The return of ‘Big Red’? – 2013 Honda CRF450 Test

There’s been a definite sense around the GP paddock and the industry big players that KTM have been getting away with it for too long. That reflects when you cast your beady eye over proceedings on the big stage. The gloves are off and for the next few years it’s going to be a bit of a slug fest. KTM – undisputed Kings of Europe – have just won a fight of real significance in the US in attempt to stamp their authority as the best in the world. It’s always belonged to the Japanese big four heavy hitters over there and they won’t be happy one bit, especially as they’ve taken a bit of a battering here in Europe for the last few years, but no question they’re fighting back. Like Rocky Balboa they’ve gritted their teeth and are putting in the work to retain a title that once belonged to them.

Trust me when I say that the Honda 450CRF is in the best shape of it’s life for the fight ahead. I got the opportunity to ‘spar’ with Honda’s new flagship model at Faenza, Italy, the day after the recent GP and I’m thankful of that opportunity. Of course I would’ve been regardless of the bike’s performance, I mean taking in the GP with great hospitality and good company is always appreciated but the 2013 Honda 450CRF was the icing on the cake.

Before you read all the technical elements of the all new model, I’ll indulge myself in how it felt to ride one more time. In life there’s a so called rule of thumb and that’s the expression ‘first impressions count’ and I’ve have to say on this occasion that definitely rings true. Not only does the bike look sexy and appealing to the eye it backs it up in its performance. Without getting overly expressive and too graphic it’s bordering on that kind of lust that has a strong case for actually being love. It definitely had that kind of spontaneous male/female chemistry with me where it just feels right straight from the get go as far as riding motorcycles go.

There are usually many elements of why we all feel at ease or like something so much in life and in that respect the new CRF450 is no different. Honda have put so much effort into this bike – led by the ever methodical project leader Hikaru Tsukamoto – that there’s 17 patents depending, pretty much everything has changed apart from the wheels, handlebars and controls. The objectives were simple; centralise the mass for better handling and traction and make a faster, more useable, quieter motor. Of course executing objectives like that are not so simple at all, far from it in fact, but to their huge credit Honda have done it and done it with aplomb.

With any bike test it’s all a matter of opinion of course and this is mine. For my body frame and the way I ride it’s almost like Honda have built a bike especially for me. The seat height is perfect and the union between that, the footpegs and the clamps are bang on. If I adopted my ideal riding position, held it and got lowered on to this bike I reckon I wouldn’t have to move at all for my arse, hands and feet to make contact with the bike where they should.  So going back to that whole ‘it just feels right’ thing, I was already feeling good before I’d even started the bike – talking of which it did with ease, so no problems there.

It become almost instantly apparent of the lower centre of gravity as I pulled onto the Faenza start straight and coasted the bike into the first corner. In Roger Harvey’s presentation the night before we’d be told how Honda’s all new 6th generation CRF450 had been ‘designed for the scrub generation’ and is ’eminently flickable!’ The marketing team have been as busy as the engineers it seems, but on this occasion they can back it up, mind you they still hit us with the ‘bold new graphics’ for good measure! They didn’t have too because this bike has so many plus points.

Out on the track I instantly got in the groove, which was just as well because there were ruts forming in no time on a track that seemingly was made of plasticine. Getting into those ruts was so easy though and it was obvious that the mass centralisation was a big part of that. The whole front end just felt weightless, like you’re steering air – which technically with the new KYB fork you are. It kind of reminded me of sitting on a bike on a stand and turning the bars from side to side without any forks in the clamps.

Shifting body weight from front to rear is so easy you don’t even know you’re doing it. It just always feels like you’re in the right position and that’s probably because for the best part you are. The balance between the rider and bike mass are so in sync. I really felt it when I did some starts. It was so easy to pull my torso over the bars after dumping the clutch and while I did that the bike still hooked up so well. That familiarity was there when seat bouncing any jumps too. I would’ve been content just to go over and over the short finish line triple repeatedly and not get bored of it because it was so much fun rolling through the corner and straight into it in one fluid movement made easier by the bike. Every time I went over that jump, in my mind I was Chad Reed! Clearly I’m not but I felt that confident and I started to imagine just how good this bike would be in a supercross race because it turns so tight and so precise.

