First Impression | 2019 Honda CRF450R

Photos By Mike Emery

In stark contrast to the typical three- to four-year development cycle historically employed by most manufacturers, we were surprised to see the 2019 CRF450R is virtually an all-new offering from Honda. After launching a well-received, completely new platform in 2017, the 2018 model boasted a number of key refinements that put it tied for Bike of the Year honors in our annual 450 Shootout. We were not alone in our fondness of the red machine. In fact, it was the industries best-selling motocross bike last season. With such a strong pedigree, we expected the 2019 model to be remarkably similar to last year's bike, save for possibly a few minor refinements to help keep their edge. We could not have been more wrong. Honda recently invited Transworld Motocross out to a private facility at Chaney Ranch where they unveiled the new 2019 bikes.

The 2018 engine had a well-rounded output delivery, with a significant emphasis on the mid-range, that proved to be very popular with our testing staff. Building on the strong foundation they had already established, Honda updated the cylinder head design with specific focus near the exhaust ports to improve efficiency and increase power. To aid in the exhaust movement beyond the cylinder, Honda utilized the space gained by eliminating the kick starter, incorporating a larger pipe diameter at the branching location for better flow. Last year, both pipes were 31.8mm. For 2019, the right pipe is now 35mm while the left pipe is 43mm. In addition, the total tube length (from exhaust port to muffler) has increased by 98mm on the right and 187mm on the left.

Back to the engine internals, a revised clutch lifter and pressure plate allow optimum oil supply to the clutch plates and friction discs for enhanced durability. There is a new scavenge pump design featuring two 12mm pumps, replacing a single 16mm pump for increased lubrication and reduced friction in the engine, improving peak performance and enhancing the over-rev. An all-new piston oil jet use five nozzle holes and a refined pattern to improve cooling efficiency and reduce knocking.

The ECU settings have all been updated including the Standard, Smooth, and Aggressive modes. In fact, The HRC launch control system even offers three different starting maps for optimal performance over varied starting conditions. In addition, a new shift sensor has been incorporated which establishes a specific ignition map for each gear to improve performance throughout the power curve.

Honda started at the backbone of the chassis with a new frame that not only saves weight from last year but also enhances the rigidity for improved traction and cornering feel. The frame is mated to a redesigned swingarm that also cuts weights and complements the frame flex for better traction and handling. On the suspension side, the fork settings have been revised and utilize a new low-friction oil while the rear shock linkage has been redesigned to work in unison with the new swingarm – both aimed at better bump absorption.

Significant attention was focused on the controls of the new Honda, especially on the front-end. For starters, Honda mounted a new Renthal Fatbar which offers more give and rider comfort than its 7/8 predecessor. The bars are actually positioned 15mm lower than last year, offering a better riding position and lighter feel in the steering. The top triple clamp now affords four different mounting positions, with the ability to move the bars up to 26mm from front to back. The new front number plate is designed to accommodate the bars mounted in any of the four available positions. To aid in harnessing the power of the CRF, a lighter front brake caliper (inspired by the race team) has been installed and utilizes a pair of 30mm and 27mm pistons, versus identical 27mm pistons from prior years. The front brake hose has also been revised with reduced expansion for more precise braking action and feel.

Rounding out the list of updates for 2019, the new footpegs are designed to shed mud more efficiently and are 20% lighter, the lower fork protectors offer more coverage for better protection, the new graphics are integrated into the plastic to resist peeling and abrasion, and new black rims offer a sharp "Factory" look.

The power is everything we loved about the '18 model with just a little more throughout the entire curve. The low-end rolls on smooth and is easy to manage, although some of our riders longed for a little more grunt right off the bottom. Map 3 (Aggressive) offers a stronger transition than the Standard map and was the preferred option for the majority of our staff. There is also a Smooth Map which offers a long/measured delivery which would be ideal for slippery conditions. However, regardless of the map setting, the mid-range punch is the CRF'S bread and butter. The pull is strong and exciting, grabbing your attention as it powers down the straights like a runaway train. The transition into the top-end is seamless as the Honda keeps making great power with a significant amount of over-rev.

The handling is equally as exciting. The CRF carries a pretty firm/rigid feel which certainly begs to be ridden hard. The more aggressive the better. The new frame geometry and narrow feel make it an eager bike with the ability to corner on a dime. In fact, at times it can be a little too eager and somewhat twitchy. Because it offers quick cornering in spades, we chose to slide the forks down in the clamps to gain some straight-line stability. We found that 3mm-5mm offered considerable improvement down the straights with less shake and deflection, and actually improved the cornering by taming the Honda's tendency to knife or over-steer. The Honda was equally as effective in the tight inside ruts as it was railing a bowl turn or even a flat inside – it is easy to lay into the corners and changes lines with minimal effort.

The suspension action is smooth and does a fantastic job of keeping the bike well connected to the track surface. We noted that rear-end felt especially plush, likely attributed to the more supple swingarm flex and corresponding shock linkage. However, most of our guys felt the stock settings were too soft and found themselves chasing more substantial bottoming resistance with the hope of not sacrificing too much feel. The front-end also trended towards the soft side and required at least a few clicks of compression to hold it up in the stroke, however, the overall action and consistency is excellent.

The performance of the new front brake system is certainly noteworthy. The stopping power is considerably stronger than last year and the feel at the bar is much more solid. We love the option of the new four-way adjustable bar mounts, although the bike was very comfortable to all of our test riders in the stock position. And the increased flex afforded by the new Renthal Fatbar was much more compliant and comfortable than last year.

Our only issue was that did experience some fade in the clutch as it got hot which required a spin of the quick-adjust wheel more often than we hoped for – this is definitely somewhere the Honda may require some attention. Although the modulation at the bar felt smoother/easier than year's past.

Overall, the new Honda is an excellent package that if possible, may prove to be even more popular than last year. Will Honda's efforts be enough for the Red Team to hold the top spot in our Shootout alone this year? Stay tuned to find out.