Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2011 CRF450 BETTER THAN THE 2010 CRF450?
A: That depends on your definition of “better.” Honda made some changes for 2011 that, on paper, should have made a significant difference, but on the track there is some question about whether they were worth the effort.
Q: WHAT CHANGES DID HONDA MAKE TO THE 2011 CRF450?
A: Here are the six areas that Honda focused on for the new model year.
(1) The jumbo-sized 50mm throttle body has been reduced to 46mm in an attempt to improve low-end power and lessen the tendency to flame out (when the vacuum isn’t able to overcome the bore size).
(2) The front forks feature a new cartridge rod cylinder. It is lighter and has a few dimension changes that only a suspension guru would notice. The valving has been changed very slightly for a plusher feel.
(3) Honda installed a new shock linkage (arms and bellcranks) that offers “improved control and increased rear wheel traction.” The shock itself has one shim that is different from the 2010 shock spec.
(4) The HPSD steering damper’s body has been increased by 4mm (from 20mm to 24mm) to help calm down the front end.
(5) The muffler is 100mm longer and has a 26mm core instead of last year’s 36mm core. It meets the AMA’s 94 dB sound limit easily at 90.1 dB and almost passes the FIM’s two-meter-max test at 115.5 dB.
(6) EFI map. The programmable ECU module has been reprogrammed to work with the restrictive muffler and downsized throttle body.
Q: WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF THE SIX CHANGES HONDA MADE FOR 2011?
A: To tell the truth, none of the changes seemed to bring about the kind of significant improvement that Honda CRF450 owners wanted. On the plus side, the bike is much quieter and the powerband is easier to use. On the negative side, the handling and suspension are about the same.
Q: HOW FAST IS THE 2011 CRF450?
A: Rather than break the bad news in one short, sweet sentence, we’d rather say that the new powerband is well modulated, very tractable and blessed with a metered throttle response. Want a translation? The power off the bottom isn’t herky-jerky like it was in 2009, but it also produces a non-hit, casual, no-rush style of thrust. Because it revs slower and with a more pedestrian power delivery, the overall powerband feels like it is broader than it was. In truth, the engine still goes flat in the midrange (actually, the 2011 flattens out about 300 rpm before the 2010 CRF450 did), but makes up for it by revving about 300 rpm more on over-rev.
Q: HOW CAN IT GO FLAT EARLIER, BUT REV FARTHER?
A: The Honda CRF450 has what the MXA test riders call a “Sprinter” powerband. The nomenclature refers to the profile of a Sprinter van?the front of the van slopes up sharply and then is flat across the top. That is how the CRF450 runs. It makes very good horsepower, albeit without much personality, from 5000 rpm until 7700 rpm. Then from 7800 rpm until it signs off at 11,300 rpm, it doesn’t gain any power. In essence, the horsepower it makes at 8000 rpm is the same as the horsepower it makes at 9000, 10,000 and 11,000 rpm. For 2011, it is flat across the top, but compared to where the 2010 model signed off, the 2011 goes 300 rpm farther.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2011 CRF450 RUN ON THE DYNO?
A: The 2011 CRF450 makes 1.1 horsepower more than the 2010 CRF450, but pumps out 2.21 horsepower less than the 2011 KX450F, 2.25 horsepower less than the 2011 RM-Z450, 1.95 horsepower less than the 2011 KTM 450SXF and 0.60 horsepower less than the 2011 YZ450F.
2011 Honda CRF450: The 2009 CRF450 powerband was barky and flat. The 2010 CRF450 powerband was smooth and flat. The 52 horsepower 2011 powerband is mellow and flat. There is a theme here.
Q: WHAT DOES THE 2011 CRF450 POWERBAND FEEL LIKE ON THE TRACK?
A: “Mellow” is the first word that comes to mind. It has a very electric power delivery. The hit is muted, but because the engine produces competitive horsepower below 7700 rpm, all is not lost. Because it is less jerky, abrupt and violent than almost any other bike in the 450 class, MXA test riders could concentrate on rolling the power on earlier. Without any chance of wheelying or blowing the rider back with a burst of power, the 2011 Honda was more manageable in the corners. Since the power delivery is rather leisurely, every test rider thought the slower-revving 2011 CRF450 powerband was longer. It wasn’t. The best power is from 5000 rpm to 7700 rpm. After 7700 rpm, the engine is flat. You could still rev it to the moon, but it wasn’t going to move one iota faster than the speed it achieved at 7700 rpm.
