Johnny Campbell knows off-road motorcycles.
In fact, when it comes to testing the mettle of a motorcycle in the wild desert enviroment, the 45-year-old Californian has probably forgotten more than most people will ever know. With a race record that includes more SCORE Baja wins than any man alive–11 of them in the prestigious Baja 1000 alone, and multiple wins in the grueling Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno off-road race, 24 Hours of Glen Helen, and numerous SCORE Desert World Championship and AMA District 37 off-road titles as well as top-10 finishes in the grueling Dakar Rally, Campbell can bring out the best in an off-road machine. And the worst–if there’s a part or piece that is unreliable, Campbell will find it.
So it was no surprise that the long-time factory Honda star, who has run his own Johnny Campbell Racing team with Honda factory backing for the past several years, was an integral part of the development team for Honda’s all-new CRF450RX closed-course competition machine. The RX is the result of key input from Campbell and JCR team members such as Chris Bach and Ricky Brabec as they have battled for wins in the AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country Series in the eastern United States and Kenda/SRT AMA National Championship Hare & Hound events in the deserts of the southwest aboard JCR Honda CRF450Rs. Knowing the specific demands of these tough off-road series through the eyes of JCR no doubt helped Honda to adapt its all-new CRF450R for off-road use, just as Campbell did with Honda’s venerable CRF450X, which remains in the company’s off-road lineup.
We took the opportunity to rub elbows with Campbell, one of off-road racing’s ultimate warriors, at the recent unveiling of the 2017 Honda CRF450R and CRF450RX, and Campbell offered the following thoughts on Honda’s new off-road race machine.
Nic Garvin: Johnny, gives us a little insight on the all-new Honda CRF450RX.
Johnny Campbell: The RX is primarily targeted for off-road racing in everything from GNCC, woods and GP-style racing, like a West Coast-style race, even a Hare & Hound.
Nic Garvin: Weight plays a role in off-road racing, and the X is a heavier bike. The RX is a lot lighter. Do you see that as an advantage or a disadvantage?
Johnny Campbell: The weight of the RX is an advantage over the X, I believe, because of the way that this chassis and suspension is packaged and because of where the motor is. You know, you look at the CRF450X, and it is an excellent bike, just looking at its racing record, its trail-riding ability, its durability and the history of what it has accomplished in all its years of basically being the same bike. To one-up that bike is very hard because it has been so successful. What do you do? Well, what we’ve done with the RX is that we have been able to lower the CG a lot compared to the 450X. In a racing application, with the CG and the new chassis design and flex character, along with the new components, this bike is a whole level above what X.
Nic Garvin: Do you see the RX as being the off-road bike of the future for Honda?
Johnny Campbell: Yes. The RX is going to fill a huge void. Take the West Coast-style off-road Grands Prix–we’ve always wanted to ride the CRF450R because of its lighter weight, but sometimes those races are very fast, and the X works better. This bike fits such a perfect niche in off-road racing not only on the West Coast but on the East Coast as well. A lot of the things that we have been trying to do with the current CRF450R in those [GNCC] races, all of that development has gone into this new package.
Nic Garvin: But will this bike be a great trailbike? A lot of guys just trail ride, and they don’t race. Their bikes are bone stock. They don’t add racing equipment. If they add the necessary spark arrestors to make the RX a legal trail bike, can it be good for someone like that?
Johnny Campbell: It will be phenomenal. With the balance of the chassis and the way the power is displaced, a lot has gone into the RX. It is super-powerful, but with the traction control [via the selectable power mode feature] and the frame geometry–it’s the same geometry as the 2017 Honda CRF450R, but that particular geometry works well for everything. Trail riding is phenomenal on this bike because of the way it’s balanced.
Johnny Campbell Championship Titles*
SCORE Desert Series Class 22 (Open Pro), 1997-2000, 2002-08
BITD (Best in the Desert Silver State Series) Open Pro, 1995, 2000, 2004-05
AMA District 37 Big 6 Grand Prix Series, 1995-96, 2003 (Four-Stroke/Expert/Vet), 2000 (Open)
AMA District 37 Best of the West Series, 1996
AMA District 37 Enduro Series, 1995 (Four-Stroke)
24-Hour Off-Road World Endurance, 1995, 1999, 2001
Johnny Campbell Major Race Wins**
Baja 1000, 1997-2005, 2007-08
Baja 500, 1997-98, 2002-04
San Felipe 250, 1998-2000, 2002-04, 08
Vegas to Reno, 2001, 2004-05, 2007
Terrible’s Town 250, 2001-03, 2005
HYR 24 Hours of Glen Helen, 1999, 2006
2005–Henderson’s Terrible 400, Nevada 1000, Parker 250
2004–Henderson’s Terrible 300
2003–Laughlin U.S. Hare Scrambles
2001–8th overall/1st privateer, Paris-to-Dakar Rally
2000–Nevada 2000, Tonopah 300, Adelanto Grand Prix
1998–Silver State 300
1992–HDRA Nevada 500, Rosarito Beach Grand Prix
* **Source: JCRHonda.com