Quick ride: Honda CRF300 Rally

Who can fail enjoy watching the likes of Dakar racer Pablo Quintanilla on his 60-hp Honda CRF450 surfing and slicing over the Arabian dunes?

Me? I rode a substantially less potent CRF300 Rally for a couple of hours across the damp, leafy byways of north Surrey to see if it could be a contender for my next travel bike.

See also: CRF300 Rally vs CB500X

The 286cc 300 resembles the previous 250 Rally (and indeed the real desert racer) but loses 4kg, gains LED lights, a slipper clutch, 5mm seat height and 2.7L in the tank. Less weight; more tank: all good. Some young youtuber was thrilled to calculate a 15% power-to-weight gain from the specs, but then admitted actually sitting on the bike would make that figure negligible.

Very light (147kg verified with a near empty tank)
Looks great
Very good (claimed) mpg
Interesting gearing: low 1st; overdrive 6th
Bigger fuel tank (12.8L = 500km range)
Welded subframe looks chunkier (162kg claimed payload)
IMS only do a 9.5L tank for the 300L (+1.7L) which makes the Rally all the better

For me, the 3hp gain is not a worthwhile improvement
Lots of plastic to scratch and crack
Tall saddle (but sinks down loads – or was my Xmas better than I thought?)
Suspension probably needs upgrading
Nearly a £grand more than a 300L
Less than two hundred quid cheaper than a 500X

Pulling away from Dobles my immediate thought was ‘oh dear…’ But of course so much depends on what you’ve been riding lately (me, an AT which barely needs the throttle turning). Reminding myself how to crank the handle and let it rev a bit got the Rally moving, but it wasn’t night and day over my 250 recollections. Just down the road I pushed it briefly up to an indicated 70 (64mph) where it felt OK.

I realised they’ve done a clever thing with the gearing: 1st is very low; ~4mph at tickover, just what is wanted on gnarly trails. Any other time you can easily pull away in 2nd without straining the clutch. And 6th sees the revs drop by 1000rpm – just don’t expect to be able overtake anything much. I’ve not noticed such a gearing spread on a bike before and like the idea.

The bike feels exceedingly light (again compared to the extra 80kg I’m used to). An intimidating mass weight gives you confidence to throw yourself at pretty much any trail, knowing you can keep it in line and easily pick it up, if needed.

At the indicated mpg (I managed to bring it back doing 92) you’d have an amazing 500km range. But of course the seat (or your backside) would not last a third of that distance. But that is a £300+ expense spared over the tiny-tanked 300L.

There’s been a lot of online excitement about the full-fat ‘300s’, but while the emperor’s new clothes are sharp, they are verging on translucent. For domestic trail biking I’d be happier with the less damage-prone 300L, especially once it got an IMS tank. The CRF 300 motor is just a stroked 250, so that’s as big as the barrel and crankcase will probably allow. Honda has no other suitable engines apart from the high-maintenance 450 dirt racers, like the stillborn 450L. Great for real rallies, not so much for the overland.

I know that my test bike had less than 100 miles on the odo when I returned it to Dobles so needs loosening up, but after this ride I’d sooner settle for a post-2019 250L with an IMS tank plus some other worthwhile mods and save a grand or two.

More impressions in the photos below.

Just 60 miles in the clock. I better be gentle. 91mph looks promising
Still at the factory setting. But the bike sank equally as I sat on the machine
I briefly took it up to 70mph on the M25 but didn’t have the heart to push it. The screen felt OK
I spin off towards the country lanes of the North Downs
A Dakar Rally Replica, just like the Yamaha XT600Z nearly forty years ago!
Unfortunately that side panel is one huge piece of plastic
Stripped (not my photo)
A lot of travel and clearance. Could easily lose an inch each end

Rally Raid have made a lower 19/17 300L. Looks good
Sturdy pipework holds up the screen, lights and dash. Handguards not Quintanilla specials
Standing up was not too much of a stoop for me
How many minutes would you give that, even with the 1980s gumby strap removed?
But it is thicker and wider than a 300L
162-kilo (390lb) overland payload. That will do me
Shrouds scoop the air and hopefully protect the rads
Brittle plastic but looks the part
Full LEDs on the Rally only, with a fake oil cooler guard hiding some cabling
Fork seals and radiator fins protected
A few too many of holes but better than nothing
Assuming the mounts are solid (probably not) I’d just rivet on some 2mm ally plate
Easy bend back steel brake pedal and filter access
Motorcycle tool kit 2022
Tool box. Unlike a the Tardis, smaller than it looks on the inside
Folding tip and rubber inserts. Nice touch
A handsome machine to be sure, but still a sheep in wolf’s clothing
Chunkier rear subframe, now welded. Small air intake
Back into the leafy suburbs
Pillion pegs seem inordinately high. One snatchy clutch change and you’d roll off the back
I bet I could squeeze 100mpg out of that thing

15 thoughts on “Quick ride: Honda CRF300 Rally

  1. Ciaran

    Chris, have you considered a KTM 390 Adventure? It seems you’ve already tried all the other small ADV and dual sport options from the non-Chinese brands.

