Honda’s Answer To KTM’s Off-Road and Dual-Purpose Dominance.
By Ray Conway and Jimmy Lewis
The Honda CRF450L Motorcycle is BIG news. As KTM / Husqvarna and Beta brought their European vision to the dual-sport world, many people wanted to see the current Japanese interpretation of a Dual Sport Motorcycle. As the Honda XR650L, Suzuki DR400S, Kawasaki KLR and Yamaha’s WR250R have all become a little and in some cases very long in the tooth everyday dual-purpose equipment, many riders in the US were seeking street-legal dirt bikes, and hoping at least one of the Japanese manufactures would finally pull the trigger. Honda is now locked and loaded and ready to fire.
Honda is first of the Japanese manufactures to introduce a new era dual sport motorcycle, meet the all-new CRF450L.
Each manufacturer has to look at the US (and California) Emission, Lighting and Sound regulations and decide how they intend to build a machine that meets these requirements. While the term “Barely Legal” is often used to describe the European dual-sport motorcycle, we don’t like this description. These motorcycle are in fact legal, yet the manufacture’s approach is the “Bare Minimum” of equipment to make a “Dirt Bike” road legal. This seems to be working well this far, just check out what street legal bikes are seen out on the trails and Dual Sport events around the country.
Now we can see firsthand how Honda has approached these regulations. Remember, Honda has been building road going motorcycles since 1948. Honda has produced many legendary street motorcycles, they have never been afraid of innovation and have learned some lessons on how not to build a compliant machine. The result of all these years of making motorcycles, scooters and ATV’s is the design standards for each of these categories. Street bike standards are not the same as dirt bike standards at Honda. Also, at Honda for an example, if the sound regulation for road going motorcycles is 80 db’s they are going to have a standard or some amount below 80 db. The same thing holds true for things like piston wear, transmission life, lighting durability and so forth. The way to view and understand the new Honda CRF450L is that it is a road going motorcycle that is very trail capable.
But what does all this mean, here are just a few examples DBT observed looking at the CRF450L.
- New Digital Meter with magnetic pick-up, compared to old style mechanical meter and cable drive on old CRF450X and XR650L
- All LED lighting, compared to old large , heavy bulb lighting on the XR650L
- Side Stand warning light / switch, compared to auto retract european stand
- Clutch lever starter lockout switch, compared to no lock out on the European machines.
Depending on what’s important to you, some of these things may be good or bad features. But the standout feature is the use of a six-speed transmission on an engine that is very close to the CRF450R Motocrosser. The biggest changes are in the electronics and sound damping remedies. The ECU is very “locked” and tuned to run in a very restricted manner. But test riders said it makes plenty of power for trail riding and is very rideable in the stock form. The catalyst-equipped muffler and closed-off air box are paired with plastic covers on the engine cases and rubber dampers on the sprockets to keep the sound down.
The frame is widened just a bit to accommodate for the larger cases with the additional gear and tuned for a better flex feel for off-road use. And then there is the weight. Going off the claimed numbers, the L is 42 pounds heavier than the R motocrosser at 289-pounds (ready to ride with a full 2-gallon tank of fuel). Much of the weight stems from sound dampening components, lighting, muffler, and parts that are built to last and not fall off or have the tire hit while riding off road. Even the front brake caliper is beefier compared to even the X model and and the reservoir holds more fluid capacity compared to the R. Test riders claimed that the weight was noticeable but also gave the bike a planted and much more plush feel on the trail.
So now we have a true Japanese dual purpose bike in the new era. This new model offers up folks one more choice and another way to “skin the cat”. It will be interesting to see what we get from Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki if they too pull the trigger in this sector and, will one of them build a bike in the “European style” or something completely different? It should be fun.
We have seen the new CRF450L sitting on a stand and can study the spec sheets. Now we wait for our test bike and see how all these pieces work together out on the trail. The price is set at $10,399 and availability is in September.
2019 Honda CRF450X
The new CRF450X is another example of the changing landscape of off-road riding in the U.S. This quote from the Honda press release tells the tale.
“a true off-road machine suitable for year-round racing and trail riding.”
In California they have off-road registration and two categories, Red Sticker and Green Sticker. Simply put Green Sticker bikes can be ridden 12 months a year and Red Sticker motorcycles can only be ridden on the trails about 5 months a year ( mostly in the winter ) Very soon Red Sticker motorcycles will only be able to be operated at motocross tracks and private property.
The new Honda CRF450X meets the new federal noise and emission standards for Green Sticker off-road motorcycle and will be able to be ridden all year long on Forest Service and BLM land.
What Honda did was very smart. The CRF 450L was designed first. It had to meet the stricter Noise and Sound regulations of a road going motorcycle. Now you will notice that the CRF450X has the same fuel tank and emission control equipment as the CRF450L, as the off road emission standards are basically the same for off-road and on road. But the sound regulation for off road is a little less restrictive so many parts could be replaced with lighter components, Sprockets, Muffler, Lights, Meter, Wire Loom and Full Knobby Tires could be fitted. This results are a 14 pound weight reduction over the CRF450L.
It has the six-speed transmission, electric starting, is fuel injected with a very different ECU system from even the L, we are told. Test riders said the bike easily runs up into the 90+ MPH range all while being whisper quiet. Like the L the suspension components are Showa A Kit type fork and a very similar shock to the motocross bikes just set up for off-road conditions.
What Honda has done with the CRF450X is provide an option. Some riders just want a dirt bike and they want to ride all year anywhere that is is legal. They don’t want turn signals, horns, giant headlights and taillights, license fees, road insurance and so on–they do not need a license plate or maybe their state will allow licensing of a bike like this for dirt roads. The CRF450X will retail for $9,799 and be in dealers in October.