Honda CRF 300L: first impressions

Project 300L Index Page

Impressions after 120 miles

  • Light weight
  • Adequate power
  • Proper screen
  • Returned to stock gearing (now ticks over @ 4mph in 1st)
  • Rally Raid suspension
  • Tall bars and other functional accessories fitted by seller
  • Mpg
  • Thinned out seat
  • Swingarm chain alignment marks
  • Annoying white rpm warning light
  • Mitas trials tyres on the road
  • Pathetic tool kit
  • Tiny tank
  • Vulnerable radiators

After replacing the front sprocket with the stock 14T and leaving the oversized rear for later, I set off for a 100-mile ride to Dorset. Had I looked properly I’d have realised the rear was actually a massive 45T not 42, as the seller claimed. Stock is 40T so that explained why I seemed to be belting along at 70mph+ along the A3 and M27, but cars were still passing me stuck in the slow lane.

The 300L is so light it initially feels skittish; I wouldn’t fancy it in strong crosswinds. But the proper screen (and my Mosko jacket) helped hold back some heavy showers and the thinned-down seat (from Peak?) had just about 100 miles of padding left in it.
Talking of seat comfort and convenience, I reflexively removed the 1970s relic seat strap. Did Soichiro Honda impose some edict that they shall be fitted to trail bikes in perpetuity? The other thing I did was saw open the rear seat bracket so that removing the seat means just loosening the two frame/rack bolts either side, not removing them altogether with washers and spacers tumbling into the gravel.
Fyi my lowered seat height with the stock rear IRC tyre refitted is 34.5″ or 87.6cm which is nearly an inch lower than Honda’s specs at 880cm.

I’d never heard off the annoying white light in the console which starts flashing ever faster as you pass 7000rpm. The red line is another 3500rpm away, so what’s the point of it? To warn you to change gear or you’re going too fast? Whatever, it seems it can be adjusted up the rev scale and out of the way (left).

I’m not so keen on the ET 01 and 05 Mitas trials tyres either. The seller fitted them for the LET. I’m sure once aired down the grip is amazing in UK mud, but the soft, square knobs squidge about at fast road speeds.

With the gearing still lower than stock, I have to assume that the speedo was over-reading even more than normal, but on the open road it did feel like the L held up well against what I recall of my Himalayan, and is definitely much better at speed than my WR250 with similar power and weight. And, contrary to my impression of riding a near-new 300 Rally last year, there’s definitely a tad more poke than my old 250L. A few 300L owners have told me the bike loosens up substantially once past 1000 miles, which I did somewhere around Southampton.

Arriving with one bar on the fuel gauge, I filled up in Dorset with 5.7 litres at 110 miles on the odo. That means there was over 2 litres or 40+ miles in the tank which seems unlikely over that distance. An average of 90mpg was shown on the console but I think the gearing may have messed with the odo reading. We shall see.

A couple of days later I refitted the stock 40T rear sprocket and IRC rear tyre. With a thick Michelin tube, the 4.00×18 Mitas weighed 6.9kg, while the IRC and a cheap tube were only 6kg – not a huge difference. And amazingly, both tyres and tubes were heavier than the back wheel, now at 5.3kg with a 40T sprocket.
The near-new Regina chain fitted for the seller’s very low 13/45 gearing was now a link too long and I’d left my chain breaker in London (I knew this would happen…). The OEM chain supplied loose was missing the joining link, plus I’m not sure I want to bother with it, even as a burner. I soon learned that you can’t bash out chain pins with a hammer and punch like you can on a pushbike; some serious force is needed, or YouTube suggested grinding off the end of the pin then prising the plate off. I don’t have a grinder either and a hacksaw didn’t work but luckily the Gear Box Bike Shop in nearby Poole was open on coronation Sunday and zipped off a link for a fiver.

Underside alignment mark – WTJOF?

While readjusting the cleaned-up chain, I took a moment to lament the passing of footproof snail cam adjusters, I bet there’s a way of retro fitting them to fiddly lock-nut adjusters. And is it me, or is the swingarm alignment marker maddeningly on the wrong, underside of the axle? I can’t bend like I used to could so had to lie flat on the ground, which means getting all the way up again. One… two… three… Ooof!

