By Surj Gish, with Max Klein
Rainy day photos by Max Klein, sunset photo by Surj Gish
Rider: Gordon Pull
I’m a big guy, little bike paradox, the motorcycle equivalent of Chris Farley’s fat guy in a little coat. I own a very well set-up CRF250L—the little dual-sport brother of the F’er we’re talking about here—and enjoy bombing it around town, at least when it’s not up on a stand in my garage, getting new this and that after I’ve thrown it down some trail again.
We’ve ridden a lot of li’l bikes in the last year: Yamaha’s R3 and SR400, the latest Ninja 300, and both the KTM Duke and RC 390, so you may have caught this line before. Little bikes are fun.
So my time on the F was well spent hopping off of speed bumps and wringing the little bastard’s neck to redline with pretty much every twist of the grip. Abusive? Perhaps. See the bit about how I treat my 250L above for exhibit B in The People Vs. Editor Surj, in which I get in trouble for occasionally being a little rough on little bikes.
What can I say? It’s fun.
A lot of the smallish beginner bikes make big promises, showing up for their first date with a new rider dressed up in the trappings of super-sportiness: fairings modeled after their bigger, (much) faster siblings. To the layperson, not trained to quickly notice things like skinny tires and single discs, a Ninja 300 or R3 looks like a goddamn donorcycle, a high-speed death machine. And don’t get me started on the RC, which looks like even more serious business.
Therein lies the charm.
But the CB300F eschews this Ricky-racer wannabe-ism, employing a more honest, bare-bones approach. It’s still an attractive motorcycle—our blacked-out F looked pretty tough, if a little skinny.
Like my 250L, it actually is tough, too. It handles the abuse with no complaints. Weird thing: when ridden hard, it actually smells the same as the 250L too. Anyway, I didn’t take it to the track, but I didn’t notice any brake fade in spite of my ham-fisted abuse of the front binder and occasional locking up of the rear. Again, it’s fun.
Oh… on the locking up. There’s no ABS. In my opinion, this is poor move on Honda’s part, not even offering ABS as an option when it’s standard on the same bike in other parts of the world. Sure, there’s the old argument that learning to brake well is part of becoming a good rider, but the flip side of that is that new riders can benefit from some assistive tech—training wheels, if you will—to protect them from their inevitable dumb mistakes and help ensure they make it to seasoned rider without breaking their ass and giving up.
But I’m sort of inclined to let it slide, because this bike is $3,999—in used car dealer-speak, under $4,000. I know that this is the Bay Area and we’re out of touch with the rest of the country, never mind the rest of the world, but $4,000 is almost peanuts. Yeah, a lot of peanuts, but peanuts nevertheless—nearly cheap enough to get just to fuck around with, especially if you’re a stock options-rich tech youngster used to paying $400 for jeans and $8 for artisan toast.
So whattya get for ten pairs of selvedge denim, whatever the hell that is?
You get a 348-pound (wet, claimed) motorcycle, nice and narrow, with a 30.7” seat height and an upright, natural riding position. You get a willing 286 cc, 4-valve, dual overhead cam motor with around 30 ponies, according to our well-tuned butt-dynos. You get six smooth-shifting speeds, fuel injection, a 3.4 gallon tank and a hypothetical 78 mpg. I didn’t get that kind of mileage, but as I’ve mentioned once or twice or maybe even thrice, I’m not nice to these little bikes, and the after the thrashing I gave our li’l F’er, I don’t think it’d be fair to share the mileage I was getting.
Also… I sorta lost track. Time flies and gas disappears when you’re having fun. Oh well.
What else do you get? Well… really basic, kinda spindly suspension: a 37 mm fork with 4.65” of travel (ever wonder why we get both metric and Imperial measurements for the same component?) and a single shock with 4.07” of travel. You get adjustments… oh wait, adjustment… just preload, just in the back. You get scrawny tires and some chintzy bits here and there.
We could bitch about all the compromises that get this bike to its price point, but why bother? It’s a damn fun and presumably Honda-reliable machine, or if you’re more the sensible type than we are, it’s also a really good, plain-old boring, presumably Honda-reliable round-towner. And it costs as much as a few (ok, ten) pairs of (ok, really expensive) jeans.
I like to think of motorcycles (and cats) as people from time to time. That is, I associate some basic human qualities with them. I don’t carry on full blown conversations with either, although the bikes do get a stern talking to from time to time. (I’m looking at you, racebike.)
But it helps if the bike has a bit of personality. Take the Honda Grom for example. It is basically a 9-year-old kid on summer vacation: no responsibilities, livin’ for playtime. It’s 125 ccs of recess malarkey, even when school is in session.
The Honda’s CB300F is basically the young adult version of the Grom. It’s physically grown up—to 286 ccs—in a bigger frame. I think of it as just shy of 18 years old. Not quite an adult, still in high school, studying hard to get into a good college. It’s responsible, with a part-time job after school, but still loves to kick it with the homies on the weekends. The 300F still has Aunt Mildred coming up to pinch its cheeks—still has that baby face she remembers—but it can out run her now.
Seriously though, put a Grom next to a CB3 and the familial resemblance is obvious. Put a big enough dude on the CB, and from a distance it’s easy to get confused.
Sitting on the 300F gave me some Grom flashbacks as well. The buttons and dash are the same, and while it’s substantially less cramped, the riding position is similar enough to make me forget I am on a bigger bike.
Back to those buttons for a second. For whatever reason, Honda continues to go against the grain and invert the position of the horn and turn signal buttons from their usual positions. Sure, it kinda makes sense for day-to-day operations on a smaller bike, but since my first ride on the F was home from CityBike World HQ in the dark, I ended up signaling my lane changes with a brief but confusing beeeeep more often than not. When the old man in the older Chevy truck made a left turn in front of me I expressed my displeasure by mashing down the left turn signal with extreme prejudice. At least the brake and clutch are on the correct sides.
The motor is counter-balanced and fuel-injected so the little thumper is pretty smooth both in lack of vibration as well as power delivery. For a small displacement single it’s not terrifying on the freeway, but it wasn’t all that fun on the slab either. At under 350 pounds it did shine as a city commuter and was an absolute lane sharing demon—I’m pretty sure my shoulders were the widest part of the man/machine combo.
Riding the 300F does hit you with a dose of small bike syndrome. You know, you’re constantly racing everything, all the time, no matter what. The best part is that it’s tough to get in too much trouble on a little bike.
No, that statement is not a challenge, and no, CityBike ain’t gonna bail your ass out if you take it as one.
The low seat height does mean that, like it or not, I was resting my elbows on my knees from time to time, but my lanky ass is not the target demographic. As a beginner bike, the 300F is pretty damn solid. Sure, it has the bargain bin bits on it to keep the cost down, but the most important part, the motor, is solid and strong.
After all, it may be small, but it’s still a Honda.
The next Honda we’re riding is the CB500F, and I can’t wait to see what the adult versions of the CB lineup are like, you know, after their cylinders drop.
This story originally appeared in our May 2016 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.