HONDA CRF450 WORKS EDITION VS. THE STOCK HONDA CRF450

There is a market for special editions of standard-issue motocross models. KTM proved that back in 2012 with the first KTM 450SXF “Ryan Dungey Replica,” originally planned as a one-time project to beat the AMA homologation rules that required 400 bikes to be sold to the public before Ryan could race it in the AMA Supercross series. KTM wasn’t motivated by the profit to be made selling 400 of next year’s bike early. They went to the expense and trouble so that Ryan Dungey, who was jumping ship from Team Suzuki to Team KTM, could have an AMA-legal, fuel-injected bike for the start of the 2013 AMA Supercross series.

A stock Honda CRF450.

A strange thing happened on the way to building Ryan Dungey his special works bike; it sold like hot cakes. And, KTM’s sales department was enthralled with the idea of selling 400 bikes at an exaggerated price in the middle of winter. So, even though the 2012 Factory Edition was originally conceived as a one-year experiment, the KTM sales team cajoled the factory into building Factory Edition bikes again for the next year‚ and the next year and the next year. The one-year experiment is now in its 10th year.

The Japanese brands sat on the sidelines while KTM factory riders raced “works bikes” under the guise of production bikes. That didn’t ruffle Honda’s feathers, but the fact that KTM was selling “Factory Editions” like hot cakes and drawing customers into their dealerships in the middle of winter intrigued Honda’s marketing department. So, in 2019 Honda introduced the CRF450 Works Edition; however, Honda wasn’t willing to fire up the production line in November to get next year’s race bike into the hands of 400 consumers six months early. Instead, the Works Edition comes out in conjunction with the production bike. The price in 2019 was $11,499. In 2020 it grew to $11,999, and for 2021 it is $12,399. It is the most expensive motocross bike on the market.

The Honda Works Edition.

Q: WHAT DO YOU GET FOR THE EXTRA $2800 ON THE HONDA WORKS EDITION?

A: The 2021 Honda CRF450 sells for $9599, while the CRF450 Works Edition (CRF450RWE) is $12,399. The price difference is $2800. Suffice it to say that not every Works Edition add-on is a performance enhancer, but the total cost to buy all the add-ons on the open market would be $4666. No matter how you slice it, the 2021 Honda CRF450RWE is a good buy for a rider looking for an exotic one-and-done race bike, but not so much for a do-it-yourselfer who wants to handpick his own rims, engine build, exhaust system, seat cover, clutch, graphics, chain or clutch cover.

Here are the aftermarket parts on the 2021 Honda CRF450 Works Edition and a quick review of their added value.

(1) Hinson clutch basket ($299): This is not a complete Hinson clutch, just a Hinson clutch basket sans the pressure plate, inner hub and clutch plates.

(2) Hinson clutch cover ($199): The Hinson clutch cover increases the oil capacity of the crankcase.

(3) Yoshimura complete titanium exhaust system ($1200): If you prefer FMF, DR.D, Akrapovic, HGS or Pro Circuit, this isn’t a plus. 

(4) Ported/polished cylinder head ($550): This is not a full-on port job with significant dimension changes, but it is special enough for them to engrave it on the head.

(5) Ti-nitride-coated lower fork tubes ($700): You could send your stock fork legs out to have them DLC or titanium-nitride coated.

(6) Ti-Nitride-coated 18mm shock shaft ($800): The 18mm shock shaft is a plus on the Showa shock. 

(7) Twin Air filter ($33): The stock air filter is good, but the Twin Air is better.

(8) Throttle Jockey seat cover ($100): This is a very grippy seat cover with plastic ripples under the pleats. Great if you like an iron jaw grabbing your pants but painful if you don’t.

(9) HRC graphics ($260): Throttle Jockey sells HRC team graphics and Works Edition number plates. 

(10) Red valve cover ($10): You can achieve the same thing with a can of red VHT high-temperature engine enamel.

(11) D.I.D Dirt Star LT-X rims ($350): Most wheel builders don’t build wheels with the LT-X rims, preferring either ST-X or A-60.

(12) Gold RK chain ($140): A very good chain.

(13) Black anodized triple clamps: They are the stock CRF450 triple clamps painted black.

(14) Renthal Kevlar grips ($25): Grips are very personal items.

With the exception of the titanium-nitride coated forks and 18mm shock shaft, the Works Edition suspension works about the same as the stock suspension (above).

Q: IS THE 2021 WORKS EDITION COMPARABLE TO THE 2021-1/2 KTM AND HUSQVARNA FACTORY EDITIONS?

A: Yes and no. On the years when KTM and Husky are planning significant upgrades (engine, transmission, suspension, frame) to next year’s model, buying a Factory Edition gets you next year’s bike six months before it appears in the showrooms. Not so much with the Honda CRF450 Works Edition. The Honda Works Edition does not come out early. It actually comes out later than the 2021 production bike. We know that the 2022 Honda will come with re-valved suspension and new mapping. If we assume that the dealer-offered ECU for the 2021 CRF450 and CRF450RWE is the same map that will be on the 2022 CRF450, then nothing on the CRF450RWE is a prelude to 2022. The Works Edition, Rockstar Edition and Factory Edition are offered as replicas of what the race team runs, but don’t be deluded into thinking that they come with the factory race team’s engine, black boxes, forks, valves, wheels, shock, brakes, crank, piston or transmission.  

