Back in 2017, Honda redesigned the CRF450R motocross bike from scratch. Surprisingly, an all-new CRF450RX off-road bike was unveiled at the same time. The RX’s mission was to be an East Coast killer to compete in GNCC. It was a full-blooded competition motorcycle with a 450cc engine, an 18-inch rear wheel and ECU maps designed for off-road use. Johnny Campbell was fielding a GNCC team with Trevor Bollinger at the time, but the RX received a warmer welcome from those out west. In 2018 and 2019, the bike won back-to-back National Grand Prix Championships with Trevor Stewart and JCR. Teams like SLR Honda also found success with the RX with riders like Cole Martinez and Talon LaFontaine. When Honda develops a competition motorcycle, it’s a full-blooded racer with no builtin excuses. So, this bike has no emission hardware and isn’t designed for trail riding. It’s purely built to be an off-road terrorizer for closed-course competition. But, has it veered too far down the road towards motocross and Supercross accommodation?
Like its motocross sibling, the CRF450RX was remolded in 2022. As of late, Honda has been on a four-year schedule for complete revamps. One goal for the 2023 model was to address certain rigidity issues from the previous year. Honda made frame changes in the downtube and at the shock mount. This is to alter flex characteristics, which also contribute to the stability and handling. The engine hangers were changed from aluminum to steel to complement the frame changes. The RX also has revamped fork and shock settings. The CRF450RX is equipped with the Showa 49mm inverted coil-spring fork and a Showa shock with a horizontal reservoir in the rear.
Along with the focus on overall chassis comfort, Honda also addressed improved throttle response and torque by decreasing the intake port and increasing the intake funnel. The throttle body was also reduced from 46mm to 44mm, and the cam profile was altered for lowend torque. The exhaust location didn’t change; it’s still centrally located with a central port. The muffler itself shed some weight and is made of a new aluminum material, which is claimed to be more resistant to impact. In doing so, the muffler has reduced sound. Handguards are standard equipment. Of course, an 18-inch rear wheel comes equipped with Dunlop’s off-road tire, the AT81 Geomax. The brakes are Nissin, with the front using a twin-piston brake caliper with 30mm and 27mm pistons to grab a 260mm disc for very consistent stopping power. The rear brake comes standard with a 240mm disc. The fuel tank is more significant than the R model, equipped with a 2.1-gallon tank for more extended riding. And, a Renthal Fatbar features two handlebar position options for moving the bar front and back by 26mm to result in four position possibilities.
Up front, the Honda has made fantastic progress in the bike’s power delivery for 2023. Last year’s bike was aggressive even by motocross standards. Now, the big power hit has moved from the middle and top to the bottom. It makes the bike much easier to ride everywhere. The Honda is now the torque king of the 450 class. It did lose some peak horsepower, but frankly, it had plenty to lose.
Another goal was to help the RX’s overall handling and make it more manageable for longer rides. With additional material to the upper shock mount and the downtube on the frame, the CRF450RX still has a sense of rigidity. The updated Showa 49mm fork is softer on initial bumps and easier to manage in technical terrain. A noticeable difference can be found in the overall balance of the chassis. In years prior, we found that the RX model was stiff and non-compliant in slower, more technical terrain, making it difficult to manage. On the track, it could match the CRF450R motocross model and, at times, was a bit more stable in the rear with the 18-inch rear wheel. This new setup allows for more off-road singletrack use but still has good overall capabilities for the motocross track. Some issues remain, however. The frame can bind and unload, causing some side-to-side action. Further, it’s inconsistent; not always doing the same thing in the same place. For the most part, suspension adjustments can address these issues, although the inconsistency can cause confusion for setup.
The RX has no issues when it comes to rut cornering. It may well be the most consistent trait this bike has to offer. Contributing to its cornering is a narrow swingarm with material welded to areas to support rear-end tracking. Stability plays a massive role in high-speed cornering and flat corners, and the RX continues to fight consistent tracking at high speed.
GEEK SQUAD HIGHLIGHTS
One of the neatest features of the Honda 450RX is the electronic package that comes stock. Honda offers a three-map switch with a gear-position sensor that allows for specific mapping throughout the transmission. The three maps are standard, smooth and aggressive, which can be selected on the handlebar-mounted switch, making it easily accessible for rider tuning and terrain conditions. Augmenting the maps is what Honda calls Honda Selectable Torque Control, also known as traction control. In the mild map (two flashes of the LED), the RX has a soft, linear power delivery and is helpful for tricky, dry, rugged terrain, making for less wheelspin and more tractability. It was the most manageable for a longer duration of riding. It doesn’t have an abrupt, aggressive initial throttle response, tracks easily and is the most consistent map while riding. Map one has a more aggressive initial hit but mellows out in the mid-to-top range compared to map three, which is similar to the motocross bike. The third map is helpful for a motocross track that is prepped well. For off-road, map three is too aggressive, but still much improved over last year. It’s worth noting that the maps are out of order; one flash is a mid-level setting, two flashes is mild and three flashes is aggressive. Traction control has three levels as well but organized differently. One flash has the highest level (i.e., most intervention), two flashes is mid-level and setting number three affects power delivery the least. Traction control can be useful on level ground, but it can cause the bike to go flat on loose hills.
Another feature is launch control. This is activated by hitting the starter button when the motor is already running, and once again, there are three levels. This is primarily for motocross starts and can’t be employed for the dead-engine starts typically found in off-road races.
WHERE AND WHEN
2023 Honda CRF450RX
Overall, the 2023 CRF450RX is still a race bike built to be competitive in an off-road series at the highest level. You can buy one tomorrow and line up the next day without installing any extra parts because Honda does that for you. The updates this year are all structured around rider comfort, but target the Amateur/Expert-level rider with ambitious racing plans. Though the changes helped offset the more minor problems, the RX still has many of the same characteristics it had in years past. The most important thing to understand is that the CRF450RX is a race bike. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
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