2020 Honda CRF450RX Review First Ride

Race testing a 450 cross-country bike at the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix.

Has there been a better time to be an off-road rider? Gone are the days of morbidly overweight, underpowered, and stone-age-tech bikes that plagued us for decades. Instead, we’re offered up some truly impressive options. One of the bikes on that list is the 2020 Honda CRF450RX, which is cut from the same cloth as Honda’s flagship motocrosser—the CRF450R. The most notable change made to the bike for 2020 is the addition of Honda’s Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) system—also known as traction control.

Racing the 2020 Honda CRF450RX at the 51st annual Lake Elsinore Grand Prix.
Racing the 2020 Honda CRF450RX at the 51st annual Lake Elsinore Grand Prix.Jean Turner

Billed as a “do-it-all” motorcycle, the CRF450RX takes Honda’s proven CRF450R platform and specs it with some off-road bits like an oversize fuel tank, 18-inch rear wheel, and an oh-so-convenient kickstand to place it firmly between the no-compromises, track-only CRF450R and the headlight-equipped, more mild-mannered CRF450X. What this results in is a bike that Honda hopes appeals to the large majority of riders who not only spin laps at the motocross track, but ride just as often at local OHV areas and enter a couple of races a year in either MX or off-road.

In addition to race testing the 2020 Honda CRF450RX at the LEGP, Honda gave us the full “Factory For A Day” treatment by having us pit with the SLR Honda squad including team owner Mark Samuels. No pressure!
In addition to race testing the 2020 Honda CRF450RX at the LEGP, Honda gave us the full “Factory For A Day” treatment by having us pit with the SLR Honda squad including team owner Mark Samuels. No pressure!Jean Turner

As such, Honda presented Dirt Rider with a unique opportunity for its 2020 450RX launch, a trial by fire in one of the country’s oldest races—the 51st annual Lake Elsinore Grand Prix (LEGP). Neither a motocross nor an off-road race, the LEGP would be the perfect test to see what the new 450RX is all about as it throws high-speed sections, double jumps, tight climbs, and even some pavement at you each lap. As an added bonus, Honda gave us the full “Factory For A Day” treatment by having us pit with the SLR Honda squad. No pressure!

Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) and engine mode select buttons grace the Renthal handlebar of the CRF450RX.
Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) and engine mode select buttons grace the Renthal handlebar of the CRF450RX.Jean Turner

In the staging area, clad in a Fly Racing gearset complete with SLR Honda’s sponsor logos, I had my first seated impressions of the CRF450RX. While waiting for my race to begin, I took some time to familiarize myself with the various buttons and lights adorning the handlebar. There are a lot of them: HSTC, engine mapping, launch control, the kill switch, and the starter button all jockey for position on the Renthal handlebar and it took me a few minutes to get everything dialed in. As I was entered in the 100-mile Mushman race, I opted to set the HSTC to mid-level to help with the dirt to pavement transitions and left the engine map on the standard setting for some hit, but not so aggressive that it would require extra energy to manage and hold onto. Being that it was a rolling start, launch control was turned off.

Honda added some aftermarket parts to the bike for the LEGP including a larger IMS 2.4-gallon fuel tank, heavy-duty tubes, a D.I.D ERT3 gold chain, a one-tooth-larger front sprocket, and Acerbis handguards.
Honda added some aftermarket parts to the bike for the LEGP including a larger IMS 2.4-gallon fuel tank, heavy-duty tubes, a D.I.D ERT3 gold chain, a one-tooth-larger front sprocket, and Acerbis handguards.Jean Turner

Otherwise, I ran it like I got it. Honda fitted the bike with a larger IMS 2.4-gallon fuel tank to help extend the fuel range (the OEM tank holds 2.25 gallons), heavy-duty tubes, a D.I.D ERT3 gold chain, a one-tooth-larger front sprocket, and some Acerbis handguards to complete the CRF450RX’s LEGP setup.

Normally, a lack of practice time would leave me feeling a bit apprehensive prior to a 100-mile race, but Hondas excel at making you feel comfortable right from the get-go. The CRF450RX is no different. While lap 1 was a zero visibility, dust-clouded cluster, where survival was the name of the game, by lap 2, I was able to start thinking about the bike. The fact that I rode the first 6 miles of the race, including hitting the iconic water double jump, without thinking about the CRF450RX is a good thing—a very good thing. The bike just worked, and work it did. Over the next few hours, I put the CRF450RX and myself through hell and by the end, I’d suffered through multiple flat tires, a few crashes, and a pair of bleeding hands, but more importantly, I earned a Mushman 100 finisher’s pin.

So, after I’d hacked up my last bit of dust, what did I think about this latest offering in the potent Honda 450 lineup?

What Is Good About The 2020 Honda CRF450RX?

