Front End: Riders Briefing

Front End: Riders Briefing

Welcome to the new age

Honda finally gets with the program with a CRF450 that's ready to race

By Adam Duckworth

When any major manufacturer wheels out a totally brand-new machine designed from the ground up, then it's always an exciting time. And when that manufacturer is Honda, then for some reason it takes on a special resonance. It's a bit of an oddity as to why this may be the case, as Honda has hardly been the manufacturer to set the world alight in recent years. That's been the domain of KTM - on race tracks all over the planet as well as in the very top-level of racing, both the world championship and the AMA Supercross and National motocross series Stateside. Yes, Yamaha has had a strong resurgence but it's taken until 2015 for Honda to win its first MX2 world championship, followed by its rider Tim Gajser then moving up to the MXGP class and taking a shock rookie win in 2016.

Perhaps it's because old-school motocross guys are still secretly obsessed with the amazing factory HRC Hondas of the early and mid-1980s, when money was no object and the bikes were total works of art. They took win after win in the GPs and American series, helped by Roger De Coster taking control of the US race team for Big Red. It was the team every rider wanted to race for. But since the AMA kneecapped pure factory bikes with the production rule, and then the four-stroke era enveloped the sport, it's difficult to really pinpoint why Honda has such an elevated place in the hierarchy of bike manufacturers. But somehow they still do. Whether the production bikes are any good or not.

Because to be honest, it's been a long time since the world beat a path to a Honda dealer's door if they wanted to buy the fastest bike on the track. Honda has been a safe, rational purchase - or as close to what could be called that in a market where used bikes drop in value like a stone. But you can always sell a Honda for good money, as their reputation for reliability and build quality has never faltered. They might not be the quickest or best handling or best suspended, but you can't go far wrong with the CRF as a decent buy.

But then HRC got involved. Around three years ago, as the current iteration of the fuel-injected CRF was nearing the end of its production lifecycle, HRC decided to get seriously involved with racing again. It even sent its very top men, much more used to the pristine clinic super-tech sport of MotoGP racing, to get muddy at some dirt bike races. And they asked why Honda wasn't winning, and what they needed to change to make HRC victorious. And they set about doing it.

The new CRF is light and really quick, ideal for monster jumps!

The stock bike was light and nice-handling, but not quick enough. So Honda got a new team in to develop an all-new production bike, the result of which is the 2017 machine. It has been designed to be lighter and better handling, thanks to Honda's focus on mass centralisation. And to have more rear grip, matched to a much more powerful motor to get it to the first turn in first place. Not wheezing behind its rivals. While they were at it, they made it electric-start friendly so that it can be prodded into life with the push of a button in the heat of action. And while air forks might be fine for GP teams, and stock suspension is not hugely relevant to HRC race teams anyway, the production engineers got involved by specifying production versions of the spring A-kit Showa forks that lots of serious teams used anyway. And certainly something that was requested by real world riders who wanted simplicity rather than the constant worry about air pressures.

But while Honda has got its engineering sorted many times, it's often been in the fine details that it gets let down. With confused suspension, strangled engine performance or just some odd set-up choices. Like the odd-handling first injected CRF of 2009 with its low-front and too-soft forks. Wise money stays away from year one of a new bike, especially a Honda. But for 2017, this isn't the case.

The bike is all a Honda should be. That means light, reliable, well-made and, importantly, powerful. Not too powerful, but useable for everyone from the average rider to a GP star. And the new CRF450 certainly has useable power in bucketloads. In this issue, MotoHead's chief tester Dave Willet rides the CRF450R and the CRF450RX enduro bike and goes into much more detail as to why the bikes are now so good. Not perfect, of course, but far closer to it than ever before.

So now if you buy a new Honda you don't need to hide behind the excuses that you bought a bike for its resale value and reliability, You can now proudly say you chose Honda as it's fast and fun to ride. It's a race winner out of the box, something that hasn't been the case for CRF450s for quite a long time. So welcome back Honda. It's nice to have you at the party.

Adam Duckworth
Editorial Director

On the cover

The brand new 2017 Honda CRF450R gets taken into Sicilian airspace by MotoHead's chief tester Dave Willet who came back from the launch totally raving about the bike. It's the last of the 2017 models to hit the market and it seems like the wait has been well worth it for a bike that finally lives up to the promises of being a race-ready machine. 

MotoHead is brought to you by…

Editorial Director: Adam Duckworth
Chief tester/ Commercial and Marketing director: Dave Willet
Designer: Nic Duckworth
IT consultant: Mark Shephard
International Editor: Rob "Doc Wob" Walters
Contributing Photographers: Ray Archer, JP Acevedo, Bavo Swijgers, Christophe Desmet, Massimo Zanzani, Dick Law, Mike Wood, Martin Pickard, Elliott Spencer, Takuro Nagami, Simon Cudby, Garth Milan, Lula Duckworth, John Owen.
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