Motocross 450s. Most people have no idea the potential these bikes have just sitting on the stand. Lots of riders never get to ride them and even if they do many don’t come close to experiencing the bike to its potential. Most mortals don’t have the skill. Still, we all want to know which is the best. Manufacturers strive to build the best motocross bike in this, the premiere class. They place a lot of weight on winning shootouts like this one. They spend millions of dollars racing these bikes to place at the top of the standings. Even more money is spent developing the 450cc motocross machine. You are getting a lot of machine in plenty of ways.Now, a regular guy, for less than $10,000, can get in at the highest level of motocross. There isn’t anything close to this in all of motorized sport. You can’t buy a Moto GP bike or a Formula 1 car. NASCAR? Forget it. But in motocross you can get pretty damn close to having the same equipment as your favorite motocross racer. But are these bikes built just for you (or the rider you think you are)? In an effort to answer the question of which bike is the best, Dirt Rider compared the current offerings from Honda, Kawasaki, KTM and Yamaha. Suzuki was not sure of plans for releasing any of its 2010 motocross bikes as we’re writing this so the RM-Z is unfortunately missing from our comparison.How We Tested
Racetown 395, Piru MX, Milestone MX, Perris Raceway, Pala Raceway and Glen Helen motocross tracks all played host to our testing at one time or another. That range of tracks goes from fast and loamy to hard-packed, slippery and tight. It included straight-up outdoor nastiness and some sculpted jump-tracks, too. We raced some of the bikes individually and then raced them all against each other during our main shootout day at Racetown 395, where we got some very comparable lap times. On that day we also ran the bikes in front of a radar gun with brand-new Bridgestone 403/404 tire combos on all the bikes. They are great tires that leave the question of traction out of the discussion. Along with the great looking RidePG.com number plate backgrounds these bikes are a few oil changes and air filter cleanings into their life cycles but that’s it. Each bike started our comparison with approximately 15-20 hours of runtime, though our Honda was released a little late to us and was playing catch-up with a seven hour deficit on the meter.
Honda CRF450RIn 2009 the Honda CRF450R was the most anticipated bike to hit motocross in a while. It was well received and topped our 2009 shootout, but not without issues. For 2010 Red refined some of the stickier areas; the reduced high rear-end (stinkbug) feeling has helped the CRF gain a bit of front-end plushness, there is consistent starting and, finally, the ignition mapping is improved for a smoother and more powerful engine character. Is that enough to keep it at the top of the class?Engine
• The Honda’s power comes on strong, is very controlled and manages to contain both snap and hit if the rider asks for it.
• The CRF doesn’t feel the fastest, nor does the radar gun ever show it is outright fast, except for right at the end of a typical-length start straight.
• Gear ratios are perfect and none of our riders wanted to change the gearing at any of the tracks.
• Shifting and clutch action are the best in the class even if the effort at the lever can feel a little stiff in the pits. And our clutch is holding up fine.
• In outright power, we’d place it in third behind the KTM (on top) and the Kawasaki (mid-range.)
• The CRF450R now starts as easily as it should without much of a procedure. It likes a full kick and no throttle but it is nowhere near as tough as last year’s bike was to start. As the bike breaks in, it gets easier, too.
• The stalling problem is corrected. In fact riders were tempting the bike with gear-high turns that would have been disastrous on the 2009 machine. All of the 2010 class is on equal footing here.
• Honda’s FI Tuning tool gives the savvy user a lot of tuning options to alter the power delivery and character of the engine. It will not give the bike more power.Chassis
• The Honda CRF450R is the lightest 450 in the class by 11 pounds with a full tank. But on the track you’d better be a pretty top-flight rider to feel it compared to the new Yamaha. It takes whipping and scrubbing jumps and sliding it into turns to get a lighter feeling sensation out of the CRF.
• Honda’s mass lowering has it as the bike with the heaviest weight bias on the front wheel.
