On September 5, you saw a very thorough photo debut for the 2009 Honda CRF450R (click here). Go check it out if you haven’t already, but if you have, you know that basically the entire bike is new for 2009, sharing only five parts with the 2008 model.
On September 11, Honda had us out to Lake Whitney, Texas, to ride the all-new machine, and to say that we came away impressed would be an understatement.
Our test rider was DVS Shoes’ Dano Legere, who has a wealth of testing experience from his days at Cycle News, and we figured he was the perfect guy to test the ’09 CRF450R, as in addition to his testing experience, he also owns an ’08 CRF450R, so the changes to the ’09 should be more obvious to him.
Since it’s tough to tell the difference on a completely different track, though, we had Dano start out on the 2008 model on the Whitney track and then switch to the 2009 model after he was comfortable with the track. After that, we just tracked the changes he made to the bike and the changes to the performance of the bike throughout the day.
After riding the ’08, then putting in a handful of laps on the ’09, this is what Dano had to say: “From the ’08 to the ’09, I noticed that the ’08 had a lot less bottom end. This thing, it brings it right back. The sound is totally different, too. It’s a lot more throaty. I only did four laps, and I haven’t made any adjustments yet, but the suspension already tracked better than any bike I’ve ever ridden, and we haven’t even played with the clickers yet. The only place where I didn’t have complete confidence was going into my corners over choppy braking bumps. It felt a little sketchy up front, but like I said, we haven’t even played with the clickers yet. There is no headshake or anything like that, though.
“But the power is everywhere you want it to be. You can rev it out, or you can lug it – I even was lugging third around some corners just to see what it would do, and the thing just picked right up. And it’s controllable. The ’08 was snappy, and you’d have to fan the clutch. Like, I noticed going up the uphill that the power was so strong that I would have to fan it a little bit. But with the ’09, it just tracked and it pulled all the way up the hill. Also, when I was on the ’08, there’s a triple coming out of a corner that I wasn’t doing. It comes out of a corner over a seatbounce table, then a left-hander and over a triple. On the ’08, I wasn’t feeling it, but on the ’09, the power delivery is so perfect that it just put the power down and I did it on the second lap like it was nothing. I noticed one lap when I deliberately came up short on the uphill triple to test the suspension, it just soaked it right up. It didn’t faze me at all, unlike on the ’08, where I could feel it a lot more in my wrists. I can’t believe how good it is already.”
After that, Dano had Honda soften the suspension a couple clicks on both ends as he says he’s more of a smooth rider and likes his suspension to be softer than most people. Honda recommended a sag setting of about 108mm, but Dano had them drop it to 110mm and liked it a lot more.
His final verdict on handling: “We made those changes, and I noticed that my cornering from my ’08, when you get into a flat corner, you get up on the tank and it turns, but I noticed on the ’09 that you have a few inches more to move, it seems like. So when I was in a body position to suit the ’08 bike, but riding the ’09, the front end was pushing. But then I looked down and saw that I had four of five inches more to scoot up, and once I did that, the turning was phenomenal. It’s mind-boggling.”
Then, the engine with the new EFI: “For two laps out here, I short-shifted it and lugged it around, and it works. Or you can over-rev it or clutch it like a two-stroke, and the power is right there all the time. But it’s controllable power. It’s not raw power like the ’08. I changed the 48-tooth rear sprocket on my ’08 to a 50 to get more bottom end, but when it hits, it’ll rip your arms off, but this thing is really powerful but also much smoother.”
Dano had this to say on the ergonomics and feel: “In the air, it feels like you’re on a CR250R or something. It’s really light feeling and the handling is unreal.”
Dano’s personal ’08 CRF has aftermarket brakes on it, and he thought the brakes could’ve been better: “It’s the same calipers as last year, and some people like QTM-style oversized rotors, and some people don’t, but I think this is about in the middle.”
The clutch was very resilient on the Texas track: “There was no clutch fade. Even when we were shooting photos and just railing the same turn over and over, I only adjusted it a little bit, but throughout the day of riding, there was no clutch fade at all.”
Keeping in mind that Dano is already a Honda owner, his take on the 2009 Honda CRF450R was extremely enthusiastic.
“After nine years of testing experience, this is by far the best bike I’ve ever ridden. I can’t even believe it. I want to keep riding but my hands won’t let me anymore.”
It will be interesting to see how the Honda compares to the other four manufacturers’ offerings in the upcoming 450cc shootout.