First Impression Test: 2021 CRF450RX, Moto/Off-Road Inspired

First Impression Test: Honda’s Moto/Off-Road Hybrid
2021 Honda CRF450RX
Photos: Scott Hoffman

Honda did not wait a year to launch their RX model, it’s all 2021, all-new, and is based off the R full moto version. What some call a cross-country or grand prix off-road model is very popular these days, a trend KTM made popular years ago and now most, if not all, manufacturers have followed suit. Some models do differ from how far they veer away from their moto roots to the real off-road world.

For the ’21 RX, Honda did more than just slap on an 18-inch rear wheel and a kickstand—they made a real off-road race bike. In addition to the above, Red runs an oversized 2.1-gallon fuel tank, handguards, specific ECU mapping, off-road tuned suspension (softer valving and springs), O-ring chain, and skid plate.

The R and RX may look very similar but they are very different on the track and especially on the trial. The R is very aggressive and needs attention to make it perform, while the RX has the feel of an off-road bike that we expect, yet the knife is still sharp enough to be a race bike and perform.

Riding the RX, it offers a stable and planted sensation on a grand prix track, vet track, or back trails. The overall bike feels less aggressive compared to the R but in a good way. It shows that Honda put a lot of work into the RX with regard to setup. The suspension is very off-road and not as friendly hitting the big jumps on the moto track but really shines as it crosses over to the off-road side with its plush and small bump-compliant feel. Faster or heavier riders may want stiffer springs but it still has pretty good bottoming control. The chassis is very nimble but more forgiving than the moto bike, which is a nice trait when you are at speed off-road. It takes on most moto terrain, you can hammer desert whoops and it even soaks up tree roots pretty well. For our heavier riders, we did our trick to the fork by adding 10cc of oil to stiffen up the last part of the stroke—it helps a tad.

The power is still there for sure but the ECU mapping does tame the delivery in a good way for this sort of riding. Yes, it still has all of the map adjustments as the R but offers more friendly power for maps 1 and 2, and map 3 is similar to the standard map on the R model. Traction control is there but we often left it off or at best ran it in the lowest setting. The RX is easy to ride and offers a lot of bottom for all sorts of riding, yet for really tight technical first gear sections, some of its moto roots start to rear their head. The bike can chug but can stall in lower-than-first-gear technical sections. Don’t get us wrong, this bike still hauls butt when you twist the throttle, but it’s just more friendly and less aggressive as the fire-breathing R model. The motor works way better off-road than we would have expected.

The brakes are really solid, the ergonomics are well suited for a variety of riders, and the bike is equipped with a lot of features some in this division don’t offer, such as the oversized tank and skid plate. For an off-road cruiser, the seat is not the most forgiving to your rump at times, but for a race bike, it’s fine. The first thing we might change if we were racing the RX or taking it to the track would be to swap the stock tires for maybe Dunlop MX53s or more of a track-suited tire. Things we did not even really notice, but appreciated, were items like the fuel tank. It’s oversized but most riders did not even realize it until after they rode the bike, it’s tucked in very well and does not really make the bike feel wide like some.

Who should own a CRF450RX? The RX is for that rider looking to do more than just hit the moto track for their addiction. If grand prix racing or off-road is part of your program, this is a great bike stock, or the perfect base for a race-bike build. Even vet, novice, or below-level riders may have more fun on the RX compared to the R—it’s just more plush and forgiving but not that far off the full moto bike. Its just a really good bike and for those who had spent some time on the R, as an off-road bike, Honda did a solid job filling the sector.

Honda almost seems like they did more fine-tuning refinement on the RX compared to the R for 2021, at least right out of the box. In stock trim the RX is a pleasure to ride and it’s more than just a moto bike with an 18-inch rear wheel, it’s very off-road capable and grand-prix raceable. The 2021 is for sure a step up compared to the RX from previous years and Honda spent some time to develop a very good machine to take on the competition off-road-themed sector. Most who got a chance to ride this bike, had nothing but solid reviews.

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