PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIT PALMER
The 2014 Honda CRF450R didn't get a ton of changes but the ones it got you'll notice on the track.
Honda didn't completely ignore the 2014 CRF450R. But it could have. Last year, the big machine got a complete makeover, which included getting an all-new KYB pneumatic fork, dual mufflers, a new frame and, of course, new looks - enough changes to last a long, long time, you'd think. Yet Honda still tweaked on the 2014 model a little bit and after spending a day aboard the company's latest big-bore motocrosser, they somehow managed to make the bike better. Maybe not a lot better, but better nonetheless.
One of the reasons has to do with the motor. Honda's plan was to give the 450 a bit more torque and better throttle response and came up with some revisions to both the motor's intake and exhaust ports, exhaust system and fueling system in hopes of accomplishing these goals.
To go along with the reshaped ports, there is a new separator where the single part of the exhaust splits into two, at the Y section of the pipe. The separator divides exhaust flow into the two mufflers. With the 2013 model, the flow separation was not equal and to make up for that, the diameter of the exhaust holes was not the same, you can see this when you compare the two mufflers from behind. Now, the diameter is the same on both sides and Honda claims this is important in improving exhaust flow and, ultimately, power delivery.
Last but not least, the 450's motor is, like the new 250, fitted with Honda's Dual-Timing PGM-FI fuel-injection system. By name, it sounds like there is now two injectors in the 46mm throttle body but there is still one, however, it now shoots two blasts of fuel per cycle instead of one - the first blast cools the intact tract and valve just before the second main charge lights the combustion. The entire dual-shot process uses the same amount of duration and fuel as before, but the result, Honda says, is better atomization and improved throttle response.
Things are a bit livelier when you first crack the throttle.
Honda also addressed clutch pull and installed newly designed clutch springs for lighter finger operation without compromising durability.
Honda remained true to the pneumatic KYB Pneumatic Spring Fork (PSF) that the 450 got last year, but they did redo some of the internals, like giving it a new rebound piston and rod, and new settings. Last year's fork had the tendency to blow through the stroke too quickly, but adding air pressure to compensate only made things harsh. So the new rods are designed to provide better oil flow and more linear damping while maintaining a plush feel. Air pressure is also now set from the factory at 35 psi and instead of 33 psi, which is how we ran our 2013 test bike.
The CRF is still one of the easiest-to-ride 450s on the market.
When we first rode the 2014 CRF450R, we were quite amazed by how much the Honda's motor livened up from the crack of the throttle to about midrange. Even though the difference from last year's motor to this year's isn't drastic, it does make the bike feel noticeably snappier and a bit more aggressive. But, again, mostly in the first half of the powerband. But the Honda hasn't really lost that user-friendly-for-a-450 power delivery so many of us have come to appreciate from the CR. So, don't worry, it's still a CR. (But maybe not quite as lazy feeling one.)
The quicker response and spunkier bottom also makes the bike just feel lighter said one of our testers, which was something he especially noticed in the corners when he got on the gas. The Honda is already the lightest bike in its class and for it to feel even lighter is a major accomplishment, even if that's not exactly what the engineers were going for.
Otherwise, the motor feels a lot like it did last year, and it still starts extremely easy, maybe a bit easier than before. It definitely lights up with less effort than the 2014 CRF250R we rode the day before.
We also liked the changes Honda made to the CR's fork. The front end felt like it stayed higher up in the stroke and did a better job soaking up the real hard hits than it did last year, while still maintaining that cushy ride over the smaller bumps. The new internals and settings also seemed to help make the front tire stick a bit better in the turns.
Could this be the new king of the 450 class?
We imagine that you'll still have to stay on top of the fork, as far as maintaining a steady setting, as you did before, but we are getting more and more used to living with air-fork technology these days. Like with the 250 that we rode on the same track the day before, we are anxious to get the 450 on a rougher circuit before we can come to any real conclusions about the Honda's new fork. But, for now, it certainly seems to be improved.
Everything else about the new Honda is like the old Honda, but that's a good thing. It has awesome brakes, solid handling, neutral but comfortable ergonomics, and fit and finish that is hard to beat.
Even though Honda didn't make a whole lot of changes to the new CRF450R, from what we can tell so far, the changes they did make certainly seem to make a difference. And all for the better.