First Impression: 2004 Honda CRF450R

By Mark-Paul Gosselaar

The Best Gets Better

American Honda introduced the 2004 Honda CRF450R to the press this week at “Sugar” Shane Trittler’s Hungry Valley OHV Park in Gorman, California, and along with editors Donn Maeda and Ryan Cooley and fellow test riders Rich Taylor and Kyle Puerner, I was able to spin lots of laps on the hot new machine with a full staff of Honda technicians at my service. I personally own an ’03 version of the bike, and after riding the ’04 model I can’t wait to get my hands on one so I can start saving a ton of money. Well, maybe not a ton, but I’ll save a bit of cash and maybe even make some next year.


Here’s my plan for saving money…

First, I’m going to purchase a new CRF as soon as it comes out. It’s about $200 dollars more than last year’s model, but I’m not going to have to spend all my per diem on aftermarket parts, like I did on my current CRF. The ’04 model has more improvements than the ’03 had over the ’02, and the results are quite noticeable. Incredibly, Honda engineers shaved three full pounds off of the bike by thinning out some of the plastic parts like the lower fork guards, disc cover and engine guards. Then, the shortened up the exhaust pipe and implemented a stubbier, FIM-legal silencer with a tapered end cap. The brackets on the front brake caliper were made more compact, which also saved some weight, as did the redesigned front fender and front number plate. Most importantly — in my opinion — Honda elected to ditch the cheesy, heavy stock steel handlebars and outfit the CRF with 971 bend Renthal 7/8 handlebars. In addition to saving some weight, the bars improve the overall feel of the bike. All of these changes may not seem like much, but I guess an ounce here and an ounce there really can add up to three pounds.


Other trick stuff added to this year’s bike include a clutch perch with an on-the-fly adjuster that — unlike the stock Yamaha’s, can actually be adjusted while riding — as well as redesigned footpegs and a cool seat cover that has that grippy stuff on it that pulls your pants down. These are all items that I spent cash on last year, aspiring to make my ’03 CRF450R feel and look better.

Now, here’s my plan to money…

Armed with a new 2004 CRF450R, I plan to make money from all the races I’ll be winning! No joke! This four-stroke straight up hauls ass. So effective are the engine updates that Honda dropped two teeth from the rear sprocket and put a 48-tooth sprocket on the rear because it has more than enough bottom-end and mid-range power to pull it. On top, the bike pulls and pulls and revs to the moon in each gear. Honda shortened the exhaust muffler and moved it towards the engine to achieve a better center of gravity, which helps the bike gain a more nimble feel. The end of the silencer now has a works style end cap. No more lame nipple on the end of the muffler like last year makes me think I won’t have to buy an aftermarket pipe. More money saved! The engine feels silky smooth, almost as if it were an automatic. While Yamaha went with a hard-hitting, aggressive powerband with their ’02 YZ450F, the new Honda is super easy to ride, while at the same time being more than fast enough. This motor will suit a wider range of riders, for sure.


The last, but not least way I will save money on the ’04 CRF…

I’m going to lower my insurance premium! I’m done with crashing and knocking myself silly while trying to go faster. I felt like a hero on this bike right from the beginning. The minute I threw a leg over the new shrouds and took a test lap, I felt safer and more in control than I ever have on my modified ’03. It’s all too easy! This bike is scary because it’s so much more powerful than my ’03 Honda. The handling — out of the box — is exactly what I paid my suspension guy to replicate on my personal bike and the bike goes where I tell it to with minimal effort. The new Dunlop 756 rear and 742 front are a great combination. I feel I could race this bike out of the box, feel comfortable, win, and make it home in one piece.


I’m a little biased towards Hondas for obvious reasons, but this is a smart purchase. Get in line for one of these babies now, because I have a feeling they’ll be hard to get ahold of…

Oh yeah, click on the link on the top right side of this page for a video from our test day. I’d like to say that’s me doing the riding, but it’s actually TWMX‘s senior test rider, Rich Taylor.