I checked the spring rate on the Rally Raid Stage 1 shock. On top of the spring was marked a surprising and reassuringly firm 100nm which is what it feels like. No wonder the seller found the 300 a bit tippy and decided to sell. I’m tempted to splash out another 200 quid on an HPA (above right) which seems to be a special order from Rally Raid, but am told it may need a change of spring. We shall see.

The bike’s tool kit sits in a space-wasting plastic box. I’m sure someone could fabricate a more functional replacement or even a 2-litre fuel cell in its place. Once opened I’m even more disappointed than expected: a single fat 14/17 open spanner and a pair of allens, enough to remove the mirrors, seat and side panels. Rally Raid make a nifty combo wrench (left) which does both wheels for under 30 quid, but it’s not in stock. Once I have that alongside my trusty Motion Pro Trail Toolkit with an added 8mm socket and a couple of allens I’ll be good to go.

3-4 mph at tickover – nice

Now back on stock gearing and rear tyre, I set off across the Dorset heathland to verify the odo against a GPS, while assuming the speedo will indicate the usual mandated 8% over. Speedo accuracy isn’t so important to me, but on a travel bike you want to trust the bike’s odo which are somehow engineeringly unlinked to the exaggerated speedo reading and often manage to be nearly spot on. Result: over 10 GPS miles the 300’s odo indicated 10.15, so odo is 1.5% over. I can live with that.
Also, riding along at tickover in first, the speedo indicated 3-4mph which is about as slow as I can balance sat down, and just as it should be for low speed control for do-it-all trail biking. I really wonder why the seller lowered the gearing so much – he rode the Lands End Trial, not the SSDT. I remember my XT660Z did an annoying 8mph at tickover as do many bikes. Way too high for tricking along or not fragging the clutch on walking-pace climbs. As I mentioned in my quick ride on a 300 Rally last year, the 300s do seem to have ‘Goldilocks’ gearing: low 1st matched with an overdrive 6th.
Other good things I noted. Even though the seller was shorter than me, the Renthal bars he fitted are, for once, just right for me when standing. They don’t look that tall so I think this must be innate to the bike’s design. What a relief not to get bogged down in the usual risers and re-routed cables, even if I might have prefered brace-free FatBar.

Out of interest and with the luxury of a flat, garage floor for the first time in my biking life, I decided to do the bathroom scales trick and weigh the bike, one wheel at a time. Result: with an added rack, bashplate, screen, frame protectors, Rally Raid suspension, barks, tail tidy, and a full tank (‘kerb weight’), my 300L weighed in at 146kg. It feels like it too and if you deduct say, 4 kilos for the listed accessories (some of which – bars, shock tail tidy – save weight over stock), that matches up well with Honda’s 142kg kerb weight claim. Next jobs: get that weight up!

• Acerbis 14-litre tank
• Chinese radiator crash bars
• USB power take-off
• Cool Cover
• Refit front OEM tyre
ª Go somewhere good

