Real dirt: 2017 Honda CRF450RX

Real dirt: 2017 Honda CRF450RX

By Dave Willet. Photos courtesy Honda

It’s easy to think of Japanese enduro bikes as old motocross technology given a last lease of life by down-tuning, boshing on some restrictive exhaust and lights and being sold as trail-friendly enduro bikes. And Honda has been guilty of making some less-than-competitive enduro racers in the past. While Euro brands like KTM and Husqvarna took the market seriously with dedicated, cutting-edge bikes, Honda’s enduro offering have not been at the forefront of off-road tech.

But for 2017, Honda has taken its all-new 2017 CRF450R motocross bike and launched a competitive enduro version at the same time. And it’s so quick, it’s even faster than a stock 2016 Honda CRF450 motocross bike! That’s especially if you set the more aggressive mapping option which gives it the same power delivery as the 2017 CRF450R motocr0ss bike in its standard map. That’s madly fast!

The Honda brand is the benchmark for durability and stability with a good chassis that is totally nimble, making the RX one of the easiest bikes to ride. The chassis isn't just what makes the bike so good, as you need the right combination with enduro-spec suspension and good power delivery.

Going fast is what the new CRF450RX is all about

The CRF450RX I mainly rode didn't have a front headlight, making it ideal for cross-country, closed-course races. But apart from that, it was the same enduro spec as the other RX I rode which did have a headlight. That’s in case you were getting confused looking at the pictures!

I'm please to say the 2017 bike feels very much equal to its more race-ready rivals, like the KTM and Husky range and Yamaha 450F. The CRF’s fuel tank is huge at 8.5 litres, and to a degree a little visually off-putting but you do get used to it. When riding, it feels fine and you don't notice the tank at all.

Suspension needs setting up for trickier going

The other big difference you notice once on the bike is extra buttons on the bars. You have an electric start button on the right by the throttle, and the standard lights and horn on the left with the engine stop button next to it. This has been beefed up to add an extra button and light screen. The little blue button which is top centre is an engine management selection button. The screen tells you which mode your in by flashing - one flash is standard and two is soft, smoother delivery while three is more power. It's basically the same mapping options as a stock CRF450R.

To fire the bike up you have to pull the clutch in and press the button which isn't an issue but it kind of feels dated. I'd like to do away with this system, as other brands don't have it.

I rode a few CRF450RXs and they all had different suspension settings. The clickers where different on all of them and I never had time to fully adjust them to my own preferences. In saying that, I didn't need to make too many changes as the settings are all in the ballpark for enduro. But I was left feeling this bike had more to offer in the suspension as it wasn't quite dialled in the best it could be.

Yes, this is an enduro bike! It's as fast as the 2016 CRF MXer!

Like the motocross bike, good handling is in this bike’s DNA. The feeling you get is totally positive – you feel part of the bike. You can feel exactly what the motor or chassis is doing when riding. I could turn it and put the bike wherever I wanted on the trails and rocky, riverbed sections. It was very planted and the rear gave you amazing drive on the motocross sections or open roads. But it felt a little nervous on some of the faster rock sections as you could feel the small hits and it didn't soak up the harsh hits too well.

With so much power on tap, it’s a beast that requires taming. That’s in a good way because in the past Honda enduro bikes have been heavy and sluggish. Now it's a machine which once set up in terms of gear ratios and suspension, it’s the ultimate trail toy or enduro race weapon.

The CRF-RX will be a common sight on the trails, we predict

The power is very much directed by the motocross bike and most riders would benefit by playing around with the gearing, depending on rider skill and the terrain. I think you'd benefit by adding one or two teeth to the rear so you could bring second gear into play easier, but alter the more snappy power delivery and lower gearing by switching it into smooth mode.

I'd also check the engine idle too, as it likes to run a little high for tight sections through the woods. I also rode the bike around the motocross track and I loved it. I was left thinking it’s better than the 2016 motocross bike!

Jump to it! No problem on the new CRF

 

The new CRF450RX is a fast bike that does it all

Verdict

The RX is the bike that proved Honda is taking the off-road and enduro market deadly seriously, as it’s the latest technology rather than an old model tweaked for trails. Visually, it looks the business too.

But I think the bike just needs refining. To put this into perspective, the RX would be awesome at a Fast Eddy or a hare and hounds race, but for the general British enduro boys it would need tweaking. It’s made to go very and you need to be on your A -game to manage big red!

If you’re in muddy Wales or riding over rocky trails, you may find it a little bit of a handful. But play with the gearing, get the suspension set up right and it can be a winner anywhere.