition his fingers had all but crushed my grab rail as he was gripping it so tightly – oops!  Many other blasts and just loads of general messing about followed.  The two-stroke buzz was such that I sold it to help pay for a RD350 YPVS, aka ‘The Power Valve’ , it’s bigger brother . Now that was a motorcycle, but those tales are for another day

A Bit More Sensible. Well Much More Sensible Actually

Back to the 250s and next up was perhaps the most divisive of the them all. The Honda CB250N Superdream. The poor old Superdream is to some degree looked down on by many to this day. Nowhere near as fast, or perhaps more crucially, as cool as a Yamaha RD or a Suzuki X7. The fact is the dowdy Honda sold in much bigger numbers than either of those bikes.

If you’re trying to look cool, don’t wear cheap trainers and an Arran jumper. Oh, and don’t sit on a Superdream! 

I came across my 1978 example in mid-1984 on sale for pennies. The thing was in good condition,  had a rack / top box and a truly awful handlebar fairing. I seem to remember paying £100 for it. That wasn’t a lot even back in 84! I immediately pressed into service as my commuter hack, whilst my 250LC was reserved for the fun weekend stuff.

The poor old Superdream was rather out-gunned by the LC that I had at the same time

The rear suspension was taken care of by a pair of the infamous FVQ spring/damper units. Everybody used to say that stood for Fade Very Quickly. True to form they had indeed faded very quickly and the bike pogoed through corners in a way that Zebedee would be proud of. I cured this by obtaining another bike, yet another Superdream. I was actually given this one! It had been in an accident and so long as I could collect quickly it was mine gratis.

My parents hallway is a thoroughfare!

The best memory I have of this unfortunate example was how I wheeled it through my parents house; a neat semi-detached house in a leafy Birmingham suburb. Let me tell you it is tricky to push a bike with bent forks through a narrow porch door, then a front door before tackling a long hallway, taking a sharp right into the lounge and then out through a pair of ‘French-Doors’ on to our yard! What made all this sweat and tears worthwhile was that this battered old thing had some shiny new Girling rear shocks! I quickly swapped these over to my other example and the handling issue was promptly sorted.

The crashed one. I can’t remember what I did with the front wheel. Note the missing shocks

Not too much later the two Superdreams were traded in as part of the same deal that saw the  RD350 YPVS come into my life. This meant I remained without a 250 for awhile. Then I crashed the YPVS into the side of a Bedford TK. I think it was the law if you had a YPVS to crash it in those days! That was if you hadn’t had it nicked by then. The 80’s was fun.  The upshot of all this was that I needed another bike in a bit of a hurry. So I bought a tidy looking Kawasaki KH250B5 to use while I attempted to piece the YPVS back together.

Classic? Are you kidding?

Now the KH is revered and viewed as a classic. However I hated my example. It wasn’t all that quick and I could never get the thing to run properly. The air-cooled 2 stroke had three sets of points if memory serves. Kawasaki themselves tacitly admitted it was fiddly to set up by including a neat rack under the seat for spare spark plugs!

If you look closely you can see my stricken YPVS lurking in the garage

The most notable event in the brief period that I owned this miserable device was having to ride in the coldest conditions I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Temperatures in the winter of 85/86 plummeted and I had to head out over the seven miles to work as they hit as low as -15ºC! This was added to by several inches of snow. It was not fun battling through it on a temperamental spluttering 2 stroke triple. A few weeks later I was glad to see the back of the thing and got a bus pass. That’s how much I hated it. Classic? You have to kidding!

Taking a break for a while

So another period sans 250 followed as I had patched up the RD350 by now. I was a happy boy once more. Then one Friday evening the RD started to misfire and then barely run. Great, the CDI had gone west and I needed to be somewhere a long way away in short order the next day. Brilliant. I couldn’t wait for parts so went out and bought, you guessed it another 250. This time a Honda CB250RS-A, a plucky little single putting out 26bhp if I recall correctly.

