Updated 01/18/2019 (added links to various other owner reviews)
Recently, American Honda invited me out to Packwood, Washington to ride the 2019 CRF450L, one of the most hotly anticipated new motorcycle model releases in recent memory. I’ve been reading posts for years from riders begging the Japanese manufacturers to bring them a modern, performance oriented dual sport motorcycle, and I too was happy when I learned that Honda had stepped up. Increased competition means better bikes and more choices for us riders! 👍
Our 106 mile test loop included a section of country highway, twisting back roads, gravel forest service roads, fast & flowing double track, and epic technical single track. Weather was cool & damp and we rode elevations from approximately 1,000 to 5,300ft.
106 Miles of Dual Sport happiness!
Our test bikes were stock except for the installation of Dunlop D606 DOT tires, suspension clicker adjustments for the conditions being ridden, and sag adjustment as necessary. I’m a 49 year old, off-road focused dual sport rider with 35+ years of recreational riding experience. I’m not always the fastest in the group, but I rarely bring up the back either.
What Type of Rider is the CRF450L Most Suited To?
I think Honda was pretty accurate by framing the 450L as a trail-to-trail, performance dual sport. No question that it leans more towards the true dirt side of the spectrum, but with enough comfort and refinement baked in to make your ride to the trailhead and connecting trails enjoyable. It’s docile enough for a developing rider with decent throttle & clutch skills to enjoy on mild to moderate single track, but still has the ability to satisfy accomplished riders who like to push in more demanding conditions. Our test group included a few very fast riders (including Johnny Campbell) and no one said that the bike was holding them back much, if at all. I certainly didn’t feel limited when pushing anywhere. What the 450L is not is a light-duty trail machine designed more for traveling distance on graded dirt roads or highway. It very well might just do that, but it certainly isn’t one of its core competencies, nor would it be my first choice for such.
Does the CRF450L Have More Than the Rumored 25hp?
Oh, heck ya! Honda didn’t provide actual dyno numbers, but they estimated the 450L to be in the mid 40hp range. My butt dyno says that’s in the ballpark. It has enough oomph to keep things exciting, but not so much that you can get in trouble quickly when you're tired. No question that fire-breathing power can be fun, but for a long day in the saddle, the 450L power didn’t unnecessarily wear me out.
Yeah, the CRF450L will wheelie. Photo by Drew Ruiz
Throttle response is crisp and power delivery is super smooth & completely linear to its 10,000 rpm redline (5th gear). Roll-on power lower in the RPM range is initially a tad soft, something fairly common with emission controlled dual sports. However, a downshift or handful of clutch produces pretty much instant boost. To be fair, I’m a bit of a short shifter, so riding the bike in lower gear at a little higher RPM kept the motor in the sweet spot of the power curve.
The 450L has a 12% heavier crank and a heavier clutch basket than the 2019 CRF450R, making the power very tractable and resistant to stalling. The 450L put the power down incredibly well, making for excellent traction despite running a little higher tire pressure than I prefer (15psi front & back). I did manage to stall the bike a few times, but I blame that more on my left hand and gear selection than the bike.
I asked Honda if the ECU could be remapped, but they were a little hesitant to dive into that pool. And, I understand why. I pressed them just a bit and they did say that the ECU can compensate to some degree, such as for an aftermarket exhaust and that an ECU remap may be possible. You’ll have to form your own conclusions.
Is the CRF450L Showa Suspension Any Good?
The 2019 CRF450L has the same, fully-adjustable Showa 49mm coil spring fork & Pro-link shock as its 450R & 450X cousins, but specifically tuned for performance dual sport riding. It’s sprung for around an 180lb. rider (fully geared) and Honda took into consideration that some riders will be adding additional weight with the installation of a rack or soft luggage and cargo. Since we're talking about cargo, the aluminium sub-frame extends the full length of the rear fender and while Honda didn't quote us a weight limit, I rode at least a 175lb. rider back to his bike. I suspect that it will handle pretty much whatever most riders will need to carry.
