2009 Honda CRF450X Long-Term Wrap-Up

February 8, 2010
Chilly White
Chilly White
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Having spent most his riding career desert racing, Chilly White brings expert racing skills to his off-road dirt bike reviews. The Californian is also an International Six Days Enduro competitor, including the 2009 Portugal ISDE.

The CRF450X project bike hits the ISDE course hard and fast.
Our Honda CRF450X has returned from the Portugal ISDE. Chilly White explains what worked and what didn’t during the Six Days battle.

It’s time to say goodbye to my 2009 project bike, the Honda CRF450X. As you might remember, this is the bike I prepared and rode in the International Six Days Enduro in Portugal. The event was brutal with choking dust and murderous sand whoops, so here’s how the 450X ranked after it was all said and done.

With over 50 hours on the meter, the red thumper is still running strong. In fact, it acts more like it’s just getting revved up. With the exception of the brake pedal, most of the bike’s components look and feel like new. Once we got the bike jetted correctly, it has not had so much as a hiccup during all the riding time.

Most of this I credit to my favorite part of the CRF; the motor. It is flat out as good as anything else in the class. It’s smooth and easy to ride with lots of torque. This is a big departure from the earlier versions of the X that were abrupt in power delivery and prone to stalling. Power up on top is good and with just a little work there is a lot more potential. The powerplant is the real reason this bike is still tops with the Baja crowd, with the addition of a cam and free flowing exhaust this can be a real go-fast contender. Given a steady diet of fresh oil and clean air filters there should be hundreds of hours of trouble-free riding ahead.

A Rekluse Pro Model auto clutch is a necessity for me. The auto clutch provides a huge relief to my wrists and hands over multi day races.
A Rekluse z-Start Pro auto clutch is a necessity for Chilly’s race bikes. The Rekluse was a godsend on the nasty silt hillclimbs.

To help out with the long days of riding at the ISDE, I installed a Rekluse Z-start Pro auto clutch. This is one of my two “must-have” additions to any bike. On the first day of the ISDE I did have a little issue with stalling, but turning the idle up just a tad cured that and I think I had only one stall over the next five days. Portugal had a couple of long, rutted and silty climbs, and it was so nice to not have to worry about the clutch. The Rekluse is really like having traction control in these types of situations.

The second mandatory addition is one I discovered this year. The Flexx bar from Fasst Company is now standard equipment on my race bikes. In previous trips to the Six Days I have really struggled with wrist pain after a couple of days. Now, that is a thing of the past. The bars have the added benefit of reducing blisters. I used the 10-degree KTM bend with yellow elastomers and ODI bolt-on grips.

Lynn Hodges from Pro Moto Billet hooked me up with his Kick-it sidestandFlak shields and the Fastway F5 foot pegs. He also sent along a couple of unexpected parts like their brake snake and rear disc guard. The kickstand is first-class with a large foot so there is never a need to worry about where you park it. I became a fan of the large platform pegs, they give lots of leverage for moving the bike around. The pegs also give more room to move the feet around.

Chilly White navigates the deep sand.
Chilly works through the sand, which proved much more difficult than expected.

Overall the Honda presented a bit of a mixed bag at the ISDE. On the plus side the motor was great, never missing a beat. Had I known just how much deep sand there was going to be, I probably would have installed the CRF450R model motocross cam. The sand robbed so much power from the bike it always felt slow in the sand tests. The FMF Q exhaust was just the ticket for meeting the stringent 96 dB sound requirements.

The other area the sand wreaked havoc was with the suspension. Over the first couple of days I had to keep increasing the compression on both ends to compensate for the deep whoops. The conditions varied so much it was difficult to find good settings. The Trail Tricks tuned forks did a great job, easily taking the big hits. During a special test on Day 4, I was going a across a rutted grassy bog area and hit a huge square hole in third gear. The fork just soaked it up when I thought for sure that I was going over the bars.

The 2009 Honda CRF450X blasts through the 2009 ISDE sand test.
The 450X wasn’t the best-turning motorcycle in Portugal, but it got the job done. More suspension testing prior to the event might have helped.

In terms of setup, I made a mistake by not going with a stiffer rear spring. Even with a proper sag measurement, the bike was riding low in the rear. It still handled the rough terrain pretty well, but turning was a different issue. The 450X is a sluggish bike to begin with, and I really struggled trying to hold a good line in the tests. I think with a little more setup time I could have corrected much of this problem.

That brings me to the next issue; the brakes. The Honda isn’t a particularly light bike and the mediocre brakes just compound that problem. In most of the tests that didn’t matter much because touching the brakes caused the front tire to dig into the sand and head shake. So the best plan was to not touch the brakes and just use the throttle and deep sand to scrub off speed.

Over the course of six days of dusty riding I changed No-toil air filters once a day and did two engine oil changes. Other than tires, that was the full extent of the maintenance required. I would routinely go over the nuts and bolts when I had a few minutes to spare, but nothing really ever needed attention. In the entire time, the X never lost a drop of coolant.

Chilly White rides the CRF450X project bike for the Tecate Hare Scrambles.
Once the Honda made it back home, we threw it straight into the Tecate Hare Scrambles. Wide-open desert racing is what the X does best.

During the original bike build project, I did a number of modifications that were aimed towards protecting the bike. One that I had the opportunity to test was the rear brake pedal and the Rekluse billet clutch cover. On Day 6 I spun the rear end around coming out of a slow corner and low-sided the bike. This low-speed fall was enough to significantly bend the brake pedal and dent the billet cover, and that was even with the brake snake and rubber protector on the pedal. It clearly would have put a hole in the stock clutch cover. I am sure some of the other protective mods came into play at some point as everything else held up splendidly.

Once I got the bike back here to California, I did a quick service and headed to Mexico for the Tecate Hare Scrambles. Racing the Ironman class, I logged another five hours of time between the morning and afternoon races. The ever-steady Honda brought me home for a third-place finish. Another example of Honda’s desert prowess came when Johnny Campbell Racing just wrapped up another Baja 1000 victory against a very strong challenge from Kawasaki. Desert racing brings out all the best attributes of the 450X; solid chassis, good suspension and a strong, reliable motor.

2009 Honda CRF450X ISDE Project Bike
The 2009 Honda CRF450X was bulletproof in the rough unforgiving terrain of the 2009 ISDE, never complaining even with minimal maintenance.

The Honda 450X is a very competent bike. Through the long days of the ISDE, I really enjoyed riding it on the trail because it’s fun and easy to ride. Most of my struggles came at race speeds. It’s a little heavy and from the showroom needs a fair amount of attention before being ready to tackle a race course. Yet with a little work it can run with the best of them in the open terrain.

If you would like to see more of the 2009 Portuguese ISDE, the good folks at Ignition 3 have release the official 2 DVD set. The bonus DVD features some of the GoPro camera footage collected on our project Honda.

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