This picture was taken after I sold the RS. My mate still has the bike

Well this turned out to be a bike that provided fun in a measure well beyond its meagre power output would lead you to believe possible. I used the RS intensively over the next 3-4 months and managed to rack up around 9000 miles on  this plucky little machine

The RS pounded between Birmingham and Norfolk every weekend as I had moved over to the East coast for work. I also took the Honda up to Northumberland. This was all taken in its stride and on one occasion I squeezed an indicated 90 mph out of it. I was been pushed on by one of those vast double-decker express coaches in the outside lane of the M6. I couldn’t get over due to the traffic. Thank God those things are governed these days.

Overall the CB250RS is a way better bike than its 250 Superdream stable-mate. However excellent the service it gave me I didn’t need it once I had a permanent base in Norfolk. So a mate bought it from me in early 1987. He still owns it to this day. That says a lot about how good they are.

A return to a 2-stroke

Next up on my quarter litre journey was another RD. But his time a ‘coffin-tank’ air-cooled model of 1980 vintage. It was about seven years old by the time I picked it up, but had only covered about 5k miles. I didn’t pay much for it, but despite it being great fun to ride I don’t have much use for it. So it led a quiet life really apart from one crazy blat to Dorset from Norfolk in company with a lad riding a FT500.

Looks so cool in those KR colours

I had to move it on after cracking a piston trying to keep up with a boy-racer driving a Ford Escort XR3i. I had him comfortably in hand on acceleration, but top end was a different story. The RD lost power and I eventually  tracked down the issue to a  cracked piston. So I sold it to a dealer by memory as the poor thing still idled perfectly. Naughty boy really

Back to plodding

Move on a couple of years and for reasons lost in the mists of time I bought another Superdream. This one the snazzy DX model. Reverse ‘com-star’ wheels, little spoiler on the tailpiece. Shame it was clapped out. I didn’t use it much and sold it at a bit of loss. About the only notable thing I did with this pile of poo was, appropriately enough, go and buy nappies for our then newly born daughter. She was going through them at a rate of knots at that point. Not the most glorious of memories, but there you go.

Not my actual bike, but it was just like this one. Note the ‘spoiler’ on the tail piece 

A bit of a Hiatus, then a fun single again

Well that put me off 250s for a good while and another 12 years passed before I made a comeback: Another CB250RS, but the posh deluxe model this time. Notable amongst the mostly cosmetic upgrades was an electric starter. Shame that it only worked occasionally! This one I enjoyed too and rode quite a lot over the next few years. The RS is a great bike. You really can have such a lot of fun on them on urban and country roads in particular.

Simple, fun

The RS was at its best on that kind of running along with commuting occasionally. Best memory was a proper silly dice riding it in company with a mate on a SRX400. They were well matched and you don’t have to have a huge bhp output to enjoy a bike to the full. However generally it just got on with things and being a good bike.

Like all my other 250’s with the exception of the LC it was my second bike and in three years I notched up a few thousand miles. I sold it when a FZ600 caught my eye on eBay.  Like my other RS it is still with the lad I flogged it to back in 2006. Another testament to how decent a bike they are.

So How do they all rate?

So that’s it, eight 250cc bikes over twenty-two years. So which was best?

  1. Yamaha RD250LC – My first big bike and a bonafide classic now
  2. Honda CB250RS – Fun and dependable
  3. Honda CB250RS-D – As number 2!
  4. Yamaha RD250E – Great bike, but it did blow up!
  5. Honda CB250N-A – Effective but dull
  6. Honda CB250N-DX – The one I owned was a bit of a shed
  7. Kawasaki KH250 – Sounded great, other than that it was dire
  8. Honda CB250N-A – This was the crashed one!

So no more 250’s have graced my garage since 2006 apart from a fun blast on Kawasaki KR1S last summer and couple outings on dirt bikes, I have not even ridden a 250 in recent years.

However I do keep an eye on the new 250cc bikes and a Lexmoto Vendetta does take my eye. If only the name didn’t remind me of a posh ice cream!

Anyway that concludes my tale, I hope you enjoyed the ride!

Words and pictures Tony Donnelly

More 250 based reading, just in case you are not completely bored yet:

Yamaha RD250E

Blasts From my Past – Yamaha RD250LC – Autumnal Adventures

Kawasaki KR1S – Way More Fun Than a DeLorean!

Lexmoto Vendetta 250 – Is it me or are Chinese bikes getting cooler by the minute?