Add to that this new found power and torque and it’s no wonder it left me feeling confident because it made getting around a technical track much easier that it looked. You’ll have to trust me on that. The bike is deceptively fast to the point where I can imagine some club riders thinking it’s not all that because it doesn’t come in with a hit of power the likes that some brag about to their mates down the boozer. Some people need to wise up to the fact that a modern 450 is more than many pro riders will ever need, let alone the weekend warriors that are the backbone of our sport. This bike is no different to that fact other than it’s much easier to ride and due to that you’ll probably be smoother and faster on the track.

The new power is a pleasure. It has much more useable torque that syncs up well with the new gearbox and ratios. First gear holds the revs long enough if you’re a bit of a revver but you don’t really gain the full potential of the engine there. I tried starts in first and it rocked out of the gate albeit it a bit feisty, so I then tried them again and changed into second the moment the real wheel went over the gate. They were some of the best starts I’ve done in a while and while they didn’t have the consistent control I had on the Kawasaki 450 with it’s start mapping switch they felt good. Second gear starts were a little easier to tame but definitely required the right amount of throttle to hit the sweet spot on the RPM’s.

Once you’re out of the gate and on the gas this bike goes through the RPM range like a hot knife through butter. It’s such a linear curve that you just get progressively faster without even knowing it and shifting through the gearbox I certainly didn’t shut off. Clicking up or down gears felt much easier than it’s ever done on a Honda. My only real criticism of this bike is that the clutch was a little bit ‘snatchy’ to begin with. You let the lever out and just within a couple of millimetres of movement midway it had disengaged and it didn’t have that feel, but by the end of the day either it had bedded in or I had got used to it. Either way I’d hardly call it a deal clincher.

With ergonomics that made me feel at home in my comfy chair and a power output that gave me the confidence equivalent of walking naked down Oxford Street it would’ve been a crying shame if the suspension took the shine of it. Thankfully it didn’t. The new KYB Pneumatic Spring Fork is a breath of fresh air but then I kind of knew it would be after testing the Kawasaki with the same system. The thing I like most about these forks is the way they take hard impacts; gone is that shock wave right up your arms, through your shoulders and into you head nearly rattling your fillings loose. They are so smooth in their action too. The rear sticks to the ground like a snakes belly, undoubtedly helped by the new lower centre of gravity and is plush and well balanced with the forks, but then that’s the story of this bike all over – balance – and it has it beautifully.

Once the rear brake bedded in it had a good strong feel and the front brake seemed stronger and sharper than ever. Personally I don’t think it’s just the unit, I’m sure the balance of the chassis and the way it pushes itself into the ground that helps makes it so positive.

No question, Honda has produced a real gem here. Naturally it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it has more chance of being so than in recent times that’s for sure. They’ve looked at the bigger picture and worked hard to paint a better one for themselves in the world of motocross. Ultimately we’re all going to benefit from that vision too as the fight to be the best just got taken up another notch. – Jeff Perrett

How they done it. The facts for the Anoraks….

The HRC race engineers and Honda development technicians focused their new CRF450R around the rider, and what was required by Factory pilot or amateur rider to go faster, for longer. For 2013, the CRF450R uses the sixth generation aluminium twin-beam frame, which has been built from the ground up retaining a focus on mass centralization. It also features rigidity levels ‘tuned’ in certain key areas to improve rider feel when landing from jumps, with revised geometry for increased front and rear traction, and turning ability.

The use of KYB air-sprung front forks, offering significant weight savings with improved performance and versatility in varied track conditions. A compact KYB rear shock sits lower in the frame and operates via Honda’s Pro-Link system with a brand new aluminium swingarm, contributing to the bike’s lower centre of gravity.

The CRF450R’s PGM-FI fuel-injected, 449cc single-cylinder engine has been retuned for major gains in the low and mid-range torque area – with no loss of top-end power – plus a refined connection between throttle and rear tyre; key for finding maximum rear wheel traction. Durability and reliability have also been improved and a redesigned, lighter clutch is easier to use. Short, dual mufflers contribute to mass centralization, improved low/mid power delivery and provide a slimmer side profile.

The CRF450R’s 9.35kg aluminium twin-beam frame is completely new, and was designed from the outset to facilitate mass centralization and a low centre of gravity, reducing the roll pitch and yaw inertia of the bike, making it easier to turn on the ground and in the air.

