Year by year handling, engine and suspension issues were gradually ironed out. Then in 2009 Honda took a huge leap, introducing fuel injection and a revised engine, frame and suspension. We’re talking about a total rework here. KYB replaced Showa as suspension supplier, frame geometry was changed, the swingarm was lengthened and the plastic was updated. As such, nobody expected the 2010 model to have much more than bold new graphics, which it does have by the way.
Pretty much everyone is familiar with the 450 Honda. The four-valve, uni-cam engine is relatively simple and has grown to be more reliable with each passing year. The transmission and engine oil are separate, allowing optimum lubes for each application and no chance of dirty transmission oil circulating through the engine. At a claimed 234.8 pounds, the bike’s weight is right in there with the rest of the 450 class. Going to fuel injection last year cured some of the 450’s bad habits, but not completely. You never forget you’re on a big, serious motocross bike.
"Instant throttle response and raw grunt from bottom to top make this a brutally effective motocross engine."
The fuelie 450 starts reasonably well for a big thumper, but not great. Once running it pulls too…boy does it ever pull! Instant throttle response and raw grunt from bottom to top make this a brutally effective motocross engine, mated to a slick shifting tranny and a smooth clutch. Fuel injection hasn’t eliminated all of the classic big four-stroke nastiness; the CRF450R will ‘cough and die’ at inopportune times at low rpm for no apparent reason.
When it pulls that unfriendly little stunt the 450 still requires a bunch of very hefty boots and navy curses to relight. That tendency, along with a light flywheel and tall first gear, conspire to make this a very difficult bike to ride anywhere but on a motocross track or wide, fast trails. If you are an East Coast off-road guy expect to spend some money re-mapping the fuel injection system, which is now easier to access without removing the fuel tank, and perhaps adding a flywheel weight. Let’s just say on the track the CRF has a completely different face than the one it wears when forced into playbike mode.
The CRF is a tidy handler that rewards a precise rider. That big, powerful engine is the biggest part of the handling package. At times it is very easy to get in over your head by giving the throttle an overzealous twist.
The suspension at both ends was improved this year. More rigid fork tubes feature new seals and revised valving, while the shock features a revised piston and a new compression adjuster. Like the engine, the chassis never lets you forget you are on a serious motocross bike. In playbike mode the suspension is simply too aggressively sprung and valved.
On a jump-heavy motocross track our 140 to 180 pound testers praised the firm, well damped action at both ends. Take the bike off the track and things change dramatically. What was once firm becomes incredibly harsh, especially the fork. In fact, with the clickers at their stock settings we could barely ride this bike on wide-open high-speed trails, let alone tight woods singletrack. Taking eight clicks of compression out of the forks helped convince them to at least move, but they never worked as well as the forks did on the lighter CRF250R. The shock was ok off-road, perhaps too much high-speed compression damping, but still usable.
A nice feature was the adjustable steering damper. It worked hard trying to keep the bike in line while the front end skittered across choppy braking bumps on the motocross track and trail junk everywhere else.
As always, faster riders had fewer complaints about the suspension than slower ones did, but nobody rated the fork higher than 7 out of 10, even on the motocross track. Everyone whined about starting the beast, but they also raved about how much fun this bike was to ride despite those annoyances.
The fun that goes hand in hand with big power is the number one reason why so many CRF450Rs get used as play bikes. I don’t know about your area, but around here there are tons of CRF450s lurching around on anything resembling dirt. Our test bike was no exception, and an inordinate amount of time was simply spent hill hunting. You know the drill: Find a gnarly hill, point, shoot and pray. With big power comes big cojones…
When it comes to other important stuff, like ergonomics, the CRF450R simply rules. We had zero complaints from anyone in our 5’6” to 6’ test group. When asked, “could you live with this bike?” every tester answered with a resounding “YES!” That alone says why Honda CRF450R is the favorite motocross bike on the market. The bike is fast, handles well despite having a huge amount of instant power and mediocre front suspension, and has created a giant aftermarket following. It might not be the most well rounded bike out there, but it kills as a hardcore motocross bike and can be converted into anything from an enduro bike to a dirt track racer or supermoto bike with little effort.
The 2010 Honda CRF450R is more than a proven winner, it’s an ego-trip!