2012 Brute Force 300 Entry-Level Report 0
Unlike most folks making their profession in the powersports industry, I did not exit the womb wheelie-ing a mini bike. My path to motorcycles came later in life (which I suspect it does for many), and that pathway has been almost exclusively on the street. So the MotoUSA junta only calls on my neophyte dirt skills when they need a gimp to crash something big and heavy. Thus, when our Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand, requested my entry-level perspective of the new Kawasaki Brute Force 300, it was time to scrounge up my gear and hit the dirt.
The Brute Force 300 is Kawasaki’s entry-level ATV, but thankfully doesn’t give off a tiny bike vibe. While the engine size and power characteristics are muted compared to its larger-displacement siblings (like the Brute Force 750 we tinkered with all last year), once straddling the bike it doesn’t feel puny at all. At 6’1” the riding configuration does feel slightly compact – the bar placement on the close side, and I hunched over some when standing – but overall the not-too-big, not-too-small ergonomics prove accommodating for a wide range of riders.
The same can be said of the engine – not too big, not too small. Having previously tested the 750, the small Brute’s 271cc Single doesn’t deliver anywhere near the power of its big brother. But more power is not always better, particularly when it comes to entry-level rides. More important than raw, stump-ripping torque is the power delivery coming from the 300, which is extremely controllable. No herky jerky throttle either, with a smooth action at the right thumb.
On occasion I did miss the obscene tractor-like climbing capabilities of the 750. I felt invincible charging obstacles on that big Brute, particularly steep inclines. But I was far from invincible and, indeed, managed to toss the 750 while coming down from a climb that was maybe a skosh over my head… The smaller engine might help keep greenhorns in check.
That said, the 300’s mill is game for just about anything. Only on a couple steeper inclines did I find myself doubting the Single, and still it pulled through just fine. Ripping around on the access roads to our OHV area I also missed the 750’s higher top speed. But the 300 cuts around just fine, once you bury it in High gear. Plus the aforementioned smooth power delivery makes it quite predictable and easy to control – even hapless newbs will be sliding the back around in no time.
So Brute Force 300 has enough power… And while that’s not a sexy, TD-spiking compliment, it’s a compliment nonetheless.
The 300’s CVT transmission and centrifugal clutch enhance its entry-level credentials. Operation is idiot-simple, stick it in High, Low or Reverse and thumb the throttle. The only issue we encountered during our testing was a fussy shifter lever, which bumped out of the Low setting on more than one occasion, almost like a false neutral. A stern reprimand by shoving it back into L straightens things out, but proved a minor gripe.
While the 300 is super easy to operate, I did find myself missing manual transmissions and even the electronic shift systems I’ve used on Honda ATVs. Limiting riders to High or Low takes the shifting worries out of the riding equation, but the trade-off is less rider control and no on-the-fly adjustments.
The power I missed most on the smaller Brute Force was power steering. Battling the bars on rocks and ruts is tiring, but that’s not the biggest issue from an entry-level perspective – it’s the control factor. EPS makes controlling a 500-pound quad a heck of a lot easier, or at least it feels easier. Probably the most disconcerting thing for an ATV beginner is learning how the machine will react to obstacles, particularly while at an odd angle (double true when that angle is a steep downward trajectory!). Knowing the steering input can be easily controlled certainly aids rider confidence – a definite bonus as fledging OHV riders bank experience.
And speaking of confidence, stout brakes are a big part of the equation. It’s a mighty sick feeling sliding down a hill and realizing the brakes ain’t going to do much… The 300’s triple-180mm-disc configuration does a fair job. Application of the single-disc rear, via left handlebar and rear pedal, lock things up with a pleasing grip. The dual disc front stoppers felt more ponderous bringing things to a halt. Overall, I’d give the brakes a passing grade, but not high marks. On a higher note, the parking brake is easy to operate.
SUSPENSION & HANDLING
One area where I felt way more comfortable on the 300 than the 750 is in the handling. Aboard the larger machine I could go wherever I wanted uphill, and its fully independent suspension simply ate up obstacles I felt sure would stymy it. Conversely, when the route was pointed downhill, I felt like I was perched atop a very wide and heavy machine that was going to go wherever it wanted to go. The 750 would roll and slide to a frightening extent, particularly for a newb.
While the ergonomics aren’t too small, the 300 does feel physically smaller than its sibling. That makes for a more manageable ride. I felt it was easier to hang off the 300 and add some body English to the rider input. The single axle rear suspension seems to aid in the predictable feel too. I felt like I always knew what the rear was doing.
The straight axle rear and lack of four-wheel drive does make climbs a little more challenging. Where the hardest thing about assaulting an incline on the 750 was keeping hold of the bars, the 300 requires a little more finesse. It’s not a bad thing though, and I found myself having more fun on the 300 picking my way through rocks and ruts. Granted, there weren’t any hero obstacles in my path… but the rock section of our local EnduroCross course was doable.
I think part of the reason I felt more confident on the 300 was the tires. The rubber adorning the larger 750 Brute Force was a big culprit to rolling, unpredictable feel. The 300’s 22-inch Maxxis tires feel more planted. They deliver plenty of traction, even during our snowy test run, and I didn’t feel like I was sliding around nearly as much.
All told The Brute Force 300 is a remarkably easy-to-ride mount. Our regular ATV trails and modest OHV rumpus proved drama free, and most important – fun! The 300’s engine performance may be a turnoff for gung-ho ATV enthusiasts, but it’s ideally suited to the entry-level set. Lucky for consumers, Kawasaki didn’t cheap out for its $4199 newbie-friendly mount. Instead the Brute Force 300 delivers refined performance in an attractive package, getting this dirt newb’s seal of approval.
2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300 Specs:
Bore X Stroke: 72.7 X 65.2mm
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Fueling: Keihin CVK32 Carburetor
Ignition: Direct Current CDI
Transmission: Two-Speed Automatic with Reverse
Final Drive: 2WD, Shaft
Frame: Double Cradle, Steel
Front Suspension: Double Wishbone, 5.2 Inches Wheel Travel
Rear Suspension: Swingarm, 5.6 Inches Wheel Travel
Front Tire: Maxxis 22×7-10 Tubeless
Rear Tire: Maxxis 22×10-10 Tubeless
Front Brake: Dual 180mm Discs, Single Piston Caliper
Rear Brake: Single 180mm Disc, Single Piston Caliper
Overall Length: 75.3 in.
Overall Width: 42.5 in.
Wheelbase: 45.8 in.
Ground Clearance: 6.1 in.
Seat Height: 33.3 in.
Lighting: 35 W Headlights, 5W Taillight and 21W Brake Light
Rack Capacity: 44 lbs. Front, 66 lbs. Rear
Towing Capacity: 500 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.17 gal.
Claimed Curb Weight: 535.7 lbs.
Instruments: Speedometer, Odometer, Clock, Fuel Gauge and Coolant Temp Light
Colors: Aztec Red, Super Black