First Ride – 2019 Honda CB300R

In Japan, Reviews, Standard by AbhiLeave a Comment

313 pounds. There’s a lot to discuss about the new-for-2019 Honda CB300R, but those three digits are the driving force as to why this bike is such an appealing option for newbies, oldies, and anyone who appreciates that less weight makes everything better.

What I like:
  • 313 pounds! (Add 4 for ABS)
  • Budget price, non-budget features.
  • Honda figured out that beginner bikes can look good!
What I don’t like:
  • The brakes lack feel and initial bite.
  • Not much room for your right foot.
  • There are no official plans to create a CB500R…yet.

Photos by Drew Ruiz

Let’s go back to the start of the decade. Honda knew that small-displacement bikes would be important in the future, but their lineup of offerings was bleak – customers who walked into a Honda dealership could get a Rebel 250…and that’s pretty much it. The next closest thing was a CBR600RR! They’ve made quite an effort to rectify that, and since 2011 they have introduced an absolute bevy of options displacing between 250 and 500 cubic centimeters. Their reward has been over 50,000 sales of the five models below (ignoring the brand new CB300R):

Depending on the model, 43-56% of the sales are to first time motorcycle buyers, which grows the sport and is great news for all of us!

What’s even more impressive is that we’re just talking about the “sport” models – this doesn’t include the Grom, Rebel, CB500X, or the CRF250L/Rally!

Honda’s previous naked 300 is the CB300F, and it’s going away. The only thing you’ll have to remember the outgoing “F” by is the drivetrain, which is mostly carried over into the new R.

Old and New – note that these aren’t to scale.

What that means is you get a liquid-cooled, DOHC 286cc counterbalanced single paired with a 6-speed transmission and a chain final drive. Updates to the intake and exhaust have boosted output slightly to 30.9 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, and 20.3 pound-feet of torque at 7,500 rpm.

No one’s expecting world-beating power, which is good because you’re not going to get it. Still, it’s powerful enough to easily top any speed limit in the US.

More power is always welcome, but Honda is also getting more per pony because they’ve been able to cut out a dramatic amount of weight. Fully fueled and ready to ride, the non-ABS model is 313 pounds, which is 35 pounds lighter than the non-ABS CB300F. The ABS model is 317 pounds, which is 38 pounds lighter than the corresponding F. The weight savings are truly impressive, and Colin Chapman (the man who famously said, “Simplify, then add lightness“) would have been proud of how Honda has improved the power-weight ratio. What he might have pushed back on is the technology, because there’s a surprising amount of not-so-simple tech for an entry-level motorcycle.

Despite a MSRP of $4,649, this little Honda is packing some unexpected technology. The biggest surprise for me is the $300 optional ABS, which includes an input regarding pitch angle from an inertial measurement unit (IMU). What this means is that if a rider jams on the front brake too hard and the rear wheel is about to lift, the ABS system will intervene beforehand by releasing some of the brake pressure in the front circuit as needed.

The front brake is comprised of a radially-mounted Nissin caliper and a 296mm wave rotor.

Interestingly, the reason why Honda thinks this rear lift mitigation system (which is something that MV Agusta boasted about to me with their $16,698 Brutale 800 RR) was necessary is due to improved mass centralization. Heavier components such as the hideous exhaust have been brought inward – refer to the photo of “old and new” up top as a comparison. That shifts weight bias forward, which in turn increases the chances of the rear wheel coming off the ground if a new rider panics and grabs too much front brake. Note that this is actually Honda’s second implementation of this ABS system – it’s also in the 2018 Grom for similar reasons.

Check out all that sweet centralized mass.

Grayed out in the above photo is the all-new frame, which is a big reason for the weight loss. Cleverly, Honda partially split the frame into two concepts. There’s a reinforced “pivot plate” that’s separate from the main frame. It’s built to take the bulk of the force transmitted by the rear shock, and that allows the rest of the frame to be built with thinner tubes.

The rigidity/weight ratio of the new swingarm is up 15%, but the star of the show is the blue pivot plate.

A backlit LCD screen adds a touch of class, though it can be a little difficult to read if the sun is directly shining on it. The information is clearly laid out, but the lack of a gear position indicator seems like an oversight on a bike that’s targeted to new riders. A subtle improvement is that both buttons are now placed on the left side. On the “F”, the “SET” button was on the right side, which made it tough to access while riding.

