The powerband differences exhibited by the 2018 engine are all the direct results of a new map. In this photo you can see the
redesigned headstays. Not only are they more sculpted, but the aluminum casting is thinner.
2017 chassis wallowed in the rough. It would drop into its
stroke, pogo up and seesaw back and forth. If the bumps
weren’t just right, the CRF450 would side-step over in a
On the 2018 CRF450, the firmer suspension makes the
whole bike feel more planted to the ground. Turn-in is still
very good, but the looseness is still there (once pressure
is released coming out of a turn). The stiff shock spring
eliminates most of last year’s wallow. The whole bike feels
calmer in transitions and in the rough, but there is still considerable headshake on fast, bumpy straights.
Handling is a function of the frame geometry, weight
bias, center of gravity and chassis setup. Suspension setup
can mask odd handling traits but can rarely erase them.
The 2018 Honda CRF450’s handling is better, thanks to its
stiffer suspension, but perfect it is not.
Q: HOW GOOD IS THE SUSPENSION?
A: In a lot of ways the MXA wrecking crew has more
experience with the 2018 suspension than almost anyone.
Early in our test of the 2017 CRF450 we switched to the
spring rates of the 2018 CRF450. We feel that the pluses
(1) Forks. You might be inclined to believe that the
2018’s stiffer fork springs would make the forks feel too
stiff. Not so. Why not? Since the 0.50 fork springs hold
the front end higher, there is more available travel to
absorb big hits. Additionally, with the stiffer fork springs,
the compression damping can be softened up to be more
absorptive than last year’s combo of firmer damping and
softer springs. We did have issues with harshness at the
top of the fork’s stroke, followed by a mysterious lack of
mid-speed compression damping. The result was a fork that
chattered in the braking bumps and dove excessively in big
holes and hard landings. These forks need work.
( 2) Shock. The 2017 CRF450 had a stinkbug stance—
high in the rear and low in the front. This imbalance
combined with the overly soft shock spring produced a
very busy rear end that was the exact opposite of a dead
setup. It moved around a lot, constantly rising and falling
in an unsyncopated rhythm. All this movement transferred
a lot of load onto the front forks, which worsened their
performance. For 2018, the stiffer shock spring was mated
to more supple and fluid damping. The added spring rate
works with a wider range of rider sizes and compression
settings. The overall effect is a major improvement in the
feel of the rear of the CRF450.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE ELECTRIC STARTER?
A: Honda had no reason to reinvent the wheel with
its electric starter, thus it is a clone of the KTM system.
Power comes from an Eliiy HY85S LiFePO4 (lithium-iron
phosphate) battery. Motorcycle manufacturers like to call
them “lithium-ion” batteries in their promotional copy, but
don’t confuse lithium-iron phosphate batteries with the kind
of batteries used in computers, cellphones or cameras. In
truth, LiFePO4 batteries are better suited to motocross use
because they resist thermal runaway, have a longer calendar
life, recharge quicker and offer a higher peak-power rating.
It should be noted that you can’t start your 2018 CRF450
without pulling the clutch lever in; however, Honda down-sized the micro-switch from the bulky one that came with
last year’s optional electric-start kit. Additionally, you can’t
run an aftermarket clutch perch unless you hot-wire the
micro-switch. Honda says that you can’t jump-start its battery from a car battery, but we have done this on KTMs,
along with putting a second KTM battery on top of a dead
battery (with the terminals touching) to jump-start it. It is
true that you can’t charge a LiFePO4 with any old battery