any new model, like the ill-fated 2009 CRF450, was
destined to stay around for four long years. If the
design was flawed, it would stay flawed. If it was
slow, it would stay slow. At the end of the four years,
a new model would be released. In Honda’s case, the
2009 generation was replaced by the 2013 CRF450, of
which 2016 is now its fourth year of production. You
don’t need a degree in plasma physics to figure out
that Honda doesn’t want to spend any R&D money
on a bike that is at the end of its life cycle. Better to
save the money for the next four-year bike—the 2017
It isn’t that the four-year plan hasn’t worked in the
past, or that Honda is the only manufacturer to follow this regimen; it’s just that when you combine the
decline in dirt bike sales during the economic downturn with KTM’s maniacal devotion to pumping out
new machinery whenever the mood strikes them, it is
easy for a brand to get buried in quick order. Honda
has been back on its heels ever since they dropped
the fabulous 2008 CRF450 for the weirdly configured
2009 and then doubled down with the slow-is-better
formula in 2013. In the process they lost their loyal
clientele and are no longer the number-one-selling
motocross bikes. In fact, they aren’t the number-one-selling Japanese motocross bike anymore.
They lost their mojo in 2009 and have little hope of
getting it back until 2017.
Q: IS THE 2016 HONDA CRF450 FASTER
THAN THE 2015 CRF450?
A: No. This engine is stuck in a time warp when
it comes to horsepower. If you don’t make changes
from year to year, you fall behind the competition.
Honda has slipped off the horsepower charts. Given
that it wasn’t very fast in 2015, it is not very fast
in 2016. That said, the CRF450 engine is very
tractable, well-modulated and pleasant to ride. It
produces what MXA test riders referred to as a no-hurry style of power. Because it revs predictably, the
powerband is quite usable and is well-suited to the
typical local motocross racer. However, it is strictly a
low-to-mid powerplant. It picks up quick, feels like it
is on steroids, and then after 8600 rpm, it goes flat on
top. It does rev, but it makes less horsepower at 9000
rpm than it does at 8000 rpm, and less at 10,000 rpm
than 9000 rpm, and so on.
Q: WHAT DOES THE 2016 CRF450
POWERBAND FEEL LIKE ON THE TRACK?
A: Apart from its shortcomings as a power-monger, the CRF450 is a really fun bike to ride. It is a
more-than-capable motocross weapon—if used properly.
As a rule of thumb, flat powerbands work best when
short-shifted. In the case of the 2016 CRF450 that
means shifting just short of peak. If you don’t shift at
peak and persist in revving the engine (and it will rev
for an extra 3000 rpm) you will not be rewarded with
forward thrust, because there is no torque or thrust to
be gained by going past 8600 rpm. Revving the engine
will produce noise, not power.
“Mellow” isn’t a criticism as much as an apt description of what the CRF has to work with. Since the
power output is well below the scary-fast threshold,
the CRF450 is less jerky and violent than bikes with
big horsepower numbers. It can be ridden harder