WE RIDE TBT RACING’S HONDA CRF450

TO MANY PEOPLE,  SUCCESS IS NOT MEASURED BY WINNING A RACE, BUT BY BECOMING A GO-TO-GUY IN THE WORLD OF MECHANICS,  THEORY AND  IMPLEMENTATION. RENAISSANCE MAN!

For every success story in motocross, there are hundreds of guys who never make it. We’re not talking about all the amateur kids who had dreams of becoming moto-rock-star factory riders, but ended up only winning local pro races. Those stories are so common that most people don’t see any Horatio Alger similarities in them. What we’re talking about are working-class, up-by-their-bootstraps, duckling-to-swan stories that revolve around the business end of motorcycles. To many people in the sport, success is not measured by winning a race, but by becoming a go-to-guy in the world of mechanics, design, theory and implementation. Not just a mechanic, but a guy you rely on for everything from suspension to engine mods to advice to trouble shooting. Renaissance man!

Travis Flateau is just such a manand don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him. These kind of success stories have nothing to do with popularity contests. Travis founded TBT in 1991 at the tender age of 17. Back then, TBT was still called “Tuning by Travis,” instead of an acronym, and it was more of a side project than a full-fledged business. It wasn’t until 1997, when Travis decided to leave his full-time job as the service manager at I-90 Honda, that the acronym TBT was born.

.After hitching his wagon to the TBT star, Travis started working with the top-level riders in his region like Brian Bennett, World Record Distance jumper Ryan Capes, James Povolny, Pierreck Paget and freestyle guys like Jake Windham, Justin Homan and Beau Manley. It wasn’t long until Travis was working on the bikes for the Subway Honda Team.

IT WAS OUR FAULT. WE WERE WELL AWARE OF THE ?06 CRF250’S TENDENCY TO COUGH ON HARD LANDINGSBUT WE HAD DAWDLED ON REPLACING
THE NEW 40MM KEIHIN WITH LAST YEAR’S 37MM UNIT.

Then Travis started thinking out of the box. Like Race Tech and Pro Action before him, Travis decided to franchise TBT Racingbut maintain control by being a co-owner of his franchises. Today, there are four TBT Racing shops. Brad Keeney heads up TBT East and is in charge of TBT’s engine development program. Former National number 97, Danny Moore, heads up TBT Northwest, and there is a TBT Brazil, which in its first eight months has already done a bumper crop of suspension business. Where does that leave Travis? He’s heading up TBT Southern California (more realistically, he’s bouncing back and forth between SoCal and Washington), developing new products, R&Ding suspension settings and working out sponsorship deals.

How did the MXA wrecking crew get involved with Travis Flateau? By accident. Literally. While testing at the Piru race track, our CRF250 bogged so badly over a jump that a test rider went over the bars. It was our fault. We were well aware of the ’06 CRF250’s tendency to cough on hard landings, but we had dawdled on replacing the new 40mm Keihin with last year’s 37mm unit. Even worse, sitting on our workbench was a small box from TBT Racing that had a carb stuffer in it to shrink the 40mm carb down to 38mm. It sat on the workbench for weeks. It’s not that we were too lazy to install it, but we were trying to work out the bugs with jetting, float bowl heights and magic potions. That’s when Travis called. He wanted to know if we had tried his carb stuffer. We hadn’t, and after a quick perusal of the instructions, we weren’t all that gung ho to tear into our CRF one more time. That’s when Travis made us a deal we couldn’t refuse. He said he’d meet us at the track of our choice, install the carb stuffer for us, and handle all the jetting issues. That clinched it. We set the date and tested TBT’s carb stuffer. It was a winner (as you already know if you read the test in the May issue of MXA).

TRAVIS AND THE TBT BOYS LEFT NO STONE UNTURNED. THEY BUILT ONE HECK OF CRF450. OF COURSE, WE DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER.

We were impressed with Travis and decided to find out what he could do with a brand-new Honda CRF450. Travis was again happy to oblige and rolled a pristine-looking Honda into the MXA studio in short order. The bike was a sleeper. It still had the stock graphics, but a quick look-see revealed tons of titanium bolts. We liked what we saw and gave Travis the opportunity to outfit his bike with custom TBT graphics and bring it back to MXA for a full-on test. Travis hand delivered the machine to our doorstep a week later.

IF YOU ARE VISUALIZING AN ENGINE THAT IS DEAD ON THE BOTTOM AND THEN HITS WITH THE WALLOP OF AN ARMY MULE, YOU’VE GOT IT ALL WRONG.

After putting the bike under the MXA magnifying glass, we came to one conclusion: Travis and the TBT boys left no stone unturned. They built one heck of CRF450. Of course, we don’t judge a book by its cover, but even so, with all the titanium bolts, Works Connection parts, Renthal TwinWalls, Motomaster oversized rotor and RG3 triple clamps, we were eager to get the bike out on the track.Our initial riding impression was all about the power. With their own in-house engine development program, it shouldn’t surprise you that the list of TBT’s motor mods is quite extensive. If you were to look through the engine with X-ray vision, you’d see head porting, valve seat cuts, new camshaft profile, stiffer valve springs, high-compression piston and a JD ignition. Of course, rounding out the engine mods are some TBT carb modifications (not a carb stuffer, though), Twin Air air filter, complete Hinson clutch and FMF pipe.

What do all these parts and modifications get you on the track? A powerband that is decidedly AMA Pro-oriented. TBT didn’t gain a ton of low-end over a stock CRF450, but they got a ton of midrange and overrev (that’s where the JD ignition pays big dividends). But if you are visualizing an engine that is dead on the bottom and then hits with the wallop of an Army mule, you’ve got it all wrong. Thanks to the carb mods, cam and compression, TBT Racing’s CRF450 has great throttle response. While it’s true that they didn’t gain anything down low, the CRF450 already has impressive low-end power, so this was no big deal. The midrange is so strong and broad that even with the extra rev we still tried to stay in the midrange. The best way to accomplish this was by short shifting and giving the Hinson clutch and stiffer Pro Circuit clutch springs a little feathering.

Back when his business was called Tuning by Travis, Travis specialized in modifying suspension components, so it should be no surprise that the suspension package was topnotch. Besides the prerequisite hard-coatings and revalve, we were most impressed with Travis’ use of heavier springs. Most suspension tuners think they can compensate for bikes that are undersprung with stiffer valving (they do this to avoid having to talk the customer into buying new springs). The MXA wrecking crew almost always changes the springs when we have a suspension problem, and we were impressed that Travis was on the same page. His bike had stiffer 0.48kg/mm fork springs and a 5.7kg shock spring. So what was it like when we got it out on the track? Perfectly balanced, but really stiff. It took a few clicks of compression out of both the forks and shock before the action was smooth. We weren’t happy until we saw that we were using all the travel out of the forks.

At the end of the day, the MXA wrecking crew was impressed not just with TBT Racing’s CRF450, but with Travis himself. Here is a guy with a dream, who risked it all in a search, not for fame, but for perfection. Would we have TBT Racing build us a full-race Honda CRF450? Absolutely. For more info call TBT at (509) 941-7716.

For More We Ride stories go to Top Ten Stories

You might also like