It’s here! Honda’s 2011 CRF450R has officially landed in the states, and one of these dashing bikes is currently sitting in the Dirt Rider shop with traces of sweet loam underneath the fenders (not really, Jimmy washed it already for an accurate weigh in!) After riding the machine at Jeremy McGrath’s private ranch just north of Mexico (less than 20 miles, to be more precise), we now have a pretty good feel for how the new Honda ticks.First, let’s take a look at some of the revisions to this motorcycle: The big 450R receives a new smaller 46mm (down from 50mm) throttle body and engine tuning for 2011 in order to beef up the low-to-midrange power, and the CRF also gets a redesigned muffler for lower overall sound output. In order to refine the handling of big red, Honda revised the valving in both the fork and shock, along with adding an all-new suspension linkage and a change in piston size in the Honda Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD) for better traction and tracking. Overall, the changes are more than just BNG (Bold New Graphics), proving that the CRF450R will come out of the gate swinging in 2011.
The track that we played on at MC’s ranch was a long, flat route consisting of big berms, deep loam and a few poppy jumps. Despite the absence of any elevation changes, it was clear from riding on the course that the CRF450R is, once again, a very fast motorcycle. Compared to 2010 the power spread seems to be a bit more linear (less “steppy”), as a third gear roll-on confirms that the bike once again pulls strongly and smoothly throughout the RPM range. The hit of the power can still be considered aggressive, leading into a low-to-mid-range curve that grabs tons of traction or spins right up depending on your wrist during acceleration. In a straight line, the hook-up of this motorcycle is insane; you nearly have to sit on the gas cap to keep the front end from coming up. Even our fastest, formal National Pro test rider complained of the bike almost getting away from him out of turns! Up top, the big bike continues to pull hard and aggressively, traits more reminiscent of a dialed-in race bike than a stock MXer. Depending on your weight and riding style, you’ll either a) love this or b) feel like you’re sitting atop a rocket. We felt a little bit of both!
The handling and overall character of the Honda feels a little smoother than last year. For one thing, the bike doesn’t feel as rear-end high, likely a result of the revised linkage ratio and modified subframe. The shock stroke still feels quite long (and progressive), and lighter riders will find that they don’t come anywhere close to using the entirety of the stroke. The fork on the Honda has great initial feel and good bottoming resistance for most, though our faster test riders opted for more compression in order to better support the front end of the bike and hold it up a little better for added stability going into turns. The Honda will corner like it’s on rails in wider turns and when you really set up, but when entering sharp corners the bike can be difficult to turn cleanly and smoothly, the turning can have an aggressive feel. We felt as though we had better luck sweeping the corners, making the arc bigger and the corner easier to get around, as opposed to our modified 2010 model where the rider could just dive into the sharp inside and pretty effortlessly make a nice, smooth transition to the next corner. A lot of this could have also been the difference between an 80/100 front Dunlop 742FA on the stock 2011 and the 90/100 MX51 we had on out last year’s bike, and the fluffy-on-top-of-hard dirt. Still, the Honda leans well and settles sufficiently in most turns to allow the tires to hook up and go. And it also shows how small changes make a big difference on today’s modern MX machines.Everything else on the CRF450R is what we’ve come to expect from Honda: Comfortable ergos, decent brakes, a great clutch and absolutely fantastic shifting. We know from previous experience that this bike is tougher than a $2 steak, but that won’t stop us from keeping the motorcycle fairly fresh for our upcoming 2011 450F Motocross Shootout. In the meantime, we’ll put more time on the Honda and continue to learn about it for a full test in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rider.
As always, if you have a specific question about the bike please comment below and we will do our best to get back to you!