15crf450LEADwebThe 450 motocross world is in flux. Honda has been struggling in spite of having the lightest machine in the war of the wagons. Honda has struggled with suspension balance, missing the mark in the handling, and the engine has potential but lacked the showroom teeth of the KX or KTM 450. Ironically, everyone else has struggled with various bugs in their machines, and this has kept the race a tight one. In 2014, the Honda was feathery but slow. The Kawasaki was fast and balanced but thick-waisted. The Suzuki needed Jenny Craig and a fork that actually moved, while the KTM needed to back away from the salad bar and find some suspension magic to battle the hack factor. Yamaha built a missile, but needed to revert back to a more normal feel. So, 2015 is a brand-new game, and this brings us to the new Honda CRF450R. It’s a machine that has been nibbling at the edges of success, and this year the Big Red machine has plugged in some excellent changes in an effort to push to the top of the 450 wars.


Honda pretty much yanked the proverbial cork when it came to upgrades for the 2015 450. They’ve played up the new PSF2 KYB air fork with its new four-way damping adjustments (both high and low speed for both compression and rebound) and all-new internals that save weight. The fork is said to have smoother action via self-lubrication (for smoother action and less chance of air leaking), less friction and a larger cylinder with a 32mm cartridge (more conventionally mounted). At the same time, the rear KYB shock is new and has all of the adjustments (high and low-speed compression and rebound damping) all on the shock body up top.

In the engine department, Honda sought an “expanded power spectrum.” This came to fruition via a new Unicam cylinder head, an exhaust system that exits to the right (no longer winding around the front downtube) and is fit with a larger internal diameter at the twin tail pipes. The head and exhaust target mid-to-top power increases, and they’ve upped the flywheel mass to maintain good low end for tractability. The fuel-injection settings have been reset to work in conjunction with the head and exhaust needs, and they’ve fit the EMS button onto the handlebars for immediate power-curve alterations. It comes with three maps: standard (mode 1), smooth (mode 2) and aggressive (mode 3). To switch between modes, you press the EMS button for a second with the throttle off and engine idling. It will cycle through the modes quickly.

Honda fit the CRF450R with a new, larger, 260mm front rotor—a change that has been needed for some time. The other biggest news is the new clutch cable routing designed to ease the pull and increase the feel. Honda also lightened up the throttle return spring and maintained the use of the Renthal small bar that fits into the rubber-mounted, non-reversible (cannot change handlebar positioning) perches. Honda’s half-waffle grips return. The clutch perch has an on-the-fly adjuster, and on the right side of the bars is the EMS power-curve button. Aesthetically, you’ll find new graphics, a black plastic rear rotor guard and black radiator guards.

15crf450turnwebTRACK IT, RACK IT AND MOTO

The bike is the easiest-starting 450 Honda that we’ve tested. It took a few kicks to get it going, but after that it was always a one-kick affair with very little boot effort required. The new clutch pull is a big improvement. The yank required is less, the feel and engagement are positive, and none of the horrible issues (hard pull, no feel, nasty engagement factor) we had for the last two years ever surfaced.

Ergo-wise, the Honda is well laid out, targeting riders in the 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-11 range. The bars, pegs and saddle are well-gapped and let the pilot stay in a relaxed, athletic position. Get over the 6-foot zone it starts getting cramped. Unlike the Kawasaki, with its superb adjustability through the triple clamp and pegs, the Honda is what it is.

With the new air fork, we started with 34 psi in each leg. Unlike the Showa Triple Airs, which have three valves to control the spring rate, the KYB is a single-air design. This year the damping controls are more intricate via the high/low adjusters, and the compression fork is on the left and rebound is on the right. We left the adjusters stock, then set the rear shock sag at 105mm with the rider aboard. As with every air fork we’ve tested, the Honda’s KYBs tend to ride high and felt stiff through the initial travel. We spent considerable time playing with air pressures in an effort to get more dive coming into turns, but we were able to achieve very little “feelable” change. What worked better was relaxing the low-speed compression on the fork. This allowed for a better “settle” in the turns and a plusher rider in the hack zones. We jinked between one and two clicks out on the compression side, both on low and high speed, searching for the perfect duo that would get plush and take the slap down with a smile. The changes are subtle but make a difference. The most important setting is your initial numbers. Get the main air (spring rate) dialed in (170-pounders liked 32–33, 180–190 liked 34 psi), and then work in and out on the compression clickers. Slow speed affects hack, plushness coming into turns and diving, while high speed caters to the slap down or speed hit where the fork reacts quickly due to an impact or hole.

