2014 Honda CRF450R | Motocross Race Test
In the past two years, the Honda CRF450R has undergone a slew of changes in its design, bodywork, and ergonomics. Last year’s Honda CRF450R marked a new generation for the brand, featuring a new Kayaba Pneumatic Spring fork, dual muffler system, and a redesigned twin-spar aluminum frame.
The changes proved to be well worth the research and development as American Honda/Muscle Milk factory racer Justin Barcia put the bike on the podium several times during the 2013 AMA Supercross season. Barcia’s first shining moment on the new machine came in only the second round of the series at Chase Field in Phoenix. It was there that he achieved his first career 450 win. Barcia would secure another victory later on in the series at the penultimate round in Seattle, beating the local favorite and reigning Supercross champion Ryan Villopoto in dominating fashion from start to finish.
With the major overhaul last year, it was clear that Honda aimed to fine-tune the previous year model by revising the small, but very important, details when designing the 2014 Honda CRF450R. The changes included new cylinder head porting, a Dual-Timing PGM-FI fuel injection setup, and a new rebound piston in the front fork. The new cylinder head porting included revising the intake and exhaust port shaping; while the new Dual-Timing PGM-FI fuel injection setup allows the fuel injection setup to cycle twice, cooling the intake track and the face of the valve with the first charge giving the second charge better atomization.
Upon first glance, the 2014 Honda CRF450R has almost a futuristic look to it thanks to the unique bodywork, side panels and dual mufflers. After taking a good look over the bike, the first thing that I noticed when taking the 2014 CRF450R off of the stand is how light it is. At a claimed ready to ride weight of only 243 pounds, the Honda remains the lightest 450 machine in its class by a long shot.
After setting my bars and levers, I was amazed at how comfortable I felt while sitting on the bike. It is clear that Honda aimed to design their cockpit to be comfortable for the shorter rider, while still allowing average to taller sized riders like me to not feel crammed. Starting the machine required a consistent, but powerful, kick each time, as the bike has a solid amount of compression throughout the stroke of the kick. I was surprised at how easily I could start the bike on the first kick once the engine was warm.
Honda’s single cam, four-valve motor makes some of the most linear, usable power in the 450 class and this year was no exception. On the track, I could immediately feel the effects of the new cylinder head porting and Dual-Timing PGM-FI changes. Bottom end power is where the CRF shines as a result these changes.
When cracking the throttle to leap over an obstacle, the bike responds immediately, while still maintaining predictability. When exiting a tight corner, I could either use the clutch to get the revs up or lug the motor down lower in the rev range.
A perfect testament to the CRF’s bottom end power came when I ventured onto the Arenacross track at Milestone MX Park in Riverside, CA. While I did not gather the nerve to jump the finish line or triple jumps, I found several parts of each rhythm section that I felt comfortable on.
One jump comes right out of a sharp right hand corner and I was easily able to double it without the use of the clutch. I entered the corner in second gear, gave the bike a respectable blip of throttle, and the CRF450R took care of the rest. While most riders will not venture onto an Arenacross track, I found it to be an incredibly worthy test of the CRF’s fantastic bottom end power.
The strong bottom end leaps right into the meaty mid-range power. The mid-range is inspiring and almost as impressive as the CRF450R’s bottom end power. The bike pulled hard down straightaways and was easy to ride fast and confidently due to the predictability of the linear, mid-range power.
Honda is well aware that most riders will ride mostly in the mid-range power on a 450 and made sure make it strong, yet rideable. The top end was not where the CRF made its best, most effective power. When ridden too high in the rpm range, the bike didn’t seem to keep pulling past the upper mid-range part of the powerband. Because of this, I felt that the best way to ride it was to shift at around 8500 rpm in order to keep the bike pulling in the meat of the power. On a good note, the dual muffler exhaust system is incredibly quiet as each muffler features a quarter-size hole for the exhaust to escape.
The five-speed transmission on the 2014 Honda CRF450R is flawless. The gears are spaced perfectly for any type of track. I stayed in second and third gear during most of my time on the bike. First gear worked wonders in a tight, inside line of a corner. Second and third gear are perfect for just about any part of the track including the outside line in corners, straightaways and just about any size of jump. I was reluctant to use fourth or fifth gear, as they are much too tall for a standard motocross track. Shifting was effortless for me as I use the clutch each and every time that I shift. For riders who do likewise, it would take a real mishap to miss a shift on Honda’s impressive transmission.
Returning on the Honda for 2014 is the 48mm Kayaba Pneumatic Spring fork and KYB Pro-Link shock. Up front, Honda changed the recommended air pressure setting on the front fork from last year going from 33 psi to 35. The increase in recommended air pressure is due to the new rebound piston in the front fork. I utilized Honda’s recommended 35 psi as a base setting and tested different amounts of air pressure on a variety of different tracks and conditions.
I quickly found that one of the air fork’s best qualities is the amount of adjustability that it offers. An example of this is that you can essentially change spring rates while at the track with your air fork pump. Adding or subtracting two pounds is relative to going up or down a pound/inch of spring rate on a conventional fork.