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  2. Lyuben

    Hi Chris,

    I am monitoring closely your internal debate between the CRF and (eventually) the CB500X. Somehow, from this article, I felt that the CB500X went off the possible development for you but would love to be wrong about this and hear your opinion if you test ride one.

    P.S. thanks for all the great articles on the website! I really appreciate your thoughts and experience regarding the various bikes! Now I am rebuilding my lovely dinosaur – the original Africa Twin XRV 650 but I desperately need a substitute bike to roll meanwhile, so was considering post-2019 CB500X or XT660R both of which are reliable foundations to build upon.

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Lyuben, the 300 is a great bike for what it is, but it’s not substantially greater than a 250 for the extra 3hp and what it would cost me in the UK. I have not ridden a 500X for years but I know Rally Raid have offered me to try theirs. I will do that once the desk (and the skies) clear a bit.

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  3. hagarslair

    Chris, what about your view on the CRF300L – non rally? I get it, for me if I was going this route, I’d probably just get the regular L and plan to fit a larger tank – when they are available. less weight, less plastic. Ok the lights are cool and the windscreen is nice. How does it compare to your Moab ride on the CRF250 – would the new 300 be much better? Appreciate the review!

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    1. Chris S Post author

      I hope to get to ride a 300L soon, and a fully run-in one at that. Perhaps I will notice the extra poke which for me is the whole point of a 300. Otherwise, it may as well be a 250 with all the useful stuff done to it.

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  4. Will Suttie

    Hi Chris,

    Apologies, pedantic but the old 250 Rally had a gear indicator. I think they mean they’ve added it to the regular CRF300L (the CRF250L didn’t). I’ve been thinking about it for a while for Thailand and I’m with you; regular CRF300L with bigger tank. Less money, less weight and less smashy plastic, but I didn’t know Rally had a better seat mmm?

    Totally agree about context, I’ve come off a week on an XL150 in Vietnam, which by day 3 I’d decided was the perfect go anywhere lightweight travel bike (not camping) and fast enough for crazy Vietnamese roads (don’t think this lets me post photo). 150cc to 300cc would probably feel unmanageable now hahaha.

    All the best, Will

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Thanks Will. I have corrected the post. I think for Thailand the 300 might be just right. For me the problem is having to ride a long way to get to the good stuff. Every bike gets there in the end, of course, but it’s how you feel when you get there.

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    2. Marv

      Strange, my 2019 CRF 250 Rally doesn’t have a gear indicator, so I added an aftermarket one!

      I can get about 110mpg out of my 250 Rally, when exploring small local roads at lowish speeds. This falls to about 85-90mpg when on long trips with big hills and mountains, where the engine needs more of a workout. Which is about the same economy as my CB500X, which doesn’t need quite the workout and will pull up hills without the inconvenience of having to downchange gears to maintain momentum!

      The 300L / Rally does have some nice upgrades, mainly the bigger tank appeals to me and less weight. Though I’m not convinced I need to swap my 250 Rally for one. Maybe when the 350 Rally comes out with 35bhp and weighs 135kg I’ll be convinced to upgrade.

      Nice review as well Chris 😊

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      1. Chris S Post author

        Thanks Marv, 110mpg is pretty darn good – and even more amazing that the 500X is the same [at the lower ‘about 85-90mpg’ end].
        Yep, your 250 Rally will do just as well until a 35-hp 350 Rally comes along.

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        1. Will Suttie

          Hi Marv, I should have said I’ve only rented CRF250 Rally in Thailand. It was a couple of years ago and had the gear indicator on the local market model. I noticed because I’ve rented the regular CRF250L there often and they were all without. All the best,

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        2. Marv

          Ahh, sorry…should clarify. My CB500X doesn’t reach the heights of 110mpg. It seems to get 85-90mpg no matter how, or where I ride it. Whereas I’ve found with my CRF 250 Rally, MPG varies a little more, as it needs revving to get going in mountainous terrain, which is when the MPG drops to about the same as my CB500X.

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