First Impression: 2013 Honda CRF450R

Back in March, TransWorld Motocross gave you the first peek at the new 2013 Honda CRF450R, complete with an all-new chassis, redesigned bodywork, and Honda's patented dual-muffler design. Piloted by seven-time All Japan National Champion Akira Narita, the all-new CRF450R is already a proven winner, and we got to throw our leg over an early pre-production unit last week at Central California's Zaca Station MX.

Our friends at American Honda were plenty sneaky about the intro; sending us an invitation that was worded much like a Mission: Impossible assignment note. "Be at Honda at 8:00 a.m., bring one set of riding gear, a pair of board shorts that can be ruined, and a pair of work gloves," said the invite, which left out one important piece of information: what bike we'd be testing. Naturally, we called and quizzed Kevin Aschenbach about the event: with our time at a premium, we didn't want to waste a day testing an enduro bike or an experimental electric bike. "You won't want to miss this," is all "KBach" would say, and this led us to believe that it was indeed a motocross bike, and the CRF450R, in particular. Since we were also instructed to bring only one set of gear and not a jam-packed gearbag because space was at a premium, we further deduced that we would be flying to the location, most likely in a chopper. Needless to say, we couldn't wait!

On the morning of the mysterious mission, we arrived at American Honda's headquarters in Torrance, California, with a compact gearbag, a pair of board shorts and an extra pair of Deft Family gloves. As it turned out, the last two items were completely unnecessary, and merely a request to throw us off the scent. As we had hoped, a short jaunt to a nearby private airfield unveiled our transportation for the day: a two-million-dollar helicopter, provided by Briles Aviation. A little over an hour later, we touched down at Zaca Station and were greeted by a pair of 2013 Honda CRF450Rs.

I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I was disappointed to see a standard clutch on the machine, but other than that; it looked to be an exact replica of the bike I watched my Narita race to a pair of moto wins on, two months ago. When I asked why the hydraulic clutch was omitted, the answer I was given was simple, and completely acceptable. In spite of the machine being all-new from the ground up, Honda was able to maintain the exact same price tag as the 2013 bike: $8440. While adding a hydraulic clutch would have been a nice touch, it would have forced the price to go up considerably. In this day and age where the cost of a new dirt bike is about the same as a good down payment on a house, every penny counts.

But let's get to the nitty gritty. What, exactly, is new? Below, you'll find Honda's official information. Skip to the very bottom to read our first impressions of the new machine!

NEW FOR 2013

–       All-new aluminum frame and swingarm.

–       All-new lighter subframe and airbox.

–       All-new air fork – KYB PSF® (Pneumatic Spring Fork).

–       All-new rear shock with updated settings.

–       All-new short and compact dual-muffler exhaust system.

–       Bold new styling features an aggressive look.

–       Improved footpeg mount features a patented debris-shielding design.

–       All-new front and rear disc rotor covers.

–       All-new MX51FA 80/100-21 front tire.

–       Increased fuel capacity from 1.50 gallons to 1.66 gallons.

–       Updated Unicam® engine.

–       All-new piston with increased compression ratio (from 12.0:1 to 12.5:1).

–       New two-hole oil jet adds extra cooling to the piston's underside.

–       Cylinder head with revised porting and larger exhaust valves (from 30mm to 31mm).

–       Revised cam timing. I            All-new six-spring clutch design.

–       Updated transmission.

–       All-new radiators are mounted lower in the chassis.

–       Revised fuel injection and ignition settings.

Advancing The State Of Moto Art In 450-Class Racing

With the 2013 CRF450R, Honda elevates the level of performance for 450-class motocross machines. This brand-new machine features a rolling chassis with a specific focus on meeting the needs of today's "scrub generation" of riders. Honda accomplished this through the creation of an all-new aluminum frame designed to fully integrate and attain maximum advantage from an innovative suspension package, plus a strategically engineered dual-muffler exhaust system that tucks in closely to the center of mass. Designed from the get-go as a total package that would be eminently flickable, responsive and lightweight—thanks in part to development input from multi-time champion Jeremy McGrath—every element in the 2013 CRF450R chassis has been focused on attaining class-leading mass centralization and unrivaled handling.

There's also genuine innovation here: case in point, an all-new fork that uses air pressure in place of steel springs to save weight, create space for an entirely new and larger, more sophisticated 32mm cartridge damper piston, and deliver unmatched front-end feel and responsiveness. In short, this innovation resets the boundaries of conventional suspension technology, and this chassis has been purpose-built around this design to achieve maximum benefit. This innovative fork is matched with a new Pro-Link® rear shock that is shorter and resides lower than ever in an aluminum frame completely redesigned for the express purpose of lowering the bike's center of gravity (CG) and enhancing handling.

