Throwing its weight, with full force, into the ring for 2017, the Honda Motor Corporation are set to challenge all and sundry for the Cross Country title with the all-new Honda CRF450RX. Welcome to the jungle
Words: Chris Power Pics: Alick Saunders
It’s been a long time between drinks for Honda and the off-road community – well over 10 years in fact. If you look back at the glory days of four-stroke racing in the 80s and 90s, Honda ruled the roost with the timeless and extremely reliable XR range. From that, spawned the CRF-X model line-up which, after initially making some serious waves, quickly fell short of the rivals of all different colours, shapes and sizes. But with the re-birth of Honda’s off-road line up, commencing with the 450RX, things are starting to look a tad more rosy for the Big Red Shed.
Since the announcement of the new off-road line up late last year, it has felt like a seriously long wait to get to this point of swinging a leg over. This hybrid motocross/enduro bike follows in the footsteps of the OG of the ‘in between’ bike, KTM’s XC range, as well as joining Yamaha in this category that is continually growing in popularity. The best of both worlds scenario really does play into the hand of those looking for a bike that can not only cut laps like Roczen, before his yard sail, as well as crash through the bush like a GNCC nutter. Or simply follow the kids round at your local trail ride. One bike should be able to do more, and that’s where these ‘in between’ bikes make hay while it’s sunny.
For 2017, you can pick between three different 450cc machines from Honda – the CRF450R, the CRF450X and the new CRF450RX. The R and RX are the all-new bikes, while the X is still the old carburetted bike that is yet to get that all-important face lift, but you’d have to think we can expect that to come soon… Now, to say the RX is in between is a little misleading, because it is probably more 70/30 in terms of which side of the fence it sits, as the difference between the X and the RX is a huge chasm width. It’s a completely different bike. Maybe the wheels, brakes and handlebars are the same? And that’s still a maybe. But the difference between the R and the RX, well, is just that little bit e-X-tra…
The RX has all the same engine parts and chassis updates as its motocross brother. It’s got the sleek down-draft intake that scoots over the rear shock mount, the more compact dual muffler and that all-new Honda styling that is more jet than bike at some angles. It is as close as you will get to the R without actually being on the R. And although the subtle changes are few and far between, they combine to make a big difference out on the track. Starting with the electric starting system, a staple for off-road riding this century. The starter unit is compact and hidden nicely out of the way. It comes standard on the RX, where the motocross model sees it as an optional extra for around $1000 plus fitting. The ignition mapping is slightly revised to deliver smoother power compared to the R model and an 18-inch rear tyre replaces the usual 19-inch to help combat bush life when negotiating roots, rocks and edges. Also with the RX, the front and rear suspension was revised to accommodate the larger tank size, the more overall weight and varying terrain found in the bush. The tank carries a further 2.5 litres when compared to the R, you score a plastic skid plate for all your frame rail requirements, the side stand helps for photo opportunities out of the trail and the Dunlop Geomax AT81 tyres should be keeping you rubber-side down while you get a handle on things for the first time.
In one word: responsive! I could leave it there, but short stories don’t sell magazines. I found the throttle response on the RX astounding. It was very light and had a super-easy pull on the dual cable housing, which was like an electric pulse to the engine and rear wheel. In part this will be exacerbated by having spent a lot of time on my ’09 CRF450R which is getting quite tired and sticky. The engine, while feeling rather aggressive, still had a real torquey nature to its delivery – perhaps too torquey in the stock and the aggressive map. This seemed to keep the rear end from spinning up too much and provided decent forward drive, especially in the nice loam or when locked nicely into a rut. The mid-range of the engine was really meaty, and you could afford to run a gear higher and still punch out of corners. 450s lend themselves towards that ability anyway, but it was really noticeable on the RX.
