RICKY BRABEC INTERVIEW & RIDING THE 2020 HONDA CRF450RX–THE WRAP

 RICKY BRABEC Q & A

We started calling Ricky Brabec the moment he got back to the states after his nearly perfect Dakar win. When we finally got ahold of him, here’s what he said:

Dirt Bike: Is winning Dakar like you dreamed Or is there anything that caught you off guard?
Ricky Brabec: The aftermath of winning the Dakar is a dream come true. There’s a lot of work, a lot of PR, media stuff, but nothing caught me off-guard. We have to accept the fact that there’s a lot of media in the next few weeks, but for sure it’s a dream come true. 

DB: Do you think your life will change, or will it be back to the routine?
RB: It’s going to be back to the routine. We gotta prepare for 2021. We want to back this up with another championship. We’re going to take a couple of weeks off, maybe a month. Then we’re going to take it slowly at first and then work the hardest between August and Christmas.

DB: As a team Honda did well this year. That hasn’t been the case in the past. What was the difference?
RB: The difference this year versus other years was we spent a lot of time out here in the Mojave, testing and developing the bike. I think that’s a real big part of it. The Japanese have done a great job building this motorcycle. I think the whole team is real confident now with the new specs.

Ricky Brabec looks over the road book with Johnny Campbell in 2019.

DB: In the past you said that you and Johnny Campbell were like a separate team within Honda. Is it different now?
RB: In the past, we Americans felt a little left out at the Bivouac, but now we have a new team manager. Rubin Faria and Helder Rodriguez are former racers and rally experts. Now, since the Americans have picked up the training program and started to make a push toward the front, they really respect us. It feels really nice. It feels like family. 

DB: As a part of your team, did Johnny Campbell have a good payday as well? 
RB: I don’t know how Johnny’s bonus worked, but I would hope people think of winning as more than just a payday. Of course, there’s money involved, but we do this because we like it, we do it because we have fun and we do it because we want to win. 

DB: When fellow American Andrew Short gave a wheel to Toby Price, your primary competitor at KTM, what was your initial thought?
RB: When I heard about that, my initial thought was ‘naw, Andrew isn’t going to do that. They’re on two different teams!’ That wasn’t how it worked out, though. Toby got the wheel and I thought, ‘oh man, we’re still here racing. Toby’s a real strong guy.’ He lost a little time that day, but you never want to count him out, whether he has a couple of down times or not. 

DB: What was Saudi Arabia like? How did they respond to your tattoos and clothing?
RB: With my shorts and tattoos, I was a little scared at first, but I think they understood that our culture isn’t like theirs.  Still, we didn’t go out in public that often. Some guys had shorts in the bivouac, and that wasn’t a really big deal, but when we went out in public, we tried to take care, wear long pants and long sleeves–obey the law and respect the culture. 

DB: On the days when you got the map book just before the start, was that difficult?
RB: When we got the map book in the morning, no one had any more time to study it than anyone else. We had 25 minutes to load it and look at it, and that’s really a fair game. When people get the map book the day before, there’s a possibility that map guys can make an overlay of the course. Hopefully in the future we can get it like that every morning. That gives us more time to rest in the evenings and it’s equal for everybody and I really like that. It’s the way I train. 

DB: You seemed like you always had speed in reserve this year. Is that new?
RB: Yes and no. We didn’t have the best set up in the past and we didn’t feel that confident. Now, training with Jimmy Lewis and having all the confidence in the world that we can keep up with the other guys, it’s really nice. For sure, there’s a little more speed in reserve now, but you have to make sure you’re not going to get lost. Just having speed isn’t the most important thing. You have to be smart, as well. You can only ride as fast as you can read. It’s really difficult

DB: Did you crash or have any major issues?
RB: I tipped the bike over two times in the dunes, but other than that, for me, it was the perfect rally. 

DB: How close were Paulo Goncalves and you?
RB: Paulo was really close to all of us. He was a part of the team when I got there. Paulo and his family are great people. What happened, happened. We can’t bring him back. We have to accept the fact that racing is dangerous. Every time we put the helmet on we know there are consequences. 

DB: Was the day off after Paulo’s accident good or bad?
RB: The day off was good. The brain gets fatigued, the body get fatigued, so having a day off is nice. It makes the Dakar a little longer. We’re trying to get our laundry done, we’re trying to get through town and get food for the motorhomes. We have media stuff, so a day off doesn’t seem like a day off. The only thing is that you get to sleep an extra hour.  Now, we’re excited. We got the win–first American; stoked on that. We’re gonna hang out for a couple of weeks. Relax. I just got back on Monday and we just went trail riding with Preston Campbell. Helping him gear up for the first National. See you at the races.

