2007 Honda CRF450R - First Test

From Dirt Rider Magazine, October 2006.

The Honda CRF450R is once again the first to boogie down at the 2007 new-bike party. Last year, Honda's new and improved 450 made a big entrance and then mingled around for a few months with our testing crew, and when it came time to get down on the dance floor in our 450 shootout (March '06), the CRF put on its red dancing shoes and led the open-class conga line to the winner's circle. It wasn't an easy crowd to win over, as new models from Yamaha and Kawasaki put up the biggest competition the class has ever seen. And that left some big shoes to fill.

The bike has made another early summer entrance this year and, subsequently, got our new-bike heebie-jeebies flowing like mad. We all were wondering if the new bike could be any better than the old-especially since early press information indicated minimal changes for the model. Plus, the bike was really good last year. It wasn't every staff member's favorite, but it won enough hearts and points to take home the title.

The small and effective big changes for the CRF are as follows: Honda played motor-masseuse, not surgeon, for '07 by squeezing 1mm off the exhaust valves (now 30mm) and pushing it into the carb opening (now a roomy 41mm). The typical ignition modifications and cylinder-head porting went along for the ride along with accelerator-pump modifications to enhance the throttle twisting, carb-sucking and exhaust-spitting systems.

Suspension upgrades are even more simplistic. Honda revalved the fork and that's it. The upgrades feature less compression damping in the midstroke for a smoother trip through the stroke. Also, main compression settings are changed through new primary settings and a different shim stack. OK, so it's not that simple.

Chassis improvements center mainly on the muffler. Yes, the muffler. Honda, in its all-out assault on out-of-center weight, has shortened the can on the big CRF and moved the whole arrangement forward 22mm-further micromanaging the controllability of the bike with a 250F influence sans dual cans. We also suspect Honda did this sort of thing as an excuse to use the term "mass-centralization." We don't blame the company-it's a good phrase.

What else is there? Let's see... Oh, yes, the brake lever and the all-new Dunlop meat up front. Honda felt some strange compulsion to engineer a new front brake lever that, besides looking very expensive to replace, is said to boost the braking clout by 15 percent. Apparently, there's always room for improvement, even when your brakes are already great. Dunlop also brought something new to the table with its 742FA tire. The new round variable features dimpled knobs on the shoulders and middle blocks for extra grip in the corners. Also, the sidewall is more rounded for bump absorption. In all, the tire claims a very versatile use, ranging from medium-hard to medium-soft terrain. Its performance hasn't blown us away compared with the standard 742F.

Good gravy, man, how does it work? Well, to put it as simply and sweetly as possible: nicely. The '07 450R has a new attitude thanks to the motor work, and though not much was changed, it seems happier than ever slicing and dicing through corners. We rode the knobs off the stock tires in our initial testing and here's why.

First, the updated Unicam motor has been magic. Even while sitting on the stand in the parking lot you can feel and hear an improvement in throttle response. It's crisp, clean and instant. The carburetor's accelerator-pump improvements have made the wrist-twisting and engine-barking more in tune than ever before. On the track, the trend continues. Power out of the hole is immediate, with a smoother delivery than our art director at a gentlemen's club. Gone is the snap and aggressive trend the CRF motocrossers have been following. The end result of the dimensional change to the motor components? How about a newly discovered bottom-end and an almost nonexistent midrange snap? How about a power improvement that, since the intro, has had us riding a gear high everywhere we go? How about a motor character that starts strong yet controlled, builds to power effortlessly and doesn't sign off? All of that is what we've experienced riding the big CRF, and so far, it's meant longer motos with less fatigue. A great start to the new year indeed. We think the 450 engineers should play a round of golf with the 250 engineers and share some carb secrets! These guys went bigger and got it right!

