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.
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)
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
More another two hundred quid you can get a 500X
* I have since heard from two owners that they can take a while to loosen up
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 lack of mass 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, as used in 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. Or maybe I should try one again with a couple of thousand on the clock
More impressions with the photos below.