Coming into this comparison, Honda’s all-new 450 was perhaps the most hyped MX motorcycle of the model year. And ever since we first laid eyes on it during our First Look report we couldn’t wait to turn a wheel on the new machine. That being said, when the Honda box van pulled up, it was an all out race to be the first one on the bike.
With a variety of different sized table-tops and step-up jumps, a good portion of your time at Racetown is spent in the air. And this is where you’ll appreciate how light and compact feeling the new CRF450R is.
Airtime is when the Honda really shows off its new slender waistline. The CRF450R is easily the most compact and lightest of the group.
Although it isn’t as petite as its 250F sibling, it is in fact getting close and this year’s CRF is undoubtedly the smallest feeling MX’er in this comparison. From the time you hop aboard you’ll be startled by how narrow the bike is. Similar to the RM-Z, the rider triangle feels very natural and all of the controls are intuitively placed. Even though virtually every part on the new CRF has changed, Big Red decided to stick with the same small-sized footpegs as last year, which apparently is fine, because our testers never complained about them. Regardless though, the consensus amongst our wrecking crew was that the CRF is definitely small-person oriented.
“My favorite thing about this bike was its size,” Armstrong noted. “I’m a smaller guy (5-foot, 7-inches, 155 pounds) and the rider compartment is compact, which I prefer.”
“The thing that I’ve always hated about 450s is how big they feel,” remarked Toye. “It’s about time that someone has come out with a bike that doesn’t feel like an oversized cruiser. This is the kind of 450 I can get used to.”
While each of our vertically challenged riders loved both the size and ergos of the CRF450R, Simon, our tallest test rider wasn’t sold: “The Honda just did not fit me right. Being tall (6-foot, 3-inches), really makes it not the best choice for me. I felt really cramped on it.”
On the ground it seemed that the Honda is definitely designed for smaller riders, but in the sky, its petite size and flickability received unanimous praise.
Suspension setup is critical on the new CRF. Finding the proper balance on the new Kayabas can be difficult.
“This thing is the easiest bike to whip,” said Armstrong. “I love how light and agile it feels. I guess the best way to describe it is that it’s like a 250F on ‘roids.”
Simon agreed: “One thing that I did love about this bike is how light it felt in the air. I could just throw it around kind of like a 125.”
Okay, we all agreed. The Honda feels the best in the air, but what’s it like when it’s cranked over on its side on terra firma? Although our results were mixed, everyone agreed that the Honda is the most finicky when it comes to setup. The single most critical aspect of suspension setup on this year’s CRF is sag. Our motley crew preferred settings between 108 and 112mm. But even a slight variation really had a big effect on the Honda’s handling.
“Balance front-to-back is kind of off on the Honda,” said Simon. “The front end sits really low and the back is kind of high. I’ve heard about a lot of people complaining about the Honda’s front end feeling loose but to me the front end seemed to stick. When I’d get into the corner the bike actually worked. However, the back end did not seem to track as good as the front. Entering corners going through the braking bumps I just felt like it wanted to dance around and come around a bit.”
The Honda seems a little soft on power down low, but in reality it is still every bit as much a 450 as it used to be. Now the power is super progressive and immediate thanks to the EFI.
Similarly to Simon, Armstrong had mixed results on the Honda: “The suspension was a little on the stiff for me, especially for how fast and rough Racetown is. I went out a few clicks on the compression, reset the sag, but ran out of adjustment on the shock so the rear hung a little high. This made the bike turn sharper but also made it twitchy on the high speed stuff. I definitely need a softer spring for my weight.”
“Steering is really neutral,” mentions Toye. “And the front end is really accurate. You can select your lines really easy on this bike. It gives you really good feedback and you always know where you’re at on it.”
Last year’s carbureted CRF was no slouch in the power department and neither is this year’s fuel-injected model. Though peak power is virtually the same as last year, the ’09 EFI-equipped 449cc Unicam engine feels much more robust especially in terms of mid-range performance.
But before one can experience it, you’re going to need to start it, and like the Suzuki, the Honda requires finesse to fire. Like the Kawasaki, the starting procedure is as simple as putting the gearbox in neutral, slide out the kick lever, and commence kicking. Unfortunately, one kick starts are few and far between, but if you kick it from the very top of the stroke it can be done.
Once up and running, the CRF’s powerband feels akin to the RM-Z. Looking at the dyno chart confirms this as the two bikes are almost identical until you’re around 7500 revs, or the upper edge of the engine’s mid-range. That’s when the RM-Z begins to sign off as the CRF continues pump out power.
Almost everyone’s immediate reaction to the Honda is one of excitement, and once we spent time on the track it remained posititve. Proper setup is more important than on other machines, but spend the time and it will reward you.
“You definitely know that a bike is fuel-injected. It is now, now, now,” Toye explained. “Bottom is end is a bit soft, but once you get into its midrange it pulls really hard. This thing definitely has plenty of power.”
We’ve never had many drivetrain issues on Honda CRF’s and the new bike continues the trend. Not a peep could be heard out of testers’ mouths in regards to shifting problems, clutch issues, etc. The same can be said for the CRF’s brakes. Everyone loved them, no complaints.
Overall Honda’s reworked CRF is a fantastic machine. Although its chassis is a bit finicky to set-up, when you get it right, it’s a potent weapon on track. Its engine has friendly manners and without question it’s the lightest and most compact feeling 450 MX’er.