Getting all the pieces lined up is paramount to creating a shootout winner. Honda knows how to build an all-around platform and then improve on it.
2008 Honda CRF450R
Categories Won: Motor, Chassis/Handling, Ergos/Comfort/Controls (tie), Suspension (tie), Brakes, Tranny/Clutch/Gearing, Overall
Best Feature: Multi-map Ignition
Honda defines refinement. There was really only one issue that was brought up by multiple riders throughout our entire testing process. Not only was the CRF450R voted unanimously into first place, but it swept all the individual evaluation categories as well. It was tied in two of them, but for all intents and purposes, the CRF is untouchable in the crop of 2008 MXers.
If there is one thing that concerned our testers, it could hardly be considered a complaint. The Honda is virtually flawless on all fronts and our riders felt that it was even a little too powerful for its own good, but it’s hard to fault the engineers for building such an incredible motor. Though it was nearly matched on the dyno, and even bested in torque testing, nothing could hang with the 450R on the track. The Unicam mill pumps out 48 peak horsepower at 8600 rpm, and 31 lb-ft of torque a thousand revs sooner. The spread of power is impressive as well with the Honda staying within 10% of its peak torque over a 3000 rpm range. Put that to the ground with the aggressive delivery characteristics and what you have is a serious red rocket.
It all comes barreling out of the close-ratio five-speed transmission and a well-matched 13/48 final gearing, and moving through the tranny is precise. The margin of victory in the transmission/clutch/gearing category was closer than most others. All the bikes shift well and if one thing allows the competition to stay close it’s that the Honda doesn’t have a particularly light clutch pull. It’s no CR500, but it’s not the easiest set of springs. Where the Honda is much improved with the 2008 transmission isn’t in the gearbox itself, but rather with the three-map ignition which uses a gear-position sensor and individual maps for first, second and another for third through fifth. The on-track performance is awesome and power is always on tap.
The CRF has the motor to get over any obstacle, the suspension to land it and the chassis to negotiate during flight.
For more detailed information on exactly how the Honda Progressive Steering Damper works, check out our First Look article. As for our testing, Honda’s claims are substantiated with every one of our testers noting a different feel up front. Honda has said all along that the real beauty of the HPSD system is that it doesn’t feel like a traditional damper. Our testers verified this by noting the improved handling, but not all were willing to name the damper as the direct cause. However, the general consensus is that it’s a much better product than the 2007 model. Most of our testers agreed that the new geometry and added mid-corner stability have turned an excellent handling machine into some kind of demigod, though one particular rider would have a hard time using such strong terminology.
Hard on the stellar front brake with its twin-piston caliper and (finally) wave-style 240mm rotor and the bike simply pivots around the front or snakes through ruts with confidence. The Dunlop 749FA is quickly becoming one of our favorite tires and wasn’t chosen to grace the CRF by pure luck; the bike and tire were an excellent match on every track we tested at, as was the 756 rear.
So, what exactly was the one nit we were able to collectively pick? The Showa suspension offers a balanced ride and excellent bottoming resistance. Action over smaller chop and even the big braking bumps at the bottom of Glen Helen’s many hills is substantial as well, but our notepads had several comments about some harshness in the 47mm inverted twin-chamber fork. Both ends offer plenty of adjustability, and the rear is especially capable of fine tuning, but our continual adjustment wasn’t able to eliminate the front-end spike. It isn’t exceptionally offensive, just bothersome and contributes to the all-around hard, fast and aggressive sensation of riding the 450R.
Cornering is even better this year with the addition of the HPSD. The innovative damper stabilizes the front end through turns and allows for sharper steering geometry.
Overall the Honda is basically impossible to find real fault in. Complaining about too much power is, in truth, a viable argument for the majority of riders. But even our lesser-skilled testers were able to come to terms with increased seat time, and the intermediate/pro level riders will absolutely thrive on the amount of stock performance. The mild harshness in the front end was something we also adjusted to as our speed and confidence increased, but as the biggest flaw we could find, the CRF450R was simply too damn impressive to ignore.
There are some other machines which can match the Honda in certain aspects, like Suzuki’s ridiculously usable fuel-injected powerplant, or Yamaha’s unmatched plush suspension. However, as good as some of the other machines are in specific categories, every bike came up lacking somewhere else except the Honda. Radical performance, race-proven effectiveness, build quality, sales success and a chink-less armor make this bike the best Japanese motocrosser of 2008.
That is one burly-assed bike! I love riding it, too bad I don’t get to enjoy it for long since I can only last a few laps. There is so much power on tap at all times, it never feels like I need to move around in the gearbox, but when I take the time to do that it’s even better. At first I had a hard time evaluating anything else, just getting beyond the motor was tough for my brain to do.
Everything about the Honda reeks of speed; hard-hitting power, stiff chassis, aggressive suspension, precise steering this is definitely a bike to go fast on, but to be honest I felt faster and smoother on some of the other bikes. If I ever get to be a fast intermediate or pro I’ll definitely re-evaluate what this bike can do for me, but until then…
At first I really didn’t like the Honda’s suspension as it feels really harsh, but the harder and more aggressively you work the suspension the more it shines. The fork and shock aren’t as plush initially, but they work really well if you come up short on a jump. The Honda requires the rider to really push the suspension to get the most out of it, but the fork still deflects a bit and the steering damper doesn’t quell headshake nearly as much as I thought it would.
I felt at home on the Honda. There is nothing much to complain about this bike. It felt tight and solid, and man this bike is the best. The Honda felt stiff from first impressions and the fork feels too harsh on small chop, but it can take the hard hits. Stock settings had the bike packing on the high speed stuff and the forks were too stiff. As we fixed the rear end it helped the front work better. We got it to balance out and this bike ended up being my favorite to ride.