Everyone loves horses. Men and women make them a personality. Hollywood makes a lot of films about them. Cultures around the world venerate them. And both Ferrari and Ford have made them icons. But in the world of adventuring, horses are second-rate. What you want is a donkey. What you want is a 2022 Honda CRF300L Rally.
Donkeys aren’t sexy or fast, but they’re the literal workhorses of adventuring. They’re favored for trips up and down the Grand Canyon, for archaeological work where trucks can’t go, in warfare, were once used for long-distance trade in ancient Egypt, and a host of other adventurous expeditions where their even-tempered natures are prized. They’re pack beasts, farm implements, animal sherpas, and just get the job done.
The CRF300L Rally shares the same attributes and is better for it.
Thoroughbred adventure motorcycles like the Ducati Multistrada V4 are great tools, but exploring the deep, deep backcountry where trails don’t exist is the donkey’s turf, as well as the CRF300L Rally’s. The bike isn’t fast, flashy, or loaded with tech, but it will chug along, climbing mountains, fording rivers, clawing through mud, and more until you’re safe, sound, and warmed by a fire. It will not, and cannot, be stopped.
The CRF300L Rally may not be the horse you think you want, but this donkey is the perfect expedition companion.
2022 Honda CRF300L Rally ABS Review Specs
- Base price: $6,399
- Type of motorcycle: Adventure
- Powertrain: 286cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder | 6-speed sequential manual | chain drive
- Horsepower: 27
- Torque: 19.6 lb-ft
- Brakes: Single 296mm disc with twin-piston caliper (front) | Single 220mm disc (rear)
- Suspension: 43mm inverted fork; 10.2 inches of travel (front) | Pro-Link® single shock with spring; 10.2 inches of travel (rear)
- Seat height: 35.2 inches
- Tires: IRC GP Trails 21-inch (front) | IRC GP Trails 22-inch (rear)
- Curb weight: 331 pounds
- Fuel tank: 3.4 gallons
- Quick Take: The donkey you want.
- Score: 9/10
Honda’s CRF300L Rally is the lowest rung of the company’s adventure motorcycle ladder, an affordable slowpoke that’s as basic as something with Lada scrawled across the hood.
A 286cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine powers this mule, offering riders a bewildering 27 donkeypowers and 19.6 pound-feet of torque. Putting all that oomph to the ground is a six-speed sequential manual transmission connected to a chain drive—no breakable belt here—which retains Honda levels of shifting perfection. Front and rear suspension offer 10.2 inches of travel, while a twin-piston caliper clamps down on a single disc rotor at the front, and a single-piston caliper clamps down on the rear.
A small digital display delivers how much fuel you have left, your speed, rpm, the gear you’re in, and the time. That’s it. Knuckle guards encase the handlebars and keep you from getting slapped by the wind or brush when out on the trails, which kept my fingers safe a few times. A 3.4-gallon fuel tank, with a 0.6-gallon reserve, nets you around 250 miles per tank, which equals a staggering 60 mpg with regular gas. With today’s fuel prices, that’s much appreciated.
Design-wise, the front headlight looks like some alien cyborg, with indicators and a license plate thrown in to ensure its street-legalness. Again that’s, well, it.
Commenters are sure to say, “That’s not enough! Bikes need more stuff! They need tech and horsepower and traction controls and GPS and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” But the older I get, the more I yearn for such simplicity. Not for simpler times or whatever “get off my lawn” old men say, but for simplicity in the tools and machines I use. After decades of the latest tech and immersion in the new, not everything has to be digital. Not everything needs WiFi, Apple CarPlay, a HUD readout, or the ability to upload viral dances to TikTok. Your phone? Sure. But that’s absolutely not necessary for a bike like the CRF300L Rally. You don’t need the extra to do what this motorcycle is capable of, and trust me, I pushed this motorcycle hard.
