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Track Tested | 2020 SML 450 MX Shootout



Third Place: Honda CRF450R

Test rider scores: 2-5-3-3-3-4

All-new for 2019, the 2020 CRF450R boasts some targeted refinements that equal big changes. The fork and shock received new valving for better hold up in the stroke and initial comfort, and the bike’s center of gravity was lowered by relocating the electric starter battery to the bottom of the airbox. The biggest change, however, is in the electronics. The CRF still boasts three EFI maps, but like the Austrian machines, the Honda is now equipped with electronic traction control that boasts three different levels of assist. All told, there are a dozen different powerband options available at the touch of a couple of handlebar-mounted buttons.

On the track, the CRF450R is a powerhouse and the way in which you can fine-tune the bike’s powerband while riding is simply amazing. The Honda powerband is broad and easy to make good use of, and it can feel like a full-on weapon, or an easy-to-control trail bike, depending on the map and TC setting combination you choose. Versatility is key!

Light, quick-handling, and nimble are words associated with the CRF’s feel on the track as it responds very well to rider input, carves a tight line with little effort, and changes direction in a split second. We did find, however, that the Honda required some fine-tuning at every track we visited, as there was not one general chassis configuration that worked well over a wide range of conditions. That said, a Honda rider must be willing to test and experiment, then keep track of ideal settings at each track. In general, we found that we liked the bike with the fork lowered in the triple clamp 2mm, with a click or two of rebound dampening added to the rear shock.


  • Versatile powerband that can be fine-tuned on the fly
  • No weaknesses in powerband
  • Comfortable ergonomics and a light, nimble feel on the track
  • Great tip-in feel entering corners
  • Great looks


  • Clutch lever pull is brutal in comparison to other bikes
  • Chassis setup requires more attention from track to track
  • Bike is a bit nervous in fast, choppy conditions
  • Terrible stock grips
  • Shock overpowers the fork under braking

Connor Ericsson on the Honda CRF450R

Test Rider Props

The Honda is very well-balanced and has an overall great feel. The adjustability is awesome and I like the hold-up of the suspension. It has an all-around solid powerband that is very controllable and the mapping and TC modes are great for fine-tuning.” – Connor Ericsson

The Honda feels slim, light, and very compact…especially in the wheelbase. It is easy to maneuver and responds quickly to rider input. There are no notable weaknesses in the CRF’s powerband. I enjoy its aggressive delivery!” – Pat Foster

A very strong engine with a very wide range of tuneability. It has no weaknesses as far as power goes. I love the light feeling of the bike and it is very easy to maneuver on.” – Rene Garcia

The CRF engine is a monster, but you can control it with the push of a couple of buttons. I love the compact ergonomics and the manner in which the bike responds to rider input. It corners amazingly well.” – Donn Maeda

What a fantastic engine: the most tunable of all the bikes on the fly. The CRF is versatile and has lots of agility on the ground and in the air. It corners great!” – Kyle Puerner

It produces a lot of power and it is extremely fun to ride. I love the engine and its character as it has no weak points.” – Mike Sleeter

Test Rider Chops

The initial hit right off bottom doesn’t hit too hard, no matter which map setting you’re in. It also gets a little twitchy entering corners, but it steers well.” – Connor Ericsson

The Honda wins the cornering category hands down, but it is sensitive to proper set-up to get the best blend of cornering and stability. This bike requires some effort at each track you go to.” – Pat Foster

The Honda likes to oversteer in corners, and it is too over-sprung for me. With some better suspension, it could contend for the top spot.” – Rene Garcia

Fast, choppy sections of the track always got my attention when riding the Honda as the bike would get twitchy out back.” – Donn Maeda

Not as stable as the other bikes. It suffers from some headshake on acceleration on under braking, and the chassis has a busier feel that takes time to get used to.” – Kyle Puerner

The bike is great to make quick directional changes but its stability is questionable, especially under braking as the fork is too soft and it dives. The range on the clockers really helped me get the bike to where I could trust it, but this needs to be changed from track to track.” – Mike Sleeter


Donn Maeda

Donn Maeda is a 30-year veteran in moto-journalism, having worked at Cycle News and Dirt Rider before launching MXracer Magazine and TransWorld Motocross Magazine. Maeda is the Editor-In-Chief at Swapmoto Live and you can catch him on a dirt bike or in the saddle of a mountain bike on most days.

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  1. Isaiah September 9, 2019

    I’d like to see someone really short ride these bikes and leave a camparison. Someone like 5’5″

    1. Pop Tarts September 16, 2019

      or 5’4″… either one. either one is good.

  2. Shane B September 9, 2019

    I have a few different set up points I would love to know . For example , I would love to know some torque specs for my bikes handling and feel . I own the 2020 kx450f , I always play with my triple clamp bolt torques and axle lug bolts . Different nm for different tracks but an overall nm for better feel would help on a guide for testing .
    Recently when I visited America , being from Australia , I noticed the USA Kawasaki 450f standard motor and exhaust was a lot different from my Australian model . Any idea what that could be why ?

    Thanks 👊🏻
    Blinksell 27

    P.s – Ac helmet would look good in the pool room !

  3. Bill M September 10, 2019


  4. Evan Nystrom September 13, 2019

    Love the shoot outs. I’ve always read and followed the sugesstions the testers give.