After undergoing a complete overhaul in 2017, the new 2018 Honda CRF450R receives a number of revisions including stiffer suspension settings in the front fork and rear shock, different engine hangers, new ECU settings, and electric start. The electric starter is powered by a lithium ion battery, which according to American Honda Brand Ambassador Andrew Short is the same battery used on the race team bikes. With electric start now coming in stock trim, the kickstarter lever has been removed as well.
The new ECU settings are easily noticed on the track, especially when coming out of corners. The 2018 model is not as snappy off the bottom end as the 2017 model when exiting corners and doesn’t feel like it wants to jump out from underneath you. This is a good thing because the powerband is more linear throughout the entire powerband and the smooth powerband also makes it easier to use across the RPM range. This not only makes the bike easier to ride, but also decreases rider fatigue.
A returning feature on the Honda CRF450R for 2018 are the three ECU maps. Map one is standard, map two is mellow, and map three is aggressive. Map two makes the bike much easier to ride. The power is less hard hitting and not as snappy as the other two maps. Map three offers the maximum amount of power, which is understandably what our pro test rider Nick Evennou preferred. Meanwhile, I preferred the standard map as I am a novice-level motocross rider. I will say that part of the reason I preferred that map is because I rode the track in the afternoon time when it was dry and baked out and traction was harder to find than in the morning.
The stiffer suspension settings are another update that is quickly noticeable when you first ride the bike. Evennou felt the stiffer suspension made the bike feel heavier and that in corners, the bike wanted to stand up and felt tall. Evennou ended up going two clicks softer on the compression on the front fork and a half turn stiffer on the high speed compression on the rear shock. At that point, he felt much more comfortable and commented that it felt like going back to the 2017 suspension settings after making the aforementioned clicker adjustments. It should be noted that Evennou ran the bike at 106mm of sag as well.
I was unable to get the sag set at more than 100mm on the 2018 model due to only weighing 130 pounds. The closest sag measurement the Honda technicians were able to dial in for me was 100mm. Whereas on the 2017 model, they were able to get it to 103mm. Therefore, the stiffer settings are evident in that simple comparison between the two maxed out sag settings. I liked the stiffer fork settings because the 2017 model sometimes had the tendency to blow through the stroke, especially heavy impacts and landings.
The new engine hangers have a significant effect on the chassis. The revised hangers offer more flex and compliance on all areas of the track and help create a more stable overall. The hangers also allow for less vibration and less rigidity, which further enhances the handling and makes for a more pleasant riding experience.
As far as the electric start goes, once you try a bike with it, it’s hard to go back to a kickstarter. I actually went to press the start button when I hopped on the kickstart-equipped 2017 model thinking it had electric start like the 2018 bike. We noticed the bike needs to be in first or second gear to start as it’s reluctant to start in third or fourth gear. The bike will turn over in third or fourth, but it will not fire to life unless it’s in first or second. Also, the bike will not start unless the clutch is pulled in due to a mechanism that is actually a part of the clutch perch itself. Lastly, with the electric start system added for 2018, the bike gained 5 pounds over the 2017 model. The claimed weight of the 2017 machine is 243 pounds while the claimed weight of the 2018 model is 248 pounds. The weight wasn’t very noticeable for me on the track due to how nimble the chassis is, which is good because it’s so nice to click that magic button.
Overall, we were very pleased with our first ride on the 2018 Honda CRF450R. We are happy with the settings we dialed in for both myself and Evennou after spending only one day on the bike. We look forward to putting more time on the 2018 Honda CRF450R on a variety of different tracks to see what other settings we can find with more testing under our belt.