More Power, Protection and Speed
In a sea of blue Yamaha YFZ450s, Honda’s long-awaited sport quad has seen a couple big successes. A high-profile Sportrax 450-mounted team, funded by Honda’s R&D arm and headed by factory rider Tim Farr, won last November’s Baja 1000 on a lightly modified machine we tested a few months ago. Scant months later, Farr flew the 450R to the Formula USA Pro Quad championship, a four-race stadium gig that is a veritable quad Supercross series.
Sure, the TRX has won a few high-profile races with a factory pilot at the controls, but Honda isn’t touting it as a race-ready machine. Nonetheless its competence in competition is on the minds of lesser-skilled competitors.
Therefore, in the interest of bringing you the full skinny, I parked my super-trick, $20,000 Suzuki LT-Z400-based quad and lightly prepped the Honda for a whirlwind weekend of racing in widely divergent conditions: A western-style grand prix on Saturday and a straight-up motocross on Sunday.
To best gauge its out-of-the-crate competitiveness, modifications to the TRX were minimal. For both venues, we started with an HRC Power-Up kitted motor. The $299 (not including labor, which should take around three hours of shop time), 44-horsepower package is available through Honda dealers and consists of a different camshaft, spark-arrested muffler insert, abbreviated airbox cover, performance intake snorkel, main jet and needle jet.
Not that the TRX needed any aesthetic help, but a few aftermarket goodies make Honda’s quad look bad ass.
The hotter cam, intake snorkel and needle were mated to a full CT Sonic exhaust system, a fatter, 182 main jet replaced the original 172 and a one-tooth-taller countershaft sprocket was fitted to exploit the engine’s new top-speed potential. We ran the stock filter, but the kit’s airbox lid was removed.
For chassis setup, a steering damper was the first mod and Denton Racing’s aluminum-bodied, five-way-adjustable, stick-type unit got the nod. For the moto portion of this test, ITP supplied low profile, motocross-specific rolling stock. Sticky Holeshot MX4 meats were mounted to 9-inch bead-locked wheels. Up front, ITP’s latest-generation Holeshot tires, mounted on factory-reinforced Baja wheels, did the trick. For the rigors of grand prix racing, where flat-resistance and ground clearance are the desired tire properties, we went with Maxxis’ Razr II off-road tires mounted on 0.190-thick Douglas Red-Label wheels.
On defense, AC Racing set us up with its Pro Peg “nerf bars” that would keep competitors tires from getting tangled with the Honda’s rear tires in close racing quarters. On offense, AC’s wider, protruding front bumper would ostensibly let me push competitors out of way in the same conditions.
With the pipe-and-cammed motor, lightly equipped chassis, protection items, dialed-in suspension and tires to suit the conditions, all that was left was mounting a Pro Design kill switch and a couple number plates.
The weekend’s first race was round three of the AMA District 37 Grand Prix series, located in the high desert community of 29 Palms, just north of Palm Springs, California. I won this event and the six-race series in 2002, but my results this year had been up (a second-place showing in Round 1) and down (a DNF at the last race) so far. Riding the basically stock Honda was a huge gamble in my championship pursuit.
Surrounded by electric-start quads on the starting line, I soon found out that we would experience the first dead-engine start in ages. Giving the TRX’s kickstart lever a good boot when the green flag flew, it started instantly and the show was on. Without any practice, my game plan for the hour-long race was to follow a pack of relatively fast guys for the first of the four laps to get a feel for the course and suss out the TRX’s strengths and weaknesses. Good thing I didn’t get the holeshot!
Lurking within a pack a fast guys (including YFZ450-mounted Eric Pealstrom, who designed the AC aluminum fitted to the Honda), I found that the Honda’s powered-up, geared-up motor gave up three to four quad-lengths on the longer straights, but kept me in the game on tighter stretches. It was the short, narrow chassis that held me back most on the course’s many 30 to 50 mph corners after the long, bumpy, sandy straights. To get through the turns without going off-course, I had to haul the TRX down from speed and virtually tip-toe through while others pitched their long, low, wide rides in, squared up and roosted me as they took off.
Confident that the course didn’t contain any hidden dangers and recognizing the Honda’s place in the pecking order, for the next three laps I rode like a man possessed where I could and relaxed where pushing harder would lead to off-track trouble. Utilizing the TRX’s awesome brakes, I made up time and swindled a couple sweet passes coming off the 3/4-mile-long pavement section. Going back and forth with Pealstrom, we alternately made progress toward the front and were caught by faster riders. Soon after, my plan was derailed by a bolt that backed out of the steering damper, leaving itâ€”and meâ€”flopping around the course uselessly. Without the damper, the quad became much harder to hang onto, prematurely sapping my energy. Nonetheless, in the closing laps, I had a good nose-to-tail battle with another racer on an HRC-kitted Sportrax 450R that took us to the checkered flag. The results said that the Sportrax took me to 14th overall out of 59 quad entries and fourth out of eight in the Intermediate class.
That night, I simply washed the Honda, LocTited a new nut on the damper, lubed the chain, checked the oil (none burned), swapped tires and put on a different set of number plates.
As the Torque chart indicates, the raced out TRX makes 6 more ft/lbs of torque than in stock form. Click the picture for the full size view.
On Sunday morning, I drove an hour east of Los Angeles to Glen Helen Raceway, for Round 4 of the ITP Quadcross series. Practicing with several groups, I decided that the 30-plus Novice class was about my speed. Being that this was my home track, the game plan was quite different. On this relatively slow, under-suspended, near-stock quad, the start in this five-lap, 10-minute race would be much more crucialâ€”especially because I missed the first moto!
Tires warmed on the concrete launching pad, synapses buzzing and reflexes primed, I got a great initial jump off the gate (perfectly photographed by Sweet Sabine, I might add). After leading the pack at the 100-foot mark, two quads roared past me and the TRX going up the hill leading to Turn 1, a tight, downhill, left-hander. Finding myself in a surprising third place, my would-be podium mates put on riding clinic for me as I (unsuccessfully) fended off advances from the rear.
As the laps wore on, I saw that the Sportrax lost ground going back up the hill each time, through the whoops and getting in and out of corners, especially rutted ones. This time, while I could probably brag about beating a whole bunch more people if all of the classes were combined (like in the GP), I can graciously admit that I landed up with another glorious mid-pack finish in my division.
The TRX gained significant ponies with the addition of the aftermarket components.Click the chart for the full size view.
Would I have done better at both of these races on my wider, longer, faster, better-suspended, electric-start Suzuki? Without a doubt, but this little experiment proved that these newfangled 450s can be competitive nearly out of the box for a mid-level racer like me.
Share your thoughts on the ’04 Honda TRX450R in the MCUSA Forum.
In addition to his motorcycle-related duties, Putter, 40, a MCUSA regular, has spent “way too much time” in the past two decades riding, racing, photographing and writing about quads as an editor at some of the leading quad enthusiast magazines.
Aftermarket Parts List
Front bumper: $89.95
Nerf bars: $289.95
Rear grab bar: $46.95
Pipe and jetting: $482.95
Steering damper: $159
Holeshot MX front tires $61.95 each
Holeshot MXr rear tires $62.95 each
Pro Series Beadlock rear wheels $248.95 each
Pro Series Baja front wheels $102.95 each
Razr 2 front tires $96 each
Razr 2 rear tires $111 each
Douglas Red Label front wheels $120 each
Douglas Ultimate rear wheels $115 each
Pro Design kill switch: $34.95
Renthal 15t front sprocket: $25.95