2019 Honda CRF450L

Dual-Purpose Done The Honda Way

MSRP: $10,399

Roost
  • Finally a new dual-purpose bike from Honda.
  • Honda durability and quality in a competition derived 450cc platform.
  • Quiet, effective and built for a wide range of riders.
Endo
  • More street bike than most off-road riders are looking for.
  • Very locked down and will be difficult (but not impossible) to modify the engine.
  • Don't look at the weight on the spec sheet!

Credits

  • Writer: Jimmy Lewis
  • Photographer: Jimmy Lewis/Chris Barrett

Introduction

  • All new for Honda and filling a giant hole in the model line.
  • Staying ahead of impending regulations.

Times and regulations are changing. Honda took a big bold step to stay in (or re-enter) the game with the 2019 Honda CRF450L. It is a dual-sport, on-off-road machine that is filling a large hole in the companies model line, in the mid-sized, and very popular 450cc segment. It builds on the companies successful CRF250L as a stepping stone and will replace the longstanding XR650L. In a lot of ways the CRF450L is a modern day XR650L and here is why.

Going forward and looking at dual-purpose motorcycles segment, we have to keep one very important fact in mind, its a green world and everything is emissions-emissions! The government in the US, (EPA) and with entities like CARB and on a broader scope, worldwide with EURO standards for emissions producing vehicles, vehicles of all kinds are being looked at in every way shape and form. Coming from the off-road only perspective this has not hit home just yet. But in the on-road vehicle world, companies are getting hit with huge fines for having cars and trucks and even motorcycles that do not meet emissions standards or sound and safety requirements. In doing this vehicles have also had to become tamper proof so it's difficult for the customer to modify or alter the vehicle in any way for it to be non-compliant. Just look at the fines slapped on VW and don’t think that companies are not thinking about these regulations on all vehicles they are developing or currently sell. Honda knows this all too well with car side of the business and they will not take any chances on the motorcycle side. That is why the 450L is like it is and not more like the motocross bike it resembles in looks.

Then there is some of the stuff Honda is famously known for and criticized. Its durability. On one hand it is the standard which others are measured by--for how long things last. Then we will wonder why a muffler weighs 13 pounds or the frame rails extend back to a very sturdy and overbuilt license plate holder.. Because it is built to last forever--or at least the life of the bike. Naysayers will point to the manual and cry when they see the rebuild time on a top end or a service interval a few hours less than a competitor, but trust us those are more to keep warranty claims in check from a legal perspective than a hard guideline for a rider to adhere too.

For Honda the CRF 450L is important in that it will likely remain largely unchanged for a long time. It has to perform strongly and will need to sell consistently to be a success. And like the XR650L, which was at the time an “XR600R with turn signals”, this is a “CRF450R with turn signals and a whole lot more.”

"The 2019 Honda CRF450L-- a dual-sport, on-off-road machine that is filling a large hole in the companies model line, in the mid-sized, very popular 450cc segment."

Changes

  • All new and based off the CRF450R motocross bike.
  • How close it is based off the R model is based on how close you look at things.

Everything on the CRF450L is new, as it is a new model. But to call it just a street legal CRF450R would be missing how much really has to go into developing a this bike. From concept, which we have on good authority was to take the previous CRF450X and make it street legal, not replace the XR650L, here is a breakdown. First it had to be a six-speed, something that Honda has shied away from since the XR350R if you can remember that far back. That takes different frame from its motocross brother mostly in width down by your feet. The overall dimensions otherwise are very similar with a slight variation in head angle. Luckily the suspension components did not get downgraded, just set up for the job. Adding all the necessary parts to make the engine long-lasting and sound and emissions compliant make the L motor all its own. Don’t be fooled in looking at the very similar shape as an R engine, just about every part was looked at and many slightly altered to make sure it was up to the task of running wide open for in a durability test of undisclosed duration --but we’d guess it surpasses the requirement of the EPA for street motorcycles. Things like the thermostat housing and the air intake/re-circulation for the exhaust are cast into the cylinder head. In some places steel replaces titanium, but not in the gas tank. Titanium replaces plastic. The piston, for instance has two compression rings instead of one while also producing less compression.

