2019 Honda CRF450L | First Ride Review

2019 Honda CRF450L
Based on the CRF450R motocrosser, Honda’s all-new 2019 CRF450L is a highly capable, off-road-oriented dual-sport. (Photos by Drew Ruiz)

If you’re in the market for a 450cc dirt bike, Honda’s 2019 lineup offers you five options: the CRF450R motocrosser, the pro-level CRF450WE (Works Edition), the CRF450RX for enduro competition, the CRF450X for trail riding and—at last—the highly anticipated CRF450L, a 50-state street-legal dual-sport that’s light enough and powerful enough to satisfy all but the most hardcore of off-road riders. Until now, if you wanted a 450cc “dirt bike with lights” your only choice was European—KTM, Husqvarna or Beta, even Aprilia and BMW dabbled in the class a decade ago. But cutting-edge 450 dual-sports have been conspicuously absent from Japanese lineups.

2019 Honda CRF450L
Tall, narrow, fairly light and powerful with lots of suspension travel and ground clearance, the 2019 Honda CRF450L is the proverbial “dirt bike with lights.”

Of course, Honda is no stranger to dual-sports. Its history stretches back to the early ’60s with legendary bikes like the CL72 Scrambler 250, the Elsinore and various models with XL, NX or XR in their names. More recently, Honda launched the CRF1000L Africa Twin for 2016 and CRF250L Rally for 2017, and the all-new 2019 CRF450L slots right between them.

Read our 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally review

2019 Honda CRF450L
Since the 2019 Honda CRF450L is street-legal, it can be ridden to the trail, from trail to trail or even used as a commuter or lightweight canyon carver, though its 2-gallon tank limits range.

Our incredibly scenic test ride was based out of Packwood, Washington, in the heart of the Cascade Range and surrounded on all sides by Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Whenever there was a break in the evergreens, we could see snowcapped Mt. Rainer looming to the north. Our route covered nearly 100 miles, and being in the Pacific Northwest, the weather changed as often as the riding conditions. Wet pavement, sloppy gravel-strewn forest roads and gorgeous, canopied single track—all before lunch. These mixed conditions provided a perfect testing environment for the CRF450L.

Read our 2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin review

2019 Honda CRF450L
Weighing just 289 pounds fully fueled (claimed), the 2019 Honda CRF450L is easy to maneuver on fast fire roads or tight single track.

Kevin’s Gear
Helmet: Fly Racing F2 Carbon MIPS Shield
Jacket: Fly Racing Patrol
Jersey/Pants/Gloves: Fly Racing Evolution DST
Goggles: Fly Racing 2019 Zone Pro
Boots: Fly Racing FR5

2019 Honda CRF450L
The 2019 Honda CRF450L’s 449cc single is compact, and its held in place by a light but strong aluminum twin-spar frame.

Throw a boot over the 37.1-inch-high seat, hit the electric start and let the precisely metered PGM-FI filter though the 46mm downdraft throttle body. The exhaust note is restrained, necessary to satisfy noise and emissions regulations. As we started our ride, it was raining and cold; 30 seconds in, I wished the CRF had handguards—a curious omission. As we transitioned from pavement to a dirt forest road, I grabbed more throttle than needed to test traction and power. The back end stepped out in a controllable arc, making it clear that the Honda’s 449cc, liquid-cooled, Unicam SOHC, four-valve single has plenty of kick.

Honda doesn’t provide official figures, but a rep said—unofficially—horsepower is “in the forties.” A high-performance motocross engine modified for the rigors of street use, it has a 12:1 compression ratio, titanium valves, a modified finger rocker arm with a DLC coating and 12 percent more crankshaft inertia than a CRF450R. A gear-driven counterbalancer keeps vibration in check. Revised ECU settings make the power more manageable, less explosive, yet very responsive to small throttle inputs.

2019 Honda CRF450L
To satisfy requirements for street legality, the 2019 Honda CRF450L has fully LED lighting and a noise- and sound-compliant exhaust.

A trick titanium tank holds 2 gallons of fuel, and since the CRF450L is street-legal, it has larger radiators with an electric fan, a larger lithium-ion battery and a robust generator to power the LED lights. But since the CRF will also get abused on trails, it has durable plastic bodywork, a skid plate and turn signals that are tough and flexible. A handy digital meter provides basic info: speed, odometer, trip meters, a clock and several fuel consumption metrics (the computer said my average was 46 mpg). To keep noise to a minimum, the CRF not only has a special muffler, it also has special covers on the crankcase, sprockets with rubber dampers and urethane injected into the swingarm. It’s quite stealthy in stock trim.

2019 Honda CRF450L
Yes, the 2019 Honda CRF450L’s engine, which makes around 40 horsepower, has plenty of snap, but it is easy to control.

The CRF450L’s aluminum twin-spar frame is 15mm wider to accommodate the upgraded 6-speed gearbox that’s shared with the CRF450X. Gear changes were effortless and the stock ratios were superb—low or high, I was always able to find the right gear for the situation. Hidden behind plastic, the stout aluminum subframe extends past the end of the exhaust and can be used as an attachment point for carrying gear. One of our ride guides used a 40-liter ADV soft bag system.

2019 Honda CRF450L
Excellent D.I.D rims are normally shod with IRC dual-sport tires, but our test bikes were fitted with more dirt-focused Dunlop D606 DOT knobbies. Two-piston front caliper provides good stopping power.

MX-caliber suspension made by Showa offers more than 12 inches of travel front and rear, with a 49mm upside-down fork adjustable for rebound and compression and a fully adjustable Pro-Link rear shock, and internal settings were calibrated for trail riding. This isn’t the sort of suspension that’s built to a price or feels like a compromise or will be the first thing owners upgrade; these are high-quality components that soaked up whatever abuse I dished out. And with 12.4 inches of ground clearance, I never bottomed out on the skid plate nor scraped the rear suspension linkage.

