Last year our CRF450R was mired in the back of the pack under the weight of impressive competition. Not that the Honda was bad, but its unbalanced chassis and suspension just couldn’t allow our testers to get in tune with the red machine as well as we would have liked. That all changed in 2011 when Honda started making significant tweaks to its flagship motocross bike. Most importantly, the Kayaba suspension has been redone. The fork gets updated internally with a lighter cartridge cylinder and valving to match. Out back is a new delta linkage and shorter pull rod that drops the rear for more neutral handling. This went a long way to solving the stinkbug feel that many riders complained about ever since the major redesign in 2009.
We were at Jeremy McGrath’s ranch for the 2011 Honda CRF450R First Ride and it was immediately noticeable that the new machine not only handles incredibly well, but the engine configuration is better as well. A new 46mm throttle body and ECU mapping have made the CRF incredibly smooth from bottom to top, and Honda is quick to point out that the new muffler design drops output to under 94 decibels. Once the 450R hit the shootout trail and we spent more time with it on various tracks, our overall impression is generally the same, though we did get a better feel for some of the details.
The seamless spread of power ends in a peak of 50.5 horsepower (8750 rpm) and 34.7 lb-ft of torque (6500 rpm). These figures are a tad lower than most other 450s, but we are talking about over 50 ponies here – this thing isn’t slow. Test riders were amazed at how deceptively fast the Honda is. With a muffler that puts out just 93.4 dB, the lowest of our test, the CRF never seems like it’s trying hard to go fast. A moderate bottom-end and seamless transition through the power curve helped Big Red lay down the quickest holeshot and third-gear roll-on times – and these are much more important than peak dyno numbers. Another reason the Honda accelerates more quickly than the rest is due to its light weight. At 230.7 pounds without fuel, the CRF is almost three pounds lighter than the KTM 350, and seven pounds lighter than the closest 450 (Yamaha). Add a full tank of fuel and the advantage in curb weight is even greater because it only carries 1.5 gallons.
One of the only persistent comments was that the clutch tends to fade – from our former National-caliber pilot who made constant use of the quick adjust to a faster novice rider. Despite that concern, the clutch provides smooth engagement and positive feel as long as it’s adjusted. A light pull, smooth, precise shifting and a cleanly spaced transmission all contributed to the best score in the drivetrain category.
As much as the CRF is improved this year in terms of balance and suspension compliance, it still isn’t perfect. Our testers scored it fourth behind the rest of the Japanese bikes. However, even with room to improve, primarily with added stability, we did appreciate the handling characteristics. The ergonomics work for a wide range of riders despite its chassis feeling the smallest and most like a 250F. Add light weight and the Honda Progressive Steering Damper and it’s a recipe for a bike that loves to turn.
Honda has created a versatile open-class motocrosser. The new changes to suspension and chassis were key for getting our testers comfortable with the red machine. Where the Honda suffered was in the raw numbers. Sheer power output from the CRF isn’t breathtaking, but it makes up for it by applying those ponies in a very usable fashion, not to mention being a featherweight on the scales and extra agile on the track. Top marks for its smooth, reliable drivetrain and compact-but-usable ergonomics helped push it to the front. Not to mention, half of our testers chose it as the bike they would ride in the For My Money segment which earned it a slight bonus. Even without the extra points the CRF claimed five categories and was the top overall objective and subjective point scorer. This year it wins, and now wears the biggest target in motocross comparisons.
2011 Honda CRF450R Rider Impressions:
Bret Milan – 6’4” – 210 lbs – Intermediate
The engine ran clean and smooth and had an easy to use and rideable character, but I thought it felt like one of the least powerful 450s at the test. It had a decent midrange and there were no flat spots or anything, but it didn’t feel like a holeshot machine to me. The changes made to the linkage were a big improvement over the 2010 machine, this bike felt much better. On the 2010, it felt like I could hit the same bump at the same speed two laps in a row with drastically different results. I was much more confident in the action of the rear shock than I was last year. I know Honda worked hard to improve this and I felt the difference.
