Handling: With its stinkbug stance, soft forks and out of balance feel, the 2009 Honda is not the greatest handling Honda ever.
(09) RACE TEST
longer and with more ease on the 2008 Honda CRF450 engine. Why? The incredibly focused power of the 2009 model is too aggressive off idle and too flat on top. Q: HOW IS THE GEARING? A: It is confusing. The transmission is new, but the gear ratios are unchanged. Yet something is amiss. With the stock 13/48 gearing ( 3.692 ratio) the CRF450 seemed to have big gaps between the upper gears, which made the flat top end feel listless. When we added a 49-tooth rear sprocket ( 3.769 ratio), the power was more focused into the sweet spot and the flat top end could be handled by shifting to the next tallest gear without any lag. Unfortunately, adding a tooth to the rear made the snappy, abrupt and quick pickup off idle even more pronounced. In the end we went whole hog and swapped the countershaft and rear sprocket for a 14/52 ( 3.714 ratio). This setup was like Baby Bear’s porridge; it got us across the flat top end sooner, closed up the gaps between gears and didn’t tire out the rider with arm-wrenching jolts. Q: HOW DID THE 2009 CRF450 HANDLE? A: The short answer is that it didn’t handle very well. Blasphemy! Heresy! Oh, the humanity! To put it bluntly, the 2009 CRF450 chassis is out of balance. Let us list the ways: (1) As it rolls off the showroom floor, the CRF450 sits at a stinkbug stance (front down and rear up). ( 2) The forks are too soft, which aggravates the steep 26.52-degree head angle by making it excessively steep when the forks dive under hard braking. ( 3) The rear sits so high that the only way to bring the chassis into balance is to set the race sag at extreme levels (in an effort to bring the rear end down). ( 4) Jeremy McGrath is right that the 2009 CRF450 turns better, but under certain situations it turns too well. Oversteer is not a plus. ( 5) The quick fix for the CRF450 is to slide the forks down into the triple clamps until the fork caps are partially inside the clamps and set the race sag at 110 to 120mm. This achieves a flatter profile by raising the front and lowering the rear, but does so by compromising the frame geometry. Q: WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE THE HANDLING? A: Every Honda owner needs to work on the forks. If you thought that the wholesale swap from Showa to Kayaba was going to be manna from heaven, think again. The Kayaba forks aren’t doing the CRF450 any favors. They are undersprung. Seriously undersprung. And while every test rider admired their ability to resist bottoming, they struggled with the front end’s tendency to dive through most its travel under braking. It is hard to make a chassis perform the way it was designed to perform when the forks ride so low in their stroke. The front end hangs down when the bike is in motion. Job one is to get stiff enough springs in the Kayaba forks to keep the front high enough to compensate for the stinkbug stance. Once this is achieved, setting the race sag at ridiculously low heights won’t be required to manage the fore/aft relationship. It should be noted that