It’s safe to say the 2016 Honda CRF450R is not going to be labeled as the horsepower king in this year’s 450cc class. But just because it doesn’t come off the showroom floor like a rocket headed for the moon, don’t think it can’t fly; the potential is there. We decided to take the mild-mannered CRF450R and give it a little shot in the arm of over-the-counter bolt-on performance modifications just to see if it could be a real contender for the premier-class crown.
BUILDING A ROCKET
Honda’s CRF450R has lots of strong points, and some of them are in the powerplant. No, we aren’t going crazy—at least not any crazier than when you first started reading this story. The strong point of the Honda’s powerplant is that, with relatively minor modifications, you can unlock the potential that lies just underneath the surface. On this build, we only modified two items inside the engine, and both could be changed back to stock in a matter of minutes if the gains weren’t what we wanted. First up was a Stage 2 camshaft from Hot Cams. The Stage 2 cam is designed to deliver the same as stock down low, and then provide an increase in performance through the midrange and top end. All stock hardware is utilized, including the valve springs, rocker arms and decompression mechanism. With the cam all ready for action, we turned to the only other major internal engine modification we made—a complete billet-proof clutch from Hinson Racing. The kit includes a clutch cover, basket, inner hub, pressure plate, steel and fiber plates and springs. In addition to the clutch, we also installed a Hinson Racing billet-aluminum clutch cable bracket to prevent flexing of the steel stock unit. That was the extent of our internal performance modifications, but we still had a few external goodies we wanted to add to make our rocket leave the ground. A Moto Tassinari Air4orce tunable intake system was installed, completely replacing the existing stock airboot with a custom-designed airboot that offers more air volume and increases horsepower. It also features an adjustable velocity stack to fine-tune the power delivery for rider preference or track conditions. One note: when installing this on the Honda, make sure that the vent hose going into the airbox is discontinued and the vent tube coming from the rear of the valve cover is no longer capped off. If both vent hoses are plugged, this will create pressure in the valve cover, blowing oil out of the overflow and eventually blowing out the valve-cover gasket. The last item we installed for engine performance was a complete FMF dual Factory 4.1 titanium system with Resonance Chamber Technology (RCT) made of titanium tubing mufflers and carbon fiber end caps. The FMF system saves weight and is also shorter than the stock exhaust, centralizing the mass for improved handling.
Handling with comfort was our next goal, so Bob Bell and the crew at Precision Concepts gave our Kayaba air forks some new internal valving, along with some valving magic in the rear. We added a Ride Engineering triple clamp that allows the use of the stock steering stabilizer system mounted behind the front number plate and comes with rubber-mounted oversized handlebar mounts so we could ditch the stock 7/8-inch-diameter units. We chose to stay with the stock offset. In those new clamps, we installed ODI’s Podium bar featuring Controlled Flex Technology and a set of Emig Racing lock-on motocross grips. If you are going to give a bike more power, it is important to be able to stop once that newfound power is applied. For that, we upgraded our CRF450R braking system with some help from Galfer. We added a 270mm, solid, wave-style rotor in the front, steel-braided lines in both the front and rear, and a solid wave-style rotor in the rear. We didn’t want stopping the red rocket to be an issue. We also paid attention to the wheels. If the bike is faster, it’s going to hit things harder, and nothing takes more of that abuse than the two things that are in contact with the ground whenever the bike is being used. Faster USA makes its hubs out of U.S.-certified, heat-treated, 6061 T6 billet aluminum on a five-axis machine. Stock spacers can be used, but we used Faster’s spacers made out of 7075 aluminum to prevent grooving. They also have machined-in water-deflection channels to keep water away from the wheel bearings. We attached Excel spokes and a set of black Excel A60 rims to the Faster USA hubs, wrapping it all up with a set of Maxxcross MX IT tires from Maxxis. The drivetrain was also upgraded with a Supersprox Stealth rear sprocket, RK high-tensile-strength gold motocross chain and the new TM Designworks GP-style Slide ’N’ Glide kit that was developed specifically for motocross with R&D help from Geico Honda’s factory race team. We added some much-needed protection in key areas, with Works Connection radiator braces and a P3, carbon fiber, full-protection skid plate featuring Works Connection’s color-weave technology.
Once the smoke cleared and we stepped back to look at the big red rocket, we didn’t need to say a word. It looked fast just sitting on the stand thanks to Magic Inc.’s killer set of graphics. So, does it fly? Oh yes, it does! Without any major engine modifications, our 2016 CRF450R went from being a mild-mannered machine that handled well to a rocket ship that floats over everything with ease and still runs on pump gas. Our final engine settings are a Hot Cams Stage 2 cam, FMF 4.1 dual-exhaust complete system with inserts installed, and the aggressive EFI map that comes installed stock from the Honda factory, all running on 91-octane pump gas. Handling-wise, we liked the stock stuff, but Precision Concepts took it to another level, giving the suspension a plush feel on small braking and acceleration bumps while still maintaining good resistance to bottoming on big hits. We slowed the rebound down two clicks on the shock and added a few pounds of air in the front forks to dial in the overall balance for our personal taste. With some minor adjustments to the ODI bars and Works Connection levers, we took flight.