It's been four years since Honda's flagship 450-class dirt bike underwent its last major overhaul in '09. And Big Red continues to refine its 2012 Honda CRF450R platform in effort to make it friendlier to ride and race both on the track and trail. While the sheer numbers of improvements are minimal, the updates revolve around handling and rider comfort.
Engineers began at the front of the motorcycle by modifying the 48mm Kayaba AOS (air-oil-separate) fork. Not only do the outer tubes feature a more rigid design, they house stiffer fork springs (0.49 kg/mm vs. 0.47 kg/mm) along with new valving that modifies the damping characteristics and allows for increase pitch control under braking and when landing off jumps. The front axle collars were also modified for increased strength.
The rear suspension received an important tweak in the form of an improved shock linkage design that lets the back of the bike to ride a 5mm lower when in motion. The valving inside the Kayaba shock was also changed to work in unison with the suspension updates and the addition of the Dunlop MX51 Geomax Intermediate Front Tire
and Dunlop MX51 Geomax Intermediate Rear Tire
. The drive chain roller has been updated in an effort to reduce chain torque and allow the rear suspension to move more freely. In terms of rider comfort the CRF finally gets a set of oversized footpegs designed to provide added control and better disperse energy when landing from obstacles.
To find out how the '12 version performs, American Honda invited us to Southern California's Racetown 395.
Lift the bike off of the stand and it’s immediately apparent just how light the CRF is. With a full load of fuel it weighs 240 pounds which is considerably less than anything else in its class. The shape of the radiator shrouds, seat and position of the hand and foot controls are well proportioned for riders of average height (our test rider is 5’8”).
The engine starting procedure is far simpler than years past and the Honda’s engine comes to life with one or two well-timed kicks, even when the engine is cold. We did raise the idle slightly as the engine would occasionally stall if lugged at too low of an rpm through slow speed corners. Dial in some throttle and most will be surprised by how mellow the powerband feels at low to mid-rpm, which ultimately helps the rear tire hook up and makes the bike easier to ride.
“Honda has perfected its fuel injection settings with this one,” says intermediate-level test rider Frankie Garcia. “It almost feels like an electric engine in how linear it produces power. It pulls coming out of corners but it never feels like it’s going to rip your arm out. I can’t emphasize how smooth the powerband is.”
Another thing we noticed is how little noise the CRF emits even under high engine load, which is a benefit for both the rider and the environment in our increasingly noise-sensitive world.
Dip the Honda into a turn and we’re continued to be impressed with how agile it is. While the 2009 model was nervous and skittish-feeling, the current machine steers more neutrally than ever before as Honda continues to make chassis improvements.
“I thought it steered really well and tracked much better than before,” Garcia says. “It’s not a huge change compared to last year but it’s definitely an improvement. I also liked how the rear end felt like it squatted down a bit better as you dialed in the gas out of the corner.”
2012 CRF450R Suspension Settings:
(From full stiff)
Low-Speed Compression: 12
High-Speed Compression: 1.75 turn
The chassis also felt more stable both under braking and acceleration, resisting the urge for the front end to excessively dive or head shake. Another plus is the wider base afforded by the oversized footpegs which allow for better command of the bike. Honda has always had skinny pegs so this is an overdue improvement. While the braking bumps that developed at Racetown were relatively small, our tester commented that the back end of the bike had a reduced propensity for kicking or rebounding too fast—an issue that we’ve occasionally experienced.
Although the current generation CRF450R was a little rough around the edges when it was released in ‘09, this latest iteration is starting to really impress us. It still has the sharp steering precision we’ve come to love but with added stability and a ridiculously smooth engine that makes it easier to ride for longer. Another plus for racers is the over 3.5 million that’s up for grabs this year in contingency (more details are available here
). The ’12 Honda retails at $8440, a $321 increase from last year.