2019 Honda CRF450L: Finally, A Japanese 450 Dual Sport Motorcycle

For those of us who consider ourselves hard-core dual-sport motorcycle riders, the wait is finally over. For years, anyone who wanted serious off-road performance in a street-legal package had a very limited pool of European-made motorcycles to choose from.

The Japanese manufacturers were noticeably absent. Since the dawning of the four-stroke motocross era in the 1990s, there had never been a 450cc Japanese dual-sport motorcycle.

That has all changed with the much-anticipated debut of the 2019 Honda CRF450L.

After flogging the new CRF450L across 100 miles of tight, rooted single-track, rocky forest roads, pristine trails, and some of the most beautiful countryside that the Pacific Northwest has to offer, here are the 24 Fast Facts that you need to know about the ground-breaking Honda CRF450L.

2019 Honda CRF450L top speed1. The 2019 Honda CRF450L is different from a dirt bike with a license plate—it is a high-performance dual-sport machine. Rather than simply making a barely-legal street-legal dirt bike out of the Honda CRF450R motocross platform, Honda engineered a performance motorcycle with durability and comfort in mind. The 2019 Honda CRF450L is designed for long stints in the saddle and multi-day adventures across the nastiest terrain, and all the way back to the garage.

2. The 450cc powerplant is tuned to pump out smooth and linear power. We’ve spent a lot of time taming the power of our 2018 CRF450RX Project Bike to optimize it for trail conditions, so we can appreciate the work that Honda did to deliver torquey, usable power for the CRF450L. With a heavier clutch basket and 12 percent more crank inertia than its MX sibling, the CRF450L can easily loft the front wheel over obstacles on the trail, while also providing tractable pull across slippery terrain. Power delivery builds consistently from idle and the rotating mass of the engine keeps things spinning, even in technical terrain. We never stalled the engine.

3. Our seat-of-the-pants estimate would be that the horsepower in stock trim is somewhere in the mid-40s. Whatever speculation you might have read about the 2019 Honda CRF450L putting out 25 horsepower was wrong.

4. This is not your standard Japanese underpowered and heavy dual-sport bike with handling characteristics more akin to cattle herding than off-road racing. At 298 pounds fully gassed up and street legal, the CRF450L is only 34 pounds heavier than our CRF450RX race machine.

2019 Honda CRF450L flat track style

5. The 2019 Honda CRF450L’s handling is precise without compromising high-speed stability. The CRF450L pivots on a dime when blasting through tight and technical single-track. With 28.2 degrees of rake—one degree more than the CRF450R—the CRF450L is extremely stable at high speeds and feels very predictable throwing it around twisty fire-roads.

6. Ergonomics are neutral with a balanced feel between the grips, seat, and footpegs. Hondas are known for having a balanced feel, and the CRF450L is no exception. The bar bend is comfortable for both stand-up and sit-down riding. The seat and bodywork feel slim and virtually identical to the rest of the CRF450 lineup. The traditional Renthal aluminum handlebar is mounted to the triple clamp with rubber cone cushions to reduce the shock from sudden impacts.

7. The CRF450L utilizes the same high-spec Showa suspension as the CRF450R, with off-road specific spring rates and valving. That includes a 49mm closed cartridge coil-spring fork and shock linkage ratios optimized for off-road.

8. The Honda techs softened the compression and quickened the rebound a couple of clicks—front and rear—to set-up the 2019 Honda CRF450L for the rocky and rooted single track of the Pacific Northwest. For my 170-pound frame and aggressive riding style, the suspension worked well for the conditions. It was balanced fore and aft, without undue fork dive under heavy breaking. Even when hitting exposed roots at an angle, the fork soaked up the bumps and the front end did not deflect.

9. The six-speed wide-ratio transmission has perfectly spaced cogs, and shifts smoothly.The entire gearbox works well. First and second gears for tight and technical single-track; third gear for when the trail opens up a bit; fourth and fifth for fire roads; and sixth gear for the highway. Unlike our barely-legal personal dual-sport bikes, the CRF450L achieves highway speeds with comfort and can cruise at 70 mph without rattling your fillings.

2019 Honda CRF450L street review

10. Anti-vibration damping is a game changer. I admit it; I’ve been converted. My typical modus operandi is to buy a barely legal dual-sport bike and proceed to tear off everything I can to get it as close to its non-street legal sibling—not anymore. The rubber-cushioned sprockets totally eliminate chain-slap, even when accelerating out of a sweeping turn in too high of a gear. The urethane-injected swingarm and sound-deadening motor covers not only reduce noise and vibration—they also protect the engine. The end result is an ultra-smooth ride that is less fatiguing and more enjoyable. I never thought I’d say this, but the added weight is worth the benefit.

11. The CRF450L begs for long days in the saddle and doesn’t wear you out. With its smooth power delivery, anti-vibration swingarm, sound deadening motor covers, and dampened drive system, the CRF450L is less fatiguing, meaning you can ride more aggressively for longer periods of time. For all-day riding and multi-day adventures, that’s the name of the game.

12. Even though it is geared to be 50-state legal, the CRF450L can be ridden straight from the dealership to the trail. Often times, high-performance dual-sport bikes are delivered with extremely tall gearing to comply with Euro drive-by sound emissions. Before we can even take it on the trail, we need to drop the countershaft sprocket a couple of teeth and possibly fit a larger rear sprocket. The gearing works everywhere, right out of the box.

13. The CRF450L on the other hand, has the EFI mapping specifically tuned for the catalyzing exhaust system, so fueling is spot on. It’s not uncommon for race-based dual sport motorcycles to run so lean that they pop and stall necessitating intake and exhaust modifications to improve fueling. The tuning on the 2019 Honda CRF450L is crisp.

