After a full restructure in 2017, Honda has refined the marquee machine and released the 2018 CRF450R. The Japanese brand focused their attention on the big bike's handling and power delivery with a series of changes to the chassis, suspension, and electronics. There's no denying the popularity of last year's machine, as its success in the pro ranks was equally matched with consumer sales, but we had a few issues with the bike that kept it from taking top honors in our 450 shootout. Will these updates help it climb up the order in this year's competition?

What's New

– Electric Start with high-end lithium-ion battery. This feature is now standard for all 2018 CRF450R bikes. The kickstarter arm and internal mechanisms are missing from the engine.

– Firmer suspension settings, front and rear. Honda went up one spring rate on the fork and shock, and updated the valving on both ends to match.

– New engine hanger for better flex characteristic. The new pieces are thinner, softer, and offer more chassis flex than what was used in 2017.

– Softer, more controllable map 1 (standard) setting. This was made to smooth out the feel of the low-end power, particularly the sudden spike some riders felt as they rolled on throttle.

Although the housing for the kickstarter remains on the engine (image one), there is no mechanism or internals on the 2018 Honda CRF450R. The battery-powered electric starter (second image) activated by the handlebar-mounted button (image three) is the only way to bring the engine to life.

Three maps are programmed into the CRF450R's ECU and they can be changed easily via a handlebar-mounted button. In response to complaints of an abrupt feeling when rolling on the throttle, Honda redid the characteristics of map one and smoothed out the spread in the low-end. Maps two and three remain unchanged from 2017. Aside from the electric starter and updated map one, there were no further changes to the engine for 2018.

Honda's decision to return to a mechanical spring fork in 2017 was met with acclaim, but there were still some shortcomings with the suspension. Many test riders said it felt soft, unbalanced, and led to an unsettled ride, especially when abruptly changing the power. To answer this, Honda went up one spring rate on both ends and updated the valving of the shock and fork to match. This was not the only chassis change Honda made for 2018, as the engine hangers of the CRF were redesigned to be thinner and softer with a new shape that offers improved flex characteristics.

Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. We applaud Honda for bringing back the Showa mechanical spring fork to the CRF450R. Both ends of the suspension on the 2018 Honda CRF450R received a one spring rate higher setting and valving to match.

On The Track

After a few years of dealing with pressure adjustments on a fork that we never really loved, it's nice to jump directly onto the bike and know that you're good to go after setting the sag, levers, and fuel level. Thanks to the powerful lithium-ion battery and electric starter, the engine fires to life with a simple push of the handlebar mounted button. It's worth pointing out that the clutch lever must be pulled in when one wants to engage the electric starter, a safety feature that Honda has added to prevent a bike from starting accidentally.

Right away we could tell the chassis changes made for the 2018 CRF450R were for the better, especially with the suspension. The bike rode higher in the stroke than one year before, which gave the bike a "planted" feel on the track and inspired more confidence in test riders. Even with the firmer suspension, the chassis remained agile and comfortable, traits that come from the new engine hangers. The addition of the electric starter and battery does tack five pounds onto the overall weight of the bike compared to 2017, but thanks to Honda's low center of gravity design, the added lbs are not noticed at all on the track. We cannot praise Honda enough for dropping the air fork from the CRF450R and bringing back the standard Showa spring fork. It's plush in the initial stroke, remains controlled through the middle, and resists bottoming on impact.

We started the day with Honda's base fork of five millimeters of fork height relative to the clamps, thirteen clicks out on the compression, and twelve clicks out on the rebound, settings that we've not strayed from. As for the shock, Honda's base is 105 millimeters of sag, three and one-quarter of high compression, and eight clicks out on rebound, but we eventually found more comfort in 106 millimeters of sag, three and a half of high compression, and seven clicks of rebound. Like always, you'll find your favored settings will be influenced skill, size, and track conditions.

As for the engine, we're glad that it remains largely unchanged for 2018. Honda aced their 2017 intentions to have power in all areas of the curve without making sacrifices and in fact, our only qualm was too much power off the low-end in the standard map one. The small changes made to this setting greatly improve the bike, both in power delivery and rider control, as the bike stays settled and lugs through the range without a hiccup. Map two, like last year, is the "mellow" setting which is bet slippery condition- be it too wet or too dry- and map three offers a hard hit in the low and middle portions of the powerband, something that experienced riders will value the most.

The only engine change Honda made to the CRF450R for 2018 was to the map one setting. The roll-on power is now more linear and eliminates the abrupt hit that some riders felt when getting on the throttle, particularly when exiting corners.

First Impression

In our opinion, Honda only needed to address a few issues on their 2017 machine with the suspension, chassis, and map one setting. They corrected all of this and more with the standard fitment of the electric starter, in 2018 and that has paid off greatly. The bike has improved handling, is easier to control and comes to life with a button. We're excited to see how it stacks up in the shootout later this year.


Engine: Single-cylinder four-stroke Bore X Stroke: 96 mm X 62.1 mm Displacement: 449 cc Compression Ratio: 13.5:1 Valve Train: Four-valve, Unicam Fuel Delivery: Programmed fuel injection, 46 mm downdraft throttle body Ignition: Fully transistorized with electronic advance Cooling: Liquid Transmission: Close-ratio five-speed Clutch: Multi-disc

Final Drive: #520 Chain, 13T/49T

Frame: Aluminum Handlebar: Renthal aluminum

Front Suspension: 49 mm Showa fork, 12 inches of travel

Rear Suspension: Pro-Link Showa shock, 12.3 inches of travel Front Tire: Dunlop MX3S 90/100-21 Rear Tire: Dunlop MX3S 120/80-19 Front Brake: 260 mm disc

Rear Brake: 240 mm disc

Wheelbase: 58.3 inches Rake: 27* 22' (Caster Angle) Seat Height: 37.8 inches Fuel Tank Capacity: 1.7 gallons Curb Weight: 248 lbs (includes all standard equipment, plus fluids and fuel)

MSRP: $9149