Since its debut in the 2002 Supercross season, Honda’s CRF450R four-stroke race bike has built an impressive reputation for winning races and championships at the highest levels of pro competition. And the notion that racing improves the breed certainly applies here: current racing rules require that motorcycles be closely based on production machines. That means the Team Honda Muscle Milk race bikes being wielded in competition by Trey Canard and Justin Barcia start out as standard CRF450Rs before being tuned up for the extreme demands of pro racing.
So what goes into prepping a stock CRF450R for 2014? When we asked team manager Dan Betley that question, he had quite a bit to share.
“The 2013 model was all-new, and stock it was a fantastic bike. The 2014 model is an upgraded version of that. As we refine the race bike from year to year, the lap times come down, which means we are doing our jobs and the riders are getting more comfortable on the equipment.
“Engine-wise the bikes are refined, but the whole key to any works bike program is fine-tuning the equipment to the individual rider and finding out what their goals and specific needs are on that equipment. Does our race bike have more horsepower than a production motor? Yes, but is it crazy hard to ride? No. It is about having the horsepower where you need it and catering that to the rider’s style and what he is looking for.
“During the course of the season, we do make tuning changes, especially when we switch from Supercross to the Motocross series. For Supercross we focus more on bottom-to-mid-range engine power, trying to get a better response coming out of a corner to help our riders, for example, get over a triple that doesn't have much run-up. For Motocross, the engines are tuned more for mid-to-top-range power due to the high speeds encountered on the outdoor tracks. Either way, we are always focused on ease of riding and smoothness of power delivery. You don’t want anything that’s too hard to ride.”
That fine-tuning Dan refers to often focuses on getting a just-right fit that keeps the riders comfortable so they can work at peak capacity all race long. Take handlebars, for instance: Canard favors Renthal’s Twinwall handlebar, an oversized-diameter, 1 1/8” handlebar that utilizes two tubes, one within the other. Barcia prefers the increased forgiveness of the Renthal Fatbar. This profiled wall and brace-less design combines excellent strength with good flexibility. For each rider, some items are a matter of personal taste, and in this case the correctly fitting bars are supplied by a team sponsor.
Sometimes, however, it’s necessary for a race team to work up its own parts. To meet that need there’s Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD), Honda’s racing company within North America. Founded in 1993 and owned by American Honda Motor Company, HPD specializes in the design and development of performance race parts, and supplies technical/race support. HPD produces products used on the Team Honda Muscle Milk CRF450R race bikes—made-to-order footpegs, for example—and assists the team with development. Also within the Honda family is Pro Honda® Oils and Chemicals, which has supported Honda’s motocross team for nearly 30 years.
Obviously, pro-level racing places extreme demands on the machines, far in excess of anything the average rider can dream of approaching. These demands have created opportunities for other aftermarket manufacturers to develop racing parts that serve the team. For example, to increase airflow while ensuring a high level of protection from dirt and dust, the team uses Twin Air oiled-foam air filters. On the exhaust side, Yoshimura steps things up with cutting-edge four-stroke exhaust systems. Since moving to the dual-exhaust system on the 2013 CRF450R, the team has used the RS-9 and switches between the Carbon Muffler for Supercross and the Titanium Muffler for Motocross. The RS-9 not only makes more power and torque possible, but also does it more quietly than single-muffler systems.
Within the engine, the additional power produced by the Honda team’s race-spec engines is handled by Hinson Racing clutch components: the Billetproof Clutch Cover and Billetproof Clutch Basket. Spokes, rims and drive chains take an unbelievable beating in the world of pro Supercross and Motocross, which is why the team relies on D.I.D to provide 520ERT2 Gold chain and DirtStar rims.
Suspension and tires help get all this power to the ground effectively, and here Honda and Showa have celebrated many championships together over the years. Showa is also an OE suspension supplier to Honda, and its expertise in motocross suspension adds greatly to the success of the team. Dunlop’s GEOMAX series of tires is designed specifically for Motocross and Supercross racing, and they have worked hand-in-hand with Honda’s factory riders and technicians to develop cutting-edge tire technology.
In addition, every racer knows that riding a factory-look bike is good for at least five seconds a lap—OK, probably not. But at least everyone enjoys the looks of a well-styled bike and that’s why the team rides with Throttle Jockey, an official Honda licensee offering custom graphics for Honda models. You can purchase your very own 2014 Team Honda Muscle Milk complete graphic kit for $199.99.
There’s more that goes into transforming a stock CRF450R into a Team Honda Muscle Milk race bike. Like any recipe, success depends on all the ingredients working together, and how Team Honda Muscle Milk makes that happen is truly the secret to the team’s success. To learn that, you need to earn your own factory ride.