“ROCZEN EDITION” VS. STOCK CRF450: IS IT REALLY WORTH $2400 MORE?

It was inevitable that some other motorcycle manufacturer would catch on to what KTM has known since 2012—that there is a market for special editions of standard-issue motocross models. KTM started the trend back in 2012 with the first KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, or better known as the Dungey Replica. KTM was willing to speed up development on the 2013 KTM 450SXF and fire up the assembly line in the dead of winter to pump out 400 special KTM 450SXFs that would meet the AMA homologation rule. What was so special about them? The 400 bikes would go on sale six months before the actual 2013 production 450SXFs would be on the showroom floors. KTM could charge a premium price for the Dungey Edition because it was a sneak peek at next year’s bike. In truth, KTM wasn’t thinking about the profit margin in making 400 of next year’s bike early. KTM went to the expense and trouble so that Ryan Dungey, who was jumping ship from Team Suzuki to Team KTM, could have an AMA-legal bike for the start of the 2013 AMA Supercross series—a  bike that was one model year ahead of what every other team could legally field.

THE “BIG FOUR” JAPANESE BRANDS SAT ON THE SIDELINES WHILE KTM DEALERS RAKED IN THE DOUGH SELLING NEXT YEAR’S BIKE SIX MONTHS EARLY. THE DUNGEY EDITION ENHANCED KTM’S IMAGE, BROUGHT FOOT TRAFFIC TO ITS DEALERSHIPS AND, BEST OF ALL,
INCREASED ITS MARKET SHARE.

A strange thing happened on the way to building Ryan Dungey his special works bike—it sold like hot cakes. And, KTM’s sales department was enthralled with the idea of selling 400 bikes at an exaggerated price in the middle of winter. So, even though the 2012 Factory Edition was originally conceived as a one-year experiment, the KTM sales team cajoled the factory into building Factory Edition bikes again for the next year—and the next year and the next year. In fact, KTM has made a special run of next year’s bike every year for the past 9 years.

The “Big Four” Japanese brands sat on the sidelines while KTM dealers raked in the dough selling next year’s bike six months early. The Dungey Edition enhanced KTM’s image, brought foot traffic to its dealerships and, best of all, increased its market share. At last, the inevitable finally happened in 2019 when Honda announced it was going to sell a Honda CRF450 Works Edition, known as the Roczen Edition after Honda plastered Ken’s number on it. You might be tempted to think of the Honda Roczen Edition as the equal to the KTM Factory Edition, but that would be inaccurate. Honda wasn’t willing to fire up a special production line in November to get next year’s race bikes into the hands of its team riders (and 400 consumers) six months early. Instead, the Roczen Edition comes out in conjunction with the production bike. The price in 2019 was $11,499, and for 2020 the CRF450WE price has jumped to $11,999. That makes it the most expensive motocross bike on the market.

MXA decided to do a comparison test between the 2019 Honda CRF450WE and the stock Honda CRF450. We wanted to find out if the Roczen Edition was worth its $2400 surcharge over the stock CRF450.

The stock 2019 Honda CRF450 has an incredibly potent engine. It makes the most peak horsepower of the production motocross bike—and that means more than the “Roczen Edition.”

POWER ON THE DYNO

You would think that with the updated mapping, Yoshimura slip-on mufflers and hand-massaged valve pockets that the CRF450 Roczen Edition would be more powerful than the stock Honda CRF450. Not true, but also not false. At peak horsepower, 9500 rpm on the stocker and 9700 rpm on the 2019 Roczen Edition, the stock CRF450 is one full horsepower better than the special version. And after the 9500 rpm peak, the stock CRF450 is two horses better at 10,500 rpm and three horses better at the 11,500 rpm sign-off.

2020 Honda CRF450But, while the top-end power favors the stock CRF450, the CRF450 Roczen Edition has some charms from 5000 rpm to 6500 rpm, where the special edition is a solid horse better. One added horsepower at such a low rpm may not seem like much, but it effectively fills in the low-to-mid transition to smooth out the powerband, lessen the aggressive hit that the stock CRF450 powerband has and make the complete curve feel better all the way up to 9500 rpm. Every MXA test rider could feel the improved low-end power. They would remark on it after the first ride and continue to refer to it every race after that. They never used the word “faster,” but they did note that the added power from 5000 to 6500 rpm made the bike easier to ride fast.

The 2019 Honda CRF450 Works Edition, better known as the Roczen Edition, has a more polished powerband. It gives up some peak and top end for a more filled in low-to-mid transition.

POWER ON THE TRACK

The stock 2019-2020 Honda CRF450 engine got an updated cylinder head design with a focus on the flow efficiency of the exhaust port. The clutch got a new lifter and pressure plate to maximize oil supply to the clutch plates. The single 16mm scavenger pump was replaced with two 12mm pumps to increase engine lubrication, which in turn reduced friction in the moving parts. The mister nozzle that sprays oil on the underside of the piston was changed to a five-nozzle configuration to improve cooling efficiency and lessen pinging. The shift sensor, which tells the ECU what gear the CRF450 is in, was enhanced to deliver a different ignition and fuel map for each of the five gears. The engine cases were recast to eliminate the kickstarter boss (since the kickstarter was long gone). The downsizing of the cases made room for larger exhaust pipe diameters where the pipe passed through the frame. The previous 31.8mm mid-pipes were increased in diameter to 35mm and 43mm, respectively (and for 2020 the head pipe was lengthened). In addition, total tuned length from the exhaust port to the end of the muffler was lengthened to 98mm on the right pipe and 187mm on the left pipe. Lastly, the three push-button maps were updated, launch control was added (by offering three different rev limiter settings) and, for 2020, the CRF450 gets traction control, which in Honda nomenclature is called “Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC).” 