LCD screens can be difficult to photograph, but this gives you an idea of what you can see when the sun is glaring down on the screen. Big things like the speed are fine, but good luck trying to see what your fuel mileage or trip odometer is at a quick glance.

In addition to the LCD, this little runabout features full LED lighting – headlight, taillight, and turn signals. It made me think about the last bike I reviewed – the $12,999 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT and how it lacks features like the IMU or even LED turn signals that the CB offers at less than half the price. It’s nice to see that Honda realizes a low price doesn’t have to mean “cheap”. That attitude also applies to the styling – when’s the last time you saw a sub-$5,000 bike that looked this good? With a tail tidy and a different muffler, the CB300R would give off tremendous baby-Vitpilen vibes. It looks fantastic, especially in the weirdly-named “Chromosphere Red”.

Federal regulations mean large fender stays and exhaust pipes are the new normal, so I won’t knock Honda for it too much. Thankfully, the aftermarket will have plenty of solutions. The one thing I’m on the fence about is if the radiator should have been black.

So, it sounds all lovely on paper – but does it ride as good as it looks?

After 110 miles of freeway, city streets, and the tight twisties in the mountains around Big Bear Lake, I can’t stress enough how much the diet has paid off.

We started with a quick freeway jaunt that made it clear that the little CB will keep up with traffic at highway speeds, though after 70 mph the motor is better at increasing volume than increasing speed. Due to the group nature of our ride, I wasn’t able to see how fast the bike could go. I’m confident, however, it could clear 90 mph, and a bike like this doesn’t need to go any faster.

I’ve seen a claimed fuel economy figure of 71 miles per gallon, though the type of riding we enjoyed meant I saw lower numbers throughout the day. At a constant 70 miles per hour on the freeway, the digital computer was reporting an instant mpg figure of approximately 62. Theoretically, the range of the 2.7 gallon tank is about 190 miles.

The other thing our time on the freeway taught me is that there’s a noticeable buzz in the grips above 7,250 rpm, which means I felt it in top gear when cruising at 65 miles per hour and above. It’s not a dealbreaker, especially when compared to other singles, but it’s something you’ll want to pay attention to when you take a test ride.

Seeing as plenty of buyers will be students, Honda briefly took us back to school – you can probably guess which University we rode through. The seating position is much more upright than the styling would suggest.

I probably make the bike look small, but I was surprisingly comfortable. The most annoying thing from a size standpoint is that I had to crane my neck dramatically just to glance at the LCD gauge cluster. We weren’t ever on the bike for more than an hour at a time, so I’m going to request a loaner to get some extended seat time and see if I’m still happy in the saddle (and to see how Vy feels about being a passenger).

Behind that dark tint visor is a gigantic smile.

Until then, I’ll just have to be sustained by the positive memories of enjoying corner after corner. That’s where this bike excels, because the generous cornering clearance and miniscule weight make the little CB an absolute joy to ride at speed. This is an excellent example of the overused phrase that it’s “more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.” After several photo passes in the above series of corners, I got lazy with my body position and just leaned the bike from side to side. It required less effort than I can remember expending on a street bike in the past, which meant I was turning in earlier and enjoying higher corner entry speeds. I can imagine some riders picking this up as a cool, fuel-efficient commuter, but if you only ride this bike in city streets, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Because it’s so easy to ride this bike through corners, beginners will be confident – and when they’re confident, they’re going to be having fun. Isn’t that the point of all of this?

Hint: Yes, it’s the point.

Part of that confidence comes from the Showa suspension, which features a 41mm USD fork with 5.1 inches of travel and Honda’s classic Pro-Link monoshock rear with 4.2 inches of travel. The only adjustment front or rear is 7 stages of preload in the back, but I had no complaints with the stock settings even while riding somewhat aggressively. It’s set up well for the budget and intended audience.

Old and New, Part 2

Honda brought along a 300F so that we could compare old and new. It was the first time I had tried the 300F, and it was instantly clear the the new bike is better in almost every way. It’s lighter, faster, more comfortable, and much, much cooler. However, there were two aspects in which the new bike was worse:

1.) Significantly reduced room for the rider’s right foot. This is a symptom of the quest for mass centralization, which leads to better handling. The new exhaust is upswept, and it gets in the way when you’re on the balls of your feet. I had no clearance issues when I was riding the old 300F.

Left: The CB300F has plenty of room for my foot. Right: The CB300R does not.

