BAJA HONDA 450: BEHIND THE BUILD

The SCORE Baja 1000 and Honda go together like peanut butter and jelly! Can you really have one without the other? For decades the Honda Baja effort has been a strictly in-house affair, but Mark Samuels (SLR Racing) and the crew at San Diego Powerhouse are starting to change all that. Now, don’t be mistaken; Honda is still very involved in the entire process, but the guidelines have definitely started changing.

Justin Jones felt right at home aboard the SLR Honda.

 

THE GOODS
For almost two decades the Honda of choice to race in SCORE Baja events has been the CRF450X. The 450X took over when the XR650R was phased out in the mid 2000s and started winning almost immediately with riders like Robby Bell and Kendal Norman. Now, let’s fast-forward to 2021. This SLR Honda race bike built by Bobby Young has more aftermarket items and outside influence than any other factory Honda Baja machine before it.   

The main frame, subframe and swingarm are all OEM CRF450X components. The swingarm has some reinforcing done on the rear chainguide mounts just to make sure the BRP chain slider doesn’t get ripped off. Samuels says, “Other than removing the kickstand, drilling strategically placed holes in the rear engine hanger and reinforcing the chain-guard mounting points on the swingarm, the chassis is what you would find on the showroom floor of a Honda dealership.”

Mark Samuels from SLR Honda and Bobby Young from San Diego Powersports are the men behind the Baja bike build.

Suspension components are a little different. Although they are made by Showa, just like those on the OEM CRF450X, the SLR team uses an A-kit fork and shock setup that features a special coating internally and externally tuned by in-house Showa technicians only. This is very similar to how the professional Supercross/Motocross factory HRC team handles its suspension needs as well. There is no need for chassis modifications when using A-kit suspension; it bolts directly onto the stock 450X chassis.    

A Scotts Steering Stabilizer on top of a BRP mounting kit has been a part of Honda’s Baja set up for decades.

OEM Honda complete wheels are used off the 450X with black D.I.D Dirt Star rims, and the team uses ProX brake rotors. SLR has recently switched to Dunlop tires, and for the Baja 1000 it will run an AT81 up front and a 739 rear, both with Nitro Mousse foam inserts to eliminate the possibility of getting a flat. The Squadron light setup on this bike is from Baja Designs, but will only be on the bike during the day and early evening. It will be switched out for a dual LED Baja Designs unit for the night portion of the race. An IMS 3.0-gallon tank fitted with a quick-dump system almost doubles the OEM fuel capacity and can be filled completely in less than 10 seconds. The team also uses IMS Core Enduro foot pegs, giving the riders a wider and more aggressive tooth layout than stock.

Although a lot more aftermarket parts are used on todays Baja winner than in years past it’s still impressive how many OEM Honda parts are used as performance upgrades.

 

Other aftermarket items used on the chassis include a D.I.D gold X-ring chain and Pro Taper sprockets, handlebars and grips. A Scott steering stabilizer is mounted to a BRP top triple clamp. The bike has a Zip-Ty Racing rear rotor guard, Acerbis full-coverage skid plate, and Acerbis lightweight MX-style plastic Uniko handguards.

IMS is another company that has been a part of the Honda Baja effort for many years and there are two reasons for that. They make a quality product that works great!

 

Just like the chassis, the engine uses a lot of OEM parts, but unlike the chassis, the engine also uses a number of 450R or RX parts. The only change for the race is a complete Hinson Racing billetproof clutch system that uses an eight-plate design and a clutch cover that is hard-coated for strength. The top end is where things get interesting and maybe a little confusing at the same time. From the cylinder up, SLR uses OEM parts off the 450R/RX model, so complete head, cams, gaskets, covers and even a right-side 450R/RX radiator are needed for additional clearance. This is when Jamie and the crew at Twisted Development get involved; these guys know how to make things go fast! The trick with the SLR Baja machine is they have to find a balance between performance, long-term reliability and a smooth power delivery that won’t tire the rider too quickly. Twisted Development is also one of the only companies allowed to reprogram the special factory Honda SLR ECU. We tried to get more information on this, but everyone involved just smiled and walked away when we asked. A high-flow Pro Filter is used inside the airbox, and a complete stainless-steel and aluminum T6 exhaust system from Pro Circuit helps with performance as well. Looking at the exhaust, it’s very similar to what the general public can buy with the addition of some extra protection welded to the head pipe.

The Pro Circuit exhaust system ran on the Honda factory team machine is very similar to what Pro Circuit offers to the general public.
The Honda CRF450RX top-end requires some modification to be used on the CRF450X bottom-end.
A Nitro Mousse foam insert and Dunlop 739 are the SLR Honda’s go-to traction combination.

 

BOTTOM LINE
After getting over the shock of seeing so much outside aftermarket influence on a factory Honda Baja machine, we caught our breath and took it for a spin. Okay, that might be a little on the dramatic side. One of our long-time test riders, Justin Jones, has been part of the SLR Honda Baja 1000-winning team several times. This bike is fast but very deceiving at the same time, almost tricking you with its smooth delivery. About the only time you realize how fast you are going is when you need to stop, and it takes way longer than you expected. Seems to us the hardest thing with this type of build is coming up with suspension settings that will work for at least three different riders. Finding a setting that works for a rider at 175 pounds is completely different from a setup for a 200-plus-pound rider. Trust us, we have these debates all the time among DB staff members. Overall, this SLR/San Diego Powerhouse Honda CRF450X assembled by Bobby Young is extremely well thought out and built. The only problem we had after riding it was all of a sudden we had an urge to sign up for this year’s SCORE Baja 1000. 

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