• The Honda is precise. And the suspension and chassis have a stiff nature that let you feel the ground. Some riders call this harshness but faster riders need this feedback to race. It is the paradox of selling a top-flight race machine to the masses.
• Now in its second year of aggressive steering, the CRF is part of the majority along with the KTM and newly included Yamaha YZF, it seems quick steering at the sacrifice of some stability feel is the current trend. Honda has a steering stabilizer to tune the stability back in and it works.
• The Honda Progressive Steering Damper can be used to tune the bike’s feel from light and twitchy to heavier and more stable. It has an effect on stability, turning and suspension feel and savvy riders will play with its adjustment to get the most out of it.
• The brakes are great, especially in control, only off in power compared to the front of the KTM.Suspension
• With the biggest changes to the 2010 centered on suspension revisions, the improvement is notable when compared to last year’s bike. Still, most of our intermediate and slower riders were looking for more plushness when compared to the other bikes.
• Suspension issues aren’t about how the bike is working on the track, that stays consistently good. They are more about the comfort level the rider feels and is trying to tune for.
• The CRF has the best bottoming resistance in this class, especially in the fork.Why the Honda CRF450R should win
• The faster you are the better this bike works and it will take less engine tuning to go even faster.
• Honda did all the stuff you wanted to do to your 2009 for you.
• You ride exclusively on smooth tracks, no matter your ability level.
• It has unquestionable value and durability.Why it shouldn’t win
• It isn’t the newest technology and freshest look in the class, only one year after being all-new.
• It will alienate riders who can’t convert to fast-steering bikes.
• Suspension work will still be on the list of things to do for a lot of riders.
• You like to run Monster Energy graphics.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
• If you get the FI tuning tool, you can accomplish a lot of what Honda has done to the power character. But the starting will not be as good as the 2010.
• If you already plan on having the suspension revalved, the 2010 improvements can be duplicated.
|2010 HONDA CRF450R SETTINGS|
|Seat Height:||37.0 in.|
|Seat-To-Footpeg Distance:||21.0 in.|
|Footpeg Height:||16.0 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||1.5 gal.|
|(Turns out)||1 1/4||1 1/8||1 1/8|
Current Bike: Honda CRF450Yamaha definitely did an A+ job completely redesigning their 450. The motor rips, the suspension works excellent, the bike handles great and overall, I was quite impressed! Again, my only issue was caused by the weight. Even with its low center, it prevented me from getting the back end to step out when setting up for turns and having more of a controlled slide. The bike just wanted to keep the wheels in line-not a bad thing, just not my preference. This is where the Honda was noticeably easier to maneuver around and change direction, and in the end, I feel that this gives the rider more control in a race setting. My third and fourth choices go to the Kawi and the KTM. The Kawasaki is still a great all around machine-fast motor, easy to ride, very planted and stable-so it doesn’t do anything bad, but it just doesn’t do anything spectacular for me. As for the KTM, it still has one of the strongest motors out there, but the bike did feel a little unstable compared to the other brands and I just wasn’t as comfortable on it. But after all the dust had settled, I would still jump on any one of these bikes to race (without hesitation).Randy Valade
Current Bike: Honda CRF450RThis year’s Dirt Rider 450 shoot-out was a tough one. All the bikes I rode had a great feature or two, which made my decision hard for the outright winner. After a lot of laps of going back and forth on the bikes, I decided the Kawasaki 450 was my bike of choice. The power was very smooth from bottom to top, it turned and handled well, and I felt very comfortable on the bike. I think with a few minor engine modifications this bike could be even better. The final three bikes were so close it was very hard to make a decision. The Honda was very easy to ride and could use just a little more hit off bottom, the KTM was so powerful but was tough to get the bike to settle going into corners, and the Yamaha really improved from the previous years on just about everything.
Kawasaki KX450FKawasaki is the second brand that took the road of tuning an all-new package from last year as the way to tackle 2010. And for sure we fought with what they did to the suspension. So much, in fact, that we dropped back to last year’s spring rates in both the fork and shock before we could get any of our lighter (under 190 lbs and regardless of speed) or non-pro riders happy on the bike. Going into the shootout we spent more time tuning on the Kawasaki’s clickers than any other bike, and the KXF really suffered on slower or tighter tracks. But the motor, wow!Engine
• If there is a bike that is really all about the motor and how ungodly fast it feels, this is it.
