This CRF450 has lived two lives, one as an MXA test bike, and another as an AMA National race bike.



A: I set out to race three different bikes at the first three AMA Nationals; it wasn’t easy, but it was interesting. I raced MXA’s 2023 Yamaha YZ450F at Pala, the 2023 GasGas MC450F Factory Edition at Hangtown, and the 2023 Honda CRF450 Works Edition at Thunder Valley. 

The YZ450F is all new and our 2023 MXA 450 shootout winner, so it deserved to start off the season at Pala. The 2023 GasGas Factory Edition is basically a red version of the new-generation KTM 450SXF, which placed second in our 450 shootout, I raced it at Hangtown because I felt more comfortable on that bike than on the CRF450 Works Edition, and I figured it would be better to race round two on a bike I’m more accustomed to and carry that momentum into the third race. 

The 2023 Honda CRF450WE was an easy choice to use as my third bike, because Honda is supportive of my racing efforts, and they don’t hem and haw when I ask for extra clutch plates, spare wheels or new brake pads. I also felt like I needed redemption on the Honda CRF450WE after I blew our CRF450WE up at the season opener last year. It wasn’t Honda’s fault; I had put the oil filter in backward (like a rookie), and the bike locked up on lap three of the first qualifying session at the 2022 Pala National. Luckily, I had already logged a fast lap time to qualify for the motos on the second lap, and I had a spare CRF450RX in the van, so I was able to finish out the day.

In addition to switching bikes each weekend, Josh also wore different gear. He used Thor, Sidi, EKS Brand goggles and Arai at Thunder Valley.


A: The 2023 Honda CRF450 Works Edition retails for $12,400 (the stock CRF450 is $9599), and it has a healthy list of upgrades. The intake and exhaust ports on the cylinder head have been hand-polished to smooth out the transition at the valve seats. It has a full Yoshimura RS-12 exhaust system with updated ECU settings to match. It has a Hinson clutch basket and clutch cover. The forks and shock are coated to reduce stiction, and the shock shaft is larger than stock at 18mm, and it has its own suspension valving. It comes with D.I.D DirtStar LT-X rims and a D.I.D DM2 gold chain for 2023. 

Thanks to these mods, the Works Edition model fills in the gaps that the stock CRF450 has in the mid- and high-rpm range, revs further and makes 3 horsepower more. Thankfully, the CRF450WE has the same smooth and controllable powerband as the stock CRF450, because the chassis demands a tame engine and a steady-handed rider. They’ve tried for years to add stability to the CRF450, but it’s a quick-turning, twitchy, mind-of-its-own machine that takes a lot of work to manage. The Honda CRF450 is great if you ride it at 80 percent of your ability. When I’m practicing on a Honda, I feel great. I don’t make mistakes and imagine myself looking like Chase Sexton, Jett Lawrence, or even Ken Roczen (when he was on Honda). However, when I start to push, the Honda chassis catches me off guard, the front starts to twitch and it scares me. 

Jett Lawrence has been holding free riding clinics every Saturday during the 450 Nationals, and he looks like he’s trail riding, even though he is pulling away from the competition. However, even Jett has talked about the respect he needs to have when riding the big 450 four-stroke. Jett has talked about “finding his pace,” and in the post-race press conference after Red Bud, he said, “I have to make sure I hit my marks, and get the flow and try to time the bumps instead of smashing everything. Obviously, I’m not as big and heavy as some of the other lads, so I gotta be a lot smarter, because the bike punches back if I push it too much.” Of course, Jett wasn’t trying to complain about his bike publicly, but he gave an honest answer about his riding style, and it very much resonated with how I feel about this chassis.

Dubya provided the wheels with D.I.D Dirtstar ST-X rims, Dubya spokes and Haan hubs.
The Acerbis skid plate offers healthy coverage over the water pump and linkage.


A: Of course, as an MXA test rider, I have access to lots of companies and people who can help me build a good race bike. However, preparing three bikes for the first three Nationals was a logistical nightmare, and I was pretty last minute with the CRF450 suspension.

I thought I was going to be able to get A-kit suspension from Showa, but Showa was busy, and they didn’t have a ton of extra parts for me. After holding out for the A-kit until the last week before the race, we gave the stock Works Edition suspension to AHM, and they re-valved it on a quick turnaround so I could ride it a few times before loading it in the van for the Nationals. 

During the first day of testing, which was on the week of the Pala National, where I was going to race a YZ450F, I finally got the CRF450WE on the track with suspension set for me. The forks felt good, but I was struggling with the rear end feeling too tall, riding like a stinkbug. We went almost completely out on high-speed compression, and it got better. At that time, Scott from Showa was able to give Brandon an extra set of suspension to build for me, based on my feedback from Tuesday at Glen Helen. I raced the YZ450F on Saturday at Pala, and I was still tired and sore when Monday came around, but I had to test the new suspension before it went in the van. 