2020 Honda CRF450 WEThe actual differences between the stock 2020 Honda CRF450 and the 2020 Roczen Edition engines are limited to the updated ECU mapping, mild milling of the valve pockets (it is neither porting nor polishing), and a complete Yoshimura exhaust system (instead of the Yosh slip-ons of 2019).

On the track, the Roczen Edition power characteristics are focused on a broader and more manageable low-to-mid transition. This is achieved in part with the new pipe delivering a torquier feel and the new mapping. Every test rider thought this was a great change. It made a big difference in how effectively the power could be put to the ground—compared to the stock CRF450 engine package. The stock CRF450 engine is the most powerful powerplant on the showroom floor. It hits hard, pulls hard and makes the most horsepower of any production engine. Even though it falls off after peak, by that time the damage is done to the competition. If we were trying to get to the first turn first, the stock CRF450 engine would be our go-to engine. But, for rough and rugged outdoor motocross, the Roczen Edition engine is supremely usable. The Roczen Edition ECU mapping fills in the low-to-mid transition to the extent that the CRF450 becomes easier to ride in partial throttle situations or when trying to get back on the pipe in tricky sections of track. Every MXA test rider preferred to race the Roczen Edition engine over the more powerful stock engine.

The complete Yoshimura system is a good all-around add-on for the 2020 CRF450WE. It adds a little more power from idle though the midrange and then boosts power significantly from 8000 rpm on up. For comparison, on our 2019 Roczen Edition, we ran both Pro Circuit and FMF complete systems that moved peak horsepower up a couple hundred rpm and kicked in an added 3 horsepower at 10,500 rpm.

The 2019 “Roczen Edition” only got Yoshimura slip-ons, but for the 2020 model they get a complete Yosh system.

WORKS EDITION SUSPENSION VERSUS STOCK SUSPENSION

For all practical purposes, there is no mechanical difference between the stock CRF450 suspension and the Roczen Edition forks and shock. That is true if we are talking about the damping, valving, shims, oil height and component dimensions. We could tell MXA test riders these facts until we were blue in the face, but they insisted that the Roczen Edition forks were better than the exact same specifications on the stock forks. And they were right. The source of the test riders’ infatuation was the titanium-nitride coatings on the fork legs and shock shaft, plus the Kashima coating on some of the suspension internals.

The test riders were 100 percent correct. The special coatings on the fork and shock brought about a sea change in the damping resistance. The shiny coating decreased stiction on the fork legs and shock shaft. With less stiction, the forks felt softer, quicker and more fluid. They wanted to move, and that made them more responsive to undulating ground. The front wheel tracked more accurately. Back to back, the difference is obvious on the Roczen Edition. The initial part of the fork’s stroke is plusher, which allows the bike to settle better into corners. The 49mm coil-spring Showa forks are too soft on both bikes, but one is “good soft” and the other is “bad soft.” The universal CRF450 fix for this condition is to go up on the spring rate or have the compression shim stack re-valved. Additionally, setting the shock at 108mm of race sag helps balance out both chassis and makes the suspension less erratic.

The “Roczen Edition” head is not ported or polished to race team standards.

WHICH HANDLES BETTER?

The MXA wrecking crew has not been big fans of the CRF450 chassis since the 2009 model was introduced, but Honda has made improvements since the atrocious 2009–2012 versions. After that four-year period of twitch-o-matic frames, the CRF450 has improved considerably. It is at its best at turn-in but not as good in a straight line over rough ground. On tight and twisty tracks, or smooth tracks with jumps, or with slower riders on board, the instability is less of an issue. But, on rough, fast, nasty tracks, especially with a rider who is trying to get every ounce of performance out of the engine, the frame has issues. The front end glances off bumps. The head shakes alarmingly. Nothing on the chassis works in unison. And, finding the proper front/rear balance is difficult.

Given that the chassis on the stock CRF450 and the Roczen Edition share the same geometry, dimension and specs, we didn’t really expect to find one frame better than the other. That said, there was an infinitesimal improvement that can only be attributed to the slicker fork movement and the stronger front rim.

The engine differences between the stock CRF450 and the “Roczen Edition” are limited to mild valve pocket milling and a new map.

HONDA’S SHOPPING CART

To make the 2020 Honda CRF450WE Roczen Edition worth its $11,999, which is $2400 more than the stock 2020 Honda CRF450, the marketing men at Honda had to pile on additional glitz and glam. The list includes HRC team graphics (with Ken Roczen’s number 94), black-anodized triple clamps, gold-anodized fork stanchions, a pleated seat cover, D.I.D LTX rims, a gold RK chain, Renthal FatBars and gum-color Renthal grips. When you add the miscellaneous add-ons to the updated ECU, Yoshimura exhaust, titanium nitride-coated suspension components and touched-up valve pockets, you can see where the $2400 price spike came from.

 The fork legs and internals are coated which results in much more responsive forks, but they are still too soft.

The quandary isn’t that the limited-edition Honda CRF450 is not worth the money, it is whether that is where you would have spent your money. What if you wanted Excel A60 rims? Xtrig triple clamps? Personalized graphics? A non-gripper seat cover? FMF exhaust? Pro Taper bars? Jamie Ellis mapping?

The Honda CRF450 Roczen Edition is a vanity bike for the one-stop shopper. Walk in to your dealership, plunk down 12 grand and walk out with an improved Honda CRF450. From a pure racer’s viewpoint, buying the stocker and making it your own, with a focus on what you want to achieve, is probably a more cost-effective approach to building the perfect race bike.

 

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