Earning a ride on the factory Honda team has one perk no other team can offer: Honda racing machines. Over the years, Honda has earned a reputation for developing the most enviable race bikes in the paddock, and that advantage has helped lead many aspiring racers to national championships. In 2014, both Trey Canard and Justin Barcia plan to add to that championship list armed with what is unquestionably the best CRF450R race bike Honda has ever produced.
Because current racing rules require the motorcycles be closely based on production machines, Honda created the ideal racing platform with the CRF450R that Team Honda Muscle Milk can tune for pro racing.
“The 2013 model was all-new, and stock it was a fantastic bike," says team manager Dan Betly. “The 2014 model is an upgraded version of that. As we refine the race bike from year to year, the lap times come down, which means we are doing our jobs and the riders are getting more comfortable on the equipment.
“Engine-wise the bikes are refined, but the whole key to any works bike program is fine-tuning the equipment to the individual rider and finding out what their goals and specific needs are on that equipment. Does our race bike have more horsepower than a production motor? Yes, but is it crazy hard to ride? No. It is about having the horsepower where you need it and catering that to the rider's style and what he is looking for.
“During he course of the season, we do make tuning changes, especially when we switch from Supercross to the motocross series. For Supercross we focus more on bottom-to-mid-range engine power, trying to get a better response coming out of a corner to help our riders, for example, get over a triple that doesn't have much run-up. For motocross, the engines are tuned more for mid-to-top-range power due to the high speeds encountered on the outdoor tracks. Either way, we are always focused on ease of riding and smoothness of power delivery. You don't want anything too hard to ride."
The CRF450R features a rolling chassis with a specific focus on meeting the needs of today's scrub generation of riders, and Barcia and Canard are at the forefront of that new generation. Honda accomplished this through an aluminum frame designed to fully integrate and attain maximum advantage from an innovative suspension package, plus a strategically engineered dual-muffler exhaust that tucks in closely to the center of mass. Designed from clean-sheet concepts as a total package that would be eminently flickable, responsive and lightweight—thanks in part to development input from multitime champion Jeremy McGrath—every element in the CRF450R chassis has been focused on attaining class-leading mass centralization and unrivaled handling.
The CRF450R's aluminum frame carries prominent visible differences when compared to the previous-generation frame. Specifically, the junction of the steering head and main frame spars intersects distinctly lower on the steering head pipe, much closer to the midway point rather than toward the top as with the previous design. This change helps lower the CG, instills more tuned flex into the chassis for better front-end traction, and provides more traction feel and better cornering traits. Equally important foundational design changes include maximizing the benefits of new-generation front and rear suspension components.
The rear Pro-Link system now features a new shock that's 14.5mm shorter than before, and it sits lower in the frame to help lower the CG. New damping settings are matched to the new frame and innovative fork for a plush yet controlled ride. In addition, from the very inception the new frame was designed to incorporate a new two-muffler exhaust system that tucks in tightly to better centralize mass and lower the moment of inertia. This new design strikes an excellent balance between enhanced handling, maximum power and superior noise attenuation.
Other chassis touches include an aluminum swingarm that provides added rigidity thanks to taller beam height in the front and center sections for less deflection in ruts and improved corner-exit traction. Also, with the change to dual mufflers, the aluminum subframe is now lighter and shorter than before.
In the engine department, the 2014 CRF450R is tuned to give riders power when and where they need it through a combination of camshaft and valve timing, compression ratio, intake and exhaust port shape, and PGM-FI fuel injection settings.
For added durability, the CRF450R's piston skirt is coated with molybdenum disulfide to create a tougher, low-friction surface. An oil jet sprays cooling oil on the underside of the piston, and there's also a heavy-duty gearbox. Plus, the CRF450R clutch is now a six-spring design for stronger clamping pressure with a lighter feel at the lever, better modulation of the friction point and added durability.
On the exhaust side, the use of two mufflers allows a greater flow of exhaust gases for more power with less noise. Also, the decision to install two mufflers allows each muffler to be shorter, and therefore closer to the bike's center of mass. As a result, even though the two mufflers together weigh only slightly more than a comparable single, larger muffler, having the two tucked in tighter results in a measurably lower moment of inertia—the real-world payoff resulting in a bike that's more flickable, easier handling in the air, and more responsive in corners than it would be with a conventional single muffler hanging way off the back of the bike. As a small side benefit, the switch to dual mufflers allowed a 3.5-ounce weight reduction in the aluminum subframe, which is also shorter. And the dual-muffler design allows the CRF450R to easily meet more stringent sound requirements enacted by various race-sanctioning organizations, while still hitting this new machine's performance targets.
The state of the art in today's production motocross machines has risen to immensely impressive levels of performance. The ongoing forces of mechanical evolution have irresistibly expanded all parameters of engine and chassis function to the point that huge jumps in technological advances—silver bullets, if you will—are now nearly impossible to attain. Still, starting with a clean sheet of paper as Honda did with the current CRF450R provides distinct advantages, allowing engineers to design in an integrated fashion to carve out a performance edge over the competition. The CRF450R—the latest in the evolution of one of the most successful motocross machines in history.