The 2009 Dirt Rider 450 motocross bike shootout will go down as the most anticipated, most competitive and-for test riders and journalists-the most frustrating shootout in the history of shootouts. With two revolutionary, all-new models, two smartly revised performers and one unchanged 2008 1/2 race machine, we were chomping at the bit to get this thing going. Once we started, however, it became clear our work was cut out for us.While the conception of Motocross Shootouts is to find the bike rising head and shoulders above the rest, the reality is quite different, especially in 2009. These comparisons are more about getting on the best everyone has to offer so you can tell what the differences are. If you only ride brand X, then brand X is going to be the best. If you get on X, Y and Z, then you’ll really know what X is made of.The following comparison shows exactly what ticks inside the 450 class of motocross bikes. We picked a winner in the end, but we strongly suggest finding yourself inside this test and picking your own shootout champ.How We Tested
We always dip in our testing pool for the best guys. We have national pros, vet novices and Senior Pro pilots all with experience you wouldn’t believe. We had shootout comparisons specifically at two tracks including a dedicated photo day at another. Racetown 395, a fast track in the high desert with big jumps and great dirt, got the first call. Up next was Piru MX, a tight, hard-packed track on a hillside and our photo day was at Milestone MX, an intermediate track ripped deep to develop ruts and sweet berms suitable for photo explosions. We also leaned on our impressions from the bikes’ intro days, and the days and tracks between them and the shootout. The bikes ran new stock tires up through day one, and then we called Doug Shopinsky from Bridgestone to supply fresh 403/404 combos onto all the bikes for the additional days. Add in the Factory Effex preprinted number plate backgrounds and a few Dirt Rider and Texaco logos and we’re good to go. Each bike began our test with approximately 15-20 hours of runtime save for the Suzuki, which showed up nearly late for the party with just 2 hours of break-in time on it.Honda CRF450R
The 2009 Honda CRF450R is the most anticipated bike to hit motocross in…well, maybe ever. More so than the Kawasaki and Suzuki fuel-injected bikes, the Honda will surely be the marquee model depicting technological advancement and modern marvel. Hondas just sort of do that. With that said, it should be the clear-cut winner for 2009, right? As a bike with the most pressure to perform, the Honda will surely be held to the highest standard. Will it live up to expectations? That depends on your expectations.Engine
* Easily the most manageable FI motor in the class. The Honda power comes on strong, controlled and without snap or a violent hit.* There is power on demand and the Honda CRF450R is easily the most efficient bike in any given situation on motor alone. But it doesn’t feel the fastest.* Its final-drive ratio and plentiful power have it killing top-speed numbers, and its strong bottom-end will get great starts.* Torque generation is redefined with the new CRF450R as its power continues to churn up traction whereas every other bike begs to be shifted or starts to spin out.* It falls second only to the potent Kawasaki KX450F in the midrange but is a power leader everywhere else in the field, even though it doesn’t really feel like it.* The CRF450R has rekindled the starting procedure. If you take your time, get the kickstarter up to the top of the stroke and kick fast and smooth, it’ll start every time. Don’t touch the throttle, don’t pussyfoot it, don’t short kick it. Can you remember that in the heat of battle?* It stalls easier than past CRFs.
* The CRF450R is the lightest-feeling 450 ever produced. You will not find a more maneuverable, flick-happy full-size four-stroke. It’s the most nimble big bike ever built, and can dance circles around the boats of the past and some of the present in this class.* Honda’s mass centralization, while making a nimble bike, also has the rider feeling the effects of unsprung weight (wheels) more.* The new Honda chassis is built to be precise. You can corner sharper and harder than you think you can when riding this bike.* This bike is picking up where other models left off (ahem…KTM) with quick steering and aggressiveness.* High-speed stability is compromised for ultimate performance in the turns and a light feel at the pegs. Finding a setup to do both is difficult and Honda clearly focused on the sharper end of the stick using the damper to get away with murder.* The Honda Progressive Steering Damper can be used to tune the bike’s feel from light and twitchy to heavier and more stable.Suspension
* It’s a new world for Honda with Kayaba components. And, really, it’s working out well.* Plush and controlled are the two words you will tell yourself when you ride this…that is, if your ride height setting is correct.* The bike is pretty much idiot-proof and doesn’t really care what you do to the clickers. The KYB components’ range of adjustment is much less than previous Showa parts. As strange as that sounds, it’s true. Ride height is much more critical than clicker settings.Why The Honda CRF450R Should Win
* It has the best all-around motocross motor ever produced.
