2021 Honda CRF450R updates, explained

In one of the most the highly anticipated model releases, the 2021 Honda CRF450R has finally been uncovered. So what exactly is new about it? Well, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let me explain. 

It’s safe to say we all knew that a new generation Honda CRF450R was coming after Tim Gajser and Mitch Evans debuted prototypes in the MXGP World Championship, but we didn’t know if they would look exactly like them and what actual updates they would eventually come with.


Now we know, and wow, Honda has really gone to town with the 2021 450, so much so, that there’s hardly a resemblance between the new bike and the older generation 2020 model.

So according to Honda, the theme of the bike is ‘razor sharp cornering’, and they had three key objectives, which were to improve power, improve handling, and improve consistency. You’ll see how these three targets have been achieved in the updates I’m about to explain.

Now the first major update is an obvious one, and that’s that the 2021 Honda CRF450R has all-new bodywork, while Honda has also reverted to a single exhaust. 

The new plastics have a really aggressive style to them, and as much as I love the dual exhaust Honda’s have become known for, the single exhaust just complements the new look of the bike.

2021 honda crf450r

These visual updates are more than just for looks too, as they’ve been designed to make the bike slimmer while also reducing weight - and it’s worth mentioning that this bike is 1.3kg - or three pounds - lighter than the 2020 model. Now that’s impressive.

The slimming down of the bike doesn’t come in the centre - the Honda’s are already quite slim near the tank anyway, however with just one exhaust, they’ve been able to reduce how wide the bike is near the side number plates by a total of 70mm, which is quite a significant amount. 

The shrouds are somewhat short though, and the new header pipe design means it doesn’t stick out anymore and fits within the perimeter of the bike.

Now the next major update is the engine, and for 2021, it comes with a brand-new cylinder head. 

Honda’s intention with upgrading the engine package was to make gains in the bottom to midrange power, and in doing so, they’ve managed to add almost one more horsepower to engine’s power delivery. 

2021 honda crf450r

The cylinder head’s design has been changed a bit internally, but I won’t bore with the specifics, while the engine exhaust port has been centralised, ovalized and straightened.

This basically improves the torque characteristics of the bike for smoother power delivery, and it also allows the header to remain tighter within the confines of the bike. 

So as far as the engine itself goes, that’s basically the extent of the upgrades, although the air intake has been completely redesigned on the 2021 model. 

The air boot itself has increased in size making for greater low-end torque, and interestingly, the air filter can be accessed by removing just one side panel - this is essentially what KTM and Husqvarna have been doing for years, but it makes for accessing the air filter so much easier, and I’m so glad Honda has gone for this design.

2021 honda crf450r

One of my favourite updates to the 2021 Honda CRF450R is the addition of a hydraulic clutch. 

A hydraulic clutch is just such a quality component, and I can’t believe it’s taken until 2021 for Honda to put it on a production bike when they’ve consistently been seen on their factory bikes over the years. 

Honda now joins KTM, Husqvarna and Kawasaki in the club of manufacturers who deliver hydraulic clutches as standard, and it just raises the quality of the Honda to another level for 2021. 

The hydraulic clutch basically provides a consistent feel regardless where you’re at in a moto, whereas a traditional clutch can often fade or be inconsistent when the bike starts to really heat up.

The chassis has undergone a major overhaul for 2021, with both the frame and suspension package being upgraded. 

2021 honda crf450r

The entire geometry of the bike has been changed to promote that razor sharp cornering theme Honda set out to achieve, while the chassis itself has been redesigned to be lighter and less rigid in comparison to the 2020 model, which Honda says provides a more supple feeling. 

The subframe has also been redesigned to reduce weight, and the swingarm has been updated to accommodate the chassis changes, offering greater ground clearance and improving traction at the rear wheel. 

Being a Honda rider, I can already vouch for the suspension package on the CRF450R, and it’s been improved for 2021. 

The new model continues to use a Showa spring fork, where the stroke has been increased by 5mm along with newly designed axle lugs and triple clamps. These changes make for better handling characteristics, especially in rougher terrain.

The Showa shock also gets an update to accommodate the new frame, while the adjusters have been moved from the right to the left-hand side, plus there’s been a weight reduction with a brand new spring. 

2021 honda crf450r

According to Honda, the link ratio and rear travel has also been changed so that rear-end squat is reduced under acceleration.

There are a host of minor updates on this bike, including a new cockpit design that see the throttle cable rerouted, along with a new mapping and traction control switch.

Again, there are three modes of mapping you can use via the Engine Mode Select Button, plus three modes of Honda Selectable Torque Control. 

This is one of my favourite features about the Honda, and personally, I use the smooth engine map, which makes taming the power of the 450 that much more powerful. 

So that wraps up the key changes on the 2021 Honda CRF450R, and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with what Honda has done and I just can’t wait to get my hands on one. 

What are your thoughts on the new Honda?