Riding the All-New CRF450L: Remember that scene from the 80’s action film Rambo: First Blood, in which a shirtless Stallone pitches a passing biker off his dual-sport and then rips out of the little Pacific Northwest town into the forest? Well that’s how it feels as we head out of Packwood, WA on the new Honda CRF450L up into the trees and clouds, except we have on helmets and gear. If you ever saw the film, you get the vibe of this area and its trails; wet roads complete with logging trucks and low hanging fog on the mountains complete the picture.

Much hype has been made about Honda’s street-legal 450, and we’re here to tell you that this bike delivers on the promise of a legitimate off-road dual-sport challenger to the European brands. This bike is designed to get you from “trail-to-trail” with small pavement sections in between. The bike is a big step up from the 250L and it shares its DNA with Honda’s CRF450R, RX, and X models. The 250L really didn’t match the motocross CRF250R in terms of performance, but the 450L is much closer in concept to the 450 motocross versions.

Engine: We asked the attending Honda engineers about power on the US edition 450L and the number of about 31Kw was given. That’s about 41HP, so in this stock form with all the emissions considerations, the Honda has plenty of grunt. The bike has a really linear power delivery and is easy to ride with predictable power everywhere.

The CRF450L shares about 70% of its components with the other CRF450 models, with 30% of the bike being built with CRF450L specific parts. The valve sizes are the same as the other bikes but many of the engine internals are unique to the 450L, such as mass being added to the crankshaft and clutch basket.

Although lower in horsepower numbers than a KTM500EXC, the Honda makes up for any lack of power with its smoothness of operation. By adding a urethane- injected swingarm, sprockets with dampening, plastic covers on the motor, and Honda’s consistently solid transmission, the 450L is smooth and quiet. With a wide-ratio 6-speed box, the bike is equally at home on tight single-track in first gear or cruising an asphalt section at 65mph. Part of the concept of quiet and smoother operation is to reduce fatigue if you are all day in the saddle.

Our route for the ride day had pavement, fast gravel fire roads, and single-track; not once did we think, “Man, I wish this thing had more power.” The increased capacity radiator has an electric fan that kicked on occasionally in the tight sections. The muffler on the 450L is really quiet and it lulls you into a sense that you’re not going fast because the bike is not barking loud, but that’s not the case. The bike has a dedicated (read locked) ECU, so adding an aftermarket pipe could prove problematic. Also its catalytic converter makes it street legal in all 50 states.

Suspension: Tuned specifically for off-road riding, the 450L shares it’s suspension platform with the motocross CRF450R, the CRF450RX and the CRF450X, the Showa 49mm coil spring fork and Showa shock with Pro Link system. On the trail the fork handled everything well and the bike felt very balanced. Honda recommends 110mm of sag on the rear shock. From small stutter bumps in fast sweeping turns, to whooped out single-track, we felt at home with this suspension set-up.

Chassis: The 450L shares its aluminum twin-spar frame with the new 450X. The frame is slightly wider than the R and RX models and weighs in at around 5½ pounds heavier than the motocross track bike. We like that the aluminum sub-frame allows for more robust luggage options to be mounted on the bike. The titanium fuel tank has a capacity of slightly over 2 gallons. On our ride we were getting about 45mpg in varying terrain, so depending on where and how you ride, 85-95 miles for the fuel range seems reasonable. We know that IMS has already got a larger capacity tank in the works.

The whole bike has LED lighting, and the headlight is BRIGHT. The turn signals are low profile, and have the ability to bend up and down by 90 degrees, so if you drop your bike, they should hold up and not snap off. The digital meter is a big plus. No more 99.9 rollover analog trip meter. The meter has Trip A and Trip B, plus a great feature: Fuel Used. This takes the guesswork out of your ride, and there’s an average fuel consumption readout. As mentioned, we got about 45mpg on our day.

The front brake set-up features a large capacity reservoir and a thicker rotor. From a styling standpoint, we love the black rims on the 18/21 wheels. The mirrors are quite large and we would probably replace them for smaller aftermarket units, as on the single track we whacked them on branches more than a few times.

