American Honda invited selected members of the motocross press to throw a leg over the first production CRF450R MX bikes to land on American shores. Held at the Huss Ranch in Lompoc, California, the press launch allowed us a chance to pound some serious laps on the most exciting bike of the 2002 model year.
Though quite scenic, the Huss Ranch track is not the ideal track to showcase the capabilities of a big-bore four-stroke, as its tight, loamy conditions barely allowed us to get the bike out of third gear. Still, the bike shows tons of potential and exceeded all of our test riders' expectations.
We'll cut to the chase, right from the get-go. This bike is fast. How fast? Real fast. The best way to describe the CRF's powerband is a compromise between the ever-popular Yamaha YZ426F and the monstrous KTM 520SX. The Honda motor has the smooth, linear pull of the KTM, but the immediate throttle response of the YZ. While a Yamaha motor tends to be a tad lazy down low with a violent punch in the middle of the powerband, the Honda packs a serious punch that is at the same time very easy to control. It was possible to ride the entire Huss Ranch track in third gear. Furthermore, third gear starts in the dirt were also a breeze to pull off on the big red bike.[IMAGE 2]
While we knew the bike would be fast, we were completely surprised with the excellent handling characteristics of the new CRF450R. Ergonomically, the bike feels much like it's little two-stroke brother, the CR250R. Weighing in with no gas a full 13 pounds lighter than a '01 YZ426F, the CRF450R is without a doubt the most nimble big-bore thumper we've ever thrown our legs over. Test riders commented that the combination of the strong motor and excellent handling traits inspired confidence right off the bat, and even our tester with little four-stroke experience was able to adapt very quickly. The bike was quite adept at catching tight, inside lines, and the abundance of power allowed the bike to be squared up in corners as if it were a two-stroke. Of any four-stroke we've ridden, the CRF450R is the easiest for a two-stroke rider to adapt to. Engine braking is almost nonexistent, and the bike is a breeze to start, hot or cold.
Over the next few weeks, TWMX will spend plenty of time aboard the new Honda at a variety of different tracks. Our initial thoughts? It may have taken Honda a few years to answer the challenge issued by Yamaha's YZ426F, but in this case it was definitely worth the wait. We can't wait to get this thing out to Carlsbad!