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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

2019 Honda CRF450L: MD Ride Review, Part 2

In Part 1 of our review of the Honda CRF450L, we focused on street performance. Part 2 of our review focuses on the dirt, which is really what this bike is all about.

We discussed most of the technical specifications of this bike in our earlier article, but a quick recap is in order. This 450cc single-cylinder dual sport is a hard-core, dirt focused machine that also happens to be street legal. High-end, fully-adjustable Showa suspension components offer 12 inches of travel front and rear, while the tall seat height (37.1″) and dirt bike ergonomics, including long narrow seat, further signal the intention of this lightweight machine – a claimed 289 pounds with the 2 gallon, titanium fuel tank topped off.

With well over 40 hp at the crank (Cycle World measured 38 hp at the rear wheel), this is a fast dual sport, but it is also quiet. We understand Honda achieved this, in part, with thicker case covers, a front sprocket cover and even a foam–filled swingarm. It worked, because this bike, despite impressive power, is much quieter than most high-performance dual sports we recall riding.

Keep in mind that this is essentially a dirt bike with lights. No ABS, minimal, but adequate instrumentation, and a thin seat that is not designed for long road trips. Although we saw an indicated 90 mph on the highway, and the bike is smooth and steady at elevated speeds, you wouldn’t use this model if you weren’t interested in spending a good deal of your time in the dirt.

Off-road, we found the new CRF450L felt quite at home. Although a bit heavier than a pure enduro or motocross bike, and 20+ pounds heavier than some of its street legal competition from Europe, the 450L handled well and also masked its weight. The bike can be ridden very fast off-road, and the suspension soaks up anything you can throw at it – including jump landings with a 200 pound rider aboard.

Part of what makes this an excellent off-road bike is the smooth, tractable power from the engine. Gear spacing in the six-speed transmission is excellent. First gear is very low, and we found ourselves frequently using second gear (while slipping the clutch) even while negotiating tight, technical trails.

While the brakes are adequate on the road, they work very well in the dirt. Plenty of power and good feel allow the rider to modulate the front brake without locking it, which is critical off-road. The ergonomics are typical Honda motocross, that is, the rider feels balanced and in control, and the flat seat allows easy movement to place your weight where necessary under different circumstances.

The clutch is important in the dirt, and the Honda has an excellent one. Clutch pull is relatively light, and engagement is easy to modulate in tight, technical terrain.

In short, this is a great dirt bike that will get you between trails on highways that require a license plate. Highway travel is reasonably comfortable, given the nature of the machine, but once you get into the dirt the performance of the CRF450L permits virtually any type of riding, from casual, easy trails and fire-roads to a day of practice at the motocross track. The only limitation is rider skill.

Based on our testing, you can expect in the neighborhood of 45 mpg, which puts range below 100 miles – something to keep in mind. There is no kick starter, but we were able to bump start the bike easily enough – which could save you if your battery gets low.

We can’t say much about the long-term reliability of the bike except this. Honda has been building a dirt-only CRF450X for several years – a bike very similar to the CRF450L, using an engine that is close in specification, and tune – and that bike has proven virtually bullet-proof for many owners. Nevertheless, the CRF450L is in a relatively high state of tune for a dual sport so you can expect maintenance intervals that are shorter than your typical street bike (roughly 1,800 miles between valve checks, for instance). As we said, a dirt bike with lights … and an extremely good one.

Priced at $10,399, the CRF450L is available in a single color scheme (pictured). Take a look at Honda’s web site for additional details and specifications.

See more of MD’s great photography: Instagram


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  2. Matt says:

    DR650se all day long for me. Super reliable and easy to work on. 27K on the clock now. Throw on a sheepskin seat cover, Pumper carb, exhaust and suspension upgrades. Handlebars, risers, lowered footpegs. I can ride all damn day. I get bored after about 8 hours in the saddle! And still be well under 8K in money spent.

    • Anonymous says:

      Great choice in a real world bike that’s still available, Matt. I think you can still get an IMS 4.9 gallon tank for it and be way ahead of this overpriced, maintenance intensive Honda POS.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Ford Pinto all day long for me. 2.8 L Cologne V6, pumper carb, 4-speed, beaded seat cover and dice on the mirror. And WAY ahead of any overpriced, maintenance intensive Ferrari POS.

