HONDA CRF450RL REVIEW | HONDA’S VERSATILE 450 IS A NATURAL EXPLORER

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A Honda CRF450RL on a dirt road under cloudy skies
The CRF450RL is Honda’s step up from the 300. After this, the NX500, Transalp and Africa Twin await
  • Two-day loop with Daryl Beattie from the Gold Coast to Deepwater
  • The CRF4540RL is available now for $12,599 MLP
  • LAMS compliant but can be derestricted
  • Great bike to progress with you from beginner to experienced
  • Definitely needs a new seat

“I will never ride that. Honda had the perfect bike and they’ve thrown it all away to bring out that bloody thing.”

This is an accurate recollection of a discussion I had with a Honda XR400 owner many years ago, to whom I had just offered a ride of the then-new CRF450X.

Such was the passion for the XR that many owners saw its replacement as blasphemous and insulting their long-held dedication to the 34-horsepower air-cooled trailbike.

Personally, being more of a two-stroke guy I didn’t much like XRs but I thought the CRF450X was pretty damn good. The engine was fun, and the fork was fantastic compared to the WR-F’s noodle-soft front-end and it had sharp steering thanks to its aluminium frame. And soon enough the X could be found on trails in Australia and winning desert races in the US.

It wasn’t perfect but it was exciting to see just how it would develop over the coming years.
Sadly, it never really did. While there is still an X model available in the USA, it hasn’t been available in Australia for many years. And it didn’t receive any substantial improvements at the rate Yamaha bestowed them on the WR-F, which would become the sales king of the offroad market.

For a time, there wasn’t an up-to-date 450 trail/enduro offering from Honda in Australia. Damn, that was a depressing thought.

Then in 2018 – which was the last year you could safely eat a bat for lunch – Honda dropped the CRF450L.
And it was a fine-looking machine with a look taken straight from the CRF450R motocross bike. There was hype and there was excitement, and the L ticked a lot of boxes, but there was a problem.

Marketed as an enduro bike it was to find itself severely outmuscled and overpriced and never really found its place amongst the ever-growing 450 offroad offerings.

The irony is of course that all the other 450s were growing too powerful for the average rider and even a lot of above-average riders but we’re still far too manly to admit that openly.

Honda Australia stopped bringing the L into the country in 2020. We were once again, without a 450cc red offroad ride.

The stock CRF450RL. It’s a bit choked up but it is good looking piece of kit.

THE RED RETURN

There is a sense of deep loss in this story so far, right? I reckon it’s time to lift the mood.
Honda Australia has now returned to the 450 fold!


Yes, the CRF450L is back but it’s got a slightly different name now. It’s a CRF450RL which differs from the L only in ECU mapping and aesthetics which include a set of handguards and red side plates.
Should you be excited about this as an adventure rider?


The answer is yes. To highlight why, we went on a launch ride with Daryl Beattie that showcased just where the 450RL could find a home in 2024 and beyond.

Honda allowed us to ride not only a stock model that was literally straight out of the crate but two other RLs that had been given the Beattie treatment. Both had been derestricted and had Vortex ignitions installed as well as fresh Michelin Starcross rubber, with one also gifted a full FMF system and a Seat Concepts seat.

Daryl supplies his customers with the derestricted model with the Vortex ignition on his Daryl Beattie Adventure tours. Daz and lead rider Budda ride the same set-up but with the FMF system as well.
Daz loved the L because it was far easier to live with than the old X model which needed a lot more TLC. He’s pushed the L pretty hard on everything from wide open and never-ending dirt roads to the sands of the Simpson Desert and the bucket list tracks of Far North Queensland like the Creb.

Our three test bikes. The 11-litre tank looks pretty mint to us

It’s proven to be reliable, versatile and an easy ride for anyone to jump on and take on whatever’s ahead.
For this launch, we rode from Tamborine Mountain on Queensland’s Gold Coast, down through Tenterfield in NSW and into the little town of Deepwater. The next day we turned it all around and headed back to Tambourine on a different route to bring up just short of 900 kilometres across the two days.