* It’s the Ferrari of motocross bikes.
* Honda value and build quality. This first-year model is refined.Why The Honda CRF450R Shouldn’t Win
* It stalls surprisingly easily and isn’t brainless to start.
* There is no snap or hit so the power, while plentiful, isn’t “fast feeling.”
* It will alienate riders who can’t convert to fast-steering bikes.
* It will get a lot better in the next two years.
* Clutch pull is the heaviest of all.This Is Your Bike If…
* Honda quality rules your buying decision.
* Torque-heavy power delivery that doesn’t stop turns you on.
* You’re addicted to Red Bull.
* You don’t mind kicking.
Vet/Senior ProMan, I don’t even know where to start. After riding all these bikes by themselves, I was pretty sure the Honda would walk away with another shootout win, followed closely by the Kawasaki since its slightly different flavor of aggression always appeals strongly to a few. But what I didn’t expect was how strong the KTM emerged when we rode the bikes back-to-back. I thought I was alone in feeling it was the best bike after our back-to-back riding began, yet I had a lot of company.The only way I can explain it is to look a little deeper at what we, as riders, are feeling on the bikes. With Honda’s more aggressive direction of mass centralization has come more aggressive steering. Kawasaki has taken the same direction on the steering without a major change in the weight department, at least on the scale. Both green and red bikes have integrated fuel injection and, with that, a smoother delivery of the power. Strange then that they have gotten closer to where the KTM has been-yep, a smooth power delivery and a very aggressive and precise steering bike.I won’t even mention who started those minimalist sidepanels that seem to be the norm these days; forget we bitched about it a few years back- “where are we going to stick those numbers?!?” I guess we don’t need them for motocross in 2009! And this direction has even opened riders up to accepting the YZ’s steering, though it hasn’t really changed too much. Riders just complained less.But my one warning for those thinking that the KTM is the only choice here, if I were exclusively racing the bike, I wouldn’t choose it first. Since a lot of riders do more than just race, meaning hitting track days or the occasional off-road GP, the plushness and smooth and fast motor are real standouts that fit into my current preferences for a MXer. But when pushing the bike at close to 100 percent it isn’t so comfortable. In fact, the SX uses too much of the suspension stroke on jump faces and can wallow when pushed hard in turns. But this is the one I’d buy, and a lot of that has to do with electric starting.At race pace I found the YZ the easiest to go fast on (yes, even easier because of its “choked-up” exhaust). However, the YZ’s best suspension from last year takes a little speed to come into its own. Yes, racing and pushing, it is the best, and it feels at home.Kawasaki KX450F
If you consider podium appearances as a gauge for the value of a machine, then you can stop reading and go to your Kawasaki dealer. Green’s race program confidently killed the competition in 2008, and for 2009, the all-new KX450F is looking to finally knock Honda off the top step. It’s been close before. Is it finally there?Engine
* Kawasaki’s EFI system mellowed out the KX-F for 2009 and gave it more usable power than the very intimidating ’07 and mellowed but still too aggressive ’08 models. A much needed improvement for efficient motocross performance.* The most exciting bottom-mid hit and aggressive power in motocross; when ridden back-to-back this bike feels like a cheater bike in the meat of the midrange.* Instant response to throttle input and precise fuel management has this bike reacting to your right hand better than anything. It’s no longer a throttle; it’s more of a switch that tells the motor to instantly react.* Power tapers off on top before Honda, KTM and Yamaha.* Likely makes more noise than power everywhere except the midrange and at the standard sound testing rpm (ignition trick).Chassis
* It’s similar to previous models with a more laid-back, traditional motocross feel.* Not as aggressively precise with the front end as the Honda or KTM.* Second in the stability department (at all speeds) only to the traditionally solid high-speed-stable Yamaha.* Surprising combination of accurate turning and high-speed stability that everyone can appreciate.
