Caught red-handed? Yeah, I’ll admit I have a thing for riding works bikes. And after riding Chad Reed’s YZ last month, I jumped at the chance to ride the perfect motorcycle. For Ricky Carmichael, that is. RC is renowned for having what we would politely call a “unique” ergonomic and suspension setup for his bike, but there’s no doubt it works for him. Yet it seems interesting that his switch to the 450 four-stroke also saw some changes in riding-compartment and suspension settings to a more-typical arrangement. I’d ridden RC’s CR250R supercross bike in 2002. Extremely low in the back, the setup was not complemented by a top triple clamp and bar bend that placed the grips in my lap. So I was really happy (for my sake, mostly) to see the bar come up a bit and the rear end of the bike appear to have more than 8 inches of travel. Plus, it seemed that Ricky mellowed a bit on the CRF, really taking to the big thumper’s power, putting it onto the ground and in the face of the competition. It was going to be really interesting to see what Team Honda and RC had hidden inside the CRF450R. We met Team Honda at I-5MX in Gorman, California, for a few hours of ride time.Yes, the bike sits low, and Ricky has the bar positioned and bent lower than I’m accustomed to. Like many other diminutive factory riders, RC has the subframe lowered to allow him to get back farther without hitting the seat. And there’s no concern about the tire rubbing on the fender when the rear shock bottoms, as there would be on a production bike. Tire clearance is easily controlled with linkage or overall shock length options, and if the tire does scar the underside of the fender, it can be replaced. Carmichael likes a wide and sharp footpeg to help his boots grip. And the cut seat still has enough foam of a decent enough density that you can sit down, which RC does a lot, and not get beat by the seat base or frame rails. He also likes a step cut in the foam to hold him forward. The step actually started out as sort of a joke, but it has turned into an integral part of bike setup for many riders piloting the brutally fast thumpers.The power generally mirrors the production CRF’s power delivery but is boosted to a level that is hard to explain. It remains very ridable on the bottom but with such a strong pull that you have to be careful how fast you turn the throttle. For anyone but Ricky, that means open it slowly! Much more slowly than on any other bike, because the response is phenomenal and the surge potent. For the few straights on which I had the guts to hold it wide open, the top-end didn’t seem all that impressive. Maybe it was disguised by the impressive low and mid-power? Wrong! I realized there was a quarter-turn of throttle left. And then it pulls forever. I quickly found out the best method was to short-shift the motor; then the pull is still similar to holding a standard bike wide open and revving it. The clutch is best used to control the power, not to try and amplify it. RC chose not to use a slipper clutch, since his motor, similar to a standard one, doesn’t have excess compression braking. And with a five-speed transmission, the gaps aren’t spread too far apart. Speaking of the tranny, Honda claimed the ratios were stock, but first gear felt really tall; the spec sheet says it is an “HGA works type.” There’s no way of ever really knowing as the final-drive ratio is also quite different, running bigger sprockets and very little slack in the chain. Team Manager Erik Kehoe said that in the beginning, both RC and Kevin Windham were looking for a very smooth and ridable power package. But week after week, they got used to the available boost and wanted more. So slowly they’ve reached this setting. And Kehoe was sure there remains untapped potential. I’m still impressed the massive peak power can be used anyplace other than at the start.Overall, this bike has a very unique handling character that I’m sure suits Ricky to a T. It starts out planted and stays that way around the track. You can really tell what the tires are doing. Although the bike turns just fine in the normal way, it also has unreal control when you’re sliding the back end around. The point-and-shoot style of riding that is so common in supercross, a style that RC’s supercross bike exemplified, was carried over to the 450. You can come into a turn and however you get the bike around, it doesn’t matter. Finish turning or sliding the rear end, and once you are pointed in the right direction and say “go” with the throttle, or even with the clutch, the bike fires you out exactly where you are pointing and usually lifts the front wheel at the same time. This is the definition of a rear-steering machine. RC’s bike didn’t seem to need a berm of any sort. By habit I look for berms to hold a little extra speed through corners. RC’s bike stuck whether or not there was a berm. And if I didn’t like where the berm was, no big deal, because in three laps this bike had created its own or ripped a badly shaped turn into submission. The Race Replica Dunlops were working to their design limits.With all the spinning and moving parts inside the engine lightened up, the bike feels feathery in the air. It feels as light as the new ’05 CRF feels, just not as thin between the legs. And the bike stays light even if the rpm are sky-high, something that just doesn’t happen on a stock four-stroke. But on the ground, the bike bites and gives a heavier sensation, almost as if it is sucked to the dirt.Just as on other race bikes, RC has a very particular brake setup, and the Honda guys gave it to him. It seemed a little mushy, not as tight as on some of the other riders’ bikes I’ve ridden, but just a little extra finger tension to the lever and the binders bite hard. His suspension moves a little slower than average, especially on the rebound side of things, but isn’t as stiff overall as I’d expected. But then again, I’m not hovering near 155 pounds. In true works suspension fashion, you could hit things in ways that would bottom production suspension to no end yet still have a very plush and controlled end to the stroke. Never mind that my muscles didn’t approve of the same level of G-forces as the shock and fork did. As for the bar and clamp setup, I didn’t mind the rearward position of the clamp, as I feel bikes turn a little more confidently with the bar behind the steering center. But the low bar bend never allowed me to get comfortable. However, it wasn’t my bike in the first place, and ultimately I had to give it up.It’s a rush and a responsibility riding factory bikes. I’m on the bike that could be argued is the world’s best motocross bike, but it takes the world’s best motocrosser to put it into first place. Case in point, I was having a hard time passing guys I’d normally ride right past. Why? That’s easy: Because when I got lined up to pass, my wrist turned the throttle as it normally does. RC’s bike either tried to explode out from underneath me or yanked me so out of shape I had to back off. Could I get used to it? Sure, but then I’d have to be in shape to ride it as it needs to be ridden for more than one lap. And if this level of machine, which in racing terms is way closer to what you can buy than in any other form of motorsports, is what it takes to run at the front, it is easy to see why so few are up there.