The mapping options are perhaps the best feature of the engine; having three completely different maps that you can actually notice is a big winner in my books. The kill switch has an extra button that you hold down to change maps. One flash for the stock map, two flashes for the mellow map and three flashes for the aggressive map. I found the stock map really good for the moto track. It had a nice smooth pull all the way through the range and felt strong in any gear. The aggressive map was lot more snappy and often would catch me off guard, putting me off balance and losing some corner speed. A nice deep sand track and a name like Cody Cooper would see this map excel. The mellow map is where I found my home with its smoother delivery and longer pull up top. It’s a 450 and I’m not using everything this engine has to offer. For me, the mellow map made this already easy to ride bike, much easier to utilise on the track. I was able to hit my marks and carry momentum through the turns and power out down the straights without worrying too much about the bike trying to get away from me.
In the bush this was even more evident, where the mellow map made quick line changing and popping over holes and logs virtually impossible to stuff up. Although multi-map engines are not a new idea, it’s cool to be able to change it on the fly without having to head back to the van and plug something in. And hey, if you are out on a trail ride and it starts raining, you can quickly select the mellow map and breeze your way back to the pits.
Big Tank – two words this time. However, it is only 8.3litres, making it 0.8l more than the YZ450FX, but only 0.2l less than KTM’s 450 XC-F. All that extra fuel is sitting high and visually it seems a tad bulky. But R&D have obviously done their job as it never crosses your mind when actually riding the bike. The frame itself feels thin through the legs. Not KTM steel frame thin, but it’s got that small Honda feeling Red Riders will be very used to. The changes made to the suspension have created a bike that is very easy to ride and very stable on both slower technical trails as well as the higher speed, open tracks. The front-end sports 49mm Showa spring forks which feels progressive, though a little stiff initially. The rear unit feels a little harder in comparison, but they still work well together. Running a little less sag seemed to even out the ride a bit and make the RX feel balanced through choppy and whooped out terrain. I found the bike performed best when hard on the gas, keeping the front-end light and skipping it off the terrain.
At 118 kilos, you can still flick the RX around the track with relative ease. It loves to dive into corners and can hold a tight line well, considering the bike is trying to run you wide with all that traction. On the harder pack sections of the track, where you’re searching for traction, the extra weight can be noticeable through the corners, so a good body position will help keep the RX from leaning in too much. I think everyone is pretty happy that Honda went back to the spring fork for 2017. Not only is the reliability better for the off-road scene, it seemed to be what the customer was after and Honda have listened. One thing to mention though is the seat. I found it quite hard and not conducive to off-road riding. Maybe it’s because I am a taller guy and sit further back on the seat, but the cushioning just wasn’t enough for me. The foam really thins at the rear and I noticed it by the end of the day.
My only other gripe with the CRF450RX would be the handlebar and the lack of adjustability. Again, for a taller guy, having that option to move the ’bars forward a position in the clamps is a must-have. I found a position I was pretty happy with, but if I was to have this longer term, a different bend would allow me to have the ’bars flatter without them pointing to the sky.
After spending a day with the new RX, I’m happy to be able to confirm that this is the bike Honda riders have been waiting for. I can say that without hesitation. If you’ve ever been looking for a reason to return to red, get out and give this RX a jam. This has the ability to take you to your local club day motocross crown on Saturday (results may vary), then easily follow the family round the trails on Sunday. It’s a bike with just that little bit e-X-tra.
2017 HONDA CRF450RX
|Engine Type:||449cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke|
|Bore and Stroke:||96 x 62.1mm|
|Valve Train:||Unicam with 38mm titanium intakes and 31mm steel exhaust|
|Starter:||electric and kick starters|
|Transmission:||close-ratio five-speed gearbox|
|Front Suspension:||Showa 49mm inverted fork with adjustable rebound and compression damping and 305mm of travel|
|Rear Suspension:||Showa shock with Pro-Link linkage that has adjustable spring preload, rebound, compression damping and 312mm of travel|
|Front Brake:||twin-piston caliper with 260mm disc|
|Rear Brake:||single 240mm disc|