Thankfully, it was awesome! The new setting allowed the rear end to settle much easier than before, and it gave me room to play with the high-speed adjuster if I wanted to make more adjustments down the road. On Tuesday, some of the factory teams (all except Yamaha) had rented out the Pala track, just three days after the National, and I was lucky enough to be able to ride there. They left some of the track rough from the National, but groomed other parts of it, which made for great testing. I was on the track with all of the factory guys for a private day, which was really cool, and I did one session on the Honda to make sure the suspension was good for Thunder Valley, which was round three, then I hopped on the GasGas MC450F Factory Edition—my bike for round two at Hangtown—to finish out the day.

The Ride Engineering 23.5 offset triple clamps add stability.
AHM Suspension works closely with Showa.


A: Besides the suspension, here are the other (non-engine-related) mods I made to the bike. 

(1) Triple clamps. The stock clamps have a 22mm of offset, and I quickly swapped those for the 23.5mm offset clamps from Ride Engineering. MXA had these left over from when we tested the 2022 Honda CRF450, and I knew I liked them on this chassis. They helped stabilize the front end and promote less twitch and smoother corners. 

(2) Handlebars. I used ODI’s Podium Flight handlebars in the Charcoal Grey color with ODI’s Emig Pro V2 lock-on grips in bright red. 

(3) Grip. My friends say I get overly excited about grip tape and gripper seats, but I hate to race without them. In one back-to-back comparison at Glen Helen, I raced the first moto with a stock seat cover and the second moto with a standard Guts Racing gripper seat cover (not my favorite Guts RJ wing seat). I had arm pump in moto one and no arm pump in moto two. Since then, I’ve been sold. For the CRF450, I ordered a Guts Racing complete seat with their seat base, Phantom lightweight foam in the standard density, and the all-red RJ wing seat cover already installed.  

(4) Starting device. As always, I used the Works Connection Pro Launch starting device to keep the front end down. Now that the Nationals are using metal starting grates, starting devices are even more important. On dirt, you don’t want the front end to be too low, because it takes too much weight off the rear tire, which isn’t good for traction. Now, with perfect 1:1 traction at the rear tire, holesot devices need to be mounted lower to limit wheelies and to actually take some weight off the rear tire so the bike doesn’t bog down.

(5) Tires. Maxxis has all-new MXSI (soft-intermediate terrain) tires, and I used the Thunder Valley National to test them. I brought a Maxxis SM scoop tire to use for qualifying, because Thunder Valley has been known to be deep and muddy in timed qualifying, but I actually opted to go without it. I rode press day on Friday at Thunder Valley, and the track was very hard-packed, kind of like Hangtown was the weekend prior. I knew it would be deeper for race day, but I opted for the intermediate terrain tire anyway.

(6) Aesthetics. Acerbis helped me freshen up the CRF450 Works Edition with a complete set of plastics, skid plate and the new Acerbis Raptor 2 front number plate (featuring wraparound triple clamp guards). Throttle Syndicate made the sweet MXA graphics, highlighting all of our supporters of this build. 

(7) Honda help. Twin Air provided me with air filters, radiator screens and 1.8 radiator caps, but I forgot to bring the radiator caps with me in the van. Thankfully, Lars Lindstrom, team manager at the HRC Honda team, was nice enough to loan me a spare 1.8 cap from the Honda semi. I found Lars at the last minute, after the riders’ meeting on Saturday morning and just before qualifying was about to start.

(8) Fuel capacity. I also asked Lars about fuel capacity as well. The factory 450 riders use an oversized fuel tank for the 30-minute-plus-two-lap motos at the Nationals, and I was a little worried that I might need one, too, after feeling how slow my bike was on Friday. Last year I borrowed a Red Moto oversized tank for Pala, but afterwards I didn’t think I really needed it. Sadly, I confess that I got lapped by the leaders near the end of the motos, and I did not turn the throttle as much as they did. However, with Thunder Valley being at 5675 feet of elevation, the thinner air makes it harder for the bike to breathe. I had to ride it harder, thus more fuel was being used. I brought this up to Lars, worried I might not be prepared for the National, but he had data from the race team from last year’s Thunder Valley National, and he told me that Ken Roczen used 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) and Chase Sexton used 5.3 liters (1.40 gallons), and the stock tank holds 6.4 liters (1.7 gallons). This helped reduce my anxiety big time.

(9) Wheels. To add style and strength, Dubya USA sent me some aftermarket wheels with D.I.D ST-X rims, a Haan hub and Dubya USA spokes.

Even if it hasn’t rained in months, qualifying is always muddy at the Nationals.


