Pro replicas aren’t new. The first one probably dates back as far as the first championship. In recent times, however, it was KTM that most famously stoked the flames of works-bike envy with the 2012 450SX-F Factory Edition. Back then, we all called it the Dungey Replica, because it was so closely associated with Ryan Dungey’s move to KTM. The Factory Edition has been back every year since then, sporting the look and the number of KTM’s top factory riders.
Last year Husqvarna joined the parade with the FC450 Rockstar Edition, all dressed up with a Jason Anderson look. And, for 2019, there’s one more. Last fall Honda released the CRF450R Works Edition, with a big 94 on the numberplate in honor of Ken Roczen.
We’re not dumb. We know that these three bikes aren’t really duplicates of what the pros ride. They don’t have works parts. They aren’t set up for Supercross, and they aren’t assembled by the factory team. They are, however, very special. All three of these bikes offer features and performance going way beyond sticker kits and numbers. All of them are limited in production, and all command a higher price than their production-line counterparts. In theory, these bikes were designed with elite riders in mind and offer an edge over rank-and-file motorcycles sold over the counter. With three of them available now, it’s the newest class in motocross. That’s why we got them together for a pro-level shootout.
This isn’t just a revisit of the 450 MX shootout that we printed in the November 2018 issue of Dirt Bike. Like all of our shootouts, that was executed with the somewhat nebulous average rider in mind. We used a cross-section of test riders of various ages and skill levels, crunched the data and declared a winner. That bike, we decided, was the one bike that appealed to the most riders and the most tracks. It was a bike that everyone could love. This time, we’re changing the rules. These three bikes aren’t average. They represent the very best that each company can produce on an assembly line, short of building a real works bike. They’re elite bikes for elite riders. Accordingly, we only invited pro-level test riders to be a part of the shootout. Here’s how it went down.
HONDA CRF450R WORKS EDITION
Honda doesn’t copy. The CRF450RWE might have been inspired by KTM’s Factory Edition, but the philosophy behind the bike is quite different. Honda started off with a standard 2019 CRF450R, and then modified it in the same way that a pro might. The idea was to have a motorcycle that a top-level rider could take straight to the starting line with a reasonable expectation of success. First, the head received port work at the factory in Japan. The stock Honda twin-canister mufflers were replaced with Yoshimura carbon fiber slip-ons. And, to go with those motor changes, the mapping was changed as well. The standard version of the 2019 CRF450R got multi-level launch control, and those programs have been tweaked on the RWE, too.
The Honda CRF450RWE has head porting, a Yosh exhaust and suspension upgrades in addition to all the eye candy.
The Honda’s suspension received the most attention of all. The fork tubes and the shock shaft got a titanium nitride coating, and the internals got a Kashima coating. The rims are upgraded to D.I.D LT-Xs. The chain is an RK gold, and the seat cover is a Throttle Jockey gripper. Of course, there are a number of cosmetic licks. The Throttle Jockey graphics look like those of the Factory team, even with some of the sponsor logos on the fender. The triple clamps are black, and it comes with Kenny’s number. The MSRP for the 2019 Honda CRF450RWE is $11,499, which is $2200 more than the standard model.
HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION
This is the second year for the Rockstar Edition, and it got to trade in the number 21 on the side of last year’s version for a big number one in honor of Jason Anderson’s 2018 AMA Supercross championship. The graphics also have the Rockstar look with some of the team sponsors. The bike doesn’t get the Rekluse logo on the clutch cover like it did last year, but there is a Rekluse logo on the airbox. For the record, there were never any Rekluse parts internally; the logo is just part of the team look.
Husqvarna gave the FC450 Rockstar Edition the factory look, but the real prize is the CNC-machined triple clamp, which allows a change in fork offset if you want. We tried it in both positions and found that some liked the standard 22mm offset and others liked the 20. The difference was subtle.
The bike does get FMF Racing’s Factory 4.1 RCT silencer with a blue-anodized titanium body and a carbon end cap. Probably even more significant is the CNC-machined triple clamp that has completely different flex characteristics compared to the stock clamp. The performance of any fork can be compromised by improper torquing of the pinch bolts, but the new clamps are machined more precisely to minimize this issue. The fork offset can also be altered with the new clamps. By removing and reversing the stem, the standard offset of 22mm can be changed to 20mm, and you don’t need a hydraulic press to do it. The bike has black D.I.D. DirtStar rims and blue-anodized machined hubs. There’s a carbon fiber-reinforced engine protector and a standard mechanical holeshot device. The ribbed seat cover has a Guts logo. The Husqvarna Rockstar Edition has an MSRP of $11,199, whereas the standard model is $9999.
KTM 450SX-F FACTORY EDITION
The premise behind the original 2012 Factory Edition was to be a limited run of early 2013 models—a completely new machine. That gave Ryan Dungey the opportunity to ride a new bike in the AMA Supercross series. The AMA production rule states that pro bikes must use the stock frame and engine cases, and the 2013 model would have otherwise been illegal. Since then, the Factory Edition has been an annual tradition, even though there have been some years when it didn’t have new engine cases or a new frame. In those years, the Factory Edition is more about small upgrades, accessories and bling. This is one of those years.
The KTM Factory Edition has been an annual tradition since 2012. Some years it offers big motor and frame changes over the standard model—a preview of the model to come. This isn’t one of those years.
