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Winner Takes All: 2018 Husqvarna FC450 vs Honda CRF450R | Bike Reviews | Features

Honda couldn't deliver the 2018 Honda CRF450R in time for the ADB 450MX shootout so we pitted it against the shootout-winning Husqvarna FC450 once the tardy red machine rocked up.

PHOTOS // Mitch Lees

This feature was first published in ADB issue #462 – March 2018.

It’s no secret that Honda’s CRF450R was missing from ADB’s 450 MX shootout in the January issue; many of you expressed disappointment through social media but, the truth is, nobody was more disappointed than us.

We just couldn’t make the timing work. Honda was unable to get a European-spec bike into the country fast enough and we already had five other brands ready to go so it was impossible to wait. Husky’s FC450 went on to win our shootout, for the second year in a row, so we organised a rematch when the tardy CRF450R did eventually rock up.

Honda vs Husqvarna

Everybody knows the American-spec CRF450R has won shootouts in the U.S. so I was expecting it to be good.

The test bike was brand spankers and so, for the first few laps, it felt like the suspension needed to bed in, but the more I rode it the better it felt.

Once the suspension felt like it had freed up, all I did was drop the fork through the triple-clamps a few millimetres to raise the front. The reason I did this was that it felt like I was washing the front out in the turns.

This small adjustment, along with setting the sag, was the only adjustments I had to make to the Honda to get comfortable. The non-tapered handlebar and chunky ’grips feel like they belong back in the ’90s but, apart from that, this bike is the real deal. It steers with such ease that its confidence inspiring.

The Showa suspension package is night and day better than last year. It is well balanced and smooth but I feel like it may be a little on the stiff side for a novice or lighter rider.

Another big surprise for me with the Honda was the motor. The Euro Hondas we’ve been getting have been muffled right down, with a fully enclosed airbox and a restrictive exhaust, but for 2018 the CRF packs a whole lot more horsepower. There’s loads of nice, useable grunt without it being overwhelming.
The whole package works well. The bike is easy to ride. You don’t have to fight it or force it to do anything special. It’s just an easy bike to ride fast. The electric starter is a welcome addition but I still found myself reaching for the missing kicker from time to time.

My biggest dislike is a throwback, the cable clutch. You have to constantly adjust the freeplay at the lever as the bike heats up and cools down. It’s a little annoying. The cable clutch is outdated. It’s like buying a new car with window winders or a luxury car with a plastic steering wheel. If you’re listening Honda, stop trying to sell us cheap excuses, like its less maintenance. All the factory racers want hydraulic clutches and so do we. It’s the future!

Honda CRF450R

It’s not hard to see why this bike won our 450 MX shootout for the second year in a row. It packs loads of power and the product is just finished so nicely. The handlebar, ’grips, levers, hydraulic clutch and electric start are all there, leaving no room for a wish list.

The shock I set the sag on and forgot about it but I seemed to swap and change the fork all day. I’ve managed to get the WP AER 48 fork working well in the past but what I found at the Mandalong test track was that, because there were a few big jumps into fast turns, I was having to add air pressure to keep the fork up in the stroke or the front wheel would start to wash out while I was braking into corners.

The problem with adding air was that the fork started to feel harsh over smaller bumps. So I had to drop the fork through the triple-clamps to make the front higher and stop it washing while running slightly less air and stiffening the compression damping clickers a tad to compensate.

Once I got this right I felt much more comfortable on the bike but I believe I would still benefit from revalving the fork and changing the oil height.

The power of the FC was nice and snappy. This kind of power is always sought after by experienced riders. I enjoyed map two on the switch as the engine came to life a little faster. I also played around with the traction control and found later in the day, when the track had completely dried out and gone slippery and dusty, that it came in handy.

One thing I didn’t like about the Husky was the footpeg-to-seat distance. Because I’m a bigger guy I felt quite cramped on the bike. It feels like the ’pegs are higher than normal, which positions you higher on the bike. This issue would most likely fade fast if I just stayed riding the one bike but because I was jumping back and forth I was finding it quite noticeable.

Husqvarna FC450

When it comes to comparing the two bikes, I can’t say if the Honda would have won our shootout. I didn’t ride that day, and I can’t speak for the testers who did, but I believe it would have done very well. Personally, I felt the most comfortable on the Honda.

I felt like it steered and handled better and was the easiest bike to ride. It’s handling is so precise and effortless that you really need to ride the bike to understand. I’m not saying the Husky handles badly at all, it’s also a very balanced and fine-handling bike. I just felt it needed a little more muscle to get it through certain sections of the track.

It took me a little longer to get comfortable on the Husky because I needed more time to get the fork set up, but when it comes to the hydraulic clutch, ’bar, levers and grips it’s no contest. The Husky takes it by a knockout to the chin.

The Honda could be 10 times the bike it is if Honda finished off the cockpit with a quality handlebar and grips, plus a hydro clutch. The suspension was stiffer but that suited a track with big jumps well. For beginners or riders not jumping I would say the suspension would be a tad on the hard side. The power of the two bikes is night and day different.

The Honda has loads of useable power that’s smooth and easy to control. It has more torque than in previous years which means the bike can tractor its way around the track using the meaty part of the power. This kind of riding suits me well.

The Husky has a powerful engine that likes to rev but I did find it generates much more vibration. I can see why this bike is popular with experienced racers. The whole bike is loaded with quality equipment and the motor has loads of power.

While I felt most comfortable on the Honda, it isn’t finished like the Husky and therefore isn’t a complete package. The suspension, chassis and engine while different, are on par with the Husky. The problem is that the Husky comes standard with all the good stuff. It’s got longer reach straight out of the locker room.