2019 Honda CRF450R and CRF450RWE
Three Years In And Killing It
By Jimmy Lewis, Photos: Scott Hoffman and Drew Ruiz
For 2019 Honda seems to have stepped out of its comfort zone and is gunning for more market share. First, after two years into the current cycle of the CRF450R, they have made significant changes even though it looks very similar. And second, for the first time, Honda has followed in suit with one European brand to offer a “special edition” or what Honda calls the Works Edition. Not to mention a similar CRF machine will grace the off-road world and the dual sport sector very soon.
Honda invited Dirt Bike Test as well as other media outlets to ride the 2019 CRF450R and the new CRF450RWE (Works Edition) for a first impression at the private So Cal track called Chaney Ranch. We spun laps on both bikes with four different test riders, it was a packed day. We will have a more detailed impression in the days to come.
All-new in 2017, the CRF450R has made marked improvements each year instead of sitting on its laurels. Well received by the media, especially the current 2018 model, it was backed up by sales floor success. CRF450R sales lead all other brands by quite a good margin. And Honda took a few pounds off the bike as well as upped the performance in some areas and here’s what we noticed.
The kickstarter is gone and we don’t miss it. Especially for MX. That was some of the weight savings. Little things like the new Renthal Fatbar handlebar (15mm lower) and a smaller front brake caliper (two different size pistons) drop ounces here and there. The swingarm was designed to be lighter while still having a similar flex character and for all this there is a claimed 1.8-pound reduction. We didn’t feel it. What we did feel (and we rode a 2018 back-to-back with the 2019) was the rider compartment stayed very familiar and easy to get use to for riders who own 2018 Honda’s and riders who have been away from MX for a while. The larger footpegs are a nice touch and as expected form the Red Riders a very tight and quality feel on the CRF at every contact point with the bike. We even tried the bars in a more forward position via the four-position adjustable top triple clamp and our taller riders really liked this.
The chassis is said to have been tweaked ever so slightly (frame dimensions are the same but altered flex characteristics) to work with the new swingarm/linkage as well as the subframe to keep the bike’s feel. This and some suspension internal changes were aiming to allow riders to run less sag (closer to 105) without getting issues with front end feel. We were between 105-110 with all of our riders and it seemed the bike gained just a little bit of confidence for them riders. On the standard bike we hovered very close to stock settings and even went just a little softer on compression most of the time. The feel is plush and well dampened as well as balanced. As the day went on and the track got rougher we didn’t feel the need to change settings and even switching over to another rider’s setting, the bike was not picky. We didn’t have any bottoming issues and mostly used the clicks front and rear to tune the small bump feel to perfection.
If there was an issue with the suspension we’d have to say that it is easy to get the balance off and have either the front or the rear use too much stroke and then the bike starts handling funny. The suspension will still work fine but the front end tucks quickly or it will not turn based on how you have moved the bike around. Going back to stock settings quickly cured this. Heavier riders over 200 pounds might chase settings and might need the aid of a stiffer shock spring to help balance the chassis.
The chassis yields a very precise turning bike–and it does feel light for a 450 overall. If you haven’t ridden a Honda CRF450R lately, you will be in for a surprise. We believe this sort of setup is what many other manufacturers shoot for when it comes to confident turning while still having stability and suspension that works on the bumps and the jumps. It’s thin and most felt instantly comfortable with the feel and ergonomics. This allows you to move around on the chassis and, in turn, complements the handling. The light feel continues in the air and since the motor–like a lot of the other new 450s–doesn’t add the weight feel like it used to when running higher in the RPMs. One of our riders said he felt a noticeable improvement in the flat turns compared to his 2018 CRF450R.
CRF450R (standard edition)
The engine is where we appreciated the changes to the mapping and in the exhaust. Across the power spread the Honda has a smooth and very one-to-one connectivity with the throttle. If anything it now feels like there is a little more torque across the spread and this in turn livens the engine up. It seems to rev just a bit more freely and pulls better on top and into the rev limiter. Where in the past the Honda smoothness was not exciting to ride, well now it is and more so than before.
The addition of the three maps programmed into the ignition and switchable on the handlebar with the (long and hard to do while riding) push of a button is a great feature, we just wish it was on the fly. Also in this is the addition of three motocross holeshot maps. They are titled “advanced”, “intermediate” and “beginner” and they do work and performed as advertised. We’ll explain more in the individual impressions for sure. But the riding maps are, as usual, not super noticeable changes between them. But to a keen rider, you can feel them. Standard was about where the aggressive map from a few years ago use to be in feel. The second, a tamed “traction” map does exactly that and for the track we were on was not ideal for any of our riders. It deadened the pick-up just when you needed it. The third “aggressive” map picks up throttle response and also shapes how quick the CRF goes through the power, especially on top. It was a split for our riders on which one they preferred. Luckily it is just a push of a button to change.
CRF450RWE (Works Edition)
Then there is the Roczen Replica Works Edition. And yes it is a different bike as much as it is the same. The easiest way to describe it would be to say it was another year’s worth of development by using better parts. All the while making sure the motocrosser was tuned the way a standard machine is tuned to work as a package. Not just parts thrown on a bike because they are lighter or more flashy. The upgrades will run you a cool $2200 more in retail price ($11,499 up from $9299) but in retail value the suspension coating and head porting would come close to setting you back that much cash or more.
And as much bling as there is on the bike the tuning behind it goes even further. Here is where the price starts to look even more attractive. Though the suspension acts different (yes the coatings work), the valving and most of the internals are identical to the standard CRF. This prompted us to run the clickers mostly stiffer on the “WE” in comparison to going softer on the standard CRF450R. The “WE” rides a bit plusher and feels more connected to the ground. The rest of the action is pretty much like the standard R, it likes the 107mm ride height range. Likewise the handling isn’t all that changed but we noticed some things we’ll detail in the single-bike review.
The serious tuning went into the ECU to match the head porting and the Yoshimura slip-ons. The maps are different and the torque and pull are boosted to match. The “WE” feels a little quicker, mostly on top and was noticeably pulling taller gears in turns with much less clutch work. So much so that most prefered the standard map and not the aggressive map by unanimous decision with one tester even preferring the traction map. It isn’t just like you added a pipe and ported the head, things that riders do. But most never get the chance to have the ECU mapping properly tuned to take full advantage of those types of mods, it is like the bike was tuned in a better way for just about everyone. The engine package is different enough that Yoshimura has a completely different headpipe for just the “WE” if you want even more. Even the start/launch control maps were adjusted from what we are told, with influence from Ken Roczen but he wasn’t there to ask…
Overall Honda is building on a already solid platform so the trick would be to not take backwards steps. We feel they moved forward on all accounts with three of our four riders all coming away very happy. Why not four-for-four? Well one tested never gelled with the track so he is reserving his final impression till he can ride on a more familiar track and also get the most ideal springs in the suspension as he was at the limit of where the standard spring rates would perform. We anticipate doing a 450cc comparison in the near future and we think the Honda CRF450R will undoubtedly have some stiff competition from all-new 450CC machines and some similarly refined. Even leading up to that we can say with confidence that both of these bikes are very solid motocross race bikes.