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A bike needs to be seriously special to pull off black. In my mind, preseason testing race bikes manage to wear the shade well - and that's it. So a CBR300R, basically a stroked CBR250R with smarter clothing, should have no chance. But sitting in a stubble-strewn field with heavily pregnant clouds forming a moody backdrop, I have to admit that this A2 sportster is a handsome enough looking machine. I wasn't expecting to write that, nor was I expecting to write home about many of its facets (other than its economy). But this is a bike that manages to pull off the A2 antics with ease before going to on to impress in other ways. While the market has been slow to react to the realities of the new licensing laws, manufacturers are now understanding that making the effort here leads to rewards further down the line.
Of course, the CBR300R only shares three letters and one number with its big brethren, but with a bike like this the mind can make neural leaps so that the link to a Fireblade further down the line isn't the stretch that you think it might be. First up, it's friendly. In fact, it couldn't be any more genial to those with little experience. It fitted me, at 5'11”, but I wouldn't want to be too much bigger before the pillion seat encroached on my arse and my knees became bandy in the wind.
It feels like it's at seven eighths scale, but then you also get seven eighths of the weight, and at 164 kilos its mass isn't there to intimidate. The switchgear is like it's been borrowed from a My First Bike toy. Everything has been made massive so your thumbs aren't hunting for the important bits. There's nothing to confuse even Al on the dash (although a gear indicator would have been a thoughtful addition), and the mechanical controls are light and easy to engage.
The pegs, however, don't offer much grip in the rain. Town work couldn't be dispatched any more easily. The seat height is low, at 785mm, and this makes control easy - although you're sacrificing ease here for presence on the road.
With enough zip to nip into gaps, and an unnatural balance negotiating the snarl of Bath (or insert your city of choice here), it enables you to spot foxy pedestrians or other hazards rather than worry about the operation of the machine. If you're out to impress, it'll wheelie in first, so make sure you snake your way through to the front of the traffic lights... The race out of town isn't initially promising. As you gun it, the bike's front 37mm-wide suspension pogos up and down, implying that the forks are filled with a pair of slinkys and an Innocent smoothie.
This is not the result of the full force of the bike's 286cc shove, as there isn't much of it, but rather the initial stroke of the suspension being poorly controlled. There's no adjustability in the suspension, apart from five positions of preload at the rear, so things start to look ominous in this regard. But after this first wayward movement comes more resistance, and the bike responds well in a corner. For a start, its weight means the wind blowing in the right direction will get it into a turn.
The IRC (Inoue Rubber Co - a Japanese company, but made in Thailand) Road Winner RX-01R tyres may not be the last word in grip (but should be with regard to longevity), but I had enough confidence in them to bank it over at jeans and jacket speed. Stick a set of leathers on and you'll get your knee down, no bother. This was in good conditions, mind; add cold and/or rain into the mix and confidence in the tyres shrinks. The rubber is clearly a cost cutting measure, but thankfully Honda hasn't gone too far elsewhere to get the bike to £4,299.
Bikes like this work well when it's smooth, but as with other smaller machines, any bumps mid passage or a substantial pot hole en route and the bike will reverberate over them. You just have to pick a course around them, and the CBR is agile enough to do this. Open this baby up out of a turn, and, er, you're greeted with an accumulation of speed rather than genuine acceleration.
But that accumulation doesn't stop until you're in the mid-nineties, meaning that you can happily cruise in the outside lane of a trunk road of your choice until a sales rep in his Insignia, late for meeting, bullies you out of the way (although you'll spot him easily in some of the biggest and most useful mirrors ever to be found on a bike). The bike is geared well.
Flat out on the flat means the the CBR won't pull beyond 9,500rpm in top, but find a descent and you can push through to the rev limiter just shy of 11,000rpm where the speedo's third figure is finally engaged. Thanks to the counterbalancer in the motor, the ride remains impressively vibe free at speed. In other gears, the needle needs to be beyond 12 o'clock, which equates to just over seven grand, to make progress meaningful.
Get the single spinning and it won't achieve its claimed 85mpg, but over 60mpg with the throttle to the stop means that you should get close to 150 miles on its 13 litres. And there to stop all this speed is a single caliper set-up, employing Honda's ABS system. As you'd expect, the power generated here isn't massive, but it's aptly executed.
Add the fact that the ABS is there to allow uncultured handfuls and it's a great package - as well as a top sales aid. There's been a slew of machines in the A2 class, and the KTM RC 390 sits at the top of the desirability charts - but also tops the price list too. At £4,299 the Honda is competitively priced and also puts clear water between it and the 185cc bigger CBR500R. It's cheaper than the Kawasaki Ninja 300 too, to the tune of £900 for the ABS-shod bike, and seeing as these bikes are used largely as stop-gaps before buying something bigger the Honda's ability, combined with the price (and other factors, such as dealer network), makes it the obvious choice in the class.
Its rivals offer more performance and sharper looks, but the CBR300R counters this by offering a simple, but spirited ride for those on an A2 licence, while the bike offers energy and economy to make it a cheap(ish) commuter or an unintimidating machine for those who want the looks of a pre-season testing sportsbike without any of the inherent ferocity.
Honda CBR300R - image gallery