INSIDE MXA’S WORKSHOP:
BUILDING A 2012 HONDA CRF450
John Minert,s personal take on the lightweight Honda thumper
Considering the 2012 CRF450 finished fifth place in MXA’s 450 shootout, it may seem like I got the short end of the stick in our project bike suite that includes the YZ450F, KX450F, YZ250 and 250SX—not so, for three great reasons. First, I could have chosen any bike for this project—and I chose the Honda CRF450. Second, just because a bike finishes poorly in an MXA shootout doesn’t mean it’s a bad bike. All the “Big Five’s” motocross bikes are competitive. This hasn’t always been true; there have been bikes in MXA shootouts with anemic powerbands, severe structural problems and inelegant engineering— this is not the case with the 2012 CRF450. It is true that it makes the least power of the big bikes, has a pitiful clutch and needs some setup help, but at its heart is a very light bike with a willingness to be improved, thanks to high-quality material and components. Third, my final reason for choosing the Honda CRF450 is that each MXA test rider was given free rein to modify his bike as he saw fit. This is important, because anyone shopping for a new bike must not only consider its stock performance, but how much potential there is for modification (tempered by how much is in your bank account). The Honda spent so many years as the cool kid in school that aftermarket companies have worked hard developing a potpourri of accessories for the red machines. The CRF450 has tons of potential because there are race-ready mods already available (proven by the fact that Honda’s engineers borrowed the fork springs, footpegs and shock linkage from the aftermarket to improve the 2012 CRF450 production bike). The current CRF450 has been in service since 2009. Updates to things as significant as fork spring rates, the exhaust system, rear shock linkage and throttle body have made considerable improvements in the bike’s overall performance. But without any real frame or engine changes, the 2012 CRF450 is the same basic bike that was introduced in 2009. That sameness meant that I could fall back on three years of racing experience to show me exactly what was needed to transform the machine with practical and affordable modifications. In the end, personal taste is key to any project bike. I’ve learned to compensate for the CRF’s quirks and to love the things it does well. Admittedly, when I’m riding a KX450F or KTM 450SXF, I might wish that the CRF450 were as stable at speed, powerful off the mark or as refined in overall handling; however, with the lightweight Honda chassis, I can throw the bike into turns quicker, jump bigger jumps and whip with more confidence than on any other 450.
STEP ONE: WITH THE BIKE,S SOFT HIT AND MELLOW
CLUTCH, I WAS NEVER QUITE SURE WHAT WAS GOING ON
UNDERNEATH ME WHEN EXITING A TURN ON THE CRF450.
Step one: With the bike’s soft hit and mellow clutch, I was never quite sure what was going on underneath me when exiting a turn on the CRF450. It wouldn’t do much good to boost the bike’s power if I couldn’t control the power that the bike already had. The initial hit of the stock 2012 CRF450 was so mellow, I found that it was very difficult to balance while negotiating turns and technical obstacles, especially in soft terrain. Normally, feathering the clutch would provide the required boost, but unfortunately,