**. Andrew Short's CRF450R
. Robbie Maddison's YZ250
. Destry Abbott's KXF450
****A Short Ride**
What I Learned From A Day On A Factory Honda-$100,000 A Second
I will guarantee you that having access to a factory Honda outdoor motocross bike would have a placebo effect on you just by sitting on the bike. You'd feel faster, too, and start looking down upon your riding buddies. But as much as the machine represents the pinnacle of race hardware, it isn't much without the people and testing that come with it. That's right! The best bike in the world may not be much of anything to you without a lot of hard work.Dirt Rider got a firsthand view of what makes a race machine a factory bike. I finagled a ride day at a factory Honda motocross test day for Davi Millsaps, and it just so happened that Andrew Short's test bike was sitting idle. So not only did I get to watch what goes on, but I got to sample some of the process.This test day was in the middle of the supercross season where the team was doing preliminary testing to determine race setups each rider will use for the outdoors. See, a factory bike is sort of like a stock bike in the beginning, only available with a lot of different "upgrades." The team builds up a bike with all the different parts-a stock factory bike, if you will-then proceeds to test a plethora of different settings and variations with the rider to see which direction they will be heading. It is necessary to get the bike working the best it can for each individual rider. This step is very important for inventory control. Since the technicians know exactly how long each part of the bike will survive under the highest demands, they can be sure-after testing-to have enough of the parts on hand. And if one rider has a particular setup that requires a certain recipe of special parts, then they will know early so they can be produced in quantity.On the day I was visiting, the Honda team was swapping out onesies and twosies of the special stuff like it was Christmas. Everything from cams that produced different power deliveries to multiple swingarms with altered gusseting; they even changed the bearings and races in the headset to alter the steering geometry. Along with that were different suspension settings to test, different tire combinations and different gearing as well. All this was after test riders like Jeremy McGrath had earlier ruled out even more setups as not working. So you can get an idea of the depths this team will go to make a factory rider happy. And whenever I hear a rider who is not happy with his bike setup, I tend to blame the rider, especially at this level where you can have almost anything, within reason.Now there was a lot of stuff I saw that is hush-hush to Honda's way of doing things, and I'll bet every manufacturer and team has specifics that they'd like to keep under wraps-that's all part of staying on top of the game. My ability to keep my mouth shut affords me rides and visits like these. There is nothing that constitutes cheating or above the high-level thinking that the technicians on any team might be doing, but any advantage that teams have, well, they like to keep in their pockets. I'll tell you one thing: It took just one lap on Short's test bike to feel what I was just talking about, and that I can describe.The factory bike is beyond new. It is perfectly broken in; not overly tight or stiff feeling like a new bike can be but just used enough to be in the zone. There is no slop in the levers or footpegs, the chain and transmission are perfect. There isn't an ounce of unwanted vibration rattling from anything loose, and the tires are never more than a moto old. That is what comes with the team being on top of every detail and looking after every nut and bolt. Same thing goes for the stopwatch that documents exactly how long the bike has been running; it lives by a clock.The first thing I noticed about the bike was that the suspension was stiff. Duh, what did I expect? It isn't harsh at all, just stiff. Then I noticed the brakes: strong! No, make that too strong, too touchy and too aggressive as if the pads and rotor were made from a hook-and-loop and glue combination. But the power was not that crazy. Mostly because I wasn't turning the throttle that far, even though I thought I was. So I turned it really far, and then I found out how too fast the bike was and remembered not to do that on accident. It starts out pulling smoothly on the bottom with about the same boost and torque as a stock bike, but since factory riders never ride the bike there, it doesn't matter. But as power builds it gets exponentially more powerful. It revs quicker than stock, pulls harder than stock and revs further than stock. Wide open it feels about 10 horsepower more than stock, about all the Dunlops can handle on even the loamiest of surfaces. All the while it is manageable with the throttle; that seems the biggest benefit of the four-stroke motor in the works-bike levels. Incredible power, yet crazy smooth.One thing that really stuck out about the bike was its light feel. All the titanium and weight savings are noticeable right away, especially when you get the bike revving and things in the motor are spinning, even though I was told the stuff inside isn't that much lighter. Here a stock bike gains weight; the factory machine stays flickable. I think some of that titanium stuff is for sale (good luck with the price tag). And trust us: This bike is flirting with the AMA weight limit of 220 pounds.So I began getting used to the factory bike. It was beating up my wrists and actually flexing my core in the bumps because my body was budging before the suspension would. Then the trick dawned on me: Ride the bike like I was pissed off at it, and it started working. You hit whatever is right in front of you, forget about being smooth. Hit it faster and the bike likes it-the suspension actually becomes very plush, forget that my muscles were being taxed and maybe I'd need to hire a trainer like all these motocross riders. By going faster the brakes became more important, though I was only about 50 percent confident (combined with being merely 50 percent effective in using them properly) to get slowed down and into the lines I wanted. I don't think most people have the control with their fingers while riding a dirt bike to control a front brake like this.Then we tried clicking the suspension around, and it grew apparent that factory suspension does have some differences. The clickers seem to have an effect through the entire stroke whereas a stock bike seems to progressively do less as the suspenders get farther down. As I was making the bike softer to stick into the turns, I was messing up the way I could hit bumps on the straights; so like any bike, the setup has a purpose. And it was set up to go way faster than I was capable of going. In explaining what I was feeling to the chassis technicians, I was told it would be "no problem" to change the character and feel of the bike to how I'd like it, but really, what is the point? To be the most spoiled magazine editor? No thanks. I was also told I could get exactly what I wanted, likely easier, beginning with production components. How's that for a beat-down to the old ego?In the end, I could get comfortable with the motor, but I'd definitely have to tame down the brakes. And I'd need to develop a whole new suspension setting for my level and speed, likely it would be a lot more similar to a stock bike than to Short's factory bike. Is there a factory bike advantage that the regular guy can't buy? Well, yes there was. Take, for instance, the six specialist technicians who were trackside dialing in stuff. They know what makes the bike tick, and they can see, in a rider's riding, if stuff is working as it should. And if it isn't, they often have ideas on how to make it work better and the resources to make the changes. Plus, if a rider asks for something, they know whether it is possible, and if it is, how to go about executing it.When the value of the factory bike is brought into question, what is it really worth? Well, all day long I was on the stopwatch to see if the changes I made were going in the right direction, which they were. So when I took our nearly stock 2009 CRF450R out on the track and clicked off a lap just a half-second slower than the factory bike, it starts to come together. Plain and simple, I was faster on the factory bike. The stock bike was way more comfortable for me, but it also required more thought about how I went around the beat, rough Rynoland track. Where I had to slow down for stuff on the stock bike, I had to speed up for it on Short's bike. The stock bike felt a little slow, slightly tired and needing attention, and it was still pretty fresh-feeling for a 40-hour bike. Is the $50,000 price tag-the approximate value thrown at Short's test bike (though Honda will not officially assign a value to its race bikes)-worth a half-second? In these racing times, that is what it costs to play at the highest levels, and a half-second is a lot of time. (Millsaps was lapping the track at nearly 10 seconds faster than me, where a rider can really appreciate the qualities of a bike like this.) But it isn't just the bike that makes the magic happen. There is as much talent going into making these bikes work and getting them dialed in as there is in the wrist twisting the throttle on race day. So wave to the mechanics and technicians next time you're at the races. They're the ones who make the factory bike factory.And if you want a factory bike, you can start by stripping your bike to the frame and making sure everything is perfect and properly torqued. A start and a step most people never take. You wanted to be faster, didn't you?