My travels with the Honda took me through rain and snow storms, across rivers, streams, and thigh-deep puddles, up mountains without visible trails, and down hills so muddy they nearly caused me to hit the SOS button on my sat comms. Nothing stopped it and I couldn’t find a single flaw with this blessedly simple ass.
Water crossings went simply and I actually stopped in the middle of a river to snap some photos. One extremely muddy, grassy hill saw me drop the bike, however. It was a slow fall and picking the bike back up was somewhat exhausting since I kept slipping on the mud, too. But the Honda wasn’t the issue, I was.
I’d kept the CRF300L Rally in first because of the belief I could modulate the throttle better when I started sliding around. But the higher wheel speed of first gear just meant I got nowhere quick and the lack of forward momentum and slick surface pulled me into the muck. I was too timid. Once I welled up the gumption and throttled it in second gear, the torque of the higher gear sunk the CRF300L Rally’s hooves (its knobby IRC GP Trails tires) into the mud and got me up.
Ten-plus inches of suspension travel soaked up ruts, head-sized boulders, and all manner of fallen wood. As for a trailless mountain peak, most of which resembled hard enduro paths, it was slow going, but the summit was absolutely worth it. I could see peaks and valleys so far off into the distance, it could’ve been another state. With each ride, the Honda continued to astound me and its donkey persona stayed true.
Its on-road manners are perfectly adequate, too, but won’t be winning any drag or track races. I took a handful of trips into town, as well as to Park City to ride the Zero DSR/X. It kept up with traffic, though I wouldn’t push it past 75 mph due to its tires and it being pretty hp-limited. It’s not unsafe, but it wiggles about on the rubber and isn’t confidence-inspiring. I’d keep it below 70 mph if I were going from destinations.
The CRF300L Rally surprised me, however, by deftly handling a near-close encounter with a deer crossing the road. My body froze up and I threw it into a small lock-up drift, but I was able to just steer myself around the buck.
If I have one issue with the CRF300L Rally, it’s the bike’s name. I fully expected a CRF250 with a fairing or Dakar entrant. But the delivery of its paltry horsepower is super low down in the rev range and then nothing higher than 5,000 rpm. A slow mule? Yes. A race bike for the road? No. But that isn’t the point of this motorcycle and I completely misunderstood it ahead of actually riding it.
Maybe Honda needs to rename it? CRF300L Expedition has a nice ring to it, and Honda could save the “Rally” nomenclature for a CRF450 with this same fairing—hint, hint, Honda. But if that’s my only complaint, and it is, it’s a win for Honda.
There are a few turn-key competitors for the CRF300L Rally, most of which aren’t as expensive as the Honda’s $6,399 price tag. You’ve got the Royal Enfield Himalayan ($5,299), the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ($6,199), the KTM 390 Adventure ($6,799), the BMW G 310 FS ($5,695), and the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 ($5,399). But these are all street-focused motorcycles with some off-road chops.
Fire roads and dusty pavement will be handled with ease, but over everything else, they’ll fall to pieces. They’re poseurs with enduro tires and exaggerated marketing. Riders will quickly find the limits of those motorcycles…limiting. They aren’t donkeys. They can’t climb every mountain, ford every stream. The Honda CRF300L Rally can. To even approach the Honda’s capability, you’ll be building a motorcycle yourself from the product lines of Yamaha, Kawasaki, KTM, or Husqvarna, which are more expensive to start, let alone all the parts you’ll need to affix. It simply has no competition.
The 2022 Honda CRF300L Rally is the purest motorcycling experience you can get. It has no frills, no excess, no added gadgets or gizmos to “enhance” your ride. It just is, and is comfortable in its own donkey skin. Honda engineered something simple and the bike’s better off for it. It’ll take you on adventures to the farthest places on the planet, bar the deepest oceans, and it’ll get you home once you’ve conquered them.
Donkeys might not be as fast or as cool as horses, but they sure as shit are the perfect exploration companions, and that’s what makes the CRF300L Rally so good.
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