For the off-road rider, finding the right bike can sometimes be tough. We mean, you’re logging hours upon hours of seat time, maybe hundreds of miles in one day, and when you ride that much you end up nitpicking every little thing you don’t like about your chosen steed. We wanted to take five behemoths of the (closed course) off-road world and compare them with said nitpicky-ness like they were our very own. We decided to focus this shootout on machines for the rider who might hit a GP or GNCC on Saturday but ride with some of his or her moto buddies on Sunday—basically bikes for fast, aggressive-type off-road racing and riding as well as being able to attack motocross tracks. This kept enduro bikes and trailbikes out of this test. We chose the Beta 430 RR Race Edition, Honda CRF450RX, Husqvarna FX 450, KTM 450 XC-F, and Yamaha YZ450FX.
How We Tested
The criteria for Dirt Rider ’s 2017 Off-Road Shootout is not as complex as a motocross shootout. We collected all five machines and made sure each manufacturer knew that we would be testing each machine as they showed up to the dealership. That means if they come with hand guards stock, these are left on; if they don’t, then they don’t. Stock size and brand tires were used along with heavy-duty tubes to combat pinch flats.
From there, we completed a separate photo/video day with all of the machines. Next, testing took place up in the high desert of Southern California with a wide variety of test riders. We designated a test loop that each test rider would ride each machine on so that the differences from each bike would shine through easier. The test loop consisted of tight sections, technical off-cambers, twisty flowy trails, rocks, fast single-track, a motocross section, and of course large hills to climb. We even had Mother Nature show up the night before our test to add some slippery, and some perfect, ground into the mix as well. The comparison you are now about to read is the result of our collective test riders’ opinions.
2017 Dirt Rider Off-Road Shootout Winner: KTM 450 XC-F
In 2016, KTM completely revamped the 450 XC-F with the same refinements that were made to its SX lineup (updated frame, lighter engine, updated plastics). For 2017, more updates were added including WP AER fork (instead of the 4CS fork), a lighter shock spring, stiffer top triple clamp, the outer fork tube was decreased 1mm for increased flex, forged aluminum engine stays, one-piece handlebar mount, updated engine mapping to decrease engine-braking and increase torque, and a handlebar-mounted map switch with traction control and launch control. What separates the XC-F from the SX models are specific off-road parts installed, such as a 2.25-gallon translucent fuel tank, lightweight CNC-machined hubs with Giant rims (the SX-Fs come with Excels), and an 18-inch rear wheel, Dunlop AT81 tires (compared to the MX3Ss on the moto bikes), hand guards, a sidestand, and softer valved suspension in the WP 48 AER fork and WP rear shock. The KTM 450 XC-F was ranked first on almost every score sheet. It took eight out of 10 wins and was the bike easiest to ride and get comfortable on.
The KTM’s engine character pleases a wide range of riders. The snappy rpm response along with the smooth bottom-end pulling power makes this machine have a very friendly low-end. Throttle feel is superb, giving you excellent control. Throttle hand to rear wheel feeling is very connected, and rarely does the KTM step out on you when accelerating hard out of tight areas. Midrange pulls much further than any other machine in the shootout, and if you want to leave it in second or third gear, the XC-F will let you pull each gear longer than the rest. Yes, the XC-F still has that SX-F power character (responsive yet smooth), but if you choose to ride a gear high, the XC-F is back into “off-road” mode and makes riding tight trails easy to do. The XC-F has a handlebar-mounted map switch, but most testers liked the standard map best in all terrain conditions.
The WP suspension wasn’t the best of the bunch (though close), but it was predictable and had enough comfort to let each tester ride aggressively. The 48mm WP AER fork (which is a claimed 3.6 pounds lighter than the old 4CS design) does have a slight harsh feeling in the top of its stroke and can deflect some on high-speed, square-edged trails. However, once through the top part of the stroke the AER fork is quite comfortable. The mid-stroke doesn’t have the harshness most air forks have, and the damping feels controlled. When on slower-speed trails where there are rocks and roots the fork feels firm but will not deflect and do anything to sway front-end traction. Bottoming resistance is superb; on G-outs or heavy loads the AER fork holds up nicely.
