Interest in trail riding has boomed, fuelled by ‘adventure’ festivals, an abundance of YouTube ‘overland’ documentaries, a wider choice of ‘trailie’ bikes from manufacturers - and dreams of freedom triggered by lockdown.
So it’s been a great time for Honda to have totally redesigned and relaunched its legendary adventure bike, the accomplished little CRF250.
Now the CRF 300, it comes in two guises, the Rally - more road-focused with a larger tank and wider seat - and the ‘L’, aimed at those who really want to escape the tarmac and plunge headlong down green lanes, or across the desert.
Long the tried and trusted staple for those needing a reliable, lightweight road bike that can also handle the rough stuff, it’s now been significantly improved, while still embracing the CRF ‘look’, beloved of so many riders since its launch in 2000, when it replaced the CR series.
So what’s new? The most obvious change is that engine size has increased from 249cc to 286cc, giving an uplift in power produced by the liquid-cooled four-stroke from 24.4 HP and 16.7 lb/ft of torque, to 27 HP and 19.6 lb/ft.
Also improving performance in the new CRF are a revised air intake, inlet cam timing and exhaust system, designed to provide a better spread of torque across the rev-range. There are also shorter gearbox ratios, topped off with a taller 6th gear for better cruising.
There’s a new assist/slipper clutch for better control of the rear wheel, while the rear swingarm has been improved, while Honda says there is a ‘more laterally flexible frame’, along with increased ground clearance and longer travel suspension front and rear.
It looks great too. The bodywork has been sharpened up with new shapes and decals (making it look somewhat beefier than a ‘mere’ 300), and there’s a nice new LCD instrument display. Overall kerb weight is reduced by 4kg to 142 kg, improving the power to weight ratio by 13 per cent. There’s a useful helmet lock too.
The CRFL, which we tested, feels tall at first acquaintance, and in fact ground clearance has been increased from 255 to 285mm, while seat height has gone up by 5mm to 880mm. Fortunately, it’s still a narrow, highly manageable bike, so most riders will be able to get at least one foot - if not both - comfortably on the floor.
The second thing you notice when throwing a leg over the new CRF 360L is how light it feels; it weighs in at just 142 kgs, making it a cinch to manoeuvre on - or off - the saddle. It feels very nimble from the outset. The front wheel - at the end of those tall forks - feels a long way away at first, especially if you’re more used to a pure street bike, but it soon feels natural, in town or on the twisties.
The front brake uses a single 256mm disc gripped by a two-piston caliper, while the rear sports a 220mm disc and single-piston caliper; the discs also feature a wave design, for what Honda says is ‘exceptional self-cleaning ability’ when things get muddy. ABS - which can be switched off at the rear - is standard.
With off-roading in mind, there’s a 21-inch wheel at the front and 18-inch at the rear, while there’s a 7.8-litre fuel tank (compared to the Rally model’s 12.8-litre volume), so don’t expect to ride far without filling up again. The side stand has been redesigned, with a 10 per cent larger area for its (new) folding footplate.
The LCD display numbers are now 6mm larger, at 23mm, and information includes gear position indicator, fuel mileage and consumption, average speed, stopwatch and rev-counter. It’s easy to read on the move.
So how’s she go? Compared to the 250, the engine feels only marginally more powerful (even if it sounds beefier than before), but the gearing is noticeably improved - especially for short slogs along the motorway or A-roads where the higher top gear takes the strain, and the revs, off.
Handling - even on the standard knobbly tyres - is assured, and the riding position feels more spacious than on the 250. The brakes - especially up front - offer easily controlled and modulated stopping power.
The engine pulls well for its size but - if revved hard - hardly feels refined, often the nature of a single-cylinder unit. Fortunately, with that new spread of torque, there’s never any need to wring this bike’s neck. The suspension is basic but absorbs road lumps and bumps well, while the steering is always nimble.
Events conspired to prevent any serious off-roading on this occasion, barring a direct comparison with the CRF 250. But a short trip along a rough byway indicates that it should be even more of a gem than its predecessor when the going gets tough.
For those wishing to explore green-laning - while enjoying a basic, fun, value-for-money bike that is easy to ride, lightweight and with a commanding seating position - and that should prove just as tough and reliable as most other Hondas, it’s a very good choice indeed.
Engine: 286cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled four stroke
Max HP: 27
Max torque: 19.6 lb/ft.
Fuel tank: 7.8 litres
Seat height: 880mm
Weight: 142 kg
Fuel consumption: 32.3km/litre