If you are a loyal Honda owner, you are gonna love the 2017 CRF450. Finally, Honda put its “slower is better” philosophy out to pasture and built a much-improved Honda. Unfortunately, during Honda’s four-year
development cycle, they never expected anyone to build a 222-pound 450,
especially one with electric start, a hydraulic clutch, super brakes and air
forks that actually work.
The CRF450 is a very good bike, but not a great bike.
HOW DOES THE CRF450 RATE IN THE MAJOR CATEGORIES?
Power output: Very good. Even though the midrange is bracketed by
an erratic low-end and flat top-end, the way the CRF450 puts the power
to the ground is its best trait. It feels supremely hooked up in a way that
seems to gobble up ground. On the pipe, in the midrange and with the
throttle pegged, this is a great engine. Conversely, it is not a great engine
off the bottom. Not only does it make the least horsepower at roll-on, but it
is jerky and anything but smooth (even riding through the pits is an exercise
in frustration). No MXA test riders were wild about the top-end power; still,
over-rev is something that last year’s CRF450 didn’t have any of.
Suspension: Fair. Don’t get us wrong; we love that Honda returned to
coil-spring forks. It makes life so much more pleasant on a day-to-day basis.
And given the heritage of these forks, every suspension tuner in the country
has a playbook to make them better. That’s a good thing, because the forks
were soft in the first half of their travel before hitting a shelf of compression
damping. This combination was unrideable by fast riders and disconcerting
for slow riders. We always felt the need to add more rebound to keep them
from pogoing up and down. There are clicker settings that iron out some of
the bugs, but not all. As for the rear shock, it was more of the same. The
CRF450 chassis seemed to want the race sag at 106mm, but the shock didn’t
like this much sag and tended to drop in and seesaw back up.
Handling: Very good. The CRF450 was superb at turn-in and a little
loose from center-out. This was aggravated by the ergos that wanted you
to sit farther back when you needed to be sitting up front. Compared to the
previous 2009–2016 CRF450s, the 2017 model is a Bugatti Veyron.
Brakes: Good. After ignoring the performance gains made up by Brembo
over the last decade, the Japanese manufacturers threw a band-aid on their
bikes with 270mm rotors. However, they used the same old master cylinders
and calipers that were designed for the small rotors. The result is a grab bag
of brake performance, with “grabby” being the optimum word.
Clutch: Fair. We should note that the CRF450 is “very good” for a CRF450
clutch, but no match for the hydraulic units on the KTM and Husqvarna.
Honda’s new seven-spring design, with thick plates and heavy clutch
springs, is another Honda oddity. The CRF450 clutch lever releases way out
on the lever throw, which made pulling the stiff springs a fingertip exerciser.
Weight: Good. At 233 pounds (without gas in the tank), the 2017 Honda
weighs exactly the same as the 2016 model. It is the fourth-lightest bike,
weighing 7 pounds less than the RM-Z450, but 11 pounds heavier than the
KTM 450SXF. And if you added the optional electric-start kit to the 2017
CRF450, it would weigh 17 pounds more than the electric-start KTM 450SXF
Horsepower: Good. 57. 49 horsepower at 9900 rpm. The peak number is
impressive as it is only a half horse less than the class-leading KTM 450SXF.
However, peak horsepower doesn’t tell the whole dyno story. At 6000 rpm
the Honda CRF450 makes 3. 5 horsepower less than the KTM, at 7000 rpm
the Honda’s deficit is 4. 5 horsepower, at 8000 rpm the CRF450 is down 3. 3
horsepower to the KTM, and at 9000 rpm it is still giving up 1 horsepower.
As both engines hit peak horsepower, the KTM is still a half horse ahead.
The torque curve is even less stellar, as the KTM pumps out 36. 52 foot-pounds, while the CRF450 maxes out at 34. 16.
2017 HONDA CRF450 CONCLUSION
Last year we ended our “2016 MXA 450 Shootout,” in which the 2016
CRF450 finished fifth out of six, by saying, “There’s always next year.” Well,
next year is here, and the 2017 Honda has erased our memory of the slow,
uninspiring bike that we had to live with for eight long years. If there is a fly
in the ointment of the 2017 CRF450, it’s that it is a first-year model, and per-
haps the common wisdom about waiting for the second year is good advice.
What’s most surprising about the 2017 CRF450 is that it feels very powerful, even when it isn’t. It feels light and flickable when in fact it is 11 pounds
heavier than its toughest competitors. It feels torquey in spite of the fact that
it has the least torque of any 450. There’s magic hidden deep inside the 2017
Honda trying to get out.