Test and previews Tue 10 September 2019

Honda CRF 450 XR RedMoto - Rediscovering the "dual" enduro

The genesis
The first time I was overtook by the Honda XR600, was during the "Six Days" of San Pellegrino Terme in 1986. Soon after, the Dall'Ara dealer in Bergamo started distributing it (before then it distributed the 500 and 550 displacements with drum brakes, while the 600 cc adopted the front disc and was completely renewed aesthetically) and through the Guidi dealer of San Marino who organized a test-presentation day for central Italy, we had the possibility of ……… admiring it only, since we didn’t have our rider’s license yet!

At the time, despite not being exactly cheap, it soon became one of the most sought-after enduro bikes: besides being beautiful aesthetically and a cut above the competition technologically, it was very competitive and practically never broke down. These characteristics soon led it to be appreciated by African rally racers who were beginning their period of greatest splendor in those years. Privateers knew that with a stock bike equipped with the larger Acerbis tank, they could complete the hard desert races without mechanical troubles. Let’s not forget that Fabrizio Meoni used it in 2 Dakar races both times ranking in the top 5.

So, enduro, rally and then dual sport. Yes, because the longevity of this bike also passed through a long period in which adventurers used it as a travelling mean to discover new horizons. The era during which you left home on the XR, with a girlfriend behind you sitting on the long and comfortable saddle, and a tent and sleeping bag fixed on the rear fender, to explore Sardinia - the favorite destination - wandering around the island looking for the perfect beach to park the bike where the waves broke.

Indomitable nostalgic of the times that were that I am, with the new CRF 450 XR I wanted to venture solo for 4 days, with only GPS and a backpack containing photographic material, a pair of slippers, shorts and t-shirts, to discover the Italy’s central Apennines. Times have changed, I replaced a tent and sleeping bag with humble rooms in agritourisms, while I “gave-up” on bringing my girlfriend since the bike is approved for one person only! But the charm of the adventure remains intact, so let's enjoy this carefree holiday.

What changes?
It is clear that the project originated from the CRF 450 RX to be then transformed into a practical dual-sport through dedicated setups. At a first glance the two models are very similar, but in reality there are quite different starting from the interventions to support long transfers and offer excellent mileage, therefore addition of the sixth gear and larger titanium fuel tank.

In any case, it’s the engine that has been modified the most: the piston has 3 rings instead of 1 and this considerably extends its life and reduces the compression ratio; the mass of the crankshaft is heavier for a better delivery and usability. The radiators are bigger to increase the flow of the cooling liquid, and the fan is fitted as standard. All these changes required a single exhaust pipe, specifically designed by Termignoni.

Longer maintenance intervals
For street use optimization, the final transmission consists of a 13-tooth pinion and a 51-ring sprocket coated with a special rubber edging that muffles the noise caused by the friction with the 520-pitch chain. For the same noise reduction purpose, the swingarm is filled with urethane and the crankcases covered by a plastic cover that also acts as a protection.

Full led lighting system, tachometer, a practical side stand and the steering lock complete the equipment.

At last, this is a real off-road bike with maintenance intervals that are suitable even for amateurs more dedicated to fun than to spending hours in the workshop, just like it was for the XR in 1986. The use and maintenance manual shows that oil and filter are to be changed every 1,000 km while 30,000 km intervals are recommended for the main service.

Routes of all kinds
In this 4-day trip, without a plan but that of arriving at Castelluccio di Norcia, I indulged myself by looking for places often reachable only through paths or tracks, but without disdaining smoother roads or even blacktops. Since I was by myself, I rode at ease to avoid bad mishaps, but I was able to discover the pleasure of riding and handling the XR in all conditions.

On paved roads the sixth gear allows cruising speeds of around 130 km/h, the noise is reduced almost to only the sound of the exhaust, while the knobbed tires obviously cause the usual vibrations. In the mixed-top roads you can use the gear you choose, since the abundant torque grants a pace always brilliant whatever the gear.

On dirt-roads  the riding pleasure is absolute, the wide roads that climb the slopes between Umbria and Marche seem to be specifically designed for this bike that proves to be stable and manageable at the same time. Skidding perfect curves is a piece of cake and this is a carnival.

On paths and tracks it’s the chassis that enhances the qualities of this XR which remains enjoyable despite the 130 kg of weight and the silhouette slightly shapelier than the RX. The suspensions well dampen small holes as well as considerable obstacles, thanks to the excellent smoothness of the Showa. Trajectory changes are very intuitive, after which it’s like continuing on rail track.

Mule tracks certainly certainly aren’t the most congenial terrain for this dual bike, even if it holds its own. The clutch works very well also under stress and the expansion tank together with the cooling fan avoid steam puffs. The Pro-link is a guarantee and the short first gear is essential for re-starts. The practical button that controls the starter is indispensable, without it it would have been absurd to take on such extreme routes.

The bike in one sentence: Long live the XR

 

Texr and Tester: Pietro Bartolomei