MXA RETRO TEST: WE RIDE JUSTIN BARCIA’S 2012 GEICO HONDA CRF250
We get misty-eyed sometimes thinking about past bikes we loved and those that should remain forgotten. We take you on a trip down memory lane with bike tests that got filed away and disregarded in the MXA archives. We reminisce on a piece of moto history that has been resurrected. Here is our test of Justin Barcia’s 2012 Geico Honda CRF250.
“Aggressive” is the best word to accurately describe Justin Barcia’s Geico Honda CRF250. The engine rips, the brakes are sensitive, and the suspension is set up for a 144-pound man-child.
The last 250 Nationals of 2012 marked the end of a chapter in motocross lore. Justin Barcia, the wild child known for his long blond locks and aggressive riding style, moved up to the 450 class full-time following the outdoor series final moto. “Bam Bam” fittingly won the last moto of his 250 career at Lake Elsinore. Moving to the Muscle Milk factory Honda team for 2013 and beyond, Justin had to leave the Geico Honda squadron behind. And, fortunately for us, he also left his Honda CRF250 race steed behind—easy pickin’s for the MXA wrecking crew. Seeing an opening, we pressed team manager Mike LaRocco and lead engine technician Kristian Kibby about giving us Justin Barcia’s left-over bike. They happily obliged.
SEEING AN OPENING, WE PRESSED TEAM MANAGER MIKE LAROCCO AND LEAD ENGINE TECHNICIAN KRISTIAN KIBBY ABOUT GIVING US JUSTIN BARCIA’S LEFT-OVER BIKE. THEY HAPPILY OBLIGED.
Justin Barcia’s bike is a work of art. It was built by the Geico Honda team but crafted out of several hundred unique parts. Fortunately, the technicians were forthcoming about quite a few of the nitty-gritty details. There is a melding of factory Honda, aftermarket, commissioned and stock parts that made Bam Bam’s CRF250 a reality. Here’s the list.
(1) Engine. The powerplant is the meat and potatoes, and it’s what Kristian Kibby spends the bulk of his time on. Although Kibby wouldn’t provide all of the details on Barcia’s engine, he did state that the team works with a cylinder head company from the automotive world. There’s a high-lift camshaft, titanium valves, copper blend valve seats and Vortex ignition. Geico Honda is constantly working on revisions to the porting and coming up with small changes all of the time. The engine isn’t one-stop shopping. Whether the technicians are developing parts or calling upon another company, they always strive for the best performance. The beauty is that the team is free to work with whomever they wish. It’s worth mentioning that Barcia runs Renegade Racing SX4+ fuel.
Every engine is assembled in-house and put on the dyno. A race engine gets torn apart after every race, but that’s more for inspection purposes. As Kibby joked, “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we were going to the beach all week and crossing our fingers on the race weekends, hoping that the engines would hold together.” Each engine is torn down, inspected and cleaned. They might not change many of the internal parts, though; most of the weekly replacement items are the bearings and piston rings.
(2) Throttle body. Up until the 2012 Millville National, Barcia and his teammates used the stock Keihin throttle body, but then they switched to the all-new R&D Racing rotary-style throttle body. Throughout the summer, Wil Hahn remained in California and tested with the Geico Honda technicians while the rest of the riders stayed in their respective areas (Barcia in Florida, Eli Tomac in Colorado and Justin Bogle in Oklahoma). Hahn acted as the test mule, and he spent four solid days of testing to make sure that the R&D Genius throttle body was ready to be used in primetime. Once the rest of the team riders tried it, they immediately made the switch to the aftermarket throttle body. That speaks volumes for the R&D unit.
(3) Gearing/mapping. Gearing was very stable throughout the season. Barcia would swap between a 50- and a 51-tooth rear sprocket, depending on track conditions and layout. Every rider had the option of running different gearing, but in the end they all went between those two rear sprocket choices. As for mapping, the team changed settings quite a bit throughout the Nationals. Why? There are a lot of changes that needed to be made because of weather. A lot of times Barcia’s bike didn’t use an O2 sensor or have any real way of identifying the air quality. When it was very cold or hot, the team would manually override the mapping changes. Kibby discovered that once Barcia switched to the R&D throttle body, the mapping settings were entirely different. The mapping that he used on the OE (original equipment) throttle body didn’t comply with the R&D throttle body. Understandably, Barcia had new map settings at every single outdoor race.
GEICO HONDA WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TEAMS TO USE THE MOTO TASSINARI TUNABLE AIR4ORCE INTAKE BOOT, WHICH THEY HAVE RELIED ON SINCE THE MIDDLE OF THE 2010 SEASON.
Note the oil cooler, which uses a portion of the left radiator. It’s a brilliant design that allows Barcia’s bike to run cooler.
