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2019 Honda CRF450L: MD Ride Review, Part 1

How long have we been waiting for Honda to take its glorious 449cc Unicam single from its motocross bike and stick it into a street-legal dual sport? Not sure, exactly, but it has been well over a decade. Content to let others (most notably, KTM) occupy this space, Honda took its sweet time.

Enter the 2019 Honda CRF450L which is currently being tested by MD. We haven’t put a lot of time on the bike — primarily street time, rather than off-road, but have some immediate impressions we’d like to pass along before publishing our final review.

Required to pass current emissions/sound requirements, and meet reliability standards for street use, Honda obviously could not directly transplant the fire-breathing motocross engine found in the CRF450R motocrosser. As a result, Honda redesigned the engine.

The six-speed transmission (the motocrosser has five) allowed us to reach an indicated 90 mph before an abrupt ignition cut (the bike clearly could go faster). Things like larger oil capacity, cush drive to protect the transmission on the road and thicker cases (among other reasons, to keep things quieter) were necessary.

The CRF450L does have the same bore and stroke numbers as the motocross bike, as well as its premium suspension components (fully adjustable Showa fork and shock). As we understand it, the chassis geometry (including wheelbase, rake and trail) is close – slightly relaxed from the race bike.

The motor is excellent, offering very good power with a linear delivery. It snapped out of corners on a recent street ride through tight, twisty roads. Power comes on right above idle and smoothly, and predictably, pulls through a meaty mid-range before signing out on top. Fuel injection mapping, and throttle response, are outstanding.

Of course, the off-road biased Dunlop D606 tires aren’t at their best carving corners on paved roads. They kept us upright, but had us dreaming about supermoto rubber. We’ll report back with our off-road impressions and round out this review. Stay tuned.


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65 Comments

  1. Jim says:

    Why anyone would buy one of these over the KTM 500 is beyond me, given that the Honda also has a high maintenance enduro motor.

    • JHolmes says:

      Why? You know the answer:

      1. Far far more reliable.
      2. Cheaper/easier to maintain.
      3. Dealers everywhere.

      And at this point I don’t know the actual OTD street price. But I suspect in short amount of time it will be noticeably lower than the EXC.

      Don’t bother trying to refute any of the first three. If you do, you’re not paying attention, or simply an orange fanboy.

      • JHolmes says:

        This is not to say there aren’t reasons to own the the KTM, there are:

        1. Higher performance threshold
        2. Established model — more existing mods, used parts, and intelligence.
        3. Strong KTM following. Pretty cool being part of an ardent group.

  2. Neil says:

    I like it and it is exactly what we’re been asking for. We seem to complain no matter what. It is the race bike made for the street and titanium is one reason for the price, that and the same suspension as the race bike which is $$$. This ain’t no DR650.

  3. Vrooom says:

    It’s a bike I could own for sure, just not sure the $10,400 price can be justified.

  4. todder says:

    I remember looking at the Euro Legal version of this back when shopping for a street legal enduro. Ended up with a Husky 501 and I’m not sorry. Really wanted a Honda or Yamaha T7 Enduro at the time, but I’m getting older and the body is telling me not to wait…take advantage of the riding time before its too late.

    Have fun on the trails!

  5. Tommy D says:

    The local dealer has one just sitting on the floor collecting dust. Probably due to the lack of riding areas to head off to in most of the Northeastern US. Meanwhile the Husky dealer down the road can’t keep 701 SuperMoto’s in stock. I think Honda should have offered a SuperMoto kit for this bike and had it as an option from the dealer.

    • Mick says:

      That’s the problem with the northeast. It’s a dirt bike desert. But there is this thing that the people there seem to forget. There is the whole rest of the United States. Many areas in the rest of the US are not incredibly callous. If they take fees from dirt bikers. They give land to make trails on in return. They have this crazy idea the you should actually get something for the fees that you pay. Here in NH they want $48 per bike per year, if you joined a club for $30. They want $78 if you are not a club member. What do you get? Two six mile trails. Both of them are quite severe. Where are they located? On US Army Corps of Engineers Engineers land. You pay the state for access to federal property.

      They can get bent. I joined a couple of clubs to be a good guy. But I don’t pay the state a dime if they are not going to pony up any land. I go to America to ride my dirt bikes. It says “live free or die” on my license plate. That’s cow flop. It’s “pay fees until you die”.

