Honda prefers to improve its motorcycles through a shrewd series of refinements instead of total wheels-up redesign, and that sums up today’s 2012 Honda CRF450R ($8440). Originally a rough-around-the-edge machine is now a polished, perennial shootout-winning contender.
Getting the Honda’s engine fired is a fairly simple process, with it kicking to life after one or two prods of the kickstarter. Still, it isn’t quite as easy to start as the KX450F or the Euro bikes with their e-start. Right off the bottom the Honda delivers a smooth but slightly muted spread of power. Just like the Husky, some of our faster testers complained that it is a little soft, but that only helps the rear tire gain traction. With the throttle pegged the engine gains momentum quickly but doesn’t feel quite as snappy as the Suzuki or KX.
“The motor has a very smooth character,” reveals Taylor. “It doesn’t have any big power hit. It actually feels a little underpowered but if you put another pipe on it will uncork it. But for sure it’s easy to ride.”
“The power on the Honda is great because it didn’t hit too hard anywhere,” concurs Simon. “It made it easy to ride the bike for long periods of time which at the end of the race is sometimes better than having a bike with all raw power.”
(Top) The Honda CRF450R offers one of the smoothest and rider-friendly engines in this test.(Center) The Honda CRF450R impressed our testers with its agility in the air and on the ground. (Bottom) Honda’s CRF450R is noticeably lighter weight than the competition.
The results of dyno runs prove that the Honda has the least hard hitting powerband. While it still cranks out competitive peak torque figure of just over 27 lb-ft early on at 7100 rpm (sixth best) the torque curve is a bit mellower than the other 450s. Although some of our testers noted that the engine fell flat on top the horsepower graph shows power tapers off in a linear fashion up until redline. In terms of peak horsepower the CRF belted out 42.3 ponies at 10,000 revs, placing it fourth most powerful. One area that the Honda scored well in was the sound test with it expelling the softest exhaust note of just 91.2 dB though according to our testers this did mute power slightly.
Even before we rolled it onto our scales it was clear that the CRF is the lightest bike in this test. With its 1.5-gallon fuel tank dry it weighed in at 232 pounds. That’s a full five pounds lighter than the 350 SX-F and nine pounds lighter than the KX and YZ. And you can literally feel the difference the moment you lift the bike off the stand.
Its superior power-to-weight ratio was a factor in its class-leading holeshot acceleration time of 4.25 seconds into Turn 1. Its third gear roll-on time was good too, and only a fraction of a second slower than the RM-Z. Although some of our faster testers noticed that the clutch would fade slightly, it stood up to our repeated abuse during acceleration tests. Overall gearing and action of the gearbox was okay too, but didn’t rate as highly as the KTMs or the Suzuki.
Honda has made great strides with its suspension the last couple years. All the work paid off with the Honda rated as having with the best stock fork and shock. Not only is the balance of the bike infinitely better as compared to past years, the action is great too with it offering a very plush feel when it hits obstacles.
“I would say the Honda is the most improved,” says Milan. “Last year, I hated the thing. I couldn’t get the suspension to work right and it was downright scary to ride. This year, I didn’t have any big issues with it. I could take it and go race it no problem.”
“It’s made some great improvements for ’12,” says See. “The linkage has a good rear end drop so it stays planted. I love how thin it is and the way it turns. You can turn inside, outside—wherever.”
With its new and improved suspension, the red bike handles even better than before. Like always the Honda turns on a dime, allowing the rider to select any line he or she wants on track. Once turned it still doesn’t track quite as good as say the KTMs, but it felt better than past years. Stability was another area which the Honda showed renewed promise with it having reduced propensity to head shake over bumps.
(Top) Pro-level test rider Drake McElroy loved Honda’s CRF450R. (Center) Each one of our testers was impressed with how improved the ’12 Honda CRF450R is. (Below) Like the Suzuki, the Honda CRF450R turns sharp but doesn’t track quite as good in the corner—unless there is a rut.
The Honda’s rider compartment not being quite as versatile as the Kawasaki or KTMs, the handlebar, seat and footpegs are all proportioned well and generally were well received by our testers. However, the bigger guys mentioned that they felt a little cramped at the controls.
“I’m a bigger guy and the Honda feels a little cramped,” Simon explains. “I feel like I stand really low into the bike but the more and more I rode it, I actually started to love like the bike.”
In Super Lap the Honda put in a good showing finishing third overall courtesy of Simon’s lap time of 1’44.6 (fourth fastest) and See’s 1’47.1 sprint (third fastest). While it wasn’t the fastest both riders commented afterward on how easy it is to ride.
Compared to the European equipment all the Japanese bikes feel like they have lackluster brakes, but the Honda stoppers felt just a bit better than the Yamaha and Kawi. Feel was notably better but they seemed to be just a hair down on power as compared to the RM-Zs binders.
Top scores in four categories propelled the CRF up the running order. It’s got a powerful yet forgiving power delivery, much improved suspension and handles pretty well too. It’s also the lightest bike in this test. However, this time around the Honda finishes in third place.
- Easy to ride
- Fantastic suspension
- Could track better in corners
- Compact ergos
- Clutch can fade with fast laps