Honda CRF 450X – First Impressions
Text: Sandeep Goswami/ Old Fox and Sundeep Gajjar/ Sunny
Photos: Sundeep Gajjar/ Sunny
It was tall, bright and lanky. A veteran motorcyclist who has 500,000 kms under his belt seemed a little misplaced sitting on it, but not for long. The height was enough to make you believe you are sitting on a king’s throne with all other people on the road being your subjects, kneeling down as they see in amazement as you slither amidst the Delhi traffic with a newfound élan. At traffic lights you have to be wearing 6 inch heels or need to be tall as a giraffe to balance the thing. But once you are off everything can be just a speck in the rear view mirror (if there was one). 56 Bhp 122kg wet makes it fly like a horse with his arse on fire. Quite a different motorcycle really. Being a touring junkie I could see it fly across the More plains with stupendous ease and speed. However, the very small gas tank and some other features (very apt for MX races) will impede my ambitious dreams on it. With a road tyre it would definitetly be a fun and powerful machine capable of handling any kind of terrain the under-construction city of Delhi throws at it.
The first impression will be written in greater detail by the gentleman who sports these goggles:
The first Impression by Old Fox:
It is tall. Sitting on it, I couldn’t get both feet on the ground together. Not even both toes. It was either this foot or that. It is lanky. Seen from up front, the bike is very lean and narrow with the radiator and handlebar sticking way out in width while the rest of the body seems surprisingly slim in comparison. Bright. Well, yes. The red and white colour scheme definitely catches the eye. But then, the words ‘tall, bright and lanky’ unwittingly omit muscle power. While this guy christened CRF450X by Honda has more than its fair share of it. A 450 single (actually 449cc) that makes a super-healthy 56 bhp (and 50Nm of torque!) steps into the relatively high-performance region of specific power output hovering around the 120bhp/ltr mark. That’s loads of power for a moto-crosser. And more so when you get to feel how it comes on tap. Super snappy, almost like a 2-stroker with oodles of torque added. The quick-throttle adds to the effect but then the engine needs to be responsive enough for the fancy throttle to be effective. Try snapping a 350cc single (our good ‘ol Bullet) and see the engine bog down. The absence of fly-wheel mass, spot on tuning and low mass engine components can sure make a 450 single as snappy and revvy as a 250 or even less.
No ignition key is needed. Just sit on the bike, make sure it is in neutral, pull in the clutch lever and thumb the starter, making sure you don’t twist the throttle. The bike starts and settles into a sort-of lumpy but quick idle. Shift into first, which slots with a sure and soft thunk and get rolling. You’ll be surprised by the smooth clutch and the super-responsive engine. Any first timer on it lurches forward before catching on the clutch and easing it a moment later with his throttle hand thoroughly re-graded. The bike pulls strong in the relatively tallish first, keep upshifting through the close-ratio 5 speed gear-box using the short-throw lever and the bike seems on endless traction. The high seating gives you a commanding view on road (these words are in context with its use on typical urban tarmac) and the bike feels like it is built around you. Mass-centralization is at its best in these off-roaders and even the high C of G brings no adverse effects to their handling. The wide bars and centralized weight allows the rider a level of steering control that’s close to phenomenal. Even a rank amateur to off-roading/moto-cross like me felt sure enough to ride the bike up a short flight of stairs without balking even for a moment. Unusually confidence inspiring.
Sitting on the slim bike, you don’t actually realize it’s a 450 till you turn that throttle. And then you don’t forget. The light weight takes a while to get used to on so tall a saddle but once on the move, you instantly realize the huge benefits of this lack of flab. Flickability is phenomenal, braking again is great, both on and off road and the seat narrow and long enough to let the rider use his body weight to full advantage. Suspension travel and response with those inverted Showas up-front (with more than a foot of travel!) and Pro-link mono-shock at the rear is again nothing short of amazing for tarmac crawlers like me. Though even the best of off-roaders appreciate it on this bike. Speed-bumps a few inches high are like a ripple underneath. Getting in and out of ruts is an absent-minded activity. In a little while, one tends to focus more on enjoying the speed and power of the engine, almost forgetting what the wheels are riding on or over. Ah! Spiti would have been nirvana on a steed like this. The only catch would have been its abysmally low fuel capacity. Barely 8 ltrs and expecting some 20-25 kms to a ltr, one would need to tank up within some 150 odd kms.
Honda are past masters of light and durable chassis and the CRF’s twin-spar aluminium frame with a forged aluminium steering head gives the best of lightness, rigidity and reliability. Rake and trail are conventional (at 26.8 deg and 4+ inches) though the wheel-base at 1490mm results from a relatively longer swingarm. This has the benefit of reducing the tendency of the front to rise under strong acceleration and lets the rear wheel put down power better allowing the rider to make the best of the engine. Little details like tucking in the muffler close to the engine results in highly optimized mass-centralization which when allied with spot-on ergonomics and an amazing engine, result in a package that astounds and delights with its performance.
I rode this bike not with the mind-set of riding a moto-crosser but as that of riding a motorcycle. And walked away thoroughly in love with its engine and handling. Even on full knobbies, I felt surer on tarmac (with their inherent tendency to weave at speed as less and easily deformable rubber makes itself felt) than I do on my own ZMA at somewhere close to 90-100kph. Could only guess the speed as the bike doesn’t have a speedo. The power and engine response is addictive and the rideability makes you feel like a pilot on two wheels. The ability to virtually ‘glide’ over any surface, limited only by one’s skills, is what makes the CRF450 experience an exceptional one. This bike, though a highly specialized design for off-roading, is no less a pleasure to use on tarmac. A real multi-purpose two-wheeled swiss-knife of sorts that’s a pleasure for any motorcyclist to ride.
PS: Will try and arrange a full-blooded review by an accomplished off-roader/moto-crosser, someone who can exploit this bike’s capabilities in its default terrain and talk about it.
And now the photos:
Now time for a coffee…