Since 2005 Honda has been satisfied with making very few changes to the 450X. Last year, the 250X got some updates and this year is the 450X’s turn. The big news is, of course, the addition of the steering damper and the resultant changes that come with it. In an effort to improve the comparatively heavy steering feel of the bike, the front wheel is pulled back 4mm via a combination of a new fork lower (2mm) and a 2mm-reduction in triple-clamp offset. The headlight changed to adapt for the damper and the odometer was relocated. There was a small alteration to the frame downtube’s rigidity to allow the bike to flex differently as well.Although the rest of the refinements may not seem stellar, they’re significant and addressed areas riders had made noise over. The fuel tank gets narrower (and loses capacity, down to 1.9 gallons) as well as gets a new internal coating so that fuel vapors cannot permeate through the plastic. The muffler no longer has a removable tip, a good move to prevent riders from making more noise and less power with the spin of a screw. Carburetion is changed, now slightly richer in main jet and needle, and the mechanism for the pump squirt in the carb is upgraded to the same system the CRF-Rs are running. New brake rotors are lighter and the front tire is now the Dunlop 742 FA, one less thing you’ll be looking to switch right away. Tucked away inside the engine, the decompression system is lighter.Although the CRF-X looks and feels meaty next to a CRF-R, anyone familiar with the older version will notice the seat and tank being slimmer right away. It’s very motocross in size and shape, though the frame rails are in exactly the same place. The bike seems jetted just a little richer and isn’t as cold-blooded. It has a very familiar CRF sound at idle with really good throttle response. And right away you notice all the stuff they did to the front end. The bike has a much lighter and looser feel through the bar. You can believe the hype associated with the damper; it has allowed Honda to get more aggressive with the steering, on this bike a whole 4mm more, which is a huge change. All this stuff hit us right away. Then we started racking up the hours on the 450X.The motor is pretty aggressive for an off-road bike, especially an emissions-compliant bike. The CRF-X has plenty of snap and a strong tug right from the first crack of the throttle. For aggressive riding out in the open or on faster tracks there’s never a concern. The power keeps building and it pulls long and hard with just a little sign-off in power near the top. About the only reason we even notice this is from riding full-on MX 450s that just don’t taper. And unless you’re riding in the desert or on dirt roads, you won’t be using this part of the powerband much.Conversely, if you get the CRF in extremely technical terrain, especially places where traction is limited, this initial snap can be a bit much. It has plenty to spin the tire and often needs clutch input to tone it down and get the bike going forward as opposed to spinning. It’s a tradeoff Honda seemed willing to make as a lot of riders prefer this assertive nature in a bike. It’s the kind of power that easily lifts the front wheel when the traction is good and yanks on your arms to let you feel how much power your bike has. Getting that snap to jump bumps, hop over logs and shoot roost is easy and a clutchless affair, with 78 decent traction. When you have to use the clutch, the CRF is extremely consistent, resists fading as well as anything with cable actuation and has an average pull.
Shifting is flawless and the gear spacing spoton. This is one of the areas that really separates the X from the R. First is usable down to a crawl without too much need for clutch to go seriously slow. From first on up the gaps in the spacing are never an issue, always a good jump up in speed to drop the rpm back into the sweet spot. Fifth is plenty fast for most off-road riding, but riders who like a sixth speed for dirt road work hate revving the CRF up so high in fifth to go 60-70 mph.Like we mentioned before, the chassis gets a big reduction in weight feel, especially through the bar compared to former CRF-Xs as well as in comparison to its classmates. The differences are in the lesser amount of force a rider must use to get the bar turning and in how little effort it takes to start the bike leaning into a turn. This feeling also carries to the side-to-side transition in backto- back turns, but it isn’t as impressive here as the feeling through the bar. The front wheel also has more bite on the ground, and on our bike the front tire actually seemed to wear quicker than in the past. Good thing the tire got an upgrade.If there’s limited traction, some riders thought the bike was pushing or tucking the front end. Getting aggressive up front has taken away the laziness and requires a little more attention from the rider. And the damper is doing a lot of the work for you. Most riders don’t really feel it like they’d expect, a condition current aftermarket decent traction. When you have to use the clutch, steering dampers have conditioned us to. There’s very little, if any, feeling you get that would make you say, “That’s the damper.” But somehow it calms the steering so the bike isn’t twitchy, and we never endured any headshake. In fact, almost all of our riders ran the steering damper at full stiff, or very near it, prompting us to think that Honda was pretty conservative on its setting. Yes, even in tight and technical lock-to-lock trees.The suspension was another area that saw improvement yet at the same time took on another feel we weren’t so stoked on. When bikes get a lighter feel, they often get a little bit stiffer feeling on the front end. This is what happened to the CRF. The fork was valved lighter for better performance in Eastern conditions. It definitely acts like it’s softer. Now the bike will blow into and through the stroke like an off-road bike should. At the same time it’s sprung stiff enough to hold the bike up in the stroke and keep it plush. Whether the spring is just a little too stiff or the new tire, which is stiffer, aids in transmitting this feel, a lot of our riders felt the front end was transmitting more of the trail even though the bike was absorbing the bumps just fi ne. We cured the bottoming by adding a few cc of oil to each leg, and adding a little compression to the fork actually made the ride somewhat plusher, too, yet the bike doesn’t display any of that “dead plush” feel of the past, something that felt better yet worked terribly in eastern conditions. The rear end felt as dialed as always, doing it all pretty well.We’re pretty sure the performance on either end of the scale can be criticized, like small bump steering dampers have conditioned us to. There’s compliance in roots and rocks or the ability of the bike to handle jumps and high-speed whoops. But for the regular junk you’d come across on a trail ride and in races like a GNCC, the bike will get the job done, and much better than the old CRF-X. The range of adjustment should suit most riders, and the high-speed compression on the shock really aids this.
