We forgive Honda for not liking MXA very much. We understand their frustration with us over our 2009 through 2012 CRF450 bike tests (and our 2013-2014 test as well). They weren’t exactly rave reviews. Honda takes no comfort in knowing that MXA has had issues with every production motocross bike ever made. The fact is, expressing our honest opinion can and does lead to hard feelings, which is why most other bike-test sources never say anything negative (and what they do say is normally wrong). It is no secret that, in the past, the MXA wrecking crew has been banned by Honda, Yamaha, Cannondale, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Can-Am, Husqvarna, Cagiva, Carabella and some brands that no one remembers. We’ve been banned by several of them two or three times. We accept this punishment and move on. It doesn’t stop us from testing their bikes; it just removes their input, knowledge and advice from the equation.
It is important to note that the 2012 Honda CRF450 was basically the 2009 CRF450 with stiffer fork springs, bigger footpegs and a new rising rate. We appreciate the three changes to the 2012 CRF450, but virtually every local CRF450 owner was making those three changes on his own four years earlier. When talking about the 2009–2012 Honda CRF450s, you have to accept that Honda is coming from a position of weakness. How so? The 2007 and 2008 Honda CRF450s are considered two of the best production bikes ever made. Honda’s radical experiments with the 2009 CRF450’s frame geometry, balance, powerband and fuel delivery system weren’t greeted with open arms by the Honda faithful—and MXA considers itself among the Honda faithful. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we were referred to by our critics as “Honda Action,” which was before they called us “Yamaha Action” and “KTM Action.” Even though Kawasaki has won the vast majority of MXA shootouts over the last seven years, nobody ever calls us "Kawasaki Action."
All this leads to the fact that we didn’t enter into testing the 2009 CRF450—or 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014—with a chip on our shoulder just because it replaced MXA’s shootout-winning 2008 CRF450. We approached the 2009 Honda CRF450 just as we would any other test bike—with a desire to tell the consumer exactly what he would be getting. And given the small number of significant changes to the CRF450 since 2009—and the large number of mods to the YZ-F, KX-F and KTM—the telling of the tale didn’t always favor Honda.
LIVING WITH THE HONDA CRF450
The 2012 CRF450 has been around since 2009, which means that Honda’s updates to things as significant as fork spring rates, the exhaust system, rear shock linkage and throttle body have made considerable differences to the bike’s overall performance. But without any real frame or engine changes from 2009 to 2012, the 2012 CRF450 is the same basic bike that was introduced in 2009. That sameness is both a negative and a positive. The downside is that the original flaws still exist, while the upside is that the consumer has had four years to apply practical and affordable fixes. Here are the five major areas of MXA attention.
Power. Four years after it was introduced, the latest generation of CRF450s still doesn’t run as well as the Keihin carb-equipped 2008 CRF450. Don’t get us wrong; the 2012 CRF450 powerband is pleasant—so is your grandma—but we wanted more power. Over its four-year run four years, MXA has modified the throttle body, EFI maps, cams and exhaust pipes on our 2009-2012 CRF450s. For our tastes, an aftermarket exhaust system is job number one, because the stock muffler, while quiet, is restrictive.
Clutch. We wish there was a cheap fix, but short of not using the four-spring CRF450 clutch while riding, nothing will keep it alive in the hands of a clutch user, let alone an abuser. Stiffer clutch springs help but aggravate the clutch actuation arm’s short throw zone. The ultimate fix is to return to a six-spring clutch from Hinson or Wiseco—and pay the piper.
Brakes. Honda is no worse than Yamaha, Suzuki or Kawasaki when it comes to stopping power, but they can’t hold a candle to Husqvarna or KTM. We swap out the stock front rotor for an oversize kit. You can choose from among 260mm, 270mm and 280mm rotors.
Linkage. We run the stock 2012 shock linkage. But on the 2009, 2010 and 2011, we ran a longer shock linkage to lower the rear of the bike and give us more control in selecting a head angle via fork height.
Handling. Thanks to the 2012 linkage, which lowered the rear, and stiffer forks springs, which lessen diving and oversteering, the 2012 as the best-handling CRF450 of the 2009 to 2012 series. But, this chassis has some serious geometry flaws that mods can only band-aid over. MXA has tried every handling fix known to man; some help, some don’t, but we sincerely believe that the best fixes are a flat chassis setup, great tires and a suspension tuned to keep the two ends in harmonic balance.
Every bike can be massaged to tune out its bad vibes and enhance its good traits. The 2012 Honda CRF450 is no different.
Kawasaki Motorcycle test