They say you shouldn’t mess with success, but in the case of the 2018 Honda CRF450R, Honda went ahead and messed with it just a little.
After much anticipation, Honda rolled out an all-new CRF450R in 2017, and the red rocket eeked out a win in our 2017 450cc Motocross Shootout by the slimmest of margins–but a win is a win.
That same winner returns for 2018 with a significant tweaks in an effort to give the rowdy CRF450R a little attitude adjustment and make it more appealing to a wider range of riders. In reality, you could break these tweaks down in such a way as to suggest that each caters to a certain segment of Honda’s intended crowd.
The first change is really for everyone, but it will probably please the Vet crowd the most: The 2018 CRF450R now comes standard with electric start, doing away with the kickstarter entirely–although one can be added for those wanting the extra insurance. They really needn’t bother, says Honda, which has fitted the starting system with a powerful, durable and lightweight Lithium-ion battery to make sure that the CRF fires up on cue. The second has to do with CRF’s triple-map Engine Mode Select system: Honda engineers have dialed back the aggression on the default Mode 1 to give the 2018 CRF450R a little smoother roll-on performance and make the power more usable throughout the rev range, a move that is sure to please 450cc newbs and novices alike. Last but not least, Honda also altered the CRF’s chassis and suspension character by changing the shape and material thickness of the engine hangers on the aluminum perimeter chassis and going from 4.8 Newton/mm springs to 5.0 Newton/mm springs in the CRF’s 49mm Showa coil spring fork and from a 54 Newton/mm rear spring to a 56 newton/mm unit on the CRF’s fully adjustable Showa shock, as well as revising the valving specs. The goal was to give the bike essentially the same ride comfort as 2017 model while delivering a little more holdup through the initial part of the suspension stroke–a clear nod to heavier and more aggressive riders.
But can these changes make 2018 Honda CRF450R “all that” to all riders? We wanted to find out, so we drafted the perfect man for the job, DirtBikes.com’s lead tester Ryan Abbatoye, to come down from his own slice of heaven, Ridgecrest, California, to sample the 2018 model at Sunrise MX Park in Adelanto, today. It was pretty telling because, for all his amazing talent, Abbatoye was admittedly a little out of riding shape from not having ridden since our 2017 450cc Motocross Shootout. During the day, he kept coming back in and doing his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression from Kindergarten Cop, “It’s naht ahm pump!”
For starters, Abbatoye liked the CRF450R’s new electric starter. Mounted mid-case, right behind the cylinder for optimum mass centralization, the electric leg fires up the CRF’s 449.7cc liquid-cooled, Unicam, single-cylinder four-stroke with just the faintest touch of the button mounted on the throttle side of the handlebar–you just have to remember to pull-in the clutch lever, a built-in safety feature (read that as an appeasement to the Legal Dept.). That’s good news, as the 2017 model could be a bit of a pain in the ass to start for riders used to throwing a heavy boot at the kickstarter. Remembering to kick the CRF gently could be confounding to someone who had just fallen off and was trying to get back into a race. The electric start handily solves the problem. And with its downdraft PGM-FI fuel-injection and 46mm throttle body, the CRF is ready to go right off the stand. Throttle response is quick and responsive, and the Honda is ready to put its claimed 60+ crankshaft horsepower to the ground.
That said, Abbatoye found that the revised ECU settings for Mode 1 (Mode 2 softens the hit even more for low-traction surface conditions) were not well suited to his tastes as he began to pick up speed around the big Sunrise track.
“The change isn’t a bad one, but I like the default map from the 2017 better,” he said. “I like to ride a gear taller than a lot of riders, and the softer hit doesn’t work well for that riding style. Just like with the ’17, I really like Mode 3, which they haven’t changed, so that aggressive hit is still there.”
Indeed, the CRF’s 96.0mm bore/62.1mm stroke engine delivers zingy, punchy power in Mode 3, making the bike a real kick to ride, something that thrilled even our Novice testers during our rides on the 2017 model. There’s pleny of oomph down low, but the CRF makes a hard move through the middle and then offers plenty of overrev on top. It’s flexible enough to allow less experienced riders to minimze gear changes through its slick-shifting five-speed transmission and linear cable-operated clutch.