A: The 2023 Honda CRF450 Works Edition is much faster than the stock CRF450, and, thankfully, it still has the smooth character we like so much on the stock 2023 CRF450 engine. Here’s what I did to the Honda powerplant.

(1) Mapping. Jamie Ellis of Twisted Development gave me a Vortex ECU mapped specifically for the CRF450. However, it was a pain to get to the CRF450 ECU and change it into the high-elevation map. The Honda ECU is located behind the mud flap, under the rear fender—not where you’d expect to find the electronic brain of the bike. I didn’t use a start map on the CRF450 because I prefer to modulate the power with my right wrist, and I didn’t really have time to learn anything new on this bike with only three days of riding it. But, I asked Jamie what he does to start maps for the metal grates, and he said that he actually put more power into the maps. Why? Because you don’t have to worry about wheel spin on the grates. 

(2) Exhaust. I also switched out the Yoshimura RS-12 exhaust system for an FMF Factory 4.1 titanium muffler with a stock CRF450 header. A lot of fans in the pits question why I replaced a full Yoshimura exhaust system with an FMF slip-on muffler and stock header. Long story short, the answer is that I have a lot more experience with the FMF exhaust, and FMF is a big supporter of MXA, and like any motorcycle racer, I want to support the people who support me. We tested the bike with the exhaust that came with it, but in the end, I chose FMF.

(3) Race fuel. I ran ETS K18 race fuel in the CRF450 for Thunder Valley. I used to race with ETS K18 and K21 fuel when I raced on the National circuit full-time before joining MXA, so given my druthers, I race with their fuel when I can. On a CRF450, I don’t always need the strongest race fuel available, but the high elevation at Thunder Valley had me searching for more power, so I was glad to run ETS.

(4) Oil. I used Red Line Oil’s 10W-40 blend in the engine and also used their chain lube and SuperCool WaterWetter coolant. Thankfully, I put the oil filter in the correct way this year.

The race steed in our privateer pit area.
The Maxxis MX-SI tire mounted on Dubya wheels.


A: With only three days of testing on the bike on suspension built for me, I was surprisingly confident in my setup when it was time to go to Thunder Valley. However, everything changed when I hit the track for press day on Friday. All of a sudden my rear end was like a stink bug again, riding way too tall, and I was all over the place on the track. I hadn’t touched the shock since I last rode with it in SoCal, but I had moved the rear-axle position when I installed a larger 50-tooth rear sprocket and brand-new D.I.D 520MX chain. I went from a 49 to a 50 tooth on the rear to add a little more grunt, because I knew the elevation would take so much horsepower away. However, I felt the direct effects of moving the rear axle and didn’t like it. 

Fun fact: Whenever the JGR Suzuki team wanted to change the gear ratio on their bikes, they would change the transmission gears internally and leave their final drive sprockets the same. How come? To keep the rear-axle position the same and ensure they didn’t move it and mess with the suspension by adding or taking away leverage on the shock. I used to think they were overdoing it, but now I understand. 

During 20-minute press-day practice, I pulled into the mechanics’ area where fellow test rider and AMA National mechanic Josh Fout had tools ready. We went out on high-speed compression again to drop the rear and went lighter on low-speed compression as well. For Saturday morning, we took two turns off the preload on the shock for qualifying, and that helped big time.

AHM matched the valving for Pro Circuit’s linkage.
The RJ Wing Seat from Guts Racing.


A: I sorted out my suspension struggles and surprisingly was able to lay down a solid qualifying lap in the first timed qualifying session, earning me the 18th quickest time of the first 450 Group A session. The track got better for the second one, and I improved my time as well, but not as much as everyone else. I ended up qualifying 27th for the motos. From there, the bike worked well, and most of my race issues were rider-related. The track got extremely rutted, so much so that some riders would take their feet off the pegs (like PW50 riders) to ride through the ruts after the mechanics’ area. 

The one nagging issue was that I kept getting my leg stuck on the pointy CRF450 radiator shrouds in the deep ruts. The factory Honda team has a small black extender on the tips of the radiator shrouds to prevent this from happening, and my friend, Nathan Alexander (formerly Mitchell Oldenburg’s mechanic on MotoConcepts Honda and now Max Anstie’s mechanic on Firepower Honda), actually 3D prints the HRC extenders himself. I wish I would’ve asked him to make me some before I found out how bad I needed them at Thunder Valley!  

Overall, the 2023 Honda CRF450 Works Edition taught me a lot. Each clicker adjustment on the Showa suspension makes a significant difference, and after racing three bikes at three Nationals, I felt the Honda was the most sensitive to changes, and it required the most attention to dial it in. However, like the backwards oil filter last year, I can’t place too much blame on Honda for my results at the end of the day, because I was the one who waited too long to start testing the bike, and three days on a bike isn’t enough to be fully prepared to race against the best in the world.



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