(4) Intake tract. Geico Honda was one of the first teams to use the Moto Tassinari tunable Air4orce intake boot, which they have relied on since the middle of the 2010 season. Before that time, the team fiddled with the offroad CR250X air boot (back when the CRF250 was carbureted). As Kibby stated, “We tried other options, but the air boot was never tunable. Now we’re able to do that. We were always able to mess with the exhaust, throttle body and cylinder head, but it has just been in recent years that we were able to mess with the intake boot. It’s tremendously helpful and makes a big difference in performance.”
(5) Clutch. Hinson takes care of the clutch (basket, inner hub, pressure plate, springs and clutch cover). Barcia runs stock plates and fibers, and it’s worth mentioning that he doesn’t put much strain on the clutch. Why? The more that the engine is revved, the less the clutch is needed.
(6) Exhaust. Barcia’s exhaust system is based on Yoshimura’s RS-4 design, but with several tweaks to work at maximum performance for his high-strung engine. Of course, it’s made from titanium to weigh as little as possible. There is a second layer of material welded at the header’s bend to prevent costly damage.
(7) Suspension. Since the team was founded by Factory Connection, Justin Barcia understandably had a plethora of suspension options throughout his time at Geico Honda. The team used Showa A-Kit forks and shock. A titanium shock spring was used to keep weight down. Both the linkage bell crank and pull rod are nonstandard items. Kibby elaborated by saying, “We have a chassis department that comes up with designs using sophisticated equipment that can go through the swingarm range of motion, take measurements, and make projections to see how the swingarm movement reacts to the shock movement. We found that testing linkages back-to-back might not get a rider where he wanted. It might be a certain linkage paired with a shock setting. It’s an ongoing process. We’ve probably tried in excess of four or five linkage packages that could be mixed and matched. Most of the guys on the team have tried over 20 suspension settings throughout the season. Most of the time, it’s an evolution, and there could be small increments.”
(8) Brakes. The front brake alone is made of parts from several different suppliers. Factory Honda provides the front brake master cylinder and front brake caliper. A steel-braided front brake line is commissioned by Factory Connection Racing (FCR). CRF Stuff provides the carrier and 270mm oversize rotor. As for the rear brake, Barcia uses a floating rear disc with an FCR brake hose. The pads, front and rear, are stock.
WE FOUND THAT TESTING LINKAGES BACK-TO-BACK MIGHT NOT GET A RIDER WHERE HE WANTED. IT MIGHT BE A CERTAIN LINKAGE PAIRED WITH A SHOCK SETTING. IT’S AN ONGOING PROCESS.
Barcia used more fuel per race than his teammates because he revs his engine to the moon, hence the large tank.
(9) Gas tank. The gas tank started life as an HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) aluminum tank. The team fabricated the existing tank to increase its capacity for the long summer motos. In the past, the Geico team used large-capacity carbon tanks, but they discovered that as engine performance developed and fuel consumption went up, their riders were dangerously close to running out of fuel at the end of a moto. This was especially true in Justin Barcia’s case. Known for revving the bike in the air, Barcia used the most fuel out of anyone on the team. Instead of having a larger carbon tank made and waiting for the 90-day turnaround, they switched to aluminum without a hiccup. There were times when Geico Honda used the trick carbon tank, but in most cases they relied on the largest capacity option, which was the aluminum tank.
(10) Oil cooler. Geico Honda, like many other teams on the National circuit, uses an oil cooler. Where Barcia’s system differs is that instead of using a small add-on radiator, the Geico cooler uses part of the existing radiator. The team simplified the process by blocking off part of the left-side radiator. The design is from a company that FCR worked with to come up with cooling solutions. It’s an ingenious idea and is easily at the top of our wish list of items that we would take off Barcia’s bike if Mike LaRocco and Kristian Kibby weren’t looking.
(11) Radiator system. Another unique item on Justin’s CRF250 was the radiator pressure relief system. There isn’t a radiator cap on the bike. Why? Instead of the pressure building and popping the radiator cap, which could be costly if the cap pressure was too low and the bike started to overheat, the team uses a relief valve that looks like a small bottle. When pressure builds, the valve relieves pressure from the radiator without losing fluid. Barcia’s Geico mechanic, Mike Tomlin, was able to tune the system so that the pressure can be released at a selected temperature point. Essentially, it’s comparable to the team having 30 different radiator caps. As for the desired radiator pressure, it’s about the same as using a 3.8 kg/mm cap. The team also relies on CV4 silicone radiator hoses.
(12) Transmission. The tranny goes through several processes, but for the most part Barcia uses a stock transmission. Team Honda supplied a works transmission back in the early years of the CRF250, but since 2010 the team found that the stock transmission was very robust. They didn’t have to make any aftermarket tranny parts for the Geico Honda bikes in 2012.
ALTHOUGH THE CRF250 WASN’T LITTERED WITH FACTORY HONDA PARTS, THERE WERE MANY DESIRED ITEMS THAT MADE TEST RIDERS DROOL.
