2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike

October 26, 2010
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike
Our 2010 Honda CRF450R has seen some upgrades that make it more appealing as an all-around dirt bike.

Our 2010 Honda CRF450R has been hard at work for our crew, but not just at the motocross track. After finishing the 2010 450 Motocross Shootout, we hammered it across the MX circuit of Southern California and decided that some professional help was needed in the suspension department. After shipping our Kayaba fork and shock off to be overhauled, we rejuvenated the red machine as our Honda CRF450R MB1 Project Bike. However, the fun didn’t stop there. Having made us pretty happy with its performance on the motocross track, our crew was more apt to pluck the 450R out of the stable at every opportunity, and eventually we broke away from the closed course.

The catch with these Honda 450s is that you can’t break away very far, at least not if you have a stock fuel tank. Big Red engineers decided it was best to go with a 1.5-gallon cell. That might be fine for the average motocross outing, but when it comes to venturing off the beaten path, we like to know there’s enough gas to get us home – or at least start a rescue bonfire! IMS is the biggest name in big tanks so they were our first stop. A 2.7-gallon IMS large capacity fuel tank with standard screw cap almost doubled our capacity without making the CRF obscenely wide. IMS offers it in black to match the stock look, but for us the natural color fuel tanks are as much of a styling cue as they are performance necessity. We love the way it looks, love how easy it is to see remaining fuel and love that it extends playtime.

Installing the tank is simple with only six bolts and a thick O-ring gasket to fasten the stock fuel pump assembly. It comes with a bracket to attach at the steering head and threaded inserts that match the radiator shrouds. Getting the shrouds attached was the only problem as they had to bend a little to reach around the wider profile and bolt to the radiator. The polyethylene crosslink technology has not discolored and has resisted damage from any crashes.

Our destination was The Last Frontier: Nevada 200 Trail Ride and the idea of having a foot come off while bombing across the desert is one that we don’t like. Honda has some pretty wimpy footpegs, so while we were at IMS the polished powder coat finish on the IMS Pro-Series footpegs caught our attention. These pegs are significantly wider than the stock units at about two inches across and three inches long. The teeth on the outside tip are slightly longer and overall they gripped our boots very well. Another great feature is that the cast stainless steel construction is burly enough to survive bashing against rocks – which we did.

2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike
Our first trip to the Glamis dunes was without the IMS tank, but that changed quickly. The sand is rough on the chain and sprockets.

When MB1 did the suspension, the shock body was reduced in length and we ran the rider sag toward the top of Honda’s recommended settings at around 108mm. Combined with stiffer 0.48kg/mm fork springs, the CRF felt a bit squatted in the rear and this was especially noticeable with the bigger tank. We didn’t mind it as much for off-road because the handling was a little more stable when speeds picked up. We threw on a cheap-but-effective Cheng Shin Surge eight-paddle tire and our Honda made several rides in the expansive Glamis dunes where extra stability was much appreciated. Between the dunes and high-speed desert riding, the $800 suspension tuning from MB1 was easy to live with, plus we still had the option of hitting the moto track. However, once the CRF headed out of the Southwest, the track-oriented suspension lost some of its appeal.

We rode it a few times near our Medford headquarters and realized also that the sand and dust had done a number on the rear sprocket and chain. Our schedule had us headed to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the two-day Parts Unlimted UP300 trail ride. Expecting tight woods, we ordered a RK Quick Acceleration Chain Kit which includes both sprockets and a chain. We opted for the black 7075 T6 aluminum drive sprocket and Z-type gold chain to give it some better looks, but more important was the extra tooth on the rear to help carry second gear in the tight stuff. The bad news was that we called in the wrong chain length which wasn’t discovered until the last-minute maintenance melee. Our friend Scott Oakes from No Toil was waiting with a generous spot in his hauler, so we threaded out the block adjusters, gave the old chain a healthy dose of lube and loaded it up.

While the wheel was off we put on a fresh knobby, and since it’s a Parts Unlimited event, we opted for one of their supported brands. A set of Michelin Starcross MS3 soft-intermediate tires were spooned on, and since the UP is known for its sandy soil, the tall knobs were great for digging in. Northern Michigan is also known for its impenetrable forests, which gave us a little concern with the wider, heavier Honda. A 110-spec rear tread replaced the standard 120 in an effort to speed up the side-to-side handling.

2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike
The Michelin Starcross tires were excellent on the sandy trails, but the occasional slick rock outcropping would catch them off guard.

