Keefer Inc. Testing First Ride Impression
2018 Honda CRF450R
For those of you that didn't listen to the 2018 Honda CRF450R podcast I did, here is a written First Ride Impression version. Remember if you prefer to listen to your tests instead of read them, we are here for you! You can subscribe to “Keefer Tested“ on iTunes, go to pulpmx.com or get it on the Stitcher app…. Choose wisely….
Honda came out with a brand spankin new CRF450R in 2017, so the updates the 2018 have are minimal, but that doesn't mean they cant be felt on the track. Honda went ahead and stiffened up the suspension by increasing the spring rates on both ends of the bike, the engine hangers have been swapped out for a softer CRF450RX style hanger, a mapping change was made to the standard map that was developed to smooth out roll on power down low and increase mid to top end pull and last but not least an electric start with a lightweight lithium ion battery (straight from the HRC race department). On paper it doesn't sound like much, so I took the 2017 and 2018 bikes out to dissect them both (for a little comparison) and this is what I came away with.
The 2017 engine character is super exciting and fun to ride, but can be a handful when trying to roll through ruts and corners. The 2018 (in map 1) comes on smoother and is much more friendly to ride than the 2017. This doesn't mean it lost its luster down on low RPM, it just means that it is more controllable than ever before. The rear wheel is more connected on the 2018 than last year and I can really feel the Honda getting more traction when the dirt gets harder. Mid to top end pull feels like it has also slightly increased over last year with the new mapping. The new bike can pull second and third gear slightly longer. You will however still need to downshift to second in corners, but will be able to shift a little earlier on the 2018. Over-rev is as good on the 2018 as last year’s model, but still not quite as good as a KTM 450SX-F. With the 2017 I felt like it was easy to stall on tighter corners and didn't have that chugability (yes, that’s right chugability) that I like so much from a bike like the Yamaha YZ450F. With the 2018 CR450R mapping change I felt like the Honda is a little more “chuggy” feeling down on low RPM and doesn't have the tendency to stall as easy. Map two and three are unchanged and to me I preferred map 1 on every track I rode besides very deep sand tracks. Map two is too mellow for my throttle hand and map 3 is very fun feeling, but when I get tired I prefer calming down a little bit! Don’t be threatened by a smoother power feeling on a 450 because chances are you will be faster with that type of engine character. Honda has picked up on this and gives the rider a smoother yet broader engine character in 2018.
2018. Firmer? Yes. Harsher? No. The 2018 Honda has a firmer feel to it and holds up in the stroke better than the 2017. At 170 pounds this is a better feeling for me on every track I rode at. Last year’s bike was a little “pitchy” feeling and gave me some oversteer (knifing) in corners. This year I was able to keep the fork height at 5mm up in the clamp and not get that oversteer I dreaded from last year’s machine. Going from on gas to off gas on the 2018 CRF450R gives the rider less movement and keeps front end traction high through corners. The fork has a firmer feel, but doesn't get harsh through the mid stroke and keeps a good damping feel all the way to the end of its stroke. Last year’s fork setting was a little empty feeling at the end part of the stroke and I bottomed the 49mm Showa spring fork going up faces of jumps. I experimented with shock sag and always came back to a 105-106mm setting. This was a happy place to keep the 2018 CRF450R balanced on braking bumps and acceleration chop. The shock soaks up square edge well and doesn't have that wallow feel on rollers like last year’s steed. I did get some bottoming on steep jump transitions so an 1/8-1/4 turn stiffer on high speed really helps this get better. If you feel like that both ends are harsh (on braking bumps and acceleration chop) try softening the fork two clicks, slowing the rebound down one click. On the shock go softer two clicks on low speed compression and stiffen rebound down one click.
Chassis: The softer engine hangers really help the 2018 Honda CRF450R settle into the corners better than the 2017. I originally did this mod to my 2017 and noticed a big difference in the bike’s attitude when the track was hard and choppy. The 2018 doesn't deflect as much off of bumps and is slightly more planted around the track.The softer hangers help the flex of the chassis and give the rider more of a contact patch feel from both tires. The added weight (five extra pounds in 2018) of the electric start doesn't correlate on the track and it was tough for me to feel any real weight disadvantage while pushing it on the track. If anything I can feel a slightly heavier feel on tip in, coming into corners, but it is barely noticeable (I am picky so I can feel that stuff). The CG feeling of the Honda is still superb and feels flickable around jumpier style tracks. The 2018 CRF450R corners better than the 2017 due to the chassis and suspension changes Honda made.
It was tough for me to ride the 2017 Honda CR450R at rough tracks, but the same tracks I hit with the 2017 didn't feel as gnarly to me when I rode the 2018 model. The more forgiving chassis, stiffer suspension, and an engine character that is easier to ride makes it less of a handful to push your limits. I like that I can be smoother on this bike and it will reward me. Did I mention the electric start kicks ass?! It starts easy and makes life a lot easier for me when I have a spill or need to stop to yell at my son for doing something sketchy out on the track. I am looking forward to riding the 2018 Honda CR450R against all of the other 450’s soon in the upcoming first annual Keefer Inc. Testing 450 MX Shootout. Stay tuned!