Our devotion to the CRF250L is well-documented. What’s not to love about a cheap, competent dual-sport, even if it is a bit overweight and underpowered compared to a “real dirtbike?” We have two at World Headquarters: my extremely well-set up 2014, and Fish’s recent addition to the fleet, a 2017 Rally. They’ve received significant upgrades: suspension, larger fuel capacity, and so on. They’re both killer, and—so far—unbreakable, which is a big advantage over faster, lighter, more expensive dual-sports based on race-bred technology.
Not everyone gets it, however. One reader wrote in with some harsh words last year: “Really? A rag that sells itself above the rest as “Ride Fast Take Chances” offers up the horrendously underpowered CRF250L and the mostly useless Zero FXS…? I’d rather you double the subscription and advertising rates than set forth these crappy weapons under such a hopeful banner. Check your fans and direction, please.”
You can check out the whole exchange in Tankslapper (page 26) of our January 2018 issue if you want to see how we responded. Warning: there’s profanity.
But back to the matter at hand, which is the news we got from Honda this morning. Already well-caffeinated and jittery, I clicked into a “media alert” from Honda with the subject: “Honda Broadens CRF Lineup with Expansive New-Model Launch,” expecting more of the same, which is to say updates to Honda’s very good dirtbikes… but what’s this? “Honda’s performance off-road lineup now includes CRF machines for riding applications including motocross, closed-course off-road, pure off-road, and even dual sport.”
Even dual-sport? And not just updates to the 250L, but a right proper CRF450L, the 450-class “serious” dual-sport we’ve all been clamoring for?
I’d kinda given up hope for such a bike from a Japanese manufacturer. But here it is, 50-state legal, with a catalytic converter, even.
“The trails are calling, and the all-new road-legal CRF450L answers, expanding customers’ off-road possibilities by enabling access to the best riding trails, even when that means connecting them via asphalt roads. Street legality is achieved via features like LED lighting, mirrors, and a dedicated exhaust system. Equally at home in the woods or desert, the CRF450L has a wide-ratio six-speed transmission for maximum adaptability, while a lightweight, 2.0-gallon tank offers great range. Compared to the CRF450R motocrosser, crank mass is up for tractability in technical conditions, where a large-capacity radiator keeps things cool.”
“Awesome,” I think. “The 250L is such a bargain, this’ll be a few grand more, maybe… oh, it’s ten grand.”
There are two sides to that price. On the one hand, that’s what we call “KTM money” here at World Headquarters. On the other hand, that price indicates that the 450L is serious business. At $10,399, it goddamn well better be. Otherwise, why not just buy a KTM?
Well, for starters, the “bleed orange” crowd has started to rival the Ducatisti in terms of unbearable annoyingness of being, but more importantly: Honda reliability. That’s admittedly a big assumption on my part—the reliability, not the high levels of annoyingness from brand-centric lifestylers. But bear with me for a moment.
According to the CRF450L model page, the bike weighs in at 289 pounds, with “all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel—ready to ride.”
That’s 28.5 pounds less than our beloved, long-suffering CRF250L.
“Hello? Oakland PD? Yes, I’d like to report a stolen motorcycle. Yes, a 2014 Honda CRF250L. Oh yes, of course, full coverage…”
Now, that’s admittedly heavier than KTM’s 500 EXC-F, with its quoted “no fuel” but maybe not completely dry weight of 240 pounds. It’s ok, I can make up some of that difference by riding more dirt and eating less pizza.
Perhaps a more reasonable comparison is Honda’s own venerable and decidedly old school XR650L, which tips the scales at 346 pounds wet. Maybe I’ll just keep eating pizza—the 650L has a lot of fans that seem to do just fine with the bike despite its linebacker physique.
Back to my assumption about “Honda reliability.” Only time will tell whether the certainly more highly-strung 450L will prove as indestructible as our cherished 250Ls. But I’ll say this: we absolutely beat the shit out of our 250s—and probably don’t care for them as well as we should—and they haven’t complained or even showed a single sign of anything more than “is that all you got?” Further, Fish took his Rally on the OMC’s Sheetiron 300 this past weekend, and the broken-down bikes he passed weren’t red—but they did cost more and weigh less.
We’ve doled out the same tough love treatment to VFRs, an NC700X, and a variety of other Hondas in recent years and I can’t think of a single real issue. So yes, I’m making a big assumption about “Honda reliability,” but it’s certainly not without basis. And believe me, we’ll do our best to prove me wrong when we get our hands on one of these.
