2014 Honda CRF450
By Pat Foster
Honda invited TransWorld Motocross out to the very private and picturesque Chaney Ranch this week for the introduction of the new 2014 CRF450. On the heels of Honda unveiling a virtually all new 450 last season boasting a radically new frame design, twin pipes, KYB Pneumatic Spring Forks, and sleek new bodywork, we were expecting just a few key refinements from Honda – and that is what they delivered.
Aimed towards achieving a crisper throttle response, the 2014 received a new cylinder head with revised intake and exhaust port shaping, a revised separator in the dual exhaust to improve flow efficiency, and a new dual stage timing fuel injection system which cycles twice – cooling the intake track and the face of the valve with the first charge giving the second charge better atomization.
The KYB air forks received a new rebound piston and rod to work in conjunction with the increase in stock air pressure from 33 psi last year to an updates 35 psi.
ON THE TRACK
We could immediately feel the results of Honda’s efforts to improve the throttle response as soon as we started the bike. The delivery is extremely clean as soon as you crack the throttle with no hesitation which inspires confidence especially in rhythm sections where quick power is essential. At very low speeds we had the bike flame-out on us and chose to increase the idle speed which cured the problem.
Although the throttle response is improved, it did not translate into a measurable difference in power characteristics from last year. The roll on power is good down low with a smooth, tractable delivery which is especially effective when there is not a lot of traction available. The low-end power flows seamlessly into the mid-range which progresses into decent but relatively flat top-end without any hits or surprises along the way. The only thing noteworthy about the power delivery is that there is nothing noteworthy about it. That is not necessarily a bad thing, quite the contrary. The steady, linear climb is actually quite effective for putting in fast consistent laps. Because there are no major hits it encourages you to push a little harder while actually exuding less energy. Think quality power to the ground. If you are looking for a fire breathing monster that is going to rip your arms out of the sockets, this is not the bike for you.
We were extremely pleased with the 2013 models new found handling characteristic last year as the vague and wandering feel of the front end had been replaced with great precision especially entering corners. What a transformation – this bike turns excellent! The main issue we had dealt with the feel of the PSF settings. The initial stroke was smooth and supple which worked excellent on the small chop but any significant hit, or even steep jump face, sent the forks diving through the stroke and bottoming out hard. Increasing the air pressure mildly helped relieve some of the impact, but had a negative effect on the initial supple feel we were so fond of. Although the Chaney Ranch track did not get rough enough for us to get a strong read on the new setting, our initial opinion is that it is an improvement over last year. The fork resistance felt more substantial and seemed to hold the front end up higher in the stroke. The forks felt less inclined to dive under heavy braking and we didn’t have any major bottoming issues.
Overall, we are very pleased with the direction Honda has been heading. The new bike is a solid package with a strong and user-friendly motor, improved suspension package, great corning ability, a sleek narrow feel, not to mention the lightest bike in the class and superior fit and finish. We are only a few weeks away from our 2014 450 Shootout, it is going to be interesting to see how the red machine stacks up with the rest of the competition.
The day after we took delivery of our test bike, we handed it off to our TWMX Race Series editor Steve Emter, so he could offer his opinions as well…
By Steve Emter
After the initial press introduction for the Honda CRF450, we took the bike to Cahuilla Creek to see how it worked on a long, fast track with rolling hills. We have an impression from our regular test rider Pat Foster, so we put it in the hands of a slower vet rider with a lesser ability (me) so we could get an impression from this type of rider that doesn’t wear an orange helmet.
The vet class riders tend to be weekend riders that look for a bike that can make them feel like a hero on the track for the day. As I took the new CRF450R on the track, I felt comfortable very quickly. The bike has very predictable handling and tracks straight on the faster sections and through the bumps. Approaching the corners, the Honda turns very accurately with no sudden movement and rolls through the corner very smoothly. Through the corner, the bike follows exactly where the front end was pointed and tracked through deep muddy ruts perfectly. The previous generation Honda tended to want to push through the tighter corners, and the 2013 was a tremendous improvement. The 2014 CRF follows this new trend and felt very comfortable on tight inside corners and ruts with no pushing.
The power delivery of the bike was very confidence-inspiring with a smooth linear power delivery. There are no hard hits anywhere when the throttle was rolled on out of the corners. Without the hard-hitting power band, the bike pulled hard out of corners and kept excessive wheel spin out the equation. Long soft uphill sections were no problem as it pulled hard throughout every gear. The last few years, the Honda’s have come with relatively high gear ratios in the final drive, and I found myself dropping down to first gear in some tight sections and in between gears in other corners. For my preference I would add one or two teeth to the rear sprocket to help avoid the feeling of wanting to shift through corners.
Being a heavier rider and out of the target weight range that the bike comes set up for, the suspension was on the softer side for some of the jump landings and bigger bumps that formed up in the track. I found myself adding air to the forks and adding preload to the rear spring to help keep the bike higher in the stroke initially. This helped the bottoming, but in the higher speed chop there was a bit of harshness in the mid stroke and it was hard to make the bike feel balanced without a stiffer spring on the rear shock. That being said, however, the stock suspension did work surprisingly well and predictable with some adjustments, in spite of the rider weight being well outside of the target range, even on the landing of big jumps.
At the end of the ride, I came away with a very confident feeling overall from the new CRF450. There were no surprises in the handling and power, and the bike overall felt very light and nimble. I left the track satisfied that the bike had hit its mark.