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ADV Bikes2019 Honda CRF450L Review – First Ride

2019 Honda CRF450L Review – First Ride

We see if Honda's new high-performance dual sport lives up to expectations.

Published on 09.17.2018
The announcement of the all-new 2019 Honda CRF450L has been one of the biggest surprise news stories of the year for dirt fans, but it’s not completely out of the blue. Honda has been building these motorcycles for years in the form of the off-road-only CRF450X – a bike good enough to capture several Baja wins. Those lucky few who’ve performed a street-legal conversion on their ‘X’ also know they make great dual sports too.

With off-road riding areas steadily shrinking, the need for a license plate to link up trails increases every year. Many Dual Sport fans have wondered “Why doesn’t Honda put a license plate and blinkers on the X, get it to pass smog, and sell a ton of bikes?” The European manufacturers have been making performance dual sports (street-legal motocross-based machines) for about a decade now, so what took Honda so long to release the CRF450L?

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

In reality, there’s a great deal of risk in building a bike that “just” meets regulations. Remember, Honda has a car line to protect. Motorcycles are just a drop in the bucket in sales and any regulatory infraction could impact the car side of things. Honda is not a company that rushes to market either. They like to let the segment mature, do their homework, and come in with a fully-developed bike that is ready to capture significant market share (e.g. Africa Twin).


With Honda taking their time getting to market, expectations are higher than ever. Will it be a high-performance do-it-all dual sport? Or overweight, softly sprung and underpowered like so many other Japanese dual sport bikes that have come before it? We were eager to find out and got our chance at the Honda CRF450L Press Intro in Packwood, Washington. There we would put down 115 miles of mixed terrain riding in the rugged Cascade Mountains to get a sense of the bike’s capabilities. Read on below for our impressions of the bike, but first let’s clear up a few misconceptions.

Understanding What It Isn’t

We’ve gotten a range of questions about the CRF450L (see rumors debunked here), many from Adventure Riders who may be unfamiliar with performance dual sport bikes. First of all, no, you won’t find ABS, a fuel gauge or even an RPM gauge. There are no passenger pegs, no top rack for luggage, and it has zero wind protection.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

The primary goal of this bike is to go fast in varied off-road terrain. Gearing is lower, favoring trail riding over highway cruising. The seat is thin, flat and tall (37.1 in seat height) to optimize ground clearance and range of movement on the bike. A minimal amount of equipment has been added to the off-road-only CRF450X to get it to pass street regulations and the motor is highly-tuned with aggressive maintenance intervals. Be prepared to change the oil every 600 miles or so and check the valves every 1,800 miles.

No doubt some riders will find the CRF450L to be a reliable, lightweight, off-road travel option with a few mods and regular maintenance. Just keep in mind this isn’t a practical choice if your style of riding includes a significant amount of highway.

What You’re Getting

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

We won’t get into all the nitty gritty details here about what’s new in the CRF Performance Line. But in a nutshell, you are getting an enduro bike that shares much of its DNA with the revamped for 2019 CRF450R motocrosser. It has high-quality Showa suspension with 12 inches of travel front and rear, and a high-performance fuel-injected 450cc single engine that produces somewhere north of 45 horsepower. You also get standard dirt bike ergos with large grippy pegs and a wide ⅞” handlebar for maximum control.

Designed as a trail bike rather than a track racer, the CRF450L has been tuned for usable power with a heavy flywheel, wide-ratio 6 speed and broad powerband to handle loose rocks and rough, hilly terrain. It also comes with a stout rear subframe for carrying tools or lightweight luggage, and a more forgiving suspension to handle varied trail conditions. Weighing in at 289 pounds with a full 2.01 gallon fuel tank, you can travel about 90 miles on average before needing to refuel.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle
The CRF450L comes with protective side covers, exhaust guard and a skidplate.

