ONE YEAR, ONE BUTTON, AND THREE SPRINGS
2018 HONDA CRF450R
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.
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.
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.
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.