After extensive testing, I found that I was most content with 36 pounds of air pressure on most tracks. However, I did increase the compression by six clicks in order to help save the arms on those harder landings. I did not feel any decrease in traction in the front end when cornering after this adjustment, and was happy with the overall results. I must say that I was shocked at how well the CRF450R’s front end hooked up in corners, especially when driving it hard into a loamy berm. I never felt the front end push or try to wash out on me.
In the rear, the KYB Pro-Link shock worked like any great shock should. It handled the hard landings, acceleration bumps, and braking bumps much better than I anticipated. I never had the CRF450R kick out on me or do anything unusual when faced with braking bumps in corners or on big downhills.
Acceleration bumps prove to be the same story. The rear end refuses to kick or swap out and I am able to get a great drive when exiting a corner. This is especially helpful towards the end of the day when the track gets become rough and rutted. I never felt the shock bottom out or cause any jolt through my legs on a hard landing either.
Riders who are heavier and/or an Intermediate or Pro rider may want to utilize a heavier spring rate, as the shock seems to be best suited for the average sized Novice and Intermediate rider. Overall, I was impressed with how well the CRF’s suspension felt from the get-go and satisfied with how it worked in a variety of different tracks and conditions.
The 2014 Honda CRF450R’s handling is its most notable and praiseworthy characteristic. In a nutshell, the bike feels and reacts like a 250 four-stroke. The bike’s cornering ability is fantastic because of how nimble the bike is and the same can be said when whipping and scrubbing off the faces of jumps.
Because of how nimble and light it is, I found myself pushing harder and longer throughout the course of a moto. Most 450 motocross machines can be a handful for most average riders, but such is not the case with the 2014 Honda CRF450R. All levels of riders will love the lightweight, flickable characteristics of the bike and will find themselves shaving seconds off their lap times because of it.
Similar to the previous year, the 2014 Honda CRF450R comes standard with Renthal 971 handlebars. While the bar works well for me personally, a shorter rider may look for a bar with lower rise. The Dunlop MX 51 tires hooked up well at all of the tracks I rode, and they included multiples types of terrain ranging from soft and loamy to a more intermediate, harder pack. Both the front and rear Dunlop knobbies held up well and maintained a sharp edge after many practice and race sessions.
Riders who will enjoy the 2014 Honda CRF450R most include beginners, novices, intermediates, and especially riders who are moving up from a 250 four-stroke. A pro level rider will love the handling and lightweight qualities of the bike, but will certainly want to throw on a full exhaust system and matching engine work to coax a little more power out of the red machine.
The 2014 Honda CRF450R’s small, but fine refinements from last year’s model proved to be a continuing step in the right direction. The CRF450R’s handling, suspension, and motor make it the easiest bike in its class to ride. While the handling is the CRF’s strongest point, the motor offers a linear powerband with no surprises from bottom to top. The plush suspension mean a smooth ride when dealing with the rough, squared-edged chop, and is forgiving when overjumping or coming up short on a landing. The lightweight, nimble chassis makes cornering, scrubbing, and whipping effortless. With the 2014 CRF450R, Honda has found its niche in the 450 class by developing the most nimble, lightweight machine on the market.
Action photography by Don Williams
Helmet: Shoei VFX-W Dissent TC-1
Goggles: Oakley Airbrake MX
Neck brace: Leatt GPX 5.5
Chest protection: Leatt 5.5 Pro Lite
Jersey, gloves and pants: Moose Racing 2014 Sahara Racewear
Boots: Sidi Crossfire 2 SR
Andrew Oldar is sponsored by Moose Racing
2014 Honda CRF450R Specifications
Engine Type: 449cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore and Stroke: 96.0mm x 62.1mm
Compression Ratio: 12.5:1
Valve Train: Unicam, four-valve; 36mm intake, titanium; 31mm exhaust, steel
Induction: Dual-Timing PGM-FI, 46mm throttle body
Ignition: Full transistor with electronic advance
Transmission: Close-ratio five-speed
Final Drive: #520 chain; 13T/48T
Front: 48mm inverted KYB PSF (Pneumatic Spring Fork) with air-adjustable spring rate, and rebound and compression-damping adjustability; 12.2 inches travel.
Rear: Pro-Link® KYB single shock with adjustable spring preload, rebound damping adjustability, and compression damping adjustment separated into low-speed and high-speed; 12.4 inches travel
Front: Single 240mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear: Single 240mm disc
Front: Dunlop MX51FA 80/100-21
Rear: Dunlop MX51 120/80-19
Wheelbase: 58.7 inches
Rake (Caster Angle): 27°04’
Trail: 116mm (4.57 inches)
Seat Height: 37.5 inches
Ground Clearance: 13.0 inches
Fuel Capacity: 1.66 gallons
Curb Weight*: 242.7 pounds
2014 Honda CRF450R MSRP: $8699.