Who is the real horsepower king of the dunes: a brand new Honda CRF450R or a custom CR500? The rivalry between 2-strokes and 4-strokes seems to be as old as the bikes themselves with 450 vs. 500 being one of the most contested topics. So, we took the two big dog Hondas head to head, even putting our own spin on the competition by introducing the one-of-a-kind CR500 aluminum frame. The challenge is documented in the video below, and this article dives deeper into the riders, the bikes, and location of this age-old matchup.

The Who

The rivalry may be between two bikes, but that doesn’t mean the riders can’t have a substantial effect on the outcome.

Hondas Head-to-Head

The first rider is Kevin. An engineer in our R&D department, Kevin is as creative as he is innovative. His ear is to the ground in all aspects of the industry, a wealth of knowledge that pairs well with an adolescence of riding, working on bikes, and then riding a little more. Plus, Kevin and his brother, Eric, were the masterminds behind the inventive CR500 aluminum frame.

Second is Charles. If you’ve followed our series like Roached 2 Racing, Extreme Enduro $500 Motorcycle Challenge, or $1,000 Motorcycles vs. 1,000 Adventure Miles, then you’ve seen plenty of his antics. When he’s not trying to one up the other guys or pull ill-fated pranks, he’s actually a crazy fast rider and an effective in-house mechanic with years of experience and powersports know-how.

The What

What makes the CRF450R and CR500 aluminum frame such rivals, and are they up to the competition? Let’s take a look at their histories and the bikes Kevin and Charles rode for this challenge.

The CRF450R first came to the market in 2002, signifying Honda’s breakthrough into the 4-stroke motocross world. Over the years, the bike has gone through significant improvements and changes, making it one of the most popular and consistently high-performing models. In fact, the key changes that have been implemented since the bike’s introduction keeps the older CRF450R models competitive with many newer bikes. From a virtual redesign in 2005 and fuel injection in 2009 to twin pipes in 2013 and another extensive remake in 2017, the CRF450R has unfailingly kept up with the innovations of the industry.

Honda CRF450R

For 2021, the CRF450R was arguably the most revised bike out of the other manufacturers’ offerings for that year. The model boasted a new frame, updated engine, upgraded suspension, and slimmer bodywork. Fast and lightweight, the ‘21 become an instant favorite from the very first ride.

The CR500 is a bit of a different animal. The first CR500 was released in 1984, but that model had significant issues. Thus, the first successful CR500 came out in 1985, and that success lasted until the final model was released in 2001. 2021 marks 20 years since a new version of the CR500 has been available, yet the model has amassed quite the cult following and become the go-to for high horsepower competitions like hill climbing. The bike’s reputation, paired with the respect it commands within the riding community, contributed to the crazy idea Kevin and Eric had to create their own CR500 aluminum frame. Their build is covered extensively in its own article, but the highlights are that the brothers took an ‘88 CR500 2-stroke engine and fit it into an ‘07 CRF250F aluminum frame. It took considerable custom work and fabrication as the duo had to get things to fit, align, and work together. The end result, however, was well worth the effort and inarguably enviable.

Honda CR500AF

With the history of the bikes and their similarities taken into account, the questions about which is better become more understandable. Is horsepower king, or does the rider play more of a role than the bike? Aboard our 2021 CRF450R and custom CR500 we set out to find our own answer.

The Where

Was there any other place to test these bikes other than the dunes? Horsepower is touted and tested at the dunes for the consistency and traction the sand provides, making it the perfect middle ground for the bikes to meet, equipped with the same paddle tires, of course.

Little Sahara Recreation Area in central Utah is an incredible location. With 60,000 acres of flats, hills, and free moving sand dunes, the area is one of our absolute favorites. Sand Mountain, the 700-foot mammoth, certainly contributes to affinity.

CR500AF in the Dunes

The Challenge

Hill climbing was the name of the game for our competition. To determine which bike was the most powerful, we created a set of tests and accompanying rules. Kevin and Charles completed side-by-side speed tests on both bikes, along with separate timed tests up the steep and grueling Sand Mountain. In the end, results were compared for both riders and bikes.

The Results

As shown in the video, the CRF450R and CR500 Aluminum Frame were evenly matched. Both bikes won a handful of challenges, meaning it came down to rider skill more than it did to bike capability. That’s not to say the bikes rode the same, however. The 450 seemed to have a little more gap while the 500 had a narrow powerband, albeit with a lot of power. So, although the bikes finished with practically the same results, one was more fun to ride than the other. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the CR500AF took that distinction with ease. The 500 2-stroke was competitive with the modern 4-stroke, and it was something special to ride. It put a smile on both Kevin and Charles’ faces, and that was the main takeaway of the day.

Honda CR500AF vs CRF450R

Check out the full video to see how each bike performed, as well as how the riders felt about them. And, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you don’t miss any of these challenges, bike builds, or other exciting content in the future.