By Kris Keefer
Photos by Drew Ruiz
Last year, Honda totally redesigned the 2013 CRF450R, but for 2014 Honda made small refinements to try and make the second place finisher of Dirt Rider’s 2013 450 MX Shootout a winner. Honda went to work on the intake and exhaust ports with aim at lengthening the exhaust port and widening the intake port, and adding a new dual timing PGM-FI fuel injection system, redesigned muffler internals and new valving to the KYB PSF air fork.
On the track the rider can feel the small changes to the porting. Our test riders noticed better throttle response and improved ability to get out of the hole on starts, and corner exiting was improved over the 2013 model as well. The 2014 CRF450R still doesn’t feel like a rocket on the track but it has a little more torque with controlled, smooth power. This mellow delivery is really inviting to an intermediate or “less than race pace” kind of riders. If you’re looking for Kawasaki-like horsepower you will not get it with the Honda motor. Once in the mid-to-top end the bike does pull well and can scoot you around the track probably faster than you can handle. Surprisingly, for being a fairly smooth motor the CRF450R does have lots of over-rev. The bike can be left in third gear virtually everywhere on the track and that’s a plus in our book, especially when your tongue is hanging in your spokes. But, if you want to leave it in second and wring it out, that works too.
Yes, it still has the air fork. Is it better than last year’s? To us, no, it’s not. It still feels harsh in the midstroke. Coming out of corners where the fork is in the beginning of the stroke (or when the fork is “light”), it feels too stiff. The air fork is great at the end of the stroke; if you land hard or come up short on a jump the front suspension will have plenty of comfort and will not be clanking on you. It also should be noted that bigger guys might like the air fork. One of our heavier testers found that the midstroke stiffness translated into more hold-up and less dive under breaking or G-outs.
The shock is better than the fork allows it to be. It soaks up braking bumps well and squats nicely in the rear. Warning: Make sure you have the correct sag. This is important on the 2014 CRF450R. With the new valving for 2014 the sag settings need to be run different than the 13 model. The new 2014 likes to be run at 105mm-107mm of sag. The 2013 liked to be run at 108mm.
Having a great-cornering bike comes at a cost and that cost is straight-line stability! The chassis still corners well like last year’s model but it is a little twitchy down fast, rough straights. It can cut underneath most any motorcycle out there today except for maybe the RM-Z450. Initial lean is where the 2014 chassis shines. The minute you make a decision to pivot or turn the bike it will do it almost as you are thinking it. When we say twitchy, it’s not downright scary like the 2009 CRF450R but it does a get a little deflection in the front end. We haven’t decided if it is the chassis or maybe the air fork? We will be looking into this further over the next few weeks.
Overall, the 2014 CRF450R is still a very fun and easy bike to ride. None of the changes hurt the bike but we were just looking for more out of the air fork. We will continue to spin laps on the big red machine and get it lined up to go head-to-head with all of the other brands in our 2014 450 MX Shootout coming very soon. Check back to www.dirtrider.com shortly for a web impression video of the CRF450R.