2019 Honda CRF450L review14. The full-length aluminum subframe is built to support all of your adventure kit. A tail rack for a chainsaw, fuel bladder, or saddlebags needs to rely on a reinforced subframe, and the CRF450L subframe extends all the way back to the taillight. That means that more weight can be moved from the rider’s backpack and fanny pack and placed on the bike, lessening rider fatigue and extending the adventure—very functional, and very cool.

15. The CRF450L has a two-gallon titanium fuel tank—stylishly shrouded in a black plastic cowling—and provides between 80 and 100 miles of range depending on terrain and pace. We burned 2.1 gallons over the course of 100 miles, and measured real-time fuel consumption of 55 mpg while cruising at 55 mph on the highway.

16. The digital display can show real-time mpg, as well total fuel consumed. That makes it easy to know exactly how much is left in the tank, and how much farther you can go. Additionally, because fuel consumption is measured at the throttle body, this system will work with an aftermarket fuel tank.

17. Beefed up braking is nice to have. With a 260mm rotor up front and 240mm in the rear, the CRF450L gets the same diameter rotors as the rest of the CRF450 line, but has a thicker front disc and higher capacity reservoir to resist overheating and brake fade. This is nice to have off-road, but would really come in handy for a super-moto setup.

18. The stock rubber on the 2019 Honda CRF450L is IRC GP-21F and GP-22R, but we tested with Dunlop D606 DOT tires. The Honda team opted for the knobbier Dunlop tires for the soft and wet conditions up in the Pacific Northwest. The Dunlops hooked up well in the pristine volcanic soil on the trail, but really proved themselves on the rain-soaked fire roads and asphalt, where they were extremely predictable.

2019 Honda CRF450L msrp

19. The maintenance interval is the same across the entire CRF450 lineup. The Honda shop manual calls for the motor oil to be changed every 600 miles and for the intake and exhaust valves to be inspected every 1800 miles. Imagine 600 miles of twisty single-track and water crossings. That is a long time between oil changes, especially given that common sense and conventional wisdom calls for changing and inspecting the oil after every long trip.

20. The legal bits are durable enough to withstand constant off-road punishment. The license plate hanger is large, but made out of lightweight sturdy aluminum. All lighting is LED, so it shouldn’t succumb to the constant shaking like the incandescent lamps of yesteryear. The rear-view mirrors cover the entire field of vision behind the rider, and stay in place when the going gets rough. When I hit a branch, folding the mirror in, I simply straightened it out by hand—no stopping required.

21. The handlebar-mounted switchgear is simple, unobtrusive, and intuitive to operate. The turn-signal button, horn, and high-low beam switches are all easy to manipulate by feel after a few miles in the saddle.

22. The modern styling and overall aesthetic gives the CRF450L a cutting-edge look. The LED headlight is DOT-approved, extremely compact, and doesn’t extend out over the front fender. The front turn signals are also daytime running lights, increasing visibility. All four turn signals can be bent completely backwards and will snap back to their original position without breaking—I didn’t real-world test them for crash durability. The smoke-tinted headlight lens is very cool and along with the titanium fuel tank and black DID Dirt Star wheels, the CRF450L is a visual stunner.

2019 Honda CRF450L price23. With an MSRP of $10,399, the performance of the 2019 Honda CRF450L comes at a price. But putting it in a broader perspective, the Honda CRF450L is nominally less expensive than its KTM, Husqvarna, and Beta counterparts. When you consider that the price tag includes a full one-year warranty, the CRF450L is a dual-sport value.

24. There’s no doubt that the new CRF450L is a highly refined, potent, off-road weapon. It is also the most comfortable and capable high-performance dual-sport bike we’ve ever ridden on the asphalt. Best of all, we know that the fire-breathing soul of the CRF450R lurks beneath the surface, and undoubtedly some of us will make modifications to awaken the beast within, but that is purely optional. The beauty of the 2019 Honda CRF450L is that it is legal and performs at a high-level on- and off-road in stock trim, something that no other dual-sport can claim—and that is worth the wait.

Location photography by Drew Ruiz

RIDING STYLE

2019 Honda CRF450L Specs

ENGINE

  • ​​Motor: Four-stroke single
  • ​​Displacement: 450cc
  • ​​Bore x stroke: 96.0mm x 62.1mm
  • ​​Compression ratio: 12.0:1
  • ​​Fuel system: EFI w/ 46mm throttle body
  • ​​Starting: Electric
  • ​​Transmission: Constant-mesh 6-speed
  • ​​Final drive: 520 chain

CHASSIS

  • ​​Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
  • ​​Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 49mm inverted Showa coil-spring forks; 12.0 inches
  • ​​Rear suspension; travel: Fully adjustable linkage-assisted Showa shock; 12.4 inches
  • ​​​​Front tire: 80/100-21; IRC GP21 (Dunlop D606 as tested)
  • ​​Rear tire: 120/80-18; IRC GP22 (Dunlop D606 as tested)
  • Front brake: 260mm disc w/ two-piston caliper
  • ​​Rear brake: 240mm disc w/ single-piston caliper

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • ​​Wheelbase: 58.9 inches
  • ​​Rake: 28.2 degrees
  • ​​Trail: 4.6 inches
  • ​​Seat height: 37.1 inches
  • ​​Ground clearance: 12.4 inches
  • ​​Fuel capacity: 2.0 gallons
  • ​​​​Curb weight: 289 pounds

2019 Honda CRF450L Color:

  • Red

​​2019 Honda CRF450L Price:

  • $10,399 MSRP
  • Availability: September 2018

2019 Honda CRF450L Review | Photo Gallery