Written by HRCA Staff
Ask anyone what sets a Honda apart and they’ll give you three answers: performance, reliability, and fit and finish. Over the years, some of Honda’s dirt bikes have set a standard for the first two that was legendary—the XR600R and XR650R were renowned for their ability to run forever in brutal, wide-open Baja conditions with minimal maintenance.
But riders wanted even more performance, and Honda was happy to serve it up with its CRF-R and CRF-X models. But this high performance also requires a more rigorous maintenance schedule. The CRFs are hardly temperamental prima donnas like some of the more exotic machines out there, but ensuring their performance takes a little work.
Luckily, you have two solid allies in this fight: Honda’s Common Service Manual and the Owner’s Manual and Competition Guide for the CRF450R, CRF450X, CRF250R and CRF250X.
The Common Service Manual is just that: a guide to motorcycle maintenance applicable to all Honda models. Its three-ring-binder format is filled with helpful information, everything from adjusting values and chain-adjustment specs to what kind of sealants and lubes to use.
The Competition Guides are product-specific for each of the four CRF models we’re concerned with. While most owner’s manuals are small-format, pocket-sized books that just cover the basics, the Competition Guides delve much deeper, covering complicated mechanical procedures such as piston replacement, all with clear, concise instructions and detailed diagrams and photographs.
CRF-R models are true competition bikes. Factory-sponsored racebikes get full teardowns—sometimes to the crank—after each race weekend. Your CRF won’t need that, but you wouldn’t expect a thoroughbred racehorse to win if you fed it dog food, and you won’t get the maximum performance out of your CRF unless you give it a little TLC between outings too. As with any bike, you should inspect items such as the throttle and brake operation and check the fluids every time you ride. The official maintenance schedules in the Competition Guides serve well for racers, but casual weekend riders should also pay note. As an example, let’s review the maintenance for a 2010 CRF450R:
Every race or 2.5 hours of operation
Clean Air Filter
A very straightforward procedure for anyone who’s ever ridden a dirt bike. Like most other off-road machines, the CRF450R uses an oiled-foam air cleaner. Service is simple: just remove the seat and loosen the single wing-nut-equipped bolt that secures the air cleaner. You can wash the air-cleaner element in clean, non-flammable solvent and then in hot, soapy water, let it dry, and re-oil with 50cc of foam filter oil. For an even faster service, have a pre-oiled spare air-filter element ready. A little white lithium grease around the edge of the element where it contacts the air-cleaner housing completes the job. With a spare filter ready to go, this should take less than five minutes.
Lubricate Drive Chain
A can of spray lube and a work stand is all you’ll need. Take a look at the sprockets and drive-chain tension while you’re at it: Proper spec is between 30 and 40mm of slack at the center of the chain run, measured at the top of the chain mid swingarm. Total time should be just a couple of minutes.
Lubricate Control Cables
A spray can of cable lubricant makes this another two-minute job.
Every three races or 7.5 hours of operation
Replace Drive-Chain Slider
Another simple procedure. This plastic piece protects the swingarm where the drive chain runs over and under it. It needs to be at least 5mm thick on top and 2mm thick on the bottom. Since this is a high-wear item, having a couple of spares in your race kit just makes sense and saves time by not having to run to your dealer.
Lubricate Swingarm and Shock Linkage
To do this right you need to remove the swingarm and the linkage assembly. And it pays to do it right, especially if you’re riding in really gloppy conditions. While you’re in there, make sure the dust seals that protect the needle bearings are in good shape too.
Replace Fork Oil
Learning to service your fork yourself can be a big time money-saver in the long run. You will need a couple of special tools, though, especially the lock-nut wrench (part number 07WMA-MEN0100). Don’t just use a big crescent wrench here; the proper wrench protects the critical fork dampers and also lets you use a torque wrench for reinstallation.
Every six races or 15 hours of operation
Inspect Valve Clearance
For the first time, we’re headed into the engine. You’ll need to remove the engine’s cam cover. In addition to your normal hand tools, you’ll also need a set of blade-type feeler gauges. You can inspect the clearances without removing the cam, but since the CRF-R and -X series bikes use shim-type valve adjusters, if you have to change an adjustment you’ll need the correct shim(s) from your dealer. You’ll also need a micrometer to measure a shim that you need to change: If you don’t have one, take the old shim and a copy of your measurements to your dealer. This isn’t a procedure for the novice mechanic, but if you have more advanced skills the Owner’s Manual and Competition Guide will walk you through the procedure step by step.
Change Engine Oil and Filter
Change Transmission Oil
Another standard procedure. Having a spare oil filter or two in your parts box will save you time running around. Note that the engine oil and transmission oil are two separate lubrication systems, unlike the setup on most streetbikes and many other off-road machines.
Change Piston and Rings
For the CRF-R bikes, changing the piston after just 15 hours or six races will seem excessive to some, but remember, we’re talking about a race machine here, and this is 30 percent of a Supercross season. Obviously you have to be comfortable with your skills for this procedure, but the Owner’s Manual and Competition Guide has all the information you’ll need. It shouldn’t take longer than an afternoon in your garage.
Every nine races or 22.5 hours of operation
Replace Fork-Oil Damper
From a skills standpoint, this is only a bit more involved than changing the fork oil itself. You’ll need the same tools along with a good bench vise. For most riders, this is going to be a once-a-season job.
Every 12 races or 30 hours of operation
This seems like a minor thing—after all, it’s just the hose that runs from the fuel tank to the engine. But with the CRFs that use high-pressure fuel injection, paying attention to the condition of this line is critical. You’ll need the genuine Honda part too, not just some hose from your auto-parts store.
Replace Piston Pin
You’ll be replacing the piston again during this service, and this time you’ll need a new piston pin too. This is an all-afternoon job, but an important one. As with the piston and piston-ring replacement, the Owner’s Manual and Competition Guide will have all the information you need.
Keep to your new CRF’s maintenance schedule and you’ll find that these bikes follow well in the tire prints of the legendary XRs, along with delivering substantially improved performance. After all, their record in the Baja 500 and 1000 is right up there with the XR’s, and you’ve probably never seen one break during a Supercross or a Motocross unless the rider crashed huge. With just a little TLC, you’ll be riding yours for years and years to come.
Originally published in an issue of Honda Rider's Club of America.