Honda puts hardcore adventure on the menu with street-legal CRF450L motocrosser
Adventure riding comes in many shapes and sizes these days, but Honda has just released one of the most hardcore road/trail bikes we've ever seen. The new 2019 CRF450L is effectively a street-legal version of the CRF450R motocross bike – something that you could easily punt through an enduro race but then ride home. And this is no half-measure, either; Honda has had to make a ton of changes to get something similar to the 450R onto the road.
The 450L's engine is based on the 449cc unicam single-cylinder four-stroke powerplant in the 450R, but with a number of changes to make it both road-legal and highway appropriate.
For starters, there's a sixth cog in the gearbox, which'll help it cruise on the freeway without vibrating your fingers to jelly. There's electric start that uses a lithium-ion lightweight battery, as well as dual high-capacity radiators and an electric fan.
The engine crank is heavier (giving an improved feel for the toque during trail riding), the compression ratio is a little lower, and the rear wheel gets a cush drive to help take some snappiness out of the R's racy drivetrain.
Noise and emissions are key problems for high-performance dirtbikes seeking road registration. These are addressed with the addition of an O2 lambda sensor to manage fueling and ignition timing, which comes with a redesigned airbox and large-volume exhaust that includes a catalyzer and air injection to clean up tailpipe emissions and keep noise levels under the limit. Engine covers on both sides are also thicker to dampen mechanical noise from the motor, and the swingarm's hollow insides are now injected with urethane, as that was apparently unacceptably loud on the road as well.
Another huge bonus for people planning to use the CRF450L as a hyper-extreme adventure bike is that service intervals are much longer. There's 20,000 miles (32,000 km) between major strip-downs, partially due to the L running three piston rings instead of the R's one. Mind you, don't expect this thing to act like a touring bike. The 450R needs an oil change every five hours of use, so even if the 450L manages to triple that you'll still be putting oil in it frequently if you try to rack up miles.
The extra cog in the gearbox wouldn't fit in the current CRF450R's twin-spar frame, so Honda developed a new frame for the the 450L that's wider around the swingarm pivots.
Motocrossers like the 450R also don't have keyed ignitions – they end up upside down so much that you'd snap the key off sooner or later. But road bikes definitely need them, so the 450L gets one on the top triple clamp, under the bar guard that will hopefully protect the key if the bike goes for a cartwheel or five. There's also a steering lock, which required extra work at the headstock to implement.
The bike's geometry has been adjusted to reflect the fact this bike will be doing freeway speeds, with rake on the forks up by 1.2 degrees, trail up 7 mm for high-speed stability, and the wheelbase getting 3 mm longer as well.
Ground clearance (12.4 in/315 mm) and seat height (37.1 in/942 mm) are both a bit lower than on the 450R, perhaps partially due to the fact that the 450L runs an 18-inch enduro-spec rear wheel instead of the R's 19-inch motocross rim. Standard tires are IRC GP21/22s, which are a 50/50 road/trail hoop.
The titanium fuel tank is boosted almost 21 percent to two full gallons (7.6 L), which is a nice bump up, but we can see a lot of Safari-style extended range tanks getting fitted to these things if they take off as we'd expect for hardcore adventure riding.
All these changes – plus the addition of road gear like mirrors, indicators, license plate holders, and an LED headlight that's described as having "a penetrating beam" – come with a weight penalty. Where the 450R motocrosser weighs just 244 lb (110.6 kg), the CRF450L weighs 289 lb (131.1 kg).
This new Honda joins KTM's EXC-F 450 and 500 among the most hard-edged street legal dirt bikes on the market. They're proper open-class enduro racers with headlights, mirrors, license plates and smug middle fingers extended to any cop who pulls you over because that thing can't possibly be legal.
They won't do highways like a DR650, but they'll get you out of town to the trails just fine. And when you get there, you'll have an absolute, honest to god weapon at your disposal if you're good enough to get the most out of it.
Pricing for the CRF450L in the US is targeted at US$10,399, an US$1,100 premium over the 450R. Other markets are yet to be announced, but availability is slated for September.
The following video puts the CRF450L in context with the rest of Honda's CRF450 range.