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1st Place of the 2018 450 MX Shootout: Honda CRF450R

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The Honda CRF450R was all new in 2017 with a new frame, engine, suspension, and bodywork. It was highly praised by many of our test riders but finished second in our 2017 shootout due to the soft settings in the 49mm Showa coil-spring fork and shock and occasional difficulty starting when it got hot. For 2018, Honda made a number of small changes to fix these issues and then some. Honda’s engineers put stiffer springs in the fork and shock and updated valving settings to match the new stiffer spring rates. To alleviate the hot-starting issue and make starting the CRF450R easier than ever, Honda added an electric starter and jettisoned the kickstart lever. In doing so, the red machine gained approximately 5 pounds, which put it at 248 pounds ready to ride (with all fluids). Two other improvements were updated engine hangers to help the chassis flex more and revised ECU settings on the stock map to help mellow out the hard-hitting bottom-end power.

When we were introduced to the 2018 CRF450R at Sunrise MX Park in Adelanto, California, we not only got the opportunity to ride the new 2018 model, but we also got to ride it back to back with the 2017 machine to see how the updates worked. All of the changes were good and we knew the 2018 edition was a better machine, but we didn’t know if the red bike would be able to improve one spot and seize the shootout victory, especially with a couple of other manufacturers coming with all-new bikes. But we had a good feeling it would be a contender. And, sure enough, it was, as the Honda CRF450R took the victory in our 2018 450 MX Shootout

Upon first starting the Honda engine and blipping the throttle a few times, it becomes apparent that it has somewhat of a loud engine and airbox noise, and it has a very throaty note overall. On the track, the engine is powerful and aggressive. The bottom-end is snappy, the midrange hits hard, and the top-end pulls strongly into the over-rev, which is plentiful as well. The seemingly never-ending top-end and over-rev make each gear feel long and, as a result, the bike requires less shifting than some of the other machines. When the track got beat up and baked out, it was possible to keep the CRF in third gear for a majority of the track for some test riders, but one tester complained that it seems to be missing some torque feel that helps give the rider confidence. Additionally, the bike revs quickly and has very little engine-braking.

The throttle response is crisp yet power delivery is not abrupt despite its hard-hitting quality, as most test riders praised how smooth the engine was. The powerband of the CRF450R motor works well for those who ride aggressively, but it can also be comfortably short-shifted for those who don’t like to ride in the upper echelons of the rpm range thanks to the bike’s strong bottom-end and meaty midrange power. Like the 2017 model, the 2018 CRF comes stock with three engine maps—Map 1 (stock), Map 2 (mellow), and Map 3 (aggressive). The three maps have slightly different power feel on the track but aren’t quite as differentiated as some of the other bikes in the class. The CRF450R clicks through the gears in a very smooth manner, but some test riders remarked that clutch pull was rather stiff.

The suspension on the CRF has a performance-based feel to it. The increased spring rate and corresponding valving changes in the Showa 49mm coil-spring fork and shock give the bike a firmer overall feel that understandably had some test riders commenting that it felt stiff. However, the firmer settings keep the front and rear ends higher up in the stroke than the 2017 model, which makes the bike easier and more comfortable to ride hard without the worry of bottoming out or riding too far down in the stroke. The stiffer settings also felt plush on the big landings and offered excellent bottoming resistance in the front and rear, which is an area where test riders had issues with last year’s suspension. The shock feels well connected to the ground and doesn’t have the tendency to kick when hitting braking bumps at speed. The suspension is very tunable but also very sensitive as one click is noticeable and two clicks results in a big change. Similar to the engine, the suspension on the CRF450R works better for the faster, more aggressive rider.

The chassis on the CRF450R can best be described as nimble and lightweight. The bike has a rigid feel overall with a “sit-on” type of feeling along with a small and compact feel on the track. A few test riders mentioned it feels like it has the shortest wheelbase of all of the bikes, and even though the bike didn’t come in as the lightest on the scales (in fact, it was one of the heaviest), how it acted on the track makes it feel similarly to a 250F in the way that you can change lines at any given moment and put it exactly where you want it with minimal effort. Also, several test riders commented on how easy it was so scrub and whip off of jumps. Some of our testers noticed the lightweight, nimble feeling comes at a cost as these traits created a twitchiness at times making the Honda a bit unpredictable when pushing too hard. All in all, the CRF450R’s chassis makes it easy to hop on, feel comfortable, ride aggressively, and go fast.

Overall, the 2018 Honda CRF450R is an excellent racebike because it has a very strong engine, performance-based suspension that is sprung and valved on the firmer side, and a chassis that is nimble and rewards those who ride it hard and aggressively.

“The Honda CRF450R has a powerful, free-revving engine and feels the most lightweight and nimble on the track.” —Andrew Oldar

“The Honda is the lightest-feeling bike that isn’t even in the top three lightest 450s on the scale.” —Ricky Yorks

“The Honda is nimble and fast.” —Michael Wicker

Dislikes

“The Honda has an incredibly light and nimble chassis, but it comes with some unpredictability.” —Allan Brown