But perhaps the most noticeable change lies in the 2018 Honda CRF450R’s chassis performance. While the switch to all-electric start has contriuted to a 5-lb. weight gain, Honda claims that the extra pounds are low enough in the chassis that the bike’s center of gravity is only minimally affected. That much is true, although Abbatoye said he could feel the difference. Moreover, dialing in the CRF’s suspension took a little more time than it did on the 2017 CRF450R. At first, Abbatoye noticed that the 2018 model tended to want to stand up in corners, which would also make the front end push slightly on the exits. The rear end also had a tendency to kick over some of the peakier jumps and square edges on the Sunrise track. So our Honda techs went to work, ultimately making the following adjustments to get the chassis more settled for our 170-lb. (in full riding gear) Expert-level test rider:
-Fork: Stock fork height (5mm above the top clamp)/14 clicks out from full compression (13 is stock)/11 clicks out from full rebound (12 is stock)
-Shock: Sag set to 107mm (105mm i stock) Low-speed rebound set to 5 clicks out (7 is stock)/Hig-speed rebound 3 3/4 turns out (3 1/4 is stock)
“The first step was to get the rear end from kicking,” Abbayoye said. “They slowed down the rebound, which definitely solved the problem. As track got borken down and got a luttle more rough and bumpy that’s when I notived it was a little stiffer compared to the 2017. With the changes they made, it makes sense. We went softer on the fork and shock, which helped, but then I was getting a little bit of head shake on the fork in a couple spots. So we went softer on the compression and slower on the rebound, and that made a world of difference in the corners. I was happy. You could sit there and fine tune it all day as the track changed, but it was pretty good. I wasn’t in the best of shape, but as my speed went up, the changes worked better. So you can dial it in to be as good as the 2017.”
The bonus is that, bike for bike, the 2018 does feel slightly more planted than the 2017, according to Abbatoye, and that equates to more predictable handling and increased rider confidence.
“It’s like the difference between going to a track that you’ve ridden a hundred times versus going to a track that you’ve only ridden once or twice,” he said. “On the track where you’re more familiar, you just don’t have to think about it. Once the CRF’s suspension is set up, you really don’t have to think about it.”
Part of the Honda’s overall competence lies in its chassis that makes for easy direction changes on the ground or in the air. Add the more planted feel of the 2018 edition with proper suspension tuning, and you have a bike that can rail berms with reckless abandon and maintain traction in flat or off-camber corners without getting nervous at high speed. The CRF’s cockpit is also roomy, thanks to the slim and narrow seat and tightly tucked radiator shrouds introduced in 2017. There’s simply nothing on which to snag your body. The CRF450R’s brakes also deserve mention. With 260mm front and 240mm rear discs clamped by Nissin calipers, they deliver good stopping power without being overly touchy.
At $9149, the 2018 Honda CRF450R is only $250 more than the 2017 model, but the electric start alone may be worth the price increase for most riders. Beyond that, paying careful attention to the suspension and you’ll end up with a bike that may be 5 lbs. heavier than its predecessor but doesn’t feel like it.
Yeah, Honda messed with the CRF450R a little for 2018 alright. They made it a little better.
2018 Honda CRF450R Specifications
Engine Type: 449cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore And Stroke: 96mm x 62.1mm
Compression Ratio: 13.5:1
Valve Train: Unicam® four-valve; 38mm intake, titanium; 31mm exhaust, Steel
Induction: Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), 46mm downdraft throttle body
Ignition: Fully transistorized with electronic advance
Transmission: Close-ratio five-speed
Final Drive: #520 Chain; 13T/49T
Front Suspension: 49mm inverted Showa fork with rebound and compression damping adjustability; 12.0 inches of travel
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link® Showa single shock with adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability; 12.3 inches of travel
Front Brake: Single 260mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Single 240mm disc
Front Tire: Dunlop MX3S 90/100-21
Rear Tire: Dunlop MX3S 120/80-19
Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
Rake: 27° 22′ (Caster Angle)
Trail: 116mm (4.6 inches)
Seat Height: 37.8 inches
Ground Clearance: 12.9 inches
Fuel Capacity: 1.7 gallons
Claimed Curb Weight: 248 lbs. (Includes all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel—ready to ride.)
Available Colors: Red