Conclusion: Would we buy a Honda CRF450L? The answer has to be yes. Honda has finally delivered the bike we have long been waiting for, a bike you can ride out of your garage right to the trails. The build quality is typical Honda, meaning it’s good. The performance is good in stock trim, and it’s just a matter of time before aftermarket add-ons become available if you want to bolt on some more performance. However, we might just leave the bike in its factory spec. It’s smooth, quiet and powerful. And judging by Honda’s reputation, it will be reliable. The 450L comes with a one-year standard warranty with the ability to extend for an additional five years. That’s pretty good for a street-legal dirt bike! The 450L comes with a one-year standard warranty, with the ability to extend for a further five years. That’s pretty good for a street legal dirt bike!

MSRP for the 2019 CRF450L is $10,399 More info and specs at https://powersports.honda.com/2019/crf450l.aspx


Key Features

  • Lightweight, 2.0-gallon titanium fuel tank for long range

  • Riding time maximized by lightweight, compact LED lighting system, featuring headlight with high-intensity projection for illuminating broad area

  • Rear-view mirrors

  • Lightweight lithium-ion battery with increased capacity compared to CRF450R, to power electrical components

  • Lightweight, compact digital meter with black characters on a white liquid-crystal background is easily legible while riding


  • 449.7cc Unicam® engine specially tailored for trail-to-trail riding

  • Finger rocker arm contributes to compact layout while using dedicated design to attain off-road-specific power characteristics. DLC surface treatment reduces friction

  • Dedicated valve timing for smooth power delivery in technical riding

  • High crank inertia (up 12% over CRF450R) for tractable power delivery in technical terrain

  • 12.0:1 compression ratio

  • New piston with three-ring design

  • Wide-ratio six-speed transmission is ready for a wide variety of off-road terrain or road going

  • Special clutch design enables light lever pull. Primary damper mechanism with friction springs suppresses engine torque fluctuations, ensuring smooth running

  • Large-capacity radiators with high heat-exchange efficiency for strong performance in demanding off-road conditions

  • Electric fan and thermostat control engine temperature in brutal conditions

  • ECU with dedicated settings

  • Noise emissions minimized via covers on the left and right crank cases

  • Powerful AC generator for street-legal lighting 

  • Air cleaner box

  • Dedicated single-muffler exhaust system provides great sound while meeting emissions requirements


  • Aluminum twin-spar frame designed for nimble-yet-stable handling on trails

  • Subframe designed to ensure optimum rigidity balance appropriate for carrying tools

  • 49mm Showa fork with dedicated settings for trail-to-trail riding

  • Shock based on that of the CRF450R but with dedicated settings and link ratio for off-road riding

  • Front brake uses design from CRF450R, but with better fade resistance thanks to thicker discs and large-capacity reservoir

  • Endless sealed chain withstands the elements

  • Front and rear sprockets, produced in durable steel material, feature damper system for smooth, quiet running

  • Urethane injection in swingarm to reduce road noise

  • Fuel tank cap with a cut-off valve prevents fuel from flowing out of tank if the bike is on its side

  • LED turn signals with flexible mounts for durability

  • Easily accessible electronic component box on left side of the frame

  • Black 7/8” Renthal handlebar with red pad

  • Compact, lightweight handlebar switches

  • In-mold graphics are resistant to peeling caused by washing or abrasion

  • IRC GP-21F/GP-22R tires provide great balance of on- and off-road performance

Chris Glaspell

The success of any online publication depends on the quality of execution, and
in this respect UpShift Online’s success is virtually assured.  It was founded by veteran motorcycle industry professionals: English-born photographer Simon Cudby, the premier photographer in the world of motocross, and Chris Glaspell, creative director with firms serving clients that include Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Cycle World and Yoshimura. This, plus Upshift’s veteran editorial staff and unrivaled journalism, will gives readers unparalleled views of adventure motorcycling.