2.) Brake feel. I wouldn’t say the braking performance of the current bike is bad, but the previous bike had much stronger initial bite and better feel throughout the lever stroke. Honda reps said that the brakes on the new bike are stronger and that stopping distances from any given speed are shorter, but I wasn’t able to verify that. You have to really clamp the lever down with strength to get decent braking force, and I think that’s a bummer, as I want to see better brakes on a beginner bike.

There’s one thing that’s dumb on both bikes – actually, it’s dumb on every new Honda – the position of the horn button. Honda seems to be the only company that puts the horn button above the turn signal switch, and I find it annoying every time I’m riding one. When I asked about it, I was told that it had to do with how they position the shifting buttons for their DCT automatic transmission, but I couldn’t get an answer that made sense to me. The button to shift up is on the backside of the controls, and the button to shift down is on the very bottom. So it shouldn’t affect why the horn and turn signals spots are opposite what riders are used to.

If a new Honda is your only bike, you’ll get used to it quickly. But if you’re switching between bikes, there will be some inadvertent honking in your future.

It’s probably fruitless to complain about this since it spans the entire lineup, but Honda did fix the annoying pop-off gas cap lid issue from the last generation due in part to Ari Henning’s Favorites and Fails video about the CBR300R sportbike, so here’s my long shot.

Good things come in small packages. The Honda CB300R is much better than the 300F it replaces, but that’s no longer relevant. There’s a few similar options in the marketplace, but I think the closest competitor is the BMW G310R (a bike that I also liked a lot). I kept having flashbacks to my time with the BMW, as there are so many similarities. Both are built internationally (the G310R in India, the CB300R in Thailand) for world markets, which means that the motors aren’t highly stressed to ensure that they’re reliable and can run on a wide range of octane ratings. The BMW produces 34 horsepower out of 313cc motor (10.86 hp/L), while the Honda puts out 30 hp from a 286cc (10.49 hp/L).

When you factor in ABS, the BMW is slightly cheaper at $4,750 vs $4,949 (but you’ll need to spend an extra $100 on the BMW to get the much better looking Pearl White livery). The BMW has better brakes, a better seat for rider and passenger, and the option for a top case, but the Honda has a slightly better power-to-weight ratio, better styling, and (going from memory) sharper handling. I should also point out that the G310R and GS recently went through a “stop sale” due to frame/sidestand troubles.

When I asked you what you wanted to know about this bike, “Rod” wisely reminded me, “When you ride it, try to think like a 22-year-old”. When I got my first bike, I was in high school and the year was 2003. The only option I seriously considered was a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, a bike that basically looked the same for three decades. I wish I had the options that riders have today.

Even before reading this review (thanks for doing so), you could have probably guessed that this bike would be good for beginners because it would be easy to ride, return good gas mileage, and presumably feature Honda’s typical reliability.

After my first date, I want you to know that the 300 is also a delightful little bike that encourages fun in the corners. It will make a great choice for many first riders who will go on to create wonderful motorcycling memories – plus, they probably won’t have enough experience to realize that the brakes aren’t great!

The Honda CB300R stands out because it weighs so damn little – and that improves every dynamic quality of the machine. Yet, what may actually be more important is how good it looks.

You wouldn’t know from the photos I’ve shared with you, but the CB300R is also available in “Matte Gray Metallic”.

Honda calls the styling “Neo-Sports Café”, which clearly implies a modern take on the classic cafe. I think it’s lovely enough to snag some customers just on looks alone. If you agree about the styling but want something with a bit more oomph, have no fear. Honda’s about to release the CB1000R, and it happily makes me think of the “Big One” from the mid ’90s. If that’s too much poke for you, too bad – Honda currently does not have plans to update the CB500R with the Neo-Sports Café styling.

You might think 300 is too cold and 1000 is too hot, but there’s not going to be a ‘just right’ for you, Goldilocks. Photo courtesy of Honda.

No use in worrying about what you can’t have. The CB300R is here now, and it’s well worth a ride. Go check it out – units are being delivered to your local dealership as you read this. Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting here, drooling over the CB1000R…

Check out the 2019 Honda CB300R!

It’s so pretty.

Helmet: Arai Signet-X in Place Red – $829.95
Jacket: Aerostich Transit – no longer available
Jeans: REV’IT Philly 2 Loose Fit in Dark Blue – $229.99
Gloves: Alpinestars Oscar Robinson in Brown – $89.95
Boots: Sidi Fast Rain – $175
Backpack: Velomacchi Rolltop 28L – $269