There were all kinds of winding roads on the drive to Crested Butte (elevation: 8,908 feet). The Ridgeline's "push" from passing gear depreciated as we lost oxygen and gained altitude. Four-wheel independent suspension, attached to the tailored unibody base, supported a relatively smooth ride. And the fast snaky turns felt well-controlled, creating nominal waves of body roll. The car-like driving, complimented by a quiet cab, makes it easy to underestimate 5,000 pounds towing and over 1,500 pounds in payload capacity.
Our team set up at a lodge in Crested Butte South. Three CRFs were delivered fresh out of the crate, and two earlier-design air-cooled XR series Hondas were also in the mix.
Davis Service Center in Montrose, Colorado, prepped the new bikes with essential equipment and adjustments: hand guards, skid plates, geared-down with a 12-tooth front sprocket and carburetor jetting for altitudes beyond 10,000 feet.
We prearranged a couple of days out with Don Turk, president of the Crested Butte Trail Riders Association. This section of the Rockies is Don's backyard, literally. He also shared some of his experience in off-road and motocross racing.
Bikes got underway, northbound, on a dirt road crossing the Cement Creek district, breaking at a junction of moderately difficult single-track trails. Of course, we had to scale the first questionable mountain which caught our attention. It was a tall ride, rear wheels spinning through loose dirt gullies, reaching the peak at about 11,000 feet. It was all fun after that, weaving down narrow, lightly-technical trails, carefully checking the shifting scenery--until the dark clouds moved in. Most of the time it's a passing storm, but the rain never let up, which made for a long and wet ride back to base.
Honda's CRF450X, priced at $7,199, is considered an off-road version of the CRF450R motocross racer. But there's more to it than the addition of electric start, kickstand and lights. Its fourth-generation aluminum frame is all-new, adapted specifically for variable off-road terrain. To improve intake velocity, the single-cylinder Unicam engine is topped with a redesigned four-valve cylinder head, in sync with a new camshaft to boost low-end and midrange torque. There's also a five-speed wide-ratio gear box, modified exhaust system, off-road tuned suspension, and the list goes on.
Power behind the big X was impressive, and crucial for specific off-road competition, or trail riders who simply enjoy the extra punch. Our needs were basically light on the throttle, riding technical trails; hence, a lot of the extra "grunt" went unused. It's a personal preference. For some, lighter maneuverability on the CRF250X can be an advantage.