If you never owned a 2005-2008 era Honda CRF450R, then we're sure you have a riding buddy who has. And that riding buddy probably never shuts up about it! No matter what new bike they get, they'll say "NOTHING ever handled as good as my '08!" or something close to that regards. This generation of red machine has really garnished a legendary reputation. Yes, it's still carbureted...yes, it's kick start...yes, the forks weren't amazing. But this thing knew how to carve corners and was as stable as a dream. So naturally, it's one of the most common bikes that people want to turn into their next project and re-live those glorious memories. One of our co-workers still has his 2006 Honda CRF450R, which he bought new, but it was stashed in a shed for years...until we decided to re-live those moments as well.
It's very, very easy to go overboard on project bikes. You can spend all this time in your head convincing yourself it's only going to cost X, then you get into it and it actually ends up costing XX. Even a one owner, shed kept bike can have its challenges and unknowns. Because of this, we went into this build with the simple goal of wanting to experience the legendary platform with just a couple upgrades but mostly just refresh it to a fairly original state. Things like brakes, suspension, wheels, and tires would get the updated love...while the engine and most of the chassis items would just be cleaned and rebuilt to stock-style specs with the help of some aftermarket brands.
The first step was just get things clean! Even though this bike was kept locked up and indoors, things had oxidized. Primarily the engine cases, main frame and fork tubes needed a lot of love to really get this bike up to snuff. While we were busy replacing all the bearings and pivot points with Psychic MX materials; we dropped the frame, complete engine, and a few small parts off to Sano Metal Services to be vapor blasted and scrubbed. If you're ever taking on a project bike, we highly recommend taking the time to get these main components vapor blasted before going any deeper. The frame came back looking better than new and the clean / spotless engine made the disassembly a much more enjoyable experience.
The forks and shock were originally done by Factory Connection, so we dropped them off to be cleaned, evaluated and with a request to update the setting to something a bit more wider ranging. Once the bike was done, we knew our coworker would do a mix of moto and desert riding, so FC decided on a Grand Prix / WORCS style setting. Based on the popular forms of off-road racing here on the West coast, which dabbles in light moto tracks, desert, sand sections, rocks, and more. Once they had the forks apart, we also sent the upper tubes off to Aluminart to be stripped and brought to the modern era with a "Kashima" look-a-like coating. Honestly, who doesn't love having factory looking forks?
Once we had the engine apart, we examined our 200 hour-ish lightly vet ridden machine and found we were in luck, nothing had worn oddly and our major components were intact. We then unboxed the full engine rebuild kit we had from Namura Technologies and Psychic MX. The crank was sent off to be rebuilt with the Namura rod kit, while we got busy swapping out all the valve-train with the replacement valve and spring kit from Psychic. We also replaced the piston, rings, and piston pin with a Namura kit and a Psychic MX cylinder...along with major seals throughout the engine and the clutch pack. The full kit they provided had everything we needed and more, so once the crank was back it was slapped together, torqued, and ready to re-insert into our like-new vapor blasted frame.
After we rebuilt the carburetor, everything was re-assembled. At this point, the bike was basically stock in terms of performance so we finished it off with a few little upgrades that wouldn't break the bank. Rocket Exhaust is one of the very few companies to still be making brand new systems for older four strokes and had a full stainless system in stock. The controls were updated with some goodies from ODI, and we slapped a new Galfer rear rotor and an oversized front rotor kit on our freshly rebuilt wheels from Dubya USA. Speaking of the wheels, this was another part of the build that was meant to save money but still get some freshness added in. Dubya took our stock hubs, cerakoted them and rebuilt them, before lacing them up to a fresh set of D.I.D. rims. A very, very clean look without a full aftermarket wheelset price.
Lastly, we went with a full new OEM colored plastic set from Polisport, partnered it with a complete replacement seat from Psychic MX and let ERA moto have their way with the graphics. Our only instructions? Simple, kind of like the HRC bikes of that era.
I was quite skeptical that this bike would really bring back the memories, that it would really be as good as I remembered. Well, it was and it wasn't. What was on point? The chassis! It really was as well rounded as it was in the past. She carved berms, dove into the tight inside ruts (as well as could be expected from a big 450) and was stable through dragon's backs, rollers, braking chop, etc. Even with a fairly soft suspension setting, I was quite happy with the overall balance of the bike. Factory Connection really nailed the all-around setting. It's extremely plush and comfortable but just enough damping to have fun on mellow motocross track and absorb obstacles without feeling the brunt of the what was being thrown at it.
The engine was solid from the moment it started but it was interesting how different the power delivery was to what I remembered. Being I was young and quite a bit smaller back in the day, I remember the 2006 being a fire breather but compared to modern day 450s, it's really quite pleasing to ride. It's not as connected as modern day EFI machines but the power output isn't as high, it was easy to grab a handful and enjoy without it feeling like I was going mach 10 like a modern day CRF450R.
The few modern goodies we added gave the bike just enough of a new flavor that it didn't take much to adapt to but at the same time it was chocked-full of nostalgia and great experience.
In the end, we brought a legend back to life and sprinkled in just enough upgrades to modernize it a tad, but still keep that original 2006 feel intact. From outside-to-inside, it's a tad more modern but almost looks like it was built to rip in that era. Project bikes are a blast when you have memories attached to that model and year. My father owned a 2006 Honda CRF450R, which I spent quite a bit of time on, and this helped me trudge through the constant cleaning and pampering of this build as the memories came flooding back. Never rebuilt an older four stroke or two stroke for yourself? You should honestly give it a try. If you're not the most mechanically inclined, it'll teach you a thing or two and if you do it...make sure you check out Namura Technologies and Psychic MX as they should have the majority of what you need to get rolling again.