The trail bike market is in a state of transition. To please the tailpipe-sniffing bureaucrats in California—the largest market for casual off-road motorcycles—Japanese manufacturers are being forced to lower emissions on these inexpensive, family-oriented vehicles.Honda jumped in with both feet last year, switching to EFI for its CRF-F line-up (save the CRF50F). Kawasaki is getting onboard with the KLX230R and KLX300R for 2020. That leaves Yamaha and Suzuki on the outside looking in, as their trail bikes are exclusively carbureted. That inspired us to do a 2020 Honda CRF110F vs. 2020 Yamaha TT-R110E comparison, to see how the new Honda matches up with the veteran Yamaha.To the average adult, the Honda CRF110F and the Yamaha TT-R110E seem like pretty much the same motorcycle, except for the EFI/carburetor division. The displacement is almost identical, the engine configuration is the same, each four-speed transmission has an automatic centrifugal clutch, electric and kickstarting are in common, the wheels are the same size, drum brakes all around, and the suspension appears to be in the same ballpark.
As adults, we cannot ride these dirt bikes and have any idea how they will work with kids on them. So, to test these two motorcycles, we enlisted 10-year-old Ben Karsian and eight-year-old Tindra McKinley. Ben is a brand new rider, and Tindra has years of experience on a CRF50F. This gives us two distinctive takes on the CRF110F and TT-R110E. It turns out that the two trail bikes have differentiating personalities, and each young rider picked up on them instantly.We certainly could look at the spec sheets and make some assumptions. The 2020 Yamaha TT-R110E has a longer wheelbase (0.6 inches), more rake (an extra 0.9 degrees), additional trail (0.4 inches), longer travel suspension (about a half-inch at both ends), a taller seat (a half-inch), more ground clearance (by 0.4 inches) and it weighs 11 pounds less than the 2020 Honda CRF110F. Finally, the Yamaha’s MSRP is $100 less than the Honda. Oh, and one is blue and the other red.The two test riders suited up in the latest Fly Racing apparel—Ben in red and Tindra in navy blue—and let loose. Let’s just say smiles abounded, though they were also serious about their task of evaluating the two motorcycles.Watching the young test riders told us quite a bit about the two motorcycles. It was quickly apparent that the Yamaha TT-R110E was the hot rod of the pair. It is louder, though still quiet, and revved up more quickly. Where the Yamaha barked, the Honda CRF110F purred along incessantly. It didn’t take long for each rider to stake out a favorite, and they told us why.Tindra had experience on the 2019 Honda CRF110F, the first year with EFI. She was still a bit overmatched by its size and weight, but she loved the additional power it provided compared to her CRF50F. The TT-R110E was new to her, but she latched onto it right away.With Tindra now grown up enough to fully appreciate the 110 class, she was relishing the power on tap. Tindra rode noticeably faster on the Yamaha, even using the power to slide the backend out in corners. She felt the Yamaha turned better, and had better suspension over the rough and rocky test terrain. Tindra liked the size of the TT-R, and she said its larger size gave her more confidence.Ben was fresh off learning to ride for the first time on a Honda CRF110F at the MSF DirtBike School. Since then, Ben had a couple of outings on our test CRF110F, and that’s the sum of his motorcycle-riding experience. Ben was anxious to see how the Yamaha would stack up against the Honda, as he is a ravenous consumer of information on motorcycles of all types. Plus, he’s in the market for a motorcycle of his own.As it turned out, the Honda CRF110F is his ideal dirt bike. He preferred the smoother power delivery and additional stability the Honda offers, as well as the lower seat height—he is still at the position in the learning curve where he wants to be able to put his feet down when necessary. The Honda’s shorter suspension is plusher than the Yamaha, and Ben found that to be more comfortable at the speeds he is riding.That’s not to say that either rider wouldn’t be happy with the other motorcycle. Tindra didn’t like the heaviness of the CRF110F’s steering, but she also found she could jump it handily. While the relatively aggressive throttle on the TT-R110E put Ben off, that didn’t stop him from successfully exploring some technical rocky and sandy trails.As the two riders switched back-and-forth between the Honda and the Yamaha, you could see fast improvements in both riders as they adapted to each mount. Ben upped his game quickly, as he wanted to keep up with Tindra. For her, it was about mastering another motorcycle and getting the most out of whatever she was riding.After perusing the spec sheet, we were surprised that the kids felt the CRF110F is the stabler of the two. Everything about the geometry numbers points to the TT-R110E being more of a cruise ship. Our guess is the youngsters felt more secure on the lower-slung Honda, with the softer suspension—even the additional weight may have been a factor. Certainly, Tindra was adamant that the Yamaha turned better, and we were in no position to argue.No one complained about the hand or foot controls, for the most part. Riders with larger boots will prefer the more generous gap between the footpeg and the shift lever on the CRF110F. The rear brake pedal wasn’t a problem for either tester, and the drums brakes at both ends are adequate for motorcycles of this speed and size. Engine compression does most of the braking on