MXA’S 2013 HONDA CRF450 MOTOCROSS TEST: YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ALL ABOUT IT, BUT NOT UNTIL YOU READ THIS TEST
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2013 CRF450 BETTER THAN THE 2012 CRF450 ?
A: Yes. As an overall package the 2013 Honda CRF450 is significantly better than the 2012 CRF450 (and by proxy the 2009, 2010 and 2011 CRF450).
Q: WHAT DID HONDA CHANGE ON THE 2013 CRF450 ENGINE?
A: To the casual viewer the 2013 engine looks identical to the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 engines. And, for the most part it is, but the 2013 mill did get five changes.
(1) Cam. The cam is new for 2013, but not really. The cam has the same profiles, but the timing of the cam has been changed by moving the cam sprocket for more overlap.
(2) Exhaust valves. The exhaust valves have been increased in diameter by 1mm (from 30mm to 31mm). Of course, the port shapes have been changed to work with the larger valves.
(3) Compression ratio. The compression ratio has been upped from 12:1 to 12.5:1 thanks to a a newly shaped dome on the piston.
(4) ECU. As is common practice, the mapping has been reconfigured for 2013?to focus more on low-to-mid power.
(5) Transmission. Although the gear ratios are the same as the previous four years, the gears have been beefed up for more durability.
Q: WHAT ARE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHANGES FOR 2013?
A: Honda’s engineers knew that they had to address four years worth of complaints about the 2009 through 2012 CRF450. Here is a list of their remedial actions.
(1) Forks. For 2013 the old-school Kayaba forks have been dropped in favor of all-new Kayaba PSF air forks (almost identical forks come on the 2013 Kawasaki KX450F). The air forks offer the consumer one big plus?the spring rate can be changed with a pump. Additionally, the PSF forks offers two benefits to Honda?they are cheaper to spec and almost two pounds lighter (because they don’t have coil springs).
(2) Clutch. Back in 2009 Honda introduced its four-spring clutch and 15 minutes after they unveiled it started slipping. It slipped for the next four years. Finally, for 2013, Honda put the eight-plate, six-spring clutch from the 2008 Honda CRF450 back into the bike.
(3) Chassis. The four-year experiment with the less than accurate 2009-2012 frame is over. Thankfully. In an effort to stop the oversteer/understeer/oversteer dance that passed for corning on the previous CRF450 Honda threw the old frame away and started with a blank sheet of paper. The new frame has the main spars moved 40mm lower on the head tube, the rear shock tower has been moved down 14.5mm, the Kayaba shock body is also shortened by 14.5mm, the radiators have been downsized (and lowered) and even the black box has been moved lower in the frame. Part and parcel with the frame changes are the new twin mufflers that are 7 inches shorter than the old single muffler and moved towards the center of the frame.
(4) Swingarm. A redesigned swingarm offers added vertical rigidity because it is taller in beam height (in the front and center sections). This allows for less deflection in ruts and improves corner-exit traction.
(5) Plastic. Husqvarna and KTM were ridiculed a few year ago for their edgy “crease design” influence. Guess what? A close look at the 2013 CRF450 reveals more KTM and Husqvarna flavor than old school CR design thought.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2013 CRF450 RUN ON THE DYNO?
A: Pitifully. Given the changes for 2013 the MXA test crew expected a big increase in low-to-mid power (thanks to the larger exhaust valves and increased compression ratio) ? and what we got was a small improvement from 5000 rpm to 6500 rpm. After that it was mostly disappointment.
Peak horsepower on the 2013 CRF450 is 51.55 horsepower. For comparison the 2012 Honda CRF450 made 52.59 horsepower. Even worse for dyno aficionados, the 2013 Kawasaki KX450F belts out 55.05 horsepower and the 2013 KTM 450SXF pumps out an incredible 56.95 horsepower. You don’t need a degree from MIT to see than the KTM makes 5-1/2 horsepower more than the CRF450. In fact, the weakest horsepower number from any of Honda’s competitors (2013 Suzuki RM-Z450 at 54.10 horsepower) is still 2-1/2 horses more than the CRF450.