* Previous versions of this KX-F model were difficult to move around on; the rider was stuck “in” the bike. Not so with the ’09 450: its rider compartment is wide open and free-flowing.Suspension
* Very picky about ride height and suspension clicker adjustments. If you find a setting you like for a specific track, write it down! Your best setting will change when you go to another track (or ride the same track under different conditions).* Plush initial stroke and free-moving fork makes the bike feel softer than it is and can have a busy effect on the front end.* Great bottoming resistance.* Decent traction for a bike with so much boost.Why The KX450F Should Win
* Most exciting power. If you parking lot-tested these bikes back-to-back, the KX-F would win.
* Familiar feel to previous KX-F models: stable, planted and solid. Especially in the rear.
* You think it’s faster than everything else when you ride it.
* In Dirt Rider durability testing, engine components of KX-F models have proven themselves some of the strongest and longest lasting, even when abused.Why The KX450F Shouldn’t Win
* Worst-sounding bike in real-world situations since last year’s KX-F.
* Feels cheaper than the Honda, KTM and Yamaha.
* Black components on engine and plastics look old in a day and the graphics instantly peel off.
* Not as nimble as the competition.
* Parking lot tests mean little in real-world motocross situations.This Is Your Bike If…
* You want to feel like you’re going faster than you ever have.
* Race contingency programs are important in your buying decision.
* You want the best KX450F ever built.
* You’re a member of the Monster Army.Danny LaPorte
MX World ChampionI broke my opinion down into categories, because that’s what I think about when I ride.Engine: First place goes to the KTM. It’s best from bottom to top with plenty of beef. It pulled hard with a great throttle response. Second is the Kawasaki for excitement, then the Honda for solid performance followed by the Suzuki for the mid and the Yamaha just feels slow in comparison.
Suspension: The KTM is the best in small-to-medium square-edge and braking bumps. The suspension actually works like I perceive suspension to work. Then we go with Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, in order. For me, the Yamaha was all over the place and was a bit harsh on the small bumps.Chassis: Honda wins here. It was the most nimble and lightest feeling and tracked exceptionally well. Kawasaki is in second with Suzuki, Yamaha and KTM going down in order and getting heavier feeling and lazier as you get to the KTM, which feels heaviest.Overall: Although the KTM power, suspension and components (like brakes that felt as factory fresh as all brakes should) shined, the negative is the bike has a bigger, heavier feel to it and is a bit bulky in the tank. I’d rank the Honda first, Kawasaki second and KTM in third when I combine my overall comfort on the bikes with how they performed on the track. Yamaha and Suzuki are tied for fourth.KTM 450 SX-F
Historically, there’s been little gray area when it comes to people’s opinions of KTM’s motocross big boy. But that’s going to change starting in 2009. Why? Because this bike is closer to the competition than ever…or is the competition closer to it? Either way, precise steering, electric-starting, power by the boatload and a suspension package that is the most rider-friendly in the class has the Orange team riding high. Upset of the decade? It wouldn’t be that weird.Engine
* Electric start. You only think it’s unnecessary until you ride with it once.* It’s almost redundant to talk about KTM boost, but in straight-out acceleration nothing can touch it.* The four-speed tranny keeps you out of the top-speed wars, but motocross tracks aren’t top-speed battlegrounds. Anything under 70 mph and Orange is likely in front.* You can tell you’re on a carbureted bike with the KTM. There is cleanliness to EFI that brass can’t match. Fuel screw adjustment is critical for clean fuel delivery.* Power delivery on the KTM is near perfection. It just misses on the bottom to the Honda and in the mid to the Kawasaki, but KTM and Yamaha will outgrip any bike in hard-packed or slippery conditions.* Most energy-saving (your energy) engine in the class because the pull is never ending and the rpm take time to build.* Quiet performance.Chassis
* Precision in the turns was started with newer KTM bikes. And this is year is no different.* One of the most enjoyable bikes to rail berms and ride ruts on.* Heavier feeling than every aluminum perimeter-framed Japanese bike. This bike has some weight down low and you can feel it.* If weight feel equals stability (as it does, sometimes), the KTM isn’t playing by the rules. It’s not as stable as the Yamaha and Kawasaki, which feel lighter and more stable.* Frame geometry, tank width and peg location feel and are different than on Japanese bikes. Whether it is better or worse depends on the rider. Bigger guys fit. Smaller guys get weird.Suspension
* KTM’s 2009 WP components are the most compliant in the history of modern European suspension. And that’s not a backhanded compliment. It’s great. Better than most others here.* Both ends of the bike are supple and controlled.* Match your weight to the correct spring rate and set your sag for best shock performance. The rear spring is critical to get the best KTM suspension performance.* Both ends of the bike are sensitive to clicker adjustments. Make your changes in one-click increments.* Plush feel is too soft for faster, heavier riders and can push into the stroke too far on jump faces.* Bottoming resistance is decent for the amount of plushness the components show.