• 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. And it doesn’t stop there!
• 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 react instantly. But it requires a fresh tire, and the more traction the better.
• For 2010 the power seems to pull better into the top, especially when compared to its classmates. It also ate clutches since riders tended to control the power with the clutch. And when it started to slip a little, riders, even our pros, tended to like the bike better. Go figure!
• The most obnoxiously loud muffler on a motocross bike to date. It tricks the sound meter at the old sound test rpm, but it blows out your eardrums (and everyone’s around you) when on the track (see the chart!)Chassis
• Keeping the old-schoolers happy with a more laid back, traditional motocross feel. • Not as aggressively precise with the front end as the Yamaha, KTM or Honda.
• Now the new king of stability, trailed by the damper-equipped-Honda.
• The bar on the KXF feels wider than the other bikes and the steering was described by some as heavier. It is more of the turn-in feel (the bike leaning in) than the steering sensation (the actual effort in turning the bars.)
• This bike, alongside the KTM, has a heavier feel than the CRF and YZF.
• The brakes are a tick off in power and control compared to the others, but this is being extremely critical.Suspension
• The stock spring rates must be for 215-pound riders or National Pros. We could never get the bike compliant on smaller bumps. Chop was horrible on stock springs. We went softer and ran that setting through the shootout.
• We needed to open up the rebound damping on both ends to keep the suspension active.
• With our settings the bike becomes settled and pretty plush but can easily feel loose in the chop. Learn to tune your KX’s rebound.
• The shock lets the bike sag down and grab traction. It really needs traction!
• The slower the track the tougher it is to get the KX working as good as the other bikes. On fast tracks it is at its happiest (stability!)Why the KX450F should win
• Most exciting power. If you parking-lot tested these bikes back-to-back, the KXF would win.
• Familiar feel (after suspension fixes) to previous KXF models: Stable, planted and solid. Especially in the rear.
• You think it’s faster than everything else when you ride it.
• You ride fast tracks.Why the KX450F shouldn’t win
• Too loud. Obnoxious, really.
• Does not have the bike-wide durability of the others.
• Not as nimble as competition.
• You ride exclusively on smaller, slower, tighter tracks.
• Suspension not ready to go out of the crate. Needs tuning.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
• If you are under 200 pounds, absolutely. Last year’s suspension is already dialed in much closer for you.
• 2009′s power isn’t that far off, and with Kawasaki’s FI tuning tool you could likely tune it to 2010 levels. Especially with that quieter exhaust you should be throwing on.
• You plan on buying a slipper clutch with the money you save. It will save you clutch plates and make the suspension track smoother out of turns.
|2010 KAWASAKI KX450F SETTINGS|
|Seat Height:||37.2 in.|
|Seat-To-Footpeg Distance:||21.1 in.|
|Footpeg Height:||16.1 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||1.9 gal.|
|(Turns out)||1 1/2||1 1/2||1 1/2|
5’10″/185 lb./Sr. Expert
Current Bike: EverythingLast year I picked the Yamaha as the bike I would race if I were racing for money because I could ride the bike the fastest the easiest, though it wasn’t my favorite bike. In 2009 the KTM was. The 2010 Yamaha took another step up my ladder as it is not only the bike I’d race if my paycheck depended on it, it is my outright favorite bike mostly for one reason: It has the best suspension. Don’t get me wrong, everything else Yamaha has done to the bike is a major leap too, but somehow they’ve kept plushness around while giving precise turning like the KTM or CRF. I was not the biggest fan of the stock tune of the motor but in about 15-minutes of learning and two minutes of programming it into the bike I had a whole new motor character that was all mine! (This type of change takes a whole lot more work with Honda or Kawasaki’s EFI software.) And the thing that impressed me the most about the Yamaha was how it appealed to such a wide variety of riders, especially those slower than me, without ever touching the suspension.Second, and a very close second it was, is the KTM. My only issue with the Orange bike is that it feels a little heavy compared to the Yamaha and CRF, but you’d have to ride those bikes back-to-back to notice this. Everything else about the KTM is great, especially the pull of the motor and its electric starting. Fifth gear is sweet, too.I’m torn between the CRF and the KXF as they are both great bikes and I wouldn’t hesitate to ride either. All I can say is the Kawasaki took a lot of tuning to get its suspension in the game. The motor is just plain insane. But its exhaust note is horrid. The CRF is definitely improved but seems to have a faster racer in its DNA than I, or most regular riders, aspire to be.
