2005 Honda CRF450X - Dirt Rider Magazine

Off-roaders were powerless when it came to curbing their enthusiasm and maintaining a sense of decorum while waiting for Honda's CRF450X. As soon as the CRF450R joined big red's 2002 lineup, we began receiving inquiries about an off-road version. Soon after, riders started converting Rs for trail use. Then Honda announced there would be a CRF250X in 2004, and long before that bike was ever seen in public, the rumors of a 450X again spread like an internet virus. At press time it was scheduled to arrive in March. We've now ridden it, and we can tell you it's friggin' incredible.On the trail, the 450X is everything the 450R is not. The CRF450R (deservedly) remains the best-selling motocrosser in the world, but a vast number of Kevin Windham wanna-bes have sold their XR400Rs and hit the trail on that popular machine. As wonderful as the 450R is on the track, it's less than brilliant on the trail. Moto-stiff suspension and an ultrarigid chassis promise no joy in rocks and roots. Hey, but at least first gear is tall, the tank small, the flywheel light, the exhaust note loud, the spark arrestor absent and fifth gear short. Oh, yes, you have to kickstart it, too. By contrast, the 450X is fully equipped except for the absence of hand protection.In an unusual turn, the CRF450R has been domesticated for trail work, but it is in no way neutered or even declawed. Any rider, and especially a Honda fan, will feel at home instantly. From Honda's careful attention to detail and ergonomics, the off-road tuned suspension, the quiet and muscular engine blessed with wide and efficient transmission ratios make the 450X everything you'd expect. From the instant we thumbed the starter button, we were amazed at how much power the CRF produces.Apparently, Honda has some engineers whom we'll call the "horsepower whisperers." Most riders have a belief all but programmed into their DNA: Loud four-strokes equal fast; quiet thumpers equal slow. We need to deprogram them, because Honda has a new definition in stealth technology. The CRF450X makes so little exhaust noise that the chain slap is a significant part of the overall sound output. The 450X chugs, grunts, roosts, pulls and rips with nary a hiccup, bog or flat spot. It passes federal sound standards, which means it is as quiet as a street-legal bike, and in California it will have tailpipe emissions nearly as clean. The 450X even passes the 2006 federal EPA off-road standard! If there is any fault with the engine, it is that the clutch is a little tender when abused, and the bottom power might be too much for less-skilled riders in technical sections.All of the legendary handling traits of the motocross model survived the conversion to off-road. The 450X has a solid and controlled front end that will carve a line with the best. Certainly it prefers that the sag be set at 100mm (or slightly less) for proper chassis balance and suspension action. At the same time, the 450X is suitably stable. It was at home in all the whoop and rock sections California's Cleveland National Forest had to offer. The decomposed-granite trails contain few straight sections, instead looping back and forth, and zipping up and down. The most-demanding obstacles were varying clumps and lumps of granite that remained far from decomposed, but even while threading through, around and over these rocks, ledges and stair-steps, the bike handled great.Riders at home on Euro machinery may find the front end feels as if it is right under them and that it steers quickly. It acts as though the front end carries a heavier weight bias than the 250X or a KTM four-stroke. Dealing with this, the suspension feels firm but plush and active. It was every bit as stiff as editors Jimmy Lewis and Karel Kramer—neither a pitchman for Subway or Weight Watchers—needed. Both softened the compression damping front and rear for tighter and technical trail conditions.It isn't easy to make a bike quiet, but it is next to impossible to make a bike run cleanly and quietly and produce big power. Honda did it. The CRF450X is one quiet riot. Next task, the DR 24-Hour, to see how the new X stacks up against the established 450 trail masters!