try’s leading authority on ATV injection systems through
his association with Richard Muurling at Vortex Ignitions in
Australia. Muurling doesn’t just alter stock engine-manage-ment systems like most others in this field; he makes his
own. The Vortex X10 ECU replaces the motorcycle’s black
box and takes over everything, from spark advance to fuel
mixture. The Honda’s original system allows access to fuel
mixture, but you have to get Honda’s PGM FI setting tool
kit, bring a laptop computer into the field and reprogram
the ECU for every test session. It gives the end user limited
access to ignition timing and very little guidance as to what
settings might be best for you. Honda’s kit sells for about
$320. The Vortex ECU sells for $700 and lets you adjust
fuel mixture and ignition timing independently with a screwdriver. There are four clickers on the black box, which is
actually yellow. Three of them adjust different ranges of fuel
mixture according to throttle opening, just like the circuits of
an old-fashion carburetor. The fourth lets you choose from
10 different spark-advance maps.
Vortex gives you a best-guess setting for ignition position number one. That’s the result of dyno and track testing
for the CRF on a motocross track with an otherwise stock
motor. The other settings are for different conditions, like
mud, hard-packed dirt and so on. There’s also an enduro
setting for a more gradual power delivery. Setting number
nine duplicates the stock ignition but gives you a higher rev
ceiling. Setting 10 is open for your own program. To alter
that, you would need Vortex’s own programming tool. One
of the best things about the Vortex is that you don’t need to
make a pit stop for every single change. A handlebar switch
lets you test any preselected curve on the fly and compare
it to setting number one.
As for the rest of the motor, very little was changed. The
stock cam, piston and head are just fine. Only the clutch
needs attention. Duncan installed a Hinson six-spring clutch
and hooked it up to a Works Connection lever and perch.
We got to ride Duncan’s revitalized 450 a few months
after it came back from Baja. It might have been purchased
as a pre-runner, but it seemed more like a racer. First of
all, it was fast. It’s hard to believe that an ignition change
could have unlocked so much additional horsepower. In
the default setting, the bike felt like it had hardware-based
engine work, with more power through the middle and better over-rev on top. On top of that, the motor started easier
and stalled less often.
When we went off-road riding with that setting still in
effect, it was apparent that it was a little bit too much for
tight trails. The power came on hard, and we occasionally stalled the motor. So, we went a little clicker crazy.
Changing engine curves is so easy that it’s a little like being
a 6-year-old at Christmas time trying to unwrap too many
presents at once. Eventually, the adult in us took over, and
we started testing each setting more thoroughly. A little
more fuel on the bottom generally helped the stalling issue,
and less fuel up high gave it some extra kick. The ignition
advance clickers didn’t follow any pattern. Higher setting
numbers didn’t give you more or less of anything; they
were just arbitrarily assigned numbers that correspond to
testing done in Australia. Between the 10 ignition settings
and the three fuel clickers, there are theoretically 10,000
settings to try. We ran out of daylight.
All of the settings that we tried were an improvement
over the stock 2009 Honda, and the rest of the bike was
well done too. It was a great example of a bike that had to
wait a few years to come into its prime. If you want to talk
to the guys at Duncan about the bike or about Vortex
ignitions, give them a call at (619) 258-6306, or go to
The Vortex ignition is the key to the Honda’s rebirth. It
allows you to make the spark and fuel mixture do back-flips—if that’s what you want.
A GPR V- 4 stabilizer does wonders for the ’09 Honda, whether it’s used for MX or off-road.
There’s a 2009 Honda CRF450R under that cool, new look. And
it works too.