Fully geared up, including a full hydration bladder and trail incidentals, I’m right at 210lbs.. Despite being 30lbs. over the ideal spring weight, I thought that the 450L suspension worked incredibly well. Riding over washboard forest service roads at a pretty good clip, I took note of how planted and composed the bike remained. On the trails it soaked up rocks and roots well, and even square edged hits didn’t transmit harshly though the handlebars or upset the chassis. I also took note of how well the bike handled sections of stutter bumps, something that does a good job of exposing suspension weaknesses.
Fun fast & flowing section of Pac NW single track. Photo by Drew Ruiz
On one of the higher-speed dirt roads, climbing up to a decommissioned fire outlook (Burley Mountain) were some awesome roller humps. I didn’t slow down for one in particular and when I was just about to lift off, I noticed that I was going to land in a dip on the other side. I figured that I was going to bottom out both ends, but to my surprise, the suspension fully soaked up the hit! Suffice to say, out-of-the box, I think that the 450L Showa suspension is highly effective, forgiving, and can only get better if sprung and valved for a rider’s weight, conditions, and skill level.
Does the CRF450L Feel Heavy?
I guess that depends upon what you’re use to. It feels noticeably lighter than my KTM 690 Enduro R, but not too much heavier than a KTM 450 EXC that I used to own or a KTM 450 XC-W that I rode this summer while in Colorado. Nowhere on the trail did I feel like I was wrestling a beast or fighting against the bike.
The 450L has a slightly longer wheelbase than the 450X for added stability on the road, but it still dropped into turns willingly and steered accurately. It didn’t take long for me to build confidence in the bike’s handling, trusting the front-end to stick and to start brake sliding into corners. The 450L is a very predictable handler, confidence inspiring, and fun to ride. I don't think it took more than an hour on the bike to feel right at home.
For those looking to save every ounce of weight, the biggest savings will probably come from an aftermarket exhaust, as the stainless silencer includes a catalytic converter to comply with emissions. It already comes with a light-weight Lithium battery, so there simply isn’t unnecessary weight just hanging around. Me? I wouldn't touch the stock exhaust and I'll cover why later in my review.
How’s the Gas Mileage?
The specs have been out on the 2019 CRF450L for a while now, so many have already shared their concerns about its 2 gallon fuel capacity. Obviously, mpg is going to vary by how you ride the bike and the conditions being ridden. Honda quoted an average mpg for mixed conditions of 50, so right at 100 miles per tank. While the digital dashboard doesn’t have a traditional fuel gauge that displays what you have left, it does tell you how much fuel you’ve consumed, how far you’ve ridden, and your average mpg for both trip A and trip B settings.
Admittedly, when we got back from the ride, I was pretty tired, soaked to the undies, and ready for a hot shower. So, I forgot to check how much fuel the bike had burned! What I do know is that approximately 2 gallons took me through 106 miles of epic Pac NW mountain roads & trails, I didn’t ride with fuel economy in mind, and I absolutely got my fill of riding that day.
For some riders, 2 gallons won’t be enough, so they’ll have to look to the aftermarket for a solution. I recently talked to Chris Harden, the GM at IMS Products and he confirmed that they’ll have an extra capacity tank ready in about 6 weeks. He further said that it should be between 3 to 3.2 gallons in capacity, have a screw cap and dry break option, and colors of black and natural. IMS will be sending me a 450L tank to check out, so I’ll post up some pictures when it arrives. Curious to see where they found the extra room.
How’s the Gear Box & Clutch?
The 2019 CRF450L features a 6 speed wide-ratio transmission with fairly low 1st gear for tight conditions and a 6th with enough legs for highway speeds.
1st gear is usable in very slow, technical conditions, but the bike can feel a little jumpy at times because the fuel mapping is somewhat sensitive. If you have good throttle and clutch control it’s not a big deal, it's just something that I noticed while getting to know the bike. In terms of gear spacing, I think Honda did a good job with the ratios, not noticing any unexpected or annoying gaps.