  6. motorhead says:

    OK, I really this bike. If there were ever a natural disaster in my town and the roads were clogged up with bad traffic, I’d want this bike to escape the calamity. Drive through ditches, across roads,ford the creek, jump a couple fences, get out of dodge. Reliable, fast enough, light enough, big enough

  7. Scott Knoch says:

    First impressions of your report lead me to believe that your unfamiliar with the bike you how only mostly road miles with. “Honda took it’s sweet time” while Honda is the first Japanese manufacture to make the plunge. Puts them ahead of the “plunge” of Japanese manufacturers.
    “As a result, Honda redesigned the engine”. Truth in a derogatory way indicating that any other manufacturer would use their MX motor to provide MX power with DS reliability. In essence the compression is reduced,and an extra ring for longevity with power that is still in the reasonable range of a 450cc engine. “The abrupt engine cut out”. Is in place due to the tire speed rating, yes those things are considered and this is the reasonable answer. I personally don’t need to do more than 90 mph on knobies on a street legal DS. “cush drive to protect the transmission”. First point being there is no cush drive. It is in fact a rubber cushioned sprocket. ”Things like larger oil capacity” larger than what?? “thicker cases (among other reasons, to keep things quieter) were necessary”. Facts would be great here, teach me something. The D606 is not the factory supplied rubber. Other than that your right on the mark. Just bustin you’re balls. Post more when you more real life dirt miles. 😊

  8. Gary says:

    Lace some 17″ hoops onto those hubs and de-restrict the engine and I say it’s one heck of a street supermoto.

  9. WJF says:

    This is interesting, a 450 dual sport. I used to think I needed one of these for the “performance.” However, there is a guy in the organization I race in (Florida Trail Riders) that races a xr650l who is blazing fast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCIyUK0JCNQ). He is not the only one who rails on bikes you would not think to use for something like this. Eh, my two cents

    • Bob K says:

      Big Red Pig for the win!!!! That was a real fun watch. The terrain on that course is remarkably similar to my part of east Texas piney woods minus the palm trees.
      .
      I rode an ’85 XL600R through the same stuff for a couple years. A meager 25 RWHP but the delivery was perfect for the terrain. No spinning the tires going nowhere fast like the guy on that 250. It was smooth and easy to control. All I had to do was steer the thing. The weakest point was the suspension and kept me from ever going any faster.

    • spokes says:

      Can you say Scott Summers? Showed the national level boys how to do it back in the day. Good on your bud for riding an XR.

      • Anonymous says:

        Scott was phenomenal on the XR600.

      • paul says:

        I found this off an older thread from Thumpetalk… they were discussing Scott Summers.

        “Some years ago, a group of us were trailriding in KY. We were going along at what we considered to be a decent pace when we were passed by Scott riding an XR650L. We tried to keep up, but couldn’t even come close. He had his girlfriend riding on the back.”

  10. Lou G says:

    One word describes this bike and I love Hondas….Tanker

  11. PatrickD says:

    I guess a lot of people would like to see the Dakar version of this bike, with large tank and increased instrumentation. The TFT screens fitted to several bikes today would be cool with a GPS maps feature.

  12. Fred_M says:

    People buying this bike are not using it to compete in motocross or enduro racing. So why the 450cc displacement limit? If Honda had to give up some power for reasons of engine longevity, reliability, and emissions compliance, then why not bump the displacement up to 500cc or even 550cc to get some of the power back? There’s not a big weight increase brought on by such a modest increase in displacement. Other than that, I’m impressed.

    • Dave says:

      In a two words, production efficiency. They can’t sell enough to justify the added cost of a unique engine. KTM has what you’re looking for, though.

      • Reginald Van Blunt says:

        I agree with both Fred and Dave, however there is another fly in the ointment. If this is indeed a street/dirt the 450 will be spinning a lot for some of the street use, in a manner that will just get more annoying with ownership time. Displacement increase might allow taller gearing for the occasional highway fling. KTM is a different maintaince/cost issue.

      • Fred_M says:

        But this is already a unique engine, internally and externally. Compared with the CRF450R, it has different, wider cases, different gearbox (6 wide ratio vs. 5 speed), different compression ratio, different head bolts (143mm vs. 148mm), different crankshaft, different piston and rings, different balancer shaft and gear drive, and so on. Even the left and right crankcases are different between the two engines.

