Honda releases a true modern trail bike, does it have what it takes to tackle the Australian bush?
STORY MATT BERNARD PHOTOGRAPHY GRANT REYNOLDS/FIFTY SIX CLIX
Why doesn’t everybody drive a sports car? Because not everyone needs a bloody sports car! So, why do dirtbike riders have an infatuation with spending big dollars on bikes that are not built for the riding they do? A Lamborghini handles 3 kids and a pram about as well as a race bike handles cattle mustering, there is a better machine for the job.
When Honda announced they were bringing the CRF450L into the country, I was kinda disappointed. Huge muffler, fairly hefty weight and a package aimed at trails. It seemed a missed opportunity to me, a chance to take on the euros with the US-announced Honda CRF450X floated down the river. That was until I arrived at the Mt Kembla facility in Wollongong for the Australian media launch.
SHEEP IN WOLFS CLOTHING
Looking at the Honda CRF450L on the stand, it’s sexy. A motocross-style machine with the obvious ADR accessories. My mind started to tick over, maybe Honda are onto something here. Upon chatting with the Honda crew the decision to bring in this model started to dawn on me as a brilliant move from Honda. What is presented is a bike aimed at the weekend trail rider. It’s not made for Erzberg or motocross racing. In standard form, it’s designed to be ridden on fire trails, to work, carve some simple single trail and play on some fun hill climbs. It’s a trail bike. Let me repeat the world trail, you know the stuff that almost everyone rides on the weekend, trails, this bike is made for trails. Take this ‘trail’ bike, add a performance exhaust system, beef up the suspension, strip some weight and you have a pretty competition-ready machine. Likewise, bolt on some racking and you’ve got a fun bike to round up the sheep on. Add a big tank and some dual-sport accessories and you have a great bike for longer adventure-style rides. In theory, this is all awesome. While it was sitting under the awning of the Honda race team transporter at the launch, I was keen for a ride, but optimistic that this thing would be any good. I threw my gear on and went into the bush to answer some of my own questions.
The models we had to ride had a competition ECU map installed, to give it a little more punch. Most people are going to ask the dealer to install this map once they know it’s available, so I was appreciative that Honda had gone to the effort of doing this for us. Firing the Honda into life it sounds like a mellow 250cc trail bike. It’s so freakin’ quiet – perfect to keep the greenies happy. I like it. I turned the throttle, almost jokingly flicking the clutch to pop a stand-up wheelie, I was instantly shocked. It popped up like any other competition 450 enduro machine and we roosted down the fire road…holy shit, these guys are onto something. Into the trees and my impression of the Honda’s engine continued to improve. It’s smooth, incredibly easy to ride but without lacking in overall power and torque. It’s everything a modern 450cc trail bike should be, after a few laps of the loop set up at Mt Kembla I was totally sold on the engine. You can keep a nice low RPM and torque your way through the trees at a deceivingly speedy rate of knots. More than once I had to throw the anchor out to pull up quickly, not realising how fast I was travelling. The engine does exactly what it’s designed to do, and it does it well. I can picture this bike being ridden a short trip to work during the week and then being ridden through the bush on a weekend. It’s a versatile engine. After a few laps I headed back to the Honda tent where the guys removed the airbox cover to allow some more air into the beast. This did help liven the power a little more, but above anything it showed me what was possible to create with the 450L. Opening up the airbox, replacing that big dog of a muffler with a performance exhaust and removing some of the extra weight, you’d find this bike at home in an enduro event or even an Amcross.
THE WEIGHT OF THE ARGUMENT
The internet makes stupid people famous. I’m not talking about videos of pissed idiots attempting Nitro Circus moves on their DR200s, I am talking about people who read the specs of a particular motorcycle and form a complete opinion about it and go to town on the keyboard for all to read. Nobody knows what a bike is like from the specs sheet, but unfortunately the internet allows fools to jump on and publicise their uneducated opinion to the world. At 131kg, the weight is up there, but it’s just a small part of what this overall package is about. Once you are moving it’s not really worth the space to type about it, it’s just not noticeable until you are really pushing hard through tight and technical terrain. Until you are riding in that style of terrain, you are on a well handling motorcycle with a wicked engine. Remember, this bike is a trail-bike, a darn good one.
The chassis is lifted straight from it’s motocross counterpart, the Honda CRF450R. So it’s no surprise that the bike feels quite nimble between the trees. You’re not going to dart and rip through the bush like you would on a euro 300-two-stroke, but it’s a well-balanced machine with a plush suspension set-up. The 49mm Showa steel-sprung USD fork is on the soft-side but stays planted and handles the big hits well. There are a few rough sections on the loop we tested and the bike tracked well and didn’t deflect at all.
THROW IT IN THE VAN
This thing is a really, good trail bike. I will go as far as saying, this is the best ‘trail bike’ in the world right now. It has the mellow nature of a DR-Z400 with a more agile WR-like chassis and the looks of a CRF motocross beast. Don’t get yourself into ridiculously snotty Erzberg like conditions and you’ll have many a fun day trailriding the CRF450L. It’s ergonomically comfortable, easy to ride and handles trails well – nicely done Honda, this bike is excellent.
THE FAST FACTS
• This Honda CRF450L has what is basically the CRF450R frame. It’s been made slightly wider a the swingarm pivot points. This allows for the extra width of the engine to fit, the extra width is due to the 6-speed gearbox.
• Being ADR approved, the headstock was also modified to include a steering lock and above the handlebars a large computer with key is present.
• To reduce noise, the aluminium swingarm is injected with urethane.
• The 7.6L fuel tank features a lockable fuel cap
• The rear sprocket features a cush-drive style set-up
• While the engine is based off the CRF450R, the crank mass has been increased with offers a improved torque for trailriding, the valve timing is revised for smoother power as well as the mentioned 6-speed gearbox. The piston uses three rings for greater durability and the compression ratio is 12.0:1 when compared to the CRF450R at 13.5:1.
• The Honda CRF450L isn’t due for complete strip down until 32,000km!
• Fuelling and ignition maps are managed by an 02 lambda system.
• Lighting is produced by lightweight LED.
• RRP is $12,999 plus ORC