Almost every motorcycle made has somewhat of a cult following, even some of those bad ones. However every so often there is a bike that becomes iconic and ever since 2006 the Honda CRF450X has been the Swiss army knife to so many riders throughout the riding and racing community. It’s no secret that the 450X has seen very little updates since its 2006 release and although it’s stayed the same, I think that’s a testament to how well Honda has designed the bike in the first place. The CRF450X has never been a real standout bike in any one category, I would even say that it’s been somewhat vanilla. Don’t take this the wrong way as vanilla ice cream can be eaten plain or can be made even better with just a few toppings right? That being said the 450X has been the platform for a huge amount of success especially on the west coast. This “vanilla” bike has had the ability to transform itself from the family trail bike to a bike, that is able to win multiple championships (in the high speed SCORE Baja series), while also being able to win multiple NHHA (National Hare and Hound) races and championships.
Improving the CRF450X (even if it was minimal) in every category (without hindering any one category) was the only way Johnny Campbell and Honda were willing to change the old tried and true red machine. One thing the 450X has always had and Honda wanted to keep was the ability to be a green sticker vehicle, which now makes the “X” one of only two 450cc bikes (the other being Yamaha’s WR 450) that is able to be ridden off-road year around. Being all new, the 2019 CRF450X’s fuel injected, Uni-cam engine is based off of the CRF450R, but with a slightly lower compression ratio (12:1). The lower compression ratio is achieved by having a different shaped, three ring piston. Also when compared to the “R”, the “X” has 12% more crank mass, which acts as a flywheel weight, helping give the engine more tractor like pulling power. New for 2019, the transmission is now a wide ratio six-speed mated to a rubber dampened front sprocket to keep chain noise to a minimum. The endless sealed o-ring chain is nice, but I personally like a master link for trailside issues. The engine side cases have covers also to dampen engine vibration and keep overall engine noise down. The ECU settings on the 2019 are dedicated to the bike and since it is a green sticker bike they cannot be modified. Unlike the 450L (which this bike is closely related to), the “X” model does not come with a catalytic converter inside the muffler, although the muffler is still quite big and restrictive. Also differing from the “L” the head pipe diameter has been increased from 35mm to 38mm.
The base chassis on the 450X is the same as the 450R with a few additional mounting holes, different engine hangers and slight changes to the sub-frame. Some off-road specific goodies on the “X” include an 18” rear wheel, larger front brake master cylinder/hose (while still utilizing the “R” caliper and large rotor), a larger 2.01 gallon fuel tank, skid plate, dedicated suspension settings, larger offset fork lugs and a dedicated top triple clamp. Honda still uses a 7/8” Renthal handlebar which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it has more flex than an 1 1/8” bar. Finally Honda got rid of the old cable drive analog trip meter and joined this century with a nice digital readout that gives the rider different information. The radiators on the “X” are larger than the “R” although unfortunately, unlike the “L” they don’t come with a radiator fan (although the plug is there and a fan from the “L” will bolt directly on). The headlight is literally the same halogen unit that come on the older “X” model (I assume for budget reasons) and the tail light is LED. The 2019 is E-start only and comes with a high capacity lithium ion battery. Oh and the 2019 CRF450X weighs 275 pounds when full of fluids.
Our test day took place in the dry California desert and was set to a camping theme, which is where this bike is most likely going to be used in the real world. We split up into three groups, I headed out with Johnny Campbell as our guide and followed his dust down a seemingly endless sand whoop trail. Although not the most gradual way to warm up, it was immediately clear that just because this bike has the appearance and initial feel of a trail bike, that doesn’t meant deep down there still isn’t the heart of a Baja racer. Most trail bikes are sprung/valved extremely soft for the majority of the public, which gives a wallowy feeling especially in sand whoops. This isn’t the case with the 2019 CRF 450X; Honda was able to make the “X” comfortable at a trail pace while still making the suspension handle being ridden at a semi aggressive pace. On bigger g-outs the rear of the bike tended to go deep into the stroke and spring back, giving a slight kicking sensation. The forks only bottomed on hard, slap down landings and had an audible metal to metal clank sound. In rock gardens the front end stayed very planted and is stable, but when there is sand involved the bikes negative traits start to show. In sand washes the front end has a slight wander and gives the rider a lack of confidence. This may be partially due to the tire (Dunlop MX52), but in my opinion it was more of a suspension issue. The pushing feeling was greatly exaggerated when braking, and was hard to predict what the front wheel was going to do in almost any type of slower speed sandy section (even more so if there were rocks littered in). I noticed this in some washes we were in and thought it may have been just those washes, so when I got back to the camp I spun a few laps on a sandy turn track. It was quickly confirmed that the “X” in stock form isn’t a fan of turning in the sand, it isn’t planted and has a pushing sensation. After talking with Kris about this he explained it’s because the fork’s slightly soft settings hamper its turning ability when transferring your weight to the front on de-cel. When entering a corner sitting, the fork dives too far into the stroke and gives a knifing sensation. If I leaned back too far the fork wasn’t far enough in the stroke and it would have a pushing sensation.