And, yes, you do notice the tank. Both when you flip over to reserve a lot earlier than before and in how easy it is to move forward on the seat. We’d tell our buddies never to race past 40 miles on the tank or trust it past 55 in trail-riding. It is roughly a 7-10 mile reduction in range by our estimates. Some of the other points we noticed were the brakes seeming a bit stronger than in the past, most likely due to the lighter now wave-type rotors. The headlight will get you in after dark, but you’ll bitch about the blind spot the front fender creates due to the low-slung light position. A big plus with this bike is the fact that you can take it out and ride it box-stock without any funky tuning to make it run just as described here. It’s super-quiet, which is the way all off-road bikes need to be, and with its lean jetting compared to an R, the bike actually runs great from sea level to 8000 feet.This is a big-changes year for the CRF450X and in reality probably the way the bike will stay for at least the next three years. Big Red did a good job in addressing weaknesses that the bike had in the past and pointed it in the direction the company felt it needed to go in the future. If you like an aggressive ride for off-road use, Honda has built this CRF450X for you.Specifications
Weight (ready to ride, no gas): 259 lb
Seat height: 37.4 in.
Footpeg height 16.4 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 21.0 in.
Ground clearance: 13.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 1.9 gal.What’s Hot!
Lighter feel from the biggest X
A steering damper to tune the front end feel
MX-like attitude in an off-road bikeWhat’s Not!
True trail hounds will be forced into an aftermarket tank
Some riders felt the front end’s steering was too aggressive
A little stiffer on the steering damper, please, us off-road guys can handle it
I was surprised to see the CRF450X receive so many updates this year. Staying in step with the brand’s top motocross machines shows how serious Honda is about the off-road crowd. And it’s not like this thing was a bad bike to begin with.First, and most obvious, are the steering damper and offset clamps. Similar in character to the MX bikes, the turning was quick for me on the big X. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as I feel the faster turning is a complement to the bike in the tight stuff and while flowing on that peg-dancing single-track. The bike doesn’t knife in, and the only time you feel the damper is when the bar is about to hit the steering stop. It seems to come into play only when I need it. I was happy with the damper addition on the X, way more so than on the motocross bikes. In general, the Honda feels lighter and easier handling when compared to other bikes in this class.Something I’m always confident in is horsepower, and this bike is plenty fast. The motor is peppy, with a pickup off the bottom that is on the edge of snappy. If you like that megapower feeling, the Honda thumper gives plenty. For those of you more refined in the world of traction, you’ll be using the clutch. Hey, clutches are cheap, right? And Honda clutches usually take a beating pretty well. In general, you can’t not love the way a Honda feels. From the ground clearance to the places your knees touch, the bike just fits.Complementing the agility is a new narrower gas tank which, unfortunately, loses some capacity. Do I want my bike to be slim or able to go the distance? That’s a tough question depending on who I’m riding with and where we’re trying to go. Honda’s betting you want a skinny bike for shorter, faster jaunts. But the X has a headlight so Big Red must want you to ride for at least 10 hours, right? I’m confused.
The only place the bike didn’t overly impress compared to last year was in the suspension. Box-stock it’s way soft up front, even for the occasional medium-size whoop or rolling bump. Adding oil to the legs took care of the bottoming but the front continued to transmit too many bumps to my hands. I’m sure this is a clicker setting away from ideal. The shock wasn’t as bad, but dialing in a little front and rear will keep you happier longer. And that’s what riding is all about. It’s another great year to ride off-road. The advanced CRF450X is proof of that.-Jesse Ziegler/5’10″/175 lb/B riderWhen I rode the new CRF450, I was very impressed with the stable feel right off the bat. Rocks and roots were easily ridden over or around with minimal effort once we’d tuned the suspension settings from stock. The balance from front to rear was really good. When I decided to adjust the steering stabilizer from the max compression setting back to (stock) seven clicks out, I had a totally different bike under me. Still a good bike but not as stable, now busy feeling up front. The motor is powerful-lots of fun to ride on most trails, but when the trail gets really tight and technical it has too much hit off idle. The smooth clutch release isn’t enough to keep the front wheel on the ground or the rear wheel from sliding off a goat trail. But again this is only in extreme conditions. I would be happy with one of these Hondas in my arsenal. -Dave “Rig” Donatoni/5’8″/155 lb/A RiderHondas feel amazing to me on a track, but the brand’s CRF450X has never felt as great as the CRF450R. Now the X does feel as slim and precise as the R, but it also has the same size tank as the motocross bike. A serious off-road bike with a tank under two gallons? The ’08 is a decidedly different animal that is slimmer overall with very agreeable suspension. It has a lighter feel as well, but I want more fuel capacity, and that will add weight up high. I’m bumfuzzled with the riding position. It doesn’t bother me a bit on the track, but I feel cramped on the trail. I know that I can personalize the ergos, and for the first time the bike is so good it would motivate me to do the work.-Karel Kramer/6’1″/210 lb/B rider