Honda finally announced its 2008 line to the public at its dealer show, but the press was allowed to see and ride the bikes beforehand. The big news was a lack of big news as far as fuel injection was concerned. But Honda still had a few tricks to show.

 Number one on the list is the HSPD (Honda Progressive Steering Damper System) which comes on the CRF250R and CRF450R. It’s the first production steering damper to come on a motocross bike. The damper is mounted vertically behind the front numberplate and has been used on the factory MX bikes for some time. This is nothing like the off-road dampers we’re used to seeing. The goal isn’t really to reduce headshake at desert racing speed, but rather to provide more stability in turns. Does it work? After riding the two new bikes for a day at Racetown, we’re pleased with the feature. But it’s not a night-and-day difference. The damper calms the bike in rutted turns but is subtle. The damper is adjustable and it takes a very sensitive test rider to tell the difference in just a few clicks. Taking off the damper altogether made a noticeable difference, and all our test riders liked both bikes better with the damper. That’s progress.

 Another new feature on the 450 is the gear-position sensor. This informs the ignition of the current gear, and the spark advance mapping is altered to suit that gear. The thinking is that a mellower power delivery can be used for the lower gears where traction is critical. In the taller gears the ignition can shoot for sheer horsepower. In back-to-back comparisons with the 2007 CRF450R, the difference in first gear was immediately noticeable. In motocross, though, the difference won’t be any big deal because you•re rarely in first gear. But there’s a surprising number of CRF450Rs used off road, too. There, the smoother power delivery at low speed should be a boon for tight, rocky trails.

 In most other ways, the new Hondas could pass for old Hondas. That’s probably a good thing. This year there are few major changes aside from Suzuki’s fuel injected RM-Z450, which is so new it’s a little scary. So the bikes that were good last year will probably be good again. And the two Honda CRFs were very good last year.

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