With rain on the day prior to our ride in Michigan, the soil was absolutely perfect and the Starcross tires hooked up like a tractor tread. The front was particularly good with no complaints anywhere, even during the rocky technical loop. On the trail the lugs bit securely and we never had an issue with the front end deflecting, even with the overly stiff suspension. The rear tire was great for straight-line acceleration and braking with tall, sharp knobs down the center. The side knobs broke loose a little too easily for us when accelerating out of corners, but it was nice to brake-pivot the rear end in the tight trees. Unlike the front tire, the rear was not good on rocks, but fortunately there weren’t many outside of one particular trail. At the end of the second day we found a loop that was mostly open field and suddenly the CRF came into its own again. After abusing the clutch in first and second gear (though not as bad thanks to that bigger sprocket) we could finally let the big 450 eat. After sliding around trees for the weekend and drifting through the slalom layout, we came to understand and trust the Michelins’ behavior enough to keep both feet on the pegs almost constantly (which saved our toes from the multitude of hidden stumps).

They guys from Cycra were on hand for the UP and humored us with a Cycra Probend Center Reach Clamp Racer Pack, which comes with wrap-around aluminum bars for heavy duty protection, plastic flag-style shields and all the necessary mounting hardware. After ricocheting down the trails, dropping the hefty 450 several times and eating roost while capturing onboard video footage, the Cycras proved their worth a thousand times over. Now they even stay on during motocross sessions where the added roost makes up for a lack of trees, and the Probends are constantly being transferred from bike to bike. You can see them put to good use when we went Racing the Dick Jagow with Honda or read the full product assessment with the Cycra Probend CRM Handguard Review.

There’s no reason to waste a perfectly good off-road ride with an expensive ticket, and escaping motocross means playing by a new set of rules. You can’t be starting fires, so in order to play fair we needed a spark arrestor, which was a perfect excuse to slap on a new muffler. Not that a 450 needs more power necessarily, but the Honda’s stock muffler sounds pretty bad to our ears anyway. The Yoshimura RS-4 comp slip-on exhaust is available as a full-race titanium version which comes without the spark arrestor insert, but we’re more concerned with legality than a few ounces. That’s why we opted for the stainless/aluminum can. It still has the carbon fiber endcap and looks amazing with the shorty design and pentagonal shape, but it also has the spark arrestor insert. Slip-on mufflers are one of the easiest parts to install. The Yosh has two mounting bolts plus a midpipe clamp. Once it was bolted up, the performance difference was noticeable. The CRF became much livelier in the lower midrange, where it was no slouch in stock condition to begin with. The added boost made for a good match with the larger sprocket and our project bike yanked forward with authority.

2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike
2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike
If you want to reach these types of destinations, a muffler with spark arrestor is necessary. The FMF pipe had an ill-fitting insert, but the performance was noticeable.

FMF dropped in at the Michigan event and let us try the FMF Factory 4.1 slip-on exhaust for a back-to-back comparison. While installing the FMF we noticed that it’s slightly longer, but appreciated the true slip-on joint which requires no springs or clamps at the midpipe. However, we did have some trouble getting the spark arrestor installed. The Factory 4.1 has the ability to bolt in the spark screen or tuning inserts. We couldn’t get any of them to work as the mounting hole was slightly off. This is not indicative of any other FMF pipe we’ve tested, but we never did get the screen in, so the pipe was ridden in full race mode. The first thing we noticed was a healthy increase in sound compared to the stubby Yoshimura pipe. Without any inserts, the FMF has a big bark, but there’s matching performance as well. The Factory 4.1 introduced a bit more off the bottom, matched the Yosh through the midrange if not slightly exceeding it and extended the top-end pull. Too bad it wasn’t legal for off-road use in that trim, but the gains felt from the seat of our pants were across the full powerband, which is just what we think an exhaust pipe should do.

After months of riding the Honda was still running in top condition. The tweaked radiator shrouds snapped right back into shape when the smaller tank was reinstalled, and our Dirt Digits graphics held up the entire time. We managed to strip one of the lower side panel mounting bolts but that was our own fault. With the exception of the chain and sprockets, nothing wore out, not even the hand grips. The only issue that came up was a crack in the side of the rear rim where the tire bead seats. We’re not sure when or where it happened, though it’s likely from the rough Nevada ride or during a motocross session as the rest of our riding was slower paced. However, none of the spokes loosened up and the wheel never wobbled or felt out of round. Overall our project Honda was a great ride with improved performance on the track and some mods that extend its horizons without sacrificing too much of the motocross background. 

2010 Honda CRF450R Project Bike Parts List:
IMS Large Capacity Fuel Tank – $288
IMS Pro Series Footpegs – $96 
Yoshimura RS-4 Comp Slip-On Exhaust – $396-$416 
FMF Factory 4.1 Slip-On Exhaust – $400 
RK Quick Acceleration Chain Kits – $153-$230 
Cycra Pro-Bend Center Reach Clamp Racer Pack – $125
Michelin Starcross MS3/MS2 Soft-Intermediate Rear Tire – $33-$113
Michelin Starcross MS3/MS2 Soft-Intermediate Front Tire – $34-$98
Cheng Shin Surge P-C7220 Paddle Tire – $54-$64
MB1 Suspension

These parts and more for the 2010 Honda CRF450R are available at Motorcycle Superstore.

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