There’s no denying that the Honda CRF450R is one of the most popular MX four-strokes ever produced. It seems that everyone and their grandma either owns or has owned a Honda thumper, and the outright durability, performance and race results earned by the big machine have helped keep it on the map since the bike’s introduction.
For 2012, Honda continued to refine the CRF450R with a handful of changes that push the performance of their flagship MXer even higher. The main revision is stiffer fork springs and new axel collars that were designed to improve the balance of the bike through greater fork action, and also to decrease some of the diving that was felt on the ’11. Compounding this increased balance and character is a new rear linkage assembly and shock valving that allows the bike to be pushed even harder at high speeds. An improved chain roller promotes free suspension movement, while a fresh footpeg design eliminates mud buildup and provides a slightly wider platform. Finally, Honda opted to go with Dunlop MX51 tires front and rear for increased out-of-the-box traction and longer tire life.
In the past, test riders have had mixed initial reactions to prior year Honda 450s as it’s taken some tuning and tweaking to dial in the bike right away. Not so in 2012; at the bike’s introduction at Racetown 305 in Adelanto, California, each of the Dirt Rider test riders that hopped aboard the bike was immediately comfortable on the CRF. Probably the main trait that eases new riders aboard is the bike’s ability to corner, as the light-feeling chassis really gets down into the stroke and settles well in turns. The MX51 front tire likely plays a large role in the Honda’s turning prowess, and the suspension updates certainly didn’t hurt performance in ruts, off-cambers and flat turns. Settled into turns is easy and doesn’t require excessive setup, and you can carry quite a bit of momentum into both tight insides and sweeping outsides without losing your line or breaking traction.
You could certainly describe the CRF450R as planted, since the stability of the bike is class leading. Feedback through the pegs is minimal and the bike stays straight through chop, although some unwanted rigidity could be felt through the handlebar over square-edged bumps. Riders who tend to steer bikes with the front end will love the character of the CRF, while those who prefer a lower back end may find the bike more agreeable with the linkage updates. Big hits are not a problem for the 450R, although our fastest test rider was craving more bottoming resistance out of the shock at higher speeds.
The power on the CRF450R is not explosive, but smooth and easy to roll on. In stock form the motor may feel a little vanilla to power-hungry riders, as there isn’t any single portion of the powerband that will knock your socks off. That’s not to say that the bike isn’t fast-it has plenty of power for 99% of riders out there-but the smooth and easy-to-ride feel of the motor could be perceived as slow to those wanting more violence and hit. There is good off-idle snap and the acceleration is consistent, though we did feel that the bike was in-between gears in spots on the track, which may have contributed to the relatively mellow character that some riders described. This wasn’t a major issue as shifting on the Honda is once again buttery smooth, and the clutch is as easy to operate as ever. In fact, all of the controls on the Honda are dialed in and smooth, and the ergonomics are familiar and comfortable. Leaning, switching lines, turning and whipping in the air all come naturally to this motorcycle. Braking is also excellent.
Without a doubt, Honda had a difficult task ahead of them when they set out to create a motocross 450 that would please everyone. From what we’ve seen so far we’d say that they did a pretty good job, as the performance potential of the motor and the smooth, consistent handling of the chassis combine to create a package that everyone can enjoy. Even current AMA National legend Chad Reed hopped on our bike and came away with a huge grin on his face! We’ll continue to test the CRF450R at a variety of tracks and will have a full first test out soon in the pages of Dirt Rider magazine. Stay tuned!