2017 Honda CRF450R
The 2017 Honda CRF450R breaking through the fog at Monster Mountain MX in Alabama.Photo by Preston Jordan

It’s finally here! The 2017 Honda CRF450R! Well…. Sort of… It’s here for us to tell you what it’s like to ride, but all of you will have to wait until November until you can see or buy the red machine in your dealers. The all-new 17 CRF450R was a bit delayed due to the Kumamoto earthquake that hit Japan in April, which delayed the production process of the motorcycle. Consumers and message boards have been chomping at the bit for some real world testing information and finally we have a full day under our belts to let you in on one of the most anticipated motocross machines in quite sometime. Honda flew us to Monster Mountain MX in Alabama to let us rip up some sticky clay and give the “Absolute Holeshot” pitched machine a try.

The 2017 Honda CRF450R has an all-new engine package that still incorporates the Uni Cam design, but now has a new downdraft intake layout to improve air charging efficiency, a new combustion chamber with a higher compression piston, decreased valve angle, use of a finger rocker arm to get increased valve lift, updated coils on valve springs have oval cross-sections to try and achieve a lower engine temperature, a new port layout with straighter airflow for increased efficiency, DLC on piston pin and rocker arm to combat friction, a more compact dual muffler design with more gradual pipe bends for a smoother exhaust flow, a shallower clutch assembly with fewer, thicker plates for narrower engine width, and an electric start is available as an accessory (and the kickstarter can remain in place as well).

2017 Honda CRF450R
The dual muffler design on the 2017 CRF450R is a more compact design and has a smoother transition from the headpipe back.Photo by Preston Jordan

The Chassis/Suspension updates include a new layout that is aimed at improved traction through concentration of mass and a lower center of gravity, a new lighter sixth-generation aluminum twin-spar frame with revised geometry to try and achieve improved cornering performance through reduction of torsional stiffness (lateral stiffness is unchanged), new lighter swingarm assembly with increased vertical and lateral stiffness, new rear-suspension location lowers center of gravity, narrower cross section (down 30mm at radiator shrouds), aluminum rear subframe with extruded gussets for lighter weight, Showa fork is now 49mm (up 1mm), with coil springs replacing KYB PSF2 air system, a new lighter titanium fuel tank, a kill switch/ignition-map-adjustment switch combined into one unit for reduced weight, Dunlop Geomax MX3S tires, plastic bodywork with smoother layout, in mold graphics for durability and a new front fender shape that allows a more-efficient air path to radiators.

2017 Honda CRF450R
Yes, that is a titanium fuel tank hiding under that plastic cover.Photo by Preston Jordan
2017 Honda CRF450R
The map switch and kill button are integrated into one design to take up less space on the handlebar.Photo by Preston Jordan

So now that you have all the technical details out of the way, lets get to the meat of this article and what you all want to know. How does it ride on the track?! Since we have more than enough time on a 2016 CRF450R (and one was available to ride at the introduction) we can give you some comparisons between the two.

2017 Honda CRF450R
In mold graphics and textured surface are part of the new longer 2017 shroud design.Photo by Preston Jordan

Engine Performance:

After riding the 2017 Honda CRF450R we noticed one thing is for certain. There is nothing similar between the last year’s Honda model and this year. If you own a current Honda you will be greeted by another engine character that you haven’t been accustomed to. The 2017 Honda has more torque and throttle response out of corners. Last year’s model lacked the pulling power to match up with some of the other 450’s (like the Yamaha and KTM), but the 2017 Honda has that excitement (similar to the Yamaha) down low and pulling power that is better than last year’s Honda model. Is it better than the Yamaha or KTM down low? We didn’t have either of those to compare back to back, but we can tell you we feel it will be closer than in year’s past. Mid range the Honda pulls extremely well and is a very third gear friendly (through corners) machine. Top end is lengthened from last year’s model and over-rev is stretched out as well. From corner to corner the 2017 CRF450R pulls each gear longer than the 2016 as well as runs cleaner. The FI tuning is crisper with zero de-cel pop. With the 2016 CRF450R we could get it to pop once the throttle is closed (from wide open), but we couldn’t get the new Honda to pop or sputter at all. However, the 2017 is a little finicky at times to when starting. Sometimes it fired up first kick other times it took four to five kicks. Although the 2016 didn’t run as clean on the track it did start sooner than the 2017. The overall feel of the engine is that it has more pulling power and an exciting free feeling character, better RPM response, and minimal engine braking.

