take long to understand why. The 2017 CRF450 has a stinkbug stance,
which has been a common trait since 2009. At Monster Mountain we
put the race sag at 108mm and lengthened the fork legs by 2. 5 mm
to balance out the chassis. Without some adjustments, the rear end
transferred too much weight to the forks, causing twitchiness in corners
and head-shake at high speeds. For 2017 Honda finally drop-kicked the
HPSD steering damper that the old geometry demanded—although, the
mounts are still on the frame and bottom triple clamp should riders want
to use them. We don’t think a steering damper is necessary anymore.
Instead, it’s crucial to balance the front and rear by adjusting race sag,
fork height and potentially fork-oil height.
WHILE IT’S NICE THAT HONDA OFFERS
AN ELECTRIC-START KIT, WHEN YOU ADD
THE PRICE OF THE STARTER KIT AND A
BATTERY TO THE $8849 SUGGESTED RETAIL
PRICE, THE 2017 HONDA CRF450 ACTUALLY
COSTS $100 MORE THAN THE KTM 450SXF.
Chassis. Although the seat height is 5mm taller and the width at
the radiator shrouds is 30mm narrower, the 2017 CRF450 still feels like
a Honda. That’s the good news. The bad part is that despite the frame,
gas tank, subframe and swingarm revisions, the CRF450 is still a heifer
when compared to the 222-pound KTM 450SXF. At 233 pounds without the optional electric-start kit, the Honda is 11 pounds heavier than
the Katoom and 2 pounds heavier than the 2017 Kawasaki KX450F.
However, the Honda felt nimble in corners and light in the air. A lot
has been made about the weight savings of the titanium gas tank, but
it is only 0.13 pounds lighter (not counting the plastic cover). Test riders
were most impressed with how narrow the CRF450 felt. And, yes, the
CRF450 frame cradle still won’t allow the bike to sit level on a stand.
Clutch. Honda beefed up their clutch configuration, going to a
seven-plate design instead of the previous eight plates. Clutch-plate
thickness was also super-sized, up to a 2mm thickness from 0.4mm.
Maintaining the same lever load, the 2017 CRF450 clutch is much
improved. We didn’t experience any fading issues over the course of our
initial two-day test session. It has a difficult, old-school feel at the lever,
but at least it no longer gives up the ghost if it is used aggressively.
Electric start. MXA did not test an electric-start-equipped 2017
CRF450 at Monster Mountain. But, here is what we know about the
optional system. (1) The kit is $650 without the battery. ( 2) The battery
will be housed inside the airbox. ( 3) It takes around three hours to install
the system. ( 4) While it’s nice that Honda offers an electric-start kit, the
KTM 450SXF and Husqvarna FC450 come standard with a lightweight
and foolproof electric starter. Not only that, but they are pre-installed.
When you add the price of the starter kit and a battery to the $8849
suggested retail price, the 2017 Honda CRF450 actually costs $100 more
than the KTM 450SXF. ( 5) Conservatively, the electric starter, added
gears and battery would add 5 pounds to the overall weight of the CRF,
pushing it to 238 pounds dry. That math makes an electric-start Honda
16 pounds heavier than the KTM 450SXF. ( 6) In our limited experience,
the 2017 CRF450 is difficult to start when the engine is hot. We expect
to test Honda’s electric starter in the coming months.
After two days of testing instead of our normal two months, the
MXA wrecking crew could only just begin to get a feel for the 2017
Honda CRF450. It’s challenging to test on an unfamiliar track, yet the
2017 Honda CRF450 revealed several undeniable truths. The power is
significantly improved over last year’s slug. Showa’s spring forks are
a major step up from the Kayaba’s PSF air system. The 2017 CRF450
handles better than its last eight predecessors. Gone is the abomination
that Honda claimed was a clutch. And, most important, the 2017 Honda
CRF450 is a step forward for a manufacturer that had lost its way in
recent years. Will the CRF450 reign supreme again, like it did from 2004
through 2008? We hate to say this, but until we spend a month on
the “dirt dyno” with the new CRF450, you will have to wait until next
month to get MXA’s full-on, blow-by-blow, straight-across comparison to
its competition. Until then, this impression from Monster Mountain will
have to suffice. ❏