Honda’s goal was to design a machine that offers a short, compact unit, which eliminates the top-heavy feeling that occurs with some big-bore Thumpers. Utilization of the Honda Unicam design makes for a short engine, and lightweight titanium intake valves allows for the use of smaller valve springs for less valvetrain mass and higher revs.
Interested in the exhaust note of a modern 450? The gnarly growl that bursts from the pipes of these two fire-breathing heathens is performed with a rather demure little button. The starting procedure, once the bane of a four-stroke enthusiast’s existence, has been transformed from a veritable NASA launch procedure to the flick of a digit. Yamaha offers up a gray button that can be thumbed only after the ignition button, located behind the headlamp, is engaged. It’s of minor annoyance, but it seems silly compared to Honda’s push-and-go technology on the 450X.
But, before we bash the tuning fork logo, we should point out that Honda’s simple starting mechanism is a bit on the weak side. We experienced a similar phenomenon when the 250X first emerged on the market two years ago. A weak starter in the first model year eventually gave way to a stronger, more reliable firing mechanism. We first noticed the weak starter on the 450X during our maiden voyage in El Cajon, CA a few months ago, and found a similar glitch on our test machine.
However, even if these two were to lose the electric start all together, igniting the cylinders is remarkably easy, especially when compared to Thumpers manufactured just three years ago. Pull the compression lever, give it a kick, and the 449cc single-cylinder roars to life without so much as a drop of trickling sweat.
A twist of the wrist elicits the typical big-bore roar, thrusting bike and pilot into a proverbial face-flattening off-road speed warp. Both bikes have an impressive hit on the bottom of the powerband, but the Dub’s thrust was a little more gnarly. Thanks to a shorter first gear, the WR gets with the program in first and second gear a little quicker than its competitor.
Riding the CRF450X is a pretty easy task. It does what you want when you want and it offers a healthy dose of low-end grunt to keep you on your toes.
Conversely, the CRF is geared a little taller in first, but the X seems to be a bit more manageable for less skilled riders who might not be quite ready to contend with a wide-open 450cc. One other notable difference is the need to scroll through the gears more often on the WR. The shorter gearing requires more shifts, while Honda’s taller gears require less shifting, which can be a benefit or a hindrance depending on the trail.
“The WR seemed to be geared a little lower, providing more power down low but revved out faster than the CRF,” explains MCUSA’s resident dirt grom, Brian Chamberlain. “The CRF seemed to rev forever, enabling fewer shifts, but for those looking to really put the most power to the ground on the WR, an upshift is needed well before the rev limiter since the power seemed to taper off a few grand before the limiter.”
As seems to be the case with nearly all motorcycles these days, we’re picking nits in differentiating the delivery of power of this duo. While riding a 450cc motocrosser can be an exercise in power management, we found these two Thumpers offered up relatively smooth doses of power down low. But don’t sleep on the potency of these off-roaders; give the throttle a full twist and the front end gets up in a hurry.