I was able to get the 450L up to 80 mph on a longer back road (closed for safety of course 😉) and there was still more speed to be had. I don’t see an issue with the bike cruising at 65-70, 75ish for shorter runs, and 80-85ish when passing. The 450L doesn't have a tachometer, so I can’t say what the bike was turning at different speeds. But for the vast majority of traveling speeds, the bike isn't rapping out or feeling like you’re squeezing. I asked Honda for the 450L transmission gear ratios, but I'm still waiting on them. I'll add them here when they come in. Honda did say that at 65 mph, the engine is turning in the 6,000 rpm range. ****Updated 09/25/18: Actual Gear Ratios***
Overall, I really enjoyed the 450L gearbox. It’s very smooth to operate, it’s quiet, and despite being on an unfamiliar bike, I didn’t have a mis-shift the entire day. I wish my 690 transmission was this good honestly. As a point of reference, I wear size 10 boots and getting under the shift lever was no problem.
I was initially a little disappointed to see that the 450L doesn't have a hydraulic clutch, but I found lever pull to be smooth and light as far as cables go. The clutch perch has a manual adjuster wheel that works well, even with gloves on. We didn't ride hard enduro conditions, but there were sections of technical single track that required more aggressive clutching and I didn't notice any fading or chatter. Both control levers are on the shorty side, something I prefer and both were effective with two fingers.
How are the CRF450L Brakes?
The 450L has a 260mm cross-drilled wave rotor up front that is squeezed by a Nissan 2-piston caliper. To meet DOT requirements, the front rotor is a thicker and the hydraulic reservoir carries more fluid. At the rear is a matching 240mm rotor and single piston caliper. No ABS is present at either end.
The front brake has good initial bite without being too grabby. I found it easy to modulate, fade free, and plenty powerful. The back brake was a little grabby, but I was just using it how I ride my 690. Once I adjusted my inputs it was fine and in short order I was brake sliding into corners like normal. The brakes were also able to haul the bike down from 70-80 mph on wet back roads with no drama.
Is the Seat Comfy?
It’s a slim profile dirt bike seat with fairly firm foam that, for its intended purpose, it's fine. Compared to the range of MX and Enduro bikes that I've ridden, it's one of the more comfortable, but it's not XR650L comfortable for example. Surprisingly, I didn’t start to get uncomfortable until the last hour, hour and a half of the day, but we also rode a decent amount of stand-up terrain. I’m sure that the aftermarket will bring 450L comfort oriented seats to the market very soon. I did like the seat cover; it has good grip, even when riding in wet conditions.
Is the CRF450L Tall?
At 5’ 10” with a 32” inseam, I’m pretty close to reaching the ground with both feet flat. Considering all the different dirt bikes, dual sports, and ADV bikes that I’ve ridden, no, I don’t think that 450L is tall. It has the same amount of suspension travel as the CRF450R and X, but it’s a little heavier, so it sits slightly lower in the stroke.
For the first couple of road miles, I thought that the seat to peg room was going to feel a bit cramped, but that thought quickly disappeared as the miles increased. One thing that I did like was how the textured radiator shrouds give you more traction at the knees and their profile created the perfect "pocket" when scooching up on the tank for sit down corners. If Honda made the textured areas of the radiator shrouds out of a little softer (grippier) material, they'd be even better.
Are the Service Intervals Reasonable?
For 2019 CRF450L, Honda specifies 600 mile oil change intervals and 1,800 mile valve checks. For the intended purpose of this bike, I don't think that's unreasonable. For oil, that's a half a dozen rides just like our test loop and 18 of the same for valves. At least for me, that's a lot of run relative to the time and maintenance costs. And, Honda is known to be conservative with their recommendations, so personally I wouldn't sweat going 10-15% over those miles occasionally. 2019 CRF450L service interval matrix
In terms of long-term reliability, there's no way I can tell you from a one day ride. The best indicators will be how later gen 450X models have held up and to a lesser extent, the 450R. Few would argue that Honda doesn't have a reputation for quality and the warranty on the 2019 CRF450L seems to back that up. It comes with a 1 year factory warranty, but the same can be extended out to 5 years total for an additional cost. You can even buy just an extra year or an extra 3, so flexibility has been built into the program. I do know that the 450L uses a 3-ring piston that will extend top-end life at a fractional performance cost pretty much no riders will notice. This just makes sense for the application.