The CRF450RX rips. I never lacked power during the race, and on the high-speed paved sections, I’d routinely catch and pass other riders.
The CRF450RX rips. I never lacked power during the race, and on the high-speed paved sections, I’d routinely catch and pass other riders.Jean Turner

Power—The direct lineage to the CRF450R is apparent the moment you twist the grip, and there is a reason Honda lists the CRF450RX under their “Competition” section of their website. This bike rips. I never lacked power during the race and on the high-speed paved sections, I’d routinely catch and pass other riders.

Adjustability—There are three on-the-fly engine maps: standard (map 1) for all-around power; smooth (map 2) for a more mellow bottom-end hit while retaining the juice up top; and aggressive (map 3) for maximum boogie, where riders can tailor the CRF450RX to fit their needs. Add in the new-for-2020 HSTC system, also with three levels of intrusion, and it further drives home the CRF450RX’s jack-of-all-trades suitability.

Handling—As the LEGP lacked more traditional motocross-style corners, I took the 450RX out to Cahuilla Creek MX in Anza, California, to put it through its paces and get a better feel for its handling, and came away impressed. The CRF450RX feels very stable in the turns, both in inside ruts and outside berms.

Comforts—I can’t emphasize how nice it is to have a kickstand and electric start on your bike. Whether you’re parking your bike in the pits at the track or on on the side of the trail, or are stalled in a precarious position, these features are indispensable for off-road and a luxury for the motocross track.

What Is Not So Good About The 2020 Honda CRF450RX?

Out of the box (disclaimer: with zero setup), the CRF450RX’s Showa suspension is a little underwhelming. I found the rear would rebound excessively through whoops and off jumps, while the fork would pack during heavy braking bumps.
Out of the box (disclaimer: with zero setup), the CRF450RX’s Showa suspension is a little underwhelming. I found the rear would rebound excessively through whoops and off jumps, while the fork would pack during heavy braking bumps.Jean Turner

Suspension—Out of the box (disclaimer: with zero setup), the CRF450RX’s Showa suspension is a little underwhelming. I found the rear would rebound excessively through whoops and off jumps, while the fork would pack during heavy braking bumps. On the slower sections of the LEGP course, it felt better, but once the speeds picked up, the shortcomings arose. During further evaluation at Cahuilla Creek MX, the suspension felt more at home on the vet track than the main track, partially due to its softer settings than the CRF450R motocrosser.

Flame Out—Honda’s flame-out issues continue with this latest iteration of the 450 engine and it’s unfortunate. During the LEGP race, I experienced multiple flame-outs in various situations ranging from low-speed corners to high-speed decelerations, and they caused more than one crash as a result. There are few things more frustrating than crashing multiple times when it’s due to the bike and therefore out of your control. I’m just glad I wasn’t more seriously injured outside of some scrapes during a flame-out when downshifting from third to second gear, which sent me into a baseball slide coming off of a paved section.

Final Thoughts On The 2020 Honda CRF450RX

Normally, a lack of practice time would leave me feeling a bit apprehensive prior to a 100-mile race, but Hondas excel at making you feel comfortable right from the get-go. The CRF450RX is no different.
Normally, a lack of practice time would leave me feeling a bit apprehensive prior to a 100-mile race, but Hondas excel at making you feel comfortable right from the get-go. The CRF450RX is no different.Jean Turner

As test riders, we’re asked for our opinion on bikes day in and day out, and it always boils down to one question: “Would you buy this bike?”

After spending some time riding and racing the 2020 Honda 450RX, and looking at what it does well and not so well, my reply is, “Yes, I would buy this bike,” as it really is a versatile dirt bike and, for most of us, the only bike we’d need. Out of the box, the Honda CRF450RX can handle the track, trails, and off-road races with equal aplomb, and the main shortcomings we did find are easily addressable. The CRF450RX looks the business, barks with the best of them, and ultimately should cause you to rethink what you really need out of your motorcycle.

At the end of the day, I came away with a Mushman 100 finisher’s pin and a positive impression of the 2020 Honda CRF450RX.
At the end of the day, I came away with a Mushman 100 finisher’s pin and a positive impression of the 2020 Honda CRF450RX.Jean Turner

In closing, when you look at the lineup Honda has created around its 450 platform—the CRF450R, CRF450RX, CRF450X, and CRF450L—it really is a wonderful time to be a rider.

Special thanks to the Mark Samuels’ SLR Honda team for hosting us during the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix, and doing two factory-level wheel swaps when we suffered both front and rear flat tires.

Gearbox

In the staging area, clad in a Fly Racing gearset complete with SLR Honda’s sponsor logos.
In the staging area, clad in a Fly Racing gearset complete with SLR Honda’s sponsor logos.Jean Turner

2020 Honda CRF450RX Tech Spec

PRICE $9,699
ENGINE 449cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 5-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER N/A
MEASURED TORQUE N/A
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 49mm coil-spring fork adjustable for rebound and compression damping; 12.0-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa Pro-Link shock adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping; 12.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin 2-piston caliper, 260mm disc
REAR BRAKE Nissin 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc
WHEELBASE 58.2 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 37.8 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 2.25 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 255 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT powersports.honda.com