The route into and out of Tenterfield and Deepwater has some of the best riding in NSW with epic views and tracks that follow winding rivers. The weather was not going to play nice on day one, but such is life on two wheels, and we didn’t change our route in any way to accommodate the downpours.

The crushed granite tracks are even better when they’re wet so while the rain fell the riding was still brilliant.

This is basically the bike that Daz will ride all through the 2024 tour season

WHAT’S GREAT?

I used to trail ride a 450 at least once a month. But having spent most of the last three years on bikes almost exclusively 700cc or more it was such a great feeling to throw a leg over a bike that feels incredibly small to me now.

While the seat height is still reasonably high, the feel of the CRF between your legs after being on an Africa Twin is like climbing off Meatloaf and getting on Celine Dion.

The fast steering took me a little while to get used to again as did the very thin seat which I will address in the section titled, ‘What’s Not Great?’


The simplicity of the enduro formula is a breath of fresh air too. Given it’s categorized as a trailbike the CRF450RL doesn’t have to feature ABS as legislation dictates for most other motorcycles.

The suspension does a good job at pleasing a wide range of riders

There are no electronics to learn or manipulate and no flashing lights or buttons to push. Not even a whistle for attracting attention in the unlikely event of a crash into the ocean.


The suspension has the unenviable task of being many things to many riders which is not always possible. But it does a good job on dirt roads in offering some comfort while managing to sit in the critical part of the stroke when you push it harder.


It has more of an adventure/dual sport set-up than it does enduro. In the bush, you could find its limitations fairly quickly, but on dirt roads and double trail, it holds up well while offering a decent comfort level.


I would love to try the CRF450RL with a set of suspension taken from Honda’s excellent CRF450RX closed course enduro model. That’s a bike I have had a hell of a lot of fun on in the past and one that could further transform the RL into something that’s got pretty sexy legs.

With the 11-litre tank fitted, there was a little more dive to the front end but surprisingly less than I thought there would be. If you opt to fit something larger – and you can go up to 20 litres – then you’d want the fork to be seen by a professional boingologist because that extra weight will upset the balance.
It could certainly find improvement through tuning but overall, the suspension didn’t stand out as a significant weakness to me.

For extra mumbo and decreasing that engine breaking, the FMF system is a good option



Of the three bikes we had at hand, the derestricted model with Vortex ignition and the 11-litre tank stood out as the formula that would suit most riders from beginner to intermediate.
But plenty of experienced riders would also appreciate the easy-going nature that makes it so manageable on technical terrain but far more exciting than the stock bike. It’s easy to see how Daryl landed on this as the set-up he hands customers.

The gearbox offers a nice positive feel to the shifts and the overall ratio is pretty much bang-on for dual sport riding allowing the bike to sit on 110-120kph no problem.

Add the FMF system and the bike muscles-up and comes alive, but think more Bruce Willis in Die Hard than Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. The FMF’s main benefits for me came through smoothing out the power delivery off the bottom, strengthening the mid-range and reducing the heavy engine braking.

This is the ideal set-up for the intermediate to experienced rider and I had a blast on this bike. I found there wasn’t a significant ingredient I was missing. Except for a comfortable seat.

Guy Streeter from MX Store having a play in a puddle

WHAT’S NOT GREAT?

The stock seat is not good. It’s too hard and too narrow and whoever designed it must have spectacularly rugged arse cheeks and a bumhole of granite. It may very well be the worst motorcycle seat I’ve ever sat on, and I could imagine a scenario where I’m forced mid-ride to buy a BBQ chicken to sit on just to introduce some padding between my butt and that seat.

I’d be nice and warm for a while too.


The stock bike is overly restricted and has a propensity to stall easily off the line. While some criticism went the CRF-L’s way about its lack of mumbo, there’s actually plenty in there, which we experienced with the derestricted bikes.


It has to be noted that it is a good option for the beginner who wants to find their dirt-legs without wrestling a beast.

The RL sadly continues to sport the same seat as the L did. It’s not good


But for anyone from an intermediate level and up it’s a little like getting stuck in an elevator with an organic yoghurt salesman who wants you to try his new bean flavour while smooth jazz drops down from the ceiling speakers.