On the spec sheet, the CRF450L hits all the marks you’d expect from a performance dual sport bike, aside from being a little on the heavy side. What you might not see in the specs is that Honda spent a lot of time refining the bike’s street manners. Typically, engines need to be detuned significantly and throttle response suffers in order to pass the EPA’s sniff and sound tests. Honda avoided going down this route by first using sound-deadening case covers, a foam-filled swingarm and front sprocket cover to reduce noise, then they worked on getting the smoothest throttle response possible. The result is a motor that makes just 4 horsepower less than the off-road-only CRF450X.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle
The instrument cluster is basic but does offer a few frills like “fuel consumption” and “number of gallons used” readings.

Some of that extra weight the CRF450L carries is in the form of protective equipment like a skid plate and front disc cover. All-around LED lighting and an aluminum-framed license plate holder are also built to take abuse over the long run. Considering the extra equipment and the solid build quality, a 14-pound weight increase over the CRF450X is reasonable.

There is a lot of attention to detail on the bike as well, starting with a brushed-aluminum twin-spar frame and a titanium tank peeking through openings in the plastics. An LED headlight has a unique tinted look when turned off but offers a bright white light for night riding. LED turn signals can flex 90 degrees out of the way in a fall and everything from the headlight assembly to the digital instrument console are solidly mounted. The only thing stopping it from being 100% trail ready are a lack of hand guards and the mirrors look like they may be vulnerable to trail damage.

On the Road

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

The CRF450L might get you some discriminating looks from the local cops but there’s nothing they can do to stop you from riding this dirt bike on the street. And while the look is pure enduro, the feel is surprisingly refined and smooth on the street. No chain slap, no floating front end, no buzziness, just a quiet, smooth ride around town.

On the highway, it feels quite comfortable riding around 60-65 mph. Beyond that, you start to feel the vibes in the bars and the wind hitting you in the chest begins to wear you down. Despite the thin, firm saddle, the seating was relatively comfortable during the 8-hours of riding. The one thing that would have been appreciated though, is a set of hand guards for the cold, rainy Pacific Northwest weather we rode in.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle
The bike has enough power to loft the front wheel in 4th gear with a little clutch work.

We got a chance to ride several twisty roads as we linked up trails, and the CRF450L was a lot of fun in the turns. Its nimble handling and generous ground clearance make it a fun bike for SuperMoto-style riding, and it can lift the front wheel off the ground with a little clutch work in 4th gear.

In the Dirt

Honda did an impressive job of making the CRF450L feel like a street bike on the street, but what we care most about is how it performed in the dirt. To get a sense of the off-road performance, Honda lead us on a ride through Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The woodsy terrain included everything from whoops to single track, rocks and ruts. To ensure we could evaluate the full capability of the bike, Honda swapped the stock IRC GP21/22 tires for grippier Dunlop D606s.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

Right off the bat, we got into some steep technical single track that required finesse to make it through. The recent rains made the dirt tacky and mud was minimal, but there were some slick roots and rocks to contend with. The clutch feel is excellent and it’s easy to modulate power for good traction in the choppy stuff, but some mild throttle surge is noticeable in first gear. The throttle response smooths out though if you click into second and lug it up loose steep hills. Whereas, first gear works best for gaining momentum on the ‘brute force’ technical sections.

Power is more than adequate for trail riding even though it has a subdued exhaust note. You can definitely pick up the front wheel when you need to get over a ledge but it’s not a wheelie machine. Revs build quickly when you get on the gas, yet its heavy flywheel allows it to maintain momentum and clear obstacles in the trail.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

As far as gearing, Honda mentioned the CRF450L has the same transmission gear ratios and sprockets as the CRF450X. Some aggressive riders might want to go down a tooth on the front sprocket to give it more pop, but most will find it has broad usable power, even with the stock gearing.

Honda clearly put a lot of R&D into suspension tuning and it worked even better than expected. Typically, the stock suspension on dual sport bikes is too soft for guys who weigh over 200 pounds. The CRF450L’s suspension is stiff enough to handle a larger rider over high speed bumps with ease, and didn’t bottom out the entire day of testing. In fact, it’s on the stiff side for performance dual sport bikes in this category. Damping is also well set up and I never felt the need to mess with the clickers.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

Coming into this test, our biggest skepticism was with the weight of the bike. The CRF450L weighs about 30 pounds more than its competition in the 450-500cc range on the spec sheet. But after riding the bike all day, the extra weight wasn’t easily detectable. The engineers have done an impressive job of making the weight disappear. We talked to Baja 1000 legend Johnny Campbell to get more insights into the engineering and development of the bike.

“If you go nose-to-tail on the CRF450L and look under the bodywork, there are so many details of how it was packaged for performance and handling. Like pushing the weight inboard toward the crankshaft, keeping a low CG, just the way the titanium tank is nestled in the chassis, where it’s carrying the most fuel, all the way to the rear subframe spars and LED headlight assembly. Because the more weight you have outboard, the worse the handling is going to be and the heavier it’s going to feel. Bringing that weight inboard in a tight package is the key to making this bike feel nimble and light.” – Johnny Campbell

You’d be hard pressed to notice a difference in weight between the CRF450L and its competition, unless you rode them back to back. The one area where I could feel the weight a bit was in tight, flat turns. Sometimes it required an extra effort to get the bike turned around.

One detail that caught my attention was the position of the right brake pedal. The CRF450L already has a wider bottom end than the CRF450R to accommodate a 6-speed transmission. Then Honda adds a case cover to the ‘L’ that pushes it out another inch or so. Having the extra case protection in the rocks is definitely appreciated, but it does push the right foot brake position outward from its natural position. Not every test rider noticed this and it’s probably something you could get used to after riding the bike for awhile, but for me it felt a little awkward.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle
The right brake pedal position does get pushed outward a bit due to the wider bottom end and extra case cover.

Another thing worth mentioning that may be a factor for some buyers is a lack of a kickstarter. Honda removed kickstarters from all of their CRF Performance Line models for 2019. If you are riding in remote technical terrain and end up with a flat battery, bump starting might not always be an option. It might be worth bringing a portable battery jumper in your backpack on those types of rides.

After a full day of riding in mixed terrain that included some aggressive throttle work, the fuel consumption averaged about 43 mpg. No doubt the CRF450L is capable of high 40s mpg on more casual rides. With a small 2.1 gallon tank though, the range will be a concern for those who ride in remote areas. One way Honda helps reduce range anxiety is with ‘average fuel consumption’ and ‘number of gallons used’ readings on the instrument console. This allows you to accurately measure how much fuel is left in the tank and you can keep an eye on fuel usage if you need to nurse it to a gas station.

Final Thoughts

We had a blast blazing through the woods on the 2019 Honda CRF450L. Without question, this is a true performance dual sport that is ready to give any competitors a run for their money in this category. The stiffer suspension is greatly appreciated for aggressive riding and the tractable power makes the bike easy to ride fast. Even better, Honda took the time to smooth out and quiet the motor, which not only makes it a better street bike, but also reduces the fatigue factor over a long day of riding.

What really sets it apart though is Honda’s reputation for being bulletproof. The CRF450X this model is based on, is known to be a workhorse and its reputation is built on a long line of beloved high-performance off-road models like the XR400R and XR650R.

Honda CRF450L Dual Sport Motorcycle

The CRF450L’s performance will make the hardcore dirt riders happy, while it’s also friendly enough for CRF250L riders to make the step up. It remains to be seen if the bike is adopted by the ADV travel crowd. But if the Motonomad crew can ride halfway around the world on KTM 500 EXC’s, the CRF450L would arguably be a better choice for that type of trip. Especially, when you consider Honda’s reputation for durability and global dealer network.

Cost of ownership and maintenance are also going to be a plus for the Red Brand. And we give Honda kudos for being the first Japanese brand to build a street-legal motocross-based machine for the world market. Hopefully, the others will follow suit and we’ll see this category grow with choice.

At $10,399, some may find it a bit pricey for a 450cc motorcycle. But this is a high-performance model, fine-tuned with high-quality componentry. The price isn’t outside of the norm for this category and the Honda can actually save you a few bucks – about $800 compared to the Orange Brand. That’s a nice budget for customizing your CRF450L with a beefier skid plate, handguards, break-away mirrors and maybe some soft luggage.

