Improving the performance, comfort, range and cargo capacity of the Honda CRF450L. Check out our 2020 Honda CRF450L Project Bike.
Photography by Kit Palmer
The Honda CRF450L is a solid high-performance dual-sport bike but it is stuck in a strange spot among the alternative options available in the market. It weighs 25 to 40 pounds more than comparable KTM, Husqvarna and Beta dual-sport bikes and that extra weight puts it at a disadvantage on moderate-to-tough trails. If you are looking for the best off-road bike with a license plate, it will take some aftermarket modifications to reduce the weight and improve the performance of the Honda. But if you are looking for a great bike for exploring backroads and less difficult off-road terrain, the CRF450L is a great platform for this type of riding. We decided to go this direction with the Honda and keep it 50-state street legal with sensible modifications to improve the performance, comfort, range and cargo capacity.
2020 Honda CRF450L Project | Better Traction
Due to the strict sound requirements for street-legal motorcycles, the CRF450L comes stock with tires that are more street worthy (the KTM and Husqvarna dual-sport bikes also come with DOT tires that are not ideal for true off-road terrain). We mounted up some DOT-approved Motoz Tractionator tires to improve off-road traction.
We selected the Enduro I/T 120/90-18 rear and the Enduro S/T 90/100-21 Fatty front and came away very pleased with this choice. The hybrid natural/synthetic rubber compound holds up well and the tire works well in a lot of different types of terrain. The tall knobs that are still DOT compliant are great for loose conditions. The larger front provides a little more compliance and contact patch on the ground, which is great for a variety of conditions.
When we replaced the tires, we also used the Motoz 3-millimeter natural-rubber heavy-duty tubes. Those provide a lot of confidence and reduce the chance of getting flats in rocky terrain. The CRF450L does not come with rim locks, so, because of the now increased traction, we installed Motion Pro LiteLock Rim locks. The nylon-composite design includes aluminum hardware and are significantly lighter than a traditional aluminum/rubber rim lock.
Motoz Tractionator Tires:
Enduro I/T 120/90-18 Rear: $102.99
Enduro S/T 90/111-21 Front: $89.99
Heavy Duty Tubes: $29.99 front / $34.99 rear
Motion Pro LiteLock Rim Locks:
Front: $14.50, Rear: $16.99
2020 Honda CRF450L Project Bike | More Range
The stock titanium tank on the CRF450L holds only 2.1 gallons of fuel, which has a real-world range of 75-100 miles depending on how aggressively you ride. That is not enough for real exploration, so we installed a 3.0-gallon IMS tank and found the installation to be reasonably straightforward. We can now get as much as 140 miles out of a tank.
To add a little more range, we included a Giant Loop Gas Bag. There are several ways to carry this; we chose to hook it to the back fender using the Giant Loop Pronghorn Straps. The bag is incredibly durable and can be easily rolled up to pack away when it is empty. The optional EZ Pour Spout Kit is a must or it can be messy to transfer fuel to your bike.
IMS 3-Gallon Tank: $325
Giant Loop 1-gallon Gas Bag: $149.99
Giant Loop EZ Pour Spout Kit:$10.95
2020 Honda CRF450L Project Bike | Gearing
After talking with a few people that have a lot time on their Honda CRF450Ls, we learned that many people are replacing the stock 51-tooth rear sprocket with a 48. This allows the bike to cruise at speed a little easier, and the slightly taller gearing spaces the gears out a little more. This seemed odd to us at first, but we took the advice and were surprised with the results. The bike still works in tight terrain and it is much better overall.
We chose a Supersprox Stealth sprocket, which has the added benefit of being almost a pound lighter than the nearly three-pound stock unit. We love the Supersprox for their incredible durability, reasonable weight, and great looks.
Supersprox 48T Rear Sprocket: $99.95
Rear Brake Light and License Plate Holder
Like a lot of parts on the Honda CRF450L, the license-plate holder is overbuilt and heavy. The stock brake light is also overkill, so we tracked down a DRC brake light and license-plate holder. The Japanese company makes a lot of cool products and we think this is one of the cleanest light/license plate options for the Honda.
The kit also takes 1.1 pounds off the back of the bike compared to the stock parts. When we were searching for a place to buy this product, we found that a lot of companies only listed it under the 2019 model year, which is the same for 2020.
DRC Moto LED Edge2 Tail Light Holder: $75
2020 Honda CRF450L Project Bike | Comfort
The Honda has one of the best stock seats of any of the high-performance dual-sport bikes but there is still a lot of room for improvement. We added a Seat Concepts Comfort option and were really pleased with this choice. It is still narrow in the front, so it does not impede movement for technical sections, but it is wider in the mid-section where you sit for those long road sections and has much better foam. These make for a lot more comfortable day on any dual-sport or ADV bike.
Seat Concepts Comfort seat, complete with base: $284.99
2020 Honda CRF450L Project Bike | Cockpit and Controls
The stock mirrors on nearly all dual-sport bikes are terrible. You can’t move them out of the way for the dirt, and they can easily break or damage the clutch or brake perch in a crash. Doubletake mirrors are the solution, as they are infinitely adjustable and are nearly unbreakable. We chose the ADV version for this bike as they are more stable than the Enduro version and provide a little more visibility.
We like to mount our phone to the handlebars for navigation using a Rokform case, which has a stable “bicycle mount” that will clamp to various tube sizes. We stumbled upon the DRC “Phone Bar Mount,” which is a universal mount for just about any bike with open space in the triple-clamp area. It works with the stock Renthal bars with a crossbar. It can be used for other hardware, such as a GPS.
If you do use your phone or a GPS unit for navigation, you will likely need power and SRC Moto has a very slick 12-volt socket kit made specifically for the Honda (and available for other bikes). The CRF450L includes a pre-wired plug that is on the switched key circuit. It is located just behind the left radiator. The SRC kit is designed to mount to the left side top triple-clamp bolt, but it did not fit with the handguards we had installed, so we drilled a hole in the number plate to mount it just in front of the stock dash. We actually like this location better since it is more protected in this inboard location.
The CRF450L does not come with handguards, which are a must for hand and lever protection during off-road riding. We installed the Acerbis X-Factor handguards. They mounted up cleanly, are extremely durable and provide a lot of coverage.
We were not really looking for footpegs for this project but when we ordered the larger gas tank from IMS, they suggested that we try their Core Enduro pegs. They provide a little fatter platform for your feet but most important, the cast stainless-steel heat-treated pegs are virtually indestructible. We are glad that we added these.