After spending considerable time at the controls of Honda’s CRF450R during our 2010 Honda CRF450R First Ride and 2010 450 Motocross Shootout we wished to address some of the troubles we encountered with Big Red’s premier motocrosser. One of the few problems was the unbalanced feel of its chassis. Specifically, the front suspension felt overly soft and the back too stiff. This made it difficult to control on bumpy, high-speed tracks. To solve the problem we enlisted the help of MB1 Suspension.
Based in Southern California and centrally located between many SoCal moto tracks, MB1 is a premier suspension tuner that services suspension components including: Showa, Kayaba and WP. But what they really specialize in is Honda dirt bike suspension.
Owner, Mike Battista, has extensive experience as a factory Honda/Showa suspension technician during the late 1990s/early-2000s, working with many of the top riders of that era including the Greatest-Of-All-Time, Ricky Carmichael. This gives his company a unique level of insight into the world of chassis engineering as well as the associated testing methods, thereby delivering you technology and suspension expertise that was previously exclusive to the top pros just a few years ago.
After receiving the parts, MB1 disassembled front and rear components and fitted each with the appropriate spring rates based on our weight, riding ability and intended use at the motocross track. The stock 0.46kg/mm fork springs were swapped for a stiffer 0.48 kg/mm springs. For the shock, they chose to retain the 5.4 kg/mm spring. The damping circuits inside were also modified to MB1’s custom specification for better response and a more plush feel during the initial part of suspension travel, as well as a progressively firmer feel as it slides deeper through the stroke.
Larger fork oil locks enhance bottoming resistance during maximum load and a larger capacity gas bladder provides more consistent damping from the shock during long motos. Lastly, the length of the shock body was reduced slightly, without compromising suspension movement, promoting a more level chassis angle. MB1 also offers a bolt-on rear linkage kit ($200) that further lowers the rear of the bike thereby achieving even more optimum chassis balance. However, we opted to retain the stock linkage to better analyze the basic suspension upgrades.
Both pieces are filled with fresh fluid and fork oil level was set at 355cc. MB1’s turn-around time is quick with our suspension back in our hands two days after we dropped it off. However service time depends on the time of year. As a reminder it’s advised to get the suspension fluid changed in your fork and shock between 20 and 30 hours of riding.
After refitting the suspension onto the bike we hit the Piru Motocross Park, a tight and technical racetrack built into the surrounding hillside just north of Los Angeles. There we’d be able to determine how the bike performs on a slower speed Supercross-style track. After that we headed to Glen Helen, a super fast and bumpy track in San Bernardino, before racing it that weekend with the folks at REM Motocross.
Even during initial break-in the upgrades were clearly noticeable. Although the suspension felt stiff initially, after about one-hour of ride time the suspension components broke in and ride quality became more compliant.
“Huge improvements over stock,” noted MotoUSA’s Intermediate-level test rider Frankie Garcia. “The bike handles better and is just more comfortable to ride. It absorbs bumps better and the action feels a lot smoother.”
Not only was initial suspension action more supple, as it slid farther in the stroke it did so progressively which made the bike easier to control. Most notable was how much higher the fork operated in the stroke which gives the rider more confidence when charging some of Glen Helen’s steep and bumpy downhill sections.
“I can’t believe how much better the bike handles when you enter a corner on the brakes,” noted Garcia. “But what I noticed the most was the shock. It was a big improvement over stock. It helped the rear of the bike get over the bumps and it stopped it from dancing around during corner entry. The Honda always turned-in really well but the rear end never wanted to follow. It’s much better now.”
Not only was the propensity of the bike’s rear end to hop around and resist settling eliminated, the overall chassis balance front-to-rear was significantly improved allowing us to charge harder through rough sections of the track without the bike pitching too far in either direction, which ultimately made the bike less fatiguing to ride.
In order to test the bottoming performance we intentionally cased a couple of jumps at Piru and we are pleased with the result. The jarring effects of a hard impact were reduced significantly and it felt almost like there were bigger rubber bump-type cushions when you really maxed out the suspension.
Even with the fitment of stiffer rate fork springs and the slight change of front end attitude, the Honda still carves into a turn accurately and with such little effort that it still astounds us that 450-class bikes can turn this good. Though, like before, the front end still feels like it is always searching for a new line and never really tracks straight once turned. However, this is the exact condition that MB1’s shock linkage might improve.
Lack of stability at speed on a rough track was also a problem that bothered us before. And while the suspension does a much better job of balancing out the chassis, it still headshakes and gets skittish in the fast stuff more than we’d like. This is something we are going to address in the future with the fitment of the MB1 linkage and some different triple-clamp offset.
Overall we are astounded by how much of a difference the MB1’s massaged suspension components worked on our Honda. It completely eliminated some of the problems we had including the aggressive pitching and overall balance, especially going downhill or under braking. Equally as pleasing was how much more compliant the rear end of the bike was with it settling into the corner instead of hopping around side-to-side. Although high-speed stability was improved it’s still not quite to where we like it which leads us to our next episode. If you’re looking to make your CRF450R handle better with less rider effort than we recommend outfitting your bike with MB1 Suspension as a start.