First Impressions: 2017 Honda CRF450R 4

Here we are, finally, riding one of the most anticipated new bikes in years. No matter what the other manufactures come out with, a new bike from Honda really catches anyones attention and it certainly has ours. We've gone over this bike with a fine comb a few times now (Spy Photos & First Look pieces) and the first ride didn't disappoint. With a new bike from the ground up, Honda has addressed multiple points of the bike, from the overall balance and handling characteristics, the pure output of power from the engine, plus going away from air forks and jumping back to spring forks; although heavily updated. We did ride this bike back in Alabama, at Monster Mountain, which is amazing but out of our norm. We did our best to pick out whats new, but we'll definitely learn more once we get it back to the tracks we regularly ride and test on. In the meantime, we've kicked off a forum topic (check it out here) for our Content Manager and main test rider Michael Lindsay to go over any further questions you may have about the new bike.

Words from the test rider:

Hey, this is Michael Lindsay from Vital MX. We're out here at Monster Mountain in Alabama, and we're finally riding the 2017 Honda CRF450R. We've really just dug into this bike so much over the past couple of months with tech specs, so we're just going to jump right into the impressions and tell you what we think. 

For me the first standout thing I notice just in my couple of warmup laps just anywhere on the track at all is really the change in the feedback the rider is gaining from the front end. I just have a much better understanding of what the bike does. When you compare it to the old model, the old bike always felt a little felt very planted on the front end so it turned well, but at the same time there was just things about the front end flex I didn't feel comfortable with just setting up the front fork to knifing the bike in. There were things that didn't work. On the new bike though, I'm just always getting this information where it feels like I can figure out when it's going to push, where it's going to grip. I just never really had a moment where I thought I was going to toss it, which was great. It just allowed me to put in so many consistent laps today and just really enjoy it.

I mean, when it comes down to it speaking of the front end, there's a huge point to talk about. Honda has gone back to the spring fork. Everybody's talking about it. It's a 49 millimeter lower tube. This is really close to an A-Kit or even a Works level fork, because the damping rods are quite a bit larger than what we've had before. Overall the setup I was a little worried, because even though we're going back to spring, some people complained about Honda spring forks in the past. Dealing out here at Monster Mountain, we've got a lot of clay, some sand, a couple of hard pack sections. The setup we had in the morning was great. There was so much traction. You could really force the bike in. It was very progressive just a real great feel. As the day went on, I definitely went a little bit softer, upwards of from two to three clicks. I kind of kept jumping around. I could definitely see this. I'm a little bit lighter on the scale for a 450 rider, so I typically expect to do this. But, overall I just really once again enjoyed that feedback. I think a lot of it may have to do with that fork and just the overall front end in particular. 

Moving to the rear of the bike, the whole just bike balance period is a lot different. The front end is farther out on this bike. The rear end is in more. The shock layout's different. I was really curious how that was going to work with leverage ratios and everything. Once again, a very progressive setup. No major complaints. I felt like in the morning with all the traction we had it definitely appeared to be soft with just great clay and just being able to put the power down. Initially I went a little bit stiffer on low speed a couple of things to hold it up in places, but then as the day went on and it got rougher there were a few places, I realized the rebound wasn't quite fast enough at times. I sped it up a little bit to kind of settle quicker into the chop or acceleration. But, overall it's just a couple of clicks here and there. It feels like the base setting is pretty on point.

The next major point everybody's curious about, how is the new engine. For years, Honda's been very conservative in this department, but on paper you look at the new engine, and it looks like they took out all the stops to really make this thing competitive. The bike is much, much more powerful across the entire board, especially mid to top where the Honda really hasn't been before. At the same time, it's not a burly beast. It's extremely rideable. As I said, down low it's pretty similar to the last bike. It comes on in a very progressive manner. It doesn't bark really hard. But there's definitely more torque off the bottom. The biggest improvement for me is completely mid to top. The Hondas have always signed off a bit early and even like the rev end sequence is a little bit harsh, so when you ride up and hit it off the rev limiter it really kind of kicks in and binds up the bike at times. This is where to me the biggest improvement comes in. It just really pulls through the rest of the range. Right when it hits off the top it just comes in real mildly. There are a lot of sections where you're in second, and you're like, "Man, I don't want to shift before that corner." You can hold it on, and it just starts to tap off at the top right as you're going in. It's just so usable. 

Is there anything negative? There are a couple of little things that still pop out in my mind. One is the bike is optional to buy an electric starter kit for. Ours was a little bit hard to start when it was warm today. There was once or twice where I was a little bit irritated, and in the back of my mind I'm wishing I had it. I'll be honest. If I bought the bike, I would buy the electric start kit to go with it as well. The term Honda's really been using on this bike is Absolute Holeshot, and it has to come with the chassis balance changes and the grip the rear end has. They've been able to mathematically prove that the bike accelerates harder and quicker than the old model, but it's also making more power. You can break it loose, but it also definitely does put that power to the ground easier. I think that's part of maybe going to be the situation that people don't understand how much better the engine is on this bike on the bottom end, because it still puts the power to the ground so well. 

Is this better than the past Honda 450 models? For me, yes in every aspect. There was nothing about this bike that I was riding going oh I really liked this about the last model. No, everything for me was an improvement with this bike. Is it going to be life changing? It's more competitive. It's definitely going to be up there in my opinion for a shootout at the end of the year. I don't know if it'll take the top spot. There are still a couple of key characteristics about other models that stand out. But, I think they've really done a great job of wrapping so many good points into one package, and typically that ends up being the bike. We'll have to see.

Credit: Joe Carlino
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