After being beat up at the racetrack and in various 450 Motocross Shootouts the last four years, Honda returned to the drawing board with its flagship dirt bike, the CRF450R. For 2013 it gets a myriad of updates in hopes of putting it back atop the class. For technical details please review the 2013 Honda CRF450R First Look as this analysis is from behind the handlebar.
Swing a leg over the red bike and it doesn’t feel much different from the current version. It is uniformly thin from front-to-back and the handlebar is the same Renthal 971-bend many riders are accustomed to. The contour and width of the radiator shrouds has been modified allowing the rider to shift more of their weight forward in a turn. The oversize footpegs also look and feel the same but they are a hair lighter and designed to prevent dirt and debri accumulation when riding in soft terrain. Although it gained two pounds with the redesign it should still be the lightest bike in the class; a fact that is apparent when you lift it off the stand.
Jab the kickstarter and the bike fires right to life with one or two kicks. The 2012 CRF occasionally had some annoying lever kick-back but it has vanished with the new machine. Right off the bottom the engine continues to churn out easy power that feels even more tractable than before. It also isn’t as susceptible to stalling, say, if you’re lugging the engine mid-corner gear high.
(Left) The 2013 CRF450R offers more neutral steering through turns.. (Center) A pneumatic fork replaces the conventional coil spring unit up front. (Right) We tested the 2013 Honda CRF450R at one of our favorite California tracks, Zaca Station MX.
Get into the throttle and the CRF is snappier than before. You’d assume that the added acceleration would make it harder to hold onto, but that can’t be further from the truth as the powerband will still be manageable for most riders. Even with the added bark the exhaust note is still mellow thereby reducing the effect on neighbors or passerby’s.
(From full stiff)
Air Pressure: 35 psi
Low-Speed Compression: 14
High-Speed Compression: 1 5/8 turn
Handling was one of the most polarizing attributes of the previous CRF with most either loving it or hating it. The new bike steers more neutrally than before and isn’t so eager to turn. And that’s not a bad thing; where the old machine would constantly hunt for a line mid-corner the new bike steers, tracks and finishes the corner in one linear method. It’s back to more “conventional” handling and almost forces you to change your riding style slightly if you’re use to the way the ’09-’12 handled.
This year Honda’s CRF450R had arguably the best performing stock suspension in the class. So it’s strange that Honda just threw it away and went forward with a new Kayaba Pneumatic Spring Fork (PSF) setup (make sure to read the 2013 Honda CRF450R First Look for the details).
Probably the most notable change is how much better the suspension follows the contour of the terrain. Where the traditional KYB would hit a bump, compress, then rebound leaving a split-second gray area in terms of feel, with the PSF you always know where you’re at. This allows you to charge into bumps and chop harder than you might do otherwise.
Another big plus is the range of adjustability based on rider weight or speed. Via a Schrader valve atop each fork leg, they can be filled with more or less air which in turn modifies the ride height much like spring preload on the rear shock. But where preload creates tension at different parts of the spring, the air system allows it to compress and rebound more smoothly, thereby increasing control and traction at both wheels.
After spending about 40 minutes behind the handlebar we’re eager to log more time on the bike. With its improved suspension, neutral handling and snappy powerband it will be no doubt better equipped come shootout time this fall.