2010 Honda CRF450R First Ride

November 11, 2009
Adam Waheed
By Adam Waheed
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MotoUSA shreds dirt aboard the 2010 Honda CRF450R at Racetown 395.
For 2010, Honda tweaks its new generation CRF450R motocross platform. MotoUSA tests it at Racetown 395 in Southern California.

For 2009, Honda shook up the off-road motorcycle world with the introduction of its radically changed CRF450R motocross motorcycle. This dirt bike signified a new direction for Big Red, incorporating many fresh features designed to increase its prowess around the racetrack. While there were certain aspects of this next generation CRF that we loved, there were also a few characteristics that we were less than enthused with. Honda has answered by fine tuning and delivering us an updated 2010 Honda CRF450R. Although the changes are minimal, they do equate to a better experience on the dirt—but did Honda do enough? We spent a morning riding at Southern California’s Racetown 395 to find out the truth?
 
Engine
 
This year’s engine got a significant overhaul and remains essentially the same. The water-cooled lump still displaces 449cc via a 96.0 x 62.1mm cylinder measurement. Fuel is compressed to a respectable 12.0:1 compression ratio. Honda’s proprietary Unicam design ensures a compact cylinder head by using a solo camshaft to actuate the mixed titanium/steel valvetrain.

The Honda CRF450R uses a twin-sump lubrication system with separate engine and clutch transmission reservoirs which reduces mechanical power losses and lengthens oil service life.
Hondas Unicam solo camshaft design ensures a slim cylinder head.
Powertrain updates for 2010 are limited to a revised auto engine decompression set-up and new fuel and ignition maps. Together these changes make the CRF450F’s engine start on the first kick.

The intake system uses a 50mm throttle body and a single 12-hole fuel-injector that is powered directly by the bike’s AC generator. Exhaust exits in an aesthetically pleasing stainless-steel header that wraps back into a short muffler on the right-hand side of the bike. The engine is paired with a 5-speed transmission augmented through cable-actuated clutch. Power is transferred to the rear wheel via a chain final drive that utilizes 13/48 gearing.
 
Maintenance and vehicle upkeep was also one of the areas engineers originally focused on. The engine retains its signature twin-sump lubrication system with separate engine and clutch/transmission reservoirs which reduces mechanical power losses and lengthens oil service life. Furthermore, the airbox features a larger opening which makes it easier to service the filter. The fuel tank also has a clever rubber tether so the top-end can be serviced without disconnecting it.
 
One of the features we appreciated the most in last year’s bike was the engine. (Read the review in our 2009 450 Motocross Comparison.) When tested it was extremely flexible, offering the riders the best of both worlds; bottom-end power delivery was soft, however it seamlessly morphed into a civilized, yet robust mid-range and a respectable top-end, only marginally off the class-leading Kawasaki.
 
For 2010, Honda has updated both the fuel and ignition maps, further enhancing an already friendly powerband. The new mapping is also said to aid in starting via a revamped auto-engine-decompression system. While the ’09 bike was definitely finicky to start, we’re pleased to report that this trait has been eliminated with the ‘10 machine.
 
“Getting the engine fired was kind of a pain before,” states MotoUSA’s resident pro-level test rider Matty Armstrong. “It definitely took a couple of kicks before, but they’ve fixed the problem and now it fires right up on the first kick.”
 
Although getting the engine running is easier than ever, we found that it had a tendency to stall when lugged in gear at a low rpm. Besides said annoying trait, we appreciate both the flexibility and sheer friendliness of the CRF’s engine, not to mention the direct connection between throttle and rear tire.
 
“What I really like about the Honda’s engine is just how smooth it is,” comments Armstrong. “Its bottom-end feels mild which makes it easy for the tire to get traction out of slow corners. But the higher you spin the engine, the more power it pumps out. It’s a really versatile engine. Plus the way the power comes on makes it easy to control.”
 

The CRF450Rs ergonomics are well thought out for Armstrongs 5-foot  8-inch frame.
The 2010 Honda CRF450R runs even smoother than before and we really appreciated how civilized its powerband is.

The clutch, transmission, and final drive gearing complement the engine perfectly. Armstrong noted he was pleased with the way the clutch felt. He also said that the gearing was versatile with no gaps between any of the gears; no shifting problems were reported.
 
