2009 Honda CRF450RWeb Riding Impression
This Is Huge.Sure it was only last week when we all learned what the real deal was with the 2009 Honda CRF450R, and now we've ridden it. And it is just about all you'd expect from such a radically changed motorcycle. No, actually, it's more.Our first day riding the bike was at the Lake Whitney former National MX track in Texas at the bike's introduction. We've ridden new models here in the past, and for sure it isn't our typical diet of California hard pack, but we got a great feel for the bike in our day of riding. The track was blessed, by the way, from the Man upstairs with a perfectly timed and calculated rain storm the night before.Right away you feel the weight, or more correctly the lack of it. The feeling is of less rotational mass, a lower center of gravity and an overall improvement in how easy it is to move the bike around underneath you, especially as the RPM increase. It is so noticeable that you have to get used to it. I took about three motos to quit making such drastic upper body movements to get the bike to do what I wanted it to do. The new chassis is very responsive to what a rider wants it to do. It isn't that two-stroke feathery feel, nor is it as light feeling as a 250F, but it is getting close. That makes it a whole lot lighter feeling than any 450 that we've ridden. We wonder if Kawasaki was ready for that?Next on the list is the slimmer feel, and an easier-to-move-around-on rider compartment. This helps with the lighter feel and makes getting the bike to do what you want even easier: Ridiculously easier. The motor is thinner and the whole setup is actually getting right to the limit of almost being too slim. You can sit wherever, and nothing hooks or interferes with you while you are riding and all the controls are just where they should be. The bike feels smaller but it did not upset even Karel Kramer, representing all the plus-size riders out there.Then there is the suspension. If you were wondering if it is stiff or non-compliant, or possibly harsh, kiss that thought good-bye. The new KYB suspenders are leaps and bounds plusher, more compliant and controlled. And yes we rode it back-to-back with a fresh 2008. The ride height is pretty critical, mostly if it is too low. You'll know, the bike acts harsh and of all things, unstable. We were running between 105 and 108mm and the bike was completely happy. And while searching for a more planted ride and looking to eliminate any sort of wallowly feeling, we were happy to add a click of compression to the fork, shock, and 1/8-turn of high-speed compression to the shock. We also found the steering damper was more sensitive, though there weren't any changes internally that would make this difference. It was actually valved and set up to be more linear. Whatever, it makes a difference and it seems one click equals about four on last year's bike. Bottoming resistance is great, and even though you can get a clank, the shock isn't transmitted to the rider.On to the motor, and there is a pretty significant change in feel here, too. It still has the crack-of-the-throttle aggression CRFs have been known for, but when you get it out on the track the engine acts a lot smoother. It isn't smooth as in slow, it is smooth as in properly delivering the right amount of power to the wheel like a great one-to-one ratio. Your hand is talking to the rear wheel. And when you yell at it, the bike gets up and goes like a 450 should, not leaving anything at the table. It is fast, crisp, responsive, and it runs through the upper RPM a little faster than last year's bike, plus it has a higher rev limiter. The clutch and shifting are first rate and the noise coming off the track isn't that bad. But to the rider the bike sounds a little louder. The muffler placement for better CG gives you a little more dB. Oh, almost forgot. The fuel injection is seamless and if you don't go out and try to do wacky things with it, you'll never even know or care that it is a bunch of silicone, ones and zeros squirting gas into the motor, not measured holes in brass. Don't try to see how low of an RPM you can land off a jump in fourth gear in, and you'll never have an issue. In fact just don't do anything you wouldn't do on a carbureted bike and you won't have to worry one bit about FI. You'll just learn to love the instant response and the hesitation-free jump landings.So what do we really think? We love this bike, and if anything it is a leap equal to the changes made between 2003 and 2008 all packed into one year. We know because we've been riding a lot of CRFs lately. If there was anything we could gripe about it'd be that the starting isn't as seamless as before and it is crucial that you have enough idle tuned into the FI to make firing up the engine easy. And I'm sure that it is going to take a little bit of time to get familiar with just how hard or fast to kick it, just like we've always had to evolve with four-strokes and starting. We'll be on this bike all over So Cal in the next few weeks and we'll get back to you with more. But don't expect us to like it any less...Want to know more? Help us test this bike for you by telling us what else you want to know about it. Click here to go directly to our message board thread set up for these questions.