How much motorcycle do you need? How much power, how much performance? Are you experienced or a beginner? What’s your budget for gas, insurance and (a biggie) tires?
The answer is a question (well, actually, three questions): (1) What sort of riding do you want to do—commute, tour, carve the twisties, pound the dirt, stand around at coffee bars admiring your bechromed ride, assault the world with open pipes? (2) What can you afford? (3) Do your skill levels match the bike? The offerings are all there. The choice is yours, the compromises clear.
Enter Honda’s 2015 CBR300R thumper, built in Thailand, evolved from the CBR250 and an obvious, ongoing, supremely competent competitor to Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 twin. The CBR is a neat, purposeful package, typical Honda: styled like a serious sport machine, with twin headlights, in a well-built motorcycle focused on younger, newer riders. It represents the ideal entry-level road bike, at a price ($4,399) that won’t bust the budget (with optional ABS, $4,899). A CB300F naked version is coming soon, at $3,999.
Honda introduced the CBR300R at its Torrance, California headquarters with a press briefing and followed by a short ride. Open-road riding is not feasible in central Los Angeles but the 300R demonstrated a full working capability on local streets and freeways, easily pacing fast-moving LA traffic. At well below 400 pounds, wet (22 pounds below the Ninja 300), cammed for torque and delivering an estimated 35 horsepower (Honda won’t disclose the number), it is nimble, easy to ride and handles excellently. A low seat height of 30.7 inches will attract shorter riders but Honda goes even further, offering an optional seat that’s another inch lower.
It starts, stops and turns like a much bigger and more powerful machine, flicks like a 125 and instills great rider confidence. Vibration from the relatively ‘big’ single is well controlled, by counterbalance shaft. Gas? Honda claims 70 MPG.
The specifications are generous for such an economy-focused bike: analog/digital tach/speedometer, EFI, big 296mm front disk, even modest under-seat storage. The 3.4-gallon tank should provide well over 200 miles of range. The fork is (of course) non-adjustable, the rear shock offers just preload clicks, five of them. Honda is offering options, including ‘carbon-like’ fairing parts, for those who want to make the bike more expensive.
History traditionally divided motorcycles into classes by engine size: 125, 250, 350, 500, 750 and liter. The 250s morphed into 300s, the 750s have almost vanished except for the GSX-R and the VFR (an 800) and became literbikes, while the literbikes grew to 1200 CCs or more. The rule now: there are no rules. In the marketplace, perceived value is the winner. In the entry-level category, where the CBR300R lives, the focus is price/performance. With historical capacity creep, will we see a 350 in a couple years? In the meantime, bring on the Ninja 300 versus CBR300R comparison tests—the global battle for entry-level machines is just starting.
This story originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.