Four-fifty off-road bikes are some of the most versatile, do-all megamachines you can get your hands on. Most are based off of each company’s full-on MX 450s, then tuned for off-road use and set up to meet standards and regulations for off-road machines. Yet it’s still surprising how many riders make the mistake of buying a motocross bike when what they really need is right here. We tested the four most popular bikes in this crowded class-one brandnew, one heavily revised, the winner from last year and one that stayed the same-to give you the skinny on some of the sweetest machines available.We mostly trail rode these bikes because that’s what most riders will do with them. But we didn’t stop there. We raced them at an SRA Grand Prix, took them to the dunes and did a day in the desert. We had experts ride them hard and novice riders ride them, well, like novices. We’ve played with some modifi cations on all of these bikes, but the majority of this test refl ects on the bike’s stock performance, or uncorked performance in the case of the Yamaha WR. We’re hitting it hard and quick here as our Torture Test is coming next month with even more off-road madness. In the following pages, you’ll see what we think about the stockers.KTM XC-W(R) All-New For You
To get the in-depth details for this fresh bike, you’ll need to see the full test of its big brother, the 530, in our March ’08 issue. It’s just like that but dropped in displacement to 450cc, making this Austrian bike similar yet distinctly different than its open-class sibling. It doesn’t feel lighter, as we’ve become accustomed to between previous 450 and 525 variations, but this bike is light; it tied with the CRF-X as the most feathery. In the power department, sold right off the showroom fl oor the bike just plain rips. We never felt the need to mess with anything in the engine. And the suspension is tuned for aggressive trail riding giving it legs to do just about anything.The Facts
The lightest-feeling bike here through the bar and footpegs is also the twitchiest-steering machine. In the tight stuff, you’ll only praise the KTM for this. Start going fast, though, and you’ll be looking for a steering damper. However, having the bike set up right (especially the fork rebound) can drastically change the nature of the beast. The suspension lets you feel the ground, is very controlled in the mid-stroke and resists bottoming well.The motor has a Jekyll and Hyde nature to it. It can be the smoothest traditional four-stroke torque monster or act like a fi re-breathing 250cc four-stroke MXer. It’s all in how you treat the throttle. We think the 530 is actually smoother, but the 450 revs faster and gets to the revlimiter pretty quickly. We learned to quit downshifting on this bike. And high revs also meant vibration, too.The bike comes with a spark arrestor but no lights, though the wires are there to hook some up. It’s the loudest of the bikes here, especially when wide-open, but it meets sound regulations. We wouldn’t mind it being a tad quieter up in the Rs. Also the XC-W(R) is the . rst (and only) to spit coolant when you aren’t moving as it is the only bike without a coolant recovery system. The clutch takes the most abuse but also heats the motor up fast during punishment.KTM out. ts this bike to get the job done without any goofy stuff, and the company does it right. The six-speed gearbox is tops and the tank is good for 65-plus miles; it has a digital odometer and the kickstand tucks away properly. The cockpit is the roomiest and highly adjustable. The separate oil chambers in the motor will only have these bikes running longer than forever. Maintenance is simple and very minimal.The Verdict
Our riders unanimously praised the KTM and most felt it was the best all-around bike here. With little tweaks to the suspension or adding a steering damper, its abilities are limitless.
The suspension is the plushest of the bunch and takes even the smallest ripples out of the ground. Comfort is top-notch and it also has the cushiest seat in the group. You can still race the bike in a GP but it’s the first to bottom out (especially the rear) in big whoops or on jump landings.We know the KLX is tough; we’ve been longterming our test bike from last year and it has taken a thrashing and is still running strong. Complaints center around a battery charging system that’s just barely adequate and a brilliant muffl er that’s so quiet you hear all kinds of other noises on the bike that you’ve never heard before.The Verdict
This is the easiest bike to ride and a favorite with our novice riders. The less aggressive power delivery and the softer overall nature of the suspension also make it a top choice for those at any skill level who do nothing but trail rideYamaha WR450F
Don’t Write Me Off Yet!