The engine and frame are the same as those on the standard model. The bike does get an Akrapovic titanium silencer and CNC-machined triple clamps that are orange anodized, but otherwise the same as the Husqvarna’s. The WP AER 48 air fork has mechanical changes and has a higher recommended air pressure than the fork on the standard edition—10.9 bar versus 10.6 bar. KTM says that the flex characteristic of the new triple clamp is different, and the higher pressure just works better. The rims, engine cover, disc cover, and all the anodized bits and pieces give it the team look, and the frame is orange. The Factory Edition sells for $11,099, which is $1200 more than the standard edition.
IN OUR LAST EPISODE…
Even though all three motorcycles appear to be prime examples of the classic pro replica theme, they represent different concepts. The Honda is designed to be a hopped-up version of the standard bike, while the KTM and Husky are previews of the year to come. It just so happens that this time around, the next year’s models will have comparatively few changes.
Is either concept enough to change the balance of power in the 450 class? In our November 2018 shootout, neither bike won. The brand-new Kawasaki KX450F was our pick because it was the easiest to ride for Joe Average. With Joe sitting on the bench for this one, what will happen?
There’s no debate here. The Honda CRF450RWE is a rocket. It has more power than any production 450 motocross bike made, ever. And, it all happens immediately. When you open the throttle, there’s no lag time waiting for the Honda engine to spool up. It hits hard and rushes you into a deep, rich midrange. On top, the peak is excellent, although it might not have quite as much over-rev as the standard version, which lingers for some time after peak. The Husqvarna is powerful, too, but it goes about things differently. On the bottom, it starts off soft and smoothly pulls harder and harder. By the time you get into the angry zone, you won’t realize how fast you’re going. On peak, it’s not quite as strong as the Honda, but it’s close. The gradual build-up is deceptive. KTM sits in the middle. Obviously, it’s decisively closer to the Husqvarna; it has, after all, the same motor. There are a number of factors that give it a different personality, though. One is the airbox. Much has been said about the merits of the freer-breathing KTM intake arrangement. It’s enough to say that in this case, it results in a snappier power delivery than the Husky’s. The KTM still isn’t nearly as aggressive as the Honda. It was that way with the standard models, too. With the three pro replicas, the stakes are higher. All three make more power than their alter egos. In the case of the Husky, the difference is barely perceptible. You get a little more with the KTM, and you get a lot more with the Honda.
All three pro replicas handle like the standard models. For the latecomers, here’s the recap: The KTM and Husky turn well and have reasonable straight-line stability. They are defined, however, by their lack of weight. They both weigh 222 pounds without fuel. That’s downright incredible. The Honda is around 16 pounds heavier, and it can’t escape that fact. Some riders report that the Honda steers lightly, but the flip side to that is that it’s more nervous at speed. It also makes you feel like you have a little less control of the situation.
All three of these bikes have suspension differences; the Hondas are the most significant. Contrary to what some say, the Works Edition’s Showa fork has the same internal valving and spring rate as that of the standard bike. It feels much different. The titanium nitride and Kashima coatings require different settings. Everything moves so much more easily; the fork will dive and feel somewhat harsh unless you stiffen it up. It might seem counterintuitive, but if you increase the compression damping, the Honda fork starts to feel softer and plusher. Ain’t life funny? Most of our test riders liked it best with three to four clicks more compression in front. In the rear, it works best with about 106mm of sag and two or three more clicks of compression.
Both the KTM and Husky Special Edition forks feel different, and some of it is because of the new triple clamp. In the original shootout, both were called out for having harsh front suspension. We historically have great fondness for the WP AER 48 fork, but we theorized that the bar has been raised again in the suspension world. Most riders liked the Honda fork better. That wasn’t necessarily the case here. With minor internal changes, increased air pressure and the new triple clamps, both the KTM and the Husky were much improved over the standard models. Most, but not all, of our pro experts rated the KTM and Husky forks higher than the Honda fork. In the rear, all three performed similar to their standard bike siblings, which is to say, “good.”
Virtually all pro riders use the mechanical holeshot device that compresses the fork on the start. The KTM and Husky have this; the Honda doesn’t. All three bikes have upgraded silencers with the stock head pipes. Of them all, the Husky’s pipe is the loudest—almost to a painful level. All three bikes have similar-feeling gripper seats. Some riders like them, but most feel they are too abrasive.
Honda clearly invested the most in its replica bike. The suspension coatings and the head porting add up to more than the $2200 price difference. Then you get a pipe and various goodies on top of that. In all those areas, though, the Honda was already strong. We would have preferred to see investment in the bike’s weaknesses, starting with the clutch. Kenny uses a hydraulic clutch on his works bike. That would have been an upgrade worth having.
So, what did our panel of pro test riders think of the pro replicas? The results weren’t that different from our standard bike shootout. Of the three bikes here, the KTM was the unanimous favorite. It turns out that pros often value the same traits as amateurs. Everyone benefits from a bike that’s light. Everyone values stability, and everyone benefits from predictability. Honda had the most powerful motor in the last shootout, and it still does. All of our pro test riders loved the motor, but it turns out that they also appreciate the KTM’s smooth power delivery.
Now for the real reality check. These bikes, in general, won’t be purchased by pro riders or their teams. Guys with AMA pro licenses rebuild everything with products from team sponsors, and they have their own motor builders. If they started with pro replica bikes, they would simply be tossing out more expensive pieces. Who will buy the Factory Edition, the Works Edition and the Rockstar Edition? Older riders, wealthier riders, fans and amateurs. Pro replicas have never really been for pros—that’s why they’re called replicas. They’re premium-level flagships that give amateur riders a glimpse of life at the top of the pro world.