What this Honda CRF450X does have that some other CRF’s don’t is straight line chassis comfort. The frame on this Honda is forgiving and doesn't put you in a small box like the CRF450R can do. It never deflects or feels harsh when riding over square edge or nasty terrain. We love the feel of this “X” chassis when going fast! Chasing Johnny Campbell down fast twisty roads with rollers is by far one of the more fun things to do on this Honda CRF450X. What I found is that on faster terrain, the “X” steers much better when standing and giving turning input through the pegs. Just a slight push on the pegs will get the bike to change direction while still feeling stable and confident. When I tried to point and shoot faster corners sitting down I had very little confidence in how the bike was going to react. If you like to stand or if you’re a rear end steering rider the CRF450X will fir you perfectly. The reason we think it corners better when standing is because when your weight is on the pegs, the load is centralized and not biased more to the front or rear so the balance front to rear doesn't get upset as much.
To be 100% honest (which we always are over here at Keefer Inc) I was a little disappointed in the engine on the 2019 CRF450X. After riding the “L” last month we were told the “X” would be significantly opened up so the true potential of the engine could be enjoyed. Unfortunately the “X” has only a slightly free-er feeling engine. That being said I understand that with the restrictions of green sticker vehicles that Honda could only do so much. The bottom end power of the “X” is very linear and tame making the bike very easy to ride at lower speeds. When giving more throttle input the power of the “X” is deceiving as it builds power very calculated. Into the mid-range the bike starts to pull hard and almost feels like a diesel (similar to when the turbo was spools up). When that mid-range power comes on, the Honda gets the power to the ground and gets more exciting to ride. The reason I think the power may be “deceiving” is because the exhaust is so damn quiet and tame sounding that it never crosses my mind that it’s pulling so hard (with such a tame exhaust note). Past the mid, the top end is somewhat short, but that isn't a bad thing because the CRF450X likes to be short shifted and can do that with ease. In almost every situation the 450X like to be ridden a gear high and can be lugged fairly well. The gearing on the “X” is spaced out well and is one of the better gear boxes in the CRF range. I do feel like first gear could be a little lower because when at low speeds the engine was lugging a little more than I would like as I needed to cover the clutch. If the clutch wasn’t covered (in first gear) the Honda did flame out a coupe times on me in super tight/technical sections. Going up a couple teeth on the rear would most likely help remedy this issue, but wold also take away some top end pulling power (which I wouldn't mid so much). The CRF450X’s top speed was 96 MPH as I rung it out next to Johnny Campbell in a full tuck. Two times throughout the ride I found a false neutral between 2nd and 3rd gear and four to five times a found a false neutral between 4th and 5th gear. This could of happened because I was being lazy when shifting and not fully clicking my toe up.
The ergonomics on the 2019 CRF450X are like any Honda as they always feel like home. The half waffle grips are good quality and the levers have a classic Honda comfortable feel. Something I always have and always will complain about on Honda’s is the damn clutch switch. When the bike stalls the clutch needs to be pulled in to be re-started, which is ok, but for the switch to be engaged the lever needs to be pulled in all the way to the handlebar. This means you can’t just two finger the clutch and fire the bike (because the other two fingers are blocking the lever from being fully engaged. I also feel like a radiator fan should have come stock on the “X”. I bring this up because as I was messing around at slow speeds (for 10-15 minutes) I was able to overheat the bike and it slightly spit coolant out. The front brake has been greatly improved over the previous generation “X’s” and stopping power much better than I remember. The master cylinder is larger, holding more fluid, and the feel, power, and progressiveness at the lever is something I fell in love with. The digital readout gives MPH, trip, total mileage, check engine, low fuel light, and one other cool function. The “X”’s computer measures how much fuel has been used, which doesn’t seem too exciting, but it’s how it’s measured that’s smart. Instead of measuring how much fuel is in the titanium tank, the Honda measures how much fuel has flowed through the fuel injection system. This lets the rider know the MPG while also telling the rider how much fuel has flowed through the system. On our ride, the fuel light turned on at the 50 mile mark, but this mileage can obviously change with the terrain as well as the amount you twist your wrist. Unlike the older model, the new bike doesn’t have a quick access air filter door with quick release. Instead the air filter is accessed like a motocross bike removing the two seat bolts and seat. The stock plastic skid plate is nice and I applaud Honda for having the skid plate, as well as front and rear rotor guards since this is after all an off-road bike. Although the “X” has bike protection, once again Honda doesn’t equip their off-road bike with handguards. I didn’t understand why they don’t have handguards so I asked, and was told the engineers in Japan say “XR’s have handguards, CRF’s do not” this didn’t really answer my question, but it seems like it’s something that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Honda set out to improve the 2019 CRF450X in every department and I think the project was a success. Unlike the older model, this bike doesn’t need to have the carburetor messed with and all the smog stuff removed to make it run. Out of the box, the 2019 CRF450X runs well and is a very capable, fun machine to ride. Once the aftermarket offers some goodies (making the bike a “closed course” machine) it has the ability to be morphed into whatever the consumer wants it to be (just like vanilla ice cream). Just like adding your favorite toppings to ice cream, the 2019 Honda CRF450X is a great base, and with some aftermarket parts of your choice the “X” is still a Swiss Army knife that can be transformed into whatever type of bike you desire; from trail boss to Baja racer. If you have any more questions about the 2019 Honda CRF450X feel free to reach out to me at Michael@keeferinctesting.com. -Michael Allen