There are major differences and a huge focus on keeping the bike quiet. Honda went all out with very clever plastic covers over most of the engine. The muffler is very mechanical in design and contains a catalyst to cut down on emissions--just like a car. The air intake is channeled and there are foam sound dampers everywhere. Sprockets have rubber to keep chain noise down and tires are selected firstly for noise concerns. This is the levels that Honda feels it needs to go to to make the CRF450L compliant. And in the US we get an unrestricted version while others countries get a more restrictive funneled down intake and even tighter controls on emissions. Remember this bike has to be sold to the world in a very similar package. Hence the goofy internet crowd getting all wound up over the 25HP version which is a reality in Europe.

Then there is the safety side and you get a kick-stand kill switch, a starter safety switch on the clutch. There is a fuel cut at a certain RPM in fifth and sixth gear (right at 90MPH with stock gearing) so you don’t exceed the speed rating of the tires. There are the attachments for reflectors and mirrors. All of this is mandated equipment and this bike (and all street legal bikes) must have it. It is up to the manufacturer to decide on how close they walk the line and for Honda this bike is cutting it close. For others it is overkill.

"To call it just a street legal CRF450R would be missing how much really has to go into making this bike. "

Power

  • Very quiet, very responsive and revvy-feeling 450cc powerplant.
  • Will be difficult to modify without fueling changes.
  • Six-speed transmission is a hit but the clutch feel is off for some.

If someone tells you that this bike does not have enough power then you should ask them to explain that statement to you. We can all look at numbers and pound our chests and cry, "give me more!" For as corked up and quiet as this bike is, the power is amazing. Compared to a motocross bike, say the CRF450R, yes, it is down. But not exactly how you’d think. Or based on how you use it.

On a dyno from 3000-5500 RPM the L makes nearly the same power and torque as the R motocross bike. This is the area you are usually riding in, by the way. At one small point in there it actually makes more but it is never more than 2 horsepower off in the first half of the powerband. Then as the revs climb the R gaps it by 5, then 10 then 15 horsepower as the R revs out to 11,000 RPM with 56 horsepower. The L cuts off at just shy of 9000 RPM and just south of 40 horsepower. But the hard game to play is passing the sound test and some funny rules in the way the tests are done. It involves peak power and a certain RPM, none of which should concern you, but the idea is to do the sound test at a lower RPM.  And the real question is when are you dual sport riding and need more than 40 horsepower? Sure on that one hill climb or maybe when you find a dry lake bed, but there is generally more power available at almost any time you are riding the bike, just twist the throttle a little farther. It pulls pretty steady up to the 90 MPH cut off and that isn’t a speed many ever see on dual sport rides. For reference the CRF450X, basically the same motor with a slightly different ECU is the same to 5000 but after that the X makes about 3 HP more till it signs off at 10,000. Both the L and the X make peak power at around 7500 RPM and the R  makes peak power at 10,000 RPM.

The bike is very quiet and runs in a very lean feeling state. It is rather snappy right off idle and any time you crack the throttle, almost to a fault. This response was appreciated by talented riders and it makes the bike feel even more powerful than it is, but it can also be hard to get traction (especially with stock tires in the dirt) and sometime it feels like it surges to some on the road. And there is a feel that we are associating to the catalyst in the exhaust that we feel causes some of this less than smooth character. But on smooth throttle pulls and in general riding it isn’t an issue. And if the bike has been running really high in the RPMs and you drop off into a tight trail, a sensitive rider can feel the throttle response change a bit as the catalyst cools off, it gets less snappy as it cools. Of note is how hot the muffler gets. Honda has shielded and protected it for the most part but you do not want to touch it at all, especially in the lower front portion.

