Ever since the, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign, Big Red has been positioning itself as an ambassador for motorcycling. Not only by offering a range of motorcycles to attract new riders throughout the years, but also by promoting responsible recreation. Since the early 1970’s, Honda has been producing dual-sport motorcycles. Through the years, the popular XL line was offered in a wide range of displacements – many of which stayed in production into the late ‘80s.
The CRF250L was the latest iteration of quarter-liter dual-sport motorcycles to come from Honda. Released in 2012 as a 2013 model, Honda has since sold more than 35,000 units – including the Rally model, which was released in 2016 for the 2017 model year. The rising popularity in off-road and dual-sport motorcycles – combined with the recent COVID-induced shot in the arm – has made finding certain models all but impossible on dealership floors. This was, of course, exacerbated by production and shipping delays that industries the world over have experienced as of late. Honda had hopes of the CRF300 models landing Stateside much earlier this year, but fate had other plans. What matters though is that it’s here now and should be hitting your local dealerships any day. So, let’s have a look at the 2021 Honda CRF300L & Rally.
Similar but different
The basic foundation between the standard L and Rally model of the CRF300s is quite similar. The two machines share many of the same components, most of the chassis, and use the same 286cc Single that was updated this year with an 8mm longer stroke resulting in the 36cc bump in displacement.
Six years ago the Honda CBR300R received the same treatment, so it was natural that the bump in displacement would make its way to the CRF-L, which has shared engines with the wee CBR since its inception. The last time we dyno’d the CBR300R, it spat out 26.2 hp at 8500 rpm and 17.4 lb-ft of torque at 6800 rpm. That was an increase of four horses and two pound-feet from the previous 250cc mill.
The engine update comes with revised cam timing and lift said to create better low- to mid-range power. Inhalation/exhalation have also been revised with airbox updates and a new exhaust system with a lighter header and muffler that are also said to be quieter. Better for sneaking around the hills you’re probably not supposed to be riding in.
The transmission also features closer gear ratios for 2021 with first through fifth gear closer than before whereas sixth feels mostly like an overdrive gear for highway cruising. Honda also claims the clutch pull, which was light before, now requires 20% less effort thanks to its new slip/assist clutch.
The 2021 Honda CRF300L and Rally now have a larger kickstand platform to help keep the bike upright while parked on loose surfaces.
Honda reduced weight wherever it could for the 2021 CRF300 models which led to an 11 pound weight reduction to the L model, and a nine pound loss on the Rally. From swapping out steel to aluminum on the lower triple, to a redesigned lighter, less rigid swingarm, many small reductions of weight have been made throughout, which adds up when you tip the scales. Honda claims the L weighs in at 309 lbs wet (311 with ABS), while the Rally is said to be 333 lbs (337 with ABS).
As usually seen with weight loss, the CRF300’s waist has become more narrow and rigid in key areas. This new frame and crankcase design gives the CRF300L and Rally more ground clearance too, 11.2 and 10.9 inches, respectively.
The same 43mm Showa suspenders are in use, however travel is increased to 10.2 inches on both ends for both models. Preload remains the only adjustment available. The two models also use the same spring rates and damping, although the Rally’s fork (and spring) are slightly longer. More on that in a bit.
Ergonomically, the two are also similar in that the front of the seat is narrower to better help riders get a firm footing on the terra, and the footpegs have also been moved slightly rearward. According to the spec sheet, the wheelbase has also increased by 0.3 inches from prior years.
The new display is now easier to read, with larger characters and better contrast. In addition to better visibility, riders also get more info including a gear position indicator, fuel mileage, and fuel consumption. Even the meter is said to be .01 pounds lighter.
2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Editor Score: 82.0%Engine 17.0/20Suspension/Handling 10.0/15 Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10Brakes 7.0/10 Instruments/Controls4.0/5 Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10 Appearance/Quality 9.0/10Desirability 9.0/10Value 8.5/10Overall Score82/100
We’ll start with the Rally for riding impressions since my day of testing began on the rally-inspired machine. Most riders I came into contact with when I was cruising around on the CRF250L Rally three years ago seemed to really like the styling. I remember during our lightweight ADV shootout getting compliments from young and old dual-sport riders out on the trail. Now, for 2021, the Rally gets even more purposeful upgrades to help its long-haul capability over the L model.
The Rally’s larger fuel tank has gained 0.7 gallons compared to previous year’s putting capacity at 3.4 gallons. Honda says this could yield up to 250 miles per tank. And who knows, if you’re game, your backside might not mind either thanks to the Rally’s wider cushy seat. That new seat also sits on rubber dampers to help ease any bad vibrations attempting to make their way to your backside. Rider footpegs also receive the rubber treatment for the same purpose. Handlebar weights on either end continue the fight for a smooth ride.
As before, the extra frame-mounted fairing up top and below keeps the wind blast off of your chest and legs. While cruising down the highway at 60 mph you can feel all those extra components doing their job, or, well, it’s more that you can’t feel them doing their job. The ride is exceptionally smooth and the plush suspension kind of feels like an old Cadillac as you float over road imperfections that you’d never know were there.
That’s not the entire story though. As you close in on 7000 rpm from that smooth ride, vibrations increase quickly. It reminds you that we’re dealing with a Single cylinder motor, and although it wouldn’t cause any concern for me, sensitive folk be aware.
