Honda revamped the 2023 CRF450RX in an effort to make it more rider friendly. And with those changes, we feel they made a step in the right direction. However, we still feel there is another step or two before it’s in the realm of the KX450X or YZ450FX in terms of a comforting chassis feel when the conditions are at its worst. Over the last couple of months of testing, we’ve made some progress in finding more comfort in the CRF chassis that are all very basic and cost effective while still maintaining the positive characteristics of the Honda.
The first change we’d throw at this Honda, and this is partially rider preference, is to change out the front tire (and rear, but that isn’t quite as noticeable). The standard Dunlop AT81F front tire is a decent off-road tire, but its biggest drawback on this CRF is the stiff nature of the tire. The Honda already lacks some rider comfort and feel when compared to the likes of the KX450X and YZ450FX, and the AT81F front tire doesn’t help. If you’re sticking to Dunlop, a MX33F or MX53F front tire will help tremendously in softening the harsh front end feel, not to mention most prefer the traction and performance of the MX style front tires.
Changing torque specs on certain chassis parts has a dramatic effect on the way this Honda chassis feels — some better and some worse in our opinion. Check out our Torque Specs Article to see how we tested this, what we tested, what improved the bike, and what hurt the bike.
Another noticeable change we made, and we originally didn’t intend to feel such a drastic difference, is a different set of handlebars. The stock Renthal 839 Fatbar bend isn’t terrible, in fact it’s one of the better bends that comes stock. But since we were struggling with comfort on the bike, we wanted to throw a set of handlebars on we knew we loved simply for the bend. We swapped the Renthal’s for a set of Pro Taper EVO “Carmichael” handlebars and not only did we prefer the bend (which is rider preference), but also the flex characteristics of the handlebar. Similar to the front tire, this completely changed how the front end felt. A much needed plusher ride that didn’t transfer every bump, rock, and root straight to your hands and arms turned this bike around for us. So much so that we now, with the tire and handlebar swap, felt we could comfortably and competitively race the bike, whereas we would’ve been hard pressed to do so in completely stock trim.
Another big one, and it’s something we experienced while testing our YZ450FX last year, is a gearing change. Stock is 13/50 and it delivers aggressive power and packs a mean punch. In an effort to smooth out both the power delivery and chassis feel, we went up on both ends to a 14/52 combo. This smoothened out the power delivery, from the initial crack of the throttle and up through the top end. Additionally, you can pull each gear a little longer and won’t be revving the bike out in doing so.
With the different final drive ratio, you drop everything down one gear – instead of hitting a corner in 3rd, you’d now hit it in 2nd, etc. The smoother power also helped the chassis feel greatly, something we typically see with 450’s when altering power delivery. The bike doesn’t react as much to hard hits, square edges, acceleration chop, etc. Likewise, the rear wheel feels more connected to the ground and doesn’t break traction quite as easily. This is likely more of a West Coast off-road focused change, as woods riders who depend on lower first and second gears will lose that with this motocross transmission, but it would have the same effects in a woods environment if you don’t need the low gears.
To increase stability, we’ve been running a sag of 105-108mm for most of our riders, and have paired that with running the forks flush in the clamps (stock is +5mm). The bike corners exceptionally well and we felt we could sacrifice a little bit of that for stability in an off-road setting. Both changes helped, especially dropping the clamps, and the cornering performance is still as good as any. Previously, we really struggled with the front end on corner entance, and while a stiffer fork would help, this was a positive change and something we expect to keep moving forward.
Some other changes we have in the queue are an IMS fuel tank, lowered foot pegs, and a Rekluse Radius CX Auto Clutch. The stock RX tank is rather bulky and we feel we could make some improvements with the IMS tank, not to mention getting a little more mileage out of it. Additionally, most of our testers have noted that the seat to peg ratio is slightly cramped, so we’ll give lowered foot pegs a try to see if that will solve the problem our riders are facing. The Rekluse auto clutch will alter power delivery and we feel it’ll help the aggressive, horsepower monster that is the CRF450RX engine.
From here, we’ll continue to work on developing this bike and go into more extensive modifications that help make this bike what we want it to be – a more rider friendly CRF450RX for the masses. When riding this bike aggressively, it works really well. However, when you back off the pace and ride it more casually, we feel this bike drops off in performance more than it should. With these changes, and what we have planned coming up, we feel we can increase that window of performance and make this a better bike for all.
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