What would you do if you had $25,000 burning a hole in your pocket? A prudent investor would likely put it into a retirement account to accrue interest over the long haul. A 20-something could pay down college debt or use the funds as a down payment on a house. Charlie Sheen would recklessly blow it all on an idle Tuesday night. As for a dyed-in-the-wool motocross racer? Surely he would drive to his local motorcycle dealership, buy a shiny new bike, and spend the rest on aftermarket modifications. After all, isn’t that the motocross dream?
Motocross racers are many things, but we aren’t known for frugality. We’re a passionate group, as quick to buy the latest and greatest trinkets as we are to purchase a new truck for “racing purposes.” To really drive that point home, it takes the same amount of money to buy a soccer ball as it does to get through the gate at your local track. Playing soccer requires nothing more than an open field and a ball. Motocross requires an open field and—oh, you get it. It’s expensive.
BUILDING FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER
MXA is often torn between splendor and simplicity. We always keep an eye toward our readership, but sometimes the line blurs between our interests and what might intrigue you. And so it goes with our project 2015 Honda CRF450, which started out as a basic hop-up. The goal was to kick out the jams on a bike with a solid foundation but desperately in need of more power. Producing a meager 53 horsepower off the showroom floor, Honda’s platform is devoid of the thing that racers yearn for—ponies. It would have been easy to drop a big-bore kit into our CRF450 and call it a day, but we were fearful of creating a modest, Vet-friendly powerplant. Instead, we wanted a bike that would captivate young and old, fast and slow.
As any engine builder knows, it takes cubic dollars to increase cubic displacement. Using that philosophy, we blew through our initial budget of $2500. When the coffers ran low, we thought about taking out a second mortgage on MXA’s palatial towers, but, fortunately, Supertech Performance came to our rescue. A manufacturer of valves and valve-train components, Supertech liked our vision of making a fire-breathing CRF450. With Supertech’s one-piece titanium valves, which feature a chrome-nitride coating for maximum reliability and performance, we were back in the shop spinning wrenches. Enter Luc “Frenchie” Caouette of C4MX. Luc pulled out all the stops, using his Level 3 modifications. They included a high-compression piston, head gasket, camshaft valve springs, head porting, valve seat job (on the stock head), Vortex ignition and Moto Tassinari Air4orce with a longer cone for greater torque. The cost? $4500. The result? Frenchie was able to surpass the fabled 66-horsepower mark. That’s like stumbling across a unicorn and Nessie the Loch Ness monster playing euchre against a leprechaun and Babe the Blue Ox. Our CRF450 grew into a mythical beast of epic proportions. A dream became reality.
IF IT DON’T GO, ANODIZE IT
It wasn’t enough to summit the 66-horsepower mountain. We were just getting started. Power is important, but we wanted the bike to be a show-stopper. There was nothing visually distinguishing our fully modified 66-horse engine from the stocker, so we took a page out of Chad Reed’s play book and had the CRF450 frame and swingarm anodized black.
Anodizing is a process that uses heat, electricity and chemicals to bond material to a nonferrous (meaning not containing iron) metal for a decorative, durable and corrosion-resistant finish. An aluminum frame and swingarm are the perfect canvases for anodizing, although much care must be taken to prepare the parts for anodizing. Our CRF450 chassis took an entire day to get ready. Anything steel, such as the steering-stem races, frame plugs and swingarm bearings, had to be removed (or else it would melt from the acid solution). It wasn’t necessary to polish the frame to a mirror-like finish before anodizing, because we didn’t want the black coloration to have a high luster. Instead, we kept the frame rough for a flat-black look.
The frame and swingarm went through three treatment cycles of stage-three hard anodizing to achieve the desired result. The cost? $600. Note that it’s entirely possible to get a full racing season out of an anodized frame before it shows signs of serious wear, depending on track conditions and how good you are at avoiding roost. Chad Reed goes through four anodized race frames per year (two in Supercross and two in the Nationals). The weight increase from anodizing is very minimal—under a pound with the frame and swingarm—far less than having a frame powder-coated, which adds 5 pounds.
Undoubtedly by this point you’re thinking about having your own frame anodized. Fight the urge. Don’t do it! Why? As a process, anodizing is easy enough, but getting a frame prepared to undergo the anodizing process is labor-intensive and extremely difficult for the average mechanic to do properly. Removing the steel plug inserts from the frame cradle is mandatory or the frame can be ruined. We suggest you wipe the idea of anodizing your frame out of your mind, because it’s not worth it. If that doesn’t scare you, then maybe this will: Chad Reed’s team initially ruined several frames through trial and error.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
After pumping up the engine and anodizing the frame, we were into our CRF450 for $6538—without touching the suspension, clutch, exhaust or any hard parts. If you’re taking note, that’s $4038 over budget. No big deal. We’ve never had a project bike come in under budget. At this point, we could have left well-enough alone, but we didn’t. We had gone full Jack Nicholson already, and we’d go “red rum” if we couldn’t pull all the pieces together.