Combined with the heavy engine breaking it makes choosing the right gear in corners a bit of a mission as the gear you enter with is going to be much higher than you one exit in. Whereas with the FMF system, for example, the bike has freed up its torque and holds its gears better.

The saving grace is that it can be reversed but it’s hard to understand why the power needed to be corked to that extent in the first place.

The Renthal bars are a decent bend although they do have a cross brace and I’d swap them out for something with a more aggressive bend and no cross brace so it’s easier to mount a phone or GPS.

We reckon the CRF450RL is a better dual sport/adventure option than it is an enduro bike

WHO IS THE CRF450RL FOR?

Let’s stick to adventure/dual sport riding here and forget about enduro or trail.

The CRF450RL is for the rider who rejects the ever-growing 200 kilo-plus, 700cc and over machines that dominate the adventure bike category.


Someone who wants to stay close to their tailriding roots and someone who would maybe explore some terrains that would be a struggle on a big rig.


But for me, the CRF450RL’s reason for being is evident through the test we did with three different builds. This is a bike that can give you a start in offroad riding. A bike that you can pick up easily if you drop it, a bike that doesn’t cost $20,000 and doesn’t need a computer engineering degree to operate.


It’s a great introduction to offroad riding that will give you a range of about 150 kilometres to the tank (that’s what I got on the stock model with varied but not overly taxing riding).

Now that is a proper simple switchblock. Not something we see much in adventure

As you progress in your riding you can derestrict the RL, add a Vortex ignition and the 11-litre tank to open up a greater range of around 200 kilometres and more fun factor.


And then if you want more from the bike the FMF system not only sounds brilliant, but it improves both on and off-throttle feel.


Maintenance on the RL is a lot easier than on most large adventure bikes. Just the lack of bodywork that needs to be removed makes it a simpler task. But it is more frequent than you may think with Honda recommending oil changes every 1000 kilometres (we’ve heard you can push that out to 2000 kilometres), and a valve clearance check at about 3000 kilometres. The piston, valves, crank, and crank will be due for replacement at around 32,000 kilometres.

The CRF450Rl is right at home taking on tracks like the Old Telegraph

This is going by the book and it’s a very cautious book. Speaking to Daryl Beattie about his fleet of L’s he’s been more than happy with their durability and reliability. Daz’s own CRF450L clocked up over 32,000 trouble-free kilometres of endless roads, outback corrugations and sand tracks before he replaced it for the upcoming tour season.

With a decent amount of aftermarket pieces available, a relatively simple CRF450RL build might well be all you need to explore with all the benefits of a light and nimble motorcycle, or it could be a brilliant second bike parked next to your big rig in the shed.

The CRF450RL is available now for $12,599 MLP.

THE ADV LIFE AWARD FOR:

SINGLE MOST OUTSTANDING FEATURE

It might sound crazy to experienced riders, but that choked-up engine is a great introduction for newbies in stock trim. And it has all they need to keep progressing if they take the steps to unlock it through derestricting, adding a Vortex ignition and finally fitting the FMF system.

THE CLIFF YOUNG AWARD FOR THE COMPONENT THAT GOES ABOUT ITS BUSINESS QUIETLY AND STEADILY

Both front and back brakes have a good progressive feel and plenty of power.

THAT WON’T AGE WELL

People will turn on this seat like they turned on Kanya West. And they both deserve it.

THE RED SYMONS AWARD FOR AESTHETIC CHOICES

The CRF450RL is a good-looking bike. It’s got the sharp lines of its motocross cousin and it always warms the heart to see the HRC logo on the official sticker kit.

LET’S PLAY ‘WHAT IF THIS COMPONENT WAS SWAPPED WITH THAT ONE?’

We’d love to try the more robust CRF450RX suspension in the 450RL.

WHAT LESSON DID WE LEARN?

Smaller bikes are underrated and ridiculously fun.

DON’T FACT CHECK ME

CRF stands for Close Ratio Fourstroke

Daz Beattie giving some advice on what’s coming next on a Far North Queensland trail