2019 Honda CRF450X
The Honda CRF450X has lived a double life since its introduction in 2005. At the time, as a replacement for the XR650R, the 450X was a off-road racing machine designed to win desert races south of the border. And it did just that with 11 Baja 1000 and nine Baja 500 victories. Yet as the years went on and more technology and performance-oriented designs where showing up in other off-road models, the X started to transition from a hard-core competition bike to a mellower trail machine.
The Honda CRF450X saw little attention in it’s 14 year run other than small updates in ‘08 and style updates in ‘09. An educated guess would be that Honda didn’t see a reason to change it since, according to them, more than 27,000 units have been sold over the model history of the X. What where the plus sides to the old X? Super reliable, carbureted (easier for trail side issues), all-day comfort, easy to ride, and unintimidating. The down sides? Overall, it was just getting dated without fuel injection and, in stock form, the suspension and motor packages were much more on the comfort, rather than performance, side of things.
That brings us to today. The all new CRF450X is based on the modern CRF450R, much like it was back in 2005. But, that doesn’t mean it is the same bike. Pretty much all of the differences come down to either making the X more off-road capable and/or increasing durability, and if you look at the CRF450 models in order of descending aggression/raciness it goes R, then RX, then X, then L. That’s also a scale of increasing claimed durability.
There are a few main differences between the R and X: The X has different lower frame spars that are wider to accommodate the wider six-speed transmission, a bigger tank, different suspension settings, different engine internals to increase durability, 18-in rear wheel, kickstand, and a single sided exhaust that meets green-sticker regulations.
- Lightweight, 2.0 gallon titanium fuel tank
- Aluminum sidestand
- 18-inch rear wheel
- Lightweight, compact digital meter with black characters on a white liquid-crystal background Off-road-ready, emissions-compliant muffler with spark arrestor
- Endless sealed chain
- Lightweight, compact halogen headlight and LED taillight
- 449.7cc Unicam® engine
- Finger rocker arm valve design
- DLC surface treatment reduces friction
- Dedicated valve timing
- High crank inertia (up 12% over CRF450R)
- 12.0:1 compression ratio
- New piston with three-ring design
- Wide-ratio six-speed transmission
- Special clutch design enables light lever pull. Primary damper mechanism with friction springs suppresses engine torque fluctuations
- Large-capacity radiators with high heat-exchange efficiency
- ECU with dedicated settings
- Aluminum twin-spar frame
- Subframe designed for optimum rigidity during off-road riding
- 49mm Showa fork with dedicated settings
- CRF450R-inspired front brake but with dedicated master cylinder and hose
- Lightweight lithium-ion battery with increased capacity compared to CRF450R
- Front sprocket features damper system
- Fuel-tank cap with cut-off valve prevents fuel from flowing out of tank if the bike is on its side
- Easily accessible electronic component box on left side of frame
On The Trail
Having had the opportunity to, at different times, ride all of the CRF450s (R, RX, X, and L) it is pretty easy to tell the differences between them. A month ago, we rode the 450L and while a lot of the engine internals are the same, the power character isn’t. The X definitely has more excitement and pulls harder across the rpm range. There is a noticeable jump up in torque feeling and a connected throttle response. Compared to the R, the CRF-X isn’t as barky and hard hitting, but it doesn't feel like it’s slower. It’s just more linear and smooth in power delivery, making it easier to ride all day.
The exhaust note is extremely quiet, which plays a little trick on your brain since the auditory input doesn’t seem to match the pull from the bike. Right off idle, the bike doesn’t explode with power, but the throttle response is pretty good, and the bike is very easy to lug and short shift. The bottom end to mid range is meaty and was where we rode the bike most of the day. While some other riders at the launch said the top end was weak, we really enjoyed both lugging and reving it out. In first and second, we could see that revving the bike out wasn’t the best way to get power to the ground, but in fourth through sixth in long sand washes or down dirt roads, we’d be in the mid range and twist it wide open and it would still pull to the redline.
