Turning your Honda CRF450 into the ultimate off roader

I am what Tom Webb affectionately refers to as a “bike guy,” not as in dirt bike, but the kind that you pedal; a two-wheeler sans a throttle. I design road bikes and mountain bikes for a living. I am the president/founder of BH USA and Pivot Cycles based in Phoenix, Arizona.

BH is a high-end road bike brand. Our latest bike design led the Tour de France for eight straight days. Pivot Cycles is a cutting-edge, award-winning, full-suspension mountain bike company. I have been involved in cycling for my entire life, but I am pretty much a nut for anything with two wheels.

About 15 years ago, I became completely addicted to dirt bikes. Since that time, I have owned more dirt bikes than I have years riding under my belt. I like to try everything, and I am never satisfied with a box-stock motorcycle.

Just like the majority of us, I typically buy a new bike, bolt on a few accessories, make a few adjustments and then go ride. Over the next several years, I change things. I have the suspension revalved, and I mess with the setup, jetting, flywheel, clutch, handlebars, etc. Over time, the bike morphs into something completely different. You change this, you fix that, and in three years (just about the time you’re getting the new-bike bug), your current scoot is near perfection (and ready to be replaced). That’s how it has been for me, but this time it was going to be very different, and that’s where the story begins.

For 2009-10, BH Bikes is the bicycle sponsor of the Pro Circuit Monster Energy team. It’s awesome to know that we are supplying high-end equipment to the best riders in the world so they can train harder, ride faster and add more championships to Mitch Payton’s trophy case. Through working with Pro Circuit, I have had the opportunity to spend just enough time with the team at the races and in their race shop to take my addiction to the next level. It’s nearly impossible to spend time around all those incredibly trick Pro Circuit bikes and not have to have one of my own. After all, I’m only human.


I decided that I needed (wanted) a works bike built just for me. I’m a B-level off-road rider who frequents the occasional track day and races a few GPs a year. I was set on a new bike and only knew that I wanted it to be fuel-injected. After riding all of the new ’10s at the Dirt Bike ride day, I thought the Honda CRF450R felt the lightest and had strong power, but the handling felt a bit sketchy compared to the YZF. I purchased my new Honda CRF450F at Apache Motorsports in Phoenix, Arizona (it’s an awesome dealership run by real enthusiasts), stared at it, took it for a quick spin down the street, and then dropped it off at Pro Circuit for some serious love!

I wanted a motor that was smooth down low and pulled clean through the middle with nice over-rev, not more power. In fact, I didn’t even mind if it was slower. Pro Circuit ported the head and added their piston and full Ti-4 GP exhaust, along with re-programming the FI to JCR Honda’s tight course settings. I also requested that they add a Steahly 15-ounce flywheel weight, Hinson steel clutch basket and a Rekluse Core EXP clutch. Mitch Payton looked at me like I was out of my mind when I asked for the flywheel and the Hinson steel basket together, but sometimes too much is just right. I have never ridden a 450 on the track or on the trail that didn’t feel better with more flywheel weight, and this combination feels incredible. The Pro Circuit motor has all the smoothness and controllability that I was looking for, with a whole lot more power than stock.

The biggest surprise was how the power just kept pulling and pulling. The Rekluse Core EXP clutch is a perfect match for all this. It retains the clutch engagement and feel of a standard clutch, but now you can take your hand off the clutch and just let it idle in gear while you wait for your buddies. On technical hills, you quickly learn to stop working the clutch and let the Rekluse handle the work for you. Brake sliding into corners will never stall the bike, and everything is just a lot more controllable. The Core EXP has a very quick engagement at lower revs, so it is still best to cover the clutch in tight ruts and when popping the front end up over obstacles. It’s like having the best of both worlds.

The best way to describe the Pro Circuit suspension work is absolute magic. If you have a small budget, then this is where you want to spend it. The suspension on a Pro Circuit Honda and a stock Honda have very little in common. I asked for good initial plushness to handle the rocks and an increase in front-end traction to handle the hardpack with decomposed granite (ball bearings) on top that we Arizonians like to call dirt. I also wanted increased bottoming control to handle G-outs. Basically, I wanted it all, and that’s what was delivered. Bones revalved the suspension, went up on the spring rate front and rear, added their National Spring Tubes and installed their Pro Circuit linkage. On our off-road test loop, we encountered everything from deep ruts to softball-sized rocks, and giant water bars hit fifth gear wide open with flat bottom landings.  The stability, control and bottoming resistance are amazing. As with the motor, Pro Circuit gave me exactly what I asked for—and then some. This is a must-have!

With the controls and ergos, the biggest change was removing the stock steering damper and replacing it with a Scotts damper using their sub-mount (under-the-bar) system. I have owned a couple different brands of steering dampers, and the Scotts is by far the gold standard. There is not another damper on the market that offers the ability to adjust high- and low-speed damping independently and has the total range of adjustment that the Scotts offers. I prefer to run the low-speed more open so the bike is easy to turn in the tight stuff, but then the high-speed damping circuit is there to save you when you really hit something hard and fast that you aren’t expecting. The Scotts damper has saved my carcass more than once, and I consider it nearly as important a piece of safety equipment as my boots, helmet and gear.

Finally, we added a Henry bend Pro Taper handlebar, 1-inch-taller seat foam, and Fastway footpegs in the low and back position. All of these mods allow the bike to fit me better and make it more comfortable when the ride extends past three hours.

As with any good off-road bike, it is important to have all the right guards, and I didn’t skimp here. I installed a Hyde skid plate, Works Connection radiator guards, Pro Moto Billet rear disc guard, full-wrap Cycra Pro Bend hand guards and a TM Designs chainguide.

I installed a Pro Moto billet kickstand to make trail riding with friends a whole lot easier, plus the kickstand is light, folds completely out of the way and is nearly indestructible.

I wanted to run an 18-inch rear wheel, so while I was on this kick of building my own personal works bike, I decided to go all out and install a set of beautiful Talon Excel wheels with red anodized hubs. I run a Dunlop MX51 on the rear and 745 on the front with heavy-duty tubes and Motion Pro LiteLoc rim locks. Not only are these the trickest wheels in existence, they are also unbelievably strong and will certainly last much longer and stay straighter than the stock wheels.

The Excel wheels are being driven by an RK Gold U-ring WRKS chain. This is the same chain that is used on the Monster Energy Pro Circuit team bikes. O-ring type chains hold up much better, and Mitch tells me that this one is as efficient on the dyno as a non-O-ring chain. If it holds up for Jake Weimer and Christophe Pourcel, then it should work great for me.

The final piece of the puzzle came together with the help of N-Style. They supply all the team graphics to Pro Circuit and were more than happy to design something special for me. The N-Style/BH/Pro Circuit graphics, combined with the red talon hubs and all the other details, give this bike a look that would make Johnny Campbell or Andrew Short jealous.

When I look at the entire project, many of the changes are things that I would have done over time. However, it is incredible to have it all upfront in one dialed, ready-to-race package. The bike achieves everything I wanted. I wanted a bike that I could race, ride in the desert or take to the mountains. The guys at Pro Circuit earned their reputation through the highest levels of racing, but also through supplying works-level detail and performance to customers like you and me. If you are getting a new bike or just refreshing your old one, you owe it to yourself to try their motor and suspension work at least once in your life. You won’t regret it. That said, it’s time for me to go ride my new bike. q

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