After years of fumbling around the track and trail, Honda finally got it right with its new and significantly improved-for-2013 CRF450R. For ’14 the powersports giant makes a few calculated tweaks to the front suspension, engine intake and exhaust, as well as the clutch. But are the updates worth the $300 price increase? We put in a few motos at the track to find out.
Raise the CRF450R off the stand and it’s obvious that its still one of the lightest 450 motocross bikes in the class. Honda claims 243 pounds, ready to ride, and it certainly feels that way. Seated at the controls it has a slim yet well-portioned feel and is one of the more neutral-feeling motocross bikes made, which makes it easy to get acclimated to.
“I love how the cockpit fits me,” says pro-level test rider Chris See, who stands at 5’9”. “I feel right at home on it.”
While getting the engine lit is easier than ever before it still requires a deliberate and well-timed prod of the kickstarter to get it to fire on the first try. Usually it takes two. Engineers fitted different clutch springs that reduce clutch lever pull effort without compromising strength and resistance to fade during long rides. Although the update doesn’t make that much of a difference when launching, it does pay dividends during a moto with the rider having to exert less hand and finger effort to modulate engine power through turns.
(Top) The CRF continues to use a six-spring clutch but the tension of the springs has been reduced for easier lever pull. (Center) The CRF450R’s mufflers have updated internals for improved flow. (Below) The shape of the ports within the cylinder head were modified for improved flow. The update works together with the new dual-charge fuel injection map for increased throttle response.
“The clutch feel with the new springs is good,” confirms our tester. “It’s got very good feedback to the rider.”
Get into the throttle and the CRF feels a tad peppier than the ’13 bike. It’s not a huge difference but it does have some added snap, especially at low throttle settings. This is accomplished by new fuel injection mapping that signals the injector to squirt two shots of gas instead of one per engine revolution. The first charge cools the combustion chamber while the second blast creates driving force. It works in conjunction with the updated cylinder head porting, and reshaped pipe interior giving it a little more ‘oomph when the throttle is cracked.
“The dual injector spark gives it a little more bottom end this year, which is appreciated,” agrees Chris “With a little bit of mapping tweaks I think it could be even better.”
Overall the powerband is still one of the most tractable and rider-friendly in the 450-class. It will be appreciated by all but those who are seeking a really aggressive and hard-hitting punch, for say riding in super loamy terrain or wet sand. And for that small niche Big Red offers its PGM-FI Tuning Kit ($489.95) allowing the user to quite literally tailor the feel and power of the engine. Still it would be nice if Honda could offer a few quick and simple engine power adjustments via plastic couplers like the Green and Yellow brands.
We’re big fans of the way the new generation CRF handles as it responds to rider inputs in a more predictable and consistent manner building confidence behind the handlebar. But the weak link in the handling department is the newly introduced air fork sourced from KYB.
We appreciated the ability to adjust ride height/preload/spring rate, based on rider weight or preference, by adding or subtracting air pressure, but the fork didn’t function predictably on rough terrain. Honda acknowledged the problem and attempts to correct it by fitting a revised rebound piston and rod internals, which help maintain that nice plush, bump-absorbing feel as the fork travels deeper in its 12.2-inch stroke. The difference is considerable with the second version providing more accurate damping especially during the course of a moto, but still we’re not completely sold on the technology.
“The air fork for me is not my favorite,” Chris admits. “I feel like it isn’t a very consistent feel. As you go on in the 15-minute, 20, 25-minute riding increments it starts to get a little harsh… and a little more harsh, so you have to mess with it [modify the settings].”
(Top) The CRF450R continues to impress us with its high degree of maneuverability in the sky as well as on the ground. (Center) The engine offers a little more snap at low rpm yet still is easy to manage as the rpms increase. (Below) We love the centralized feel of the CRF450R. It is a very agile bike which increases confidence and makes it easier (and more fun) to ride.
If you ride on smooth tracks or for short periods of time the air fork works marvelously but for more challenging conditions it still lacks the consistent damping feel of a conventional dual coil spring set-up as used on the ’12 and prior CRF450Rs.
Although we aren’t completely sold on the air fork, we can’t argue with the way the red bike carves into turns. Whether blasting around a long fast berm or darting across the track for a tight inside rut this CRF goes right where the rider directs with very little effort for a big four-stroke.
“The Honda corners very well. You can put the bike anywhere you want it. It is very maneuverable and that is a big plus for me.”
The red bike’s braking hard parts, unchanged for 2014, continue to provide ample stopping power and lever feel.
After a day’s ride it’s certain that the refinements made to the ‘14 CRF net a better overall package. Even with its added bottom-end ‘oomph, the engine continues to be easy to use on track and when paired with the lithe and neutral steering chassis allow fast laps to come with reduced effort behind the handlebar.
Steering Damper: 10 (Turns out)
Air Pressure: 35 psi
Low-Speed Compression: 13
High-Speed Compression: 1.5
- Smooth powerband, highly useable power
- Agile and predicable steering
- Feels light at a standstill and in motion
- Air fork still lacks the damping consistency of a conventional coil spring unit
- Tuning the engine requires $489.95 accessory