WE RIDE KEVIN FOLEY’S LORETTA LYNN’S CHAMPIONSHIP HONDA CRF450

December 23, 2013
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Kevin Foley is one of those extraordinary riders who flies under the radar. He hides between the berms, so to speak. It wasn’t always that way. Foley, the 1985 AMA 500 Rookie of the Year recipient, had a promising future in the mid-1980s. He scored several top-10 finishes in the 250 and 500 Nationals, but his professional career lasted less than three years.


This might seem hard to believe, but Kevin Foley only rode his 2013 Honda CRF450 twice before lining up behind the gate at Loretta Lynn’s. He proceeded to win his 10th Loretta’s title. After that, the bike went straight to us for testing.

You’re probably expecting a cautionary tale about the travails of life in the Pro ranks. Kevin Foley’s story was different. His father, a college graduate, allowed his son to chase his dream of making a living racing motorcycles. Kevin was given two years to earn a ride. It didn’t pan out. Once his time was up, Foley continued on in higher education and earned a degree. Eventually he landed a job in the motorcycle industry, where results behind the desk?not around a track?mattered most.


Kevin Foley used MXA’s CRF450 suspension settings to win Loretta Lynn’s. The only difference is that Foley opted for a stiffer balance spring to keep the forks up in their stroke. Not surprisingly, we would have liked a softer balance spring.

Foley’s desire to compete didn’t wane when he decided to call it quits on his professional career. He continued to line up to the gate where the stakes were much lower, at least for 51 weeks out of the year. Smack dab in the middle of summer, the annual Loretta Lynn’s AMA Amateur National Championship is held in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. It is the most sought-after race on the calendar and attracts the best and brightest Amateurs. Loretta’s is the place where greats, such as Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Eli Tomac, cut their teeth.


What’s most unique about Foley’s CRF450 powerplant is that it is completely stock. He was looking for a bike that was lightweight, cornered well and had a smooth powerband. Those traits perfectly describe the 2013 Honda CRF450.

At one point, Kevin Foley was on the short list of top Amateur sensations. He won the 250 A and Open A classes in 1983. Although his professional racing career didn’t pan out, Foley continued racing Loretta Lynn’s. In the process, he stacked up 10 titles over a span of 30 years, the last of which came this summer in the Masters 50+ class. Only Kevin Walker (14), James Stewart (11), Mike Alessi (11) and Adam Cianciarulo (11) have more titles than Foley. That’s rare company.


Just like the MXA wrecking crew, Foley found the stock 48 rear sprocket to be too tall for his tastes. He stuck with the stock drivetrain until Loretta’s, where he bought a 50-tooth rear in Tennessee. The MXA test crew prefers a 49.

Shortly after the grueling race concluded and the champagne hadn’t yet dried, we received a phone call from Pro Circuit’s resident suspension guru Bones Bacon. He had Kevin Foley’s 2013 Honda CRF450 in his possession and wondered if we had any interest in putting it through the MXA wringer. We blindly obliged to the arrangement, having very little knowledge about the bike before picking it up at the Pro Circuit race shop. 


Pro Circuit’s suspension tech, Bones Bacon, has been Foley’s go-to guy for years. Bones knows what Kevin likes in a shock: resistance to bottoming and fluid action. We loved the shock’s performance, as we could pound through anything.

We should be up front in professing that Kevin Foley’s Honda CRF450 is not extravagant. It has not been overbuilt in any of the conventional ways that most Vets without a mortgage payment tend to do. Nope. We immediately discovered that Foley is as calculated in his bike build as he is on the track. He opted out of blindly throwing money at his race steed, instead zeroing in on any problems and making changes using a modest amount of lucre.


There’s proof in the pudding that Foley’s CRF450 didn’t need many modifications in order to be competitive. The combination of tuned suspension, an exhaust system and different gearing solved many of the Honda’s bugaboos.

It doesn’t take an eagle eye to realize that Foley’s Honda CRF450 is the equivalent of a Pro Circuit catalog bike. Every part on Kevin’s steed is available through Pro Circuit?from the link arm to the suspension modifications, dual exhaust, clutch springs, throttle tube and graphics. Even the Renthal drivetrain and grips are available through Mitch Payton’s shop.


Truth be told, Kevin Foley dropped his bike off at Pro Circuit and said, “Make my CRF450 better, but don’t send me to the poor house.”?The titanium dual pipes are the most extravagant item on Kevin’s bike.

Were we disheartened with the lack of gizmos and gadgets on Foley’s CRF450? Quite the contrary. It was a breath of fresh air to see a top Amateur racer’s bike built with a modest mindset. Given Foley’s speed, even at the ripe age of 50, along with his bike setup, we’d wager that there are more Loretta’s titles in his future.


Don’t be fooled by that clutch cover. Kevin used the stock clutch, albeit with stiffer Pro Circuit clutch springs. The clutch pull was rather difficult, but it got the job done. Kevin, like most fast racers, doesn’t abuse the clutch.

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