Dirt riders who live in SoCal can't help but see the evolution of motocross machinery taking place at local tracks. Before new models are announced to the public, they are tested in the strictest secrecy, but even then they are often spied locally. As soon as the bikes' production is official, most factories reluctantly start testing in plain view. What we've seen lately are professional R&D; test riders comparing their particular color of machinery with the 2004 Honda CRF450R in back-to-back rides. Such comparisons are the backbone of testing. Line up the best from the competition then face those machines off against your latest prototype. During any development process you need a yardstick to measure your progress, and using the top similar machines available is the best way to determine the success of your effort.The problem with this method is you are shooting at the best the opposition offered a year earlier. While chances are good that you are aiming at the correct objective, you might go amiss should the competition move the target before your bike hits the showroom.Since the Honda CRF450R was the bike to beat on the track (and, more important, in the showroom), it is the goal all the brands, especially those working on four-strokes, had in their sights. But with the 2005 CRF450R, and you can trust us on this one, Honda has moved the target up more than a little.After fairly routine and minor upgradesmany having more to do with dieting than with building musclesince the 450's introduction in 2002, Honda chucked the entire chassis it spent three years refining! That means big red developed a CRF250R-style fourth-generation aluminum frame that is a slim and graceful work of performance art. It looks airy and anorectic in comparison with the muscle-bound heft of the third-generation frame. The changes gave the chassis a better, softer feel as well as slenderizing and improving the riding position. None of the factories wants its 450 to have an "Open-class" feel. These bikes compete in the 250cc class, and while they all make plenty of power, they need to have moves that can match any 250's.Getting DirtyAs striking as the visual upgrade to the '05 model is, the sense that is most affected by the bike is not sight but touch. Honda's attention to ergonomics has allowed it to own the on-the-bike-comfort category in MX comparisons, and the 2005 450 double underlines that fact before adding multiple exclamation points at the end. The 2004 CRF450R was a staff favorite, but it feels fat and clumsy when compared with the '05 model. The new bike is sexy slim and easy to move on. The seat's neither a brick nor a Barcalounger, but it is a great place to beand even better than the '04 seat, which we called the best in the business. From the tank back, the CRF450R looks new and not unlike the '04 CRF250R, but Honda claims the two are subtly different in appearance and hugely different in airflow character, with parts that do not interchange. Unfortunately, one thing did not change: Getting the air filter and cage into and out of the airbox remains a bit of a chore.The Renthal bar returns as standard equipment, and the bend suits most just fine. The rear wheel and swingarm are new items in the mix, and as with the frame, they contribute strength while losing weight. Otherwise, the rolling stock is typical Honda excellence, though still familiar. Showa again provides the legs, and they are beauties. Both ends have plenty of adjustmentand little reason for most riders to use much of it. The standard settings are close, and we felt no motivation to make wholesale alterations.Even with settings near stock, the '05 has bottoming resistance similar to that of the '04 but adds a dimension of plushness. Control of the entire stroke is good as Honda seems to have found a great mix of spring and damping. And keeping the wheels planted is where the CRF really excels.Perhaps the revised and opulent rider accommodations have something to do with it, but this is the best-turning CRF450R ever. It seems to allow you to get farther forward much easier than in the past. We experienced none of the vague steering traits that some thought plagued the machine in earlier forms. Honda claims the '05 is a mere 3.5 pounds lighter than the '04, but it feels as if it's much lighter whether the bike is on the ground or in the air. For a good-sized bike with ample power, the Honda is cake to jump. It's easy to judge the speed and acceleration you need, and the bike feels safe in the air. Get careless with the throttle, though, and it's just as easy to overjump! Landings are a breeze and cause no undue wear and tear on the riderespecially when overjumping. In fact, even when underjumping, for that matter.As always, the control efforts and movement are outstanding, and the same goes for material and fastener quality and the