Ask any motorcycle racer and they’ll tell you, there is nothing more coveted than a factory Honda
ride. Sure, there are plenty other race teams capable of building championship-winning dirt bikes, but due in part to its immense engineering resources, not to mention meticulous craftsmanship, Honda factory race bikes are a breed apart. At least that’s our take after spending a few hours at the controls of Trey Canard
’s No. 41 CRF450R as raced in this summer’s Lucas Oils AMA Motocross championship. We tested the bike in the exact condition it rolled off the race semi at the final round Canard competed (Washougal) before his season was cut short due to injury.
Although the basic architecture of the motorcycle is production based, take a look up close and you’ll see an array of upgrades and tuning tricks designed to allow the rider to more effectively compete at speed. Some of the components like the larger-capacity carbon fiber fuel tank and magnesium engine covers are dead giveaways that you’re staring at something exotic (Canard’s bike is valued at upwards of $100,000) while other pieces like the oversized front brake rotor and works shock linkage appear stock even though they aren’t. While some components like the exhaust are sourced from aftermarket companies like Yoshimura, many other parts are sourced straight from the factory in Japan or fabricated out of Honda’s race shop in Torrance, California.
Hop onto the seat and the first thing we noticed is just how neutral of a control set-up Canard runs. The levers are placed at a standard position and aren’t too high or low. The height of the bars is a bit lower compared to stock with a more rearward sweep.
“I usually run my bars even with the fork,” says our pro-level test rider Matt Armstrong (5’7”, 155 pounds), who shares similar physical dimensions as Canard. “After a few laps I got use to the bar position. I felt like it helped my cornering a little bit, though I’m not exactly sure why... maybe it made me sit in a better position. I felt like I had more control over the front end.”
The shape of the seat is one of area most riders are typically quite picky about and Armstrong liked Canard’s set-up. “The seat hump was perfect for me as it kept me on the right spot of the bike. I also didn’t have to worry about my butt sliding too far back. It also made it easier to seat bounce off jumps.”
One could assume that a highly tuned 450cc Single would be difficult to start but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like the production bike, the engine fires to life with one or two kicks of the kickstart lever. Twist the throttle and the engine responds with a sense of urgency we’ve never experienced before on a dirt bike. Add in the fact that Canard prefers virtually no free play in the throttle and things happen pretty fast the second you crack on the gas. Yet, even still Armstrong was shocked by how friendly and useable the powerband felt.
“The power on the bike is unreal,” says Armstrong. “It’s almost like you’ve got traction control; the back tire just hooks up everywhere. It’s a really smooth and linear-feeling engine and I was surprised by how easy it was to ride. It had tons of everything; it’s got the low-end bark of a 250cc two-stroke race motor, wide mid-range and a screaming top-end with lots of over-rev.”
When you’re racing bar-to-bar and launching off the face of a 100-plus foot jump there isn’t any margin for error. That’s why top-level race bikes feature upgraded gearboxes to mitigate the chance of any shifting gremlins. And the works-style five-speed tranny is another area that felt vastly improved over stock. Another difference is the addition of a hydraulically-actuated clutch with Hinson internals designed to provide enhanced durability and feel throughout grueling 30-plus minute motos.
“The transmission was really precise,” explains Armstrong. “There’s zero play or slop. You never have to lock your ankle up high to make sure it went in gear. The shift lever throw felt a little shorter too. Overall it had a very positive feel. The hydraulic clutch is a little stiffer than the cable unit. It was smooth feeling and there is no fade or hesitation and it was always right there whenever you need it.”
While the powertrain of Canard’s bike made an impression on us it was the chassis that really stood out. In addition to the works-linkage, triple clamps and titanium footpegs Canard’s bike employs unobtainable suspension. The suspension is built by technical partner Showa and tuned to Honda’s own settings.
“The thing that I was most amazed with was the suspension,” states Armstrong. “It was super plush—you could go into a corner with some pretty big braking bumps and it would go right through them like they weren’t even there. It tracked straight and I didn’t ever feel like the tires came off the ground. It never got out shape and the bike would always go exactly where I wanted to go at speed.”
(Above) MotoUSA gets an exclusive test of Trey Canard’s factory Honda CRF450R as raced during the ’11 AMA Motocross championship. (Below) We were astonished by the high-level of traction avaliable over virtually all terrain.
Stout brakes equate to a well-rounded performance package. Although they appear stock the front brake disc is a little bit bigger than production and is pinched by a Nissin caliper fabricated from billet aluminum. The rear brake set-up is identical to a production bike.
“The brakes are insane,” explains Matt. “One finger on the lever is all it takes. They are really progressive and have extreme stopping power. I could come into a corner 10 mph faster than I would be able to on a stock bike and still make the inside rut. Having that confidence and knowing that I’ll be able to slow down for a tight corner is huge. I think the combination with the fork, brake and tire is pretty much perfect.”
After logging about an hour of ride time we were blown away by the overall package afforded by Canard’s machine. It’s a testament to what the boys and girls at Honda are capable of and a testament to the baseline prowess of the CRF450R
“It’s unbelievable how well they can make this stuff work,” concludes Armstrong. “Everything just feels tight. They put a lot of time and effort into this thing and you can tell the second you ride it. This thing is no joke.”