For the past five years dirt groms around the world have been inundated with a seemingly endless supply of phenomenal bikes. It seems the rich get richer as four-stroke technology has made riding easier, with less maintenance, and power curves that could send Grandma Korfhage up the most intimidating hill climbs.
So it should come as no surprise that I found myself shaking my head repeatedly during Honda's press introduction for the highly anticipated new tour de force, the CRF450X. Riding through the scenic hills of El Cajon, CA on the X was like touring a dirty, filthy amusement park (I mean that in a good way). Like we really needed a better version of Honda's wildly successful CRF450R? Well, it appears so.
Honda, ever the purveyors of all things perfectly engineered, set out to construct a machine based on the high-po 450cc engine. Luckily for us, they not only achieved their goal, but are possibly redefining what is expected from an off-road motorcycle.
First things first, this isn't a CRF450R with a headlight and electric start. No, that would have been the easy way to do things. Throw a flywheel weight on, add some illumination, and an old-timer-friendly starting device and sell it for a few grand more. However, those familiar with the ways of Honda understand that's not how they do things, something Honda wanted to make very clear.
The long-awaited 450X is as flawless as its racing cousin, the 450R.
"At Honda, commonplace solutions never override the quest for excellence," states CRF450X introductory literature. "And because off-road competition differs drastically from closed-course motocross racing in myriad ways, machines for each purpose really should be developed autonomously to satisfy their decidedly differing parameters. All of which explains why virtually every single component on Honda's stellar CRF450R motocrosser has been changed to meet the unique demands placed on the CRF450X off-road machine."
That, my friends, is Honda's design philosophy in a nutshell. After a day-long ride on the X, we can tell you that they not only achieved their goal of creating a bike designed for off-road racing, but made the power of the 450 engine more accessible to those that thought the CRF450R was hell on wheels.
When Honda states that virtually everything is different, they mean it. Of course that means that they redesigned an already sick chassis and tuned it specifically for off-road use. The X features an all-new fourth-generation twin-spar aluminum frame with a forged aluminum steering head and tapered downtube that are designed to optimize frame rigidity.
One of the knocks on older generation aluminum frames was their extreme rigidity. Everybody likes a strong chassis, but the twin-spar frame could be so rigid it didn't handle as well as a steel frames in certain situations. Honda improved on what many feel is an outstanding chassis with their fourth generation frame and the results are spectacular.
On the bike, the new chassis feels as though it is tuned specifically with off-road racing ergonomics in mind. The riding position allows for comfort and control in both the standing and sitting positions.
The use of titanium intake valves allowed for the use of smaller valve spring, ultimately reducing over engine height. What's that mean to you? A lower center of gravity, which makes tight turns a breeze.
Out back, Honda redesigned the swingarm and it now features a dual-axis, double-taper design with a larger cast aluminum cross-member. Not that we ever felt the CRF450R's swingarm was weak, but apparently Honda felt the need to strengthen it for off-road riding. Apparently, they've been watching us test.
Nestled down in the twin-spar frame is a version of Honda's popular 449cc liquid-cooled four-stroke engine. Like the R version, the 450X employs Honda's Unicam system to actuate its four valves. Instead of using a cam each for the pairs of intake and exhaust valves, the single caburized cam actuates both the two 35mm titanium intake valves and 30mm steel exhaust valves via forked, low-friction roller-rocker arms.
The use of lightweight titanium intake valves allowed Honda engineers to utilize smaller valve springs, reducing overall engine height. This aids in reducing the bike's center of gravity, helping make tight turns a breeze.
Inside the Nikasil-lined cylinder slides a forged short-skirt slipper-type piston that squeezes off a 12.0:1 compression ratio. This lighter piston design reduces weight compared to a conventional design, allowing quicker revs and high rpm.
On the trail, all the technical jargon equates to a remarkably easy-riding big-bore Thumper. Getting on the gas elicits a powerful response, certainly more than enough to satisfy the most hardcore and power-hungry riders. Yet, thanks to the wide-ratio off-road gearing of the 5-speed transmission and some additional flywheel weight, the power sent to the 18-inch rear wheel is manageable even for those of us that don't pretend to ride like Johnny Campbell.
The 450X is a bit more tame off the bottom, but open her up and the high-po 450 comes to life.
A twist of the wrist in the low-rpm range gets the X moving, but it's more manageable than the R version. Still, the X revs to the moon with the kind of power that is familiar to so many 450R fans, pushing the rider and bike to break-neck speeds with its roaring top-end power.
Throttle response is spot on and nary a hiccup exists throughout the powerband thanks in part to the X's throttle position sensor (TPS), which maintains linear throttle response throughout the rpm range by selecting fuel mapping in relation to how far the throttle is twisted open. The fuel/air mixture is fed to the single cylinder via a 40mm Keihin FCR-type carburetor which features four rollers on its flat-side for smooth operation.