Designed from clean-sheet concepts, the all-new aluminum frame carries prominent differences quite visible when compared to the previous-generation frame. Specifically, the junction of the steering head and main frame spars intersect distinctly lower on the steering head pipe, much closer to the midway point rather than toward the top as per the previous design. This change helps lower the CG, instills more tuned flex into the chassis for better front-end traction, and provides more traction feel and better cornering traits. Less readily seen yet equally important foundational design changes include maximizing the benefits of the new-generation front and rear suspension components.

The rear Pro-Link system now features a new shock that's 14.5mm shorter than before, and it sits lower in the frame to help lower CG. New damping settings are matched to the new frame and innovative fork for a plush, yet controlled ride. In addition, from the very inception, the new frame was designed to incorporate a new two-muffler exhaust system that tucks in tightly toward the bike's center to better centralize mass and lower the moment of inertia. This new design strikes an excellent balance between enhanced handling, maximum power and superior noise attenuation.

Manufactured by KYB, the 48mm KYB PSF® (Pneumatic Spring Fork) incorporates a startling transformation: air pressure now provides spring resistance in place of steel springs. Freed from the inherent limitations of a steel-spring design, this new KYB fork is not only an incredible 1.76 pounds lighter, there now is also more room for a new and larger piston in the cartridge damper—32mm in diameter rather than 24mm in the previous fork. As a result, this new front suspension system offers more tuning potential and returns a much more sophisticated, stable and refined fork action all through the travel. However, what's especially noticeable are its dramatically faster responses in directional stroke transitions from compression to rebound and vice versa. This allows the front end to be significantly more responsive to changes in the terrain, and to keep the front tire in contact with the ground. The result is much better tracking, greater feel, and better traction and steering accuracy.

Another bonus: this new fork is easier to tune. Equipped with Schrader valves atop the fork caps, the standard air pressure of 33 psi can be adjusted within a range from 32 psi to 36 psi—the equivalent of installing softer or stiffer replacement springs—to accommodate varying rider weights and speeds. Air alone fulfills the pressurization needs; there's no need for nitrogen or other inert gasses. Of course, as per usual motocross bike expectations, the fork and shock are also fully adjustable for compression and rebound damping settings.

Other chassis changes include a new aluminum swingarm that provides added rigidity thanks to taller beam height in the front and center sections for less deflection in ruts and improved corner-exit traction. Also, with the change to dual mufflers, the aluminum subframe is now lighter and shorter than before.

In the engine department, the 2013 CRF450R follows previous engine architecture, but a host of changes increase power, especially in the low-end and midrange, while also adding durability. A new camshaft with different valve timing and more valve overlap, larger exhaust valves (30mm diameter to 31mm), a new piston with a fuller dome to increase compression ratio from 12.0: to 12.5:1, new port shapes on the intake and exhaust sides for enhanced flow, and revised settings for the PGM-FI fuel injection system comprise the major performance upgrades.

For added durability, the piston skirt is now shot-peened with molybdenum disulfide to create a tougher, low-friction surface, a redesigned oil jet now gives two sources to spray cooling oil on the underside of the piston, and the transmission is a completely new, heavy-duty gearbox. Also, the CRF450R clutch is now a six-spring design for stronger clamping pressure with a lighter clutch feel, better modulation of the friction point and added durability. One other change of note is a new, slightly heavier flywheel that increases rotational inertia by 11 percent compared to the prior generation, for enhanced low-speed tractability and torque feel.

On the intake side of the engine, a new airbox and straighter airboot inlet shape improve airflow; the new airbox also makes it easier to service the air filter. On the exhaust side, the use of two mufflers allows a greater flow of exhaust gasses for more power without more noise. Also, the decision to install two mufflers allows each muffler to be shorter, and therefore closer to the bike's center of mass. As a result, even though the two mufflers together weigh only slightly more than a comparable single, larger muffler, having the two mufflers tucked in tighter results in a measurably lower moment of inertia—the real-world payoff resulting in a bike that's more flickable, easier-handling in the air, and more responsive in corners than it would be with a conventional single muffler hanging way out off the backside of the bike. As a small side benefit, the switch to dual mufflers allowed a 3.5-ounce weight reduction in the aluminum subframe, which is also shorter now. And the dual-muffler design allows the CRF450R to easily meet more stringent sound requirements enacted by various race-sanctioning organizations while still hitting this new machine's performance targets.

