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Honda 2004 CRF450R: MD First Ride



Dirck Exits a Slippery Elsinore Corner – The 2004 CRF450R Hooks Up and Hauls!

When I first asked the Honda press guy about changes to the CRF450R for 2004, he told me that the bike had a higher compression ratio, and quite a bit more torque. Quite a bit more torque? I immediately thought to myself that the Honda CRF450R needs more torque like Niagara Falls needs more water.

He went on to describe the number of detail improvements between the 2003 and 2004 models, resulting in an overall weight reduction of three pounds. Those changes (which we will discuss in greater detail below) indicate just how much this model means to Honda. Honda is definitely committed to pushing its big four-stroke motocrosser forward each year.

The improved engine performance, described as “quicker response and improved torque over the entire rpm range”, results from a new lighter piston that increases compression (now 12-to-1 versus 11.5-to-1 for last year), new ignition timing, new carburetor settings (new jetting), and a new exhaust system.



Big News: A Japanese Bike With Renthal Aluminum Bars
Stock (last year’s steel bars on bottom)

The three pound weight loss comes from a variety of changes. The left engine cover is now magnesium (last year it was aluminum) and the flywheel beneath that cover is two ounces lighter this year. Renthal aluminum handlebars are standard equipment this year (971 bend), replacing last year’s steel units. The fork guards, engine guards, hose clamps, front fender, front number plate and even wheel spacers were redesigned to reduce weight (many of last year’s steel parts became aluminum).



New Clutch Lever and Perch on Right

A new clutch lever features a quick adjust perch this year. Of course, that new perch sits on the new black annodized Renthal bars (which come with a black Renthal pad).

Other detail changes include a “non-slip” seat cover, taller gearing (two teeth were dropped from the rear sprocket), an exhaust system that was designed to centralize mass (the muffler sits closer to the center of gravity — see the photo), revised suspension damping, and honing of the inner surface of the front fork tubes for reduced friction (the first time this has been utilized on a mass production motocross bike, according to Honda).



New D742F on Right (last year’s
front tire on left)



New Shorter Exhaust System on Top

Honda brought the new CRF450R out to Lake Elsinore Motocross Park on a very hot afternoon (reaching 115 degrees) for yours truly to ride. To be honest, the heat kept me from pounding very many laps before having to visit the truck to re-hydrate myself. Nevertheless, being very familiar with the 2003 model, I could immediately tell that the 2004 model has been significantly improved.

The first thing I noticed was the engine performance. The new bike definitely pulls harder than last year’s bike (and that’s saying a lot, because last year’s bike was fast). Nevertheless, the power comes on smoothly and controllably. If anything, the powerband seems a bit wider this year, with a little bit more low end, and the ability to rev out farther.

The first time I hit one of the familiar table-tops at Elsinore, I over-jumped it by about ten feet, landing on the flat surface following the jump. I learned two things by doing this. First of all, the new CRF450R accelerates very, very hard (this is a jump out of a tight turn, where my 250cc two-stroke needs to be ridden hard to clear the jump — not the case on the CRF450R). Second, the fork bottomed, but not harshly (I am not sure what bottoming system Honda is utilizing, but I did not feel a harsh metal-to-metal clank).

As I got used to riding the new CRF450R, I really started to have fun on the bike. The bike does feel a bit lighter than last year. Three pounds isn’t much, but Honda has also made efforts to centralize the mass of the machine, which can actually make the bike feel lighter than it actually is.

The smooth power made it very easy to float jumps, and the bike felt very balanced with the revised suspension (particularly, after we took one click of compression out of the front forks).

The 2004 CRF450R also has new tires, this year. A brand new Dunlop 742F in front, and the popular Dunlop 756 in the rear (the same rear tire that Ricky Carmichael uses). This combination felt really good at Elisnore despite the heat (resulting in a dry, dusty track). The 742F, like the 756, is designed for a broad range of surfaces, from medium-hard to medium-soft terrain. Dunlop is pretty excited about the 742F, which makes its debut on the CRF450R. According to Dunlop, the 742F was developed by factory racing teams during the 2002 and 2003 motocross seasons.

The front end of the new CRF450R does feel like it sticks a bit better than last year’s bike did. According to Eric Crippa at Honda, this is the result of two things, including the new D742F front tire, and the new fork settings, which allow the front end to settle a bit more in corners. Again, track conditions did not provide a whole lot of traction, so the amount of confidence I had in the CRF450R front end was impressive.

The purpose of this article is simply to introduce you to the 2004 CRF450R — a bike we will have around for a long-term test. It is already clear, however, that Honda has made a very good bike (winner of more than one shootout in 2003) even better this year. The U.S. MSRP of the 2004 CRF450R is $6,499. It should be available at U.S. dealers later this month. Visit Honda’s web site for additional details and specifications.