2016 Honda CRF450R Review

Subtle Changes To Big Red

Honda invited us out to Pala Raceway last week to try their updated 2016 CRF450R, but we were kept to secrecy until now. This year, the 2016 model features just five minor changes—a 5mm longer fork, a revised rear suspension link, updated shock settings, new rear suspension clickers (eight clicks per rotation instead of four), and a smaller diameter chain roller. It’s not a lot, but these revisions do amount to a new twist on an already proven motorcycle. Here’s what we learned after a few test rides aboard the ’16 Honda:

Power

If you read our 2015 Honda CRF450R test then you already have a good baseline for how the 2016 performs. On the track there is not a ton of excitement coming from the engine compared to a Yamaha YZ450F or KTM 450 SX-F. The 2016 CRF450R does have very good throttle response down low but only pulls out of corners mildly compared to its competitors. Now don’t let this scare you away, as this usability makes the 2016 Honda one of the easiest bikes to ride, especially when the track is rough. The bike’s smooth roll-on power delivery with its seamless transition into the mid range makes this thumper a joy to go out and do longer motos aboard without getting completely fatigued. Mid to top end pull is where “Big Red” likes to be ridden. Yes, you will have to shift frequently but second and third gear will pull far while the rear wheel keeps maximum traction to the ground. Over-rev was good on the 2015 and the 2016 is no different; the Honda is one of the few 450s that will rev out when asked to do so by the rider. While experimenting with the Engine Select Mode button we still feel the “standard” setting is the best all around setting for traction and engine performance on the track. Most testers felt that the bottom to mid was increased when using the Engine Select Mode button on mode three (aggressive mode) but pulling power on the top end was sacrificed. We did not like the smoother map setting as it made the engine character too lazy feeling (especially on deep and loamy sections of the track). If you like a smooth power that builds RPM in a calculated manner, the Honda’s engine should be one of your top choices.

Handling

Straight-line stability still isn’t one of the Honda’s strong suits in 2016. The CRF450R still feels a little twitchy on fast straights leading into corners (especially fast, sweeping corners). Faster riders felt the front end of the bike had a nervous feeling initially right before de-cel, then the CRF450 will settle into a berm or rut nicely. But, getting to the corners is the tough part. When there is a fast/rough straight the ‘16 CRF450R is somewhat of a chore at times. We have tried 22mm offset clamps on the 2015 (from the standard 20mm offset) model and this did help settle Big Red down on fast, choppy, straights. With that in mind, the 2016 Honda is still one of the best cornering bikes out today. If the corners are slower and tighter, this is where you pick up on the machine’s light and flickable feeling. Tons of front-end traction is felt with the Honda chassis in corners, a trait that will give slightly less experienced cornering riders a boost of confidence knowing they can lay it in with ease. Pivoting and exiting corners is done on a dime and at times it will feel like you’re riding a 250F instead of a bigger sized machine. We do wish Honda would go to Dunlop MX32 tires instead of the standard MX52 for increased traction.

2016 Honda CRF450R
The CRF450R still has a narrow mid section, which makes it easier for riders to move around while riding.Photo by Chris Denison

Suspension

The KYB PSF2 fork on the 2016 Honda CRF450R is somewhat finicky to set up. The fork is harsh in the beginning and middle part of the stroke and (even though it feels soft at the end stroke) moves freely at the end. Bottoming resistance actually is the best part about the PSF2 fork but the harshness is tough to tame. In order to get added comfort out of the mid stroke of the fork when the track gets rough, we went with 35 PSI, 14 clicks out on high-speed compression (11 is stock), and a low speed rebound of 9 clicks (10 is stock). This helped make the front end feel less rigid (move more) and not deflect off of square edge. With the new linkage ratio we ran 103mm (standard is 105mm) of sag, while stiffening the high-speed compression on the shock two clicks (from 19 clicks out to 17). This balanced the CRF450R up steep jump faces and on de-cel entering corners. Yes, it does take some added work to get the suspension dialed in but what is even more frustrating is that it is not a consistent feel throughout the day. As the track changes, keeping up with the best fork setting (or feeling) is that much more important. It’s not something that most riders want to do when they are at the track, but it makes a big difference. If you just have your standard flat blade screwdriver in your tool box it will be tough to adjust the clickers on the PSF 2 fork, as the handlebar is in the way of the adjuster.

2016 Honda CRF450R
Honda added 5mm of overall length to the fork legs to try and achieve a more stable feeling at speeds.Photo by Chris Denison

Extras

The Honda’s ergonomics are still a little cramped for taller riders and the 971 7/8 bar bend is a too tall entering corners for most riders. Riders feel like they sit in the Honda versus on top of it, which makes it difficult to feel comfortable for some riders through corners, when the bar is high and sitting feels low. The 260mm front disc still adorns the 2016 CRF450R and provides great braking power. Other than that, the bike starts consistently so long as you give it a long, full stroke, the clutch is stiff and requires occasional adjusting, and shifting is precise and consistent.

2016 Honda CRF450R
Photo by Chris Denison

Into The Shootout

Given the limited revisions, it’s safe to say that Honda is not expecting to reinvent the wheel with the 2016. That said, this bike is also a proven front-runner, and while we honestly don’t anticipate it sweeping our upcoming comparison (although stranger things have happened), it’s safe to say that when the dust settles on the shootout pits, the CRF450R will be right near the top of each rider’s top list of favorites.

For 2016 Honda made a few changes to the CRF450R but the looks remain the same.Photo by Chris Denison
The rear linkage has also been updated to achieve more stability and traction out of corners.Photo by Chris Denison
Jimmy Roberts gets comfortable with the 2016 CRF450 at Pala Raceway.Photo by Chris Denison