Best Dirtbike of the Year Winner: Honda CRF450R
While we had no doubt that an all-new CRF450R was on tap for 2017, we wondered if Big Red would do what it took to raise the CRF450R’s engine performance level up to par with the raw power of other machines in its class. We’re stoked Honda responded with a new version of its Unicam engine that boasts more compression, a more radical cam, a finger-follower-style rocker arm and a new cylinder with a downdraft intake layout that gives the incoming air charge a straighter shot to the CRF450R’s valves. While the new engine doesn’t dominate the class in terms of sheer output, it more than makes up for that by providing the most exciting power delivery of any 450cc motocrosser available.
And Honda didn’t stop there. It packaged the high-steroid engine in an all-new, lighter, aluminum perimeter chassis, featuring longer and more gradually curved main spars that vary in thickness along their length to give the ’17 CRF a more compliant feel while retaining the previous version’s cornering competence. Ditching the KYB air fork in favor of Showa coil-spring fork that features a production version of the factory’s “A-kit” race suspension internals and revamping the CRF450R’s Pro-link rear suspension to lower the shock absorber in the chassis also give the CRF450R class-winning suspension performance.
What you end up with is a new CRF450R that makes pro-level power, bends around corners and soaks up bumps like no other Honda CRF we’ve ever ridden – save for its off-road sister, the CRF450RX, which also deserves a mention here. While it may lose a step to different competitors in some of these categories, none can match the Honda’s ability to balance aggression and excitement with a polished overall character.
The 2017 CRF450R is the best all-around motocrosser of 2017, and it’s our pick for 2017 Dirtbike of the year. Surprise, surprise.
Honorable Mention: Kawasaki KLX140G
There are serious dirtbikes, and then there are dirtbikes that are serious fun. The 2017 Kawasaki KLX140G definitely falls into the latter category.
Designed to bridge the gap between full-sized adult dirtbikes and child-sized minibikes, the KLX140G boasts a peppy SOHC four-stroke Single housed in a predictable-handling steel perimeter chassis with full-sized 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels. A silky spread of power, smooth-shifting five-speed transmission and a light and linear clutch make this little green machine a blast to ride, while its user-friendly chassis, brakes and plush suspension help to forgive novice indiscretions. Advanced riders might find the KLX140G’s suspension damping to be a little on the light side for hardcore trail riding, but that won’t stop them from trying to find the KLX140G’s limitations.
Try as we might, we couldn’t hurt the thing. In fact, while out testing a pair of fire-breathing off-road racers, our expert-level test crew had so much fun beating on the KLX140G that we almost didn’t get our work done!
Bottom line? You’d have to look long and hard to find another dirtbike in any category that works as well at horsing around as the Kawasaki KLX140G does. It’s our pick for King of Playbikes.