Last week we took delivery of a new Honda CRF300L Rally and I also got to ride the CRF300L dual-sport. As a 250, the Rally was a one of those bikes that was too sexy for its own good. It looked like it was ready to go straight to Dakar with Ricky Brabec. It wasn’t. It was slow. Not kinda slow–it was painfully under powered. It was essentially the same bike as the 250L dual-sport but with more fuel, a little fairing and bodywork. The 250 L was designed to be inexpensive transportation, so making it look so good didn’t do it any favors. For 2021, the Rally has undergone the first design change since its introduction. Increased performance was a priority, and the price is still freakishly low: $5999.
In its transformation to a 300, most parts have been altered in one way or another. The stroke was increased by 8mm to arrive at 286cc. It got new camshafts and both the airbox and the exhaust were redesigned. It still has a six-speed gearbox, but the gaps are tighter between ratios, particularly in the lower gears. Sixth is still a very tall overdrive. The engine cases were redesigned as well to increase ground clearance. The clutch is new too, and has an interesting design that Honda calls “Slip assist.” This configuration has attributes of a slipper clutch to reduce engine braking and also uses engine torque to assist manual clutch disengagement–in order words, it has kind of a power-assisted clutch pull.
The steel perimeter frame might not look that new, but everything has been revised slightly. It’s a little more compact and less rigid. The lower triple clamp is aluminum, rather than steel and the swingarm has been completely redesigned, also for less rigidity. Between all that and new bodywork, the overall weight is down to a claimed 333 pounds, which includes about 21 pounds of fuel in the 3.4-gallon tank (increased by 0.7 gallons). That’s about 10 pounds lighter than the 2020 CRF250L Rally. The suspension travel is slightly decreased 10.2 inches at each end.
As a 250, no matter what the bike did right, it was overshadowed by the power–which wasn’t enough to do anything. The increase in bore and the other changes lift the bike over the threshold of necessity. Now, on any given ride, the lack of power isn’t all you think about. The 300 Rally still isn’t a powerful bike by any means. But, just that little bit of extra power opens doors that were previously shut and allows more rides in more kinds of terrain. The change in the gearbox allows you to shift a little early and get away with it. It still can’t really pull the shift to sixth. That gear isn’t for going faster–it’s to allow a drop in engine rpm, so that the motor isn’t buzzing as hard on the highway.
Unfortunately, the suspension didn’t get upgraded as much as the motor. The Rally is far too soft for off-road riding with a full-sized adult. Small riders in the range of 120-pounds are more appropriate, but even they would benefit from more damping. Without any adjustability whatsoever, the bike is bouncy and divey. We will have a full test in the August, 2021 print edition of Dirt Bike.
The mainstay of Honda’s dual-sport line has long been the CRF250L, which is now superseded by the CRF300L. As a 250, it sold more than all of Honda’s other dual-sport models combined–several times more. It’s all about price. The 2021 CRF300L sells for $5249. That’s $1400 less than the Yamaha WR250R and $200 less than the new Kawasaki KLX300.
It is, essentially, the same bike as the Rally without the adventure trappings. The frame-mount fairing gives way to a triple-clamp mounted headlight, it has a smaller tank, a narrower seat, no handguards and softer suspension. It got all the same motor and chassis redesigns as the 2021 Rally. That includes the new Slip-assist clutch, the 8mm increase in bore, new cams, new intake, new exhaust and the more compliant chassis. The suspension is a little softer because the bike’s weight is less.
The CRF300L is a slightly better off road bike than the Rally because of that weight difference. It’s around 20 pounds less, although it still pushes the 300-pound mark. That 20 pounds makes a difference any time you’re in slow technical terrain. It gets better traction, stops more quickly and seems to be just a hair faster. Like the Rally, though, you have to have a history with the 250L before you appreciate the improvements in the 300’s power output. It’s a night and day difference, allowing you to expand your ride into legitimate off-road terrain.
Also like the Rally, the 300L’s biggest shortcoming is now suspension, simply because the motor is no longer the weakest link. The fact that it’s soft isn’t the main issue, but rather that it needs more sophisticated, adjustable damping.
HUSKY HISTORY: HANS HANSSON
I enjoy reading Kenneth Olausson’s regular blog on Husqvarna history. This month he wrote about Hans Hansson, who was a Husqvarna development riding in the ’60s. Along the way, Hansson won the Novemberkasan five times. If you know what that is, you already are in awe of Hansson. Novemberkassen was the original extreme enduro. Today, the toughest enduros go through rocks and mud. The Novemberkasan did all that in the freezing cold conditions of a Swedish winter–and it ran all night long. It was extreme beyond words. You can read about Hans Hansson’s career here.
YEAR OF JUBILEE
The KTM group is producing an excellent series of videos under the “Ride Motorcycles” name. The second one focuses on Zach Osborne and it’s outstanding.
DIRT BIKE READER SURVEY
Everybody likes free stuff, and it doesn’t get much better that a free bike! One lucky Dirt Bike reader will win a flat-track motorcycle from Sunday Motors. Simply fill out the annual reader survey by clicking here. We’ll take your input to help improve both the website and monthly print content of Dirt Bike. For a few minutes of your time, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win this Sunday Motors S 147 flat track motorcycle. The S 147 features a 150cc engine, Mikuni carburetor, 14-inch front/rear tires, stainless-steel footpegs, a bottom-mount brake caliper, a YCF 310mm rear shock, a 200mm rear disc, a low exhaust configuration system and a kill switch with leash. No purchase necessary. Only one entry per person. All entries become the property of Hi-Torque publications, Inc. Winners will be determined in a random drawing. The odds of winning will be determined by the total number of entries received. The contest is subject to local, state and federal laws and is void where prohibited. No substitute prize will be given, nor will cash equivalent be paid. In accepting the prize, the winners grant Hi-Torque Publications Inc. the right to publicize and promote their photograph and the winner of the award. Employees of Hi-Torque Publications Inc, are not eligible for the contest. Drawing will be held July 6, 2021.
See you next week!