Motocross bikes, closed-course competition bikes and even dual-sport bikes are alive and well in their respective markets, but off-road bikes—real off-road bikes—are a vanishing breed. The 2019 Honda CRF450X has arrived, though, and it’s legit. Honda is one of the few companies that sees the value in making bikes for the trail. The X is imported as an off-road vehicle. The EPA has given the bike its official blessing, but that’s besides the point. The real news is that the bike is a modern, fuel-injected 450cc four-stroke designed with trail riding as its primary focus. Most of the other 450s sold for off-road riders are either full-race competition bikes or stuffed-up dual-sport bikes. The Honda CRF450X is based on the current CRF450R motocross bike, but it has a six-speed gearbox, and virtually every part of the bike was tweaked for off-road use.
The reason there are so few bikes like this is because the federal government wants to be involved but doesn’t really understand what the bikes are used for. Racing bikes are exempt from emission and noise restrictions, but when the Feds see a bike with a headlight and a spark arrester, they assume it can’t be a race bike. That means it must pass both noise and emission standards. Most people assume this is a California thing, but it’s actually nationwide. California is simply one of the few states that has an enforcement system in place. Off-road standards aren’t as severe as those for dual-sport bikes, but they would be very difficult for a carbureted bike. The previous CRF450X, which had been in service since 2005, had come to the end of its run. That bike had earned 11 Pro wins in the SCORE Baja 1000, which gives the new model very big shoes to fill.
As we said, this bike is based on the CRF450R motocross bike but actually shares very few part numbers. It still has a SOHC head with an off-center cam, using finger-followers to open the intake ports and rocker arms for the exhaust. But, the head is different from the R’s. The compression ratio is lower, the piston is new, and the gearbox is a six-speed. Even the frame is slightly wider to accommodate the six-speed motor with more oil capacity. The new X is actually much more closely related to the new Honda CRF450L dual-sport. In fact, it’s the exact same motor as far as the hard parts go. The X produces more power because of a different (richer) EFI map, a larger head pipe (38.1mm versus 35mm) and a less-restrictive muffler that has no built-in catalytic converter. Honda left off the street-legal stuff, of course. The headlight is a halogen unit instead of an LED. There’s no kickstand, no kill switch, no blinkers and no hang-down part in the license-plate area. The X doesn’t have a keyed ignition, and the instrumentation is a little more spartan. On top of that, the suspension has slightly different settings, but like the L, the fork and shock are high-end KYB units, just like the motocross bike’s.
With the omission of the various DOT equipment, the X is lighter than the L. Without fuel, it’s 263 pounds, whereas the L is 14 pounds heavier. Yes, it’s on the heavy side, just like all of Honda’s current 450s. Even the old X was 4 pounds lighter.
This is what a real off-road bike should be. The new X has a sweet power delivery. It’s super quiet and pure fun on the trail. It’s a stark contrast to the new breed of 60-horsepower off-road brutes like the KTM 450XC-F and Honda’s own CRF450RX. Those bikes are even a handful for the best off-road riders in the world. Kailub Russell could ride a KTM 450XC-F in the GNCC XC1 series if he wanted, but he rides a 350. You simply don’t need that much power in technical terrain. The X has excellent torque, but when it gets into the arm-yanking zone, it’s far milder than 450cc race bikes.
Could you go racing on an X? Maybe. Its biggest handicap wouldn’t be power. It’s just a massive machine. The weight isn’t that far out of line with other bikes operating under the same rules. The Suzuki RMX450X is the exact same weight, and, while we haven’t yet tested the new-for-2019 Yamaha WR450F, it will probably be in the same range. But, the bikes that this bike will most likely meet on the trail will be two-strokes, such as the Yamaha YZ250X and the KTM 300XC-W. Those machines might not be blessed with EPA approval, but in the real world, that’s what people ride on the trail. A modern off-road two-stroke is over 30 pounds lighter.
Still, there are some things that the X will do much better. The Honda’s suspension is outstanding. It’s soft, but that’s perfectly appropriate given its mission in life. And at speed, the bike is super stable. It gets more secure and comfortable as speeds get higher and higher. We understand why the previous X was so popular with Baja racers, and we know that guys like Mark Samuels are drooling for this bike. They won’t be disappointed. When you’re crossing desert whoops at 60 mph, the bike goes dead straight. After a day of that, you lose your perspective. You feel like 40 mph is walking speed. The bike’s top speed, we estimate, is around 90 mph.
Honda did a great job with the gear ratios. First gear is taller than you might expect, but that’s actually a good thing. Too often six-speed gearboxes have a granny gear that’s so low it’s unusable. The X puts you in first gear often, and you still don’t get too worried about stalling. In this respect, the X is much better than the CRF450L dual-sport we tested last month. The gear ratios are the same, but the X’s mapping is better, plus it has more low-end power. The dual-sport bike is always on the verge of stalling.
MORE TO COME
This is one of the few EPA-legal trail bikes that we consider 100-percent ready for the trail in stock form. There are no throttle stops to remove, no holes to cut in the airbox and no remapping to do. You can certainly get more performance once the aftermarket swings into action, and we wouldn’t be surprised if you could shave off a good 15 pounds without spending too much, but those are jobs for another day. For now, we give Honda all the credit in the world—not just for making a real 450 trail bike, but for making it so well.
2019 HONDA CRF450X
Engine type … Electric-start, four-valve SOHC four-stroke
Displacement … 449cc
Bore & stroke 96.0mm x 62.1mm
Fuel delivery … 46mm Keihin EFI
Fuel tank capacity … 2.0 gal.
Transmission … 5-speed
Lighting … yes
Spark arrestor … yes
EPA legal … yes
Weight, no fuel … 263 lb.
Ground clearance …12.7”
Seat height …37.4”
Tire size & type
front …Dunlop MX52F 80/100-21
rear … Dunlop MX52 110/100-18
front … Showa, adj. rebound, comp, 12.0” travel
rear … Showa, piggyback, adj. preload, comp, rebound, 12.3” travel
Country of origin … Japan
Price … $9799