The power builds linearly and it does not blow through the RPM too fast, even on slippery ground. The bike finds traction and can run in any part of the powerband except the crack of the throttle at low RPMs. We found ourselves running at a slightly higher RPM level than we normally would on a 450cc bike--more like the RPM of a KTM 350EXC. This higher RPM kept us in a happy zone with power for our needs. The throttle response is always lively and always instant.

Our bike didn’t mind running at sea level or up to 8000 FT. The filter stayed very clean and it didn’t seem to care if the filter got really dirty, which proves how corked up the engine really is. And here is the big question for a lot of riders: Can I modify it? Well because we like to test, we tried a few things and we will try more as products come available. First off a CRF450X ECU does not work on the L. The fuel pump does not run so there are wiring harness changes to prevent consumers from being able to do this, even though it plugs in. And Honda even made the pipes slightly different so they do not bolt right up. But we managed to put the X system on the L for some off-road riding and found it made the bike feel a little leaner yet some of the snappiness went away and it felt like it had a little more power and torque at all RPMs. Not to mention a five pound weight reduction. And this brings us to the game of modifications. There will be different options that the aftermarket will come up with for different applications, but Honda has not made that game easy.

For fuel range Honda has put a very nice digital odometer with a fuel consumption function that is very accurate. A nice touch since seeing the fuel level in a titanium gas tank is impossible. Our bike averages between 38-42 MPG for most of the 1000-miles we have on it. We could get close to 50 MPG when being cautious with the throttle but never run it much lower than 34 when cooking. At just over two gallons we felt safe on 75-mile stints with the low fuel light coming on for the last few miles. Since most of our rides stretch this range a little between gas stops we installed an IMS 3.2-gallon tank that got us easily past 100-miles range.

One other area that gave a few of our testers fits was the clutch activation. For general riding it is fine. But the lever has a rather easy pull but a relatively vague point of engagement over a longer travel. For some this meant stalling often and for others it did not give confidence for really technical riding when clutch use was needed. None of our riders are abusive on the clutch.  We could see those that already slip the clutch a lot getting into trouble with this. But the clutch seemed to take any abuse we threw at it. This generally produces heat and the cooling fan seems to come on quite frequently. Yet we’d blame the exhaust for a good portion of keeping the motor hot. Our bike never spit coolant, it caught it in the catch tank and sucked it back in when we got moving again.

Shifting was good and the ratios are overall close together but with a long spread. First gear is just a tad tall for really technical riding that might be out of the range for this bike in the first place. Sixth seems like it might go 105 if the bike were allowed to rev.

And onto another hot topic over the internets and people wondering about the service intervals. We’d ride the CRF450L for a long time before worrying about anything going wrong. Keep dirt from passing through the filter and the oil from getting too worn down and it should easily last for 100’s of hours. Honda’s reliability is generally excellent. But getting a feeler gauge in to check the intake valve, now that is something worth complaining about…But you shouldn't have to do it very often, even if the manual says to.

"On a dyno from 3000-5500 RPM the L makes nearly the same power and torque as the R motocross bike."

Suspension

  • Top-flight suspension components straight off the motocross bike.
  • Set up properly for aggressive off-road riding--if that is your thing.

