2009 Honda CRF450R - Supercross Superbike

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Simon Cudby

More powerful yet easier to ride. Lighter in weight with greater mass centralization. Advanced PGM-FI fuel injection. That sounds like a description of Honda's latest CBR1000RR, but it's not. It describes the all-new 2009 CRF450R.

Fuel injection is old news on streetbikes, but it's just now making its way to dirtbikes. Suzuki's '08 RM-Z450 had it first, and for '09 Honda and Kawasaki have followed suit. Yet even so, Honda says EFI is the least of the CRF's changes.

Drawing on the knowledge gleaned from building the CRF150 and 250, the 450's engine was comprehensively redesigned. The Unicam top end now features a four-lobe cam with individual rocker arms for each exhaust valve instead of forked rockers like before. That cam now spins directly in the cylinder head, instead of in a bolt-on cam mount. A 3.5mm-shorter connecting rod works with flywheels that are cut to clear the lightweight forged slipper piston, reducing engine height. A shallower combustion chamber, shorter titanium intake valves with narrower stems, redesigned valve springs, a pressed-on cam sprocket, narrower transmission gears and the use of four (instead of six) clutch springs further contribute to downsizing and weight savings. The rerouted exhaust also plays a part, exiting the cylinder on the left and wrapping around to the right, allowing the muffler to be positioned farther forward, closer to the center of mass. The net result of all these changes is an engine that revs to 11,450 rpm (up from 11,270), offering greater power over a broader range. Claimed output is 56.3 bhp and 37.5 lb.-ft. of torque.

Adapting Honda's PGM-FI (Programmed Fuel Injection) to the CRF required the addition of a Keihin 50mm throttle body with a 12-hole injector nozzle, a raft of sensors and a high-pressure (50-psi) fuel pump. Unlike Suzuki's RM-Z, which employs a metal gas tank to prevent the fuel pump from sucking in the tank's sides, Honda simply strengthened the CRF's plastic tank. That tank is .4-gallon smaller this year, but the EFI is reportedly so much more efficient that the bike runs just as long on a tankful. Where the carbureted '08 CRF had different ignition curves for first, second and third through fifth gears, the '09 varies spark and fuel settings. An accessory HRC PGM-FI Setting Tool allows fuel-injection and ignition-timing changes.

With a more-compact engine to house, the CRF's aluminum frame was also comprehensively redesigned. Up front, the steering head was pulled back 10mm and set at a steeper angle, and offset was reduced by 2mm, moving the front tire 15mm closer to the engine for improved traction and sharper steering. Out back, an 18mm-longer swing-arm ups rear-tire traction. In between, frame spar sizes were juggled for optimum rigidity and feel, and the lower frame rails were beveled for additional cornering clearance. Honda's Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD) remains, hidden behind the front numberplate. Kayaba suspension is employed on a CR for the first time since the 125 was discontinued in '06, the fork legs and shock body designed to Honda's specs.

To test the new 450, Honda invited the press to Lake Whitney, Texas-a world-class MX facility near Dallas that used to be a regular stop on the AMA national circuit. The track blends elements of outdoor motocross and supercross, with a steep hill section plus numerous jumps and rhythm sections. The red dirt is slippery when wet, slick when dry and tacky in between-a good test of traction.

Throw a leg over the CRF's long, flat saddle and the first thing you notice is the translucent kill switch next to the left handgrip, which glows red while the motor is running. With its automatic decompression system, kick-starting the big single is a breeze. Three kicks is all it takes to power up the system when cold, and one or two kicks when warm-most of the time.

The counterbalanced engine is incredibly smooth for a single, and throttle response is exacting. Lug it down to near-idle speed through a slippery corner, then whack it open at the exit and it doesn't even stumble. A few testers complained of stalling, but the only time that happened to me I'd lugged it so far down that any MX bike would have stalled. It feels a little sluggish off the bottom until you twist the throttle farther; then there's more than enough power. Clutch pull is light for a 450, and transmission action is flawless.

As well as the Honda's engine works, its chassis is even better. Though the bike weighs just 3 pounds less than last year's model, it feels as light as a 250. Tightening your line mid-corner is as simple as looking where you want to go. As a Plus-40-class motocrosser I'm not a big jumper, but even I noticed how easy it is to throw the 450 around mid-air. With the rear sag set at 105mm the suspension worked well under my 200-plus pounds, plush yet resistant to bottoming. And the Nissin brakes were typical Honda-strong yet predictable.

Honda is the only manufacturer that routinely brings previous-year models to its press intros, so I had an opportunity to ride the '08 and '09 back to back. And the difference was dramatic: As good as the '08 CRF was-and it won most magazines' shootouts-it felt noticeably wider than the '09, the rider farther away from the handlebar. Its engine also vibrated more, with snappy bottom-end power that made it difficult to regulate traction.

So, the '09 CRF represents a big step forward, and will be difficult to beat for Best Dirtbike honors. Want one? Better hurry: If they're not sold out by now, they will be soon. We've even heard of dealers price-gouging to the tune of $10K. Recession be damned, boys still want their toys, and the '09 CRF450R is on top of a whole lot of wish lists.

Tech Spec
Evolution

The latest and greatest edition of Honda's award-winning open-class four-stroke motocrosser.

Rivals
Husqvarna TC450, Kawasaki KX450F, KTM 450 SX, Suzuki RM-Z450 and Yamaha YZ450F.

TECH
Price $7599
Engine type l-c single
Valve train SOHC, 4v
Displacement 449cc
Bore x stroke 96.0 x 62.1mm
Compression 12.0:1
Fuel system Keihin PGM-FI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 5-speed
Claimed horsepower 56.3 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Claimed torque 37.5 lb.-ft. @ 7000 rpm
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 48mm Kayaba inverted cartridge fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Single Kayaba shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping
Front brake Nissin two-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Rear brake Nissin single-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front tire 80/100-21 Dunlop
Rear tire 120/80-19 Dunlop
Rake/trail 26.9/4.5 in.
Seat height 37.6 in.
Wheelbase 58.7 in.
Fuel capacity 1.5 gal.
Claimed dry weight 226 lbs.
Colors Red/white
Available Now
Warranty 30 days

Contact
American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
P.O. Box 2200
Torrance, CA 90509
866.784.1870
www.powersports.honda.com

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
The real deal.

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By Brian Catterson
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