2017 Honda CRF450RX

A quick Response to a Long-Standing Problem

MSRP: $9249.00

Roost
  • Honda built the off-road racer you'd build with electric starting.
  • Not toned down or made for trail riders. The RX is serious.
  • Aggressive yet useful off-road power and a lot of it.
Endo
  • A semi-wide ratio gear box would have been a sweet addition.

Credits

  • Writer: Jimmy Lewis
  • Photographer: Jimmy Lewis/Cory Walters/Drew Ruiz/Matt Matton

Introduction

  • A brand new model for 2017.
  • New territory for Honda in off-road.

The all-new 2017 CRF450RX is here. It has taken a while but Honda has finally caught onto what the buying public has been looking for as far as off-road bikes go. A true competition only off-road race bike. The formula isn’t a secret nor is it actually written in stone anyplace. But the guidelines are to take your top-flight motocross bike and add a few off-road specific items without neutering the bike in performance. How good is it? Where does it fit? Is it the bike for you? We aim to answer those questions.

"How good is it? Where does it fit? Is it the bike for you? We aim to answer those questions."

Changes

  • 100% all-new machine.
  • Off-road necessities added at the factory.

There are no changes to this bike because because something that is 100% new hasn’t had time to be changed. Maybe it would be best to explain the changes from the CRF450R motocross bike. Starting with the engine, there is just the addition of what will be offered as a upgrade to the CRF450R, an electric starter and all of the related parts, including the wiring harness. The ECU has off-road specific maps, three of them, that differ from the motocross bike. Other than that the motor is identical in every aspect, air filter all the way through the exhaust. Honda did not see any reason to alter the transmission ratios and only the final drive is changed with a one-tooth larger rear sprocket.

Onto the chassis and all of the major stuff is identical like the frame and related parts like the swingarm, shock linkage and tripleclamp. The suspension components are the same save for the shock and fork valving and a one rate lighter shock spring. The gas tank holds 2.2-gallons and is made of plastic, not titanium like the motocross tank. There is a kickstand mounted via a footpeg bracket. And one small change is to the engine mounts holding the upper of the engine, they are a slightly different shape and less rigid.  The rear wheel is an 18-inch for more bump compliance from the tire and the bike comes with Dunlop’s Geomax AT81s.

Like the motocross bike the RX has a skid plate and no hand protection. There is an integrated engine stop button and a map select switch. The graphics are sublimated into the plastic for long life. There is no spark arrestor and the bike is sold as a competition race bike. On our scale the bike weighed in at 261 pounds full of gas.

" The ECU has off-road specific maps, three of them, that differ from the motocross bike."

Power

  • Strong power with off-road driveability in mind.
  • Linear but aggressive.
  • Love the electric starting!

If there is one thing Honda got with the 2017 CRF450R it is a shot in the arm in the power department. And the off-road brother has it too. Without riding both of the bikes back-to-back you’d be hard pressed to tell a difference between the two. But since we did ride them back-to-back we can say Honda did a great job of making the RX just want it needed to be. Aggressive without  becoming lazy or toned down. And not too much. Unless you activate the third map in the ignition (the aggressive one) then watch out! The bike has a very snappy, light flywheel feel as there is zero added mass in the ignition due to the electric starting. The throttle responce is sudden and sure making a lot of torque from the lowest of RPMs. It is very reluctant to stalling as long as the throttle is cracked with a light feeling clutch that offers good control. A tall first gear can cause havoc for some, but no more than any typical motocross gear box off-road. The bike builds just a bit more aggressive than what we’ll call progressive or smooth, but it is linear in a serious way building power and RPM with gusto. And it revs, long and hard with very little sign-off before hitting the rev limiter.

The smooth map tames the bike in the first half of the throttle and we found it good for low traction times for some riders. More sensitive riders felt an inconsistent feel at the throttle and then a snap or burst of power once going past half-throttle where it feels as strong and powerful as the standard map. The aggressive map makes the RX feel just like a R with more sudden power and makes it a lot more simple to spin the tire. In technical riding it makes the bike a handful. But in deep sand it really wakes the bike up and makes controlling the bike with the throttle so much easier. The aggressive map also allows gear-high riding in a lot of conditions if that is your style. The activation of the maps takes a three second push of the smaller button at zero throttle, so on the fly map changes are difficult at best, we suspect by design of a lawyer someplace. Looking to see how many time the light flashes while moving is just as dangerous.