HondaCRF450RFwebOut back, 105mm of rider sag seemed ideal. Our larger (180-plus) pilots benefited from an increase on the high-speed compression setting on the shock. It helped keep the rear end up and improved plushness and traction. We went one click in for the 180-pounder and two clicks in for riders weighing 185–190 pounds.

Motor-wise, things get interesting. Last year’s CRF450 was quiet but enduro-ish and slow in comparison to the other brands. Granted, it was easy to make faster (aftermarket exhaust systems equaled huge power gains), but the point got muddy. Honda preached quiet power; racers demanded competitive power. The 2015 Honda CRF450R splits the difference. It remains one of the soft-roar 450s, keeping the decibel level manageable through the dual-exhaust plumbing. In comparison to the Kawasaki KX450, the Honda has nipped vocal cords, but power-wise, it’s stronger. It’s still not in the hunt with the KTM SX-F, Yamaha YZ, Suzuki RM-Z or Kawasaki KX. Those machines all get up and dance with authority; the Honda motivates, albeit with a tractable demeanor and a soft voice.

The Engine Mode Select button is subtle. Our lighter guys liked the stock setting just fine. They felt that the aggressive setting helped mid-to-top hit, but really, none of the three were that big a deal. Now, once we started popping riders at a buck ninety on board, the soft settings were passed right over in favor of the aggressive setting. It gave the bike more hit, and the beefier guys needed it to get over certain track obstacles.

Overall, the Honda isn’t a rocket, but it makes good, tractable power. The new clutch pull is improved, as are the feel and engagement properties. And once the track starts getting gnarly, the power supply works in your favor. It’s smooth, builds on a linear plane and has enough gusto on top to be a player.


The grips are kind of big, the Renthal bar bend is excellent, the 7/8-inch size is ridiculous, and the lack of adjustability through the cockpit is irritating.

–This wagon starts with only the gentlest of stabs at the lever. We had almost zero flame-outs and give this a flying thumbs up.

–Kudos to the Dunlop MX52s. This is a big improvement over last year’s 51s. They offer improved traction, better cornering adherence and braking power over a wide range of surfaces.

–The larger front brake brings the CRF into the stopping-power range required of a 450; however, it’s still not as strong as the KTM Brembo unit.

–There are some who continue to doubt the necessity of the rear dual exhaust. Honda claims the new shorter mufflers enhance the center mass for a lighter, more agile feel. We can’t really disagree since the CRF450 feels lighter—by far!—than any of the other 450s and is the most flickable and desirable when the track gets miserable.

–Up front, the new header exits out the right side of the cylinder rather than the left. You’d think that the bottom power would have been aborted, yet Honda retained good roll-on by adding some flywheel weight.

–We still think that getting to the air valves on the fork could be easier. It’s a bit of a pain, though once you check it first thing, you don’t really need to go there again.

–Word from the KYB guys is that the new fork should resist a full-pressure drop in the event of a seal failure by virtue of the new lubrication system. Still, we’ll most likely use a good neoprene fork protector and perform weekly maintenance (keeping them clean and the scrapers clear of debris).


There is no doubt that the Honda is a dramatically improved machine for 2015. It is perhaps the easiest kick-start 450 of the year and offers focused performance gains, the lightest package, superb handling and a fork that is new, improved and very dial-able. How’s it going to stack up against the fistful of 450 warmongers? It’s more of a silent assassin lurking in a maelstrom of muscle-bound killers. All get the job done, but the Honda CRF450R dances lightly, with a smooth gait and an appetite for battle.



  • Virtually effortless kick-starting
  • The lightest 450 of the year (231 pounds)
  • Positive action out of the new KYB PSF2
  • Only one air chamber to check
  • Strong handling aspects; very good cornering traits



  • Lacks the serious hit of the other 450s
  • No ergonomic adjustability
  • Small Renthal bar
  • Fork lacks initial plush factor




Engine type………. 449cc, liquid-cooled,

single-cylinder four-stroke

Bore and stroke………. 96.0mm x 62.1mm

Fuel delivery………. Dual-timing PGM-FI,

…………………. 46mm Keihin throttle body

Fuel capacity……………………. 1.7 gallons

Lighting coil…………………………………. No

Spark arrestor……………………………….. No

EPA legal………………………………………. No

Running weight (no fuel)…………. 234 lb.

Wheelbase…………………………………. 58.7″

Ground clearance…………………………. 13″

Seat height………………………………… 37.5″

Tire size and type:

Front…………… Dunlop MX52 80/100-21

Rear…………….. Dunlop MX52 120/80-19


Front………. 48mm inverted KYB PSF w/

air-adj. spring rate and reb. & comp.

damping adj.; 12.2″

Rear…… Pro-Link KYB single shock w/

adj. spring prel., reb. damping adj.,

& comp. damp. adj. separated into

low/high speed; 12.4″

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