Why The KTM 450 SX-F Should Win
* This bike will make more people KTM fans than ever.
* You can ride the KTM 450 SX-F faster for longer.
* Has the fastest average lap times out of both groups of our test riders (Pro and Intermediate).
* Electric start is the future. Once you try it, you want it.
* Compliant suspension takes the guesswork out of proper KTM/WP setup.
* Great history of durability and build quality.
* The new front brake is the new leader in feel and power. Works-level brakes.Why The KTM 450 SX-F Shouldn’t Win
* Serious racers and professionals will want the snap of other motors.
* Suspension components feel too soft for pro-level speed.
* Four-speed transmission hampers versatility.This Is Your Bike If…
* You’re a weekend track rider, occasional racer and multipurpose off-road rider. The KTM reacts to all of these very well.
* You hate kicking.
* You like maintaining dirt bikes that are easy and intuitive to work on.
* You hate maintaining dirt bikes that require a lot of maintaining.Jesse Ziegler
Weight: 180 lb
Vet IntermediateThe best 450 for 2009, for me, depends on which Jesse is going to ride them.If I want to be excited, ride the bike that makes me appreciate full-on factory motors and never ever feel like I need more power, I’ll ride the Kawasaki. I won’t really drop down faster laps, but I’ll feel like I look like I’m the fastest guy in the world. The Kawasaki’s suspension gets along with my speed OK, but I think the aggressive power delivery is still a lot for stock suspension to balance, and it turns out I’m not good enough to make it work flawlessly. But it feels the fastest and is in certain parts of the power.
If I want to relax and ride, I take the Yamaha and/or KTM. Both bikes are faster in race situations for me (likely because I can ride them longer without messing up), and both rarely scare me to death. KTM edges out the Yammie here with an electric starter and more supple suspension for my speed. Plus, I believe it’s truly faster than everything else in the class. The Yamaha is the best YZ450F ever made and a close second to KTM in this category.If I want to ride a short track, with a lot of tight corners and someone stole the Honda, I’ll ride the Suzuki. I don’t like shifting as much as the RM-Z needs and I don’t like that much feedback from the ground going through my body, but I do like torque and meaty power and the RM-Z has it in the mid by the gross. I’d always be a bit wary on quality of things from seat bolts (8mm heads) to something internal, though.If I want a bike to race, feel competitive on, enjoy without worry and keep for a couple of years without being sick of, I might as well grab the Honda. Really, the only thing I despise about this bike is its ridiculous clutch pull. I have a clutch callous. Which shows you how much I like riding it and how sucky the pull is. Its power is the best for every race-pace motocross situation out there, and it covers the spread of agility, stability, light feel, good components and fit and finish better than any other brand.But now that I think about it, I might want to just go brainless for a few years so maybe I’m riding orange in ’09.Suzuki RM-Z450
Ricky Carmichael and now Chad Reed? If you follow champions, then the Suzuki has an edge in your buying decision for sure. And maybe it should. Really, this is the second year for this bike to lose its bugs, and as the first fuel-injected MX bike you’d think Yellow would have a leg up. It didn’t win last year because it barely made it to the competition. But for 2009, Suzuki is right on time. Does punctuality equal the top prize? Ask Chad…just kidding. We’ll tell you.Engine
* One of the most unique power deliveries in the class with a massively torquey midrange that neither hits nor is lazy but is simply delivering solid, meaty torque.* Decent bottom-end right off the floor with great EFI engine response.* Top-end lost in a combination of final-drive ratio and a motor that has a precise sweet spot.* Engine vibration worse than other bikes.* High-rpm engine cutout is violent. Bike pops then almost shuts off. Shift, don’t rev.Chassis
* Suzuki’s history of precise steering and agility is alive and well.* More upright than KTM, Kawasaki and Yamaha with less stability at high speeds* Rigid feel to frame and chassis with more bump and engine vibration transmitting to the rider.* Well-balanced front to rear and great front wheel tractionSuspension
* When new, the fork and shock of the Suzuki are solid in their progression and control. The Showa components are very good right away.* After the first 15 hours, the suspension components feel worn, loose and in need of a service.* Good fork performance overshadowed by a shock that can blow through the stroke and upset the bike’s settle in corners.* This bike will stand up in ruts more than others in the class.Why The RM-Z450 Should Win
* Realistically, when compared with the engines and chassis of the 2009 bikes, the RM-Z450 pales in comparison. It feels older than it is and shows what only a half-year of missed R&D translates into.