Q: HOW FAST IS THE 2013 CRF450 ON THE TRACK?
A: Dynos are cold, hard machines that lack soul. How a bike runs on the dyno is not always indicative of how it will run on a racetrack. A dyno doesn’t measure tractability, briskness of rev or power usability. It is just a bunch of numbers that the MXA wrecking crew uses for informational purposes, and those numbers rank way below test rider input on the priority scale.
That said, the 2013 Honda CRF450 could use more horsepower. It could turn over brisker. The power could be more usable across a wider range. Every test rider made note of three things on their test reports;
(1) Output. Simple logical tells you that if you give up five horses at peak, you won’t be able to run with the competition when the bikes are at peak. But, since Honda focused its efforts on low-to-mid power, they really should be ranked on how they run from 6000 rpm to 8000 rpm. True to Honda’s claim the CRF450 does have better roll-on power off the bottom (and the dyno confirmed it) than the Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki or Yamahabut by the time the Honda reaches 7000 rpm it loses its power lead and never regains it.
(2) Delivery. Apart from the nice pickup off idle, the Honda revs slow and takes its good old time about going from gear to gear. Most MXA test rider geared the CRF450 down one tooth and resorted to a little touch of clutch to juice it and goose it.
(3) Flat top-end. After 9000 rpm the 2013 CRF450 goes flat. After nine grand the Honda makes noise, not power. No thrust means that you need to shift.
Q: SO IS THE 2013 CRF450 A DOG?
A: No, but woof. It is actually an effective and raceable powerband ? albeit a couple boosters short of rocket powered. For a rider coming off a 2009-2012 CRF450, he will not be disappointed because the power feels torquier on the bottom and pulls across the same rpm spread as the older CRFs. Perhaps a KX450F or KTM 450SXF transplant would feel that the CRF450 was too slow?and they wouldn’t be wrong.
All that said, with lower gearing and good knowledge of how to make the most of the CRF450 powerband, you can go fast on the CRF450 by taking advantage of the easy-to-use power delivery. It can go fast because the rider can use all the power it has without fear of white knuckles or wide eyeballs.
Q: HOW GOOD IS THE NEW SIX-SPRING CLUTCH?
A: We don’t know why Honda waited four years to make this change, but we are glad they finally did. The new clutch is much better, but maybe our memories are fuzzy because it doesn’t seem as good as the 2008 clutch it is based on. Although it doesn’t slip and holds up to abuse well, it has a spongy feel at the lever that we don’t remember.
The 2013 Honda clutch has a jutter spring and one downsized plate in the clutch pack. We remove the jutter spring and small plate and replaced them with one full-size plate.
Q: WHAT IS MXA’S OPINION OF THE CRF450’S TWIN PIPES?
A: We think they are stupid, redundant, restrictive, heavy, expensive and vanity engineering for someone in the Honda R&D department. And they aren’t all that quiet. Our 2013 Honda CRF450 failed the 115 dB two-meter-max test at 116.1. Plus, one touch of the subframe or shock body after a race will reveal a disturbing heat sink effect from all that hot tubing snaking around the shock and airbox.
How do we really feel? When Honda first tried this idea on the 2006 CRF250 they just bolted an extra muffler on an existing design and made up reasons for why it was better. It took a few years of consumer resistance, but Honda finally gave up on it. For 2013 the twin pipe idea is better thought out. The subframe and muffler canisters have been redesigned so that they can be sucked up under the body work and moved forward. This gives them centralization of mass credibility. Maybe it is just us, but a motocross bike doesn’t need more parts to fail, get damaged in a crash or fall off. Thumbs down…the same thumbs that we used back in 2006.
Q: WHAT DOES THE 2013 HONDA CRF450 WEIGH?
A: With forks that are two pounds lighter, you would expect the Honda to be lighter. Wrong! It weighs 3 pounds more than it did last year. The weight gain, from 231 to 234 pounds, is a byproduct of the twice pipes. It is still the lightest 450cc motocross bike, but not by as much.
Q: HOW GOOD ARE THE KAYABA PSF AIR FORKS AIR FORKS?
A: They are a lot better than what Honda came with before. Additionally, they are a big plus for plus-size riders who in the past had to spend hard-earned cash to install stiffer forks springs. With air forks, you simply add a pound of air?which is easier to do than losing 10 pound of body fat. We were able to find the proper air pressure for every test rider in due time.
It should be noted that the air pressure will change with the ambient outside temperature, so you have to check the air pressure before every race. It will also rise as the forks heat up during a moto, but do not reset the hot forks back to your base setting (although you can add of subtract air if you feel the forks need it). In the course of long motos the MXA test riders could feel the front end rebound more towards the end of the moto as the air pressure inside the forks climbed as much a 5 psi.
The air replaces the coil spring, but it does not take the place of damping adjustments. Once you find your perfect air pressure, do not rely on the air pressure to make changes to the way the forks feel under compression or rebound. The compression and rebound clickers are still the best tools for this job.
Q: DOES THE 2013 CRF450 HANDLE BETTER THAN THE 2012 MODEL?
A: Yes, yes, yes. Finally the Honda CRF450 will turn-in at the entrance of a turn with crisp authority. Turn initiation on the 2013 CRF450 is its best trait. The old 2009 to 2012 CRF450s were vague at turn-in, indecisive from the center out and loose on the exit. It wasn’t unusual for the Honda CRF450 rider to have to make mid-turn adjustments to the steering. Not now! The 2013 Honda turns great.
The more the MXA wrecking crew raced the 2013 CRF450 the more we were able to push the CRF envelope ? an envelope that for the last few years was a few stamps short of delivery. If you are looking for a straight across comparison, the 2013 is more Suzuki-ish than Kawsaki-ish. We liked it…and we haven’t said that for four long years.
Q: WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK OUT FOR?
A: For some unexplained reason, the countershaft sprocket on the 2013 engine is 3.8mm outboard from 2012. To compensate Honda made the hub flange 3.8mm thicker so that the rear sprocket would line up with the countershaft. No big deal, unless you own spare Kite, Talon, RAD, TCR or stock Honda wheels. If you do, don’t run them. That measly little 3.8mm translates into 1/8-inch and that is more than enough to cause your bike to throw the chain. CRFstuff makes an offset rear sprocket that allows old Honda wheels, Kite wheels, RAD wheels, Talon wheels, TCR wheels and any other pre-2013 aftermarket wheel work on the new chassis. To order go to www.crfstuff.com.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Gearing. Swap out the stock sprocket for one with one more tooth…unless you are more into sightseeing than racing.
(2) Brakes. Hard to believe that these were once considered the best brakes in the biz. Now, in light of KTM’s awesome Brembo units, the Honda brakes are average at best. Toss the front disc guard if you race long motos to help cool the rotors and pads.
(3) Weight. The CRF450 is still the lightest 450cc motocross bike on the track, but the gap has been reduced.
(4) Sound. With sound rules constantly changing it is hard for the manufacturers to keep up, but the two-meter-max standard has not been kept secret. The Honda CRF450 does pass the old 94 dB standard at 93.1 decibels.
(5) Twice pipes. The double bulge on both side of the bike is irritating. Motocross bikes should be minimalist, simple and easy to work on. Twice of any part is too much. We know that Honda will make their sponsored riders run twin pipes, but we won’t join them.
(6) Flame out. We solved our flame-out issues by turning the idle adjuster out a couple clicks.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Gas tank. Since the twin-spar frame rails were lowered 40mm there is more room for fuel. Capacity is increased by one-tenth of a gallon. It doesn’t sound like much…until it’s all you have left.
(2) Schrader valves. Once you buy a bike with air forks you are a slave to their air pressure. Checking the air pressure on a KX450F is a hassle because it requires a special adaptor. Honda makes it easier with an exposed Schrader valve on top of the fork cap.
