AS UNIQUELY EXPRESSIVE AS THE TWO
ENGINES ARE, THE HANDLING OF THE KX450F
AND CRF450 ARE POLAR OPPOSITES. IF YOU
LIKE THE WAY THE KX450F HANDLES, YOU
WILL FEEL AGGRAVATED BY THE CRF450—AND
VICE VERSA. These bikes don’t share any handling
traits—not just with each other, but the other members of
the “Big Five” as well.
The Honda CRF450 oozes modernity. Even at a glance
you can tell that Honda was shooting for a package that
was edgy, cabin-forward and complex. With its engine
tucked under the front wheel, the CRF450 makes you
think that it is a turning machine—almost circle-track
quick. And it is, especially when compared to the
When an engineer designs a motocross bike, he hopes
to balance all the elements into one do-it-all package—
that means accuracy, stability and the perfect
compromise between oversteer and understeer. Sadly,
balancing elements is like juggling greased pigs. If you
get a handle on one, odds are that something else will
slip out of your grasp. The RM-Z450 turns on a pinhead,
but it shutters and makes your heart flutter at speed. The
Yamaha is rock stable at speed but pushes irritatingly
at tip-in. That leaves KTM as the balance champion. The
450SXF doesn’t need steering input, doesn’t teeter on the
edge of understeer, won’t oversteer unless you want it
to, and is stable in the rough. But this isn’t about KTM,
Suzuki or Yamaha; it’s about the CRF450 versus the
We give Honda kudos for the handling of the 2014
CRF450—not because it is perfect, but because its
2009–2012 predecessors were incredibly imperfect.
JUNE 2014 / MOTOCROSS ACTION 59
Anything is an improvement over the two-wheeled
wheelbarrow that Honda first tried its cabin-forward
concept on. The 2014 CRF450 turns better than it did
before. It’s quick and responsive—maybe a little
unsettled, but that happens when you push the balance
to the front. At speed, the CRF450 might have you
holding your breath when waltzing across rough ground.
It’s not Suzuki-shaky, but it is not rock solid, either.
The KX450F’s handling is not cabin-forward in the
slightest. The KX is a stodgy, upright bike that requires
more rider input at the handlebars than any of the Big
Five bikes. It can be leaned over in corners that have
berms or loam to prop them up, but, to the greater part,
you turn the Kawasaki by turning the handlebars. We
know that sounds logical, but it isn’t. On truly balanced
bikes, you flick the bars in the direction you want to go
and the bike does the rest with lean and weight shifts.
Not the KX450F. It has to be steered. This style of
handling doesn’t offer much in the way of thrills—save
for its unwillingness to stay down in a corner. If you lean
it over in a flat turn, it will return to vertical with a
subtle little twitch. Bikes with twitches require rider
compensation. Rider compensation requires mental
gymnastics. Mental gymnastics distract from the
Which one is better? Really? Haven’t you been working
on your reading comprehension? The real question is,
which one is the least worst? The answer isn’t simple.
The Honda is more flawed but heading in the proper
direction. It epitomizes the desire for a quick-turning
bike—warts and all. The Kawasaki is old school. It
relishes mediocrity, but it does it across the board, which
muffles defects. Slower riders, Novices and Vets will get
along better with the CRF450—not because its angled
edginess is suited to them, but because they won’t
aggravate the CRF’s stability flaws by taking it to the
limit. Faster riders will, and it will bite them. Fast Vets,
Intermediates and Pros will prefer the KX450F’s handling.
At full tilt, the KX450F’s chassis is a known commodity;
it does what you ask it to, but only if you ask it forcibly.
Thus, it can be pushed with steam-hammer surety.
The KX450F’s Kayaba PSF air
forks have better seals than
the CRF’s PSF forks.