2022 Honda CRF450RL—Maybe the Perfect DS to Some!
Photos: Bruce Criswall and Scott Hoffman
The best dual-sport or adventure bike is so subjective that the question is nearly impossible to answer, especially these days. What determines the “best?” Is it the most reliable, the most durable, or is it power, weight, ergonomics, handling, cost to buy or own, or just simply which is most fun? The question cannot be answered unless you know exactly who is asking it. To some, the CRF450RL fits the bill, to others, not so much.
Depending on who you ask, the 2022 Honda CRF450RL is the perfect dual-sport bike. It’s a Honda, it’s built to last, they use the same quality suspension components as the motocross bike. It looks cool, has a six-speed transmission, good power for a fully legal dual-sport bike, and ergonomically has a similar feel to the entire performance off-road line. The only pejorative is it’s a little chunky when it comes to weight compared to say the KTM, Husky, or Beta. We’re talking 15-30 lbs. (depending on how much fuel is in a bike).
To some it’s not a deal breaker, just depends on what you want out of the CRF450RL. IF you are comparing the Honda to the “KTM/Husky” brands and technical “pure off-road” was the main objective, yes the Honda might be at a loss. Yet if you are talking traditional dual-sport with fun (second-fourth gear) trails, fire roads, some pavement, the Honda might top the others. It really boils down to what you are after. This will determine what bike will best fit your needs.
Why the CRF450RL?
First off, picking up a performance dual-sport bike can be a pricey investment. To us, the CRF450RL splits the category and has so much to offer. Yes, you can go with one of the more affordable 300cc dual-sport bikes, but you really compromise performance on the trail if you are seeking a street-legal bike that has “real” off-road capabilities. Then you have the larger-bore dual-sport bikes but, again, they are a little more “adventure” than dual-sport. Or you shoot for the off-road bike that is “technically street legal” but is best suited for the dirt, and some owners are less likely to put massive hours on these bikes or 50- to 100-mile stretches on pavement.
This is where we think the CRF450RL slips into the pocket. Honda overbuilt the bike for a reason . . . to last. The cases are larger than the standard 450, beefed up six-speed transmission. The engine is tuned with a little less compression, and everything is made to pass Honda’s durability testing protocol. The clutch is designed to take the rigors of street riding and performance slightly subdued to offer a bike that would still be on the road and trails years from now. Yes, Honda could have compromised long-term reliability and go after KTM but we don’t think that was ever their goal. They built their own bike and it for sure fits a category and does a really good job of it. Of course, we wish they leaned more toward the pure off-road performance side because that is what we do . . . ride off-road. Yet there is a slew of enthusiasts that find the Honda the perfect mix of dual-sport, off-road, and durability.
Several of our test riders had yet to ride a CRF450RL. Since 2019, only minor changes have been made to the bike, one being handguards, and another was updating the ECU settings. Also be aware the ECU is locked and making changes is not possible. The CRF450RL also has a beefy muffler that is catalytic to pass emissions. It offers a quiet note but does seem to run hot and feels restrictive. The power is decent for 450cc dual-sport but not slow. The throttle response is pretty quick but we believe they achieved some of this by using a light clutch or flywheel. In tight trails (slower than first gear) the engine can stall. The clutch feel is easy but has a long throw and is also grabby, this does not help the stalling either. The clutch is dampened for street use and it has a different feel than say the CRF450RX. It’s ok for average riding but has an odd feel when trying to ride more technical trails and gets warm fast if you overuse it. The FI mapping feels a little lean as well but that is to be expected.
The chassis has a very nice feel and well-thought-out ergonomics for average-height riders. Shorter riders that are not used to full-height off-road bikes might feel it’s on the tall side. Shifting is on point but we wish 6th gear was a little wider for highway riding. It’s not totally bad but at 65mph it can get a little buzzy due the rev range. And we would not want to re-gear to take away tight first-gear trail situations.
The stock tires are just that, stock wheel holders to get the bike off the dealer showroom. They are not bad for picking up a gallon of milk or during engine break in, but if you want to do any off-road other than a basic straight fire road, swap them out for some knobs. Kenda makes some durable DOT tires or something like the Dunlop D606.
The engine revs and has decent torque down low but does go a little flat up top. The power delivery is really well suited for flowing trails and any fire roads. The CRF450RL really likes the 2-3 gear pocket if the trail calls for it. When the tight first gear technical trails come into the picture, the Honda is not as at home. This is also when the added weight compared to say the 500 KTM comes into play. If you spent a day riding technical trails it becomes more work compared to the competition. Yet when the trails open up, the Honda catches its breath and starts to flow and even takes on desert whoops and faster riding really well for a stock dual-sport bike.
The CRF450RL is pure Honda and kind of runs by the beat of its own drum. It’s a well-built bike that will last for hundreds and hundreds of hours if maintained and is overall a really solid dual-sport bike. To some this could be the perfect dual-sport bike. It offers more performance than any of the 300cc models and is lighter and more off-road capable than say the Kawasaki KLR650 or Suzuki DR650. It’s built solid to last and is more capable of really long rides and pavement riding over say the KTM, Husky, and Beta. Yet as a pure off-road bike, it is heavier compared to its closest competition and head-to-head it’s not as capable but pretty close.
We think the CRF450RL does exactly what it was designed to do and does a really good job. It’s the perfect mix for the person looking for a little street, a little dirt, off-road capable, and willing to give up a little bit of extreme off-road for long-term durability.