2017 Honda CRF450R Review
The 2017 Honda CRF450R marks the beginning of the fifth generation of the Japanese manufacturer’s premier-class motocross machine. The bike is all-new and improved in nearly every aspect.
Honda modeled the new CRF450R around the Absolute Holeshot concept in order to make the bike faster out of the gate, as well as everywhere else on the track. A more powerful engine is just one of the many improvements Honda made to the motorcycle, and the changes all add up to make it dramatically improved over its predecessor.
Beginning with the engine, the 2017 CRF450R retains the Unicam design Honda has used on its production four-stroke motocross machines since production began in 2002. However, everything else has been changed to pump out more horsepower.
The top end receives narrower and larger valves, a revised valve actuation, a higher compression piston, and a straighter downdraft intake layout. The bottom end features a new clutch design with seven plate/friction-discs and a revised transmission ratio to accommodate the new power curve.
Lastly, the new engine can accommodate an optional electric starter, a feature we’ve seen on the Honda CRF450RW works machines raced by reigning MXGP World Champion Tim Gajser. The cost for the e-start kit (starter and electrical harness) is $640, sans battery and installation. Our test bike did not come with the electric start kit, but we’ve tested the kit on the new CRF450RX (it’s standard), and it works great.
The fuel-injected 2017 CRF450R fires to life with little effort, so long as the kickstarter is positioned at top dead center and the bike is in neutral. I was easily able to start the bike while cold without the fast idle knob pulled out. The engine will start in gear once the engine is warm, but the best way to ensure it fires to life consistently is by putting it in neutral before kicking.
The previous generation CRF450R was known to have a healthy amount of bottom-end power, and the new 2017 model is no different. The bottom-end of the 2017 machine comes on with authority, yet is linear enough to be controllable and not create fatigue to the rider. The transition into the mid-range comes on very strong, and mid-range power is night and day difference from the previous year model.
The mid-range boost is exceptional, which makes the motorcycle easy to ride a gear high in most areas of the track. The transition to the high-rpm power is smooth and the top-end of the powerband packs a punch that was nonexistent on the previous generation CRF450R.
The motor pulls long and hard until hitting the rev limiter. However, thanks to the smooth shifting gearbox, I was able to click up a cog before hitting the rev limiter and still maintain revs and my momentum due how strong the top end is.
This became very evident while riding up and downs the hills of both Cahuilla Creek MX (a local favorite) and the AMA National track Glen Helen Raceway. I was able to keep the five-speed transmission in third and fourth gear on the tracks, using either the mid-range without lugging, or the top end power without over-revving the motor.
The 2017 CRF450R motor packs so much of a punch that I sometimes found myself in a wheelie when grabbing a handful of throttle just after the base of some of the transitions before a steep incline; I easily remedied that by moving my weight farther forward. Suffice to say, the new powerplant is incredible and I am very pleased with how much power it packs in each part of the powerband. Hopefully, we see the electric starter kit stock on the 2018 model!
Tuning the power of the 2017 Honda CRF450R can be done so with three different engine maps —Standard, Smooth, and Aggressive. The maps can easily be changed via a button adjacent to the kill switch on the left side of the handlebar and the transmission must be in neutral.
Once the button is pressed, a blinking blue light signifies which map the engine is using. It will do this when the motor is started, too. The Standard map flashes once, the Smooth map flashes twice, and the Aggressive map flashes three times
After testing each of the maps, I found the Smooth map to be the easiest ride—no surprise. It mellowed out the bottom end power and made the transition into the mid-range and top end easier.
The Standard and Aggressive maps both worked well, but the Smooth map worked best throughout the duration of a moto as I found myself getting less fatigued due to the slightly softer power delivery.
The 2017 Honda CRF450R retains the dual exhaust system design that was introduced in 2013. Honda engineers shortened both of the mufflers by just over three inches in order to enhance mass centralization. The new shorter exhausts are a bit louder than the previous generation bike, but not dramatically.
This year, Honda retreats from the air fork and returns to the traditional coil spring design, while moving from KYB to Showa. The new 49mm Showa fork features many similarities to Showa A-Kit fork, a popular choice of many riders in the pro paddock of a Monster Energy AMA Supercross race or Lucas Oil Pro Motocross national.
