ONE YEAR, ONE BUT­TON, AND THREE SPRINGS

2018 HONDA CRF450R

Dirt Rider - - Gear Bag - STORY BY AN­DREW OL­DAR PHO­TOS BY PETE PETER­SON

The Honda CRF450R was all new last year and fin­ished in the run­ner-up spot in our 2017 450 Mo­tocross Shootout (Fe­bru­ary/march). While the 2017 bike was re­mark­ably bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion CRF450R, our test rid­ers pin­pointed a few ar­eas they thought the bike could be im­proved upon. A cou­ple of the rea­sons it didn’t win our shootout were that the 49mm Showa coil spring fork and shock were a bit soft, es­pe­cially on big im­pacts. Also, the bike was oc­ca­sion­ally dif­fi­cult to start when it got hot. For 2018, Honda made re­vi­sions to th­ese ar­eas—and then some.

EN­GINE

The two ma­jor changes made to the 2018 en­gine are re­vised ECU set­tings and elec­tric start. With the ad­di­tion of lithi­u­mion bat­tery-pow­ered elec­tric start, Honda re­moved the kick­starter as well. The Showa 49mm coil spring fork and shock re­ceive stiffer springs and up­dated valv­ing. Also, the en­gine hang­ers have been changed to al­low for more flex and a more com­pli­ant chas­sis (flex-wise, they are a cross between the 2017 R’s hang­ers and the 2017 RX’S hang­ers).

The Honda CRF450R en­gine was en­tirely new last year. Honda re­tained the “Uni­cam” de­sign, but ev­ery­thing else, in­clud­ing the power char­ac­ter­is­tics, was dif­fer­ent. The 2017 en­gine made a lot bet­ter power through­out the en­tire rev range and es­pe­cially im­proved top-end com­pared to the 2016 ma­chine.

The re­vised ECU set­tings of the 2018 en­gine helped mel­low out the some­what abrupt bot­tom-end hit the pre­vi­ous model had. The ’18 model has a smoother and more con­trol­lable bot­tom-end power and, as a re­sult, the bike feels eas­ier to ride, es­pe­cially in tighter ar­eas of the track. The bike still has a free-revving feel­ing and quick throt­tle re­sponse. Sev­eral of our test rid­ers com­mented on how the Honda has lots of torque and can ei­ther be short-

shifted or revved to the moon with gear­ing that pulls for a long time. Sim­i­lar to the 2017 model, the 2018 CRF450R en­gine has but­tery smooth shifts.

The elec­tric start is a wel­comed change, and al­though the bike is ap­prox­i­mately 5 pounds heav­ier this year, none of our test rid­ers no­ticed a heav­ier feel on the track. Two caveats to the elec­tric start are that the clutch must be pulled in for the en­gine to fire to life, and we also found that the en­gine didn’t like to start in third gear or above.

SUS­PEN­SION

While Honda was one of the first man­u­fac­tur­ers to jump to an air fork back in 2013, it was also one of the first to make the switch back to a spring fork, which it did last year. The 2017 spring fork per­formed a lot bet­ter than the air fork, but quite a few test rid­ers thought the setup was fairly soft over­all.

The stiffer spring rates and new set­tings in the fork and shock on the 2018 bike are very no­tice­able. They had our lighter test rid­ers go­ing softer on the fork com­pres­sion, and one of our lighter-weight, in­ter­me­di­ate-level testers com­mented that he would in­stall lighter springs if this were his per­sonal bike. The firmer set­tings ab­sorbed big im­pacts bet­ter, such as hard jump land­ings, but one of our test rid­ers re­marked that this very minutely had a neg­a­tive ef­fect when go­ing through ac­cel­er­a­tion bumps. Both ends are pro­gres­sive and feel like they still move through the stroke, but the gen­eral feel­ing was that the Honda’s some­what harsher feel­ing (com­pared to oth­ers in the class) helped with the bike’s over­all light­weight feel­ing but made for a ride with less com­fort.

The new-gen­er­a­tion Honda CRF450R felt light­weight and com­pact on the track, and the ad­di­tional weight of the electric­start sys­tem didn’t change that. The new en­gine hang­ers make a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in the com­pli­ancy of the chas­sis,

es­pe­cially over rough parts of the track.

Sev­eral of our test rid­ers praised the Honda’s straight-line sta­bil­ity and were pleased with how well it was able to track through brak­ing bumps, and this made div­ing into cor­ners nearly ef­fort­less. Nor­mally, this is a give-and-take area where gain­ing straight-line sta­bil­ity com­pro­mises a bike’s abil­ity to cor­ner and vice versa, but not in this case. The bike will hit what­ever line you de­sire, but it re­quires con­stant rider in­put, and if not, it feels like it’s float­ing and not well planted. The red ma­chine cor­ners ex­cel­lently, and one of our test rid­ers com­mented on how the bike is able to turn sharply re­gard­less of whether there is any­thing to bank off of or not.

The bike’s over­all han­dling per­son­al­ity is “pre­ci­sion.” One rider, both prais­ing and cau­tion­ing about the chas­sis, said it does ex­actly what you tell it to do, but there­fore you need to be care­ful what you tell it to do. It’s a ma­chine that will most ap­peal to pros, rid­ers with a pre­cise rid­ing style, and rid­ers who want a bike that doesn’t in­ter­pret in­put but just says, “Okay, done, now what?”

Most of our test rid­ers felt the CRF450R has an over­all slim feel­ing in the cock­pit area and es­pe­cially around the ra­di­a­tor shrouds. The brakes of­fer good power in the front and rear, but the clutch lever pull was on the stiff side. They also noted that the clutch ac­tion was very sen­si­tive, or with a short en­gage­ment, and had an on-and-off type of feel.

CON­CLU­SION

The 2018 Honda CRF450R is a mod­er­ately up­dated ver­sion over last year’s model, and all of the changes are pos­i­tive ones. The elec­tric start is worth its 5 pounds of ad­di­tional weight, and the map­ping changes make for an eas­ier-to-ride bot­tom-end power. The new en­gine hang­ers of­fer more flex, and the stiffer sus­pen­sion al­lows for more bot­tom­ing re­sis­tance and mostly pleased both faster and heav­ier test rid­ers, while our lighter testers found com­fort in go­ing softer on the clicker set­tings.

The Honda has a 250F-es­que light­weight and flick­able feel­ing on the track as well as a strong, broad power­band that car­ries gears long be­fore need­ing to touch the shifter. It’s a bike that rid­ers of all abil­i­ties en­joyed rid­ing, es­pe­cially pros. The good news for 2017 CRF450R own­ers is that sev­eral of the up­dated parts found on the 2018 model can be retro­fit­ted to last year’s bike, such as the stiffer sus­pen­sion springs, the new en­gine hang­ers, and elec­tric start (avail­able as a kit). The Honda fin­ished in the run­ner-up spot in our 450 Mo­tocross Shootout last year, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if the changes are enough to put it in the num­ber-one spot.

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