The CRF line has some of the best components to ever come on production motorcycles and we are told they are the same pieces as on the motocross bike depending on some set-up changes for the application. They sure work like it. The forks and shock are likely way better than needed for the job, but they get the job done. Overall the action is very plush and forgiving for motocross parts on a dual sport bike, but that may seen as stiff as hell for someone coming off a KLR or DRZ.
Ride height setup on the L is pretty critical and for most the magic number seemed to be around 110mm of sag. The spring will take riders from 170 pounds all the way to 210 without much of an issue. If the bike gets low, the fork starts feeling harsh. If the rear rides high, some riders felt some instability in the bars and the rear was choppy in the bumps. We played with adding a little high speed compression and running sag lower or doing the opposite. Running more sag in the rear (105mm) and less high-speed compression. Depending on the rider these changes were really effective. Aside from that we did not play with the clickers on the shock too much.
On the fork it definitely improved the feel with time and break-in. And if it felt stiff on the small bumps we liked bleeding out a little bit of air to a negative pressure (push down a little on forks when bleeding and then close the screw) really helped more than changing the clickers. Also opening up the rebound a click or two can help here.
Keep the CRF up in the stroke and you'll be happy. It is a setup thing and those that want softer and go softer will not like the results, basically what we call packing. The stroke and action of the suspension allows aggressive riding and the setup seems to be more oriented to slightly faster or western conditions. It will jump and handle whoops as good as a pure dirt bike. The suspension rarely bottoms and when it does it is so unlike most dual purpose bikes that clank and rebound out in a very unpredictable manner. It bottoms and act like a motocross bike and handles this with aplomb.These components have control and also do not fade in the least bit. Plus they will last a lifetime and are fully adjustable and rebuildable too.

"The forks and shock are likely way better than needed for the job, but they get the job done. "

Chassis - Handling

  • An aggressive chassis with a stiffness and precision to it.
  • The weight is high but not as bad as it reads.
  • Typical high-level Honda fir and finish.

Two things really stand out on the CRF L in the handling, stiffness and weight. As is the trend the chassis is meant to be very strong with a certain flex character built into it. There is no wallow in this chassis. But if you are coming off a steel framed dual sport bike other than a KTM or Husky, in some cases a Beta, your first sensation is going to be how tight the Honda feels. This is a double edged sword that Honda has done a great job with to keep the handling sharp but not make the chassis too rigid. The front end stays planted and it is very precise while the back end does not flex when pushed hard into bumps. And with the weight that is the challenge.

At 284 pounds its not light-weight in a dirt bike world. And in our first impression we said it always felt heavy. Well more time on the 450L changed our feelings and some of it has to do with tires. On stock tires the suspension and weight feel both improved over the initial riding impression with the Dunlop D606 tires installed. Especially on the front end and in steering. Less spinning weight and a more compliant ride on the bumps has the CRF feeling more agile but not with the true grip of a knobby in the dirt. On stock tires you are always sliding more than is normal or preferred. But the stock tires are made for 50/50 riding and we are for sure more off-road biased than that. We switched over to a set of Kenda Parker DT tires. Like the D606 these tires are roughly one pound heavier in the front and two pounds heavier in the rear yet they are not as stiff in the carcass. So we got much better dirt performance without some of the stiffness put back into the ride. Now we had dirt grip and less of a heavy feeling than at the introduction of the bike.

Yet the L is still a little heavier feeling than other competition oriented dual-purpose models. The muffler and extended rear subframe account for a big portion of this weight and more of the feel up high and out back. There are plenty of other little things like reflectors on thicker pressed steel plates on the triple clamp not to mention the steel rear sprocket. Easy pounds to shed but now we are getting into project bike territory. When we briefly swapped mufflers we can tell you it was noticeable and the bike responds well to losing weight.

A few of our riders commented on the seat height feeling low, something that seems welcome in this market. But at the same time the chassis is one of the most roomy. The seat is soft enough to actually sit on for some time when on the pavement, something that is forgotten on other bikes in this class. And then there is the vibration, which is minimal. There is very little bar or footpeg buzz. But as you change tires, reduce weight and most noticeable if you add rim locks on the wheels, vibration is pretty much going to come back. But not the buzzing kind, Honda minimized that. In riding the L and the CRF450X back-to-back the shaking of the wheels is one of the most noticeable differences.

The pure handling of this bike and it is excellent considering the challenges of the weight. Typically Honda, the front wheel likes to steer and the rear prefers to follow rather than slide. But it will slide and it's comfortable during the act. Where Honda’s typically have been very light and rode like it--we’ll call this one more middle-of-the-road but that is in a very diverse classification.

