Bullet train: MXA’s melding of Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki specialists produced a Honda CRF450 that is untouchable. You better be ready before you pull the trigger.
HISTORICALLY, FACTORY RIDERS MAKE BAD TEST RIDERS FOR ANYONE BUT THEMSELVES AND, UNFORTUNATELY FOR THE SALES DEPARTMENT, THEY DON’T PAY FOR THEIR BIKES.
Test riders with the knowledge and gumption to tell the factory test engineers the truth are hard to come by. Don’t think that you can find them on the race teams?no way. Fast motorcycle racers are fast in spite of themselves. In a sport without coaches, drills or biomechanical engineers, motocross racers rise to the topwarts and all. Historically, factory riders make bad test riders for anyone but themselves and, unfortunately for the sales department, they don’t pay for their bikes. Over the last 35 years, the number of authoritative, knowledgeable and intelligent test riders can be counted on one hand.
But, don’t think that test riders are born. No, great test riders are developed over time. They start out like any other rider, riding at their best possible rate of speed in hopes of making a bike work by flogging it. After a while, they begin to pick up a modicum of common sense, mixed with just enough techno-mumbo-jumbo to make themselves dangerous. As time passes, and the errors, mistakes and misjudgments mount up, a light bulb goes off. It’s almost an epiphany. Once a test rider learns to feel the machine, its reactions, its foibles and its charms, he puts together a playbook of what works and what doesn’t. Only then has he arrived. This takes years.
BUT THE MXA WRECKING CREW WONDERED, IN ONE OF THOSE DREAM SEQUENCES THAT STARTS WITH WAVY LINES ON THE TV SCREEN, WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO TASK YAMAHA’S CHIEF TEST RIDER WITH BUILDING A HOT ROD HONDA.
To our way of thinking, the greatest factory test rider in modern motocross is Doug Dubach. He wasn’t always brilliantthe proof is evident in the clinkers that Yamaha built before he had enough experience to “just say no”but he learned, not just test protocol at the knee of Field Marshal (and test engineer) Ed Scheidler, but also the need to speak up before something foul goes into production.
Dubach’s contributions to Yamaha, from his time as Damon Bradshaw’s teammate to endless hours in the saddle of prototypes, have been evident in their products. But the MXA wrecking crew wondered, in one of those dream sequences that starts with wavy lines on the TV screen, what it would be like to task Yamaha’s chief test rider with building a hot rod Honda.
HOW SWEET! NOW WE HAD KAWASAKI’S SUSPENSION ENGINEER, YAMAHA’S TEST RIDER AND SUZUKI’S ENGINE BUILDER ON THE JOB.
“Blasphemy,” you say. But don’t you really want to know what a loyal member of the blue crew could do with the red rocket? First and foremost, we want to assure you that there is no conflict of interest going on here. Although Dubach works for Yamaha, he also owns his own hop-up companyDR.D (Dubach Racing & Development). His loyalty to Yamaha is unquestioned, but he is also dedicated to giving his CRF customers the best possible product. Thus, our mix-and-match marriage was kosher.
SINCE THE POWER KEEPS BUILDING, IT TAKES A CHANGE IN MINDSET TO ACCEPT THAT MORE PONIES EVERYWHERE JUST REQUIRES THE RIDER TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE.
DR.D suggested that we have Satoshi Momma of Bakuhatsu do the cylinder work on our CRF450. We loved the idea. Why? Because Satoshi is the man behind Team Suzuki’s works four-stroke engines and, like Dubach’s connection to Yamaha, Satoshi’s main employer is Yoshimura. How cool is that? We got Yamaha’s test rider and Suzuki’s engine builder to work on our Honda CRF450.
House call: Not known for his flash, Doug Dubach pulled out the stops on MXA’s Honda CRF450. It’s a cream puff.
Not satisfied, we decided to have Ross Maeda at Enzo fine tune our Honda’s Showa suspension. Why? Ross is a Kayaba specialist who spent two decades working on works Kayaba components on the National circuit. He was KYB’s go-to man. Today, he is James Stewart’s suspension consultant at Kawasaki. How sweet! Now we had Kawasaki’s suspension engineer, Yamaha’s test rider and Suzuki’s engine builder on the job.
Stupendous. That’s the best word to describe the power that churns out of this hopped-up CRF450. And we mean stupendous in the best possible way. The head work and exhaust system turn the typically mild CRF450 engine into a torque monster. Roll-on power is immediate, blessed with the type of hit that Intermediate-and-up racers expect. Maybe it is a little too aggressive for neophytes off the bottom, but since the power keeps building through the middle and into the top, it really just takes a change in mindset to accept that more ponies everywhere just requires the rider to step up to the plate. For the MXA test riders who didn’t want to step up, we simply geared the DR.D CRF450 down one tooth on the rear, which allowed the nervous to short-shift every gear and ride on the torque curve with less rush. In fact, the lower gearing became the favorite of faster riders too, because they carried enough speed into the turns to blast out of them in third instead of second. All good stuff.