(13) Wheels. Anyone can buy Justin Barcia’s wheels, although it’s going to cost a good chunk of change. TCR red anodized hubs are mated with D.I.D. LT-X rims and stock spokes. Barcia used the standard 32-spoke pattern on the rear wheel. When asked why the team uses the lighter LT-X rims, as opposed to the stronger ST-X units, Kibby mentioned that no riders on the team had any rim issues. Also in the wheel category, the holeshot device is an item that began life as a factory Honda part many years ago. FCR redesigned it and commissioned an outside source to make the part. The engagement area on the special holeshot device is quite deep, whereas on the old factory Honda unit it wasn’t like that.
(14) Footpegs. Justin Barcia, like everyone else on the team, has access to the monster factory Honda titanium footpegs. They are sharp, offer a wide platform and are extremely lightweight. The brackets, which prevent mud from forcing the pegs up, are also a factory Honda item. As for the position of the pegs, they are located 6mm back from the stock setting.
(15) Fasteners. There’s a mixture of titanium and aluminum fasteners on Justin’s steed. If it’s a highly structural area on the bike, then the team uses titanium. If it’s a cosmetic panel, then they use aluminum. And, in several areas, such as the ignition cover, they’ll mix and match. Aluminum fasteners are used as much as possible, but only in areas where there isn’t much strain on the bolts. Parts that are frequently removed and put back on again, such as the seat, are titanium.
A common trait among Pro riders, Barcia had extremely stiff forks matched with a soft shock.
(16) Factory parts. Although the CRF250 wasn’t littered with factory Honda parts, there were many desired items that made test riders drool. The list includes the front brake caliper, front master cylinder, triple clamps (with titanium stem), shift lever (steel instead of aluminum), footpegs, footpeg brackets and stronger swingarm.
(17) Miscellaneous. Barcia received the Dunlop works tire treatment. He opted for a standard front tube and a rear mousse. Also found on the Geico Honda CRF250 were One Industries’ graphics and seat cover (pleated, but without a seat hump), super lightweight seat foam, a Twin Air air filter, Cycra plastics, a D.I.D. ERT chain, CV4 gas tank insulating wrap, Amsoil chemicals, ARC levers (the front brake lever is a factory Honda design but made by ARC), and Pro Taper handlebars, half-waffle soft-compound grips and sprockets. FCR also designed a plate that keeps the spark plug cap on. Very cool.
NOW IS THE TIME TO RIDE
The Geico Honda CRF250 was light and flickable, thanks to the blessings of light weight.
With so many revisions to a stock Honda CRF250, we felt fortunate to sling a leg over Justin Barcia’s last-ever 250cc four-stroke, let alone ride it. We were in hog heaven when Mike LaRocco told us to ride the bike for as long as we wished. The Rock said that it didn’t matter how many laps we logged, because at the end of the day the team was going to tear the engine down and part out the bike. In hindsight, we are saddened by this realization, but at the time we didn’t care. Why? Read on.
Of all the 250 four-stroke race bikes that we have ever tested (well over 50 in total), Justin Barcia’s CRF250 engine ranks in the top three. It was simply unbelievable. It’s hard to express in words how powerful the engine was. More impressive was that it was user-friendly. MXA’s Pro test riders adored how the powerplant pulled effortlessly through the midrange and wouldn’t sign off until well beyond when most people would shift. Less skilled test riders admired how the engine picked up off the bottom and surged into the midrange. We figured that Barcia’s engine would be a top-end monster and nothing else. We were wrong. It’s a do-it-all powerband that makes going fast an easy proposition‚ for those who dare.
It’s hard to make concrete statements about a professional racer’s suspension tastes. No one on the MXA wrecking crew can go as fast as Justin Barcia, and we’re also heavier than Bam Bam’s 145 pounds; however, we can say with certainty that Justin likes his forks stiff and his shock soft. That’s a common trait among fast outdoor riders.
We were shocked by Justin’s choice in the front-brake setup. Feel at the blade was taut and provided immediate stopping power. Obviously, Barcia doesn’t drag his front brake very much through corners, because it wasn’t spongy in the least. We expected this brake setup in Supercross but not outdoors. We were leery of grabbing too much front brake for fear of going over the bars.
OF ALL THE 250 FOUR-STROKE RACE BIKES THAT WE HAVE EVER TESTED (WELL OVER 50 IN TOTAL), JUSTIN BARCIA’S CRF250 ENGINE RANKS IN THE TOP THREE.
This leads us to our main point about Justin Barcia’s Geico Honda CRF250. If we had to describe his bike in one word, it would be “aggressive.” Much like Barcia’s riding style, the CRF250 setup wasn’t for the faint of heart. A Pro-level rider giving anything less than maximum effort resulted in a series of scary situations. It was either hang on for dear life and go fast, or ride slowly and pay the price of of being overly cautious.
We’ll miss hearing Justin Barcia rev his CRF250 to Mars, but since he wrings out his Team Honda CRF450, we still get to hear Barcia’s signature sound; and, as we have already learned this season, he’s just as exciting on a 450 as he was on a 250. He knows what it takes to win, evidenced by his awesome Geico Honda race bike.