If the old racing adage, “what wins on Sunday sells on Monday,” carries any truth, there must have been a lot of foot traffic in Honda dealers this year. Riding the CRF450R, Honda rider Ricky Carmichael did the unthinkable, winning every race of the 2004 AMA National Motocross Championship—a perfect season. Anyone who knows the level of talent and the caliber of machines that line up at the starting gate each weekend at those races understands the statement Honda has made with their race-bred 450cc 4-stroke.
First things first: The CRF450R will frighten the meek and toss the disrespectful. At the same time, it will elevate the willing novice, enthrall the astute intermediate, and level the playing field for the expert rider. Make no mistake, Honda built this machine to win races. However, it wouldn’t be a Honda if it hadn’t been designed with the intention of being ridden by a wide range of enthusiasts. With engine and chassis upgrades, Honda has created a motocross machine with very little to complain about and very little left to improve on. (Click image to enlarge)
The heart and soul of the CRF is its engine. As can be expected of a 4-stroke, the motor produces an enormous amount of torque at low rpm and the power comes on even and smooth. The 55 horses hit solidly, and throttle response is surprisingly crisp with a steady and predictable delivery to the rear wheel resulting in a motorcycle that is fun to ride despite its racing pedigree. For motocross, that translates into less fatigue for the rider. Our test rider, Scott Johnson, was able to circulate the entire test track in second and third gear, using both the abundant power to pull out of slow turns and the high rev limit—9,000 rpm—to get down straights and up hills. An engine this powerful and forgiving allows the rider to put more concentration on the track instead of working to keep the bike in its powerband. This renders lower, consistent lap times.
The Honda turns exceptionally well, holds its line and goes exactly where the rider aims it. Jumps are an equally predictable affair, with the attitude of the motorcycle being set with throttle input on take-off. Mid-air corrections are made easy with the CRF’s light feel. Honda shaved some weight for 2005, bringing the 450 in at an amazing 218.5 lbs., as well as narrowing the width of the machine where it counts: at the tank/seat junction for rider comfort and maneuverability.(Click image to enlarge)
Motocross is all about stability and suspension and the CRF’s fully adjustable 47mm inverted Showa front fork and Pro-Link Showa single shock rear suspension deliver a full 12.5 inches of travel at each end. Scott intentionally tried to get the rear of the bike to step out or become unstable in the whoop section—unsuccessfully. No matter how he attacked the ruts, the bike’s attitude remained controlled, tracking straight with the suspension soaking up the nastiness without incident.
Honda has taken an already potent machine and made it stronger and faster. Transmission, clutch and controls are first rate and bulletproof. Plastic is sleek and simple. When asked what he would do to the CRF450R to make it better, Johnson hesitated, considered, then shrugged. A tacit approval from a former professional National, Supercross and Grand Prix competitor.
Evolution of the 4-stroke
The air pollution factor inherent in 2-stroke engines, which require an oil/gas pre-mix for lubrication, has resulted in an inevitable, eventual ban on their production and use. Hence, motorcycle manufacturers turned their engineers loose several years ago on developing competitive, environmentally friendly 4-strokes. They’ve made good progress. Any questions the skeptics had about the potential performance limitations in the 2-stroke versus 4-stroke battle have been sufficiently answered. Well, squashed actually. Honda factory rider Ricky Carmichael put the period on that statement himself when he wrapped up the number one plate. With the CRF450R, Honda has begun to swing the door closed on the 2-stroke era and in turn, has kicked the door to the 4-stroke era wide open.