2023 Honda CRF450R Review [Glen Helen Raceway Track Test]

2023 Honda CRF450R Review: Glen Helen Raceway

Fifty years of history flashes before your eyes as you throw a leg over this 2023 Honda CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition motocross machine. The pioneers of our sport persevered through air-cooled, carbureted, piston port, two-stroke motors in chassis with four inches of suspension travel. Modern dirt bike riders are spoiled with luxuries such as electric start, hydraulic clutches, engine map selections, 12+ inches of suspension travel, and smooth four-stroke powerplants. Yeah, we have come a long way since the 1973 Honda CR250M Elsinore rolled off the assembly line. Fifty years later, we put the 2023 Honda CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition to the test.

Between the standard and 50th Anniversary Edition, there are no mechanical or performance differences—it’s all for looks. The 50th comes equipped with gold D.I.D. Dirt Star rims, gold Renthal Fat Bar handlebars, a blue seat cover, gray-metallic triple clamps, and special edition graphics that recall the potent CR250Rs of the 1980s. Take a moment and let the beauty sink in.

We took this beautiful motorcycle to the roughest and toughest tracks around—the world-renown Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California. It was 100 degrees in the shade, though we were riding in the unrelenting summer sun. The track was rough, dry, and sandy.

Coming off a full day of riding the 2023 Honda CRF450R, I drove home with a satisfied ear-to-ear grin, basking in the glory of luxury and comfort. This motorcycle is a beast, but a tame beast. The roar is there when you need it, yet the power delivery is smooth and manageable.

There are not a lot of changes compared to the 2022 model, though the 2023 CRF450R introduces a few updates that address the overall power delivery and handling. Let’s get into the technical aspects that were updated this year.

Chassis rigidity has been optimized by increasing the aluminum material thickness from 4mm to 6mm at the front joint and upper shock mount. This is claimed to improve stability and allow the front and rear suspension to move more freely through choppy or technical terrain. The engine hangers are now made from steel, replacing aluminum to add stiffness.

To complement the less-flexible chassis, the Showa suspension gets updates. The forks settings are stiffer, and the shock has a slightly stiffer spring rate. Fortunately, the ride does not feel stiff at all. In fact, I went a few clicks stiffer on the fork and left the shock settings to factory spec.

Ergonomically, you feel like Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton as you roll through the pits because the bike is so comfortable. The seat height is perfect for average or even shorter riders. You don’t have to be six-foot to throw a leg over this bike. If you are 6+ feet tall, the CRF450R will still suit you just fine.

The footpegs and grips feel perfectly positioned. The shrouds and bodywork are slim, providing that one-with-the-bike feel when maneuvering. Overall, the rider cockpit is balanced, and the CRF450R is light on the track.

Moving on to the motor package, Honda engineers worked closely with Team Honda HRC to develop an updated cam profile for better low-end torque and improved corner exits. Additionally, Honda engineers followed the feedback from HRC to reduce the throttle body diameter from 46mm to 44mm for smoother power delivery at low speeds. Combined with a slightly narrower intake port and a longer air funnel design, these updates are intended to create a smooth and manageable power package.

The changes work, as the 2023 Honda CRF450R’s motor has a smooth, manageable feel. Throughout the day, even towards the end, when my energy levels dropped in the triple-digit temperatures, the CRF450R offered a stable, rider-friendly feel.

The throttle response is precise and controllable throughout the entire rev range. Even in the corner exits, the power doesn’t want to jerk the bars out of your hands.

The motor is like a tractor; you can chug-a-lug around the track at low rpm without worrying about stalling the bike. There’s plenty of low-end power—just watch Sexton or Ken Roczen ride the factory CRF450R. The duo isn’t hitting the rev limiter every time; they ride smoothly in the low to mid rev range, as the motor is designed to do.

There are three preset engine map settings, conveniently switchable via a button on the left handlebar. Power delivery is remarkably rider-friendly for any 450 rider’s skill level, even in the most aggressive Map 3.

I started the day in Map 1—the Standard setting—to get a feel for the bike in its natural form. Map 1 is a great setting for me—it’s smooth yet still packs the punch needed to scale the Glen Helen summits.

Map 2 is smoother, with a significant difference in power delivery. It is less punchy on the power delivery while retaining the 450 power when needed. You can certainly feel the difference on the straights and exiting the corners. Nonetheless, Map 2 is enjoyable and calms the nerves—with an agreeably smooth throttle response and power delivery, you can focus on having fun.

If you’re just starting out on a 450 and find yourself aboard a 2023 CRF450R, Map 2 is a great place to start. Map 2 is an excellent choice for off-road riding with your buddies on the weekends. If you’re out racing your local motocross series, the standard Map 1 or aggressive Map 3 will be your preference.

Map 3 furnishes aggressive yet manageable throttle response, with quite a punch on the bottom and midrange. Map 3 revs quicker on the straights, and when getting hard on the throttle, you’ll need to hold on!

Another feature conveniently located on the map switch is three-level selectable traction control. Glen Helen offers plenty of opportunities to test such features as traction control because the track gets dry, choppy, and sandy late in the afternoon.

On the long uphill straights, you can really feel it working. We went up the hill back-to-back with traction control on and then off. The most noticeable difference is that the motor revs decidedly more freely with TC off.

I aimed for the softer sand section of the uphill to put it to the test and, yeah, it works. Riding up the hill pinned in 2nd gear coming out of the left-hand corner, the rear wheel dug deep into that soft sand while lifting the front end off the ground for a picturesque wheelie shot.

Next, I rode the same line with TC on, and what a difference—the rear wheel-maintained traction through the sand. While pinned in 2nd gear, the front end never left the ground.

With traction control engaged, you can hear the motor working for you. It’s smoother, but doesn’t compromise speed. Some riders like traction control, some don’t. It’s all rider preference, as you can switch TC off if that’s what works for you. This is the beauty of modern four-stroke machines—the ability to personalize the ride experience.

In factory form, the 2023 Honda CRF450R can win National championships, as Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton finished just a few points behind Eli Tomac this year in the title chase. The consumer version is eminently rideable, suiting 450 Novices on up, and the 50th Anniversary Edition looks stunning no matter how fast you can ride it.

Photography by Don Williams


2023 Honda CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition Specs


  • Type: 4-stroke single
  • Displacement: 450cc
  • Bore x stroke: 96.0 x 62.1mm
  • Compression ratio: 13.5:1
  • Valvetrain: SOHC; 4 valves
  • Fueling: EFI w/ 44mm throttle body
  • Starting: Electric
  • Transmission: 5-speed
  • Clutch: Hydraulically actuated wet-multiplate
  • Final drive: 520 chain


  • Frame: Twin-spar aluminum
  • Handlebar: Renthal tapered aluminum
  • Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable Showa inverted 49mm fork; 12.2 inches
  • Rear suspension: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Showa piggyback shock; 12.4 inches
  • Rims: D.I.D DirtStar
  • Tires: Dunlop Geomax MX33
  • Front tire: 80/100 x 21
  • Rear tire: 120/80 x 19
  • Front brake: 260mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
  • Rear brake: 240mm disc w/ single-piston caliper


  • Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
  • Rake: 27.1 degrees
  • Trail: 4.5 inches
  • Seat height: 38.0 inches
  • Ground clearance: 13.2 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 1.7 gallons
  • Wet weight: 245 pounds
  • Color: Red   

2023 Honda CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition Price: $9899 MSRP

2023 Honda CRF450R Review: 50th Anniversary Edition Photo Gallery