RACE TESTING THE ALL-NEW HONDA CRF450RX AT THE ADELANTO GRAND PRIX
Race testing a nearly showroom stock Honda CRF450RX at the Adelanto Grand Prix, for the sake of putting Honda’s “race ready” claims into practice.
It’s now two days later and I’m still sore. The infamous Adelanto Grand Prix sucked me in and spit me out. Never mind the fact that my battered, 34-yearold body can’t handle the abuse of an hour-long grand prix like it used to, but I also haven’t held a dirt bike wide open across any stretch of land—smooth or rough—for quite some time.
In spite of all this, and my better judgment, when we took delivery of the highly anticipated 2017 Honda CRF450RX, I thought to myself, “What better way to test a ‘race ready’ bike than actually racing it?” A few emails later, and suddenly I was committed to reliving a race that my 16-year-old self used to lose sleep preparing for.
Why sign myself up for the pain? Simple. Racing has been a part of me for as long I can remember; it’s what I lived for as a kid and what I always put the majority of my efforts into. As I got older, priorities changed. I realized I couldn’t make a living twisting the throttle, and I decided to go the path of journalism, which from time to time still allows me to scratch the proverbial racing itch. And let’s be honest—there really is no better smell than fresh, wet desert in the morning and few feelings like stepping out of your comfort zone on two wheels. This was my chance to get back to both.
Held in the booming high-desert metropolis of Adelanto, California, the annual District 37 Adelanto Grand Prix has a reputation of being brutally fast, rough, and unforgiving—a perfect stage for putting the closed-course 450RX to the test. To get the bike and myself ready, I got acquainted with it at the local motocross track (which it handled extremely, albeit surprisingly, well), replaced the stock 50-tooth rear sprocket with a 46-tooth, removed the kickstand, and installed my preferred grips.
Everything else remained stock, which might sound crazy. Thing is, even in stock trim, the 450RX is about as close to competition-ready as it gets. The three ignition maps, electric start, 18-inch rear wheel, large tank, plush suspension, and comfortable ergonomics give the bike just about everything you’ll need for off-road racing. Hold maybe the large cojones.
“Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary… That’s what gets you.” —Jeremy Clarkson
THIS IS A RACE STORY
“Just twist the throttle and go straight.” That was the reply I got from the race official when I asked about the starting procedure. Sitting on the starting line was a mix of emotions. I was nervous, excited, and scared all at the same time. All that sat between a good start and myself was an asphalt straightaway leading into a sweeping, wide-openthrottle sand turn—super easy and not in the least bit intimidating, right?
When the starting light turned green, I dropped the clutch and tried to not wheelie. Thankfully, my choice in tall gearing made a difference, and the CRF hit its stride in the top-end, pulling past most of the riders on the grid. I hit the dirt in fourth.
That first lap was a mix of trying to remember to breathe and getting acquainted with the RX at race speed. Until that point, I hadn’t pushed the bike to see how it handled off-road conditions. Luckily, despite my not touching the clickers or spending much time on the bike, the suspension felt good and handled the rough, high-speed desert terrain extremely well, remaining balanced and plush.
There were, of course, times where the front end got loose, suggesting the bike could’ve used a little fine-tuning for these specific conditions. As the race wore on and my arms got more tired, I was definitely wishing the RX came with a steering stabilizer too.
In spite of all that, I was impressed with the handling of the bike. It felt nimble, stable, and the Showa spring fork provided smooth, predictable action. Three laps in, I gradually tired and took my seat on the struggle bus.
Power-wise, the RX held its own against District 37 regulars. Still, while the tall gearing I chose worked great in the desert, I found myself wishing I had installed a 48-tooth sprocket rather than a 46 for the technical Endurocross and motocross sections. Every time I entered the EX stadium, I took a deep breath, downshifted to first, and hoped I didn’t stall the bike or lose much time on any of the technical obstacles that wound around the stadium floor (logs, tractor tires, dreadful firewood pit, and the like).
Thankfully, the RX’S powerplant still had plenty of power to pull a 46-tooth sprocket through all the obstacles and over the two mud-hole jumps on the MX section. Simply put, for an off-road bike, the RX doesn’t lack a healthy lowend hit or top-end pull.
THE RACE TO THE CHECKERED
I was barely holding on as I completed the final lap but was overall impressed with the 450RX. For being completely stock, the power, suspension, and overall performance lived up to the hype, getting me through the race without any problems. One thing that stood out to me was that with only limited time on the bike, I was completely comfortable at race pace. In the end, I finished seventh in the Heavyweight Vet Expert class and ninth overall—a decent finish that I was proud of and one that I believe highlights the impressive capabilities of a bike that Honda built to race.