Riders said they felt more on top of the bike rather than “in” it which allowed them to move around and control the ride. Over time you realize the weight is more of a number than a feeling. Our scale (which seems to be readking a little low these days, but it is consistant) said 284 stock with a full tankof fuel. Then with tires and an IMS tank (some reflectors removed) and the extra gallon of fuel the bike climbed to 294. If you don’t have a lot of time on dirt bikes and riding aggressively the only way you would ever be able to feel it is if picking the bike up off the ground or loading it into a truck. And as much as we talk about it, the CRF L is a lot lighter than quite a few other dual-sport bikes, just not the orange and white ones.

All of the controls are adjustable to get in the right position so setup is easy. We did not mind the 7/8s handlebar one bit and most liked the bend. The brakes are very strong with excellent control and again considering the weight, are doing an excellent job. There is nothing that sticks out or interferes with riding, even with all the road going stuff. Well, except for the mirrors, which we removed for dirt riding and would replace with some fold-away ones anyways.

The LED headlight sure looks a lot brighter than it really is but it will illuminate the road or trail to an acceptable level with a bit of a pencil beam spot in the center.. The turn signals are more robust than most and quite flexible. But not indestructible. All of the handlebar switchgear is easy to use and quite standard. The digital odometer is simple and excellent with dual trip functions and an instantaneous average MPG function. The strength of the rear sub-frame is excellent and the running gear out back will last until a crash (or in some cases a loop-out) breaks stuff but you don’t build stuff to withstand catastrophic events. It will easily take some luggage or pack weight. Some bikes struggle just to keep the license plate attached, not this one. And the air filter is not the easiest to get to. It is under the seat and tight coming out from its box. Oil is back to a single compartment between the motor and transmission unlike the older X so that is a good thing for simplicity.

"As much as we talk about it, the CRF L is a lot lighter than quite a few other dual-sport bikes, just not the orange and white ones."

Conclusion

  • If you know what you are getting, then you will be happy.
  • Honda has a Honda way and for some that is too much.
  • This motorcycle will fit a lot more rider's needs than most dirt biker's understand.

There is no doubt this is a very good motorcycle and Honda will sell a ton of them. The initial impressions were all over the place and from our expert oversight one thing was obvious; The reviewer’s opinions of the bike were very biased on what they thought the bike should be. Honda never said they were going after KTM and the class-leading EXC, it was just assumed because of the presentation. After all both of the machines in question are based off of motocross race bikes. Honda never said they were going to destroy the Suzuki DRZ, a bike that has not changed, really since sinking the Honda XR400R in the trail-riding world.

We feel the ideal CRF450L rider is someone who wants to buy a bike and leave it stock, just ride it every once in a while or all the time. Have a bike to run to the gym or chase the kids around at a family trail ride just the same. Sure some will figure out how to drop 15-pounds and get 15 more horsepower but that is going to be a lot of work. Get use to it if you are buying any brand of street-licensed motorcycle, times are a changin.

The CRF450L is a very civilized dual-purpose motorcycle that has a lot of potential as a stock bike to do everything just fine. It is walking a middle line in a middle-weight class, a true dual purpose machine. It will commute and road ride just fine, not great. It will tackle fire roads and take on single track just fine, not great. It isn’t as powerful as some bikes but makes a lot more power than others. Honda calls this trail to trail and we'd agree as long as we are not with a bunch of buddies wanting to race on these trails. Buddies looking for an adventure? Much better group to ride with. It is sitting pretty in a very middle ground area that appeals to way more than just strict dirt bike riders looking to carry a license plate. If you are looking for a dirt bike that can do a lot more than be just a dirt bike, this CRF450L is just fine.

"We feel the ideal CRF450L rider is someone who wants to buy a bike and leave it stock, just ride it every once on a while or all the time."

Recent Product Tests

What Others Said

This is what Honda has to say, officially.
https://powersports.honda.com/2019/crf450l.aspx#specifications
Here is another full test of the bike with some slightly different explanations.
https://www.cyclenews.com/2018/11/article/2019-honda-crf450l-full-test/