        Dave, I absolutely grant that it shares a lot of parts, and I suspect that some which have different part numbers in the final three characters may secretly be the same part (with different part numbers to track failure rates by model).

        But increase the bore by 2mm and the stroke by 4mm and you’ve gone from 449.5cc to 498.6cc. I think that’s easily done without great cost when they are already changing the crank, piston, and cylinder.

        • Dave says:

          I wasn’t aware that it was so different from the “r”, beyond the transmission. They must think/know that 450cc is some sort of “catch weight” in category? Interesting..

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            A lot of the changes in the F vs the prior X are also incorporated into the 2019 X, including the transmission.

            Interestingly, though, all three iterations of the 450 use a different crank.

    • todd says:

      It’s just value by association. The 450 has a good reputation and is a desirable bike. Most people will automatically assume the street version is closely related but with a detuned (i.e. more reliable) engine. In other words, they will sell more 450s than 500s due to this perception.

    • TimC says:

      No matter what type of bike, conventional displacements are Never Enough. 636 started it I guess?

      Hell, just put a 1200 in it, why not

      Edit: er, sorry, 1298

  13. Provologna says:

    Earlier Honda 450 top ends had a bad reliability record up to circa 2008, possibly even a few years later. At that time my friend/ex-AMA pro race bike builder/engineer (engine specialist) said, even with all the known history, the source of the problem was never confirmed. Compared to other Japanese OEM open class MX motors, Honda 450 top ends had consistently higher fail rate.

    In the last ten years or so, did Honda fix the top end issue?

    • 5229 says:

      Take a look at the Winners of the Baja 1000 in recent years. The CRF450X’s have dominated. The CRF450L is based on the New CRF450X for 2019. Judging by it’s race heritage reliability is not an issue.

    • Dave says:

      A consumer owned bike like this will never see anything even approaching the demands of professional MX racing, nor will the engine ever be tuned to that output level. Change the oil when recommended and ride. It’s a non-issue.

    • todd says:

      I’ve also had multiple issues with the earlier RFVC heads in my Honda’s. Those helped confirm that I’m a Yamaha guy.

    • Regan says:

      Anyone know the 450Ls maintenance schedules for valve train and piston? Hopefully it won’t be as bad as KTM/Husky/Beta maintenance schedules. If so a hopped up Wr250r may be a better way to go.

    • Bob K says:

      I had well over 400 hours on my 2005 450X. The valves stayed in spec the whole time. But the exhausts were steel, not Ti, like the 450R. The only times I’ve heard of top end problems from anyone at CRFs Only and ThumperTalk was due to sand getting past the filter. One thing about dirt bikers is that they typically are not as meticulous or consistent with maintenance as street riders. They’ll lube the hell out of a chain and knock the dust off a filter regularly but don’t go into too much detail unless they’re actually having a problem. The riders tend to be cheap bastids unless they’re the more serious riders of the bunch.

  14. GS Jim says:

    I think they made a mistake making the tank a puny 7.6 litres, maybe to give it a low fueled weight.My typical days are 2-300 km often with no chance of fuel in between and i can’t see this getting more than a 140 km to pushing. Love the 23 litre tank on my KLR, have siphoned fuel into partners bikes on many occasions. Make sure your Buddy has a KLR haha.

    • Grover says:

      Should be 3.5 gal. minimum since it’s a dual-sport. Nobody is going to keep the stock tank. Add $300 to the $10,400 for starters.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Bikes of this ilk are designed to be street-legal but not necessarily streetable. It does not compete with a KLR at any level.

      The largest stock tank in this class is 2.3 gallons if I’m not mistaken. The main goal is to keep the bike narrow up there.

  15. Bruce S says:

    Terry is correct, no 606s and no cush drive, just sound deadening rubber as we have seen on my countershaft sprockets!!!

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Wrong. Without Cush, you risk destroying the transmission on a dual sport…as opposed to a dirt bike that is not used on tarmac with perfect traction. Honda didn’t make this mistake. As far as the tires, we test the tires on our test unit, and in this case they are Dunlop D606s. Showroom tires may differ.