The CRF450 Works Edition engine has a red valve cover, Hinson clutch basket, Hinson cover, Yoshimura exhaust and the valve seats are matched to the cylinder.

Q: WHAT IS THE STORY OF THE CRF450 MAPPING?

A: When the 2021 Honda CRF450 was introduced, it had some weird mapping glitches. Depending on the rider’s style, it could flame out when chopping the throttle. It could run ragged at low rpm, or it could stutter at roll-on and stumble on corner exit. It didn’t affect every rider, because riders who clutched the bike out of corners, carried more speed and were more adept at rolling through corners rarely suffered from the CRF450’s ECU stutter.

Some MXA test riders had issues with the mapping and some didn’t, but either way, when we started testing the bike back in the fall of 2020, we fully expected Honda to call us about meeting them at the track so they could remap our 2021 CRF450. We assumed that Honda would order its dealers to remap every 2021 CRF450 before it left the showroom floor and recall all the CRF450s that were in the first batch of bikes in the country. But, they didn’t call us with the news. Eventually, we gave our bike to Twisted Development’s Jamie Ellis so he could remap it for us. Finally, four months later, they called to meet us at the track to remap our CRF450. And the new map, which your friendly local dealer will install free of charge, is an improvement; it doesn’t just fix the glitch, it enhances overall performance.

But, there was still a surprise waiting for us. When we started testing our 2021 Honda CRF450 Works Edition, which we expected to have a new map, it ran much worse than our 2021 CRF450 before Honda remapped it. It was unsatisfactory. It turns out that Honda did not remap the late-arriving CRF450RWEs to make them glitch-proof. We had Honda “reflash” our Works Edition black box with the updated map. That fixed the problem, but two trucks down from us (on the day we met Honda) was a local rider who had bought a CRF450 Works Edition. He said it was unrideable and had taken his new CRF450RWE to Twisted Development and paid to have them remap it for him. He had never been informed that his dealer would have remapped it for free.

After the reflash, every MXA test rider chose to race the new 2021 Honda CRF450 Works Edition in map one. 

Q: WHICH ONE IS FASTER, THE PRODUCTION CRF450 OR THE WORKS EDITION? 

A: You would think that with the complete Yoshimura exhaust and hand-massaged valve seats that the CRF450RWE “Works Edition” would be more powerful than the stock 2021 Honda CRF450. Not true, but also not false. The 60.03-horsepower CRF450RWE peaks at 9700 rpm and is 1.8 horsepower better than the 58.15 horsepower of the stock CRF450, which peaks at 9500 rpm; however, from 6300 rpm to 8100 rpm, the stock CRF450 makes from one to two horses more than the Works Edition. In short, the stock CRF450 is better from idle all the way to 8100 rpm, and the CRF450 Works Edition is better from 8100 rpm to sign off. This is most noticeable after peak, where the Works Edition gaps the base CRF450 by 3.2 horsepower at 10,000 rpm (at this point on the curve, both the CRF450 and CRF450RWE are both falling off of peak, but the stock CRF curve flattens out noticeably more after its 9500 rpm peak).

The intake and exhaust ports are touched up to smooth out the transition at the valve seats. but the head is neither ported nor polished as Honda claimed.

To tell the truth, we expected a bigger power advantage for an engine with head work and a $1200 titanium Yoshimura pipe, so we switched to a Pro Circuit pipe and saw a 3-horsepower increase from 6700 rpm all the way to 9400 rpm (and a 1.5-horsepower increase at 9700 rpm peak.) The Pro Circuit pipe (on the same bike and on the same dyno) made 61.5 horsepower to the Yoshimura’s 60.03.

But, while the raw power favors the stock CRF450RWE, the CRF450 has some charms in the low-to-mid transition. One added horsepower from low to mid may not seem like much, but it effectively fills in the low-to-mid transition to smooth out the powerband. It lessens the hit of the stock CRF450 powerband and makes the complete curve feel better all the way up to 9500 rpm. Every MXA test rider could feel the improved low-end power. They would remark on it after the first ride and continue to refer to it every race after that. They never used the word “faster,” but they did note that the added power from 6300 to 8100 rpm made the bike easier in tricky, difficult and slow-go situations.

On the track, the CRF450 Works Edition’s top-end advantage was very noticeable. Every MXA test rider thought the CRF450 made a big difference in how effectively the power could be put to the ground when compared to the stock CRF450 engine package. The stock CRF450 engine, even though it has been broadened and mellowed out over the 2020 model, was at its best from idle to the high-mid but didn’t have the breadth or smoothness of the CRF450RWE powerplant. If our goal was to get  out of the gate first, we’d prefer the 2021 production CRF450 powerband, but once we got the engine wound up, the Works Edition powerband was more usable. Every MXA test rider preferred to race the “Works Edition” engine for the varied conditions of a rough outdoor track.

