2016 Yamaha YZ450F - First Ride

The Only Time Being Blue Is Not A Bad Thing

2016 Yamaha YZ450F
The new 2016 Yamaha YZ450F has gone through a whole host of refinements and will also come in 60th Anniversary Yellow.Photo by Pete Peterson

The Yamaha YZ450F was the winner of the 2015 Dirt Rider Motocross Shootout for a host of reasons. A strong engine character, comfortable suspension (with a spring fork we might add), and a balanced feeling chassis on the track made it hard to deny it the top spot. For 2016 Yamaha engineers didn't rest as they went to work with a host of refinements for the 2016 YZ450F. For example, they updated the intake and exhaust cams for a smoother torque character, new shift stop lever design with a spring load increase and an updated shifter dog shape (both aim to help make it a smoother shift under power), the water pump has six holes added for increased pressure distribution, new handlebar mounted Launch Control System (LCS), top motor mount shape and thickness have changed and a 12mm increase of width to the frame at the swingarm pivot for an increase in rigidity balance, updated valving (fork and shock) and spring changes (shock only), fork clamp offset has changed from 22mm to 25mm to achieve better front tire traction, footpeg position has been moved down 5mm (from 2015), and finally a larger front brake rotor up from 250mm to 270mm to get "Big Blue" to stop sooner. How did all these changes work on the track? Yamaha had us out at Competitive Edge MX Park this week, so we got our first taste of how well the 2016 YZ450F can perform out on the track.

2016 Yamaha YZ450F motor
New upper motor mount thickness and shape help rigidity balance for 2016.Photo by Pete Peterson

The changes that Yamaha made are something we feel that you will not notice right away. We didn’t! It took sometime to feel and appreciate what Yamaha did to the 2016 YZ450F. At Competitive Edge MX the track was tilled up deep so immediately we didn’t notice much change compared to the 2015 model. Once the track developed and got some deep ruts and bumps became bigger is when we started to feel what the 2016 was doing positively or negatively, compared to the 2015. The engine is powerful as ever with just a little less bark and is easier to control coming out of corners. Don’t panic! There is still plenty of excitement to go around but now it’s more controlled. Bottom end pulls smoothly into a mid-range that is extremely usable out on the track. The 2016 Yamaha YZ450’s nickname should be “third” cause that’s what gear it loves to be in around the track. Don’t get us wrong second gear is also just as useable in tighter corners, but why use second when third is just as good and will not bind or upset the suspension coming out of corners. If it pulls a taller gear we say “go for it”! Once into the top end the 2016 is a little better than the 15 version. Top end pulls slightly farther down long straights but we wish the Yamaha had a little more over-rev for some lazier riders. We did try some optional ignition maps (with Yamaha’s Powertuner) to also clean up some lean de-cel popping we were experiencing. This also helped stretch out the top end and over-rev, so don’t be shy about going onto Yamaha’s website to get some optional maps. You can custom tailor what type of engine character you are looking for when riding out at your local track.

2016 Yamaha YZ450F swingarm pivot
Increase of the frame at the swingarm pivot is also changed to reduce flexing under load.Photo by Pete Peterson

Again, we weren’t over the moon about the chassis changes once we started riding the new 16 YZ450F early in the morning, when the track was smooth. When the wind picked up and the track started to get less inviting, the Yamaha worked best in rougher conditions. Straight-line stability is noticeably better than the 2015 under acceleration. It feels like the rear end is more connected to the ground (while accelerating out of choppy corners) and there is less side to side movement on braking bumps as well. The harder you ride the 16 YZ450F the more you will notice its comfort level at high speeds. Is it as stable as a Kawasaki? Time will tell. Front-end traction through corners however did not improve over the 15. The 2015 wasn’t horrible it just wasn’t great. We opted to raise the fork up in the clamps 5mm to help the initial lean feeling into tight corners and this really helped cornering ability without sacrificing straight line stability. Mid corner the 2016 YZ450F still has a slight front-end vague feeling, but we feel the MX52 front tire could be causing some of this problem. There doesn’t seem to be much grip when the Yamaha is really leaned into a rut. Suspension is still top notch and comfort is still very high on the 2016 YZ450F’s priority list. Fork action is smooth over braking bumps and on big slap down landings the SSS spring fork holds up well (Yes, spring fork). There is no harsh feeling when faster, aggressive, riders push its limits around the track. We noticed less pitching on the 2016 when coming into corners as well. Last years model had a lot of pitching feeling from back to front when coming into a corner on de-cel. This year the fork holds up better while maintaining its high comfort level. The rear shock is also another improved commodity. The rear end feels lower on the new Yamaha and this helps with traction coming out of square edged ruts and also makes the YZ450F feel more balanced everywhere around the track. We did notice the shock bottoming out on jump faces so we went in (stiffer) a half turn on high speed compression and that helped hold the rear end up enough when slamming into jump faces. Yamaha does however recommend a sag setting of 100mm with the 2016 versus a 104mm with the 2015. We tried a couple different sag settings but always came back to the recommended 100mm. We feel this updated chassis from Yamaha is a step in the right direction for overall rider comfort around the track.

2016 Yamaha YZ450F brake rotor
Bigger is better. A 270mm front rotor comes standard on the new Yamaha.Photo by Pete Peterson

The 270mm front disc is also a welcome addition and helped testers get stopped into a hurry. One new feature Yamaha adopted that we are not completely sold on is the Launch Control System. Although easy to use, we didn’t notice much of difference coming out of the hole when we tried several concrete and dirt starts. The 5mm lowered footpegs helped fit a wider range of testers as one tester was 6’0 and the other was 5’9. One tester felt more at home with the roomier 5mm lowered footpeg cockpit, as another tester didn’t feel much of a change at all in the rider triangle from the 15 model.

2016 Yamaha YZ450F jump
Stretching it over huge jumps is not an issue for the Yamaha’s powerplant.Photo by Pete Peterson

The Yamaha YZ450F engine has always been great but with the newfound chassis and handling updates, the 2016 YZ450F is an even better well-rounded motorcycle. But, in order to really appreciate what the 16 Yamaha is offering, don't just hit the track when it is perfectly smooth. Wait until everyone else clears out and then strap your helmet on, roll the throttle open, and hit some of those bumps your normally would go around. This is where you will truly see where your hard earned money will be or was just spent on. We will continue to tinker and ride the new 2016 Yamaha YZ450F at more Southern California tracks and heck maybe we will even try her out in Colorado in the coming weeks! Look for the October issue of Dirt Rider Magazine for even more about the new "Blue Bomber".

Associate Editor Kris Keefer shredding a high desert loamy berm.Photo by Pete Peterson
Photo by Pete Peterson
Photo by Pete Peterson