Even though it’s a bit rough on the rider compared to the other bikes, the Honda’s killer motor, slim layout and excellent starting point as a race bike give it an edge in this multifaceted comparison.
2008 Honda CRF450X
Our whiz photo model, Brian ‘BC’ Chamberlain, makes his living manhandling a Mac, but when he straps on a helmet this graphic guru is all about the HP. Coincidentally, that’s also when his computer geek status disappears and we stop making reference to PCs – we aren’t talking about Hewlett Packard here. BC loves to ride ponies, and the bigger the better as far as he’s concerned.
“The Honda’s power supply and delivery quickly move this bike to the front of the pack,” croons our torque-lovin’ tester. “Power feels strong all the way through its range with a snappy hit off the bottom to help pop you over any obstacles you may encounter. While the power is strong and hits harder than the other bikes in this test, its still very manageable and well suited for its off-road nature.”
The impression we get is that the 450X comes off a bit like Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. Whenever it faces a mirror and takes a long, hard look at its bad self, it can’t help but feel like a stud, a real bright, shining star. That’s exactly why those machismo desert dudes love it. Chilly made a great point about how Honda hasn’t really won many big professional races other than desert events like the SCORE Baja series and BITD series in recent years. Granted, the factory doesn’t pour equal amounts of support dollars into GNCC or WORCS, but we tend to think there’s more to that lack of success than a lack of funding. The X simply fits the demands of desert racing first and foremost and it is continually being developed to win in that fast, harsh environment. Until Honda does something to tone it down a bit, riders who do their trade in more technical terrain or simply are not as fast as Robby Bell and Steve Hengeveld can find a better fit with one of the other machines.
“In contrast to the KLX, the Honda gives up bottom end to achieve its peak power output, and this makes for a bike that can be difficult to ride in technical terrain,” says Chilly of the 449cc Unicam mill. “This difficulty is compounded by the relatively heavy clutch pull.”
As long as it takes to get into third gear was the amount of time before we realized that the Honda is packing a little extra where it counts. Of course, that’s about how long it took for our left arms to pump up also. Despite the heavy clutch action, the 2008 model runs extremely well in stock form, even with all the emission controls that allow it to be green-sticker legal. Out of the box it runs much cleaner and stronger than our 2007 did.
Another major change between last year’s model and the new machine is in the profile. The ’08 is much slimmer through the knees with a very motocross-like build, though not all of our riders were impressed with the change..
Riding the Honda can be a workout in slow places. The big motor, stiff clutch and hard suspension can take a toll.
“First, these bikes are all too small for me and they would all take a change in bar position along with a tall seat to suit me,” admits the 6’0″ Chilly. “But, the changes to narrow the ’08 Honda’s frame and tank didn’t affect me much because it is still wide at the radiators where my knees are. I don’t think the trade-off for a smaller gas tank (1.9 vs. 2.3 gallons) was worth the redesign.”
While the Honda is endowed with the smallest tank, mileage was generally comparable across the board. Thanks to the strong motor we were regularly able to run a gear high and at lower rpm on the CRF which likely helps with fuel economy.
Not only is the chassis slim, but it’s stiff as well – just like the Showa suspension. More on this later. There is, however, a new feature that links the two important handling components together this year – the Honda Progressive Steering Damper. As we found during our 2008 250F Motocross Shootout, the HPSD makes an incredible improvement on the bike’s demeanor. With the added stability, engineers were able to sharpen the steering geometry which makes the Honda a better turner than in years past. Since the bike is best suited to high-speed terrain, the damper is a welcome addition, especially when encountering an errant rock or while pounding down a whooped-out trail. None of our riders ever felt the need to fiddle with the damper settings, but the HPSD is equipped with a tool-less adjuster.
Keeping the bars from dancing is something that any rider will appreciate, but what our testers didn’t enjoy was the amount of front wheel deflection suffered at low speeds. A harsh 47mm inverted Showa fork and Showa shock tend to skip away from impacts rather than absorb them despite our efforts to dial it out. The fork is worse than the rear end, but softening compression had little if any positive effects. The result is a much more demanding level of rider input when riding the Honda hard. Not only are the impacts transferred to a rider’s hands and arms physically draining, but additional mental focus is necessary to avoid a mishap. The Honda wore us out faster than either the WR or KLX.
The 450X just barely lost the handling and chassis category to the Yamaha. That’s ok, though, since Honda turned the tables and snuck a one-point win as our overall shootout victor because it simply kicks-ass.
The only real complaint we had about attention to detail was the mechanical odometer which makes an unwelcome return for ’08, and Chilly thought the kickstand was a little wimpy. Other than that the red bike is one of the most impressive in terms of observed build quality and has plenty of details that add to its overall value. The electric starter works very well but kicking the beast isn’t much of a chore if your leg needs some extra exercise, and all of our testers thought the Honda has the best seat in terms of blending comfort and function.
Plenty of riders who are off-roaders purchase motocross bikes and adapt them to their needs, but the vast majority of those riders would be better off with an enduro model. The Honda suits those people the best. Grand Prix racing, desert rides, WORCS – all these disciplines are well-suited to the Honda’s strengths. According to our scorecards, those particular strengths include the motor, ergonomics and brakes. The Yamaha won the other three categories and they tied in combined component scores, but when it comes to choosing a better bike overall, Honda gets the nod by a single point.
As you can see, selecting a winner was difficult this year but not for the usual reasons. Instead of picking nits like we wind up doing in motocross testing, the real decision in purchasing a new enduro machine is knowing where and how you plan to ride. Fortunately, none of these bikes are bad or absolutely won’t work for a certain type of riding. Equally as fortunate is that they are specialized to a certain degree, and that makes establishing your baseline as simple as choosing what you expect out of your enduro before dropping seven grand and some change.
Check out the following links for some extra tidbits about our shootout.
– For My Money
See what each rider would do if they had to drop 75 hundy out of their own pockets.
– Full Score Sheet
Want to see how your favorite bike did in the grand scheme of things? Check out our primary testing categories.
Let us know what you think about this 450 Enduro Shootout in the MotoUSA Forum.