When I placed the order for a Honda CRF300L, back in December 2021, I had no idea that I would have to wait seven months before I got my hands on it. I had been told that it would arrive in January, but global supply-chain issues ensured that the wait was much longer. I finally collected it from the dealer seven months later, in July 2022.
Earlier in December, I had sold my 2001 Honda XR400R. It proved itself to be a very capable trail bike and I really enjoyed riding it, and developing my off-road riding abilities. But the XR was very finicky when it came to starting it, due to a combination of its carburettor and kick-starter. If a specific routine was not followed exactly, both at the end of a ride and when starting once it was cold, it could refuse to start for days at a time. As enjoyable as the bike was, I decided that I wanted something more reliable. That meant an electric start and fuel injection.
After searching online for suitable replacements for the XR, I narrowed my choice down to the CRF300L (newly introduced to the market in 2021). It had many glowing reviews and it met the requirements of being fuel injected with an electric starter. Unlike the more dedicated off-road models, this is a dual-sport bike that has long service intervals. And it is a Honda! With a retail price of €5,500, it was quite affordable for a brand new bike. However, to meet this budget price-point, Honda had to cut a few corners. Based on the reviews that I read, whilst the low-budget suspension and tyres were suitable for on-road use, they were found to be lacking in some off-road conditions. A less significant issue was the handlebars, which were reported to be made from soft steel that bent easily in a tumble. And the bike didn’t come with any of the protective items that are recommended when venturing onto dirt trails. But these shortcomings could all be rectified with aftermarket modifications. I realised that I could make all of the necessary modifications to get the bike to where I wanted it to be, and still be under the cost of other brands and models of bikes. So, the decision was made and I ordered the bike.
Thinking that I had a wait of one month ahead of me, I decided to spend that time researching and ordering aftermarket parts for the bike, so that they would be ready to install by the time it arrived. Over the subsequent weeks, I amassed a collection of parts for the bike, that began to take up space in the storeroom.
When the bike hadn’t arrived by February, I was told it might be here in March. When March passed, the dealer said he could no longer provide an estimate and that I’d be notified once it arrived. Any notion of reassessing and buying a different type of bike was out of the question, as I had already spent a couple of thousand Euros on parts that were specific to the 300L. I had no choice but to wait for it to arrive.
After six months of waiting, I received a message in June. My bike had arrived at the dealer. I promptly trundled to the dealership with luggage full of new aftermarket parts to be fitted. I was hoping that the dealer might be interested in giving me a credit for the new stock parts that were removed from the bike. I learned later that they were not interested in such an idea, so I’d be taking the removed parts home with me.
Of all of the modifications that I had planned for the bike, the dealer did not have a supplier for any of them – except for the tyres. That’s why I had to order them myself.
I would find myself waiting for another month, until the dealer had finally fitted all of the parts that I had delivered to them. Part of the delay involved fitting the front suspension. Apparently the dealer didn’t have the necessary tool to install the cartridges into the fork, so the bike was taken to a suspension specialist to complete that task. There was also a delay with the tyres, because the dealer didn’t order them until the bike was in their possession. It then seems that the wrong sized tyres were delivered and they had to be sent back. When I finally collected the bike in July, the stock tyres were still fitted. The replacement Motoz Tractionator tyres are expected to arrive around the end of July.
When I was searching for parts to modify the bike, a key consideration was whether the items were readily available within the EU, as I wanted to avoid the red tape and import fees associated with importing from the US and UK, for example. Some of the US and British parts were just not available within the EU, so they were by-passed in favour of items that were available. With that said, here is a description of the modifications that have been made so far.
My choice for upgrading the front suspension was quite easy. Whilst Ohlins and Hyperpro were selling replacement springs, only Andreani had a pair of fork cartridges to significantly upgrade the standard Honda spring. Whilst the Andreani Misano Evo cartridges were more than twice the cost of a spring upgrade, they offered a fully adjustable front suspension. On one fork stem the cartridge adjusts the compression, whilst on the other stem the cartridge adjusts the rebound. When fitted to the bike, the only visible difference is the Andreani fork caps with their gold-coloured adjustable dials.
The low-budget stock rear suspension of the CRF300L has a bad reputation for being soft and bouncy. That’s fine for a plush cruise down the road but potentially problematic for off-road riding.
Deciding on a replacement rear shock absorber was not such an easy decision, as there is a much wider selection of brands and models available for the 300L. I looked at options by Ohlins, K-Tech, Hagon, Nitron and Hyperpro, but finally opted to go with YSS. Some of the other companies only offered ’emulsion’ type shocks with no external adjustments. Whilst the simpler shocks have a much better price point, I decided that as I was upgrading the rear suspension, I may as well go all-in with one that is adjustable.
One challenge that I faced in selecting an appropriate rear shock was that they are designed for only two different rider weight ranges: below 85kg or above 85kg. Whilst I only weigh about 77kg, once I have on my off-road body armour, boots, helmet, etc, I will weigh more. Then throw in the weight of a tool kit and any other items that I might carry on the bike, and I expect the combined weight to surpass the 85kg barrier. But being at the lower threshold of the over 85kg point, I was a little concerned that the shock might be too stiff. Therefore, having a fully adjustable model would be a hedge against that possibility.
Having consulted with BEB Racing in Spain, I finally opted for the YSS model MG456-415TRW-07-858. It has a piggy-back reservoir and is fully adjustable for both rebound and compression. As can be seen in the photos below, the adjustment dials are easily accessible, without removing any panels.
