Best Motocross Bike 5th Place—2020 Honda CRF450R

The fastest and sharpest-turning 450 motocross bike in 2020.

The 2020 Honda CRF450R is in its fourth year of the latest generation production cycle. Since it was fully revamped back in 2017, it has been praised for having an incredibly powerful engine, a performance-oriented suspension setup, and being one of the nimblest-handling bikes in the class. Honda has improved its flagship motocrosser from year to year, but so has the competition, and the 450 motocross bike segment has tightened up to where the distance between the bikes is closer than ever. While the CRF450R has many of the same great qualities as it had in years past, it lacks in some areas where other manufacturers have improved their bikes to create a more well-rounded package. The Honda CRF450R is still a very good motorcycle in 2020, but having just a few areas to improve upon are enough to put a bike back in the rankings in this very competitive class.

2020 Honda CRF450R Engine

The Honda engine is super responsive. It has tons of power! When coming out of corners and twisting the throttle, the bike does not stop pulling from bottom to top.
"The Honda engine is super responsive. It has tons of power! When coming out of corners and twisting the throttle, the bike does not stop pulling from bottom to top." —Tanner BassoJeff Allen

Before we hit the track, we mounted a Dunlop D404 street tire on the rear wheel of Big Red and ran it on our in-house Dynojet dynamometer. The 2020 Honda CRF450R is the best motocross bike in terms of peak horsepower, as it churns out the most in the class at 53.3 hp at 9,800 rpm, just 0.1 hp more than the KTM. As far as peak torque, it ranks fifth with 32.2 pound-feet at 6,900 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.

The Honda has the most aggressive and freest revving engine of all six bikes. It comes on strong and fast, and never lets up. Throttle response is immediate, and it’s so powerful that it can be difficult to control from zero to one-third throttle opening. Thankfully, the handlebar-mounted engine mode select button with three preprogrammed maps and the new-for-2020 Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) with three levels of intervention is helpful in changing the power delivery slightly and taming how hard it hits. The CRF has the least amount of engine-braking of the six bikes in the test as well.

The CRF450R spins 53.3 hp at 9,800 rpm and 32.2 pound-feet of torque at 6,900 rpm.
The CRF450R spins 53.3 hp at 9,800 rpm and 32.2 pound-feet of torque at 6,900 rpm.Robert Martin

Riding a gear high everywhere can help make the Honda’s fire-breathing engine more manageable, but if you’re not careful, it is easy to stay in the same gear and stall it. Because of this, excessive clutch use is required, which can cause it to fade. The clutch pull is also the second hardest, just slightly lighter than the Suzuki. The CRF450R’s incredibly powerful engine comes at the cost of a lot of noise as it’s definitely the loudest bike in the shootout. Some test riders commented that they would consider wearing earplugs if they rode the CRF regularly.

2020 Honda CRF450R Suspension

It’s hard to believe the CRF, KX, and RM-Z utilize the same Showa 49mm coil-spring fork design. They all perform very differently with the stock valving.
"It's hard to believe the CRF, KX, and RM-Z utilize the same Showa 49mm coil-spring fork design. They all perform very differently with the stock valving." —Casey CasperJeff Allen

It should come as no surprise that a bike with such an aggressive engine has performance-oriented suspension components to match. The Honda’s Showa 49mm coil-spring fork and Showa shock lean far in the direction of performance and are very difficult to set up. The bike’s pitching sensation is excessive, and both ends are soft and very sensitive to adjustments as one click in either direction makes a big difference. Stiffening the compression and rebound on the fork helps hold it higher in the stroke and gives it a plusher feel, especially in braking bumps. The shock has more of a comfort-oriented feel than the fork and requires less changes to dial in. Bump absorption on acceleration is reasonable but could be improved.

2020 Honda CRF450R Chassis/Handling

Without weighing the bikes or having to lift them onto a stand, I would assume the Honda is the lightest bike in the test. It’s super nimble and corners remarkably well, but it can be quick to shake its head in faster, rough areas of the track.
"Without weighing the bikes or having to lift them onto a stand, I would assume the Honda is the lightest bike in the test. It's super nimble and corners remarkably well, but it can be quick to shake its head in faster, rough areas of the track." —Andrew OldarJeff Allen

Despite being the second-heaviest on the scale, the Honda is easily the lightest feeling and nimblest motorcycle in the shootout. The chassis is on the stiff side and doesn’t offer as much comfort as the Kawasaki or Yamaha. However, its rigidity gives the bike a precise feel and very playful handling characteristics. It’s the easiest to change direction on and the sharpest turning as well. However, stability is compromised as a result, especially on fast, rough portions of the track. It also has a noticeable stinkbug stance.

The Honda’s chassis is a bit of a double-edged sword. When the track conditions are right, such as during the morning when the track is watered and perfectly groomed, the CRF can be the most fun bike to ride. However, when the track goes away and conditions deteriorate, you have to be careful as the Honda will become a handful. Big Red’s ergonomics are the best in the class in terms of comfort and neutrality; its only downside in this area is that the radiator shrouds and midsection are not as narrow as the Kawasaki. A sit-on feeling and flat seat make it easy to move forward and back on as well.

The CRF450R is in its fourth year of the latest generation production cycle in 2020. The Honda weighs 250 pounds, making it the second-heaviest bike in the shootout.
Left: The CRF450R is in its fourth year of the latest generation production cycle in 2020. Right: The Honda weighs 250 pounds, making it the second-heaviest bike in the shootout.Jeff Allen

Why The 2020 Honda CRF450R Should Have Won

It has the fastest engine, the quickest and nimblest handling, the best cornering ability when track conditions are good, and excellent ergonomics that make it easy to hop on and get used to quickly.

Why The 2020 Honda CRF450R Didn't Win

It has a rigid chassis that lacks comfort and straight-line stability, which contributes to it being the most difficult bike to ride when the track gets rough.

Gearbox

The 2020 Honda CRF450R is the fastest bike in its class.
The 2020 Honda CRF450R is the fastest bike in its class.Jeff Allen