The Honda was one of the better cornering bikes in the test. I was confident that I could enter a corner and choose any line I wanted without too much effort. As for the stability, as I said earlier, I felt that the changes made to the linkage have improved the stability of the bike quite a bit. Sometimes when a bike gains stability, it gives up cornering prowess, but this isn’t the case with the Honda. Unfortunately, the Honda was one of the least comfortable bikes. I’m obviously way off the size charts for motocross, but taller riders would need to spend some money to try to increase the size of the cockpit. I would immediately invest in a taller seat and a more adjustable top triple clamp if it were my bike.
Kyle Lewis – 5’10” – 180 lbs – Vet Expert
Overall, the CRF450 has a very good powerband. Throttle response was right there and I did not feel any flat spots. It has a good initial hit and carries through all the way to the top-end. I think the strongest point is from the mid to top, and for me, this bike has the most usable power. The clutch on this bike is the only weak point. I would find myself adjusting it a few times per lap. It was not weak, but the leaver adjustment was moving in and out. Second gear felt a little long, but that happens to be a personal liking of mine. I like second to carry from corner to corner without shifting.
For me, the CRF had the best overall suspension performance. The adjustments they made to the 2011 fork gave the bike good balance. The ride height was at 105mm on the shock and I did not have to make many adjustments to get comfortable. I went in one on the low-speed compression and rebound on the shock. I also went in one on the fork compression and rebound as well. The steering and stability felt very comfortable and was very easy to put the bike where I wanted. It was easy to go through tight corners, as well as maintaining stability through high speed turns. The brakes just felt okay. Overall they felt smooth with good progression, but could use a little bit more power in the front and rear for me.
Frankie Garcia – 5’8” – 165 lbs – Novice
The Honda has a very smooth linear type power, but also pulls very high in to the rpms without really ever having any flat spots. The 2009 and 2010 seemed to be a lot more aggressive and to my liking, but overall it was an engine that just needed a little more power. As I did some longer motos on the CRF450R I was having to use the quick adjust feature almost to the point where I thought I was going to turn it right off the perch. If we added a tooth to the rear sprocket for more low-end power the clutch would not need to be used as much. The transmission on this machine worked smoothly never having it miss-shift in ruts or if my foot hit it on accident.
The CRF was top choice for three of our testers in the For My Money segment where riders have to choose which bike they would spend their own money on.
The Honda is one the best turning machines I have ever thrown a leg over. Anywhere I wanted the bike to turn it did – inside, outside, or middle of a turn. With that said, in rougher sections of the track this machine did not like to hold a straight line and got headshake. We set the sag at 105mm, made minor adjustments and the bike worked great in the morning conditions. Then the afternoon session came around and the track had a few bumps which made the bike very twitchy, unbalanced, and the rear end would not plant on the ground. Multiple changes helped some, but in the end it worked okay and still felt like a very nervous, twitchy machine in stock form.
Kody Koger – 6’0” – 182 lbs – Pro
The overall feel of the motor is very good it has a lot of bottom-end to mid-range power, but it is still very manageable. It’s a very controllable power so if you get on it you’re not going to loop out. The throttle response is snappy, but not so snappy to where it catches you off guard when you twist the throttle. Top-end could use some more power, but it still pulls when you get into those higher gears. The clutch worked good for the most part but it starts to slip once you ride the bike for about 20 minutes. The transmission worked smoothly as well but I would definitely go down a tooth on the rear sprocket to give it some more top-end speed.
The rear end had a lot of bounce to it so Honda slowed down the rebound for me and stiffened the compression two clicks and it made it a little bit better coming down straightaways. Overall it handled well; you can pretty much put the bike wherever you want on the track with ease and don’t have to muscle it around. I would say that this bike stock would not suit me best but your average weekend warrior would love the Honda.