The 450L’s presumed reliability comes with a feature set that clearly says “I’m serious.” Lithium-ion battery, dual radiators, titanium fuel tank, all-LED lighting, and of course electric start. The fuel injected, 449cc four-stroke engine is derived from the dirty fo-fitty’s mill, but even more importantly, unlike the 250L’s steel frame, the 450L’s twin-spar frame is a real-deal dirtbike frame. Honda says:
This is the same design as our all-new CRF450X uses, and that’s a really big deal. It means the CRF450L is a true off-road bike, and not some compromise. The twin-spar aluminum frame is both light and stiff, and provides the basis for the CRF450L’s excellent handling. The chassis geometry is specially selected for responsiveness, and also is wider than the standard MX frame to accommodate the six-speed transmission.
The only real downside I’m seeing here is that the bike costs roughly twice the price of a 250L. That’s a stupid complaint, of course. On paper, the 450L is at least twice the bike, and while that’s not a legitimately functional equation, the price is roughly in line with other dual-sports of this level of seriousness—see “KTM money” above.
Look, I realize my excitement about this bike may read a little gushy, and some may say I ought to hold my tongue until we ride one. Fair point, but it’s worth noting that CityBike doesn’t engage in the standard “regurgitated press releases as content” bullshit. We only cover brand PR when there’s real news (or when we’re inclined to trash-talk the supposed “news”) and Honda releasing the CRF450L is a real deal big deal. We’ve been without a serious and modern middleweight dual-sport from the Japanese manufacturers for way too long, and while I wish the bike was going to sell for eight grand or so, there’s no denying that Honda has just performed a massive “balls on table” move. We’ll see how the other bike makers respond, assuming the multitudes of motorcyclists who have been begging for this bike actually step up and buy it.
Update (5:00 PM 5/24/18): I have just heard back from American Honda on my questions about maintenance intervals and horsepower. Unfortunately, I didn’t get quite the answers I was hoping for.
I’ll start with the good news. My Honda contact said they don’t have official horsepower figures yet, and often don’t publish this information anyway, but horsepower for the US version of the CRF450L will be “in the forties.” Not exactly hair-on-fire beastly, but I can live with it given the new 450L’s very reasonable weight. And besides, that probably means it’s detuned a bit in the name of reliability and longer maintenance intervals, right?
Nope, at least not the longer maintenance intervals part. According to Honda, oil/filter change and air filter service interval is just 600 miles, and valve inspection is 1,800 miles. Ouch.
I didn’t expect the 8,000 mile oil/end of time (actually 16,000 miles) valve inspection intervals of the 250L, but 600 mile oil changes are too frequent, at least for a heavily-used dual-sport that’ll get thrashed on the mean streets of Oakland and San Francisco as much, if not more, than it gets taken to the trails. Those are “serious dirtbike” intervals, and avoiding that nonsense is why we ride CRF250Ls.
I still believe this bike will be seriously good, and I can hope that it’ll be like the pre-VTEC VFRs were, where most people didn’t even bother to inspect the valves more frequently than every 32k and nothing went wrong, but that seems unlikely, which means my CRF250L won’t be looking for a new home come September after all.
Now, how about some actions shots?
And even video!
I should probably share some specs:
Engine Type: 449cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore And Stroke: 96mm x 62.1mm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Valve Train: Unicam OHC, four-valve
Induction: Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), 46mm downdraft throttle body
Ignition: Fully transistorized with electronic advance
Transmission: Close-ratio six-speed
Final Drive: #520 Chain
Chassis / Suspension / Brakes
Front Suspension: 49mm leading-axle inverted telescopic Showa coil-spring fork with rebound and compression damping adjustability
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link Showa single shock with adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability
Front Brake: Single 260mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Single 240mm disc
Front Tire: IRC GP21 80/100-21 w/tube
Rear Tire: IRC GP22 120/80-18 w/tube
Wheelbase: 58.9 inches
Rake (Caster Angle): 28° 20′
Trail: 4.6 inches
Seat Height: 37.1 inches
Ground Clearance: 12.4 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.01 gallons
Curb Weight: 289 pounds (Includes all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel—ready to ride.)
Miles Per Gallon: TBD
And some detail photos to complement those specs: