Is less ever really more?
Both in my vehicle history and in my current garage, I own a wide variety of cars and motorcycles. Some are fast and powerful, some slow and well… NOT so powerful. In my life of vehicular experiences I have been fortunate enough to drive an open wheel racer at over twice the speed of the fastest highway in the U.S.A., and ridden a motorcycle nearly as fast (on a closed course in Mexico, obviously :-). I’ve also enjoyed autocross events where “as fast as you can go” equates to never clearing 60mph. I've pushed hard on world class racetracks and I’ve ridden off-road on intermediate level single-track motorcycle trails and taken 2 hours to go 4 miles. I feel that I can speak to the virtues of all levels of performance plenty well enough to have a good opinion on this subject.
In my own garage, I have a few rolling contradictions parked next to each other. My daily driver is an Infiniti FX45 - An early sports-CUV powered by a v8 and has roughly 2x the power of my sports car (as most of you know I have a Scion FRS). I haven’t tested it but I’d assume the Infiniti CUV would show the FRS its taillights in any sort of acceleration testing if that’s what matters (spoiler alert, it doesn’t). But when the road stops being straight, there’s ZERO chance for the Infiniti keeping up. In this case, the adage of “it’s better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow” is absolutely correct. I know it’s not apples to apples but in this case, it’s definitely not all about power. The FX may sound 5x better but it's nowhere near as fun to drive.
Another even larger contradiction I have in the garage is my motorcycle collection. I own a few, but these two in particular exploit this contrast more than any two vehicles I could imagine.
In one corner, my Honda CRF250L - an underpowered dual-sport motorcycle. While this one is road legal, the purpose of this bike in my stable is primarily to do off-road riding on ATV/OHV trails, single-track woods trails, and fire-roads. Being road-legal helps widen my options for places I can legally ride it due to laws in neighboring Wisconsin even if I do trailer it nearly everywhere I want to ride.
It has roughly 23 peak horsepower, UNDER 20lb-ft of torque and tips the scales at nearly 320lbs. Apparently it will nearly go 80mph at full tilt, but I have never tried. It does 60 fairly easily and that’s more than I will need it to do in 95% of situations in the off road riding I prefer to do.
My previous off-road bike was a YZ125 - a super lightweight Motocross race bike with a SCREAMING two-stroke engine. It was the gnarliest thing I've ever owned - so angry, powerful and high-strung. It was exciting to be on, but only really did ONE THING well - lapping a MX track.
The CRF250L is a bit more of a 'jack of all trades, master of none' off roader. Compared to a proper Motocross bike, it is slow, heavy and underpowered. But compared to RIDING a motocross bike like the YZ125 it is a great learning tool. The CRF250L is predictable, confidence inspiring and easy to get on and have fun. None of those can be said about a screaming race bike. I vastly prefer it for the kind of riding I do and my skill level.
Mainly though, It is a charming bike that is insanely fun to ride on rough terrain. I recently spent all day riding trails on it and never cleared 40mph. Much of it was spent at barely a jogging pace navigating narrow trails littered with rocks, trees, knee-deep puddles and mud berms. It has also been a great learning tool for off road techniques like slow practical wheelies (to go over large rocks and logs), a one-leg pivot turn and climbing grades too steep to walk up. Learning to stand while riding is harder than it sounds, and on the MX bike that only wanted to wheelie or stall and nothing in between was not ideal. Slow, controlled techniques that are VERY intimidating on big and/or powerful bikes are really approachable on this plucky Honda.
In the other corner is my Yamaha FZ1. It has 4x the cylinders, 7x the horsepower and 4x the torque of the little CRF250L all while weighing just 35% more. Sure it is designed to do vastly different types of riding than the Honda. It’s a streetfighter with the engine from Yamaha’s 1000cc R1 superbike as opposed to a “soft-roader” with the engine from an entry level street bike as the CRF is. The FZ1 has scared a couple of my thoroughly experienced riding friends the first time they rode it assuming they'd be prepared for the abundance of power it offers up easily. Spoiler alert: They weren't.
Now, the internet loves stats, so this David vs Goliath bout is bound to be a bloodbath. When the big bike can hit 85 miles per hour in first gear and the little bike needs all 6 to top out at a paltry 78 it’s not really a fair fight if numbers are your thing.
