2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: LA-Barstow to Vegas Ride and More

When Honda updated the CRF300L Rally for 2021, it seemed like the perfect bike for the iconic LA-Barstow to Vegas ride, part of the AMA National Dual Sport and Adventure Series. With my dad, Damon, riding the Beta 500 RR-S, Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams, who reviewed the 2021 Honda CRF300L Rally on its debut, assigned the bike to me for the ride.

I didn’t complain, as the CRF300L Rally has built a reputation of being an easy machine to handle as it just tracks over almost any terrain. I prefer to ride off-road, as dirt bikes were my first encounter with the world of motorcycling. I was very impressed with the capabilities of the Rally on weekend excursions into the diverse terrain of Southern California.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: Long Term

It put the bike and me to the test, as LA-Barstow to Vegas was my first organized dual-sport ride. It’s a grueling two-day, rally-like off- and on-road ride through the Mojave Desert. 2021 marked its 38th running, with the annual ride starting on the day after Thanksgiving.

On November 26, about 450 diverse riders took off into the desert from Palmdale just after sunrise to tackle the first day. All riders are supplied with either downloaded GPS track data, old-fashioned paper roll charts, or both. As I don’t have my own GPS, my dad lent me an old roll chart box.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: Roll Chart

Reading and scrolling through the directions as I went on was going to take some time to get the hang of, though I wasn’t expecting it to be that difficult. As soon as we left the predictable pavement, it was almost all sand, rocks, or rocks mixed with sand.

I hadn’t experienced deep sand until then, so I immediately struggled. I also had difficulty keeping track of my location on the roll chart, as I’ve never followed directions like that before. With the challenging terrain, I couldn’t focus on anything but trying to stay on the bike.

Fortunately, the Honda CRF300L Rally chugged along at good speed and was in its element. Honda styled this bike after its HRC CRF450 Rally that competes, and wins with Ricky Brabec aboard, in events such as the famed Dakar Rally.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: Street Motorcycle

I approached a few rocky hill climbs, and the Rally brought me to the top one after another. I was rather amazed, and it almost felt like I was just on any other dirt bike I had ridden. Hillclimbs and technical terrain are naturally the most challenging for me.

I lack the years of experience most other riders have, and I’m shorter than most. I stand 5-foot 6-inches in my boots, so the relatively low seat height (35.2 inches) on the CRF300L Rally is confidence-inspiring. The seat and suspension settle in with a rider aboard, which lowers the effective seat height. When you need some support when you’re going over difficult terrain, you have to be able to reach your feet down to the ground.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: Off-Road Motorcycle

The Rally feels like it was made for my size, and I haven’t felt the need to make any adjustments. Taller riders will likely want to move the bars forward a bit.

By the end of the first day of riding, I was starting to get the hang of the desert. I arrived in Barstow at the final checkpoint of Day One at a decent time. My dad and I met some of the other riders, talked about the day, checked into our hotel, and prepared for the morrow.

However, the CRF300L Rally needed a change if I wanted to improve its performance and keep up with the rest of the riders. The stock adventure-type IRC Trails GP-21R and GP22R tires are adequate, but I could have used more bite in some situations. So, I had a pair of Dunlop D606 tires fitted to get something with more off-road capability while staying street legal.

The Dunlop D606 tires greatly complement the CRF300L Rally’s off-road abilities. Beginning the second day on a cold Saturday morning, I rode through the desert with a newfound confidence given to me by the improved traction provided by the Dunlops. The Rally crawled over rocks with more ease, took turns with less slipping, and I felt that I was performing much better than the previous day.

Dunlop D606
Dunlop D606 tires

Day Two was more difficult, and there was an unexpected deep crossing of the Mojave River. Also, I bit the dust twice on the Rally on one road. The section had very silty sand, creating thick dust clouds with no wind to clear it. I was lucky to have had no one following close by, as they definitely wouldn’t have seen me in there. Other riders weren’t so fortunate. After that mess, there was the lunch stop past the halfway point to Las Vegas, with some very good food provided by the event organizers.

I finally arrived in Las Vegas just before sunset. The finish line was in front of The Orleans Hotel & Casino, with quite a hero’s welcome waiting for the riders. Friends and family of riders greeted the participants as they arrived, and we got to have our pictures taken with showgirls and Santa Claus.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: LA-Barstow 2 Vegas Dual Sport Ride
Damon Powell (left) and Brayden Powell

After all the participants arrived safely, everyone met for the final banquet inside The Orleans, where more good food and free goodies were waiting for us. After we ate, we looked back on everyone’s experiences and the highlights of the past two days. A raffle was held, and prizes were given out. I didn’t win anything myself, but it seemed like everyone else got some great prizes, such as helmets, jackets, other gear, and tires.

The organizers ended the night with an after-party on the top floor of The Orleans, following which everyone went to their hotel rooms to get some needed rest before traveling home the next day.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: Desert Motorcycle

For my first organized event ever, I had a blast. It was challenging for me the whole way, but I had lots of fun, and it was awesome meeting all these great people with a shared love for motorcycling and adventure. I would strongly recommend LA-B2V to anyone who might be thinking about attending. It was definitely worth it! I want to sign up for 2022, as long as my dad will pay for all my hotel, food, and fuel expenses again. Maybe I’ll try the standard CRF300L for comparison.