Keeping the powertrain cool under the most distressful situations are a pair of radiators that feature a refined core area for improved heat dissipation. The coolant recovery tank is located in the front of the engine between the frame down-tubes for a reduced center of gravity, and it's protected by a plastic skidplate.
Suspending Honda's newest off-road model is a lightweight, 47mm inverted Showa twin-chamber cartridge fork with aluminum dampers, virtually the same ones found on the CRF450R. However its settings have been changed and optimized for plusher response in off-road use as opposed to the big hits of the MX track. The fork offers up 12.4 inches of travel and 16-position rebound- and compression-damping adjustability.
Out back the X features Honda's impressive off-road Pro-Link system damped by a fully adjustable Showa shock. The damper offers 12.4 inches of travel, with 13 positions for low-speed and high-speed compression damping and 17 positions for rebound damping.
The X boasts a 47mm inverted Showa twin-chamber cartridge fork that has been optimized for plusher response in off-road situations.
We had the Honda tech team set up the sag and front suspension to accommodate our Herculean physiques and it was obvious that when set up correctly, the suspenders on the X were up for just about anything. From high-speed fire roads to tight, granite-laden trails, the suspension soaks up small bumps and big hits with ease. While railing high-speed berms, the fork stays planted and gives ample feedback. In short, the suspension is as good as any we've tested.
Bringing the X to a stop is a set of impressive binders: Up front is a 240mm disc clamped by a twin-piston caliper, while the rear gets a disc of the same size and a single-pot caliper. Braking is virtually effortless on the X, and the adjustable front brake lever provides plenty of feel and feedback in all situations. The brakes were definitely a highlight, and while we only had one day to test the X, brake fade was non-existent.
Honda added a few goodies on the X that should reduce the amount of aftermarket components that most hardcore riders normally add upon purchasing a bike. The X, like the R, comes with a set of aluminum Renthal handlebars, which are rubberâ€“mounted to reduce rider fatigue and improve comfort. CR-type handlebar clamps offer three mounting positions, +/- 3mm fore or aft, to ensure rider-matched ergonomic comfort. Its well-padded seat is covered with slip-resistant material that keeps a rider from sliding in demanding conditions.
Of course, the X wouldn't be an off-road racer without the enduro goodies. Illuminating the road ahead is a 35-watt halogen headlight that features a new lens claimed to spread light over a wider area; our day ride left us unable to test its beam. The taillight is one of the aesthetic triumphs on the bike thanks to an LED light that is integrated into the fender for a sleek, low profile. A three-digit, easy-to-read odometer rests between the number plate and the bars, while a 2.27-gallon fuel tank offers greater range for longer trips.
Once you get rolling, you may never stop thanks to a heft 2.37 gallon tank.
Another interesting component of the X is its sidestand. Honda heard from enduro racers who felt that other enduro-based big-bore thumpers lost some of their balance when the kick-stand was removed. The X has a conventional sidestand that integrates into the left footpeg, but it can be removed and replaced with an accessory bracket and removable stand that that can take its place for use in competition events, maintaining balance integrity when it is removed.
Of course, the reason the X is so appealing to many off road enthusiasts is the magic button. In addition to the electric start, the X offers a hot-start lever located on the clutch perch. The X fired up on the first or second try throughout the day. Even when tipped over, the X came to life with a flick of the button.
Vertically challenged riders might have some difficulty standing on two feet during stops. The seat height measures in at a Paul Bunyonesque 37.9 inches. At 6'0" I could comfortably rest on my toes, but Editorial Director Ken Hutchison at 5'8" had to side saddle the bike. Short people beware!
Finding nits to pick on Honda's 450X is an exercise in futility. The only thing I could manage to come up with after a few hours of riding was the need to replace the plastic skid plate with an aluminum version. Yes, Honda took their time in bringing the X to the public, but it also seems they have all the bases covered.
Looking for something to complain about on the X is an exercise in futility. Honda's newest off-road racer will takes riding to a new level with a nearly flawless ride.
It seems the long-awaited X is everything that off-road fans have been waiting for. Honda is notorious for taking its time perfecting its machines, and the X is no different. Yamaha's stranglehold on the big-bore four-stroke market will undoubtedly loosen significantly with the introduction of the X, and the battle between Red and Blue will certainly reach a fevered pitch over the next few years.
Ever since the introduction of the CRF250X, many of my colleagues and friends have openly hoped for a bike that was more powerful than the small-bore off-roader, but less racey than the 450R. The X is that bike, handing more experienced riders what just may be the perfect off-road machine. Whether it is raced or just ridden on the trails, the X is able to do it all.
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