Honda boosts the 2021 CRF300L with bigger engine and new Rally version
After nine years in the global markets, Honda’s entry-level CRF has received a major Euro-5 update. This includes a new frame, enlarged engine, richer equipment list and several targeted changes to complement its dual-purpose abilities.
Honda enjoys a long tradition in the dual-purpose motorcycle class, dating back to the early 1970s and the pioneering XL250. The lightweight air-cooled four-stroke single, one of the first to introduce a four-valve cylinder head in this category, spawned a long line of popular descendants in capacities from 125 to 650 cc, next to the more off-road-capable XR series.
In 2012 Honda introduced a new 250-cc dual purpose model under the CRF family moniker, mimicking the looks of its contemporary four-stroke enduro and motocross racing models. This time the CRF250L was not designed from scratch, but was rather based on an adaptation of the liquid-cooled single-cylinder motor of the CBR250R sportbike.
Very little changed until 2017 when the CRF was updated to the Euro 4 norms, escorted by a brand-new Rally version that donned the base model with a fairing kit cloned after the CRF450R Dakar Rally racer.
Fittingly, the deadline for the latest Euro 5 rules’ implementation brought about the next evolution of the entry-level model. The new CRF300L’s single-cylinder engine has once again been outsourced from the CBR series, measuring 286 cc by means of a longer piston stroke for the same bore compared to the previous model.
This bigger motor offers a little more power, as the official figures reveal 27 hp (20.1 kW) – that's 2.6 up from the CRF250L, maximized at the same 8,500 rpm limit.
Torque peaks at 26.6 Nm (19.6 lb-ft), marking an 18-percent increase, but more importantly the maximum value is now achieved 250 rpm lower than before at 6,500. With the piston stroke increased by 8 mm (0.3 in) and the intake camshaft’s timing accordingly revised, Honda went for a torque boost in the low and middle rev range, describing the new engine as "considerably stronger" everywhere above 2,000 rpm.
Compliance to new emission rules also involved redesigning the air filter, exhaust and ignition timing, and the addition of an iridium spark plug. Honda upgraded the bike’s specs with an assist and slip clutch, and updated the gearbox with a taller sixth and shorter ratios on all other gears.
The frame follows the same steel semi-double cradle frame design, revamped for less lateral rigidity, a 4-kg (8.8-lb) weight loss and increased ground clearance by 30 mm (1.2 in), now measuring an impressive 285 mm (11.2 in).
The suspensions once again come from Showa, featuring 43-mm inverted forks and a monoshock rear unit in Honda’s standard Pro-Link setup; both units are non-adjustable except for spring preload at the back. One notable difference on the 2021 application regards suspension travel, which is raised to 260 mm (10.2 in) all around.
The braking system hasn’t changed, keeping the same two-pot caliper on a 296-mm (11.7-in) wave disk at the front with a two-channel ABS system keeping things tidy. Unfortunately the ABS cannot be deactivated for more demanding off-road use, a task that the bike seems up for.
The new CRF300 will be offered in two versions, the standard L and the Rally replica. Unlike the previous model, this time both variants share the same suspensions, as the Rally stands out thanks to its desert-racer looks and larger fuel tank that holds 12.8 liters (3.4 gal), instead of 7.8 (2.1) for the CRF300L.
In terms of dimensions, the bigger tank makes for a slightly wider motorcycle and raises the seat height by just 5 mm (0.2 in) to 885 (34.8), as it mostly impacts the bike’s mass by adding 11 kg (24.3 lb) to the L’s 142 (313); both values represent wet weight.
The updates that Honda introduced with the new CRF300L sound wisely tuned to how its customers used the previous model. The main point is to make a noticeable difference where it matters the most and, with the torquier midrange of the bigger engine, the bike should feel stronger and faster at city speeds, where both CRFs are expected to spend most of their lives.
Honda suggests that the top speed is very slightly increased to 132 km/h (82 mph), which doesn’t come as a surprise given the taller final gear, and will probably be appreciated by riders whose daily routine involves some highway or those who wish to venture farther away from city limits.
The new output profile should also favor off-road use, with its torquey engine topped with sufficient suspension travel and hefty ground clearance. Honda made sure that, in either guise, the new CRF300 will be more than capable in its dual-purpose duties, all the while remaining friendly for inexperienced riders.
As of yet Honda hasn’t revealed any information on pricing and availability. In fact, both versions of the new CRF300 were first revealed in Thailand, where they’re built by the company's local branch, and for a while it was unclear whether these were anything other than Asian models. Things got a bit more perplexed when Honda teased a new 2021 CRF250L and CRF250 Rally duo for the Japanese market, before the official announcement from the European newsroom revealed the 2021 Euro-5 versions with the bigger engine.
As for the rest of the world, what-and-when still remains unclear. That said, the fact that the engine donor (the CBR300R) is already on offer in most major markets probably means that the new CRF300s aren’t likely to face serious problems in complying with national rules.