We look forward to seeing how the new Honda matches up with other performance dual sports out on the trail, and whether it proves to be as durable as we all hope. And maybe if we are lucky, Honda will surprise us with a CRF450L Rally model next!

2019 Honda CRF450L Specs

Engine: Liquid-cooled 10º single-cylinder four-stroke,
Valve Train: Unicam OHC, four-valve
Displacement: 449.7cc
Bore & Stroke: 96.0mm x 62.1mm
Transmission: Constant-mesh 6-speed return; manual
Clutch: Multiplate wet (6 springs)
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Induction: Programmed fuel-injection system (PGM-FI); 46mm throttle bore
Ignition: Full transistorized
Start: Push-button electric starter
Final Drive: #520 sealed chain
Front Suspension: 49mm fully-adjustable leading-axle inverted telescopic Showa coil-spring fork
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link system; fully-adjustable Showa single shock
Suspension Travel (Fr/Rr): 12.01 in. / 12.36 in.
Front Brakes: 2-piston caliper hydraulic; single 260mm disc
Rear Brakes: 1-piston caliper hydraulic; single 240mm disc
Front Tire: IRC GP21 80/100-21 w/tube
Rear Tire: IRC GP22 120/80-18 w/tube
Rake (Caster Angle): 28°20’
Trail: 116mm (4.6 in.)
Length: 85.9 in.
Width: 32.6 in.
Height: 50.0 in.
Ground Clearance: 12.4 in.
Seat Height: 37.1 in.
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 2.01 US Gal.
Wet Weight: 289 lbs.
Color: Red
US Availability: September 2018
Pricing: $10,399 USD

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney

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24 thoughts on “2019 Honda CRF450L Review – First Ride

  1. How does that bike compare to the Husky 701 which is slightly more expensive, but has approximately the same weight, about twice the reach and 50% more power? And official service intervalls that are 10 (!) times that of the Honda!

    • The Husky is 319 lbs without fuel. So that’s about 345 lbs with fuel. Not exactly close in weight to the CRF450L (56 pounds diff).You don’t have the same motocross-based suspension/chassis either and more than an inch less suspension travel. If you are talking pure off-road performance the CRF wins.

    • The 701 is probably better for long trips due to the service intervals and horsepower and seat. By the way, 75% more hp. (It dynos at 70. Despite the fact that honda won’t give an official number, I’m still waiting for someone to dyno this honda. I think 40 is a fair guess).

      So, for performance riding, we’ve had for years the 500 excf or beta 500rr. For off-road trips, 690/701. This honda? Nice to have the option, but this is not the 250 DS successor we’ve been waiting for.

  2. Honda drops the ball again 290 pounds over $10,300. You can go out and buy a KTM 450 or husky 501 for about the same price and they’re 35 pounds lighter. By the time you add on the dealers mark up, you can probably buy a KTM or a husky for less money and have a much better dirtbike that you can ride on the street. I paid $12,200 for my husky out the door in late 2017. If Honda brought this bike to market at $8000, I would consider it. As it sits I would have to put $1000-1500 more into the Honda to have a comparable bike. You also would need to shed 35lbs…

    • Hey Mark. It all depends on the trail. A 60-mile day of riding on technical trails can be a 12-hour affair that leaves you exhausted and sore for days. But if you are riding a lot of smooth dirt roads, I agree a 90 mile range isn’t alot, so you better have some gas stops on your GPS or carry extra gas.

  3. “… Typically, engines need to be detuned and throttle response suffers in order to pass the EPA’s sniff and sound tests. Honda avoided going down this route by first using sound-deadening case covers, a foam-filled swingarm and front sprocket cover to reduce noise, then they worked on getting the smoothest throttle response possible. The result is a motor that makes just 4 horsepower less than the off-road-only CRF450X.”

    How the hell does it “avoid” while still reducing power? by nearly 10%. Either the English definition of “avoid” as changed, or the statement is incorrect.

    • Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I was making the point that they didn’t have to ‘significantly’ de-tune the motor, which is typical. I’ve clarified that in the story now. Thanks for your input Fred.