RIDING THE 2020 HONDA CRF450RX

Last summer, we got our first taste of the 2020 Honda CRF450R when Johnny Campbell Racing Team invited Dirt Bike’s on-line contributor Brandon Krause to race the bike at the Ridgecrest Grand Prix. You can read Brandon’s off Road Report by clicking here. Now that we have the bike in Dirt Bike’s test fleet, we have had the opportunity to ride it in several different settings and experiment with the new HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control) feature. Most people call it traction control.

The 2020 Honda CRF450R weighs 244 pounds without fuel. That about 6 pounds heavier than the MX version.

Torque control is a mode that is designed to tone down engine output when it senses excessive wheel spin. It has three levels including off. This is in addition to three mapping options. Just over the kill switch is a button and a blue flasher. On start up, it flashes once if you’re in the standard map, twice for the mild map and three times for aggressive. The aggressive map for the RX is said to be the same as the standard map on the motocross version. The only hardware change for 2020 is the relocation of the battery box, 28mm lower. The overall layout of the bike is much the same as it’s been since it was introduced in 2017.

The lower left button is the kill button. The little one above that is the map switch. The bigger one to the right is the Honda Selectable Torque Control.

The defining characteristic of the Honda 450RX is lots and lots of power. As an off-road bike, the RX is a little over the top–but in a fun, exciting way. In the standard map, it comes on strong down low with a throbby hit that just gets more and more frantic all the way up to a truly impressive peak. Even though the RX is toned down somewhat compared to the MX version, it’s still more powerful than almost any 450 on the market. When you put it in map three, it goes a little longer on top and has even more peak power. That makes it the ultimate bike for western GPs and many desert races.

On tighter, more off-road oriented courses, the Honda is a lot of motorcycle. Down low, the power is hard to control and the danger of stalling is ever-present. Eventually, you try to manage the motor with the clutch more than the throttle. That gets tiresome. Changing to the mildest map isn’t especially useful here. It makes a noticeable difference in acceleration, but doesn’t make the low-end power any smoother. The same goes for HSTC traction control. This is an interesting concept and is much more noticeable than KTM’s system, but it doesn’t make the bike any easier to ride in tight stuff. The feature is most noticeable when the motor is under a sustained load, like a long, sandy hill. Then, you quite clearly feel the power output being metered out. The revs drop and it feels like someone is dragging the brake. Frankly, it’s a little bit of a buzz-kill when you go hill climbing for fun, but it can also be a real benefit in deep sand. It takes at least part of the task of throttle management off your plate.

Clearly, the Honda is a bike of extremes.  For GP racing, it’s one of the best motorcycles ever. But as a trail bike, it’s totally out of place. The cool thing is that, with the release of the 2019 Honda CRF450X, the RX doesn’t have to be a trail bike. Honda now has another 450 for that. The RX is free do do what it does best without apologies. For the full test of the 2020 Honda CRF450RX, check out the April, 2020 print edition of Dirt Bike.

MECUM’S AUCTION LAS VEGAS

The Mecum motorcycle auction is taking place right now at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and will run through the 26th. This is fun to watch on NBC Sports if you can catch it. The dirt bikes generally are sold early in the week and they move on to the big-dollar vintage street bikes as the days go by. This 1975 Suzuki RM125 sold for $8800 on Thursday.

If you wonder what happened to all the old CZs, they’re still around. They get auctioned off to a new owner every year. This one went for $4400.

Not everything in Vegas is big bucks. This Hodaka Dirt Squirt sold for $110. Some of the bikes are are only good as parts for another restoration. Some are good as a core for a new project.

Any dirt bike rider who was around in the ’70s knows what this is and wants one, at least at some level deep in his heart. The 1974 Honda Elsinores were awesome. There were fewer 250 than 125s (which were ubiquitous), This one is very original and went for $6050.

Now for something different. Riverside was Montgomery Ward’s in-house motorcycle brand. This 260 was probably made by Benelli–the department store actually sourced their bikes from several different makers. It sold for $1650.

MUNGENAST HONDA MUSEUM

Dave Mungenast, Sr. was a great American off-road racer in the 1960s and ‘70s. He rode the International Six Days Trials (ISDE, for kids) nine times in his career and earned six medals. He also was an early Honda dealer and today there’s an extensive Honda Museum in his name. Check it out if you are ever in St. Louis!

See you next week!

–Ron Lawson

Comments are closed.