The stock Honda CRF450 engine is stronger off the bottom to 8100 rpm, above 8100 rpm the Works Edition is 1.8 horsepower better at its 9700 peak.

Q:  ARE THE WORKS EDITION FORKS BETTER THAN THE STOCK FORKS?

A: For all practical purposes, there is no mechanical difference between the 2021 production CRF450 forks and the 2021 CRF450 Works Edition forks. The damping, springs, valving, shims, oil height and component dimensions are identical. But, there is one, and only one, significant difference between the production fork and the Works Edition fork—the titanium-nitride coating on the CRF450RWE fork legs. The special coatings on the WE forks provide a major reduction in stiction. Small bumps that had trouble registering on the stock CRF450 forks because of damping resistance were easily handled by the CRF450RWE forks. The reduction in stiction made them more responsive to undulating ground. The front wheel tracked more accurately and, with less stiction, the Works Edition forks felt softer, quicker and more fluid. They wanted to move, and that made them more responsive to undulating terrain.  

The titanium-nitride coating is a real-world improvement, and even though the 49mm Showa coil spring fork is less than stellar (titanium-nitride coating notwithstanding), the CRF450RWE forks are better, but worse at the same time. How so? There is an almost total lack of mid-stroke compression damping on the stock Honda fork, which means that the forks move too quickly on the downstroke, overpowering the 5.0 N/mm fork springs. Big bumps, jump landings or hard braking will cause the forks to blow through their mid-stroke rapidly. We went in on the compression clicker, but if we went in too many clicks, we opened up a new can of worms.

The backyard fixes for most CRF450 riders are to go up on the spring rate (to increase the effective compression damping) or have the forks re-valved. As strange as it sounds, the benefit of the titanium-nitride coating, which is to reduce damping resistance, aggravates the CRF450 Works Edition fork’s lack of usable damping resistance. Oddly enough, the 2021 CRF450 Works Edition forks are technically better than the production CRF450 forks, but in the real world the forks are poorly set up to take advantage of the titanium-nitride coating.

The CRF450 Works Edition has a coated 18mm shock shaft, while the stock shaft is 16mm.

Q: IS THE WORKS EDITION SHOCK BETTER THAN THE PRODUCTION CRF450 SHOCK?

A: Yes. The stock 54 N/mm spring on both bikes is too soft for the average-size 450 rider. The 2021 CRF450 is very sensitive to fore/aft balance changes. We started with the low-speed compression at 12 clicks out and the rebound at seven clicks out. If the shock G’ed out in dips and on jump landings, we turned the high-speed compression dial in. The stock high-speed compression is two turns out. On the stock shock, we went to a heavier 56 N/mm spring and ran a little less low-speed compression and more rebound. Because of the oversize 18mm titanium-nitride-coated shock shaft on the CRF450RWE, the damping characteristics of the basic Showa rear shock were improved with better hold up and smoother action.

Q: WHICH HANDLES BETTER, THE PRODUCTION CRF450 OR THE WORKS EDITION?

A: For the 2021 model, Honda’s engineers made major frame improvements. They steepened the head angle, reduced lateral rigidity, lowered the dry weight by 5 pounds and got rid of the porcine twin pipes. Honda’s engineers were laser focused on getting the less-rigid 2021 frame to tip-in easier at corner entrance. They succeeded. The CRF450 can carve a tight inside line with Suzuki-like accuracy. This is the Honda chassis’ best trait and makes the stock 2021 CRF450 fun to ride. Most MXA test riders felt that the Works Edition performed better at turn-in than the production CRF450; but mostly because the titanium-nitride fork coating allowed the forks to dive quicker.

The more usable 2021 powerband also helped the CRF450 rider in situations where the Honda chassis is not at its best, most notably on fast, rough, nasty straights where the CRF450 (production or Works Edition) delivers a considerable amount of instability. The previous hard-hitting and high-revving CRF450 engine exerted more load on the chassis than the aluminum frame could process. The result was head shake and an out-of-balance feel that could be scary at speed. The Works Edition doesn’t erase the busyness at speed, but the decrease in rigidity, firmer shock feel and less abrupt power delivery calm it down.

The 2021 Honda CRF450 Works Edition cost $2800 more than the stock 2021 Honda CRF450. Is it worth the upcharge? Read on.

Q: IS THE 2021 HONDA CRF450 WORKS EDITION WORTH THE $2800 SURCHARGE?

A: The real question isn’t whether the limited-edition Honda CRF450RWE is worth the money, it is whether that is where you would have spent your money. What if you wanted Excel A60 rims? Xtrig triple clamps? Personalized graphics? A non-gripper seat cover? FMF exhaust? Pro Taper bars? Jamie Ellis mapping? ODI Emig grips? The 2021 Honda CRF450 Works Edition is a vanity bike for the one-stop shopper. Walk in to your Rolex dealer, Tesla showroom or Honda dealership, plunk down a wad of cash and walk out with a classic Submariner, status-symbol electric car or the Honda CRF450RWE. From a pure racer’s viewpoint, buying the stocker and making it your own, with a focus on what you want to achieve, is probably a more cost-effective approach to building the perfect race bike. But, you won’t get the psychological euphoria of having something status-backed.

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