Flat powerbands work best when short-shifted. In the case of the 2011 CRF450, that means shifting just short of peak. Revving the engine out to the rev limiter will produce more noise, but not more power.
Q: IS THE 2011 HONDA CRF450 ENGINE COMPETITIVE?
A: Not for a pro, but for the vast majority of 450 Novices, Vets and professional practice riders, the 2011 powerband is better than either the 2009 or 2010 iterations. The 2011 makes more power than either of its brothers, but does it in a very friendly way.
Q: DOES THE 2011 CRF450 PASS THE AMA SOUND TEST?
A: Yes, it passes the AMA’s 94 dB sound test with ease at 91.6 dB. It doesn’t pass the FIM’S 115 dB two-meter-max test, but it is as close as any Japanese brand that we have sound tested at 115.5.
The reduced sound output is the result of choking the engine down. Conversely, the mellow powerband is a result of the 10mm-smaller muffler core. Honda installed a 4-inch-longer muffler with a smaller outlet and, as a result, throttle response is very lackadaisical. That is the price we pay to get bikes that are quiet.
Q: DOES THE SMALLER THROTTLE BODY CURE THE FLAMEOUT PROBLEM?
A: No, but the problem is nowhere near as acute as it was back in 2009. Going from a 50mm to a 46mm throttle body does help the engine pick up cleaner in off-idle to full-throttle situations, but it doesn’t eliminate the infamous CRF450 flameout. If you coast into a corner with the throttle off and suddenly wick it on, there is a vacuum gap that could make the CRF450 cough and die. Savvy riders can all but eliminate the issue with plentiful clutch use and a steady roll-on.
Q: HOW IS THE GEARING?
A: We geared it down one tooth from 13/48 to 13/49.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2011 CRF450 HANDLE?
A: Back in 2002, the MXA wrecking crew caused a furor when we said that the original CRF450 handled like a “garbage scow.” Truth in advertising compels us to tell you that none of the MXA test riders have ever piloted a garbage scow?so we were talking through our hats. Every other namby-pamby test said that the 2002 Honda was a great handling bike?it wasn’t?the 2002 Honda CRF450 was a horrible-handling bike, and the 2011 CRF450 also has some serious issues with balance, stinkbugging, soft forks, oversteer, sketchiness at speed and an unwillingness to do what you ask it to do. So, if you ask us how the 2011 CRF450 handles, we would be tempted to run down to the harbor and hitch a ride on a garbage scow to see if the accolade fits.
The scorecard: MXA test riders liked the easy-to-use powerband, light weight, rear suspension and sound reduction. We were mystified by the quirky handling, marginal clutch and soft forks.
Q: DIDN’T HONDA FIX THE HANDLING FOR 2011?
A: No. The only change that Honda made to the handling package was to put a bigger, stronger steering damper on the frame. What does that tell you? The MXA test riders have issues with the latest generation of Honda frames (2009-2011). This is nothing new. We had issues with Honda frames in the past, starting with the 1994 steel frame, progressing to the 1997 aluminum frame and, more recently, the 2002-05 CRF450 frames. To be fair, it should be noted that we liked the 2006-08 CRF450 frames.
To get the 2009-2011 Honda frame to handle means that the consumer has to address these three issues:
(1) Balance. The front-to-rear bias of the CRF450 is out of whack. The forks are too soft?way too soft. If you read the list of changes that Honda made for 2011, you might have noticed new fork valving. Forget it! It isn’t any better than it was. The front end dives under deceleration, which causes interaction issues with the much firmer rear suspension.
(2) Stinkbug. It is down in the front and up in the rear. We had hoped that the new shock linkage would lower the rear like the Pro Circuit, Ride Engineering and Factory Connection linkage arms. It doesn’t lower the rear, and, with the exception of more bottoming resistance, the overall feel is very similar to last year.
(3) Oversteer. Oversteer is not a bad thing?as evidenced by the brilliant handling of the Suzuki RM-Z450. And, in the plus column, the Honda CRF450 exhibits some of the Suzuki’s good traits at turn-in (when the bike first initiates the turn). It has a light feel, and the front wants to turn. But unlike the RM-Z450?which oversteers in and is neutral out?the CRF450 oversteers in, understeers out and never returns to neutral until you accelerate away from the corner. This wallowing reaction can make a simple left-hand turn into three or four different turns.
|Tuning fork: Honda didn’t detune the 2011 CRF450 engine, but the choked up muffler made the power very mellow.|
Q: WHAT WAS OUR BEST FORK SETTING?