2017 Honda CRF450R
The overall engine character has dramatically changed for 2017. A harder hit, longer pulling power and a cleaner running FI setting makes this a very fun CRF450R to rip around the track.Photo by Preston Jordan
2017 Honda CRF450R
A Showa coil spring 49mm fork graces the Honda. The fork’s action is much improved and more consistent over long motos.Photo by Preston Jordan

Suspension:

To say we are happy that Honda went back to a coil spring fork would be an understatement. The Showa 49mm front fork had soft like feel to it around the jumpy Monster Mountain track, but wasn’t mushy on bigger hits. The front fork moves in the stroke freely and still has great damping feeling through the mid stroke. The end stroke is soft, but doesn’t ever bottom violently. We stiffened the compression up only two clicks and this helped tremendously. Each fork click on this fork makes a difference, so when you make changes you will want to make a change one click at a time. We also slowed the rebound damping one click to help the front end hold up a little more when coming hard into corners. The great news is that there is plenty of front wheel traction and comfort with the Honda’s front end. Last year’s machine struggles with doing this a lot. The rear of the bike feels similar to the front as it has great squatting ability coming out of corners, but was on the soft side on hard high-speed hits. We stiffened the high speed compression a quarter turn and this helped hold the rear up in the stroke coming into jump faces and g-out transitions. Both ends of the machine interact well with each other and felt balanced when out on the track. The track didn’t get too rough on this day, but it was rough enough for us to tell that a spring fork is more consistent and gives the whole bike a more consistent feel. The action of the suspension (along with the chassis) was the most noticeable improvements that Honda made to their 450.

Chassis:

Can the 2017 Honda still corner like a 2016 Honda? Yes, it can. Straight-line stability has improved dramatically as the new CRF450R is not as twitchy coming into corners. The whole feel of the chassis is very solid, but remains stuck to the ground much better than the 2016 without a harsh feeling on bump absorption. The 2016 rigid feeling front head tube area is gone and the front end doesn’t feel so close to you compared to last year’s model. When riding the 2016 the front tire seems to be very close to you and tucked in, while the 2017 front-end sensation feels a bit more stretched out. In corners it still has that same front end turning sensation and lays into corners as good as the 2016. The 2017 CRF450R gets you into corners cleaner without a harsh deflection that the 2016 sometimes gave on de-cel. Side to side movement (or flop) feels similar to the 2016, which keeps the Honda very flickable.

2017 Honda CRF450R
The 2017 Honda 450 feels narrower when riding on the track. While sitting on the bike it feels like you sit “on top” more than “in”.Photo by Preston Jordan

Ergos:

On the 2017 you feel like you are riding more on top of the machine versus inside of it. I am a taller guy (around 6’0) and the transition from sitting to standing takes less effort and movement than the 16 version. The shroud area can take a little getting used to as the shrouds are longer, but will not hang up on your boots as you dive into deep ruts like the 16 can. The old 971 7/8 Renthal bar bend is dated. We feel a little lower bend of a bar would help make the front end feel not as high and help with cornering.

Honda hasn’t been setting the shootouts on fire with their past generation CRF450R for quite sometime. With this newfound engine torque, improved handling, and better ergos this red machine will be in the mix, when it comes time to go head to head with the others in the Dirt Rider 2017 450 MX Shootout. We wish we could of got electric start this year and not have to kick, but at least Honda is offering an E-Start kit accessory kit that will be available at your local dealer. Dealers should start seeing the new Honda CRF450R’s in early November. In the meantime we are going to get this thing back home and get it ready for our Shootout coming next month! Stay tuned to see how it stacks up against the other colors!

2017 Honda CRF450R
Flickability is still very noticeable on the 2017 CRF450RPhoto by Preston Jordan
2017 Honda CRF450R
Rear wheel traction is still very high with the increased torque the engine character has.Photo by Preston Jordan
2017 Honda CRF450R
2017 Honda CRF450RPhoto by Preston Jordan
2017 Honda CRF450R
Test Editor Kris Keefer shredding some Monster Mountain sand and trying the new Honda’s cornering character.Photo by Preston Jordan