The new CRF450 Rally is the first factory bike to carry the Honda banner into rally competition since 1989. That year marked the end of an era in which Honda won four Paris-Dakars in a row, at a time when the race actually ran to Dakar, Senegal. Things have changed. Now, the “Dakar” Rally runs in South America, and instead of it being a full-on factory works machine, the CRF450 Rally is based upon the actual production CRF450X. Very loosely based, it seems: According to Team HRC Director and Project Leader Katsumi Yamazaki, about the only stock part left is the gearshift lever.
“We rebuilt the frame, the engine and everything else. We used different quality materials, so most of the parts are different even though they look the same. One example is the wheels. At first glance, it looks like the production bike, but everything is different, such as the width and strength of the rims and the thickness and number of spokes. The CRF450X weighs just over 100 kg [220 pounds], but the CRF450 Rally is much heavier and has a higher speed range. For this reason, the suspension springs we used have different diameters, are made of different materials and have different strengths. So, yes, we changed everything except the gearchange pedal,” said Yamazaki in a TeamHRC.com interview.
Obviously, rally bikes have a bunch more fuel capacity, and navigation equipment that’s easy to read and operate is extremely important for fatigued riders who must think on their feet for many days on end.
The 30-man HRC team installed PGM-FI fuel injection onto the bikes as well, in place of the old Keihin 40mm flat-slide carburetor. The Dakar course in South America climbs from sea level to almost 5000 meters (over 16,000 feet) at the highest point, and temperatures range from 14 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. A carburetor can’t handle differences of that magnitude, says Yamazaki, but PGM-FI can.
Power? “Since it’s a works machine, I cannot mention the actual number, but I can give you an idea if I tell you we boosted power by more than 30 percent. Since power is normally 33kW [42 horsepower], that means our bike was registering over 43kW [58 hp, in last October’s Morocco Rally, the bike’s first outing]. The bike was only about 70-percent complete in terms of our targets, so we honestly did not expect to perform well in the rally. But when we let it loose, we found it ran at a level equivalent to the KTM, which is currently the top competitor.”
For now, KTM remains the 800-pound gorilla in rally racing, and Honda would doubtless be doing better in Dakar if its two top riders (Felipe Zanol from Brazil, Sam Sunderland from the U.K.) hadn’t crashed themselves out during pre-Dakar testing in the Mojave last December. But here’s to Honda for getting back on the rally horse, and to American Johnny Campbell for getting a second and a third in two stages at Dakar, and to his teammates, Helder Rodrigues of Portugal and Javier Pizzolito of Argentina, who were in seventh and twelfth overall, respectively, after Stage 9.
Not bad at all for Honda’s first Dakar in decades. Long-term, the benefits should flow to all of us, since Honda says the eventual goal is to put together a kit that’ll allow anyone to turn the 450X into a serious enduro machine.
|Weight:||under 331 lb.|
|Power:||over 58 hp|
|Speed:||over 106 mph|