Listing every item on our project CRF450 would take several pages. We will spare you most of the details. Still, there are certain components that need to be highlighted so that you have an understanding of the lengths that we went to.
(1) MB1 Suspension. Mike Battista at MB1 changed the valving in the Kayaba Pneumatic Spring Fork (PSF) and shock for a smoother ride that would hold up better throughout the stroke. At $200 for the fork re-valve and another $200 for the shock, this was one of the cheaper modifications made to our bike.
(2) Dubya wheelset. Outfitted with Kite hubs, D.I.D. DirtStar wheels and Bulldog spokes, the Dubya wheelsets ensured that we wouldn’t suffer from a bent rim or cracked hub. That insurance cost $670 for the front wheel and $770 for the rear. While the front wheel was off the bike, we slapped on a flying-saucer-sized Brembo brake rotor ($369.99).
(3) Hinson clutch. The stock 2015 CRF450 clutch assembly underperforms, leading to slipping and power loss. We trashed the stocker and installed a Hinson complete billet-proof six-spring clutch. The $1154.99 price tag was steep, but we no longer had to worry about clutch fade midway through a moto.
(4) X-Trig clamps. X-Trig’s ROCS (Revolutionary Opposing Clamp System) triple clamp integrates opposing clamp pinch-bolt locations. This layout is intended to create better fork responsiveness, stronger clamping pressure and decreased clamp weight. At $899.99, the X-Trig ROCS is less expensive than the NK SFS air-suspended triple clamp that it competes with for the triple-clamp championship.
SUCCESS IS MEASURED IN MOVING DIRT
Ready for the maiden voyage, we were eager to experience the fruits of our CRF450 labor. It didn’t take long to realize that we succeeded in many measures—power, suspension, comfort, durability—but over-strategized in one noticeable area. Our gearing combination was wrong. Really wrong! The blunder was caused by underestimating what 66 horsepower would feel like on a racetrack. We thought we could handle it. We couldn’t. We removed the 13/51 gearing we had installed with overconfidence and reinstalled the stock 13/49 ratio. We instantly fell in love.
What is it like to ride a 66-horsepower Honda CRF450? The C4MX-tuned engine with Supertech titanium one-piece valves was a rocket. Not since the 2008 CRF450 have we had this much respect for a Honda CRF450. In the years since Honda changed its 450cc program, our test riders have treated the mellow-beyond-belief CRF450 with disdain. However, pumping an extra 13 ponies into the CRF450 engine was so impressive that our Novice and Vet test riders thought it was scary fast. MXA’s Pro test riders were in hog heaven. They had the skill set to magnify the breadth of the powerband without being blown off the back of the saddle. The Pro testers reveled in the MB1-tuned suspension, which was progressive and decent at bottoming resistance. All riders raved about the creature comforts, such as the Renthal handlebars, Hinson clutch, Works Connection clutch perch, Brembo oversized front brake and Dubya wheels.
Our project 2015 Honda CRF450 was revealing for several reasons.
(1) We finally realized that we could build a bike more than capable of running with the factory boys in the AMA Nationals.
(2) We finally realized that we could build a bike too powerful for anyone but a rider capable of racing an AMA National.
(3) We finally realized that no matter how cool an anodized frame looks, we don’t ever want to be the ones doing the frame prep.
(4) We finally realized that we don’t know how to quit while we’re ahead. We spend money like we are congressmen building a hydroelectric project in our home state. After spending over $6500 on the engine and anodizing, we blew another $8100 on aftermarket parts.
(5) We finally realized that we have a horsepower addiction, and that if it takes money to feed it, we’re gonna spend it. For this project bike, we took compulsive spending to a new level, but at least we were rewarded for our addiction. The 66-horsepower Honda CRF450 worked well, looked exceptional and helped stimulate the economy. You’re welcome!
HONDA CRF450 CONTACT LIST
Supertech: (408) 448-2001 or www.supertechperformance.com.
C4MX: www.c4mx.com or (661) 998-6727.
Works Connection: (530) 642-9488 or www.worksconnection.com.
FMF Racing: www.fmfracing.com or (310) 631-4363.
Light Speed: (714) 990-5767 or www.lightspeedcarbon.com.
Hammerhead: www.hdmoto.com or (866) 436-6869.
Dubya: www.dubyausa.com or (714) 279-0200.
DT1: www.dt1filters.com or your local dealer.
X-Trig: www.technicaltouchusa.com or (909) 949-4155.
Hinson Racing: (909) 946-2942 or www.hinsonracing.com.
Boyesen: www.boyesen.com or (800) 441-1177.
Renthal: www.renthal.com or (877) 736-8425.
REC MX: www.rec-mx.com.
CV4: www.cvproducts.com or (800) 874-1223.
Cycra Racing: (800) 770-2259 or www.cycraracing.com.
MB1 Suspension: (951) 371-5045 or www.mb1suspension.com.
Dunlop: www.dunlopmotorcycle.com or your local dealer.
Fusion Graphix: www.fusiongraphix.com or (360) 528-2089.