Julian Challis discovers that, much like himself, the CRF300l improves with age during a jaunt along the trans euro trail
After writing about a monster trip around Wales on a Kawasaki Versys 1000 for the last issue of ABR, my next major journey could not have been more different as I traded the mile-busting power of a 1000cc inline-four for a tiny 300cc single.
Once I’d wrestled the keys of the ABR longtermer CRF300L away from editor James, I pressed it into action on a 700-mile jaunt around the West Country to complete my Trans Euro Trail (also known as the TET) odyssey here in the UK.
Ahead were five days of constant trails and roads on the Great Western Trail section of the TET, starting in Dorset on the south coast of England, before heading through Devon and Cornwall to Land’s End, where we turned around and headed up to Bristol.
My rides on previous TET trips have been a Yamaha Ténéré 660, a KTM 250 EXC, a KTM 690 Enduro, and a Honda CRF450L. All completed their legs without problems, save for a dodgy side-stand switch and a puncture on the 690. So, the little Honda had a lot to live up to.
And I have to say it did far better than I had hoped or indeed anticipated, bossing the trip with an understated confidence and ability that was truly impressive. With Facebook TET pages filled with riders fettling much larger and more powerful bikes, it’s strangely grounding and comforting to know that this cheap little bike has everything you need pretty much from the crate.
In issue 64 of ABR, I compared the 300L to trail bikes from back in the day, bikes that you could ride all week and then hit a few green lanes at the weekend. Well, the Great Western Trail was going to take this to another level. The first test for the Honda was the trip down from Bristol to the starting point in Bridport. Normally, my mates and I would van our bikes down, but the 70-mile ride seemed a good shakedown for the 300L, albeit a bloody chilly one.
I soon noticed that it was noticeably more comfortable on the road than it had been when I first tested the bike for ABR. Now, modern bikes rarely need running in as used to be the case, but it’s clear that with more miles on the clock the little Honda’s motor is loosening up and improving considerably.
Add in the fact that it was now breathing easier thanks to removing the airbox snorkel and filter screen, and the 300L was positively singing as I motored down to Dorset. This was great news as the bike’s earlier sluggishness on the road was my only misgiving for taking it on the trip away. The fact it would now pull dual carriageway speeds and keep up with traffic was truly welcome.
I discussed the engine improvement with my friend Steve who rides a CRF250L, and he confirmed that his current bike had taken a staggering 2,500 miles to fully settle in. Either way, it’s well worth noting that if you have bought a 300L and are a bit disappointed, it will get better, much, much better.
And the improvements on the road also carry through to the trail performance of the bike, the freer engine allowing positively spirited progress up even the most challenging trails that the South West could offer.
Of course, this was greatly assisted by ditching the stock IRC dual-sport tyres for a set of Dunlop Geomax Enduro hoops, which provided faultless grip and traction on everything from rock to mud. And contrary to popular belief, they are surprisingly good on the road. My advice is, if you are doing the TET on any bike, big or small, fit tyres that will allow you to get through the tough off-road sections, and don’t sweat the road stuff.
As to the rest of the bike, the Honda worked very well every single day. The seat is positively plush for a dirt bike and it was big enough to fit a tail pack and a tank bag upfront. Of course, this does make the bike a bit top-heavy but I prefer keeping it narrow for paddling in the tight lanes, and having used this set-up before, I’m firmly in the ‘if it’s not broke’ camp.
For the cockpit, the little custom Skidmarx screen worked well, deflecting the brambles and rain from me and my iPhone which was running the route on the Viewranger app.
What was less successful was the low position and shallow rise of the stock handlebars which just don’t work well for standing, and on the TET you need to do a lot of standing to make progress and avoid battering your kidneys into mush. I run 30mm risers and Renthal Twinwall bars on my own KTM trail bike and this would be an immediate upgrade if I were keeping the Honda.
As with many adventure bikes, the switchable rear ABS is a regular pain. You have to be stationary to turn it on or off, and it resets if you turn off the ignition. I lost count of the times I had to let everyone past as I stopped to switch off the ABS for the lanes. Removing the fuse is an option but one that may have insurance and warranty implications, but if the fuse were to blow out on the trails, well that would be just dandy.
All in all, I was hugely impressed at just what a competent bike the Honda was for the trip.
OK, the suspension is ridiculously soft, it’s hard to get it to wheelie over whoops and dips in the trails, and at times it does feel a tad weighty. But as an allrounder to take on the TET, or indeed any other on and off-road trip, the Honda is hard to fault. As is the staggering 88 miles per gallon fuel economy.
You can read the full story of Julian’s GWT trip on page 64 of this issue of ABR.