Although, Yamaha invented the 4-stroke motocrosser, it was Honda’s original CRF450R that transformed the game. Since its release as a 2002 model, the CRF450R has been at or near the top of every one of our motocross shootouts. Year after year it’s been the motorcycle that the competition has struggled to catch up to in terms of performance around the racetrack and units sold on the showroom floor.
So, when Honda announced last year that they had completely revamped the then class-leading CRF450R for 2009, we were eager to experience what Big Red had in store with its new generation CRF. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite to plan for Honda, as its redesigned MX’er struggled in both our annual shootout, as well as the AMA Supercross/Motocross series at the hands of Honda Red Bull riders Ivan Tedesco and Andrew Short. While there were certain attributes we loved, including its razor sharp handling, svelte size and potent-yet-friendly power delivery, there were also aspects of the bike that could be better.
Honda attempted to address these issues for 2010. (Learn all about each individual update in the 2010 Honda CRF450R First Ride). But after logging an equal amount of seat time between each of the four bikes, it’s clear that the Honda still comes up bit short, though it did improve on some areas.
Honda fine-tuned the fuel injection and ignition mapping so that it’s easier to start. The bike still retains a rider-friendly power delivery and passes sound at 97 dB.
When it comes to its powertrain, everyone appreciated the friendlier starting and power delivery characteristics of the CRF engine. The updated fuel-injection and ignition map settings greatly reduce engine starting gremlins, but it still isn’t as easy to start as the Kawasaki.
“The motor is definitely a strong point of this bike,” reports Armstrong. “Not only is it fast, but it’s a lot smoother than last year. It has better roll-on performance which made it easier to ride. Plus it’s easy to start even when hot or in gear.”
Out on track, the theme of the Honda’s power delivery is control. Similar to the KTM, power feels the most subdued offering a soft bottom-end that gently transforms into a plump mid-range. While it doesn’t feel as explosive as the Kawasaki or Yamaha at lower revs, pin the throttle and the Honda motor gets with the program. Glancing at the dyno graph proves that it’s right there with the competition in terms of power production. In fact, in engine torque, they Honda tops all but the mighty Kawi until around 8000 revs (representing the transition between mid-range and top-end power delivery), then the KTM takes off leaving the Honda engine to flatten out slightly.
“The Honda has a very mellow low-end pull followed by a strong midrange,” explains Milan. “You really need to make the most of the mid-range pull, though, as the bike doesn’t pull very hard on top compared to the others. It will rev out just as far, but it just doesn’t feel like it pulls as hard.”
The Honda’s gearbox and 13/48T final drive gearing complements the engine perfectly. No noticeable gaps in gearing could be felt around the track and the transmission always slid into each cog with zero fuss. We were also impressed with how responsive its clutch felt while slipping it out of the corner, not to mention its light lever pull.
Although the Honda doesn’t have the highest peak power numbers, it was still able to achieve the quickest time in our simulated holeshot test. The CRF propelled its rider into Turn 1 in the shortest amount of time while carrying the second highest trap 48.58 mph speed.
Part of the reason the CRF is so competitive with the other machines despite being slightly down on power is that it only weights 237 lbs. with a full 1.5 gallons of fuel. That’s 14 lbs, less than the bulky KX450F, 13 lbs less than the YZ450F (which is heavier than last year), and 12 lbs less than the KTM giving it the distinction of the lightest machine in this comparison.
The weight difference is noticeable as soon as you lift it off the stand. Honda’s reduced outright mass works in unison with those exceptionally quick steering manners, making the bike feel significantly lighter than any other 450 machine both on the ground and in the air.
When entering a corner, there’s no question that the Honda is the sharpest handling motorcycle of this quartet. The Honda’s front end feels telepathic. It turns your thought into an instantaneous action. Just imagine where you want the bike to go and instantly it’s there. It steers so quickly and with such little effort that it’s hard to believe that you’re at the controls of a 450 Motocross bike. Regrettably, this pin-point accuracy comes at the cost of stability.
”The Honda’s the hardest bike to figure out,” states test rider and ex-Supercross pro, Matt Armstrong. “In terms of handling, it has a lot of the same characteristics as last year. Sure, it steers really quickly, but the back end is always hopping around. This makes the rear end feel unstable, especially entering turns with braking bumps. I would definitely need a softer spring to help the rear end settle better.”
The Honda’s engine is not only powerful but very easy to manage making corner exits less jerky than on some bikes.
Armstrong wasn’t alone in his handling complaint, as each rider had something to criticize in terms of the CRF450R’s handling. Regardless of size or skill, all the riders noted the rear end’s propensity to hop around and resist settling from corner entry through exit around Racetown’s ultra-rough surface.
“When I took off on the bike initially, the rear end would kick side-to-side through rough sections of the track,” explains guest test rider Bret Milan. “After slowing the shock down (added rebound) I was more comfortable on the bike, but even then, occasionally, I would overload the suspension and the results were less than predictable.”
Another problem encountered for all testers was how unstable the Honda’s front end felt through high-speed sections of the racetrack.
“It turns better than any another of the other bikes,” comments FMX stunt rider Drake McElroy. “But the front end is twitchy. It feels like it would be the bike best suited to Supercross-type tracks. You have to ride it super aggressive and be on top of it all the time. But, when you ride it like that, and tell it who’s boss, it actually works okay.”
Part of the CRF450R’s handling woes can be contributed to its ultra aggressive steering head angle. This places a lot of the weight on the front end. Engineers addressed this by fitting an adjustable Honda Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD). The damper is located behind the number plate and connects the bottom triple clamp and the steering column. It can be easily adjusted by turning the knob for more or less damping effect. In the stock setting, the damper didn’t offer enough damping to quell headshake. Turn it all
the way in, and headshake is reduced—making the bike easier to control through fast sections at the cost of minutely increased steering effort. Overall it’s a fabulous feature, but it still isn’t enough to eliminate its high-speed stability problem.
In terms of suspension, this CRF features Kayaba components front and rear. All the riders appreciated the suspension’s action and outright compliance. But they noted that the suspenders don’t serve up the same level of performance as the bits on the other three bikes. Our lighter testers complained that the shock absorber spring rate was too stiff, while heavier riders faulted the overly soft fork. This creates a front-to-rear balance deficiency making the Honda tricky to control at higher speeds.
The narrow cockpit further contributes to its overall nimbleness, with the CRF possessing the most slender seat dimensions. Some riders felt it was on the verge of being too narrow – a trait that makes it difficult to grip the bike with the legs. Despite its petite size, the Honda’s footpeg/seat/handlebar measurement is balanced and comfortable. Without a doubt, the ergonomics cater to smaller riders, yet the CRF does offer the ability to flip the handlebar mounts thereby opening up the cockpit if needed. Despite using the smallest set of footpegs, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference as none of our testers noted any problem with traction, proving that bigger isn’t always better.
The front and rear suspensions balance and lack of high-speed stability held it back in this year’s shootout.
In the braking department, the CRF received high marks offering the second-best combined braking performance aside from the KTM. Most notable is the enhanced level of feel at the end of each lever. This is in contrast to the relatively “wooden” feel of other Japanese machines.
If you’re looking for the lightest, most agile 450 on the market, than make no mistake about it, the 2010 Honda CRF450R has you covered. It excels on smooth and tight tracks where the 48mm Kayaba fork and Pro-Link shock doesn’t get fully taxed. The CRF’s engine has plenty of steam, plus it’s versatile and easy to use. Although the 450R feels smallest in this group, the ergonomic package is intuitive and can fit a wider range of riders by the simple addition of a taller handlebar.