KTM 450 SX-FLast year was the first year KTM’s 450 was a serious contender to win this shootout. It was because the SX-F made leaps and bounds in the suspension department (it was arguably the best last year) along with the other bikes’ new-school handling direction that was much closer to where the KTM already was. Hence, the KTM was less polar and as always a good bike. This year it is even closer. Starting with starting, the KTM wins over every rider with the push of the electric-start button, a feature that, for now, is exclusively Orange. Then its long-winded motor, plush suspension and roomy chassis just keep adding up on a time-proven design that just keeps getting better. As we’ve seen, this may be the final run for this design (KTM’s 350 looks to be the company’s flagship MX machine from now on) but as has become routine, the last revision is always a good one.Engine
• The KTM is the king of torque. It is unmatched in the grunt from the bottom to the top and in its ability to turn that grunt into traction.
• The new five-speed tranny does wonders for making the motor even friendlier. Gearing is right on, the hydraulic clutch is magic and shifting is good and solid.
• Fuel-injected competition is hurting the KTM. There is cleanliness to EFI that a carb can’t duplicate. The fuel screw adjustment is critical for tight throttle response.
• This SX-F takes less shifting than the other bikes since the power is so long. It is easier to go through turns a gear high since it is so torquey. It is the kind of power that saves a rider’s energy. Plus, it’s got a five speed this year.
• On the downside, higher-level riders felt they wanted more snap out of the motor.
• Quiet performance.
• Electric start. You only think it’s unnecessary until you ride with it once.Chassis
• Still holding on to that great turning feel with the Yamaha hunting it down. They differ mostly because of the difference in power delivery. KTM’s slight frame and triple-clamp changes retain KTM’s class-leading turning and add a little more stability. The shorter rear shock helps too.
• Heavier feeling like the KXF, the KTM’s weight is pretty centralized but you can feel it in back-to-back comparisons with the CRF and YZF.
• Stability took a step forward this year, and that is good since most bikes are going backward here. Now the KTM is in the middle of the class.
• Frame geometry, tank width and peg location feel different than on the Japanese bikes, but larger riders tend to really grow accustomed to the differences.
• The front brake is a works part and has power and control above anything in the class.Suspension
• The suspension got even better for 2010 and it ties for plushness and comfort with the Yamaha.
• Both ends of the bike are supple and controlled. Ride height goes a long way in making the fork work properly.
• Make sure you have the right rear spring for your weight.
• Both ends of the bike are sensitive to clicker adjustments. Play with the rebound first.
• Bottoming resistance is decent for the amount of plushness the components give.
• Some riders still feel the linkageless setup is more wallowly than the other bikes.Why the KTM 450SXF should win:
• This is easily the best KTM 450 ever.
• Electric start is the future. Once you try it, you need it.
• KTM/WP suspension is now on par with anything.
• Great history of durability and build quality.
• Add a works front brake to the list of cool stuff.
• If your list of requirements is deeper than MX track riding.
• The KTM is simply the easiest to work on.Why the KTM 450SXF shouldn’t win:
• You want the snap and bark of other motors.
• Fuel injection is the future, and the future is now.