A: We didn’t have a best fork setting. We couldn’t race the CRF450 forks in stock trim. Our pro test riders would come back from a test session and claim the forks were “broken.” We’d pull them apart, check every part and measure the fluid volumes and find they were to spec. Finally, we did what we have always done with CRF450s and we swapped out the stock springs for stiffer springs.
For hardcore racing, these are MXA‘s recommended 2011 Honda CRF450 fork settings (with the stiffer fork springs installed):
Spring rate: 0.49 kg/mm (0.46 stock)
Oil height: 355cc
Compression: 12 clicks out (13 stock)
Rebound: 8 clicks out
Fork leg height: Flush with clamps
Notes: If you want to keep the stock fork springs, slide the forks as far down into the triple clamps as possible to raise the front of the chassis.
Q: WHAT WAS OUR BEST SHOCK SETTING?
A: With the soft forks, it is very hard to make any judgment on the shock linkage. Without changing the front fork springs, the rear shock will never work up to its potential; they are joined at the hip. As far as the changes to the rear suspension being a major improvement, we liked last year’s rear shock and liked this one also, but we don’t feel a major improvement.
For hardcore racing, these are MXA‘s recommended 2011 CRF450 shock settings:
Spring rate: 5.4 kg/mm
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 2 turns out (1-1/2 stock)
Lo-compression: 14 clicks out
Rebound: 14 clicks out
Notes: If you plan to race it with the stock fork springs, set the race sag at 110mm (or maybe even 115mm). Once you put the stiffer fork springs in place, set the sag at 105mm. This is not a suspension fix, but it addresses balance issues.
Q: WHAT IS THE WORST PART ON THE 2011 HONDA CRF450?
A: The clutch is a joke. Amazingly, Honda did put some work into their fragile four-spring clutch (although they didn’t mention the changes in their specs). For 2011, the CRF450 clutch has a jutter spring and stiffer clutch springs. A jutter spring is a Belleville-style washer that fits behind the clutch pack and works in conjunction with one small friction plate. The goal of a jutter spring is to preload the clutch pack to lessen the tendency of the clutch to jump, jerk or jutter when engaged. This is not a problem that we had with the four-spring CRF450 clutch. Instead, our problem was that the CRF450 clutch was so weak that it would lose lever pressure any time it was used hard. And, it would burn up in four hours no matter how it was used.
Is there a fix? There are several. If you don’t have any money, remove the two jutter springs and the small friction plate and put a normal CRF450 clutch plate in its place. This will increase the surface area and return the 2011 clutch back to 2010 specs, but with the benefit of stiffer clutch springs. If you are bucks-up, put Hinson on your speed dial and order a six-spring clutch.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Clutch. This is barely a clutch. It has the life span of a Gypsy moth.
(2) Footpegs. These are barely footpegs.
(3) Oil window. We love oil windows. We hate dipsticks.
(4) Gearing. We don’t think the low-to-mid powerband is in sync with the gearbox ratios.
(5) Brakes. Lose the disc guards front and rear. They don’t help the brakes fight off fade from over- heating.
(6) Fork springs. Soft forks don’t just affect the suspension; they ruin the handling.
Linkage: It’s all-new, but not all better.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Sound. Honda went from a decibel scale offender to a very pleasant-sounding machine.
(2) Weight. Our CRF450 weighed 10 pounds less than any bike in the class. And test riders who jumped off of one brand and onto the CRF450 said that the lighter weight was very apparent on the track.
(3) Kayaba shock. We like the 2011 shock, but we wish Honda had used the money they spent on the new shock linkage to buy aftermarket links?because they work better.
(4) Pick-up points. Honda uses a double-walled rear fender in the spot where your hand has to go to pick up the bike. This is a pleasant surprise when compared to the ragged edges of some bikes.
(5) HPSD. It’s bigger and, unfortunately, it is necessary. It should be noted that it isn’t necessary on good-handling bikes.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: We are living in a struggling economy, and the motorcycle manufacturers have seen their bottom lines shrink. Historically, Honda has redesigned their frames every couple years. Their engineers have been very responsive to consumers’ complaints in the past. Unfortunately, the R&D budgets for motocross bikes aren’t what they used to be…and until they are, the CRF450 will stay exactly what it was.