Illustration: American Honda
Is the LED Headlight Effective?
We didn’t get an opportunity to night ride, so we improvised and pushed a 450L into a field on the edge the hotel, pointing the headlight into the woods.
The cutoff height increases with a rider on the bike. Pics taken with no rider. Photo by El Jefe of CDSR.
I think that the CRF450L headlight would do a good job for a night time cruise on back roads at legal-ish speeds and no question that it would get you off the trails if you got caught out after dark. But if you really want to trail ride at night, get something helmet mounted.
Anything That I Didn't Like About the 2019 CRF450L?
The clutch lever perch has an internal switch that requires the lever to be pulled fully against the grip in order to restart the bike. It wasn't a huge deal for me, but something that I noticed when I flamed out and tried to get the bike lit quickly with the magic button. I know that this was a point of feedback from some of the very fast riders in our group to Honda engineers who eagerly solicited feedback after the ride.
I also don't like that there is no back-up kickstarter for a dual sport that is designed to get deep into the woods. I did confirm with Honda that the new engine cases do not allow for one to be installed retro. My KTM 690 shares the same design and in the last 1.5 years of ownership it's been no issue. Honda has a pretty solid reputation for reliability, so I think that this falls under the premise that all things are possible, but not all things are likely. For those that Murphy's Law seems to follow, there are good portable jump starters that are easily carried in small packs and "smart" batteries that protect themselves from over-discharge such as the Antigravity "Re-Start" Lithium battery.
At least for me, the horn button is too easy to hit when you're looking for the turn signal switch. The button is above and sticks out past the signal switch below it, so I ended up honking at the rider in front of me a few times accidentally. But, by the end of the day, I had adapted. The turn signal switch gets used far more than the horn, so I think there's room for improvement ergonomically.
What Really Stood Out About the CRF450L?
Probably how smooth, refined, and quiet this bike is, despite it being so performance oriented and capable. The combination of rubber dampened sprockets, chain guide, roller & slider materials, urethane filled swingarm, and foam-backed plastic ignition, clutch, and primary sprocket covers help to make this the most refined, low vibration, and quiet street legal dirt bike that I've ridden. Add in a quiet exhaust note and the 450L is pretty stealthy. After a full day of riding, I had a ton of fun, never felt held back, but I really appreciated the lack of mental & physical wear that loud and more raw bikes have. Loud pipes don't save lives, but they do tick off others recreating in or living by the areas we ride.
Honorable mention: The LED turn signals double as running lights and can be bent 90°, snapping back into operating position without damage. It's a little detail, but a smart and appreciated one. On a bike like this, conventional signals on the rear would last days if not hours.
Would I Personally Buy a 2019 CRF450L?
Absolutely. Since I left the event, I've been thinking hard about putting a 450L in my garage. I really like this bike a lot. I've not been on a Honda since mid 2000 and they brought their guns to the performance dual sport market with the 2019 CRF450L. Glad to see Honda shaking up the segment and riders are the winners. I wonder who will fire back next?
Questions & Comments?
I could probably write more about the 2019 CRF450L, but I think that I covered the important stuff and the things that stood out to me. But, the cool thing about ThumperTalk is the conversation. If I didn't do a good job explaining something or worse, completely glossed over something important to you, DO post your question(s) in the comments section below. If I know, I'll answer. If I don't, I'll reach out to the Honda folks and see if I can get an answer. The 450L isn't cheap, so if I can help you make the right decision, my mission will have been accomplished. Also, you can find a several galleries with lots of photos of the 2019 CRF450L in action, as well as close-ups and tech/service info HERE.
Bryan Bosch, ThumperTalk.com
#crf450L #ridered #dualsport #blessed #grateful
Edited by Bryan Bosch