Ever since the 450 four-stroke craze hit the competition dirt bike market, there had been much speculation on when those engines would be dropped into sport quad frames.
Yamaha put some of that speculation to rest when it released its YFZ450 to much fanfare at its dealer meeting earlier this year in Las Vegas. The machine featured a number of firsts for sport quads, including a high-revving four-stroke engine, aluminum subframe and fully adjustable front shocks.
Not to be outdone, Honda released a sketch of its answer to the YFZ, the TRX450R, shortly after Yamaha dealers started taking delivery of YFZ units. This was done, supposedly, to prevent Honda-loyal customers from purchasing a YFZ.
In a media statement, Honda said the TRX450R is the “long-awaited replacement of the legendary TRX250R.” That is a big claim considering the reputation the 250R has among sport quad enthusiasts. The 250R, last produced for the 1989 model year, was long-considered THE performance ATV. In fact, race tracks across the country still have full gates of the 250R competing each weekend.
The media release also stated that the TRX450R will have a full line of HRC closed-circuit products to further increase the performance of the ATV.
With Honda’s dealer meeting out of the way, we now know more details about the TRX450R and Honda’s plans to race the machine next year with the first Honda factory-sponsored ATV racer in about 20 years, Tim Farr.
According to Honda, the machine will be available to dealers in January 2004.
“The hardest thing about designing this machine was meeting our high-performance goal, while still maintaining Honda reliability,” Ray Conway, Honda off-road media coordinator for motorcycle division, told Powersports Business. Conway went on to say that another goal was to offer a machine of this caliber, yet still provide the customer with a warranty.
Ever since the last TRX250R two-stroke was produced in 1989, people have pleaded with Honda to re-release the model. But Conway says that wouldn’t have made any sense with the strides four-stroke technology was making. He said that the time came when Honda could put a CRF450R-based engine in an ATV frame and enter a market that Conway sees as having high growth potential.
The machine will not replace the 400EX according to Conway. It is designed, rather, to round-out Honda’s lineup. The idea is to be the market leader in a newer “high-performance ATV” segment that is sure to emerge with upcoming models from the other manufacturers.
“We see this as a high-performance step for ATV riders,” he said. “Riders can start on the TRX90 and progress to the 250EX, 300EX, 400EX and finally the 450R.”
Why is now the time for a machine like this from Big Red? This was the question many had, considering the negative experiences manufacturers had in the late 1980s with consumer lawsuits related to the ATV market.
“The industry is circling back to where we were in the ’80s,” explained Conway. “But now we are much more educated about how to engage the people and government on safety and land issues.”
Indeed, many positive steps have been taken by manufacturers, Honda included, to make consumers more aware of proper safety when riding ATVs. There are classes available for every ATV purchaser, and Honda has special safety training available to those who want to take the classes.
But the ultimate goal is clear, Honda released this machine because it wants to remain No. 1 in the sport ATV segment. “Being No. 1 is always the goal whenever we release anything; the 450R is no different,” said Conway.
The ATV meets California’s strict CARB standards and therefore is green sticker legal. The exhaust note is kept below the 82 db range and emissions are low. But with Honda’s optional HRC closed-course racing kit, due in January, buyers can take to the track with a high-performance machine.
According to Conway, the engine is similar to the CRF450R powerplant, but only shares a few compatible parts. For one, the displacement is different. The TRX engine is a full 450cc due to stroke of the piston being slightly longer. The displacement of the CRF engine is 449cc.
Like the CRF engine, the TRX version also has Honda’s Unicam valve train. This allows for one cam to operate the four valves and makes for a lighter, more compact cylinder head design. The cam is of a different design, too. Cam timing is rounded out to produce power over the whole powerband. A magnesium cylinder head cover further reduces weight.
The carb feeding the engine is also different. Instead of a flat-slide 40mm carb like that of the CRF, the 450R version is a 42mm round-slide carb.
The piston is a short-skirt slipper-type piston with technology taken directly from Honda’s auto racing teams. The piston on the TRX has three rings instead of the CRF’s two, and also has a lower compression at 10:1. Thanks to the engine’s twin-sump style lubrication, weight is reduced because an external oil tank is not needed.
And, like the CRF engine, the TRX engine is kickstart only and does not have reverse. However, the kick-starter also supports the idea that Honda is once again back into ATV racing. No battery means a lighter race quad.
It is speculated that the steel tube chassis design is closely modeled after the 400EX chassis. But rather than a steel subframe, like that on the 400EX, the TRX has an aluminum one. The swingarm of the TRX450R is also aluminum for light weight.
Like the YFZ, Honda put fully adjustable front shocks on the 450R; another first for a Honda ATV. The rear shock of the TRX is also fully adjustable. The 450Rs shocks are produced by Showa.
Honda compares the stopping power of this TV to its CRF motocrosser. This is due to a new, high-pressure brake line system developed for the 450R. The front and rear brake calipers are made from aluminum and also have aluminum mounting brackets.
For tires, Honda chose Dunlop — not Ohtsu — and mounted the radial tires on 10-inch aluminum wheels up front and 9-inch aluminum wheels in the rear. The Dunlop fronts were designed to be used with the 450R.
And not to be outdone in the handgrip category, the TRX450R’s handgrips are specifically designed for this ATV.
Honda Goes ATV Racing
Honda chose Tim Farr as its first factory-sponsored ATV racer in 17 years for a number of reasons. For some time now, the rumor mill has churned with stories that Farr was aiding in development of the TRX450R.
And Farr, who has raced ATVs for 14 years, is a four-time GNC national champion, four-time stadium ATV champ and was a member of the Pont de Vaux (France) winning team in 1998. He has an impressive racing resume and is thought to be one of the handful of pro ATV racers who can call racing a full-time job.
Farr will race this year’s Baja 1000 on the 450R and will compete in next year’s stadium series and both the GNC MX and TT series next year. Honda has not confirmed what the support will entail. Mark Baldwin, owner of Baldwin Motorsports and Farr’s longtime mechanic, will stay on with Farr and tune his race quad. Farr will also work with Wayne Moridian of PEP Suspension and Wayne Hinson of Hinson Racing — even though he will be under the Honda support banner.
ATV Racing used to be a touchy subject for the manufacturers. With the release of the YFZ, and now the 450R, things appear to be changing in that regard. When Honda pulled race support shortly after the 1986 season, few thought there would be a return to factory support involved in the sport.
Copyright 2003 Powersports Business