We have been waiting impatiently for this motorcycle since 2015. That’s when the Honda CBR250R was bumped up to the 300 class and joined by the CB300F. We expected the CRF250L to join in promptly. We waited and waited, and that sweet 286cc motor even showed up in a cruiser—the Rebel 300—while the CRF250L looked on forlornly and unchanged since its 2013 debut. Six years was a long wait, and the 2021 Honda CRF300L is here, and Honda did more than simply stroke the motor. Let’s go riding!
- Given the breadth of changes, you can consider the 2021 Honda CRF300L to be a new motorcycle. The motor’s displacement has increased by 36cc, the transmission regeared, the frame and swingarm redesigned, and the suspension package upgraded. With all this, the friendly character of the entry-level Honda dual-sport has not been betrayed. In fact, it is enhanced. More power and an improved chassis make the CRF300L better for every rider, regardless of experience.
- Honda left behind 11 pounds when transitioning the CRF250L to the CRF300L. It’s still not a lightweight, as it hits the scales at 309 pounds with the 2.1-gallon fuel tank topped off. However, 11 pounds is 11 pounds, and it feels even lighter thanks to bumping up the motor’s output. The weight loss came from tiny savings spread throughout the CRF300L. The biggest single chunk was five ounces from the frame, with incremental weight savings coming from the lower triple clamp (1.6 ounces), the swingarm (a bit over an ounce), and the rear axle (about a half-ounce). Every little bit helps, and the result is 11 pounds shed thanks to “optimizing plate thicknesses and tubing sizes on myriad components, following the careful application of Computer Aided Engineering analysis,” according to a Honda insider.
- We’re familiar with the 286cc motor, and it feels good in the 2021 Honda CRF300L. While a 36cc boost may not sound like much, remember that we’re talking 15 percent. Just as it was on the street bike, the increase in pull is clearly noticeable. This makes the CRF300L more spirited around town, and helps considerably off-road where you need smoothly delivered torque off the bottom on challenging trails. There’s enough power on top for freeway runs, as needed.
- The new exhaust system is quieter and lighter, and Honda claims a weight reduction. We didn’t have any particular issues with the CRF250L’s exhaust, and the CRF300L’s didn’t attract our attention—it just did its job unobtrusively.
- To enhance the CRF300L’s ease of use in all situations, the new clutch has assist and slip functions. The clutch pull is incredibly light. This helps when dealing with traffic, as well as technical trails. Less fatigue makes for better riding. The slipper action works well on the pavement and doesn’t feel odd in the dirt. This is a substantial improvement over the CRF250L.
- Honda has enhanced the additional power with smarter gear ratios. The ratio gaps were tightened up in the lower gears, and widened for the top cogs. The lower gears now make the CRF300L easier to ride on the trail, as the smaller gaps between upshifts are less intimidating to the new rider. More experienced riders use that as an excuse to accelerate harder. Street riders are well-served by the wider gaps between the higher gears. With the more powerful motor, the new gearbox ratios offer more flexibility on the highway.
- Honda reworked the frame and swingarm to make it more capable off-road. Lateral frame rigidity is down 25 percent, and swingarm rigidity by about a fifth, so there’s more energy-absorbing flex. That comes at the expense of some exactness in the handling, though no new rider will notice. Ground clearance is up 1.2 inches due to a combination of longer travel suspension, the new frame, and the motor’s new crankcase. Impressively, with longer travel suspension and considerably more off-road friendly ground clearance, seat height is up just 0.3 inches—and that is offset to some extent by the weight reduction.
- The new longer-travel suspension also has improved action. Honda added almost a half-inch to the fork travel and over three-quarters of an inch to the shock travel. There are now 10.2 inches at both ends and the rear shock gets new linkage. We were never impressed by the CRF250L’s less than plush suspension action, and the CRF300L is undoubtedly an upgrade in every way. The suspension remains a compromise, and focused on new riders—as it should be on an entry-level dual sport.
