Honda officially released the 2011 CRF450R to the press this week at Jeremy McGrath’s ranch near Alpine, California. The details have been out for a few weeks, and as expected, the changes aren’t earth shattering. But this isn’t a 2010 carry-over, either. Honda targeted several of the 450’s sore points and succeeded in getting a good return for the effort in this age of lean R&D budgets.
This is the third model year for the injected CRF, which hit the market in a cloud of controversy in 2009. That model replaced a bike that was legendary in motocross circles, and it wasn’t universally well received. The EFI version of the Honda had four major areas that many riders considered weak points: it had knifey cornering manners, it had a weak clutch, the power was abrupt at the very bottom and the suspension wasn’t strong. Honda addressed some of that in 2010 with suspension and EFI changes. With fairly lengthy production lead time, those changes had to be underway even as the first 2009 models were hitting the dealers. So the 2011 version more accurately reflects Honda’s response to the initial criticism of the new machine.
Topping the list of changes is new suspension linkage that is intended to lower and calm down the rear end. Both the shock and the fork have been revalved to work with the new linkage. The bike still uses the Honda Progressive Steering Damper System, which is a small damper behind the front number plate, but the damper has been revised with a much larger piston, so that the bike can have more damping effect when the front end is turned farther from center. The EFI system was remapped and hooked into a smaller, 46mm throttle body. That interlaces with a new 94 dB muffler that has a smaller core to significantly change the bike’s power delivery. It’s interesting that virtually all the Japanese manufacturers produced quieter mufflers this year. The Honda’s new muffler is no larger than that of the previous model, which might well increase the CRF450R’s weight advantage in its class. We haven’t had a chance to weigh our test bike yet, but we expect it to come in about the same as last year’s bike, at 228 pounds without fuel. That’s over 10 pounds lighter than anything else in the 450 class.
On the track the Honda still feels very light. It’s easy to toss around, just like it has been since the redesign. That’s never been an issue. As for the rest of the bike, we’re encouraged by the changes. The motor start easily (that was addressed in 2010) and now the on-or-off nature of the power down low is much improved. We will say that the muffler might have taken a slight toll in low-end power, but we’re okay with that. Horsepower was never in short supply, and the new powerband is soft, smooth and very controllable off the bottom. When you twist the throttle a little harder, it gets into a healthy mid-range and top quickly.
The big question, of course, is all about the handling. Our riding impressions come from one day on McGrath’s personal track, which was ultra smooth for our visit, but we still have a good feel for the new machine. If you loved the previous Honda, you’ll be happy. If you hated it, you’ll be less unhappy. The bike’s cornering manners have definitely been slowed down. But it is still the same basic machine. We’re anxious to get it on a rough test track where we can play with the suspension and see how much adjustment it offers. So far the changes are in the right direction.
Other changes are small but welcome. The fuel filter within the tank is easier to replace now. It was one of the most common causes for failure in the previous model. Honda. Unfortunately the clutch is still unchanged. It still has a mushy engagement and often drags when you think it’s fully disengaged. They have to leave something for next year.
As we get more seat time on the bike, we’ll report on our findings. Stay tuned.
Adam Booth shows disrespect for one of Jeremy McGrath's berms on the new CRF.
You have to know what you're looking at to realize this is a 2011 model.