(3) Price. At $8440 Honda was able to keep the retail price the same as last year.
(4) Clutch. It cost every hardcore CRF450 owner over $800 to upgrade to a six-spring Hinson clutch for the last four years. Honda finally fixed their most blatant flaw.
(5) HPSD. The Honda steering damper allows the rider to tone down head shake. The stock clicker setting is 10 out.
(6) Air filter. The reshaped air filter is easier to get out of the frame without knocking dirt down into the intake tract.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: Okay, the 2013 engine isn’t anything to write home about and the rear shock has issues, but power and suspension are fixable. What isn’t fixable is bad handling. And that was the bugaboo of the previous CRF450? it’s chassis was inherently wrong. No more! The 2013 Honda CRF450’s handling is night-and-day better. It can do in one swift move what the old Honda couldn’t do in three. Kudos to Honda.
MXA’S 2013 HONDA CRF450 SETUP SPECS
This is how we set our 2013 Honda CRF450 up for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.
KAYABA PSF FORK SETTINGS
Under all the glitz and glamor about air forks is the familiar feeling that we’ve been here before. Back in 1974-76 every serious racer had taken the springs out of his forks and added air. Thus, air forks are not modern. They are not cutting edge. In simple terms, the air is just a replacement for the coil spring. Air offers the advantages of less weight, infinite adjustability and low-cost. Its major downside is that it has to be constantly checked. The air pressure in the fork will go down during the cool of evening and go up during the heat of the day. For hardcore racing these are MXA’s recommended 2013 Honda CRF450 fork settings (stock settings are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 35 psi (33 psi)
Oil height: 245 cc
Compression: 11 clicks out (13 clicks out)
Rebound: 10 clicks out
Fork leg height: 5mm up
Notes: You have to learn to feel what the correct air pressure feels like. Too little air will feel like a flat front tire. Too much air will make the forks feel harsh and bouncey. Word to the wise ? too little air is worse than too much. When racing the bike the air pressure will rise as the fork oil heats up from the friction the fork oil squeezing through the valve stack. Air pressure could go from 35 psi to 39 psi in a 15-minute motos. Be forewarned?once the bike has been ridden you can’t wait for the forks to cool down to reset the air pressure back to 35 psi. Instead, just add 1 or subtract the amount of air you want from the hot number. Theoretically, going up two psi is the equivalent of going up one spring rate (from 0.47 to 0.48). A word on fork seals, actually three words: (1) We run Kawasaki forks seals in our Honda forks because we think they are better (and a little birdie at Kayaba confirmed it). (2) There is nothing very special about air fork seals to make them different from coil spring seals, but one thing that is different is that the oil in the forks is under pressure. This means that small nicks and tears in the seal’s lip, which wouldn’t have created any drama on a coil spring fork, will spew oil on an air fork. The oil is pushed out by the pressure. (3) After our third seal started leaking, we started running neoprene fork boots over the seals to keep grit away from the seals.
KAYABA SHOCK SETTINGS
Most MXA test riders had issues with the shortened shock and its spring rate. It is not stiff enough for fast or heavy riders and seems best suited for riders under 160 pounds. When a spring rate is too light, riders crank in excessive preload which causes the shock to kick in braking bumps. We went to a stiffer 5.7 kg/mm shock spring which lessened the preload and helped balance out the chassis. For hardcore racing this is MXA’s recommended 2013 CRF450 shock settings (stock settings are in parentheses).
Spring rate: 5.7 kg/mm (5.5 kg/mm)
Race sag: 100mm
Hi-compression: 2 turns out (1-5/8 stock)
Lo-compression: 12 clicks out (14 stock)
Rebound: 8 clicks out
Notes: Selecting the proper spring rate is important for the overall feel of the chassis and to lessen kicking. Although we went one spring rate stiffer, several test rifer wanted to go two spring rates stiffer. As a rule of thumb, use free sag to determine whether the spring is stiff enough (try to get 30mm to 40mm of unladened sag).