Based on the first 145km that I have ridden the bike (on the road), I can safely say that the suspension is not soft or bouncy. I expect that it will take me some time to gradually make adjustments, to find the optimum settings.
Skid Plate / Bash Plate
The bike doesn’t come with any form of off-road protection fitted, so getting a decent bash plate installed is highly recommended for off-road riding. There are several manufacturers that are producing plates for the 300L, but almost all of them are made from aluminium. Instead, I opted for the AXP plate, made from 8mm thick HDPE plastic. The AXP plate is said to be 40% lighter than aluminium plates and, being made of plastic, it doesn’t reverberate engine noises, as some metal plates are known to do. I also bought the matching linkage guard, for extended protection below the shock.
Handlebars and Controls
This group of modifications were not all necessary but, as I wanted to add hand protectors, I took the opportunity to make other changes at the same time.
The stock handlebars have been replaced by Pro-Taper CR Hi handlebars, which have been raised by a pair of Voigt Moto handlebar risers. The handgrips have been replaced by a pair of Pro Taper pillow top clamp-on grips, whilst Zeta ZE44 foldable aluminium levers replace the stock items. Acerbis X-Factory hand guards provide some protection. The stock mirrors have been replaced by a pair of Double-Take mirrors, that can easily be folded out of harms way whilst off-road.
The handlebars are also fitted with a RAM mount for a Two-Nav Aventura 2 navigation device. However, my initial experience with this unit has revealed some limitations. It will soon be replaced by a Garmin Zumo XT and I’ll post a comparison review in a few months.
Rear Rack and Luggage
I went with AXP again for the rear rack. Made of high density polyethylene plastic, it claims to reduce weight when compared with metal racks and offers rigidity and elasticity that will help absorb shocks without getting deformed. I like the styling of the unit with its built in grab bars. It is also designed to take a Rotopax fuel can, if desired.
I chose to pair it with an SW Motech Ion S tail bag. The bag’s shape fits the rack nicely and its low profile doesn’t get in the way, while providing 7 litres of storage space. For additional space, the bag expands upwards to provide a total of 15 litres.
Other Bits and Pieces
Whilst the bike came with a rear chain guard, I replaced it with a more robust guard from AXP.
I have replaced the stock gear-change lever with a Zeta lever that has a folding and revolving tip. The revolving aspect of the design allows for some adjustability in the distance between the tip and the foot peg.
To help protect the fork seals, I have fitted a pair of Acerbis Z-Mud gaiters.
How It All Looks Together
Here are some photos of the bike, with the above listed modifications.
There are still some small issues to take care of.
As previously mentioned, the stock tyres will be replaced with a pair of Motoz Tractionators, once they arrive at the dealer.
The side-stand needs to be extended, as the bike leans over too much. I had asked the dealer to cut the stand and weld in a piece of metal to extend it, but that work didn’t get done! I now need to decide whether to get the current stand cut and welded, or whether to buy a longer and stronger stand from Rally Raid.
I’ll be getting a power cable wired into the bike for the Garmin Zumo XT navigation, when it arrives. I’ll likely also add a power outlet so that I can run a small air compressor for inflating tyres (or just buy a small hand-pump).
The bike came with a very rudimentary tool kit, that sits inside the tool box on the left side of the bike. I am in the process of putting together a more extensive tool kit for trail riding. It is unlikely to all fit inside the tool box, so I have an Acerbis tool bag that can fit onto the front fender.
I have some 3M clear adhesive tape that I will be attaching to some parts of the bike’s frame, to protect areas where rubbing is likely to occur.
It didn’t take much riding to realise that the strap on the seat has to go. It makes the seat less comfortable when sitting on it. I have a plan for that, based on a hack that I’ve seen online.
I’m also considering getting a radiator guard fitted, once a decent one becomes available within the EU.
What About a New Exhaust and an ECU Reflash?
I see that many 300L owners are buying aftermarket exhaust systems, as well as devices to re-flash the ECUs, in a search for more power and, in some cases, a louder bike. An aftermarket exhaust can also shave some weight off the bike, which can be useful for off road riding.
Well, I have no interest in making the bike louder. I also have some concern over what impact the new motorcycle testing regime will have, when it is introduced to Portugal (perhaps later this year). There is a possibility that aftermarket exhausts will result in a failed test, as they are invariably noisier but they also dispense with the catalytic converter that ensures that the bike meets EU emissions standards.
And do I really need more power than the 300L can provide, for the type of trail riding that I do? At this point, I doubt it. But I’ll have a better idea in a few months, after I’ve been able to get this machine out on the trails.
Based on the 145km that I rode in the first 24 hours after collecting it, I think this is going to be a fun little bike.
It doesn’t have the power or torque of the old XR400R, which would pull strongly on my arms under acceleration. The XR had 34hp whilst the 300L has 27hp. Similarly, the XR had a maximum of 24.3 lb/ft of torque compared to 19.6 on the 300L. But I’m not convinced that I need any more power than it has. It has enough acceleration to overtake cars on N-roads and to be a fun ride on the bends. It won’t set any speed records on the motorways, but that’s not what I bought it for.
Compared to my Goldwing, it is obviously a much lighter and more flickable machine. I’ve ridden it along a route that I’ve done on my Goldwing several times, and the 300L gives a very different riding experience.
The main test will be when I take it off road, but that may have to wait for a while. With Portugal under a severe heat wave, and much of the country facing high risks of wildfires, it is not the time for riding forested trails.
But, so far, it is looking like a very worthwhile purchase. The aim is to have a reliable bike that is competent on the trails, whilst also having the ability to ride some distances on roads to get me to the trails. It looks like it will tick those boxes.