November 2018 Update:
Honda can’t wait to win the Dakar any longer. They’ve announced a CRF450L Rally
October 2018 Update:
The US gets a barely-road-legal, ‘red KTM’ dirt bike
The UK and elsewhere get a detuned, better equipped 25-hp Euro 4 version. More here
Thanks to several people who pointed me towards Honda’s announcement of their upcoming CRF450L last week. Was this finally the bike which I’ve been droning on about for years? An ideal lightweight, all-road modern travel machine, based on the proven, inexpensive but heavy CRF250L trail bike (right) which I bought myself soon after it came out.
When I first saw its very close resemblance to the long-established 450R dirt racer, or indeed the similar, street plate-able (in the UK, at least) CRF450XRL (right), I was disappointed; it was just a barely street-legal dirt bike for the US with the same yard-high razor saddle and crazy 55hp requiring maintenance intervals measured in hours. Blink and you’d miss it among the spread of near-identical current Honda powersports dirt racers above left. [I was right]
But, based mostly on the thoughtful preview on this unusually well informed enthusiast’s website (a Honda proxy? Note the comments now piling in), I gave the new 450L a second look. Images here are mostly all pinched from there, but probably all Honda’s anyway.
The problem has always been that Honda lacked a suitable 450 engine to stick in this dream trail and travel bike of ours. And on the road the 450 class seems a bit dormant – although, until recently the new ‘300 class‘ was non-existent. And anyway, the idea of rugged lightweight adventure biking in the mould of CCM’s short-lived 450GP may be much talked about in our tiny adv echo chamber, but as we know adventure motorcycling is really another name for big ‘sports utility’ bikes. Honda would never sell enough 450Ls to make it worth their while. [Correct]
The 250L used a heavy but durable CBR road-bike engine which in 2014 became a CBR300 with just 36 more cc but a lot more bottom end. Some have been waiting for a CRF300L (and have even shoehorned in CBR300 motors into 250Ls). But clearly you can’t squeeze another 150cc out of that barrel.
What Honda have done here seems quite radical: instead of creating a new machine, they’ve massively detuned the 450R racer (by over 50%) down close to the 250L’s output – and less than my similarly high-spec WR250R (left) which weighs about the same 131kg.
To achieve this they added the lightest possible road-legal LED lights, a battery and decent alternator, a more durable three-ring piston, side stand, necessary emissions claptrap including a cat and big pipe (weight to be saved there), cooling fans on the extra big rads, a wide-ratio 6-speed box, an 18-inch rear with the all-important cush drive and even a lockable fuel cap on the titanium tank. All they forgot was cool, rally-style bodywork and a seat fit to sit on. But that may come if they ever win the Dakar. All this adds 19kg over a 450R racer, but at 131 kilos that’s still pretty good.
But what still throws me is the new 450L’s schizophrenic nature:
• fully adjustable suspension
but 25hp – 1 more than the 250L cheapie?
• ‘enlarged’ titanium tank but still only 7.6-litres (1.66 Imp gal)?
• carries the ‘L’ road bike label but more than twice the price of the 250L?
• 20,000-mile major service/rebuilds, but 620-mile oil changes?
• Will a European Euro 4 version really be drastically less powerful than a 40-45hp US version? Has there been a precedent for this?
The power may now be modest, but with compression down to 12:1, the claimed torque is 40% more than a 250L which, along with more crank mass, proven efi and six wide ratios, ought to make the 450L a tractable trail bike that’s less revvy and vibey on the road. It ought to be easy to lower too. Just a shame they couldn’t have managed another 10hp and –more usefully – normal oil change intervals. I’m looking forward to trying one anyway, if they turn up in the UK, but the lack of ABS (mandatory on new EU bikes, afaik) makes you wonder. The new XR400? It’s as close as we’re going to get from Honda, not that the XR4 (right) was any kind of travel bike in it’s day. A great dirt bike for sure, but the tall saddle, kickstart and the frail subframe held it back for long hauling. I’m probably thinking of a modern DRZ400S (left), a proven if unsophisticated small travel bike which I’ve nearly bought many, many times. It’s been unavailable in the UK for a decade so they’re either pretty ratty or over-priced, but it’s still sold new in the US for under $7000. The question is: could the 450L’s claimed 25hp be enough? Possibly, if the bulk of it is available at lower rpm. The 40-kilo heavier BMW310 (right) makes a true 30hp, but not till you get to 9500rpm. Most of the time we rode them in the < 6000rpm/20hp zone and got by well enough. Same with my old WR250R: 28hp way up at 10k in the titanium-valve stratosphere. A travel bike wants the power low down and accessible; so does a dual sport bike – we’re not racing here. If the new 450L makes its 25hp low down and is as pleasant ride around all day as a 250L (for what it is), then it could be worthwhile. But I’d be a lot more inspired if it was making nearer 35hp. It does!