In response to specific requirements – improved front and rear traction, high-speed stability and braking plus a much lighter feel in all situations and conditions – every aspect of the frame’s performance has been improved. The junction of the steering head and main frame spars now intersect lower on the steering head pipe, much closer to the midway point rather than toward the top in the previous model. This change alters the torsion characteristics of the chassis for better front-end traction, providing more traction feel and better cornering traits. Less readily seen yet equally important design changes include longitudinal strengthening of the rear cushion frame mounting to maximizing the benefits of the new-generation rear suspension components.

Revised steering head geometry advantage of the frame’s tighter dimensions and gives a more direct connection to the front tyre, with faster turn-in and increased feel for available traction. Combined with the lower centre of gravity side-to-side transition is easier, greatly increasing rider confidence and reducing fatigue. By employing a KYB air-suspension USD front fork, 800g of weight has been saved due to the lack of conventional coil springs; critically, the unsprung weight of the fork lowers and front wheel is also reduced. Compressing air, rather than steel, also reduces frictional losses within the slider tubes, and the large 32mm diameter (as opposed to 24mm on the stock unit) damper piston also improves sensitivity and ride quality.

In comparison with a standard fork, the air fork offers dramatically faster responses in transition from compression to rebound and vice versa. This allows the front end to be significantly more responsive to changes in surface, and to keep the front tyre in contact with the ground. The result is much better tracking through corners, greater feel, and improved traction and steering accuracy.

The preload can be changed via the Schrader air valve fitted on the top of the fork cap, doing away with the need to change spring sets. Standard pressure is 230kPa (33psi), minimum pressure is 220kPa (32psi) and maximum pressure is 250kPa (36psi); each is equivalent to the next step up or down in spring rate, and heavier riders can now easily adjust the fork to suit. Air alone fulfills the pressurization needs; there’s no need for nitrogen or other inert gasses. As usual with a competition machine, the fork and shock are also fully adjustable for compression and rebound damping. An additional benefit of the KYB air suspension fork is that the CRF450R can be strapped down for transport simply by removing air pressure, lowering the front end with no risk of damaging fork seals.

A new aluminum swingarm provides added rigidity in the front and center sections for less deflection in ruts, and improved corner-exit traction. The top mount of the KYB rear shock is sited 14.5mm lower within the frame; while the shock itself is physically 14.5mm smaller to fit and features revised rebound and compression damping rates. The benefit of mass centralization in this area is a reduction in pitching inertia along the bike’s centerline making it possible to brake harder whilst maintaining stability.

Clever packaging of components around the frame also contributes to mass centralization and the lighter feel of the CRF450R at speed. The radiators are mounted lower, and are smaller and more efficient. This allows the cooling system to use 50cc less coolant whilst maintaining cooling performance. All of the electrical components – the ECU, condenser, regulator and wiring harness save weight and are centrally located.

The CRF450R’s bodywork inherits the ‘triangle proportion’ that has long set the CRF family of competition machines apart. Another phrase used by Honda’s engineers during development was ‘man maximum, mechanical minimum’. Essentially the machine is built around the needs of the rider.

In support of this the radiator shrouds, side covers, seat and fuel tank offer a slim, smooth and continuous transition allowing the rider a great deal of freedom and flexibility of movement. The bodywork attachment points where the rider contacts the bike have been made more rigid so the rider can grip the bike more solidly, for better feel and control. In addition, the rear fender now has a lift point with integrated support to make it easier to hoist the bike onto a stand. The radiator shrouds incorporate high-efficiency channels for maximum air flow into, through and out of the radiators; fuel capacity is increased, by .6 litre to 6.3 litres.

The sharp-edged front mudguard is radically angled downward to deflect mud, and maintains strength and rigidity where needed but uses thin-wall construction towards the tip. Similarly, the rear mudguard is narrow but utilizes a diagonal upsweep to reduce mud scatter. New mounts save weight, yet its structure is strong enough to be used to lift up the bike.

The front disc cover has been redesigned for improved protection and is now in two parts for easier maintenance of the 240mm wave-pattern disc and twin-piston brake caliper. The rear brake is a 240mm wave-pattern disc with single-piston caliper. Both calipers use sintered brake pads. Lightweight aluminium rims, with a directly attached spoke pattern layout reduce unsprung weight; front wheel size is 21 x 1.6in and 80/100-21 tyre, the rear is 19 x 2.5in and 110-90/19 tyre.

The lightweight seat is thinner, moving the rider’s weight closer to the center of gravity of the bike while seated, and new 10% lighter footpegs footpeg mounts are sited 5mm back for increased rear wheel traction when standing. Fittingly – and evocative of CRF, and Honda – the bike’s colour combination is a stunning blend of Extreme Red and White.