THE LIST OF PROS RUNNING ENZO SETTINGS IS IMPRESSIVE, BUT THE DOWNSIDE OF ENZO’S SUCCESS WITH THE HYPER FAST IS THAT HIS SETTINGS TEND TO BE WAY TOO STIFF FOR MORTAL MAN.
The Bakuhatsu/DR.D pairing was a good marriage. We have always had good luck with DR.D’s stainless steel CRF450 exhaust system (we think it’s one of the best CRF systems made), but Satoshi Momma’s head work really iced the cake. The porting made the engine come alivealmost turbocharged it through the midrangeand turned our CRF450 into an AMA-National-quality power package.
All of Doug’s and Toshi’s hard work would go for naught without good suspension. In the past, the MXA wrecking crew has had good and bad luck with Enzo suspension work. Enzo has a solid rep with National Pros for developing valving specs that keep the suspension high in the stroke, while being stiff enough for high-speed work. The list of AMA Pros running Enzo settings is impressive, but the downside of Enzo’s success with the hyper fast is that his settings tend to be way too stiff for mortal man.
The MXA wrecking crew has sent Enzo forks back to have them softened on more than one occasion. At our first CRF test session, with an AMA Pro and Vet Intermediate sharing the saddle time, both riders complained that the forks rode too high in the stroke and felt harsh under compression. We were shocked that the two disparate skill levels had the same complaints. We expected the Vet to whine, but not the Pro.
Hammering through the bumps was where the Enzo settings worked best, but in off-throttle situations and during direction changes, the suspension wreaked havoc on the CRF’s handling. It was loose at turn-in, and the shock had a distinctly dead feel under acceleration. We weren’t happy campers.
AS WE CYCLED A WIDE VARIETY OF TEST RIDERS THROUGH THE TEST SESSIONS, WE CONCLUDED THAT OUR BEST BET WAS TO SEND THE FORK AND SHOCK BACK FOR SOFTER SETTINGS.
We went back to the drawing boards with the clickers. The rapid spinning of screwdrivers and spring preload rings was sonic. In the end, we found numbers that were adequate for the pro, but too stiff for the Vet. As we cycled a wide variety of test riders through the test sessions and races, we concluded that our best bet, just as in the past, was to send the fork and shock back to Enzo for softer settings. We did this, and all the gnawing and gnashing came to an end.
What about the rest of the racing package? How did we like all the bolt-on aftermarket accouterments? Here’s is the list:
(1) Lightspeed: We love their 57mm-wide titanium footpegs. They are big and meaty. The Ti versions cost $200, but Lightspeed makes the identical pegs from stainless for half the price. Lightspeed’s carbon fiber parts added to the works-bike lookif you have a flashy bent.
(2) Applied: Applied CNC-machined triple clamps added extra tuneability to the bar positioning and allowed us to mount Tag Metals T2 oversize handlebars. Our only quibble with the Applied parts was that the Applied clutch lever felt too square to our sensitive finger tips.
(3) TCR: On looks alone, the TCR wheelsets are masterpieces. Although the hubs look like high-dollar exotica, they are, in fact, reworked stock Honda hubs. TCR turns the hubs down on a lathe to remove the stock casting ribs and to lighten the overall weight. They anodize and polish the hubs and relace everything. Great looking wheels.
IF YOU PLAN ON PRODUCING SERIOUS HORSEPOWER, WHICH IS WHAT DR.D AND BAKUHATSU DID TO OUR CRF450, YOU NEED A HINSON CLUTCH TO HANDLE IT
(4) Hinson: If you plan on producing serious horsepower, which is what DR.D and Bakuhatsu did to our CRF450, you need a Hinson clutch to handle it. There isn’t a major player on the National circuit who isn’t running Hinson components. We went whole hog with the basket, inner hub, pressure plate and outer cover.
(5) SDG: We thought we wanted firmer seat foam. Every test rider thought that the stock Honda seat foam broke down too quickly, but every time we put the firmer SDG seat and cover on our bike they complained that it was too hard. In truth, if any test rider had put the time in to break-in the SDG saddle, it would have settled in somewhere between. Test riders are often lazy.
(6) Tekbolt: True works bikes use titanium bolts. When you question team managers about the cost effectiveness of saving ounces by spending thousands, they always say that factory riders expect titanium bolts, so they give them to them. Our project bike used a complete replacement bolt set from Tekbolt.
(7) Galfer: The easiest way to go fast is to stop fast. Going in deep means that you have to trust your brakes. We opted for Galfer brake pads and Wave rotors.
WHAT WAS THE BEST PART? THIS WASN’T THE SAME-OLD, SAME-OLD TO THEM. IT WAS A FRESH CHALLENGEONE THAT THEY RELISHED.
What was the best part of having a Yamaha test rider, Suzuki engine builder and Kayaba suspension tuner design the ultimate Honda CRF450? There was no tired thinking involved. Every man involved in the Honda project brought a completely different set of priorities to the bike. This wasn’t the same-old, same-old to them. It was a fresh challengeone that they relished.
As for the conflicts of interestthe only conflicts the MXA test riders had was who was going to get to race it on the weekend.
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