The new Showa coil spring forks are a major improvement over the KYB air units. They have a much more plush and progressive feel when entering corners and landing from big jumps. Additionally, they took much less time to set up than the KYB air forks.
I could comfortably ride them with the stock settings, but I went two clicks softer on the compression damping to soften the overall ride and allow them to travel farther through the stroke. Additionally, the plushness led to less fatigue in my arms, which resulted in less arm pump.
They were very predictable in braking bumps and when landing from big jumps. The only downside to the spring fork is the increased weight over the air forks—springs weigh more than air, of course. I didn’t notice a weight difference compared to the KYB PSF-1 fork, so this is a non-issue for me.
The shock is a new linkage-assisted fully adjustable Showa that has been repositioned to accommodate the new intake design. Both the top and bottom mounts are lower, and the shock is positioned closer to the center of the swingarm.
After spinning a few motos, I ended up going three clicks softer on the high-speed compression damping to compensate for my 130-pound frame. This made the rear of the bike plusher when charging through braking bumps, exiting choppy corners, and landing from jumps. The stock settings would work just fine for someone of average weight and skill, while there is plenty of adjustability to go stiffer or softer for those who need it.
The handling of the 2017 Honda CRF450R is fantastic. The motorcycle has a lightweight feel similar to a 250 four-stroke and is very responsive to rider input. I could put the bike wherever I wanted to with little effort. This becomes noticeable throughout the course of a moto, as I am less fatigued as a result of the nimble feel of the bike.
The improvement in handling can be partly attributed to the new aluminum frame. This is the sixth generation of the twin-spar design, which is lighter and has decreased torsional stiffness. These changes were made to improve the cornering ability of the bike.
The changes made to the frame apparently worked because cornering on the 2017 CRF450R is exceptional. Once I got the suspension dialed to my liking, the bike becomes very compliant upon entering turns. It is easy to line myself up for a rut because the bike tracked into the corner without hopping around or throwing me off balance.
Railing berms and navigating through a rutted corner is easy because of how maneuverable the bike is. The CRF450R complied and tracked well when exiting corners thanks to the plush rear shock.
In addition to razor sharp cornering abilities, the CRF450R maintains good straight-line stability. I never felt the bike twitch at high speed or do anything unusual. The same can be said for high-speed rollers and whoops. The bike is a great balance of stability and cornering ability, which is a hard thing to achieve given that one commonly takes from the other and vice versa.
Jumping the 2017 CRF450R is confidence inspiring and I have very little fear of coming up short or over jumping obstacles because of how well the Showa suspension absorbs hard landings. I was impressed with how the bike reacts to rider input off the lip and in the air. I can scrub and throw whips with even the most minor input off the face of a jump. In the air, the bike feels very light, yet controlled, and I have no problems correcting in the air when I need to.
The front brake is powerful, yet predictable, thanks to the 260mm front rotor. It offers a progressive feel, and I can stop quickly if I need to. I don’t find myself wanting more power out of the front brake and am pleased with the overall performance. The same can be said for the rear brake. The 240mm disc provides plenty of stopping power and can lock the rear wheel up easily with a tap of the rear brake pedal.
The new seven-disc/six-plate combo clutch has a noticeably stiffer pull at the lever, though Honda claims the same lever load due to a new primary ratio. There were times—mostly in tight corners where I had to feather the clutch—when I instinctively use two fingers to pull the clutch in where I would normally use only one.
The clutch has not faded at any time, thought I don’t need to overuse it for any reason thanks to the broad powerband of the CRF450R. The shape of the lever is nice as it has a distinctive spot to pull in.
The Renthal 971 handlebars have an agreeable bend that I became comfortable with right away. This 7/8-inch bar has come stock on Hondas for many years and will feel comfortable to most average sized riders. The grips are somewhat hard, but they do not beat up my hands and have a long life.
The new Dunlop MX3S tires are noticeably better than the MX52 rubber that came on last year’s model. The MX3S tires provide better traction in soft-to-intermediate dirt conditions and also work well on hard pack terrain, despite being designed for softer, loamier conditions. These tires are the preferred choice of most motocross racers who run Dunlop, so it was a good move.
Like the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR superbike, the new Honda CRF450R has the titanium fuel tank. The new tank is two ounces lighter than the plastic tank that came on the previous model CRF450Rs. It is somewhat concealed by a plastic cover near the gas cap, but a production machine with a titanium fuel tank is pretty awesome!