• You are waiting for the 350.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
• It is tough to get the same performance out of the 2009 because of the transmission updates as well as a lot of other small changes (frame, triple clamp, shock shortening) that perform deeper than just a suspension revalve could.
• If you are only racing MX and rarely go to different tracks, you could make the four-speed work just fine.
|2010 KTM 450 SX-F SETTINGS|
|Seat Height:||38.8 in.|
|Seat-To-Footpeg Distance:||21.0 in.|
|Footpeg Height:||17.8 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||2.1 gal.|
|(Turns out)||1 1/2||1 1/2||1 1/2|
Current bike: Yamaha YZ450FAll of these bikes are extremely good, but each attacks motocross in slightly different ways. I ride motocross only one way. To feel comfortable at my level I need plush suspension and smooth power, and I must have a bike that fits me. KTM and Yamaha both make power that get my heart racing without ripping my arms loose, and both eat more bumps than their chassis feeds to my hands and spine. So it comes down to fit. The seemingly minor frame and triple clamp changes to the KTM have taken a platform I was already comfortable with and made it fun, relaxing and effective on the track. I’m sure that with work I could get any of these four bikes to work for me, but the KTM requires nothing but moving the adjustable handlebar clamps to make me feel right at home.Phil Lawrence
6’3″ /190 lb./ Pro
Current Bike: KTM 450SXWhen Dirt Rider called me out to do the 450 shootout, I was very excited to be able to ride all the 2010 machines, especially the Yamaha. More on the Yamaha later. The bike I choose in first is the Honda. Last year when asked to do the 450 shootout, the (2009) Honda was the bike that I was looking forward to riding, being that it was a completely new machine. For me the Honda came in fourth in 2009. The 2010 CRF feels like a complete package now, the front end does not have the low feeling anymore, the motor is very easy to ride with a ton of power, the stability on the bike lets you go anywhere on the track you want-such a solid bike. In second was the KTM, new frame for better cornering, and with the motor it has it is hard to beat. I know I am a bigger rider so the bike fits me really well. The Kawasaki was in third, it felt like the same bike to me as the 2009 (which is an awesome bike for all levels of riders). The Yamaha was fourth. When I was riding it I could feel what the engineers wanted to do, and they came close but I think it will take a year (like the Honda in ’09) to get the complete package all working together. Then the bike can easily be number one.
Yamaha YZ450FYamaha gets to be the new guy this year. And with that badge comes the trickness of being fresh, truly innovative and attractive to that clan of riders who must have the latest and greatest stuff, no matter what. But Yamaha is also getting feedback from riders for whom the change is too much, or more than likely just too different from what they were used to, for now. But one thing is for sure, the Yamaha is ahead of the pack in a lot of ways, leading the development and pushing the weight feel and handling character for 450cc MX bikes even further.Engine
• As much as Yamaha’s new engine design is different, so is the power character they chose to give it. Now the power has hit on the bottom, snaps quickly into the mid-range and then, in comparison to the other bikes and to its predecessors, goes a little flat on top.
• With Yamaha’s easy-to-use FI tuning tool you can change the character of the motor significantly. We ran most of the time with a setting that let the bike rev out farther on top and, depending on the rider, smoothed or softened the bottom end. In fact we made it too soft on the bottom for a lot of our test riders.
• The noise coming out of the intake was considered loud by a lot of the riders, prompting some of them to even consider using earplugs. The bike isn’t too loud to those on the side of the track.
• Shifting takes a little more thought than on the other bikes. The clutch action is great and ours resisted fading or slipping.
• Gearing was more of an issue on the YZ than other bikes, mostly for faster riders who were undecided on which direction they wanted to go.Chassis
• Now easily the lightest feeling 450 on the track, the Yamaha literally falls into turns and the back of the bike loves to follow the front. Maybe too much for some riders who want the back end to step out on turn entrances or when throwing the back end of the bike out in the air.
• The steering effort is very light and it takes minimal effort to control the bike in the turns. On the flipside, some thought the bike had a hint of instability.