But honestly I am not sure which one I prefer. Obviously it depends on the situation and where I’m going to ride each one to choose, but in terms of “which one would I miss more if one disappeared?” I truly can’t choose a favorite. I genuinely love them both.
Sure, on the road there’s very little that the Honda can do to match the Yamaha. The FZ1 is blisteringly fast, brakes with the seeming force of a parachute and has wide sticky tires that can support far more lean angle than you can ever use on the street. It is truly an adrenaline rush to twist the throttle every single time you give it the beans. But with such a nuclear weapon of a bike on public roads it’s a bit overkill. I believe the highest speed limit in this country is 80mph, and being able to hit that speed without even upshifting into 2nd gear is an absolutely unnecessary amount of performance. It’s also one that you can’t use very often if you value your freedom.
I won’t say that this FZ1 is boring to ride at sane/legal speeds, but there is NO moment where you aren’t fully aware of that engine underneath you. I imagine it's similar to what driving a Hellcat would be - just a constant overabundance of power that is never actually necessary. Without traction control, driver modes or even ABS, it’s a bike that you must always treat with respect or it will definitely bite. Honestly, this is the kind of bike I like the most - the sort of PEAK analog experience before everything got complicated. While I love a high performance machine that requires caution, respect and ability to extract everything from, it’s NOT something that is conducive to learning things like wheelies or tight technical maneuvers on. Clutching up on this thing the first time was a terrifying endeavor that I don’t want to do again anytime soon. I wish I had gotten used to doing this kind of move before I bought such a monster of a bike to be honest.
On the other hand, the CRF250L is one of those machines that is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to lose control of. If you’re any level of an experienced rider you can literally hammer this thing as hard as you can and it’s not going to scare you. Bang through all the gears and keep your license. Hop up a curb at nearly any speed and it’ll barely jolt you enough to register. While working from home today (yay 2020), I put my protective gear on and practiced controlled 8-10mph wheelies going up my driveway and never had a moment of drama, worry or boredom. With barely enough power to lift the front, it’s not scary or stressful to try and learn with. It’s so confidence inspiring it wants to make you a better rider every time you throw a leg over it, as opposed to the Yamaha that insists you be quite capable of doing such things before even grabbing the key.
Sure the 250L is not exactly exhilarating when ridden on the street, and you definitely would prefer to chew highways up on the Yamaha far more than on the Honda but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
When riding this off-road the CRF250L is MORE than fast enough for me. Plenty of more experienced off road riders would be able to use a 'bigger' bike, but It’ll go faster than I need, Instead of reminding me to be humble and cautious, the CRF250L gives me support to go try things for the first time. Big steep hill with rocks to dodge along the climb? Go for it! Tractor up in 1st gear and feel like a hero! The Yamaha demands ultimate respect while delivering a capable tool for your skills. The Honda only demands you enjoy yourself and it will be a willing and supporting partner in your adventure.
I actually bought the FZ1 as something of a stop-over after selling my KTM 990 SMT. Given the low budget I felt like putting towards its replacement, the Yamaha seemed like a great idea to ride for a year or two until I felt like moving towards something else. I had NO clue how much I was going to love riding it and within the first month of owning it, the stop-gap bike became a bike I don’t foresee selling anytime soon. I really love riding it and am very happy to own it. But I’m not certain I think it’s better than the Honda. It’s certainly not 2x, 4x, or 7x better like the spec sheet would suggest.
Shy of highway use, the Honda offers the maximum amount of fun it’s capable of offering whenever I want it. I don’t have to risk going to jail to do the really fun things it’s made for. It’s also a great bike that I can share with anybody who is interested in trying out a motorcycle due to its extremely gentle and inviting personality. This is something the Yamaha is absolutely horrible about. Even seasoned riders need a bit of a briefing and a huge amount of cautionary warning before riding the FZ1.
Everyday Driver was founded on the notion that you can’t drive a spec sheet - and that makes this seemingly oddball comparo a bit more close. The FZ1 is a tremendous machine that has the potential to truly excite and be fulfilling. I absolutely love it and encourage any adrenaline junkie to experience one. Even at 14yrs old it's spec sheet is still impressive and should seal the deal quickly here. But If Smiles-Per-Mile were a stat that we measured more often, you’d be hard pressed to beat the Honda CRF250L. Sometimes less (even a LOT less) truly can be more.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report on our YouTube channel - www.thecyclereport.com - The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.