Most of the maintenance I have performed on the CRF450R includes changing the engine oil, oil filter, and air filter, as well as tightening the spokes and adjusting the chain. Changing the oil is different from all of the previous generation CRF450Rs because the new engine combines the engine oil and transmission oil into one system; previous generation models separated the engine and transmission oil into two separate systems.
Prior to changing the oil, the skidplate must be taken off, which requires removing three 10mm bolts—one on the left side of the bike, one on the right side, and one on the bottom near the rear of the frame. This is a quick and easy task to accomplish. The new oil drain bolt now requires a 10mm Allen wrench to remove. Reinstalling the bolt is easy, as it is quite a bit bigger than the old design. Remounting the skidplate is a cinch as well.
Replacing the oil filter requires the removal of two 8mm bolts on the left side of the engine. The filter comes out effortlessly. There is a spring on the side closest to the engine that keeps the oil filter in place. Reinstalling the new oil filter is a snap and it’s easy to tell if it’s installed correctly due to the spring pushing outwards on the oil filter cover.
Refilling the engine with oil is done by removing the dipstick, which screws in on the top of the ignition cover. The engine takes a just less than quart without replacing the oil filter, and a tad over a quart when replacing the oil filter. The dipstick comes in handy when refilling with fresh oil, as it’s easy to tell where the oil level sits.
The spokes on the front and rear wheel loosened slightly during my first few rides. I tightened them after each time and once I had put about 10 hours on the bike, they stayed tight and have required minimal maintenance afterwards.
The chain loosened a bit during my first handful of rides. I had to tighten it every other time I went to the track. Similar to the spokes, it stayed properly adjusted after about the first 10 hours of ride time.
The 2017 Honda CRF450R is a user-friendly motocross bike. Novice riders will enjoy the bottom end power, especially when ridden in the mellow map. They will also appreciate that the bike can be short-shifted and still be ridden effectively. Intermediate and Pro level riders will like this bike much more than the previous generation CRF450R because it packs a much stronger punch in the mid-range and top end.
The 2017 Honda CRF450R is a huge improvement over its predecessors. The new engine maintains the bottom end power the CRF450R is known for and is remarkably better in the mid-range to top end. The Showa 49mm coil spring forks are dramatically improved over the air forks found on the previous year models and the shock matches very well with the new units.
The deft handling makes it feel lighter than ever. It feels effortless to maneuver on the track and throw around in the air. The 2017 Honda CRF450R is a fantastic bike for riders of varying skill levels looking for a nimble and powerful 450cc motocross motorcycle.
Photography by Don Williams at Milestone MX
- Helmet: Shoei VFX-W Hectic TC-5
- Data acquisition: LitPro
- Goggles: Oakley Prizm MX
- Neck Brace: Alpinestars BNS Tech Carbon
- Chest Protector: Leatt Chest Protector Lite
- Jersey + Pants: Alpinestars Limited Edition Torch Techstar Factory
- Gloves: Alpinestars Limited Edition Torch Radar 2
- Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10
2017 Honda CRF450R Specs:
- Motor: 4-valve SOHC single
- Displacement: 450cc
- Bore x stroke: 96.0mm x 62.1mm
- Compression ratio: 13.5:1
- Cooling: Liquid
- Valves: 10.0mm intake, steel; 8.8mm exhaust, steel
- Fuel system: Programmed fuel-injection system (PGM-FI); 46mm throttle body
- Ignition: Full transistorized ignition
- Transmission: Constant-mesh 5-speed
- Final drive: 520 chain; 13T/49T
- Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
- Front suspension: Fully adjustable 49mm inverted Showa coil-spring forks; 12.0 inches of travel
- Rear: Fully adjustable linkage-assisted Showa shock; 12.4 inches of travel
- Front brake: 260mm hydraulic disc
- Rear brake: 240mm hydraulic disc
- Front tire: 80/100-21; Dunlop Geomax MX3S
- Rear tire: 120/90-18; Dunlop Geomax MX3S
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
- Rake: 27° 22’
- Trail: 4.6 inches
- Seat height: 37.8 inches
- Ground clearance: 12.9 inches
- Fuel Capacity: 1.6 gallons
- Curb weight: 243 pounds
- Color: Red
2017 Honda CRF450R Price:
- $8,849 MSRP