INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: HONDA CRF450 PROJECT LEADER YUSUKE INOUE

Inoue (far left) was on hand at Charlotte to congratulate Tim Gajser on his 2016 450 World Championship. Photo by Honda Pro Racing/Bavo.

Meet Yusuke Inoue, the man behind the 2017 Honda CRF450RW race bike that Evgeny Bobryshev lined up on at the USGP of the Americas in Charlotte. Yusuke is based in Kumamoto, Japan, although he travels the globe to oversee all of HRC Honda’s motocross ventures. It’s rare getting face time with a large project manager and mastermind behind bike development. Fortunately for me, the effects of Hurricane Hermine resulted in the qualifying race being cancelled, which gave me the perfect opportunity to sit down with Mr. Inoue. Find out more about the 2017 Honda CRF450, including how Yusuke received the green light from Honda to use a titanium fuel tank on the production model.

By John Basher

Honda debuted the 2017 CRF450RW factory race bike at Charlotte. 

Yusukie, how long have you been working at Honda?
I have been working at Honda for 13 years. My background is in chassis design. I design the frame, body, seat, plastics, handles, brake pedals and things like that. I designed the base package for this bike [2017 production CRF450], and now I am the large project leader of the factory bikes. I was the production bike designer, and now I’m large project leader for the factory bikes.

How long have you been working on the 2017 Honda CRF450?
[Laughter] It’s a secret. Sorry, but I cannot say. We are testing this bike one year ago with BoBby [Evgeny Bobryshev] and Gautier [Paulin]. Then we used this bike in Japanese motocross. Akira Narita used this bike.

“JAPAN MOTOCROSS IS VERY SHORT WITH TIGHT CORNERS. WORLD MOTOCROSS HAS HIGH SPEED SECTIONS. AKIRA NARITA HAS ALWAYS TESTED GRAND PRIX MOTOCROSS SPEC BIKES. ALWAYS. SO THAT’S WHY BOBY CAN EASILY CHANGE TO THE NEW BIKE DURING THE SEASON.”

Evgeny Bobryshev finished 11-4 for sixth overall in the bike’s maiden race. 

Was it a difficult decision having Evgeny Bobryshev race the 2017 CRF450 at the USGP this past weekend in Charlotte?
It is very difficult to change a bike in the season. We are always testing before the season. If we have to change the new bike in the season, we have to make sure we have enough time to test the new bike. This past year we’ve been testing with Akira Narita in Japan, and he has been increasing the bike’s potential. His top job is to get the number one plate in the Japanese National Championships, but otherwise he tests the new bike. Japan motocross and Grand Prix motocross is very different. Japan motocross is very short with tight corners. World motocross has high-speed sections. Akira Narita has always tested Grand Prix motocross spec bikes. Always. So that’s why BoBby can easily change to the new bike during the season.

How long have you been working with Akira Narita?
Two years. I have been the large project leader for two years now.

Did you test with Bobryshev a lot during the long break in the Grand Prix series?
There was one test in Italy during the middle of the summer break.

While Honda is already racing the 2017 CRF450, U.S. media won’t ride the production bike until the middle of October. It will be quite some time before the 2017 CRF450 hits showroom floors, due to interrupted production caused by last year’s earthquake in Kumamoto.

What are you most proud of on the 2017 Honda CRF450?
The new bike’s concept is “Absolute Holeshot.” We increase the bike’s acceleration. It’s priority number one. We change to a new engine package, and we change the air duct. We change to a new exhaust. It’s a big improvement for engine power. We change the dimension package for much acceleration. It’s very nice. The whole engine package was changed for more acceleration.

Bobryshev’s bike uses the electric starting capability, and it’s also available on the 2017 production CRF450. That’s a big step for Honda.
Yes, it’s a great item. Someone says that it’s heavy to have an electric starter, but finally we have an electric starter in this bike. It’s important to have, because if our riders stall the bike or fall down, they can start the bike quickly. The same goes for our customers. Honda is always really focused on the CRF having good feeling and quick turning. With the electric starter, we can still have a lightweight CRF with good feeling. That’s important.

“THE BIG CHALLENGE WAS FINDING THE TITANIUM TANK’S COST LIMITATIONS FOR MASS PRODUCTION AND WORKING AROUND THAT. AT HONDA, AT FIRST EVERYONE THOUGHT THAT TITANIUM WAS TOO EXPENSIVE.”

The factory titanium tank underwent a heat process to create the bluish-purple coloring. The stock titanium tank will be gray. 

It’s interesting how Honda is using a titanium fuel tank on the 2017 CRF450. HRC Honda is also using a version of the tank, only it’s purple and blue after undergoing a heat-treatment process. That has to be one of the most attractive fuel tanks we’ve ever seen.
Thanks! Bobby’s tank is special for the factory bikes. I designed the base design of the titanium tank. The big challenge was finding the titanium tank’s cost limitations for mass production. At Honda, at first everyone thought that titanium was too expensive. We could do it for the factory bikes, but not the production model. I changed the design of the titanium tank. It’s a two-piece tank, with an upper half and lower half. Then it is welded together. That design didn’t make it too expensive, so we could use a titanium tank for the production model. The titanium tank is very nice.

Did the massive earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan, last year effect the HRC racing program?
Yes. In Kumamoto R&D we design the development of the mass production CRF450, and the factory CRF, too. Production stopped at the Kumamoto facility for a while. We had many terrible disasters over there, so the factory and R&D stopped for a long period of time. To be able to compete on the new bike with Bobby is very happy for us.

How often have you been to the U.S.?
This is my third time in America. I manage World motocross, AMA Supercross, AMA Nationals and Japan motocross. I develop all HRC bikes, so I have come over to the U.S. a few times. It’s a big job [laughter].

VIDEO: BOBBY & GAJSER ON THE 2017 CRF450

2017 honda crf450evgeny bobryshevfactory bikeinterviewinterview of the weekJOHN BASHER