        Seriously, though, not knocking the mighty DR650. But those two bikes are from different worlds. Neither bike could really be substituted for the other. Matt’s mission of 8 hour days in the saddle suit the DR, and the bike is more capable off-road than many might think if you put a little money into it. But the Honda will be way ahead when the going gets tough.

        • Anonymous says:


        • Anonymous says:

          How far away can you be “when the going gets tough” with a stupid small gas tank?

          Answer – Not far if you rode the bike to the destination.

          This bike is a race bike with lights. Dumb. You’ll need a truck or trailer to get to where you might be able to use any advantage the Honda has over the DR650.

          Facts done care about feelings. The bike is expensive. The tank is uselessly small. The maintenance intervals are ridiculous.

          Nice job Honda. You made a bike that you claim is dual purpose but it can’t do anything remotely related to what a DR650 can do every single day.

          Take you there and back again. And again. And again. And again… Without emptying your wallet every couple thousand miles. I don’t know who asked for this Honda but I doubt they’re going to buy one.

          Hey Kawasaki, don’t make a new KLR that is as crappy for the real world as this Honda. Make it like the old one, i.e., useful not useless.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “Facts done care about feelings.”

            Interesting comment for someone who has offered only opinions instead of facts and judged the bike based on what you FEEL it should be rather than what it is.

            Look, no one buys a bike like this and then bungees a milk crate to the back. Your gripes reflect someone who just doesn’t value (or perhaps doesn’t understand) this kind of bike and how their owners use them.

            That “stupid tiny” tank (roughly the same capacity as all competitors) is probably good for a solid three hours worth of tight single track – quite the workout. Want more? Add a bigger tank, just like you would with any dual-sport in search of more range.

            This is not a street/light trail, DR650 kind of dual-purpose. Honda already makes the XR650 for that. The 450L is an extreme bike for extreme off-road riding, street legal only for the purpose of connecting trails or riding in some state and national park trail systems that require a vehicle be plated to use their “roads.”

            As far as it being expensive, I personally think that paying $7000 for 1984 budget bike technology is expensive. The 450L seems like a screaming good deal in comparison.

      • Matt says:

        Agreed! I have one of those IMS 4.9 tanks for road trips!

  3. Anonymous says:

    My DRZ400s does 108 mph.

  4. Tom R says:

    Will some manufacturer PLEASE build an updated 650cc single dual sport-adventure-ish bike for grown-ups who wish to pursue casual dirt roads, out-of-the-way paved roads, and occasional highways?

    50 HP
    Five gallon tank
    Fuel injection
    Tubeless tire/wheels
    Moderate windscreen/fairing
    Provision for side cases
    Decent seat comfort with moderate height
    400-420 pounds would be fine
    Electrics with enough juice run heated grips and liner
    Cruise control

    • Anonymous says:


      • Tom R says:

        Yawn away, but why?

        • Hot Dog says:

          Tom R, I think you’re spot on with your wish. In Dakota we could run gravel/dirt roads all day and have a hard time finding gas, so a large tank is important. I sure don’t want to check valves every 1800 miles, heck that’d be a 3-4 day interval. While we’re dreaming, how about shaft drive, cast wheels (no spokes to clean) and a light tan color so I only have to wash it once a year.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      The riding you describe could be tackled by virtually any motorcycle. So most manufacturers are probably wondering why you are insisting on a 650 dual sport to do what any motorcycle could do.

      Well, maybe BMW isn’t wondering since you almost described the BMW G650GS to the letter.

      • Tom R says:

        Yes it is close save for the tank size and cruise control. Also they stopped making it a few years ago instead of updating it for Euro 4 standards.

        • todd says:

          See Husqvarna TR650 (Terra or Strada). I occasionally see them for sale in excellent condition with low miles and low price. A KLR650 is probably your best bet regardless if you need to stick with the DS styling and have to buy brand new for some reason. Not quite 50hp by a long shot but the KLR I’ve ridden was superbly capable at all those things.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          I didn’t realize they stopped making it. I guess they consider the F750GS its replacement, then? The G was the only relaxed and modern big single out there.

