2019 Honda 450X First Riding Impression

Meet your new X

2019 Honda CRF450X

In 2019 there will be a new CRF450X. If anything the Honda’s CRF450X has been successful. It was the company’s transition away from the longstanding XR lineage and into the CRF family of all off-road bikes. We’re told the 450 specifically sold close to 27,000 units over its lifespan in the carbureted and five-speed transmission iteration and won its fare share of desert races including the Baja 1000 and multiple National Hare & Hound championships, including one this very weekend. Why change it? Well with the last updates nearly ten years ago, it was time.

The new 2019 machine is basically a stripped down CRF450L for a number of reasons. On the performance side Honda wanted to have fuel injection, a six-speed transmission and friendly rideable power. From a legal side Honda needs to have emissions and sound requirements locked down so the CRF is a true green sticker machine, a bit of a rarity these days. Other manufacturers have dropped this type of bike completely or are using a street legal bike to fill the gap. In reality the only other Green Sticker bike in the 450cc class will be the Yamaha WR450F.

Honda’s CRF family has grown and that has done one very specific thing for the X model. It has lightened it’s load. With a CRF450RX, a bike built specifically for off-road racing, the X is allowed to operate in a more specific area of being a high-performance trail bike and not be looked at as a racer, even if it is definitely in some people’s job description for the bike. It is sold with a quiet and restrictive exhaust system and a clean for the air you breathe emissions system (both exhaust and emissions) that was not really meant to be tampered with. And Honda designed it to be ridden box stock. You get full throttle performance–even in its corked up state in comparison to any sort of racing machine–and you do not have to tinker with it at all to go riding and have a great time. That will be the basis for this evaluation. We’ll leave modifications and racing type ideas for a full test…If needed.

Straight away the CRF is quiet. Make that very quiet. It has the same engine, covers and sound damping equipment as the CRF450L with one major difference. There is no catalyst in the exhaust system which is a little larger diameter and longer. Hence, the ECU (also different from the L with less “features” to worry about) is tuned differently in a number of ways. You do not have to raise your voice to talk while the bike is running and the cooling fan is sometimes seems louder than the engine. It starts right up when cold and settles into an idle, the whole time you can tell the bike is lean and efficient.

Everyone will want to know about the power. It has plenty for almost any rider and those that complain about power need to be quizzed, more on that later. There is plenty of power for almost any type of riding and any condition, yes, even sand hill climbs. We’d give it a 20% boost over the CRF450L. The delivery is very linear and very smooth with an underlying torque feel that is pretty impressive for a bike that is so quiet. The throttle response is pretty peppy, maybe even too much for some, but we’re sure Honda did not want anyone to feel the bike was lazy at all–which it is not. But in being so quiet once pulling the RPM build doesn’t have the sound most are use to. So the suddenness of the power isn’t what they are use too. The bike does not go straight to spinning the tire. Rather it hooks up and in doing so you feel the torque without the noise.

Where this becomes different and hard for a lot of riders is that you will need a bigger throttle opening and maybe more RPM to achieve the same “feel” or power level as an uncorked bike. A good rider has no problem doing this. So the question for most is, even though your bike may make 55 horsepower, how much are you using that horsepower level? Not much we suspect. This bike may be making 45 (our guess) horsepower but you can use most of it most of the time. Trust us, 45 horsepower will get you up any hill and will push this bike to over 100 MPH (yes we did it on an abandoned strip of pavement and hit 94 on a sandy dirt road) and along any trail just fine. If there isn’t enough power for you, we like to ask the rider, “when you were at peak RPM and wide open, you say?” Twist the throttle on this CRF and you’ll be plenty satisfied. If you want wheelspin and noise, go someplace else.

The six-speed gear box is a great improvement and gives the CRF more legs to go both slower and faster. First is good for technical trails and then sixth gives the bikes legs to run away from the previous CRF450X in stock trim. We did some roll-ons with the 2018 bike and they were basically identical in power on the initial roll on even though most would say the older bike feels more snappy (the slight delay and then the lunge when the engine responds, typical carburetor feeling). But as the RPMs build the newer bike starts pulling harder and revs cleaner and farther. You shift the newer bike sooner and in doing so you start pulling away. For being quiet and clean Honda has done an amazing job with this engine and most will be completely satisfied to leave it stock.

