For 2013 Honda
steps up to the plate with a heavily reworked CRF450R, so much so that we would call it an all-new machine. It looks sharper, has a new frame and suspension, and the engine has been tweaked for better performance. All this and the sticker price remains the same as the 2012 model at $8440. Could the combination of new features and a low price be the formula to bring the CRF back to the top spot in our 2013 shootout?
Throw a leg over the CRF450R
and it is immediately apparent that it is the smallest and lightest bike in the bunch. The new bodywork feels slimmer up front than before and the layout is compact just as it has been for a few years now. Although it gained three pounds, the now 244-pound Honda is still the lightest. It feels new yet familiar, and tied with the Kawasaki for best ergonomics.
“I felt the most comfortable right off the bat on the Honda,” says our Pro-level tester, Nick Thiel. “From the bar bend, to the feel of the bike, it was extremely comfortable.”
But taller riders beware, our 6’4” Vet racer Bret Milan had some issues with the compact layout, noting:“I caught my knees on the radiator shrouds when cornering occasionally.”
Out on the track the Honda also feels familiar and is easy to get up to speed quickly. The front end is planted and stable, and will go just about anywhere you ask it to. Granted it can’t dive to the inside as well as the Suzuki, but the stability is far superior.
“The Honda is really good, maybe that’s why Chad Reed is almost as fast as ‘Poto,” comments Sirius Radio Star Jason Ellis. “It turns better and stays in the ruts better. You know it’s not the rider when it stays the ruts, it’s the bike for sure.”
Milan adds, “The Honda’s handling was drastically improved over the previous chassis. When I first tested the ’09 CRF 450R, I was terrified of the bike. Every year since it has gotten incrementally better, and I feel that the 2013 Honda possesses a very well balanced handling package with good stability and cornering.”
As for the suspension, our crew rated it second best just behind the Kawasaki thanks to the new Kayaba pneumatic forks. Adjusting the spring rate is quick and easy, making it possible to change between our largest and smallest rider in minutes. Out back the rear spring seems to accommodate all but the heaviest of our team. The action on both the front and rear was complaint in the chop and yet stiff enough to handle the whoops and big jumps. The only criticism was that as the motos wore on the feel of the fork would change slightly.
“The air forks for me were a new adventure,” says our AMA racer Chris See. “They felt great the first few laps, and then later on it seemed to build pressure the front got harsh and a little less predictable.”
Honda’s engineers outfitted the CRF’s mill with a new piston and a reshaped cylinder head for more snap off the bottom, and it’s is easy to feel the extra grunt out of the hole. Once the revs climbed however, the powerplant runs out of steam and is lacking the top-end rush of the rest of the bikes in this class.
The bottom-end grunt of the 2013 Honda CRF450F was a hit with our testers, but they wished for more juice on top.
“I really liked how the CRF450R hit on the bottom to mid-range,” explains See. “But my problem with this machine was that the power did not carry well into the top-end. It just kind of stopped building all together.”
When put on the start line the CRF450R blasted to the 150-foot first turn in 4.24 seconds at 41.1 MPH – third-place result. Rolling on the power in third gear, the Honda took 2.776 seconds and 114.4 feet to accelerate from 15 to 40 MPH, also a third place result. On the MotoUSA Dynojet 250i the Big Red racer pumped out the lowest horsepower ratings in the test with just 47.47; that is more than four less than the king of the power charts, the KTM 450 SX-F. Its 30.87 lb-ft torque rating is mid-pack.
In the Super Lap testing, The CRF is locked in a three-way tie with the Suzuki and KTM 450 SX-F with a 2:29.9 average lap time. For both Nick and Chris, their flying laps sat right in the middle of the scale, but for Vicki her slowest lap was on the Honda.
The clutch received some attention from Honda as well with a six-spring pressure plate replacing last year’s four-spring set up for more consistent engagement and feel during long motos. While none of our testing crew experienced fade, several complained about the increased lever effort.
“The clutch on the Honda was really hard to pull in,” complains our only female tester Vicki Golden. “The shifting was really smooth on the bike, though.”
Thiel also chimes in, "I placed the Honda lower in this category only because of the harder clutch pull than the other motorcycles. This is due primarily to the six-spring clutch this year. But to be honest I will take a harder pull over clutch fade
The Honds CRF450R is back on the podium for 2013 due in part to excellent handling and a compact chassis.
Honda motocross bikes have always been known for excellent brakes and this year is no different when it comes to the front binders. Squeezing the right lever slows the CRF quickly with a high level of feel and feedback. Unfortunately, the rear unit felt soft and experienced some fade, which knocked it down to third in the rankings. When you consider the stellar performance of the two KTM’s brakes, third isn’t a huge let down for the Honda.
“For me the front and the rear brakes worked pretty damn good,” says our Associate Editor Frankie Garcia. “But I’m not as hard on the rear brake as the faster three in our crew. They did everything I expected out of them without incident.”
Honda has upped the ante with the 2013 CRF450R and has made some new fans. The compact chassis and confidence inspiring turning abilities propelled it to a front running position throughout our test.
In the end a lack of top-end power kept the CRF from retaking the crown, with a second place finish in the 2013 450 Motocross Shootout.