impressively thought-out design. That means the brakes, while arguably no longer the most-powerful production stoppers around, remain the best overall.Engine RoomAs far as the motor is concerned, the engineers tried but found no areas requiring real improvement, so a minor ignition timing change and a new airbox are the only engine-performance-related upgrades. But depending on which of our test crew you talk to, those changes may have been too many, and Honda may have too much of a good thing. Response is much snappier, and we would have bet that the flywheel was lighter, but it isn't. The engine builds power rapidly, and the revs climb so quickly that the bike has gobbled up one gear and is ready for another almost before you know it. Sensible riders will learn to short-shift and minimize shifts to maximize their physical energy. If you ride it revved, plan on eating lots of Wheaties or get to know Mr. Arm-Pump. We ended up riding most tracks with the bike in third gear the majority of the time. Shifting gears about four times a lap works well at most tracksthat means going into second gear twice then shifting right back to third as soon as possible.If the track is long and fast and you can safely let the major herd of horses out to play, the engine is a dream. For smaller tracks, the 450 is akin to mashing ants with a framing hammerdefinitely more power than you really need though perhaps just as much as you want.The beauty of the Honda 450 engine has always been its ability to let the rider use boost without bonkingno special energy reserves needed. That ability has allowed the rider to spend the majority of his mental and physical energy concentrating on riding. The CRF hits hard enough now that your survival instinct will demand you devote mental energy to the task of reining in the ponies hiding in the motor. But with time some riders were able to trust what appeared to be a stalling-prone, light-flywheel low-end and still get the smoothness of riding a gear high. Dare we say the CRF is becoming a little more like the YZ-F in the power-delivery department?Does any of this change our mind about where the CRF450R falls in the sport's pecking order? No way. So you may have to mind the horseswe say ride 'em, cowboy!Opinions
One of the joys of the 2002 through '04 CRF450Rs was they were so comfortable and easy to ride that they won legions of fans. Now this 2005 makes the '04 feel portly and sluggish handling. The bike is slim, light feeling and comfy, with acceleration that will get your heart pumping. Even though I am the senior editor, I doubt that title confers enough clout to get this bike to live at my house in 2005. I certainly wouldn't turn it down; my fear is the offer would merely turn out to be temporary! This is one fabulous four-stroke.
Karel Kramer/6'1"/200 lb/Novice motocrosserI'm learning when the Honda guys don't say much about a new bike, watch out! With such a significant change to the CRF450R, you'd think they would be tripping over themselves to hype the new frame. Well, they let this bike do the talking. And it didn't take but a few laps to win me over. Not instantly, but close. My first day I thought the low-end power was a bit snappy and the bike was between gears a lot. And it was a tad rigid up front. But on my second day I got used to it, started riding a gear high and had no problems pulling it, even with the light-flywheel feel. Trust that CRF motor. I found running the rear end a bit lower than normal for me made the 450 as compliant yet precise as could be. Since it feels 10 pounds lighter, it, like the 2005 Yamaha YZ250, acts 10 pounds lighter. Now I wonder what the two-stroke CRs will be like ...
Jimmy Lewis/5'10"/175 lb/Vet ProIt's hard to believe the '05 CRF450R is even better than the '04. Just looking at the bike, you can tell it means business! The first thing I noticed was how much smaller the bike feels compared with last year's; the Honda crew sent that thing to Jenny Craig. I love the new narrow feel; it was much easier for me to get the bike leaned over in tight corners, and I love the way it feels in the air. The narrower seat and tank area feel as if it were molded to my knees. I can grip even harder with my knees because the bike is not as bulky as the previous versions. I really like the newfound bottom-end power; it hits hardbut it's usable power and I rode with hardly any clutch to get the revs to come up. When the conditions turned dry and blue groove, I short-shifted a lot to keep the rear tire tracking, yet the mighty motor has a ton of torque so I was still able to seat-bounce big jumps right out of corners. Overall, the new CRF450R feels like a total works race version compared with the '04. It has more power, it handles better and the suspension is very responsive.
Corey Neuer/5'11"/165 lb/IntermediateMore 450 motocross bike tests: