When Honda’s CBR250R debuted in 2012, it was a long-overdue response from Big Red to the growing demand for a starter bike that wasn’t some moldy, old cruiser-style machine from the ’80s. Granted, the sportbike-styled CBR was a “world” model that was designed for rapidly growing markets such as Southeast Asia, India, and South America, but its timing was right for the US as well. With a low $4,099 sticker price, gas-sipping 250cc single-cylinder engine, and amiable performance, the little CBR seemed to be the Kawasaki Ninja 250’s first real competition in years.
But Kawasaki apparently caught wind of Honda’s new 250 and quickly released the updated Ninja 300 in 2013. With more displacement in addition to the advantage of an additional cylinder, the Ninja 300 basically left the CBR in its dust in any measure of performance (other than fuel economy). Sales of Honda’s latest CBR began to stall worldwide, and many assumed it would only be a matter of time until Big Red responded with its own updated model, the CBR300R.
We didn’t have to wait long. And like the Ninja 300, Honda didn’t just make the engine larger and call it a day.
A new crankshaft and connecting rod extend the engine’s stroke from 55mm to 63mm, adding 37cc of displacement for a total of 286cc from the single-cylinder powerplant. The PGM-FI fuel-injection system is basically identical, save for different fueling curves to match the larger engine. An exhaust system with more internal volume to match the bigger displacement utilizes a muffler setup similar to the CBR500R; Honda claims a 17-percent power increase over the 250R, and our butt dynos would tend to concur with the figure.
The added stroke means there’s plenty of torque to get you rolling from a stop, aided by the very smooth, light-action clutch and excellent transmission that novice riders can easily get accustomed to. As you’d expect, power builds smoothly and predictably, with more than enough steam to get in front of traffic from a stoplight. The power increase over the 250R isn’t jaw-dropping by any means, but you can feel there’s a slight boost in low-end and midrange grunt that continues on up into the 9,000-rpm range on the large analog tachometer before it begins to tail off well before the 10,500-rpm redline. Throttle response from the non-ride-by-wire EFI is buttery smooth at any rpm—again, nice and friendly for novice riders to learn on.
Overall handling is very agile—as you’d expect for a bike with a 54.3-inch wheelbase, narrow-profile 110/70-17 front and 140/70-17 rear tires, and a claimed wet weight of 357 pounds—yet there is no twitchiness or instability at sane speeds to alarm a new rider. The same tubular steel frame and suspension from the CBR250R gets carried over to the 300R, which translates to a comfortable ride that is still firm enough to keep everything under control in all but the most reckless of paces on the street. Braking from the single 296mm front disc and 220mm rear disc was more than adequate, with mild initial bite followed by a very linear progression in power—again, very novice-friendly characteristics. We were even surprised at the ample ground clearance available on the Honda; only expert-level aggression managed to cause the footpegs to touch down.
The other big change to the CBR300R is the styling. While the 250R bore a more-than-passing resemblance to the VFR1200F, the 300R’s bodywork and headlight are more closely aligned with the current CBR-RR supersport models. This certainly raises the “cool” factor with the 300R, as it’s hard to distinguish the smaller CBR from its bigger brethren at a passing glance (and considering how the VFR1200F is languishing in showrooms, probably a good idea in more ways than one).
A new seat and side covers are narrower at the bike’s midsection to allow your legs a straighter shot at the ground and, combined with the 300R’s low 30.7-inch seat height (incrementally higher than the 250R), make the new CBR a great bike for those of shorter inseam. There’s also an accessory seat for the 300R that drops the height another inch, putting the Honda at the forefront of rider accessibility in not just the sportbike market but motorcycling in general.
Overall ergos are basically the same as the 250R, with a mildly sporty posture that still retains plenty of all-day comfort. Despite the engine counterbalancer, a faint amount of vibration gets more pronounced at higher speeds due to the throttle required; 60 mph at 6,000 rpm isn’t bad, but 70 mph at 7,500 rpm gets a little tingly, and we could see it becoming an issue after prolonged periods. Fuel capacity is only 3.4 gallons, but Honda is claiming a 71-mpg average (a little down on the 250R), so you should see around 200 miles per tankful.
With a sticker price of $4,399 for the standard CBR300R and $4,899 for the ABS version, the new Honda undercuts the Kawasaki Ninja 300 by some $600 in standard trim and $400 in the ABS version. While the CBR300R still feels to have a slight acceleration disadvantage to the Ninja, its lighter weight (22 pounds less) and more-agile handling could tilt the balance in its favor. Looks like a rematch between Honda and Kawasaki (with perhaps an entrance by the new KTM RC 390) is in the cards. Stay tuned.
|2015 Honda CBR300R|
|MSRP||$4399 standard; $4899 ABS version|
|Type||Liquid-cooled, DOHC single|
|Bore x stroke||76.0 x 63.0mm|
|Induction||PGM-FI, 38mm throttle body|
|Front tire||110/70-17 IRC Road Runner RX-01F D|
|Rear tire||140/70-17 IRC Road Runner RX-01R Z|
|Rake/trail||25°/3.9 in. (98mm)|
|Wheelbase||54.3 in. (1380mm)|
|Seat height||30.7 in. (780mm)|
|Fuel capacity||3.4 gal. (13L)|
|Claimed wet weight||357 lb. (162kg) standard; 364 lb. (165kg) ABS version|