As before, riders have the ability to completely alter the engine’s power characteristics based on track conditions or individual rider preference with the HRC Fuel-Injection Setting Tool. The connector has been relocated to a more easily accessed location under the radiator shroud. And although we haven’t used the HRC tool on an FI-equipped CRF, we have used a similar set-up from Kawasaki and we’re amazed with how effective it is at tailoring engine power characteristics based on rider or track conditions. (Read about it in our Kawasaki Fuel-injection Calibration Kit review.)

Chassis

This new generation CRF says hello to a radically altered chassis. It’s highlighted by a fifth iteration of the twin-spar aluminum frame that engineers designed with three things in mind: nimble handling, compact shape, and minimal weight. The biggest change is the steering head and front wheel being repositioned closer to the rider. Also, the space between the fork tubes and the steering head (triple clamp offset) was reduced down to 20mm, making the bike much easier to steer.
 

The new generation CRF450R proves to be very sensitive to rider sag. Honda recommends between 104 and 108mm.
The new generation CRF450R proves to be very sensitive to rider sag. Honda recommends between 104 and 108mm.

In the outgoing 450 comparison, Honda’s chassis received mixed reviews. While we loved how quickly and accurately it steered, it came at a price – stability. Despite the standard fitment of Honda’s adjustable steering damper, the bike had a propensity to get out of shape in the fast stuff. We were also less than impressed with the suspension’s front-to-rear balance. Honda addressed this by updating both the Kayaba fork and gas charged shock absorber. The front suspension now carries slightly more oil and a new oil seal, while the shock gets a new piston and high-speed damping adjuster. Valving has also been updated on both ends. But was it enough to cure the problems?
 
“What I really like about this bike is the way it handles in the tight stuff,” says Armstrong. “In slow speed sections its perfect. It turns-in really quickly and the front end tracks well. But in the high-speed stuff, it wants to move around a lot. After my first few laps, I had to tighten up the steering damper which helped a lot, but it still didn’t fix the problem.

“I think the bike would be pretty good if I could get I tuned for my weight,” continues the 160-pound Matty. “I couldn’t get the back of the bike to plant down. It felt like it sat too high all the time. I adjusted the high-speed damping in the shock and closed the rebound on the shock which helped the bike not kick quite as much in the braking bumps. I just think that if had a softer rear spring it would work a lot better.”

While the Honda’s handling performance is questionable, what’s not is the ergonomics package. Hop aboard and one will be instantly surprised how slim of a machine feels. However, it threads that fine line with precision and isn’t too slim, which could make it difficult to hold onto. The seat itself is flat, making it easier for the rider to slide fore and aft. The handlebar and footpeg position is also well-designed and will accommodate all but extremely tall pilots.

Armstrong demonstrates his version of the Bubba Scrub aboard the 2010 Honda CRF450R.
The CRF450R is supposedly the lightest 450cc motocross bike on the market and you can feel its lack of weight in the air.

“The Honda is probably the skinniest 450 you can buy today,” Armstrong points out. “It fits me really well – no complaints there. I also like how maneuverable it is over the jumps. Honda says it weights 10-lbs less than the competition and it definitely feels that way in the air.”

Braking was another one of the chassis’ shining areas. Armstrong commented both power and feel were excellent. His confidence in the brakes was evident as lap after lap one could visibly see him nose-wheeling into one heavy braking section of the track.

Final Thoughts

There are certain aspects of the CRF that we really dig. The updated fuel injection and ignition mapping has delivered an even more civilized engine that can be appreciated by all level riders. Although power feels softer initially as compared to its competitors, simply give the throttle a harder tug and within a split-second that thought vanishes faster than … well, you get the point.

It’s also extremely easy to start now. It feels light both on the ground and in the air, plus it is exceptionally agile in slower turns. Not to mention the bodywork and some of the other hard parts are interchangeable with the all-new CRF250R (Read about it in our 2010 Honda CRF250R First Ride).

Here Armstrong lofts the rear wheel into the corner proving the effectiveness of the CRF450Rs braking components.
Here, Armstrong lofts the rear wheel into the corner proving the effectiveness of the CRF450R’s braking components.

Everywhere else, though, it lacks stability, which ultimately limits how fast you can lap. Armstrong surmises it best: “The funny thing about the Honda is that its ergonomics are spot-on for a rider of my size, yet the suspension isn’t. The fork feels about right, but the rear shock is just way too stiff. If Honda could balance it out better I think they’d have a much better bike.”

Until Honda sorts out the suspension balance we doubt that the machine will be able to challenge the reining class champ. The 2010 CRF450R will be in dealerships in February 2010 and its price has been increased by $500 to $8099.

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