To say the 2019 Honda CB300R looks good for a beginner bike would be an understatement – it looks great, period, beginner bike or not. This buzzy little single-cylinder inherited its looks from the CB1000R and Neo Sports Café Concept, right down to the wide tank, multi-element LED headlight, and the shape of the huge (for a 300) muffler.
There are some nice details, like the cast aluminum footpeg brackets for both rider and passenger, and the “Showa” logo etched into the fork top caps. But does the $5,499 CB300R’s beauty go only skin deep, or does it have the performance to back up its looks?
Let’s get right to it: I thumbed the starter button, and the engine was reluctant to start. It took a second or two to catch, then took another second to clear its throat before finally settling into a lumpy idle. It was the same almost every time I start the bike, warm or cold. Not a huge issue, just something a bit uncommon for a new, fuel-injected bike.
The 286cc, liquid-cooled single breathes through four valves, and sends power through a six-speed transmission. Taking off from a start is a lazy affair unless you flog it a bit, which is typical for a 300, but at least the motor only has to contend with 143 kg (315 lbs.) of bike. On city streets, the little Honda scoots reasonably well, but on the highway it runs out of breath easily. At the top-secret CMG closed-course test facility [er – where is that? – Ed.], the CB topped out at 138 km/h at 9000 RPM at wide-open throttle, 142 if I tucked in. I never tested the Rollie Free technique doing the Superman with my Speedo on, but I suspect it wouldn’t help much.
When it came time to slow down, the brakes are, well, scary. I’m used to beginner bikes having less initial bite and outright strength, but the little CB is a little beyond that. The 296mm single front disc with a Nissin four-pot caliper sounds sufficient on paper, but out on the road, the rider needs to add a few metres to the mental braking distance markers at every stop.
Once stopped, finding neutral is a breeze, but on many occasions, first gear wouldn’t engage without releasing then pulling the clutch again. The problem became less frequent after a few rides, but it never fully disappeared. I’m inclined to think that the brake, transmission, and starting issues might get better with added mileage, as the bike only had about 150 km on it when I picked it up, but by the end of our test they were all still apparent. More aggressive pads might help in the stopping department.
How else is it to ride?
Other than not going into first gear on occasion, the transmission shifts well, and the programmable shift light is a welcome feature for attempting to wring the most out of the motor without bouncing off the rev limiter. Firm foot pressure on the shift lever works best; it is not one of those super-slick, snick snick snick boxes, but it doesn’t feel clunky or rubbery like some budget-bike transmissions. Ratios are well tailored to the diminutive engine, although sixth could be a little taller.
The CB’s suspension is surprisingly plush and controlled for a budget setup, and the upside-down forks are a nice touch at this price point. There is very little harshness transmitted to the rider over all but the largest bumps, and the rear spring preload is adjustable for heavier riders or when carrying passengers or luggage.
The bike is exceptionally light and flickable, with the tradeoff being a bit of nervousness and floatiness when cornering with any gusto. The little CB can dart in and out of traffic and dodge potholes with the best of them. The Sportmax GPR-300 tires, sized 110/70 front, 150/60 rear, and mounted to 17-inch wheels, are described by Dunlop as providing a combination of value and cornering performance. If they had any performance shortcomings, I didn’t find them.
Is it comfortable?
The bars are close to the rider, and reasonably wide, in line with the current trend to café racers, and pegs are more forward compared to a true sportbike. The seat rates just average for comfort, and it’s a bit short from front to back. With no wind protection and limited highway passing power, the CB would be a tedious interstate tourer, if that’s not already obvious. No, this bike lives for the urban core, navigating the downtown canyons and battling taxis and couriers and looking pretty outside nightclubs.
The monochrome dash is tiny, but it’s easy enough to read, and flashes a charming “Let’s Ride” message before coming to life. A gear position indicator would be nice, as most bikes, even budget ones, have them these days. Switchgear is very basic and functional – the prominent horn button on the left bar seems a nod toward rush-hour use, which the bike will likely see often.
Is it worth it?
The CB300R faces some stiff competition from the sharp and sporty KTM 390 Duke ($5,999). Both bikes look like their handsome bigger brothers, with the KTM taking a more supermoto/streetfighter tack than the CB’s modern classic aesthetic. The 164 kg (362 lbs.) Duke outweighs the CB by more than 20 kg (44 lbs.), but the KTM’s 373cc engine holds the power advantage. The CB might find favour among shorter riders with its 799 mm (31.5 in.) seat height versus the taller Duke’s 820 mm (32.25 in.) perch, and the Honda’s fit, finish, and reputation for reliability may sway some toward Big Red’s offering.
For those looking for more of a sportbike in the same price and displacement range, Honda offers the CBR300R for $100 more, utilizing the same engine as the CB300R, but with full fairings and a sportier riding position. On the cruiser side of the spectrum, Honda has the Rebel 300 for $200 less, again with the same basic engine architecture, but in an easily customized bobber-style chassis. This trio of small-displacement street bikes covers all the bases for those looking for an inexpensive ride.
In the late 1980s Honda sold a beginner bike called the VTR250. It was a horrid looking thing with graphics that seemed cribbed straight from the now infamous “Jazz” paper coffee cup. Today, entry-level riders need not subject themselves to the ridicule of riding bikes that look like toys, and they can buy beautifully designed machines like the CB300R without breaking the bank.
The little CB is a full-sized bike with enough oomph for the urban commute, beginner-friendly weight and seat height, and the safety of LED lighting and ABS. Its only real performance blemish is the brakes, while the rest of the bike’s niggles are minor. The motorcycle industry desperately needs new riders entering the sport, and with bikes like the CB300R, Honda is putting its best foot forward to help make that happen.