The only bike left mostly unchanged (it got new fork lowers and lighter disc rotors) from 2007 was the Yamaha. We included it as a benchmark of where we’ve been and to highlight the leaps the upgraded bikes have made. But we were surprised by how-as the trend of lighter and more feathery machines gets pushed-the stability and planted feel the Yamaha possesses (along with a more top-heavy stance) makes friends just as fast.The Facts
We’ve always loved the linear and smooth WR motor; we’ve just hated that you have to make some modifi cations to get it to run the way most riders will ride it.Read this: We installed the shorter throttle stop from the GYTR kit (part No. GTY-5TJ93-69-01) took out only the smallest baffl e from the muffl er tip (not the whole tip!) and pulled out the restrictor on top of the airbox. Then we disconnected the gray wire. We didn’t change the jetting nor did we remove the airinjection system as it has no effect on the power.When your Yamaha WR doesn’t run well, reread the above paragraph before you write us a letter. A few riders actually ride the bike box stock and it’s slower than a 250F and very easy to ride. Some install everything in the GYTR kit and it’s a more aggressive setting than we’ve come to like.The WR feels the heaviest on the trail, though it’s pretty light in the handlebar and steering effort is low. In quick side-to-side and when the bike is bouncing around is when you notice the weight. In higher-speed riding the Yamaha, like the Kawasaki, is the most stable and therefore very comfortable. You also feel as if you sit a little more on top of the WR and it gets cramped quicker for larger pilots.Suspensionwise, the WR strikes a balance of plushness and stiffness that has it being very middle of the road. It bottoms less than the KLX and more than the CRF-X or XC-W(R). It’s plusher than the latter two and not as much as the Kawasaki.The Verdict
This bike isn’t out of the game yet. Once uncorked the motor is everything the KTM and Honda are and it loves the higher-speed arena. It bridges the gap between the aggressive red and orange bikes and the mellow green one.For the some uncensored opinions and more photos, check out www.dirtrider.com.1998 Honda XR400
A Bargain And Some History
What is 10 years of off-road motorcycle performance? And can you put a price on it? Well, for about $1500-$2200 you can find a nice Honda XR400 like we did and ride it to fi nd out. We took this decadeold bike out with us on one of our testing days and rode it with the current crop of 2008s to see where it fi t in.The Facts
The XR had a loud muffler on it and the handlebar and levers were pointing every direction but straight. I dug up a stock muffler (which I feel is the best performing muffler on an XR400) and put on a Fasst Co. bar and new ASV levers. The bike felt totally fresh and ran like a top.First you have to kickstart the bike (a pain) and then you’re graced with very sluggish throttle response (no pumper carb here) and a bland build of very smooth power that tops out at a very low rpm. But it was a lot faster than it felt and kept up just fine on the trail. Just don’t expect any sort of snap from the throttle to clear bumps or jumps; use the clutch for that. The torque feels better than the other bikes; the XR is the last bike to break traction in tricky situations.Handling and suspension on this bike are more about being plush and fl exing than precision and control. So the front end is vague at best and turning is less than responsive. The bike takes all the ripples out of the ground (better than even the KLX) and the seat was made for sitting. Bottoming? Yes, all the time, front and rear. And the bike is always wallowing around. Slowing that with more compression and rebound damping just upsets the chassis, which seems to like to be mashed into turning. It doesn’t feel as heavy as its 271 pounds (without gas) might indicate.The second thing you notice about an old bike is that the brakes are weak. They just don’t slow the bike with the same tenacity of a modern bike, even when in top condition with new pads.The Verdict
This 10-year-old bike was still fun to ride and it gets the job done, just differently. You couldn’t modify it to compete with current bikes at any price, and in trying to do so you’d eliminate some of its endearing traits. Hey, it’s still running, has never lost a drop of water or bent a radiator and has been making riders smile since all the new bikes were still just aluminum cans and plastic bottles waiting for a second life.