2019 Honda CRF450L
Riding nearly 100 miles through the lush, wet Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington was the perfect environment to test the 2019 Honda CRF450L. Narrow single track like this is where the bike really excels.

Black D.I.D rims—a 21-inch front and 18-inch rear—are normally shod with IRC GP21/22 dual-sport tires (80/100-21 front, 120/80-18 rear), but our test bikes were upgraded to more aggressive Dunlop D606 DOT knobbies, which performed amazingly well in a wide range of conditions. Up front, a 2-piston caliper squeezes a single 260mm disc, and at the rear a 1-piston caliper squeezes a 240mm disc. Braking was excellent and low effort. At a claimed 289 pounds wet, the CRF450L weighs 14 pounds more than its trail-only CRF450X counterpart due to the add-ons to make it street-legal, but it carries its weight well everywhere except in deep whoops. Although not as light as full-on MX/enduro bikes, the CRF450L is lighter than other dual-sports in Honda’s lineup—29 pounds lighter than the CRF250L and CRF250L Rally, and 57 pounds lighter than the CRF250L Rally ABS and XR650L.

2019 Honda CRF450L
Digital meter is small and provides basic info. Three guesses as to what company makes the Honda CRF450L’s handlebar, and the first two don’t count.

Overall, the 2019 Honda CRF450L is confidence inspiring and composed on the trail. It offered great tractability on slimy root- and rock-infested single track and stayed planted on sloppy high-speed fire roads, yet was reasonably quiet and smooth on pavement. The magic of the CRF450L is it’s flexible enough and light enough to appeal to a wide range of riders (as long as they can live with its lofty seat height…such is the price of more than a foot of ground clearance and suspension travel). As an off-road-oriented dual-sport, it’s happiest in the dirt but can be ridden on pavement to connect the trails, or even for commuting or short blasts up the canyon, especially with a set of 17-inch supermoto wheels! With excellent fit and finish and no obvious shortcomings, this is the dual-sport many people have been waiting for.

Check out Rider’s Guide to New/Updated Street Motorcycles for 2019

2019 Honda CRF450L
Its 37.1-inch seat height and $10,399 price tag will deter some, but the 2019 Honda CRF450L is a high-performance dual-sport that makes no excuses.

2019 Honda CRF450L Specs
Base Price: $10,399
Website: powersports.honda.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, Unicam SOHC, 4 valves
Displacement: 449cc
Bore x Stroke: 96.0 x 62.1mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 28 degrees/4.6 in.
Seat Height: 37.1 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 289 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 2.0 gals.
MPG: NA

2019 Honda CRF450L
The 2019 Honda CRF450L isn’t weighted down by ABS or other electronics, yet it offers a fully modern, fuel-injected engine.
2019 Honda CRF450L
If exploring backwoods trails is your thing, then the 2019 Honda CRF450L could be your huckleberry.

9 COMMENTS

    • That’s 289lbs……not 389lbs. Orange is like a trophy wife. Hard to keep ’em happy, too expensive to keep, and even more expensive to get rid of. Red is like that nice pretty girl you didn’t notice in school…..and then run into her 10 years later. She’s still pretty, loves the outdoors, loves to cook, and takes great care of the house and kids.

  1. Love the bike except the price and the still too small tank. I recently purchased a Kawi KLX 250 new, which I love. It also has a 7.6 litre (2 gallon) tank. Despite an amazing 3.6 l/100 km (65 mpg) that is only 200 km (125 mi). My first purchase was a Rotapax. With the reported 45 mpg in this article that is 90 miles!! Why not a 3 gallon tank as stock on a dual sport? The KLX is very narrow at the tank and would easily accommodate a 3 gallon tank. In Canada my KLX was 5 grand and the Honda 450 is around 12 grand. A better bike but I am a rookie off road so I don’t need the extra power and suspension. The Honda 450 seems like a potentially great adventure bike as long as the rear subframe is stronger to support aluminum bags etc. that adventure riders like. Oh and Tom the wet weight is 289 pounds, keep riding orange but please try to be fair when comparing. Now we need all of the other Japanese manufacturers to compete in this sector. My 250 is barely strong enough on the highway, uphill into the wind with no luggage it struggles to keep up highway speeds of 70 mph. The 450 at 289 lbs is Goldilocks (with a 3 gallon tank). I know aftermarket tanks/systems will be available but 90 miles range on a bike meant for exploring the back of beyond? This ain’t no sportster with a peanut tank, I bought my bike to explore where there are no people!! Cam

    • True, that’s a tall seat height, but you won’t find many dual-sports with more than 12 inches of ground clearance and suspension travel, as well as 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels, with seats much lower than that. Of course, 37.1 inches is the unladen seat height; add a full-sized adult rider and it will sink down into the suspension quite a bit.

  2. As much as I want Honda (or anyone else) to build a 450 adventure bike, I think this bike is not intended for that role. Honda is opening up the 450 niche, and we will see the competition put out similar bikes in response. Personally, I’m hoping for a KLR 500 with a 5 gallon tank, 340 lb wet weight, and 32 inch seat height!

  3. I am with Peter. A KLR 500 with a five gallon tank, 340lb. and a 32″ seat. Don’t forget 7.5″ to 8.00″ of suspension travel would be good. Most duel sports get used on the street but can go anywhere. I don’t want a duel sport that is a race bike with lights. I have had two KLR650’s and two KLX250’s among others. One to big the other two small. Looking for one just right. I have a lot of bikes but love duel sports the best.

Leave a Reply to Rider Magazine Cancel reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here