Our novice riders who typically are not fans of racing-type 450s were strangly not put off by the aggressive power of the bike. Most felt very comfortable as soon as they gained respect for the throttle. And they commented they felt comfortable on the bike it made the motor less intimidating--they could use the power and not be put off by it. It was compared to the ride-ability of the more mellow maps we put in our Yamaha FX wile not feeling de-tuned at all. Honda has done a really good job with the ECU changes from the motocrosser to the off-road bike.

Honda chose to stick with a five speed close ratio transmission, That means it is great for racing at most racing speeds. It will work great from about 10 MPH to 85 MPH. Riding in slower than first gear situations, under about 10 MPH you will need to use the clutch a bit but at least it takes the abuse much better than older CRF450R clutches did. The bike heats up from the clutch abuse but the radiators cool it as quickly as can be expected once moving again. Gearing the bike down really closes up the ratios and cuts the top speed. Likewise gearing the bike to go much faster than stock can raise the top speed but also make first gear a little tall for technical stuff. Having a dedicated transmission or even an extra gear is an expensive change even at the production level and in reality targeted more towards non-racing riders. So we’ll give Honda a pass on this even though we’d love to see a six-speed gearbox.

The next subject is the mufflers and the sound. Even for motocross the Honda is now a little loud. It sound tests lower than what your ears will tell you, just like older Kawasaki’s but there is a crack when you get on the gas. For off-road we feel a little less exhaust noise will not hurt anything so we will be looking at options to cut the noise and add the necessary spark arrestor for some locations.

We are checking into the power output of the ignition but have not received a clear answer. We are sure is is just enough to keep the battery topped off in normal use but would suspect there is not much extra for running lights. When we get a firm answer we will update this test.

Of interest is Honda’s return to steel valves, all four of them, on this bike. It is obviously a look and both cost and durability and this is the same valve train as on the motocross bike.

" The bike has a very snappy, light flywheel feel as there is zero added mass in the ignition due to the electric starting. "

Suspension

  • Showa's best production components utilizing a conventional spring front fork.
  • Off-road racing settings that should be good for the intended rider.
  • Not a soft or compliant trail setting. It is a harsh ride going slow.

If you believe the marketing and all the hype that is following the return of the conventional spring fork front end on the Honda, then you can consider these works forks. they are close to it aside from some very special coatings and a lot of lighter weight higher-wear parts found on real works forks or “kit” suspension as it is called. Nonetheless, the fork isn’t anything without a good setting. It seems Honda made a serious effort to get a setting that will attempt to satisfy a large range of riders. Since the bike has more fuel when full and the additional weight from the battery and starter the fork’s spring rate is the same as the MX bike and even the valving is very similar. The shock is setup to match using a lighter spring and right from the get go the bike has a very balanced  feel. The setting is for racing and for that we feel it is right on. And you don’t have to check the air pressure in more than the tires before a ride.

Recommended sag is 105mm and we ranged from 108mm for a little better traction and some added stability back up to 103mm to make the bike feel more compliant. We had our best setting by backing out the high-speed compression ¼ to 1/8 turn rather than going any lower in sag as it is easy to go too far and get the bike to pack. This gave the bike a much more compliant feel and really took some of the spike on sharp hits that riders felt through the footpegs. We tried backing out the low-speed compression a couple of clicks on both the fork and the shock but that was not the issue, especially with heavier riders on the bike. Going a bit stiffer usually helped keep the bike up in the stroke and allowed it to stay out of the stiffer mid-stroke in choppy, rocky or rooty conditions. For whoops and g-outs the bike has plenty of progression and here a slightly stiffer setting really helped the bike from bottoming.

Most can take the CRF450RX to the MX track and be right at home, especially if you are not all too fast. In fact for most riders it really gets the job done and is more comfortable. It has a supple feel in the choppy bumps and settles in the turns, turning better for most that had the chance to try 2017 Honda 450R back-to-back. The drawback is on aggressive jumps and when needing additional bottoming resistance, it is a small step behind.

The setting is for a more race-pace speed and nothing we did will give the CRF450RX the plushness of comfort of a trail bike or even a bike set up like a KTM XCW or CRF450X. The chassis is stiff and the suspension will let you feel this in its stock form. At a trail riding pace it will beat you up and the only rider’s that didn’t complain were those that regularly ride their MX bikes on trails and were use to this stiff ride off-road.

" At a trail riding pace it will beat you up and the only rider’s that didn’t complain were those that regularly ride their MX bikes on trails and were use to this stiff ride off-road."