both 110s.Tires are by CST (Honda) and Cheng Shin (Yamaha). CST, of course, stands for Cheng Shin Tires. The Honda tires are a newer design, reflecting the rebooting of the CRF110F last year. The Cheng Shins on the Yamaha are so ancient, they are still measured using English units. Measuring tires is a bit of an art, but they’re roughly the same size. If you can’t stand to see your kid riding around on cheap tires, even though they work fine, you can mount up a pair of Dunlop Geomax MX33s and apply for Parent of the Year honors.Even though the Honda CRF110F and Yamaha TT-R110E are designed for kids, the young riders had trouble lifting the motorcycles after tipovers. Although the lower-slung Honda is heavier, it seemed slightly easier to get righted for the rider, when it was possible. Tindra, for example, weighs 64 pounds, so 170 pounds is quite heavy for her. Being a bit older, Ben’s main issue with lifting was technique, though both motorcycles are still fairly heavy for him to get back upright. We shouldn’t have to tell anyone that these motorcycles should only be ridden with adult supervision, and the adults were charged with picking up a downed machine in more than one instance.Both motorcycles look great and have modern graphics. The Honda might get an extra nod due to the MX-style twin-spar frame.In addition to keeping the youngsters happy, adults also are interested in reliability and maintenance. The Yamaha TT-R110E design has a long history, and its reliability is well-established. This iteration of the CRF110F was all-new last year. However, our experience with Honda CRF-F models is flawless, and they all have a well-earned reputation for a high level of reliability. It’s not an issue we would worry about for either motorcycle.Maintenance is straightforward—clean the air filter, change the oil, watch the chain, and keep the battery charged. Do those things, and you should be good to go for decades.To get to the Honda’s air filter is easy. It’s between the tank shrouds, though you don’t have to remove a cover to get to it. Four bolts secure the air filter lid. Pull them, and you’ve got the filter in your hand, ready for cleaning. In comparison, Yamaha makes getting to the air filter a hassle. You have to pull the seat (two bolts), and then the right-side shroud (two bolts and two screws). After that, it’s three screws to remove the air filter cover. That’s nine fasteners and two tools on the Yamaha, compared to four fasteners and one tool on the Honda. Advantage CRF110F.Yamaha has a drain plug on the side of the motor, and a dipstick to check the oil level. Honda puts the drain plug on the bottom of the cases, and also goes with a dipstick. That’s pretty close, though the Yamaha is easier for the rank novice mechanic.Honda and Yamaha have the same chain adjustment system, which uses a bolt, adjusting nut, and lock nut. When adjusting the chain, the rear brake may also have to be adjusted to accommodate the movement of the wheel. Yamaha makes this a bit easier thanks to a wingnut on the brake arm—Honda uses a standard nut. Realistically, chains these days are durable. You won’t have to deal with adjustment often if you throw some lube on it regularly. Impressively, both motorcycles do a great job of protecting the young pilot from the chain.To keep the battery charged is the same on both motorcycles—add a pigtail and plug it into a Deltran Battery Tender or like product. If the motorcycle is ridden once a month or so, that shouldn’t even be necessary.One maintenance issue that gives the Honda CRF110F a big step up is the fueling system. With the sorry state of gasoline these days, a carburetor will gum up in no time if it’s not ridden often. On a small carburetor such as the TT-R110E’s 16mm Mikuni, the jets are narrow and even more prone to clogging. The fuel-injected Honda has no such issues.Although both motorcycles have e-start, the Honda’s EFI is far superior to the Yamaha’s carb for getting fired up. Push the start button on the CRF110F, and it’s ready to go instantly. When cold, the TT-R110E needs to have the choke activated, plus a few minutes to get up to operating temperature. If the motorcycle tips over on a ride, the Mikuni on the TT-R110E can flood and make starting difficult—again, this isn’t an issue for the Honda’s fuel injection. Ben tested the kickstarter on both motorcycles and got them going in a kick or two when warm.California buyers need to know that the Honda CRF110F gets a Green Sticker registration, while the Yamaha TT-R110E gets the restrictive Red Sticker. Red Sticker motorcycles can only be ridden at certain times of the year on public lands in California, with the date range depending on the locale. Typically, Red Sticker motorcycles are not summer-legal. It’s not an issue on private land, or in the 49 states with less oppressive laws.Picking the right motorcycle between the 2020 Honda CRF110F and Yamaha TT-R110E is reasonably straightforward. New riders will prefer the Honda, and aggressive riders will want the Yamaha. If the parent isn’t interested in dealing with the extra maintenance and operating complication of a carburetor, the Honda’s EFI system is a winner. Either way, the real winner is the young rider getting to roost around all day on a cool motorcycle, be it red or blue.Photography by Don WilliamsRIDING STYLE — Ben
This week Teejay chats to Tyler Poppe. Tyler works on the TV show Mayans MC–and yet he doesn’t ride an American V-Twin. Wassup with that?? Also, Arthur finds out from friend Mike Cardillo about his thoughts on the full-size version of the Kawasaki KLX 140R F trail bike.