      • GS Jim says:

        Looks like the rear sprocket is bolted directly to the hub, the fiche also shows a one piece rear hub. As for my two dual sports in the garage one has the damper (cush) the other (with 60,000 km) doesn’t but both have the rubbery countershaft sprocket.

      • TF says:

        Very true regarding damage to the transmission. As a matter of fact, you cannot presently buy a countershaft for an older KTM RFS engine because so many people have destroyed theirs via extended pavement or supermoto use.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      You guys are correct in that the rubberized sprockets mentioned are to reduce noise… Says so right on the Honda website.

      Whether it has or hasn’t a cush drive is not mentioned in the specs.

      Given the weight penalty they’ve already conceded to the competition, it would be a let down if they did omit the cush. However, I would not be surprised if it doesn’t have one.

      If I’m not mistaken, none of the European dirt-bikes with-lights dual sports use a cush drive. Mine certainly doesn’t. With as little time as they are intended to spend on the tarmac, the agressive DOT knobby tires do a fair enough job as a cush drive. Guys that spend more time on the road or run more streety rubber have to add the cush drive. It’s a $275 option on my bike. Then there are aftermarket sources ranging from $300 to $500 depending on the bike.

    • John A. Kuzmenko says:

      How does a rubber noise-dampening ring at the rear sprocket teeth equal a cush drive?
      Isn’t a cush drive where the rear sprocket bolts to a separate hub with projections which are then inserted to engage with big rubber dampers held in the actual rear wheel hub?
      Such as on your typical R1 or GSX-R.

      Motorcycle Daily’s test bike most likely had Dunlop D606 tires installed after it was uncrated in the USA.
      Maybe it was one of the bikes at the official Honda press launch a few months back.
      The CRF450L on a Honda dealer’s showroom comes with IRC GP21 and GP22 tires as shown on Honda’s website.

  16. Anonymous says:

    $10,400.00 MSRP. Wow!

    • Provologna says:

      It’s all relative. The apparently uncontested best current value in ultra high performance automobiles is the Corvette ZR-1 w/$120k SRP. Considering the Honda is about 1/12th the cost, $10k seems pretty reasonable.

      Consider too the difference in cost per mile with depreciation, insurance, tires, fuel, maintenance, etc. I bet each tire for the Vette is a least $450.

      • TimC says:

        “Best value” that is if you consider GM’s styling and interior schlock to be worth anything. I really wish one day the Corvette would be a car worthy of its performance, but damn GM is just an abomination. The Mark of Pestilence.

    • Fred_M says:

      Wow is right. That’s really a bargain when you consider that it’s only about $1,100 more than the CRF450R motocross bike.

      For the $1,100, a buyer is getting another gear in the transmission (6 speed vs. 5 speed on the motocross bike), electric start with a lithium-ion battery, DOT-approved lights and mirrors, 50-state compliant muffler and a catalytic converter to meet emissions regulations, thicker engine cases to reduce noise, a titanium fuel tank, an electric fan for cooling, and full instrumentation.

      And, unlike the motocross bike, which has no warranty at all, the CRF450L comes with a one year factory warranty!

      I’m with you: It’s amazing that they can offer that much bike for so low a price.

    • Chris says:

      I’ll stick with my $5300 Ninja 400.

  17. TIMOTHY BEAL says:

    @Kevin P — I read that and went “HUH!” I work at Lake City Powersports, the Seattle Honda dealership, and I can tell you that the 450L does not come with 606’s. But the IRC’s it does come with are not bad. I’m even saving mine for dual sport usage till they wear out. For the rainy winter here I’m running a set of Metzler Lasertecs on my 450L. Love the bike!!!

  18. Terry says:

    I was under the impression that the rubber ring on the rear sprocket was just for sound damping and that there was no cush drive.

  19. Mick says:

    Well I’ll be darned. I’ll be interested to see how the de-neutering process goes.

  20. Kevin P says:

    Interesting to hear it came with D606 tires as others have had IRC. Also happy to hear that you felt fueling to be outstanding, in contrast to two internet reviews reported stalling at low speed and what sounded like a lean condition noticed on tight trails at low RPMs. I’m curious to hear the full review. And I’m happy with what Honda has done. I also hope Yamaha is doing more than listening, as a WR450R for 2020 would be nice.

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