MXA's CRF450 regimen: What we put every test bike through and why we take what we do so seriously

Between racing, testing, going to Nationals, flying to Europe, riding at new model introductions, hanging out with our buds and going to work, the MXAwrecking crew has been deep into the 2012 test bike schedule.

Over the last two months we have dedicated as much time as possible to testing and racing the 2012 KX250F, KX450F, KTM 450SXF, KTM 150SX, KTM 250SX, KTM 250SXF, Suzuki RM-Z250 and Suzuki RM-Z450. We don’t get the 2012 Yamahas for two weeks or the 2012 CRF250 for three weeks—but that’s okay because we are pinging off the wall with what is already on our plate.

MXA’s testing take takes place over a very long period of time (and we aren’t done with our 2012 CRF450 test for the magazine yet, but we thought that every CRF450 fan would like to see a quick impression of the 2012 Honda CRF450). This is just an impression...and although it has more facts than most full-blown magazine tests—don’t think that this is anywhere as detailed as MXA's official test, but you aren’t paying for this one.


An MXA test bike gets a workout. So far, Sean Kranyak, Dennis Stapleton, Austin Howell, Jody Weisel, Willy Musgrave, Mark Hall and John Minert have spent time in the saddle (with and without Honda technicians in attendance). We have also shot the studio photos, ran the dyno tests, did the action photos, worked on the clutch (twice), tested aftermarket brake combos and, in general, worked hard to find out all that was possible to discover about the ’12 CRF450.

Each rider got to ride as much as they wanted...and we acquiesced to each rider’s demands in terms of lever position, bars, clickers, shifter and setup. Even though we covered the same ground several times, as we cycled through the test riders, we developed a log of what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they agreed on and what they didn’t agree on. We use this stage of testing to build a base of information that we use for the second stage.

Once every test rider had his time in the saddle to set the bike up, we went racing. The selected racers were chosen to cross a wide spectrum of talent and ages—because riders of all ages and speeds buy bikes. These MXA test riders would race the bike in 450 Pro, 450 Intermediate, Over-40 Pro, Vet Novice, Over-50 Intermediate and Over-60 Expert.

Sometimes the CRF450 was raced by three different riders on a same day...including a Pro, Intermediate and Novice. The bike was worked on for each rider, but it was never taken far from stock...until we felt that everyone was in agreement about the change we wanted to make. This round-robin approach is what sniffs out the true nature of both the bike itself and the mods that work. No single test rider's opinion (speed, talent or lack of common sense) dominates the test cycle—everyone's opinion is solicited, but every opinion must go through the spin cycle of combined knowledge.


(1) Front brake. It seems like only yesterday that everyone was raving about how great Honda’s front brake was. Guess what? That was before KTM started putting 260mm Brembo brakes on their production bikes. Now, the CRF450 front brake is too weak for our reconfigured tastes. We opted to go all out with a CRF Stuff 280mm front rotor. This stopped the bike and the whining. For more info go to www.crfstuff.com.

(2) Four-spring clutch. We can’t live with this clutch. It is weak...and doesn’t last a moto in the hands of an abuser. We accept that there are riders who never wear out the CRF450 clutch, but that’s only because they aren’t using it. It should be noted that the same logic would make a rear tire last three years. Our first, and simplest fix was to pull the clutch plates out and throw the skinny one (at the back of the pack) away. We also threw out the two Belleville-style jutter springs that were behind it. Then we installed a full-size CRF450 clutch plate to replace the skinny one. This returned the 2012 Honda CRF450 clutch to the 2009 spec. It wasn’t a big change, but at least we had more surface area and better bite. Our next step was to replace the stock clutch springs (all four of them) with stiffer Pro Circuit clutch springs. Yes, this did make the clutch harder to pull...but at least it lasted longer. In our opinion, the four-spring clutch is iffy and it is hindered by the very late and quick actuation of the clutch actuation arm (on top of the cases). Honda needs to change the lever arm to release the clutch sooner in its lever travel and across a wider range. As is, it is a light switch that doesn’t release until the lever is against your fingers.

(3) Shift lever. For some reason the stock position of the shift lever was very low. It was hard to get the toe of a boot under it. We moved it up, but it is even harder to get a wrench on the shifter bolt than it is a foot under it. We used an open-end 8mm wrench and made micro turns for about 15 minutes.

(4) Gearing. You gotta add one tooth to the rear. Well, you don’t gotta...you can always be between gears every time you shift. It won’t hurt our feelings.