* The old adage “It’s not the bike, it’s the rider” always rings true, and if you’ve loved RM-Z450s since their inception, you’ll love this one just as much.
* On tight tracks, the RM-Z450 shined the most.Why The RM-Z450 Shouldn’t Win
* Build quality, along with engine and component durability, is historically not on par with all other brands.
* Power delivery is narrow and only ideal on a smaller percentage of track types when compared with the other classmates.
This Is Your Bike If…
* You ride mostly short tracks with a lot of turns. Arenacross, stadium races and shorter outdoor tracks.* You like solid front-end traction and a good-turning machine.* You’re a returning RM-Z450 customer and switching bike brands, bike character and dealerships sounds as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist.* You have a Makita tool addiction.Chris Barrett
Weight: 180 lb
ProWith three bikes running EFI, a completely redesigned Honda and Kawasaki and some brands making minor changes, I figured this would be an easy shootout. Well…I was wrong. None of the brands had any major downfalls, and all of them are getting closer to feeling the same. With the only major differences being motor and handling, the end result is mainly due to rider preference. Starting with my preference, I chose the Honda. The CRF had the best all-around motor with a ton of power and smooth delivery; this was the easiest bike to keep in the meat of the power. Then add the light yet planted, easy to toss around handling of the bike and I felt right at home. Honda’s hard work definitely paid off because last year’s bike would not have cut it. Second, I chose the KTM. The KTM has always had a strong motor, and now it has the suspension to match it. Even though this bike cornered unbelievably well, the heavy feel of the 450 SX-F on the ground and in the air kept KTM out of first. The Yamaha is third. This was the only bike that I could actually drag the radiator shrouds in turns. With plenty of mid to top-end power, the only thing putting the YZ behind the first two was the lack of bottom-end power. I constantly felt the need to clutch it in those tight turns. Fourth is the Kawasaki. The Kawasaki had awesome bottom-end power, but then went flat on top. In the end, I would rather have to clutch the YZ a little than worry about throttle control and shifting gears. None of these bikes deserve to be last, but there has to be one because ties are unacceptable. Suzuki has a great all-around motor with excellent handling. The only reason the RM-Z was behind the others was due to a bad over-rev cut out. I don’t normally rev out four-strokes, but sometimes you miss that shift or just have to rev it out, and when you did that on the Suzuki the power would sign off violently.
Yamaha is on the brink of big change. Its 2009 YZ450F features only modest changes from 2008, and the intelligent tweaking to chassis and drive components are those that can easily be put into radically new bikes featuring a new generation of engines more in trend with all this electronic business. But does it need another year to break into the top spot? Can a slightly redesigned bike beat all-new models? James Stewart says yes. Or maybe he’s looking forward to next year.Engine
* Smoothness returns for 2009, as it should since the powerplant is virtually unchanged in delivery and output.* Traction hungry with an endless top-end and solid mid-range pulse of power.* Quietest bike in real-world situations.* Carbureted so well you could almost be fooled that it’s fuel injected.* Clutch work is necessary to boost bike off the bottom.* Engine noise, especially in the clutch, is less than in previous years.* Missing shifts still plagues this 450 on some tracks.Chassis
* No longer the heavy bike in the class, the YZ-F feels lighter for ’09.* Stability leader in 450 motocross bikes with the top-end speed to match it.* Almost magically, the YZ-F has gone from unpredictable turner two years prior to a bike that loves ruts-the deeper the better.* Excellent bar bend and rider compartment geometry.Suspension
* Plush and controlled initially with great bottoming resistance* Arguably the best overall suspension in the class, though it’s not far in front.* Slight mid-stroke harshness in the fork is the only flaw.Why The YZ450F Should Win
* This bike is just as fast as every other bike in the shootout. You just have to forget what you think fast feels (or sounds) like.
