The Honda CRF450R has consistently been a front-runner in Dirt Rider’s 450 MX Shootout since its radical redesign in 2017. It nearly won that year, but finished runner-up due to soft fork and shock settings. Honda made some calculated changes to the bike in 2018 that paid off as the CRF450R emerged as the 2018 450 MX Shootout winner. This year, it returns with even more updates including several changes to the engine, suspension, and chassis, making it the best CRF450R we’ve ridden yet. But another bike in the class has been significantly updated and was able to edge the Honda out for the top spot. Regardless, the 2019 Honda CRF450R is an aggressive racing motorcycle right out of the crate that can be competitive in in stock trim. For those reasons, it finished at or near the top of each of our test rider’s personal rankings.
Video By: Bert Beltran
For 2019, Honda gave the CRF450R’s Unicam powerplant a new cylinder head, revised clutch lifter and pressure plates, an updated scavenge pump design, a new piston oil jet, HRC launch control, and updated engine mode select options. It also has a new shift sensor, a different exhaust with a larger pipe diameter plus revised design at the branching location. The kickstarter assembly has also been removed from the side case of the engine.
The 2019 Honda CRF450R makes the most horsepower and torque on the dyno of all six 450 motocross bikes in this shootout. We mounted a Dunlop D404 street tire on the rear wheel and ran the CRF on our in-house Dynojet dynamometer. The Honda cranked out 53.75 hp at 9,760 rpm and 33.24 pound-feet of torque at 7,390 rpm. After the dyno pulls were complete, we fitted Dunlop MX33 soft-to-intermediate-terrain tires, as we did on all of the bikes to ensure consistency in traction among them for the entirety of the test.
On the track, the Honda engine is aggressive and exciting. It has the lightest-feeling engine character, almost two-stroke-like in how quickly it revs, making it fun and playful. It’s more manageable and easier to ride than the 2017 and 2018 models thanks to a smoother bottom-end to midrange transition. It works best when ridden in the higher rpm as the top-end and over-rev allow the bike to carry a gear for a long time.
The CRF450R comes with a handlebar-mounted engine mode select button that has three preprogrammed maps—map 1 (standard), map 2 (smooth), and map 3 (aggressive). Map 1 has a good hit and a “hook” in the powerband. Map 2 smooths out the hit and doesn’t rev as quickly, making it ideal for when the track dries out and traction is at a minimum. Map 3 has more bottom-end, which makes the engine easier to lug. The cable-actuated clutch works well, and the CRF450R shifts the smoothest of all six bikes. It’s also the loudest in the shootout due to the short dual mufflers and large airbox openings. It’s a small price to pay for all that power.
Honda has continually updated the CRF450R suspension since 2017 in an effort to match the chassis. This year, both the Showa 49mm coil-spring fork and Showa shock received updated settings, and the fork gets new, lower-friction oil.
Both the fork and shock are now plusher in the initial part of the stroke, which helps the 2019 machine absorb braking bumps better, especially at lower speeds. As the suspension travels farther down in the stroke, the stiffness ramps up quickly, which gives it a performance feel. The harder you push, the better it works. The CRF450R has a noticeable high rear end stance, which we combated with more shock sag, preferably 108mm or 109mm, to balance out the bike.
The CRF450R chassis has been significantly changed for 2019. The lower frame spars have been updated, the swingarm is new, and the top triple clamp now has two clamp locations that allow the new, black Renthal Fatbar handlebar to be adjusted by 26mm. Also, the front brake caliper is lighter and uses a pair of 30mm and 27mm pistons, the footpegs have a different shape and are 20 percent lighter, the fork guards are new, and the bike now comes with black rims.
The CRF450R weighs in at 250 pounds on our automotive scales, making it and the Suzuki RM-Z450 the two heaviest bikes in the class. However, the Honda is the lightest-feeling, quickest-turning, and nimblest bike in the shootout. It excels at technical courses filled with turns, as it corners on a dime. The chassis is very sensitive to changes, and a 1mm difference in fork height or sag is very noticeable. It’s also a bit on the rigid side and is the most sensitive to rider input. But both of those qualities come at the cost of stability. We experienced some head shake, especially when the track got rough.
The updated frame and new swingarm help improve on the already-abundant amount of rear-wheel traction the bike has, but the front end can be vague at times. In the past two years, the Honda has performed incredibly well when the track is smooth and the dirt is good, but the chassis could be a bit of a handful when the track got rough and dried out. The 2019 model performs better in rougher conditions than it ever has before. The Renthal Fatbar is positioned 15mm lower than the previous year model and has a more agreeable bend.
Why It Should Have Won
It has an engine that makes the most horsepower and torque, suspension that rewards aggressive riding, a razor-sharp chassis, and ergonomics that are very agreeable and comfortable.
Why It Didn’t Win
It can be difficult to ride when the track becomes rough due to its rigid chassis and instantaneous throttle response. It is also occasionally unsettled and unpredictable in rough terrain.