As just one glance will attest, the 2013 CRF450R sports aggressive new bodywork and styling, with an ergonomic design that allows the rider to move around on the bike more easily. Less easily noticed, bodywork attachment points where the rider contacts the bike have been made more rigid so the rider can grip the bike more solidly for better feel and control. In addition, the rear fender now has a lift point with integrated support to make it easier to hoist the bike onto a stand, and a new tank shape integrates smoothly with the new bodywork while also boosting fuel capacity from 1.50 to 1.66 gallons to appreciably extend riding range. As a final bit of detail work, the footpegs are now 10 percent lighter, and the new design allows for better clearing in muddy conditions.

The state of the art in today's production motocross machines has risen to immensely impressive levels of performance. The ongoing forces of mechanical evolution have irresistibly expanded all parameters of engine and chassis function to the point that huge jumps in technological advances—"silver bullets," if you will—are now nearly impossible to attain. Still, starting with a clean sheet of paper as Honda did with the CRF450R provides distinct advantages, allowing engineers to design in whole-cloth fashion a new frame that would reap full advantage from innovations such as the air-fork and twin-muffler chassis design to carve out a performance edge that gets sharpened by the CRF450R's myriad other detail improvements. Together they create significant gains in overall performance not possible by simply bolting different parts on an existing design. The all-new 2013 CRF450R—a large step in the evolution of one of the most successful motocross machines in history.


On the day of our intro, Honda had two 2013 pre-production CRF450Rs on hand, as well as a pair of bone-stock 2012 models. I elected to start the day with the current machine, and spent the first part of the morning wondering if I had forgotten how to ride in the three days since I last rode back at home. Zaca Station is a technical track; one that I have never felt that great at. In the mornings, especially, the track is tilled deep and watered well. Ruts form in the corners and down the straightaways, and I often find myself having flashbacks of my misadventures at Loretta Lynn’s back in 2007. Throw in the questionable handling of the 2012 Honda CRF450R and the pressure of six Japanese Honda engineers watching and…well, you get the picture. When Honda first released the ’09 CRF450R, I was recovering from a pair of broken wrists and was still pretty tentative with the throttle. In that state of mind and health, I found that the new-generation CRF450R was amazing. As I healed and grew more aggressive, however, I repeatedly found myself on the ground; mostly from pushing or tucking the front end in corners. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the bike to work properly for me and I repoed the Kawasaki KX450F from Brendan Lutes halfway through the year and gave him the bent-up Honda. In spite of the revisions and changes made to the ’10, ’11, and ’12 machines, the memory of broken helmet visors always haunted me when I threw a leg over a CRF450R.

From my first lap on the 2013 bike, however, the visions of planting my face firmly into the ground vanished completely. Though we were granted only a couple motos on the new machines, I can honestly report that I felt right at home on the new CRF450R in a matter of corners. Gone is the vague-feeling front end, as the bike has a very balanced, predictable feel. The KYB air fork yielded a plush, trustworthy ride, with excellent front-end traction, especially entering rough, hacked-up corners. Where the current CRF feels as if it has a very short wheelbase with an overpowering rear end, the new bike feels a bit stretched out and rides level in all conditions. I found myself laying the CRF over in corners that I paddled through earlier in the day aboard the ’12 bike. In fact, the lower tree section of Zaca – which has always been my Achilles’ heel at the facility – actually became my favorite section of the track aboard the new bike. In a nutshell, the new bike feels and handles nothing like its predecessors.

Power is also notably improved, but anyone who’s owned a recent Honda knows that the stock exhaust system is so choked up that bolting even a slip-on aftermarket muffler onto the bike can make a world of difference. So, you wonder: are the new dual mufflers just as choked up? My guess is yes, but even in stock condition, the bike has a much beefier powerband with much improved low-end power. Carrying a tall gear and lugging the motor is much more effective on the ’13 bike. Where the ’12 requires either a lower gear, followed by a well-timed upshift, or abundant clutch abuse; the new machine simply motors right along. Mass centralization is Honda’s reasoning behind the dual-muffler design, and if you really sit back and study the look of the new machine, it all makes sense. The pair of mufflers are much more compact than a single muffler and located lower and further forward on the chassis. In addition to producing a much more acceptable exhaust note, they must be a key factor in the great handling of the new machine. Naysayers will be quick to criticize the dual-muffler design, claiming that aftermarket systems will be too expensive and more susceptible to crash damage. However, consider this: an aftermarket dual exhaust will still be less expensive than a quality aftermarket wheel set, and furthermore, our staff crashed the dual muffler CRF250Rs plenty back in the day and found that the smaller cans were actually tucked in better and fared better in big crashes than a single.

I’ve been testing brand-new bikes for over two decades now, and I’d like to think that I’m over being impressed by new models just because they’re new and shiny. That being said, this is the most excited I’ve been about an all-new bike in many years. I can’t wait to get a production version into the TWMX race shop in September when they land on US shores.

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