Our time off-road on the Rally was spent on mostly smooth, slick and dry fire roads. Remember that ultra plush suspension I mentioned? It eats up the imperfections just as easily off-road. The problem arises with pace – in that it’s hard to feel what is going on where the tires meet the terrain. If you’re putting around, it’s great at delivering a comfortable ride, but if you want to push the pace, you’d be better suited to the L model. The Rally seems to move through the stroke quickly with what feels like little damping. On the street, it’s the same story, but you (hopefully) won’t be teetering on the edge of traction. So, you’ll likely be a-okay.
Despite its larger rotor, the front brake on the Rally model felt weaker than the L’s.
One other niggle for me was the front brake on the Rally, despite its rotor being 40mm larger than the L model at 296mm, it managed to feel weaker. Perhaps the softness and dive of the fork contributed to this feeling, but it was enough to make me wonder if the brakes had been bedded in before our ride. Rear brakes on both models were easily modulated, although the pedal felt a tad low.
Most of our time on the pavement was spent around 55 to 65 mph, which the Rally handled with ease. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to do a proper top speed run, but I saw an indicated 72 mph on the L model which again, didn’t seem to stress the CRF300.
All these things considered, I think the CRF300L Rally is an even better, and more focused, bike than before. Rather than just some styling elements, a larger tank and wind protection, Honda has taken the extra step to turn the Rally model into a better tourer for those looking to dabble in the ADV world. At $5,999 ($6,299 with ABS) it’s just slightly more than the Kawasaki Versys-X, and in our last comparison, it did a bit better off-road.
2021 Honda CRF300L Editor Score: 86.5%Engine 17.0/20Suspension/Handling 13.0/15 Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10Brakes 9.0/10 Instruments/Controls4.0/5 Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10 Appearance/Quality 9.0/10Desirability 9.0/10Value 8.75/10Overall Score87.25/100
After riding the plush Rally model, I had the chance to spend the rest of the day on the standard CRF300L. Most of that time was spent off-road with paved transfer sections connecting trails and fire roads. Both of the models we tested were not equipped with ABS. I think it makes sense that Honda is giving riders the option here. Experienced riders will likely opt to save the $300 while newer riders will appreciate the safety net while still having the option to disable ABS to the rear wheel with the push of a button when desired.
Jumping on the L, the lower 34.7-inch seat height was immediately noticed, as was the difference in suspension feel. While the Rally felt like it almost pogo’d back and forth, the L felt like it was in a better place in the suspension stroke. This starts to make sense after learning that the two models share the same spring rate and damping despite the Rally’s extra weight, particularly from the fuel tank. I was looking forward to our off-road ride even more just from sitting on the L in the parking lot.
It wasn’t long before winding highways gave way to tight single-track. A few climbs in and I felt the new motor and gear ratios were really helping the new 300L off-road. Although you can rev the 300 out pretty far, staying in second kept the bike motoring easily up tight rocky trails confidently where I might have just revved out through first gear on the previous iteration. The suspension, while admittedly soft, also seemed to be keeping up better on the L model. Thinking back to the winding canyon roads, even the front brake – despite its 40mm smaller rotor – seemed to slow the machine without nearly as much dive in the fork that the Rally had. Since both models were equipped with semi-knobby IRC Trails GP-22R tires, I wasn’t exactly hammering the brakes on the pavement.
You don’t get the wind protection the Rally offers on the L model, but with how well the L was performing for the proper dual-sport testing we were putting it through – and what I would personally want to do with the bike – the L was showing me a good enough time off-road that I wouldn’t mind losing the wind protection.
The 2021 Honda CRf300L starts at $5,249. If you want ABS, you’ll be paying $300 more at $5,549.
Honda did a good job of illustrating the versatility of these machines as well. Staying local, just an hour outside of the LA metro area, we got a taste of exactly what is so alluring about these dual-sports. Using them to commute or to run errands around town, and then on the weekend taking off to the closest trails and being able to tackle fire roads and single track – all with the same bike.
In the end
For new or experienced riders, the 2021 CRF300L and Rally offer two options that fill two distinctly different niches within the small-displacement dual-sport category – those looking to go further, and those looking to explore harder. The great thing about these bikes is that they give you a license (plate) to access more areas to ride whether it’s trails, fire roads, or highways.
Of course, Honda isn’t the only one to have recently given us a go on its new 300-class dual-sport. We’ve already been monitoring the interest in how Kawasaki’s new KLX300 stacks up against the Honda CRF300L, so stay tuned to MO if you’re keen for a comparison.
2021 Honda CRF300L
Excellent all-around performer at a bargain price
Good suspension despite its economy price
Buzzy at freeway speeds
Feels heavy next to a proper dirtbike
Not much wind protection
2021 Honda CRF300L Rally
Rally-styling looks the part
Smooth highway manners
All-day comfy ergos
Mushy suspension action compared to the CRF250L
Front brake feels weak
Still buzzy at freeway speeds
Helmet: Fly Racing Formula $490
Jersey: Fly Racing Lite $50
Pants: Fly Racing Lite $180
Gloves: Fly Racing Lite $22
Boots: Sidi Atojo $525
2021 Honda CRF300L
2021 Honda CRF300 Rally
Liquid-cooled, single cylinder DOHC, four valves
Bore x Stroke
76.0mm x 63.0mm
Max. Power Output
27.0 hp at 8500rpm (claimed)
19.6 lb-ft. at 6,500rpm (claimed)
PGM-FI electronic fuel injection
Wet multiplate, assist/slipper clutch
Steel semi-double cradle
43mm telescopic inverted fork
256mm x 3.5mm disc with two piston caliper
296mm x 3.5mm disc with two piston caliper
220mm x 4.5mm disc with single piston caliper
ABS System Type
2 channel ABS
Rake x Trail
313 pounds (claimed)
337 pounds (claimed)
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Source: All Bikes news one