    • Hi Bruce. No difference in the spec. It was simply a misprint on their documentation. We confirmed this with Honda back in June. They’ve been trying to clear this up for awhile now but the rumor still persists. It would defy logic anyway for a 450cc motocross-based motor to make only 24 HP. Even the mellow output Royal Enfield Himalayan 400cc single makes 25 HP! Rest assured it makes plenty of power. 🙂

      • There seems to be confirmation from a Japanese source that the Euro4 version due here in UK, including the mandatory ABS, does only produce 24/25 bhp. Hard to see why the Euro emission regs would be that much more stringent in effect than the US ones, particularly as the 250 has to meet the same regs with that output.

        If true then it will never sell here against the 250 (at half the price) and which does not need an oil/oilfilter/airfilter change two thirds of the way through what would be a two/three day trip for me.

        When Euro5 comes in soon there will be penalties for manufacturers if the emissions equipment can be circumvented so look forward to no tampering. Best buy now!

        • Sure enough – UK Honda dealers now advertising it as 24.5 bhp. Another tester had it doing 84 mph on the rev limiter. I had hoped for a higher top gear to give relaxed main road cruising. So – at twice the price, no more power or speed than the CRF 250. Presumably better handling off road though.

          • UK Dealers have an error in their materials if they are advertising that. Power is significantly better than a CRF250. It will easily do 84mph but it is true the bike is limited in top speed (I believe 90mph) by Honda for safety reasons. You’re probably looking at the wrong bike though if you want “relaxed main road cruising.”

            • Possibly, but Honda UK, who must be aware of the controversy and hence unlikely to perpetuate an error, quote the same figure. Let’s see what finally arrives in the UK.

              Allow me to put my comment in to context – clearly I am not expecting a Gold Wing equivalent. To get somewhere that offers half an hour of legal off road trail I have to do over 50 miles. To get somewhere offering a worthwhile amount of the same I have to do 200 miles on 60 and 70 mph roads.

              I am of the opinion that a motorcycle, of all vehicles, should not be a mobile chicane holding up other road users (as I feel I am on my current air cooled Honda which cruises in the high forties and can be forced to nearly 60 but with the feeling that the valves could appear through the tank at any moment).

              My hope had been that the bigger motor would have allowed use of a high enough top gear to allow me to keep up with traffic and not feel that I was thrashing the thing to death. I’m sure Honda could use a more sophisticated means of capping top speed for safety than simply allowing the bike to run out of revs in a comparatively low gear.

  4. As an actual owner of both a Beta 390 and a Husky 701, this bike still interests me. The weight, if honest, is not far off of the KTM/Beta 4T enduros – because they lie, and lie, and lie, and come out of the truck at close to 280 with fuel. The range kind of sucks, but an aftermarket tank [found on almost all real-life KTM/Betas setup for off-road] is in the works. The OEM case covers, decent turn signals, etc. cut some costs. And although I’ve had zero issues with either of my current bikes, Honda reliability is not just rumor. As far as power – plan on spending $800+ on defeating the emissions controls on your new 500 KTM to really beat this bike. They are choked down, hard. So if people are honest with themselves about their riding ability and real-life operating conditions, this bike is a contender. If you want to do real hard enduro, they all suck – buy a 300 two stroke.

    • …but KTM/Husqvarna owners seem to be as bad as Harley Davidson Owners, when it comes to “promoting” their brand. You are one of the first Husky owners to be honest! Nice!

  5. Pingback: 【HONDA】CRF450L part2【ホンダ】 | 車の2chまとめサイト

  6. Pingback: 【HONDA】CRF450L part2【ホンダ】 | 出会い系体験談まとめ

  7. a silky smooth single hey? is it just me or are others thinking, mmm RTW with this ? add a dakar fairing, a long range tank and a soft luggage system (front and rear) then – go. the maintenance schedules ppfftt – personally i would double or triple their km intervals as I am not going to be in 1st and 2nd gear much (more like 4~6th). Common rotor-mould tank makers safari/acerbits 15liter tank ; frame welders peeps – get busy… real pity it’s not 2K$ cheaper

    or : maybe just wait for Honda to release their 700cc CRF-L twin to answer Tenere700/KTM790 in that class too… the unicorn still hides


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