* Best suspension at race speed.
* History of durability looks to continue with updates to vulnerable engine components.
* Sometimes the bike a company builds right before a big change is the best bike they’ll make in two or three years.Why The YZ450F Shouldn’t Win
* This is the last current-generation YZ-F. It’s essentially a bike on the way out and is missing technology other bikes have embraced.
* If you despise catching your boot on the radiator shroud in deep turns, you’ll curse the Yamaha.This Is Your Bike If…
* You’re smart enough to know that noise and an aggressive powerband do not equal faster lap times and stronger moto finishes.
* You own a 2007 or older YZ450F. This is an insanely better overall package.
* Traction turns you on.
* Suspension performance means more to you than having the newest trick pony.
* You’re not really into energy drinks but love helmet cams.
Weight: 165 lb
ProThis year, like I say every year, is the closest race to the top of the Dirt Rider shootout podium ever. It really is. Every bike has its own good, unique motor as well as a good chassis/suspension combo. The main factor that played in my decision for number one was overall comfort.I chose the Kawi 450 as my number one choice for ’09. The KX450F’s motor has a great hit off the bottom and good mid. It’s a touch flat on top, but the machine has enough torque to pull a higher gear keeping you out of that flat area. The thing that I liked the most is the stability of the bike. The KX-F is very planted, controlled and predictable. The bike tracks well into, through and out of any corner. I felt nothing but comfort and confidence to push harder on this green machine.Runner-up is the CRF450. It has the most usable low to top-end torque of all the 450s. The bike corners well and is very maneuverable. The front end is a bit twitchy on decel.Third on the podium is the RM-Z. This bike has a decent bottom and great mid-peak power. The only downfall is some rev-cut up top. The bike feels super light and is nimble through tighter sections as well as in the air, and feels the most balanced of all the machines.KTM ranked fourth, getting most improved. The KTM motor has the broadest power in the field. This motor is strong and accelerates like nobody’s business. I felt that the most improved feature of the KTM is the handling. The bike is more plush, controlled and stable than last year’s model. The ergos and controls were a little awkward for my stature, though. The tank is wide and the footpegs felt too far back for my liking.The Yamaha rounded out the top five. The bike may lack a little in the motor department compared to the rest of the field, but the motor is still smooth and super easy to ride. The YZ-F is the most comfortable bike for me to sit on. The controls, footpegs, seat and bar height are all in line to fit my medium build. The issue I had with the Yamaha is the suspension is a little soft and loose for my liking. I also had issues with the bike standing up in the turns.Even though the bikes are ranked in order, it was a close race with most bikes just decimal points over the others.Yamaha (blue)
Honda (red)Human Impression Power
This chart shows where each bike shines in the go department. It’s based strictly off of feel to the test riders. You can see where the KX-F makes its impression on riders with a solid smack of power. The Honda builds more ideally and finishes stronger and the KTM is almost a straight line out-stretching them all. The Yamaha is truly the sleepy-feeling ride. But our lap times show it’s by no means slow.
