Pure motocross DNA meets Special Enduro / Cross Country
Motorcycle Test by Jock Mclauchlan – Photos: Geoff Osborne
The 2017 CRF450RX has been a long time coming. It’s based on the CRF450R (full MX model), with the main changes being a slightly larger fuel tank, suspension changes to suit Cross Country work and an 18-inch rear wheel. Of course, it comes with a sidestand and electric start as well.
Electric start is absolutely a must have for Cross Country and trail riding nowadays, but is also rapidly becoming mandatory on an MX bike too. On paper the two big issues with the new RX is the width of the fuel tank and the fact that it is 10.5kg heavier than the R model fully fuelled (we weighed them both). But are these two things really problems? Read on…
We took the X to Ben Townley’s personal test track and had him throw a leg over it for some photographs and a quick impression of what the recent ex-world MX champion thought. Then I took the Honda to the Sandpit riding park in Woodhill Forest, and a farmland trail ride for more extended test sessions.
Without putting words in BT’s mouth… he thought, ‘Yes, it’s heavier than the R model, the suspension is more Cross Country-focused and that tank sure is wide, but it goes damn well – similar to the R model’. This really is a powerful bike, and one which is extremely fast.
A choice of three power modes can be selected at the press of a button, giving mellow, medium and fast, for want of a better description. To my way of thinking there is not a huge difference between them all, but then I mainly rode the X in sand which tends to cover the subtleties of a power delivery.
Yes, the fast map is faster with a more aggressive mid range and top end, while the mellow map is softer and more linear in delivery. However, in this mode it still stalls/flames-out just off idle in the really tight gnarly terrain, which is a real no-no, to my mind.
Where the engine is brilliant is on that open flowing stuff where you can power slide off the turns and wheelie up the straights with consummate ease. It has smooth, linear and easy to use grunty power – it is designed as a Cross Country bike after all.
The handling is good, a great mix of effortless and accurate turn-in, and stability. For quick riding in the sandy test terrain, firmer fork springs would have been nice for my weight, but lighter guys should be pretty happy. Alternatively, lighter riders may get away with a turn or so less shock preload from standard just to balance it out.
However for hard terrain the steering should be excellent, quick and effortless while still offering decent stability. The suspension action is great for Cross Country work. It’s plush, resists bottoming-out pretty well and is well controlled. Heavy, fast guys may find it a little soft overall, but the majority of riders should be very happy with the suspension.
The ergonomics are excellent for most riding. The seat is comfortable, and the handlebar, seat and foot peg relationship triangle is about spot on. The side covers flare slightly where the twin mufflers start and the back of your calves grip the bike. This is great for locking your legs in position when standing and hard on the gas.
The fuel tank is wide at the front and a comfortable shape for general riding. Whether it bothers you will depend on how you ride the bike. Aggressive, fast riders that move around on the bike a lot will notice it, particularly when getting forward for turns, and in the air. I found I adjusted quite quickly to it, but then when swapping back to the R model… the R just felt so much smaller and more agile, as you would expect.
In reality most owners will adjust, get used to it and never think about it again. All Japanese MX/Cross Country bikes have the same issue when trying to increase fuel capacity with their twin spar alloy frames – they must either go up or out- there’s no other real alternative. Is it time for manufacturers to question their frame designs when taking their motocross bikes to the bush?
The Nissin brakes are excellent at both ends with terrific feel on offer. The rear has particularly good feel and only true stoppie heroes will want more power from the front brake.
Now, regarding the weight issue, it is about 6 or 7kg heavier than the European competition model, but it is well balanced and doesn’t really feel it. It carries its weight well. Also, I think it’s worth noting the X is designed more as modern Cross Country trail bike, rather than a full-on race machine and as such it is an excellent bike – that is, of course, not to say that it won’t be a great off-road race bike.
Like all Hondas the build quality and excellence of finish is good to see. Overall, I think the 2017 Honda CRF450RX is a long overdue, but fantastic update to the old 450X model.
It will renew loyal Honda buyers’ faith and reward them with a thoroughly modern machine that is genuinely capable, and beautifully made. Whether it will sway European bike buyers back to the Japanese brand only time will tell.
2017 Honda CRF450RX Pros & Cons
Strong points – Honda build quality, looks great, very capable
Weak points – A little heavy, can stall in the tight stuff (mapping changes should fix this), ergos compromised by wide fuel tank
2017 Honda CRF450RX Specifications
Engine – 449cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke single
Compression ratio – 13.5:1
Bore x stroke – 96 x 62.1mm
Starting system – Electric- and kick-start
Fuel system – PGM-FI, 46mm throttle body
Clutch – Wet, multi-plate, cable operated
Transmission – Five-speed, chain drive, 13/50T
Frame – Aluminium twin spar with cradle, aluminium sub-frame
Swingarm – Aluminium
Front suspension – 49mm USD Showa coil-spring fork, preload, rebound and compression adjustable, 305mm travel
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.