• The chassis is very forgiving and seems to have taken the next step in using the right blend of flex and rigidity to have a high level of rider comfort without sacrificing performance to get it.
• Though the bike has a very wide look, it rides as thin and narrow for most average sized riders. Larger riders can feel cramped and can have their legs get into the bulky upper front of the tank/radiator shrouds/air box.
• The Yamaha’s handling was almost as polar as KTM handling has been in the past with a love it or hate it relationship with riders.Suspension
• Plushness is delivered in spades on the YZ. In fact it is so plush that most thought that the suspension would be too soft overall. This was only an issue with our fastest, heaviest riders.
• Once we got to a good setting, usually within just a few clicks of stock, all riders liked it.
• Setting the spring preload on this bike is simple.
• For feeling so soft, the YZ bottoms out infrequently, and feels controlled when doing so.Why the YZ450F should win:
• Revolutionary and proving previously failed technology can work with very few faults.
• This bike appealed to a wider variety of riders than any of the other bikes, especially non-pro riders.
• For those that can exploit the new handling characteristics of the YZ, it seems to be taking them to new levels. Even pros. It is so new and showing so few faults in its first year out.Why the YZ450F shouldn’t win:
• If you are stuck in the past and like slow steering and slow-handling bikes.
• If you make all your decisions about a bike without riding it.
• You don’t like intake noise in your face.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
• The 2009 is a completely different bike from a different time. Know that you would be getting a good working (old) YZ that performs differently.
• The price would have to be right. It will be tough for a 2009 to hold its value with competition like its new brother.
|2010 YAMAHA YZ450F SETTINGS|
|Seat Height:||37.4 in.|
|Seat-To-Footpeg Distance:||20,4 in.|
|Footpeg Height:||17.0 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||1.6 gal.|
|(Turns out)||1 1/4||1 1/4||1 1/4|
5’10″/175 lb./ Vet Intermediate
Current bike: Honda CRF250RFirst place in my book goes to the KTM. Or is it the Yamaha? It’s just too close!
The orange bike combines a lot of the best traits in the class with an electric start sweetener. It’s easily my favorite motor with an awesome smooth and strong pull from floor to ceiling. New frame geometry and suspension updates have the bike lower (especially in the rear) and happier all around. The addition of the 5-speed transmission only makes this bike better and it works everywhere I’ve taken it. The only question marks for me on the KTM are the fuel screw (because I have to touch it) and clutch steel plates that are prone to warping and becoming grabby.The YZ450F is just simply incredible. It makes great power (not quite as good as the KTM), has the best suspension 99% of the time and corners so easily it’ll make your head spin. Mass centralization has turned the YZF into a turner. And that’s no small feat. The EFI system is spot on and easily tuned with the GYTR tuning tool. I wish the YZF had more over-rev power as it signs off earlier than the KTM. And, I think the bulk of the bike, while hidden by the centralization of the heaviest stuff, can make the suspension too soft for those over 160 pounds. Oh, it’s not easy to start all the time. Waaaaaaaaah! I want a button.The Honda is easily right behind these two. The 2010′s suspension and EFI upgrades easily make it worth the new year’s VIN number even though it looks a year old. The bike is easier to ride thanks to the motor behaving (not stalling) and the suspension upgrades have taken the bite out of the ultra-aggressive ride. It’s got some snap if you want it, but if you’re terrible at adjusting sag and dialing in your clickers, you won’t be riding this bike to its potential.I give the Kawasaki KX450F a bad rap because it’s just too loud. Behind the bark is a motor with way too much snap and a ton of muscle. The bike feels like a cheater once you get it pointed in the right direction. It doesn’t turn as well as the other three since it’s more laid back in the rear and choppered out in the front. I’m not a big fan of the laid back feel on the KXF, but I’m glad the stability is there when I’m trying to control this animal down a straight. It’s very easy to make the KXF the best bike in the class: put an exhaust on that takes advantage of the incredible power. If you quiet the bike down, the power spread is smoothed, spread out and more manageable with the same grunt. A slipper clutch makes a big difference, too.