Next are the less obvious things we've noticed. The suspension improvements in the front of the big red bike are affecting things more than expected. Our testing crew consistently commented about an improvement in cornering and stability over the '06 model thanks to the fork improvements. There's also an office debate going on about whether the shortened and stuffed-in muffler is improving the shock's feel or if it's simply the fork allowing the bike to ride more level initially. Whatever it is, it works. In back-to-back riding comparisons with a stock '06, the '07 bike felt better front and rear in the suspension department. We ran our bike completely stock front and rear with 102mm of sag. The bike's clickers are still lined up from the factory, and we haven't found a reason to move them yet. We went from fast tracks with loose dirt and decent braking bumps to slower, rockier and harder-packed tracks with slower jumps, and the standard settings are working everywhere.

Brakes are great as always, and we suppose the new fancy front brake lever is responsible since it directly engages the braking business. But we've never had an issue with Honda brakes, so now we just sort of look at the lever as a hassle to replace since it is now a specialized piece for the '07.

The remnants of '06 are all over this bike, with identical frame dimensions and rear suspension geometry. With that, some cockpit issues are arising from our bigger riders and those of us who have grown accustomed to bikes with more open riding positions. Depending on what you're used to or your size and riding style, you may find the CRF to be cramped. Off of more roomy machines, the CRF's pegs can seem high and its handlebar low. The Renthal standard bar is actually starting to become dated and almost subpar, as most factories are now supplying oversize bars as part of their stock packages. Some of us at DR are even saying the styling is the biggest drawback to the bike, though the performance aspect of the plastic/seat/sidepanel/gas tank is nearing perfection. In years past, Honda CRs got a style redo every two years, so isn't the CRF a little overdue?

Even though we've only had the '07 CRF450R for a few weeks, we're already very impressed with its performance. With minuscule changes to a hugely successful '06 model, Honda has essentially taken all the engine and suspension quirks out of its big-bore package and left us at the track riding laps with dirt-eating grins. We're actually quite surprised the company did so much by changing so little, and we can imagine a shootout where the new red bike replaces the old at the top of the podium.

Can you wait to see all the other brands? We didn't think so. Stay tuned for more new-bike goodness.

Specifications

MSRP: $6999

Claimed dry weight: 217.6 lb

Actual weight (ready to race, no gas): 228 lb

Seat height: 37.5 in.

Seat-to-peg distance: 2O.7 in.

What's Hot

・Motor improvements boost low-end and deliver a controlled power pull.

・Throttle response nearly instant for that factory-tuned feel.

・Suspension upgrades and mass-centralization continues to improve the ride.

What's Not

・Gimme oversize bars already.

・My nephew made better-looking graphics with his crayons.

Opinions

Even though the CRF450 has been my favorite big-bore the since it was introduced, beginning in 2004 the character of the engine has been going away from one that I preferred. The CRF450R has been getting snappier, quicker and harder hitting. I was really surprised, as the first thing I noticed on the '07 bike was the smooth and ridable, dare I say mellow, bottom-end delivery. It is as strong as before in the mid, and I'll bet it has more on top, too. It had me riding a gear high in almost all the turns and going faster. And the new suspension setup complemented this by giving an all-round better ride, especially, I thought, in the rear, which is basically unchanged from last year. Maybe moving that muffler that bit forward really does something. I felt the bike was plusher and had better bottoming resistance-all around more progressive, especially in the back. I never felt the need to do anything more than set the ride height. The worked-on front mirrored the rear with a noticeably better bottoming resistance compared with the '06 bike we rode back-to-back. Honda made all the right steps to keep me really happy, and I wonder if the other brands have something more up their sleeves?

Jimmy Lewis

5'10"/180 lb/Vet Pro

I have always been impressed with the Honda CRF450R on the track. It may no longer have the class cornered, but it has a truly polished and unified feel other brands miss. For '07, the lion's share of the bike feels pretty much like an '06. That isn't bad, though. That means the comfort factor is all but perfect, the feel is light and the suspension has great control. The difference is in the engine. The '06 hit so hard it tired me out. The '07 is smoother with more urge at truly low rpm. I can ride this bike longer and enjoy it more.Karel Kramer

6'1"/210 lb/Senior Intermediate motocrosser