The Versatile Version
Photos by Jimmy Lewis, Chris Barrett and Joe Lloyd@motoxeno
It was a big step for Honda to jump into the Off-Road Race segment a few years back. Not for lacking or having the ability or the equipment, but it was more political and understanding the US market and the need for a more specialized motorcycles right off the showroom floor. We’ve had some fun with the 2017 version (TEST here: https://dirtbiketest.com/bike-tests/2017-honda-crf450rx/) and took a year away from 2018 because the RX was unchanged. But in 2019 Honda has brought forward all of the updates the CRF Motocrosser received to the RX, and we spent a day shaking the new model down. With help from our friends at the JCR Honda race team, we even got Johnny Campbell and Trevor Stewart to beat on our bike for photos!
Losing the kick starter also changed the frame and swingarm, which included some refined rigidity, a new linkage ratio and revised suspension settings are the big things. Smaller but important include a new front brake caliper, new footpegs and Renthal Fatbar, a larger exhaust header, revised ECU settings with more distinct maps and adjustable bar position round out the smaller changes. It looks the same as the moto “R” but will it act the same?
The RX comes with a kickstand, a larger 2.25-gallon plastic fuel tank, and an 18” rear wheel with the Geomax AT81 tires to set it aside from the motocrosser. The ECU settings are said to be tamed down for off-road usage but this is still a full-on race bike. The muffler is not spark-arrested nor sound dampened in any way compared to the motocross bike.
Power. Yes the bike has it and in spades. For an off-road racer you’d be hard pressed to find anything with more power off the showroom floor–but can you use it? Here is our dilemma with the RX. It has a light flywheel feel and a quick-revving nature, very similar to its motocross brother. And unfortunately for the trail riders out there, it has the motocross gear box. Just five speeds and tight as can be. So first gear is tall and fifth is short in an off-road world that is used to six-speeds or wider ratios. But understand this bike was designed and built to do GNCC and GP style-events where you should never need the extremes in slow speed or top speed that a little gearing change could not accommodate. Ride it at the speeds where you’d be most of the time and there is a matching throttle position to shoot you out of a berm like a cannon. It will lite the tire up at will and in reality is a very controlled package for having so much potential at your right wrist.
We did struggle with stalling at slower than first gear speeds and the clutch, though claimed improved, still has a heavier pull and lacks a little feel when it gets hot. But you have to get into pretty tight and technical terrain to notice this.
The three maps built into the ECU and activated through a handlebar mounted switch mirror the MX bike but are changed a little to suit its off-road needs. One is standard and pretty good for off-road (in a racing style), two is a softer map that cuts a lot off the spinning the rear wheel likes to do, and three is aggressive and worked great on the motocross track.
The RX suspension is still on the stiffer side of the spectrum but it feels like it moves a little more free, like the older 2017 bike did after it was well broken in. It holds the bike up in the stroke off-road but still moved when the bumps get in the way. We’d say it is not as prone to deflect as the older RX and still has the stability we loved while being nimble for turning. It is hard to describe, but like its motocross brother, has a good heavy feeling when going straight and feels nice and light when it comes time to turn. It is neutral in turning where it is just as happy sliding as it is tracking the front wheel. Bottoming control is just as good as we remember, a great trait for a race machine. On the motocross track it may even be better setup for a lot of slower, or vet riders. It does not have the hold up in the stroke compared to a MX bike but it also does not have the stiffness that will beat a rider up.
The handling got a little lighter and more lively without losing any stability (back to that deflection feeling) so something improved in the chassis and that was one of the biggest things we played around with on our long-term bike (see https://dirtbiketest.com/fresh-dirt/long-term-update-2-2017-honda-crf450rx/#CvyAC6OZi95ZFfYu.97) In turns it settles in a bit better and the rear tire feels cushier. Typical Honda stuff, the brakes are excellent. The electric starter fired the engine right up.
Overall, we feel the 2019 CRF450RX is an improvement and still has a solid place in the off-road market. It has strong competition from the Yamaha YZ450FX and KTM 450XC-F for sure, both all-new for 2019, maybe you’ll get a comparison out of us in the near future… We’d even venture to say The RX might be a better motocross race bike (switch out to a slimmer IMS gas tank) for a lot of novice and vet riders as well, especially if you do a little trail riding on the side.
For more info and specs, visit: https://powersports.honda.com/2019/crf450rx.aspx