          • Ralph W. says:

            The G650GS was quietly removed from the market because of ongoing problems with the Chinese made engine. They destroyed the first batch of Chinese made 310s because they had problems. Now they have released the F750 and F850 with Chinese made engines. BMW is making bad decisions lately and it is destroying their reputation. I usually don’t criticize Chinese bikes because their low price means you get what you pay for. But I’m not going to pay a BMW price for Chinese quality.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like a winner to me, Tom R. Excellent commentary and until someone does this, there’s still the DR650 that Matt spoke about that can be made more than up to the task of real world riding and still come in thousands less than this stupid and costly Honda.

  5. Kermit says:

    I took a look at this bike the other day. I like it. Not fond of the price but sometimes reality sucks. The big issue for me though was the seat. The shape and foam density were not right for me. Sharp edged and hard. The 2018 XR650L sitting next to it on the other hand was very comfortable in comparison. Much better for me comfort wise. But the seat issue could be fixed. European brands had 2x4s for seats for years and they still sold. Put a supermoto kit on this and let er rip. Make it what you want. No bike is perfect. Great fun.

  6. CrazyJoe says:

    I suppose this bike as is would be great if you had to mix mostly off-road riding with some street riding. I got to ask are dual purpose bikes bought to customize them? If i bought a bike like this i would go with a larger aftermarket tank and better led lighting. Maybe tubelese wheels with street tires and brakes. A replacement for the thin seat? Definitely to much engine for me off road.

    Honda is about to release a 750 adventure bike. It would be a better choice for me. I’ll wait and see.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why would anyone buy this bike when most of the competition is 40lbs lighter ? Oh and I’m a Honda guy !

    • mickey says:

      For me lighter weight alone isn’t the only deciding factor in buying a motorcycle. Neither of the bikes I own are the lightest in their class or are particularly light, but a good reputation/history for reliability, a good dealer network with a dealer close by, parts availability, fit and finish and price all go into making my decision on whether to purchase or not. You can always make something lighter. Making it more reliable or affordable is a lot harder.

      • Ralph W. says:

        This is a dirt bike, so light weight is important unless you only ride slowly and in easy conditions. However, if you want a dirt bike with full road equipment that is tougher and more durable than others in its class (as this is meant to be) you have to expect more weight.

    • paul says:

      center of gravity is another consideration.

  8. austin zzr 1200 says:

    Possibly the perfect third or fourth bike. Hopefully other OEMs will jump on this trend as well as the aftermarket (yes, these kits have been around for a while) to find the sweet spot between power/ weight/ maint

  9. ChrisRR says:

    10%’er here. Drooling over this bike, but living in the northeast sticks I have a fleet of vehicles for both work and play, and I don’t have the time to be doing valve adjustments every 1,800 miles. So I’m out. But jeez that bike is gorgeous

  10. mickey says:

    I think it’s a great looking bike. I only have 2 issues…I’m one of those that has absolutely nowhere to ride it off road, without going at least 100 miles to a state forest and 2, I don’t have enough legs for it. Standing next to it, the seat would be just under my armpit lol

  11. Anonymous says:

    A ninja 400 is better on the street, and a true motocross bike is better on the dirt. Dual sport is a dead segment IMO to 90% of people who don’t live in the middle of nowhere.

    • Jabe says:

      As one of the 10% who lives in the middle of no where, I like this bike. I have hundreds of miles of hard core trails available to me, and many hundreds more of dirt roads. I agree that the dual sport market is a tough sell, except for people like me who love dual sports, but I also own street bikes and MX’ers. Still, nothing makes me smile as much as flogging an ‘enduro’ (as we call them) around the country side.

      • Bob K says:

        Well, Anony, I’m one of those 90% who don’t live in the middle of nowhere, Greater Houston suburbia to be specific and even I find a need for this.
        I DS’d my ’05 450X with Baja Designs and it was just fine for hitting the pavement to get somewhere in the countryside or the national forest where I also ride enduro. Did the same with my ’13 450X that got the Christini treatment. Rode from Houston to Big Bend and all along the border in the middle of nowhere. Furthest I took the X was to Socorro, NM. The only thing I had to do was really firm up the suspension for the road and higher speeds. Leaving them soft for off-road results in headshake at 40 mph.
        Nope, not a road bike for sure. However, the stock 450X tips the scales at around 270# wet. This road legal version isn’t much heavier at all. But it’s surely as off-road capable as the X. Same RWHP too.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I live near two large metro areas with abundant opportunities to use bikes like these to their fullest. This class of motorcycle is extremely common where I live – and growing in popularity if my observations parallel the reality. I find they also make great city bikes so long as highway speeds aren’t on menu for much of the commute.

