As the 2019 bike roll-outs continue, we ventured back to Chaney Ranch to swing our leg over the 2019 Honda CRF450R and all new CRF450RWE (Works Edition). From prior experience, the Chaney Ranch facility proved to not be the best testing grounds to form great opinions/settings on new bikes, but rather a place that would allow us to get comfortable on a bike and become more excited to take it elsewhere. So my first impression of the 450R is just that - a way for me to communicate my initial thoughts based on one day of riding (and trust me when I say I can’t wait to ride this bike again).
First and foremost, let me start by stating that I was not a fan of either the 2017 or 2018 Honda 450R. I’m a relatively small dude - 5’7”, 145lbs, so harnessing the prowess of a big bore can be daunting at times. I personally felt that the 17’ & 18’ 450’s where very rigid, and I struggled to find settings that would make me comfortable in stock trim on rougher tracks. Mostly, I felt these bikes were quick to react and deflect off of any small bumps/chop on track, making it hard for me to hold onto (skinny guy problems). Honda brought out an 18’ for us to ride and I was able to confirm these opinions before riding the new bikes. Without a doubt, within minutes I could feel the difference of the updates that Honda made for 2019. The CRF450R’s Next-Gen twin spar aluminum frame positions the rear shock’s mounting point lower, opening up the airbox area and contributing to a lower center of gravity. Honda also took some rigidity out of the sub-frame to help with rear wheel traction and comfort. The new swingarm design is lighter and provides appropriate rigidity communication to the rest of the bike, resulting in a much more compliant feel. The bike feels more stable, more predictable, and way more confident when riding at speed. It allows you to ride the bike more aggressively and with more confidence in rough conditions. Keep in mind, the overall frame geometry is exactly the same as the prior years, so the 19’ definitely will not feel foreign to someone who has become familiar with the last few generations. Further enhancements to the chassis for the new model year include revised suspension settings, which further improve the overall feel and performance of the 450R. They are somewhere in the mix between the 17’ (which was soft) and the 18’ (which was stiffer). I made very minute adjustments to improve comfort, which included a sag setting around the 109-110mm mark, and softening the forks and low speed compression on the shock. These small adjustments transmitted into noticeable differences and I started liking the bike even more as the day progressed. Finally, I was smiling while riding red again!
Moving into the power plant, 2019 sees a revised cylinder head with a focus on the exhaust port and a new header pipe. The header pipe diameter has been increased as well as overall length to the muffler, all resulting in more power across the rpm range. Honda also updated the selectable EFI map selections (standard-1/smooth-2/aggressive-3) for better use of power delivery in specific conditions, as well as selectable HRC launch control modes. I did not really dive into the launch control modes on the 450R, but have been told that they help offer a great advantage for riders looking to rip that #absoluteholeshot. My impressions of this 2019 motor were great, as I felt the power delivery was very linear (something that I like). It was not as barky/aggressive on the low-end as previous generations have been, so I did enjoy “Map 3” the most, which woke the bike up a bit, allowing it to regain some snap and playfulness without losing the linear power curve. Over-rev seemed plenty sufficient as well, as the bike did pull well in high rpms, but the only thing that really didn’t stand out was the mid-range. I felt the “meat in the middle” was a little lack-luster, making me want to twist the throttle more to keep the bike alive. All in all, the motor and chassis combination seemed to work well with one another.
To round out some other important improvements to this year’s 450R, the bike now sees a Renthal Fatbar attached to a new top triple clamp (offers 4 different handlebar mount positions), updated front brake caliper, and last but not least… BLACK WHEELS! Yes… this is very important, because holy hell the bike looks so damn sexy with them! And speaking of holy hell and sexy, how about the all new 450R Works Edition?! The bike is drool worthy and I swear to you, it will cause a double-take to anyone at first glance who might confuse it with a factory race bike. I spent some time on this bike as well during the intro, but it was not my focus - my partner, Colton Aeck, will provide you with the details in his own impressions right here on KeeferIncTesting.com. I will say this - the Works Edition is one bad machine, and I applaud Honda for actually making it a better package for the money when comparing it to the orange/white competition. It is not just about aesthetics with the 450RWE, its about performance as well, and I’m hoping to ride it again in the near future to form better opinions on how much better it can be or should be, versus the standard “R” model.
I personally feel that the 2019 new bike season is shaping up to be great. Japanese manufacturers have stepped up across the board, providing machines that look, feel and perform better than they have in the last few years. Honda has proven this so far with their 450R, which is noticeably improved form the 2018. The updated chassis is the obvious stand-out here, providing a more compliant and predictable ride than the previous generations. What was also cool to experience first hand was being surrounded with professional privateers during this intro (albeit current red riders) that could attest to the changes that the new bike experienced. Everyone seemed to agree on specific traits, and what stood out when they had their turn to spin laps (and let me explain that they all agreed that they want the 2019 bikes to race on next season). As mentioned earlier, riding in the location we did for this intro was just the beginning… I am now more eager than ever to ride in different conditions to really get a true depiction of the 19’ model. As always, please stay tuned to KeeferIncTesting.com to read/listen/learn as we continue to have some fun testing the 2019 offerings across the board. Thank you for reading! -Dominic Cimino