Looking back on the ride itself, the 2021 Honda CRF300L Rally handled it like a champ. It’s a nimble machine with exceptional handling. With more of a plush suspension setup, it nicely absorbs all rocks and bumps for a smooth ride. However, because of that, those who are looking to ride aggressively off-road will find it too soft for serious dirt riding. The stock suspension gives way to hard landings and bumpy terrain. The front end dives a noticeable amount during hard braking or hitting a berm aggressively. But, after all, this is simply how the non-adjustable suspension was meant to be.

The Rally makes up for its minor off-road shortcomings in how easy it is to maneuver. Having ridden this for a few months and a few different off-road dirt bikes in the past, I can testify to the vast differences in comfort and ease of riding. The seat on the CRF300L Rally is very comfortable, and the minimal amount of vibration produced by the engine, combined with the agile handling and easy-going suspension, makes for a non-fatiguing ride over and through almost anything.

When it comes to ergonomics, I can again say they’re comfortable, at least for someone of my dimensions. Sitting and standing positions are both very comfortable and natural. I’m about five-six, and I feel like the bike is perfectly my size, so I never made any adjustments. However, my dad, who is 6-foot, complained that he felt slightly cramped, though it didn’t get in the way of his ability to ride it much. So, unless you’re a giant, you’re still going to feel good on the CRF300L Rally.

As for how it does on the asphalt, there is nothing negative to say about it. The comfortable seat, smooth engine, and 3.4-gallon fuel tank are perfect for any road trip I can think of. I have gotten countless hours with it on the street—winding roads and highways alike. While the fastest I ever pushed it was 80 mph, 70 mph is a perfect cruising speed at 6000 rpm. The counterbalancer works well to quell vibration from the single-cylinder engine.

Unlike other dual sport dirt bikes I’ve ridden, I did not need to shift my spot on the seat after only 30 minutes of highway riding, or let my feet hang off the pegs to stretch my legs.

The CRF300L Rally’s fuel efficiency is excellent, too. My average fuel consumption was about 65 mpg, based on the mileage indicator on the LCD dash. With the excellent mpg and the 3.4-gallon fuel capacity, Honda claims that the Rally can go more than 250 miles on one tank. While I personally haven’t taken it farther than 300 miles from home in a single trip, the CRF300L Rally is a cross-country motorcycle capable of those distances.

At least half of my time spent with the CRF300L Rally has been spent on twisting mountain roads. When it comes to riding on pavement, I have never had so much fun on a motorcycle before. The bike is effortless to ride—especially on the pavement. Exceptionally agile handling and light weight make the Rally a nimble street-bike killer.

I recently took my friend Collin and his new Harley-Davidson Sportster to Lake Isabella in the Sequoia National Forest to Whiskey Flat Days, an annual event in Kernville that attracts all sorts of motorcyclists. It’s a route I frequent from where I live. Almost all the way is fun, twisty roads, and it takes no more than 90 minutes to get there.

I have never gone as fast and comfortably on those roads as on the 2021 Honda CRF300L Rally. Because of the long-travel dual-sport suspension, I caught some air over a railroad crossing with a soft landing. This motorcycle is ultimate all-around fun.

On the straight bits, the 300 won’t accelerate as fast as a larger displacement motor, but you’re probably going to smoke them when the road gets curvy again. The brakes are also pretty responsive—I wasn’t riding the ABS version—and it helps when the bike only weighs about 330 pounds with the tank full.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Test: Adventure Motorcycle

Uphill climbs are something the Honda struggles with, and you especially notice it when coming out of uphill turns. You’re definitely going to want to gear down sometimes to find more pull. Speaking of which, on tight curving roads, I rarely found myself going up to 6th gear. The 6th gear is more of an overdrive, so highway riding is tolerable.

Overall, the 2021 Honda CRF300L Rally is a remarkably balanced motorcycle. Honda has made a perfect bike for beginner and budget riders. Not only does it take on long-distance road trips as pleasantly as the heavier adventure and touring bikes, but it can also hold its own off-road where the bigger ADV bikes can struggle. It’s a very fun and inviting motorcycle to ride, and I’m already recommending it to other riders, new or experienced, and those looking for a way into the sport and who want a do-it-all bike. The price is right, and the opportunities endless.

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Specs

ENGINE

  • Type: Single-cylinder canted forward 25 degrees
  • Displacement: 286cc
  • Bore and stroke: 76 x 63mm
  • 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

CHASSIS

  • Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable inverted 43mm fork; 10.2 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted spring-preload 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
  • Tires (as tested): Dunlop D606
  • Front brake: 296mm 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: 35.2 inches
  • Ground clearance: 10.9 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 3.4 gallons
  • Color: Red
  • Curb weight: 331 pounds

2021 Honda CRF300L Rally Price: $5999 MSRP