Where we did have a slight issue was with the feel of the clutch, but this was just more picky riders for sure. The engagement is pretty soft and the throw of the lever is an easy pull. But the actual engagement point is a bit vague so in technical riding where you really need to work the clutch, stalling happened–and it wasn’t from the torque being low or not enough flywheel. Slipping the clutch a lot can get the motor hot but for us we never got it to fade. The fan kicks in and does its job. But for more extreme enduro type riding we’d be investigating a slightly different clutch leverage ratio for sure. Also when you stall the bike or after a tip-over the engine can get a bit finicky about restarting and sometimes took a second to get correct and idling perfect again. Kind of like it needs to be cleaned out-a la two-stroke like.

Onto the chassis and this bike is not going to win any awards at the scale. Bit if you ride it you’d be hard pressed to guess the correct weight. We’ll call it “big boned”. Compared to the L, the X feels quite a bit lighter. Compared to a R or RX it is heavier but not as much as you’d think if you looked at the spec sheet (we’ll weight it soon). So the X masks its weight on a chassis that is very roomy and pretty thin, all things considered. It has a very neutral feel and was a very stable ride with the ride height set at 107mm. The turning in the bars is light and you have good feel through the footpegs, a responsive nature and not vague. This light feel may have some saying “unstable” but it isn’t the bike. The X will really like a steering damper for those that have this feeling since it helps keep them from shaking the bars. The new bike makes the old CRF450X feel heavy and very planted to the ground. It is easy to move around on the bike and the tank did not bother any that rode it as being too wide. And we could not feel any of the extra width in the lower portion of the chassis for the wider cases.

In the suspension game Honda chose to go with the same components as the R race bike just tuned internally for the X. This is a great sales floor tactic but sometimes these stiffer parts are tough to make work on a more trail oriented ride. Well Honda got it right and it even had us questioning some of the feel we had for the L model at the intro. (The tires were changed from stock on the L and that makes a difference.) The X has a pretty plush feel and for sure the extra weight of the bike gets the suspension to move a little more freely. We were pretty happy on our introduction ride and did only one thing during the day. We ran a bit of negative pressure in the front fork but bleeding out the air with some pressure on the springs–a trick we learned with the old KTM 4CS forks. This gave the initial plushness a really big boost and had the bike staring down in the turns. Our only other feel is that the rear spring could use a boost in rate and we may try that in the near future. It was matching the fork in plushness but also using more stroke in comparison to the fork sometimes feeling low in the stroke too. It did not feel like a clicker setting, more of s spring cure. But bottoming resistance on both ends was the excellent feel we have come to expect from Honda and the way the bike rebounds out of the bumps was excellent.

The X comes with a good kickstand, lights that will get you back after dark, a digital odometer instrument that has great fuel use features (though we wish it would stay on for a few seconds after the bike is shut off!) and a cooling fan for the radiator. There is minimal vibration when riding and it have a tight feel overall. The parts on the bike are high quality, not stamped steel, lower level pieces like on some trail bikes. We wish the tank were a bit larger (we averaged 39 MPG in testing which translates to 80 miles per tank and for our rides that is cutting it close, but a little above average for trail bikes) and maybe the seat could be a little softer or have a bit more foam. Yet a few of our riders pointed out they felt the bike has a lower seat height feeling than they expected.

Where does this put the new Honda CRF450X? Well it was time for an upgrade to an iconic bike with a long history. All of the upgrades are on point bringing the bike into current times (fuel injection, six-speed trans, aggressive handling) while meeting current regulations. For the weekend warrior looking for a non-street legal bike there may not be a better machine, if that rider can just leave the exhaust alone! The first and best way to mess up this bike is to open up the flow without having some sort of tuner to correct the system on the intake and fuel side, as it is very lean running already. And Honda makes an RX for those riders looking for “racing” power and you don’t have to do a thing. If you want a versatile off-road bike that gets the job done to a high level, box stock, especially in Western conditions, this might be the best if not the only thing out there.