(5) Fuel filter. We run a Splitstream fuel filter in the opening of our gas tank. We have had issues in the past with debris clogging the internal fuel pump and think that the Splitstream, 25-micron, sock-like filter can lessen that possibility.


Before we raced it, but after we shot all the photos and let several test riders work with it, we took it to the dyno. It should be noted that our 2012 Honda CRF450 made 52.59 horsepower. If that sounds good then you haven’t been paying attention. That is the least horsepower of any of the Big Five 450s. The 2012 Kawasaki KX450F makes 55.50 horsepower (over a much broader range)...and feels like it makes 155.5.

On the track the CRF450 feels slow...well, mellow...no, slow. Okay, let’s reset. On the track the CRF450 is very manageable. It pulls with a nice metered thrust from 5000 rpm to 8600 rpm. After 8600 rpm it makes more noise, but not more power. The CRF450 peaks at 8600 and hangs until 11,400 rpm. It’s flat on top. No sweat, it has been flat on top ever since Honda fuel injected it in 2009. It is not anywhere near as good as the old 2008 CRF450 powerband.

Yet, every test rider liked the way it ran. Yes, they did want more power, but with a little panache and some flair the CRF450 was easy to go fast on. It didn’t generate speed as much as it allowed the rider to make speed.

We know how to get more horsepower out of the CRF450. Here is how you do it. Put $1000 in a brown paper bag and take it down to your friendly local dealer and hand it to him. He will give you a Yoshimura RS-4 exhaust system and you will get about three more ponies on top. That will bring you up to KX450F numbers (if the KX450F guy doesn’t buy a pipe also).


It is important that we mention the details that make a 2012 Honda CRF450 different from a 2009, 2010 or 2011 CRF450. There are three things.

    (1) Stiffer fork springs.
    (2) A new rising rate linkage (the third rate-change in the last three years).
    (3) Bigger, wider and longer footpegs.

The MXA wrecking crew doesn’t always look forward to racing all-new ground-up designs—because that is how we ended up with the 2009 Honda CRF450 in the first place. We think that in these tight economic times, the manufacturers should fix the flaws on their existing machines...as opposed to inventing a whole new list of problems by starting over with a new bike. After all, the all-new 2009 CRF450 gave us the ill-fated four-spring clutch, flat top end, serious oversteer, soft forks and stinkbug stance.

So, what do we think of the three changes that Honda made for 2012? We think that they are on the right path.

Fork springs: The stiffer fork spring (0.49 kg/mm), which MXA and most serious CRF450 racers have been switching to since 2009 (more accurately, since 2002), are exactly what the Kayaba forks need to stop diving into turns...and to tame the vicious CRF450 oversteer. The stiffer forks, combined with the new shock linkage, calm down the CRF450’s overly aggressive handling. This is still a trouble chassis, but that fix is beyond a few Band-Aids.

Rising rate: Last year Honda put a totally new bell crank and pull rods on the 2011 CRF450. It was, in our opinion, a step in the wrong direction. It was stiffer throughout the curve (and the CRF450 rear end didn’t need to be stiffer) and it didn’t lower the rear of the bike. Thankfully, the new 2012 linkage (bell crank and pull rods) tries to mimic some aspects of the aftermarket shock linkages that local and National racers ran on their 2009-2011 CRF450s. The new link lowers the rear of the bike by 5mm and softens the suspension throughout the curve. Good stuff.

Footpegs: It is about time.


At this point, MXA is continuing to test the 2012 Honda CRF450. The first set of mods will be repeated with each race (and with each new batch of test riders—we have ten to choose from). We have more fork and shock settings to try, want to try longer pull rods, and need to swap out the four-spring clutch for a six-spring Hinson unit. We also have optional maps to try, and we have to work out the personal glitches of each test rider (or at the very least try to understand their personal peccadilloes).

MXA’s CRF450 process has really just begun— we don’t rush bike testing. Honda fans won’t see the full fruits of MXA’s CRF450 testing until the magazine that the test will be in comes out in late September.

We have a lot to learn, and even more to try, but we can promise you that in the full test we answer all your questions and it won’t be some blowhard test written from a three-lap ride. But, without gilding the lily—we like what we have seen so far...especially the fact that the 2012 Honda CRF450 weighs 231 pounds (without gas in the tank). For comparison, the KX450F weighs 242 pounds, the KTM 450SXF weighs 243 pounds and the Suzuki RM-Z450 weighs 244 pounds.

Honda tried to learn from the experience of their customers. They made three changes that mimic what hardcore Honda CRF450 owners were making. That is good...but without changing the clutch they are one change short of finishing the job.