My Ride: Alex Salvini’s Honda CRF450RX

Alex Salvini jumped back on to a Honda CRF450RX to race the 2019 EnduroGP and Italian Championships with his new S2 Motorsport Sembenini Honda-RedMoto team. We take a closer look at this finely honed big, red beauty.

 

Alex Salvini’s Team S2 Motorsport Sembenini Honda-RedMoto is a thing to behold. From front to rear wheel axle, details stand out marking this as both a machine built for purpose in the World Enduro Championship but also very much a bike assembled through experience.

Salvini is a rider of immense experience having arrived in EnduroGP from MXGP and straight into the thick of it which culminated in the World Enduro title in 2013.

Salvo moved back to the big Honda’s for 2019 and though it took a little time at both GP and Italian championship level for Alex and the team to get the Honda dialled, the results at last weekend’s Portuguese GP proved the Italian is getting things nailed down.

Time then to catch a closer look at the details of the red machine Salvini is aiming at the World title with in 2019…

 
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The motor is where it matters

“The actual base of the bike is quite standard.” Says Salvini of a Honda 450 four stroke which blends the CRF450R motocross engine with the CRF450RX enduro model. “We are running the motocross engine so with the five-speed gearbox and more power. We don’t leave the power standard but it is the base we start with.”

“We work with Vertex to have lower compression pistons because the standard one is stronger for motocross. With Vertex piston we make use of a different compression setting to work better because in enduro you must use more of the power range than in MX.” 

“Also we worked carefully with the mapping of the engine, programming the CDI unit to work with the different piston and exhaust system from Termignoni.”

 
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Termignoni exhaust

Yes, about that exhaust? “We work quite hard with the exhaust. The Termignoni exhaust system is a beautiful thing but as you can imagine we need it to be producing good power for the CRF450 enduro bike.” Says Alex. 

“The exhaust has to meet the regulations for sound check with the FIM but also because the motocross engine is a bit too strong for enduro it needs to be different.” Just how is that changing the power to suit enduro compared to the motocross version? Alex says the Termignoni gives his bike, “more precision and more control for the power, not to make it smoother or softer but to have more throttle control.” 

 
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“We took a look at the air filter and the air intake with Twin Air. Nothing major just to try and be sure the air flow is as good as it can be.” Alex adds. 

One extra detail is the Spal fan fitted to the left side radiator on Alex’s bike. For obvious reasons you need a fan to cool the engine and it is one of the parts fitted to the Sembenini machine which comes from the huge stock of RedMoto parts list for enduro. 

 
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More flexible chassis

Taking a motocross bike and making it work for enduro is a tried and tested route, certainly a route Salvini – a former world class MX racer don’t forget. 

Japanese MX bikes have evolved massively in recent years, the current generation being much more usable and generally flexible if you want to start dodging trees, riding rocks and tip-toeing across cambers. 

That said the Salvini and his team still work on the chassis in particular the main frame engine mount. 

“We are working just a little bit to change the flexibility of the bike, with the plate that fits the engine onto the chassis.” Says Salvini. “It is to improve the feel of the bike for me to have control in the different situations, more feel than you need with an MX bike.”

 
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Factory Showa suspension

“We received the factory Showa suspension from Japan for the bike at the beginning, explains Salvini with a look in his eye that said he knew that means special. “So we worked with their settings and arrived at our own set-up for the different terrain we have in EnduroGP and Italian championships.”

Salvini uses Showa’s SFF Air forks because, “the feeling is good for agility and overall it is important to set the bike for my riding style and my body size.” There’s no getting away from the fact that Alex is a big, strong guy so his suspension has to work hard! 

 
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Almost hidden behind the front headlight and number board is a Honda progressive steering damper too. Some riders find they need dampers, some don’t but a big guy who likes to run on the pegs a lot and has his bike set up over the back wheel is always gonna need some control over the stability up front. 

 
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All-important base set-up

Every rider coming to a new race bike likes to get things just right but at GP level the base setting is all-important: “Those areas, the exhaust, the pistons and engine mapping plus the suspension and the flex in the chassis are the areas we worked in the most to get the base setting.” Explains Salvini. “These are the things to focus on and get right. Then once you have this the smaller details can matter.”

 
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CSP making the details matter

Costa Special Parts supply a sprinkling of sweet details around Salvini’s Honda including the neat suspension linkage protector. “We use the short skid plate from AXP, not the long one they have, but the smaller one with a different linkage protector from Costa.”

CSP also supply the stronger triple clamps, rear suspension dog bone, brake master cylinder caps, quick release wheel pullers and more.

 
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Up top under control

“The Domino handlebars are a pretty stock bend but I like them to be positioned back more because I prefer to ride in the rear of the bike.” Explains Salvini as we move up to the controls and some of the other changes over the stock CRF from Honda.

 
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Significantly there is a Magura hydraulic clutch repalcing the standard and seemingly antiquated cable system on the stock CRF450RX. “The Magura conversion is more strong, precise and reliable” explains Alex.

At the end of that hydraulic cable sits a manual Rekluse clutch. “I know many riders with the Honda use the automatic clutch form Rekluse but I prefer the manual one.” Says Salvini. 

One small detail is the protection plate over the clutch slave cylinder. The team makes this themselves and is just an added detail to keep the otherwise exposed clutch part more protected.

 
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Tank talk

The eagle-eyed will have spotted Salvini’s bike doesn’t run the black plastic fuel tank from the CRF450RX: “Normally we use a carbon fuel tank because it is smaller and lighter but here (Portugal GP 2019) we used the standard sized (seven litre) clear tank for the RX enduro (both available from RedMoto Honda) for more capacity to be sure to make it around the longer lap.”

Like many riders, Alex also changes the footrests for a wider set which sit in a slightly different position: “I make them a little more to the rear,” explains the big Italian adding, “and also we make the seat a little bit higher for me.”  

 
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Braking vented brake rotors

Braking brake discs sit front and rear on Salvini’s Honda for better venting and clearing in the mud. Braking pads also sit inside the stock Nissin calipers and together Alex says, makes for “a really good set-up for feel and power.”

Sticking at the rear hub, the rear sprocket (and chain) are Sunstar parts because, “especially the sprocket, is too weak and can bend easily.” Says Salvini. “The gearbox is the standard motocross one so no changes inside. We just change the final drive, just the rear sprocket to a 51 tooth compared to the standard which is 49.” 

 
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It is a pleasure to look around any GP race weapon and soak in the details. Alex Salvini’s had that extra element of fascination for us as we mulled over the details and listened to the very matter of fact explanations of a guy who know what he wants and needs to make a bike fast for enduro.

 
Photo Credit: Future7Media/Andrea Belluschi
 
 
 
 
Byline jp ISDE 2018 Enduro21
Jon Pearson
Enduro21 Editor and Bike Tester
jon.pearson@enduro21.com