- You will feel an unusual sense of floating off-road on the 2021 Honda CRF300L. The springing is soft, with the damping even softer. The CRF300L floats over obstacles in the dirt, though not in the way you would expect from a dirt bike. Rather than being a flying carpet, it feels like you’re riding gentle waves in the oceans, as it is constantly flowing up and down as it goes. While you do not get a great feel for the dirt beneath you, the CRF300L does provide an amazingly comfortable ride as long as you stay within its limits.
- The soft shock bottoms hard on even moderate G-outs at modest speeds—much like the Kawasaki KLX230. You will quickly learn the importance of standing up off-road on the CRF300L on anything but the smoothest road. Those seemingly small G-outs will jolt your spine if you’re sitting down, so use your legs to absorb the impact. The front suspension resists bottoming better, but that doesn’t matter much when the shock gives up its 10.2 inches of travel so freely. Needless to say, the suspension is not adjustable, other than the spring-preload on the shock to accommodate passengers.
- Honda continues with IRC Trails GP tires on the CRF300L. These are definitely compromise tires, and likely quite effective for EPA sound tests. Depending on your use of the Honda CRF300L, you will probably want to go with either a more street- or dirt-oriented set of tires. Most novices won’t realize how much better the performance is with purpose-chosen tires. It’s up to experienced riders to give them a hand when picking suitable rubber. We’ll point off-roading CRF300L owners at Dunlop D606s or Pirelli MT-21s. Go with a street-focused ADV tire combo if you’ll be sticking to the street.
- Street riding is a pleasure on the 2021 Honda CRF300L. It’s a fun ride through the canyons, despite the soft suspension and compromise tires—light weight and modest street power helps put things in perspective. When the road opens up, the CRF300L is well-capable of highway speeds. If you can handle the 34.7-inch seat height, it provides a commanding view of commuter traffic. The close lower gear ratios give added acceleration capabilities in tight quarters. In urban areas, the soft suspension is the ideal antidote to poorly maintained roads. However, G-outs on faster dips on the street must be respected.
- Braking is predictable and intuitive. The brakes work so well, it’s not even something you think about while riding. Hard-charging riders will be demanding more, but this bike isn’t for them. There are plenty of other motorcycles to choose from. ABS is a $300 option, and it switchable to front-wheel only. We haven’t tested it, so we will put that on our to-do list. Our first thought is that it is $300 well-spent, unless your riding is overwhelmingly in the dirt. It adds just two pounds to the package—impressive.
- The 2021 Honda CRF300L is a better motorcycle for everyone, and the price increased just one U.S. Grant. It’s not easy to make improvements that satisfy everyone, but that’s the case with the new CRF300L. Experienced pilots looking for higher levels of dirt performance will still flock to the CRF450RL. Yet, knowledgeable riders will appreciate the improved handling and power, should they find themselves in need of a do-it-all commuter motorcycle. New riders won’t know how good they have it, other than noting that improving their skills is far easier with a more accommodating mount.
- Helmet: Alpinestars SM5
- Goggles: EKS Brand Flat Out
- Jacket: Alpinestars Venture
- Body armor: Alpinestars Bionic Pro V2
- Gloves: Mechanix Original
- Pants: Alpinestars Venture R
- Knee braces: Alpinestars Fluid Tech Carbon
- Boots: Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro
2021 Honda CRF300L Specs
- Type: Single-cylinder
- Displacement: 286cc
- Bore and stroke: 76 x 63 mm
- Compression ratio: 10.7:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC; 4 valves
- Fueling: EFI w/ 38mm throttle body
- Cooling: Liquid
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ assist and slip functions
- Final drive: 520 O-ring chain
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable inverted 43mm fork; 10.2 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted non-adjustable shock; 10.2 inches
- Front tire: 80/100 x 21; IRC Trails GP-21F
- Rear tire: 120/80 x 18; IRC Trails GP-22R
- Front brake: 256mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
- Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ single-piston caliper
- ABS: Optional ($300)
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 57.2 inches
- Rake: 27.5 degrees
- Trail: 4.3 inches
- Seat height: 34.7 inches
- Ground clearance: 11.2 inches
- Fuel capacity: 2.1 gallons
- Color: Red
- Curb weight: 309 pounds
2021 Honda CRF300L Price: $5249 MSRP