Chassis - Handling

  • Same precise handling as the motocross bike.
  • Very light feeling and quite agile for all the power.
  • The off-road parts do not hinder the performance.

If there is ever a bike brand that most riders just seem to fit on it would have to be Honda. The 450RX is no exception and the ergonomics are not cramped or awkward in any way. The seat is actually comfortable and all of the controls fall to hand and and foot. There is still a ⅞-inch handlebar but most of our testers liked the bend. If you are coming off a MX bike you can feel the tank when getting really far forward but it does not interfere and more than the exhaust header which actually sticks out just as far as the radiator shroud.

If the gas tank is full and you load, unload or push the bike around, it has a heavy feel. With the tank just half-way down most of this feel goes away. Remember there is a heavy battery also located up high behind the air box too. A lithium battery would also drop a few pounds quick. Luckily when riding the bike it never feels heavy when compared to anything in its displacement class. In fact since the larger tank gives the bike a bigger look but in reality you don’t even notice it when sitting unless you look down, a sensation that Yamaha has been fighting with for a few years now. The bike weighs 261 pounds with a full tank of gas.

CRFs have always turned and this bike does that with precision. Stability was not always the best yet we had no issues with this bike even in desert racing speeds. It is planted, which is great for traction. Throttle response really helps the bike stay light on the front wheel and will help with corrections. If there is any instability we always found there was not enough sag, usually less than 100mm.

If we are to pick the machine apart a little we’ll start with the non-O-ring chain. It really needs an eye kept on it and though it did not stretch much it got loose in side-to-side play quickly and really started wearing the aluminum sprocket quickly. Though the chain guard held up to average abuse the tabs hanging down from the swingarm look very susceptible to damage or being broken off. Putting a stronger chain guide on this bike might cause this to happen quicker and we’d expect to see race bikes with some reinforcement in this area.

For most riding we were averaging 30 MPG and the good thing we are finding about off-road riding and FI is that fuel use is very consistent. That means the 2.2 gallon tank got us 65 miles almost on the button when we pushed it. On a time scale it is good for at least 1.5 hours at GP racing speeds but it would be close with an aggressive rider. There is no reserve or warning before it runs out, just that quick loss of power and then the tank is basically bone dry.

The brakes are, as usual, strong and progressive and they do not falter from the additional weight of the bike. The quick adjust of the clutch is easy to use to get the right engagement point and we wished the front brake had a similar feature. Footpeg grip was good and the controls at the feet are just where they should be.

Maintenance on the bike is simple as oil changes and air filter cleanings. The huge oil drain plug requires a 10mm Allen wrench and if you want to drop a few ounces in weight look here. Also we're not liking the location of the bottom skid plate bolt, ours has taken a beating from rocks in its forward mounting direction. And the plate has to come off for oil changes. The air filter is a quality piece and indexes into position quite well even if it is a little bit of a tight fit in and out of the rim of the air box. We do not know about the outright durability of the new engine but ours has a solid 30-hours on it and it has not missed a beat. There is no reason to believe that the bike will not be as durable as we have come to expect from CRF motocrossers.

"Throttle response really helps the bike stay light on the front wheel and will help with corrections. If there is any instability we always found there was not enough sag, usually less than 100mm."

Conclusion

  • Honda built the right bike for the GP, GNCC or Track Day rider.
  • A Red choice in an increasingly Orange world.
  • You don't have to go looking for power, it comes stock.

Honda has hit the nail on the head with this bike but it wasn’t hard. The formula is there and KTM and Yamaha have been rubbing it in the face of every other manufacturer. Is this Honda the best bike out there? That is a tough one and all based on what you need. We feel it fits right between the Yamaha and the KTM in most aspects but it would take live back-to-back testing to really dissect the bikes like would be needed. And it would be decided depending upon the type of racing we were doing and the rider's preferences. We feel the CRF's motor draws few complaints and makes plenty of power. The suspension and chassis don't do anything funny and get the job done in most conditions that they were intended for. The CRF450RX feels well built and may lack some features offered by other bikes but it also has a few of its own.

If you have liked Honda’s in the past there is no question you will love this bike. Especially if you have been riding a any older CRF450R off-road. Compared to a CRF450X this bike is a monster and makes the green sticker CRF (still available and unchanged) feel sluggish, heavy and dated. Those that have found the happy spot that a KTM XC or Yamaha FX puts them in now have a new color choice to add some fresh personality to the game.

"Honda has hit the nail on the head with this bike but it wasn’t hard."

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