  12. Steve M says:

    Its a mystery why anyone would buy one of these says the owner of a Husky FE501.

    • HalfBaked says:

      a 2019 FE501 has an MSRP of $11,299, higher cost of ownership and is based on a race bike.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        This bike is also based on a race bike.

        • HalfBaked says:

          True. But the FE 501 like all KTM/Husqvarna models is “ready to race” it is in fact a race bike. The CRF450L is not.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            What I’m saying is that while the Honda may be “Ready to pass Euro emissions for the next 10 years” it isn’t very far from the KTM ready to race concept. There isn’t a huge departure at all from the 450X on which the L is based. The L had race-ready suspension and is powered by a high spec engine with near competition engine maintenance schedules.

      • Steve M says:

        Hell I spend another grand and a half ‘fixing’ it. Just like you will have to do with this bike and it will still be heavier. These bikes are super cheap compared to decent carbon mountain bikes and diesel pickups. Which I suspect this demographic probably deals with as well.

  13. Tommy D says:

    I think we were really hoping for a bigger CRF250L Rally. I know I was.

  14. John Bryan says:

    Increase the displacement to approximately 500cc, detune enough to stretch the service intervals a bit and build a 500 Rally as a step up from the 250. 90% of the work to the engine is already done so why not do this Honda?

    • Tommy D says:

      YES! I was hoping for a road tuned CRF450/500 Rally. The 250 is a great bike but we need more power and a better rate suspension. I would pay double the 250 Rally price for a bike that delivers those goods. There would be no competition for a bike like that. Meanwhile the dealers near me haven’t sold their CRF450L’s. One is looking at setting it up as a SuperMoto to make it move out the door. Seeing how fast my Husky dealer sells 701SM’s I think its a smart idea.

      • todd says:

        It wouldnt be too difficult to buy a 250 Rallye and a 450L, swap over all the bits and sell the 250 as a trail bike to recoup a bunch of money.

        • Tommy D says:

          This bike is biased toward more woods than street as the 250 was more street than woods. I think Honda’s service interval is an example of this. The 250L has a valve check at 500 and then 16000 miles. This makes the tear down every 1800 miles on the 450L seem kind of crazy for a bike ever seeing street duty. It makes sense if it were a racing bike trying to eek out every ounce of performance. But for a bike with blinkers…

  15. GearDrivenCam says:

    “Nevertheless, the CRF450L is in a relatively high state of tune for a dual sport so you can expect maintenance intervals that are shorter than your typical street bike (roughly 1,800 miles between valve checks, for instance).”

    And I believe 600 mile oil change intervals too…. Hmmm. The WR250R has a much higher specific output relative to displacement (96 hp/L at the rear wheel) vs the CRF450L (84 hp/L at the rear wheel), yet the WR250R has 26,000 mile valve adjustment intervals and 3000 mile oil change intervals. And it’s only about 10 lbs heavier (wet). And about $3700 less expensive. And likely much better on the street. Of course – the CRF450L will be a much better dirt-bike. But this much better dirt-bike comes shipped with a seemingly impressive array of compromises.

    Heck, even the Husky 701 /KTM 690 Enduro appears to have 10,000 mile valve checks and oil change intervals, and it makes roughly 100 hp/L at the rear wheel too….

    • Ray says:

      The WR250R is more street oriented, and if you played in the dirt with a WR you will have about the same service timeline as the Honda. The Honda service intervals are longer than say the KTM 350EXC-F or Husky TE350.

      • GearDrivenCam says:

        If you play in the dirt with the WR250R you then would have the same service timeline as the CRF450L?!? You must be joking. That makes absolutely no sense. Where is the evidence for that claim in the Yamaha literature? So using the same reasoning – I suppose the CRF450L would suddenly gain 26,000 mile value adjustment and 12,000 mile oil change intervals if only street ridden? I’d love to see that. Adventure-riders would rejoice! Their new replacement for the beloved KLR650!!!