Human Impression Suspension
This chart shows where each bike shines in the squish and bounce departments. You can see the Yamaha and KTM stay in the high “Excellent” range the longest while the Honda has more of a bias to the smaller bumps. Kawasaki is consistently strong. Suzuki never gets all that bad, but by comparison it suffersLap Times
The KTM is the fastest bike, on average, out of the entire lineup of 2009 450 MX bikes. Obviously their attention to suspension performance paid off this year with more riders going fast on orange. Our motos were limited by time with four-lap sprints for the Pros and three-lap sessions for Novice/Intermediates.Sound Test
This chart only shows one thing: how easy it is to tune a muffler to sound test rpm. Our bikes were tested with approximately 20 hours of run time on them.Real World Sound
Loud bikes shut down tracks. It’s that simple. The Kawasaki is clearly the loudest on the track, followed by the Honda and Suzuki, which are essentially tied. The Yamaha and KTM are the only quiet bikes in this comparison and they deserve credit for building competitive, intelligent bikes for competitive, intelligent people.3rd Gear Roll-On
This is the radar dyno test. It measures the bikes’ acceleration from barely chugging in 3rd gear to the rev limiter and displays it honestly despite what we think we feel. You can see why the Kawasaki is often referred to as intensely powerful in the mid. It stays on top of the field for a while. Considering it starts equal to the others, its rise of acceleration is often too sharp and less efficient. The Honda delivers a better overall power style with the Yamaha suffering just before the midrange (at 30 mph) but then coming on strong. KTM is pretty much a straight line: the most linear delivery by far.Acceleration Test
This is a motocross start. Who gets the holeshot? That depends on who gets the most traction and who delivers the best type of power to the ground. KTM is head and shoulders above the rest with Yamaha also outperforming the EFI bikes in the test with unbeatable traction from 0-10 mph and then staying right there with impressive consistency.Top Speed
This is as fast as these bikes can go. It’s cool to look at, but not totally useful for the real world. The KTM would likely clean up on the other bikes if it had another gear Honda’s got some game.
Readers have been requesting that we include an off-road session in our Dirt Rider shootouts, so we bolted on FMF Q4 quiet spark arrestors and headed for the trails. In alphabetical order:Honda CRF450R
In any full-load situation (hills) it is clear that the Honda motor is the most powerful of the five, and the boost and “carburetion” was barely affected by the quiet FMF muffler, but the motor remains easy to ride in the slippery stuff. First gear is tall, and the light-flywheel feel makes the engine fussy in technical riding. The stiff clutch pull is a genuine weakness away from the track. The light feeling, accurate steering chassis is great in tight trees and rocky sections. The front end is a little busy at higher speeds. The best seat and good comfort are a plus.Kawasaki KX450F
The Kawi motor even barks off-road, and the EFI handled the quiet exhaust just fine. The spark arrestor mellowed the power just a little helping the bike get traction. But it still has bottom-end grunt and torque for when you can use it. This chassis is stable and planted in high-speed whoops, yet it’s plush and handles well through loose rock and sand. This has the best and most effortless standing riding position, which is a huge plus for Western off-road. Team Green’s off-road guys will be happy, but not with the seat; it blows out quickly.KTM 450 SX
Big climbs, tight trees, creeks or sand-the KTM motor rips with the broadest power of the five bikes. This machine has rear traction all the time. While the FMF Q4 didn’t hurt the power, it did make the response fluffy off the bottom before a fuel screw adjustment. The bike was awesome in the high-speed areas, and it has good control and is stable in the whoops and rollers. The front end lacks traction in tighter sections and in the rocks. The electric start, adjustable rider position and narrow engine all rock. Overall, the KTM works well off-road, but KTM makes the XC, so why bother off-roading the SX?Suzuki RM-Z450
Suzuki gave its 450 midrange grunt that is awesome through tight uphill sections and holds steady over sketchy little rock waterfalls where calm power and traction are needed. Of all the EFI bikes, the Suzuki had the most trouble adapting to the Q4. Response off-idle was gurgly, and stalling was chronic even with the idle turned up. The bike is very nimble through the trees, is balanced and is controlled in the whoops. The chassis and the suspension do seem edgy off-road, however, and you feel more of the terrain than on the other bikes.Yamaha YZ450F
Yamaha stepped up off-road. It was the only bike that actually seemed to have more power and response with the Q4. Response was immediate, and the bike ran cleanly and crisply all the way through with precise jetting. The motor worked great everywhere and was easy to ride. It’s a great off-road motor. Suspension action is another plus. It’s plush and provided the most comfortable ride, especially over rocks and tree roots. Leaning the blue machine over in the turns still takes more work than the others.
And The Winner Is…
So what bike wins? The law of averages says it is the Honda CRF450R. Why? Because with our large number of test riders and our battery of tests the Honda is always at least average and usually ranking near the top. It’s never polar, and even though it has some minor issues, they are not any more distracting that the minor issues on any of the other bikes. It fits more riders better than the other bikes, and it rarely gets ranked last. Plus, it got ranked first more than any other. It averages out to a winner in our shootout, but only you know if it wins for you.Got an opinion? Let us know what you think wins at www.dirtrider.com or by sending us a letter at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject: 450MX Shootout.