It has a predictable, middle-of-the-road engine character, which sort of sounds like a backhanded compliment but we mean it as an actually compliment. It isn’t as fast revving as the R, which has a very free feeling to it, but it doesn’t have an old school, slow revving feel either. We feel that the motor is usable enough for new and/or mellow riders but powerful and responsive enough for long time off-road racers.
We haven’t been on an older 450X in a while but we do remember them being pretty couch-like in the suspension department - soft, comfortable, and pillowy. But those aren’t glowing attributes when you are trying to blast through sand whoops in sixth gear. And that was actually our first test on the new X - a couple miles of pretty big sand whoops right out the gate. Only we were very happy with the way the 49mm Showa fork and Showa shock didn’t bottom out, tracked straight and had good, responsive hold up. The only negative I can say is that the shock felt a little on the soft side. Not so much that some clicker adjustments wouldn’t help.
Both fork and shock offered a very connected feel to the ground, with great front end grip and rear wheel traction. Deflection isn’t in the 450X’s vocabulary. Actually, this was our absolute favorite trait of the bike - its ability to track through almost anything. Stability is this bike’s middle name. Up one hill climb, it got pretty chunky and ledgy at the top and while there was a better, smoother line to the right, we were already committed to the rougher line down the middle. But instead of bucking or getting out of shape, the CRF450X just plowed on straight up the hill. We had similar outcomes while blasting down sand washes with big rock piles hiding around corners. Before we knew it, we were in the rocks but instead of the front end jerking around, we tracked straight on through. By the end of the day, we saw the rough lines in a much more favorable light.
The dash is actually the same as the L’s and it has a cool feature that shows you how much fuel you’ve used. So, it isn’t exactly a fuel gauge, because it isn’t measuring what is in the tank, it is measuring how many gallons (to a 0.1) has gone through the engine. This does mean that you need to know how much fuel you put in or that a full tank is 2.01 gallons. But this also means that you can put on an aftermarket oversize tank and it will still tell you how much gas you used. In about 50 miles of hard riding we used 1.4 gallons at our lunch stop.
Also, the exhaust pipe is very quiet. Some people have commented that it looks huge and it it is pretty big, but it doesn’t have all the stuff that the L does and we could barely hear our fellow riders on the ride. The front sprocket is dampened like the L, but the rear isn’t and the swing arm is not filled with urethane. But the X does sport the engine case cover covers to keep sound down. Lastly, the headlight is the same as the previous X’s, just with red plastic rather than white. Honda said they kept it because halogen lights are lighter (weight-wise) than LEDs but we suspect the also kept it because of its iconic look and a little nostalgia.
When all was said and done, we came up with a short list of things that could be improved, in our opinion. For one, isn’t a light bike. At a claimed 275 pounds, it is 6 pounds heavier than the previous X and while you don’t really notice the extra weight when turning or even hopping over stuff, you do notice when you have to stop in a hurry.
Next is the gas tank. It is just noticeably wider than other off-road bikes and while 2 gallons isn’t bad, it feels big enough to have more capacity. During most of the ride we didn’t have much of an issue, it was just when climbing long, steep hills where we were trying to lean far forward on the bike while standing we noticed the tank sort of keeping us farther back than we would like.
The last two sort of go hand in hand. The gearing and the clutch pull. The X has the same transmission as the L and while it is rad that it can go almost 100 mph in sixth gear, first gear is just a tad too high for a true crawling pace. Therefore, in one super tight section, the clutch pull was beginning to become an issue. For 90 percent of the ride, we were perfectly happy with the gearing, but if we knew that we’d be riding mostly in tight, gnarly terrain, we’d ad one or two teeth to the rear sprocket. And the clutch pull isn’t super hard on your left arm, but it definitely isn’t the lightest clutch pull either.
In the presentation the night before the ride, legendary Baja racer Johnny Campbell was sharing how he was involved in the development of the bike and he said that the old X was still really good, so “This one has to be better.” Without hesitation we would agree that it is. The suspension is performance oriented, but has enough comfort to put around the trails with the family. The power was pleasantly abundant without being a lightswitch and the overall predictability and stability of the CRF450X is extremely impressive. It would not be surprising if this X is the benchmark model that doesn’t get changed for another 14 years.