  16. paul says:

    Actually, considering the power available, the light weight ( it is lighter than my Yamaha XT250) and has the same range as my XT250, this is a very impressive machine, on paper. The reviews that I have read also indicate that this is a solid buy. As indicated in the review above, tractable power is where it counts when riding off-road, not to mention this thing moves quite capably on asphalt, too. Good job Honda.

  17. Chillis says:

    I have one. It is a slightly refined dirtbike with lights. Amazing suspension, super light(got tired of wrestling my Super Tenere off road), plenty of power and I get 50mpg on average.

    To be fair, I am still breaking it in. Works great in our desert and gearing feels great for technical rock picking to highway jaunts of the short kind.

    Damn fine job Honda. Finally built the bike everybody has been asking for. Let’s see who has the stones to put down the keyboard and buy one!

  18. bmbktmracer says:

    No wonder Honda just sat on the XR650 for so long… To be fair, it’s $800 cheaper than a KTM, has the same range, similar suspension performance, and similar power. It’s heavier, but it’s also quieter and smoother and the author (and others) have said the extra weight isn’t very noticeable. For those of us unfortunate enough to live in California, where bureaucrats frown on lawn mowers and red caps, a street legal and QUIET dirt bike is a great thing. I’d agree that the bike should have a minimum safe range of 100 miles.

  19. KTM = Kan't take Mexico says:

    The weight will be a deal killer for spec sheet warriors, or for KTM owners whose bikes live in the back of their pickup truck. People who actually ride places will be fine with this Honda.

  20. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Am I the only one who shudders at $ 10,000 + for a play bike that is a little heaver than the competition and can only make one loop in the desert ?

  21. Jeremy in TX says:

    It seems like a nice offering for the segment, but I would think it to be a pretty tough sell against the Euro bikes. The weight will probably be a deal breaker for many. People shopping these kinds of bikes are typically shopping for optimum off-road performance, and an extra 30 – 35 lbs of weight can definitely be felt in the bike’s intended environment.

    No doubt the bike will find some buyers by virtue of just being a Honda. And some may appreciate the fact that the Honda will probably easily go three times longer before an engine rebuild than the Euro bikes.

    • Mick says:

      Good luck with that. A Honda 450 is really lucky to get anything like equal hours on an engine rebuild and they especially hate long times at high speed.

      All of the four strokes that have blown up on my ice race tracks over the years were Honda 450s. Every single one of them.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Well, that’s interesting. I’m really just going off of their specified interval. I don’t have any personal experience with modern Honda dirt bikes.

        • Bob K says:

          My 450X lasted over 400 hours without having to shim the valves. Same piston too. But then again, what I never did was wind the thing up for looooooooooong periods of time. I put on real tall gearing for DS and highway use. Put the stock gearing back for enduro. Since I was always in the middle of the rev range, it lasted. But the Ti intakes would have hated being pounded at 10,000 rpms for extended use.

  22. Bill says:

    I thought people were hoping for a 450cc version of the 250 Rally.

    • Grover says:

      Agreed, a 450 Rallye would capture a much bigger market segment. It would’ve swayed me to sell my KLX250S and buy a more street oriented CRF250L pumped up to a 450.
      I understand exactly what Honda is trying to do with this new CRF450L, but there is a much bigger market out there for a little more street oriented bike with:
      1) More range to get to the trails and back
      2) Much longer service intervals
      3) Lower price
      4) More street comfort to actually ride to the trails
      5) Trash the titanium tank, it’s a needless expense

  23. Pacer says:

    Or buy a street legal 07 KTM 525 for under $3k. That is what I am pondering right now.

    (This was meant as a response to “Anonymous” who mentioned buying an old two stroke.)

  24. Anonymous says:

    You can’t really even ride it to the trails and back on what that pathetic tank holds. This thing isn’t dual purpose. It has no purpose.

    Ridiculous of Honda but then other manufacturers do the same crap to us with tiny fuel tanks. And speaking of ridiculous? Those maintenance requirements are stupid.


    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Dual-purpose really just means something different between what you are thinking vs. what the target market of this bike is thinking.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I’d rather get one of those hitch mounted, single bike carriers and a used 250 two stroke that costs a third of what this bike does. Constantly breaking mirrors, blinkers, passenger pegs on dual sports is a P.I.T.A.

  26. Bubba says:

    Alright if a grand less…otherwise, I’d rather see the Honda Monkey make it to Canada than this bike. Listening Honda?

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