7 thoughts on “Honda CRF 300L: first impressions

  1. oudebrouwerijzonnegem

    Skittish. There we have it in clear. Nervous, even, I dare say, on the edge of instability (or rather over). I’ve tried three (3!) CRF250L’s. A 2013, a 2017 and a 2020. The first one was thoroughly checked at a Honda dealership, because I was convinced the headstock was too loose. It couldn’t keep a straight line for 100 meters. Onroad yes, it was doable, because a road is wide. Quite difficult to miss the lane. But on a single track I didn’t trust it for one second. In deep ruts it was utterly useless, I paddled on at walking speed. Honda didn’t find anything, so out it went. I bought me a 2017, newer, with rev counter, ABS and a wee little more grunt at low revs. But it was again skittish. My wife liked it though, so I bought a 2020 so that we could go riding together. Again more grunt at lower revs, this engine was clearly the best. Now, I said to myself, let’s do things properly and upgrade the suspension on my bike. But nope. Stlll skittish. I had enough and dumped them both last year. I really just can’t understand why these little fellows are so skittish/nervous/unstable offroad. And it seems I am the only one having this issue?!?! I checked several reviews on the internet, watched lots of youtube movies. Everyone banters on about the sloppy suspension, but nobody mentions the unstable behaviour, its skittiness. So it got me thinking: am I perhaps biased? Because for 14 years and 125.000km now I’m the VERY happy owner of a 2005 KTM 950 Adventure. This bike has been used to ride offroad in the Romanian, Moroccan, French and Welsh mountains (to name just a few). No matter what track or rut you throw at it, the 950 is as stable as a German Leopard tank. No matter what line you choose, the 950 picks it and keeps to it. Heaven on earth really (and mud, and sand…) So, am I spoilt by the 950’s stability? Is my “world view” compromised? Was I wrong thinking that all offroad/enduro/allroad bikes must be very stable? Mind you, I really like the concept of the CRF xx0 L: very low maintenance costs, very low fuel consumption, very reliable, world wide fanbase on all contintents and mountains, only 150kg, no need to take an extensive toolkit with you, etc. And I really would like to have one, because, in all honesty, the 950 is getting a handfull to lift when it’s down. And I hoped the 300L would be more stable (then the 250) because when you’re riding offroad you’ve got to be able to trust the bike, that it will keep its line, that it will protect you from falling of, in short: that it will keep you safe. So I really wanted to know how you think about the 300L. And now you’re telling me it’s skittish too? Christ. :-( Anyway, keep me posted, because I really want to know if you found a cure. Or, perhaps, you’ll tell me I’m indeed very biased because of my 950.
    Cheers, and keep on going.


    1. Chris S Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply Paul. I have to say the feeling of skittishness on my 300L disappeared before I got to Dorset and now I don’t even think about it. I believe it was more down to adapting to an unfamiliar bike than any flaw in the frame angles or weight distribution, and something I’ve noticed on similar bikes before. And those wobbly knobbly Mitas trials tyres didn’t help. I’ve enjoyed riding such bikes since the 1970s and have come to realise that initially, the feel of what you ride very much depends on what you rode immediately before. So, getting an XSR700 after a gutless WR250R was a revelation despite limitations like 50% more mass. And on my Morocco tours riders are usually disappointed by the flatness of the well-used 310GS rentals as most own bigger bikes back home. That lasts about a day as they adapt and accept them for what they are and sit back to enjoy southern Morocco.
      Now, I find the 300L much lighter than a 310 I last rode in March. It may cost me in exposed crosswinds (I remember my 200-kilo XT660Z was terrible for that) but it will be a huge bonus sniffing out new routes in Morocco – the primary reason I bought it. I rode a 790 last November for a couple of weeks – probably even more stable/lower CoG than a 950. But all these giant Advs stick on the road like a leopard run over by a tank ;-) Fun though it was to have a surplus of power and decent suspension, at my age a 790’s mass had become too much of a hindrance for the sort of short-range desert biking I still like to do. Actually, not so much to do with my age – I always believed nothing bigger than a 500 twin/650 single fulfilled my needs. That is why I owned 250L, 250R, KLX 250, Himalayan (effectively 250) and now the 300L. But most do-it-all UK riders love big Advs, like the AT I tried (never again!). Fact is, how lucky we are to have such a great range of bikes in the dying years of ICE ;-)


  2. Will Suttie

    Hi Chris, which screen is that? Looks the business, how was it?

    Watching this one closely. Though I did just have a test ride ktm 390 in HCMC, comfy and fast but heavier and pricey. Hey ho,

    All the best



    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Will, I did briefly look at a 390 – used prices seemed OK to me. But then I came to my senses and realised it’s just a 310 with more poke and not a classic trail bike. For better or worse I want a light trail bike to do Morocco and the 300L fits the bill.
      Screen is better than nothing but can’t see any brand on it. Will have a closer look


      1. Will

        Totally understand. CRF is a tough perf/price/reliable combo to beat. I bet it’s a keeper. Is that a Rally Raid screen on it?



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