Increased punch out of corners, with finer throttle control and feel for rear wheel traction were key goals for Honda’s engineers. Optimizing the liquid-cooled, fourvalve Unicam engine’s efficiency for these aims started with improved gas flow rate through the cylinder head; refined inlet port shapes provide 3% more flow, and revised valve timing, with more overlap, maintains maximum power at high rpm, while increasing low and mid-range output.

Bore and stroke remains 96mm x 62.1mm, but the exhaust valves have increased in diameter – up 1mm to 31mm – for a 3% increase in flow. The compression ratio has also been raised, from 12.0:1 to 12.5:1. The result is an engine that delivers 10% more torque low down, with a linear torque curve plus stronger mid-range power and no loss at the top-end. For smoother control at low speed the ACG flywheel mass is 11% greater, complemented by a new clutch, which is now a six-spring design for stronger lockup with a lighter feel, better modulation of the friction point and added durability. The five-speed close-ratio gearbox is brand new, and has been strengthened with every bearing and gear improved to deal with the engine’s extra torque.

For increased durability the piston oil jets uses two holes instead of one, for improved cooling of the piston’s underside. The piston skirt is shot-peened using molybdenum disulfide to reduce friction, while the crown’s domed shape is responsible for the increase in compression.

A new airbox and filter element ensure efficient filtration in the dustiest of conditions, and maintain a consistent
internal pressure when the throttle is opened hard. The long, narrow inlet trumpet also increases air flow rate for smooth throttle progression at low to mid-rpm. The PGM-FI fuel injection has been revised to suit the engine’s improved efficiency, with fuelling and ignition maps that maintain power output even in deep, soft sand.

A new airbox and straighter airboot inlet shape improve airflow, and also makes it easier to service the air filter. The PGM-FI Setting Tool used to change the parameters of both ignition and fuelling maps via the ECU has been upgraded to
HRC specification for an easier, faster interface; the use of colour blocks gives the facility to change multiple cells at once on the display screen. This is of great help to tailor the engine’s performance to suit individual riders and track condition.

The minimal aluminium rear subframe saves 100g and mounts short, twin rhombohedral mufflers lower, and closer to the centre of the machine. Careful management of internal backpressure balances spent exhaust gases between the
mufflers; benefits include improved power, less noise plus a more neutral, and centralized, weight distribution. Final silencing is via sound-absorbing glass wool, with a stainless steel mesh inner baffle, and meets FIM regulations.

CRF450 Perrett h2 from MX Vice on Vimeo.

Action Perrett h2 from MX Vice on Vimeo.

Specifications – CRF450R

UK PRICE – £6790

Type 4 stroke, single cylinder, uni-cam
Displacement 449.7cc
Bore x Stroke 96.0 x 62.1
Compression Ratio 12.5:1
Max. Power Output 38.3KW @ 8,500 r/min
Max. Torque 47.7Nm @6,500 r/min

Carburation FI
Fuel Tank Capacity 6.4 Litres

Ignition System Full transister
Starter Kick

Clutch Multi plate wet clutch
Transmission 5 speed, constant mesh
Primary Reduction 2.739
Gear Ratios
1st 1.800
2nd 1.470
3rd 1.235
4th 1.050
5th 0.909
Final Reduction 3.692 (48/13)
Final Drive – Chain

Type Aluminium twin tube

Dimensions (LxWxH) 2191x827x1271mm
Wheelbase 1492mm
Caster Angle 27?
Trail 116mm
Seat Height 953mm
Ground Clearance 330mm
Kerb Weight 111KG

48mm inverted Air Fork, 310mm stroke, fully adjustable
Rear Pro-link, Fully adjustable mono shock, 133.5 mm stroke, 315mm axle travel

Type Wire spoke
Rim size Fr: 21 x 1.60 / Rr: 19 x 2.15
Tyre size Fr: 80/100-21 – Rr: 120/80-19

240mm Hydraulic disc

MX Vice Editor || 25


  1. Monda

    I skimmed over most of it, I am not a big reader but I do know the last few Hondas and particularly the 2013 model is plenty up to the job at world level. My question is…….will Honda put in the heavy investment at the races like KTM do ?
    For me that is what is lacking, a full on factory Honda team that is willing to do what ever it takes to win.

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