The rear of the bike is equally as impressive. The balance of the KTM is flat, and both ends of the suspension work well together. The shock is comfortable out of turns and will squat to give the rider maximum traction. The rear of the bike feels dead (or has less movement) when hitting anything high speed. On slower, rockier terrain the shock moves enough in the stroke to keep the rear tire biting down to the ground and will provide ample traction up hills. We ran the sag between 104 and 106mm, as this was a happy setting for trails and track.
The handling of the KTM 450 XC-F can be described in two words: light feeling! When the trail turns tighter and more technical you will feel like you’re on a 250F compared to the other machines. Side-to-side movement and cornering take less effort (similar to the SX-F). Front-end traction is always high, and if the rider needs to make a sudden change in line on the trail, the KTM does it very easily. As light as the KTM feels you would think straight-line stability would suffer, but the XC-F is fairly stable. We have noticed that the KTM can be finicky with steering head torque specs (sometimes too loose of a feeling), so you might want to tighten the steering head a little to help combat this. The steel frame gives the rider great bump absorption, and vibration from the KTM is next to zero.
KTM’s fit and finish speaks for itself. We like the 2.3-gallon translucent tank, which makes it easy to see where your fuel level is, and the hydraulic clutch was a big hit with most testers. Usually our West Coast conditions don’t require traction control, but with all the rain we received in Southern California the TC button was used and benefitted testers on certain parts of the trail where we climbed rocky, steep, sharp, slippery hills. To have that added into an already great engine package was icing on the cake.
Why It Won
A great engine that is easy to ride, along with balanced suspension that lets you ride aggressively or just cruise. The wide range of riders who the KTM 450 XC-F pleased made it an easy choice for the win.
Why It Shouldn’t Have Won
There is a slight deflection in front end on high-speed terrain.
Second Place: Yamaha YZ450FX
The YZ450FX returns for 2017 with not a whole host of changes, but Yamaha did update a few parts: an engine light for fuel level and engine warning, a fork tube scraper and oil seal, recessed Dzus fastners on the air cleaner cover, new rear disc material designed to combat heat, removal of the kickstart assembly for decreased weight, revised suspension settings for comfort, and black rims to match the YZ-F lineup. The 2017 YZ450FX shares the same chassis and basic engine layout as the YZ-F, but some differences are a 30-percent-wider internal gear ratio (which is lower in first through third gears, same in fourth, and higher in fifth), stronger clutch that uses a judder spring, electric starter, large-capacity generator, crankshaft balancer weight, increased radiator fin pitch, longer radiator shroud shape, updated ECU settings, 18-inch rear wheel, skid plate, O-ring chain, sidestand, and MX3S tires.
The Yamaha YZ450FX is a torque monster. Lugging is its specialty. Rolling on the throttle, the FX is responsive and peppy but with a little more chug to it than the KTM. Engine-braking is more noticeable on the Yamaha, especially when shutting off the throttle in a hurry. Bottom-end is similar to the YZ-F with its strong pulling power feeling, yet we did manage to use first gear in very tight sections of the trail. First gear is normally not usable, but we found when the trail gets to almost an eighth-of-throttle speed, letting first gear chug along worked the best. Anything over an eighth throttle, then second gear was the optimal gear to be in. Midrange creeps on smoothly, as there is never an arm-jerking reaction to your throttle hand.
If you find yourself in too high of a gear, a quick flick of the clutch lever and you will get back in the desired rpm range and down the trail quickly. Top-end pull is excellent (though the Yamaha doesn’t pull as far as the KTM), but the YZ450FX likes to be short-shifted and will reward you if you do so. The Yamaha’s over-rev capabilities are not quite as long as the orange machine, but when riding this 450cc machine the correct way you will not need to rev it out. The YZ450FX engine character is easy to get along with, and most testers found it easy to adapt to once they hopped on it.
The KYB SSS suspension is the best suspension in the shootout. It has enough comfort in the small choppy, rocky sections and enough hold-up to be aggressive when on the moto track. The KYB fork has a great damping feeling and never feels harsh throughout its stroke to the rider. The only complaint we had during the whole test was a pitching feeling (back to front) from the amount of engine-braking. Going a little stiffer on the compression and slowing the rebound down helped this sensation and made the YZ450FX more balanced on decel. The rear of the bike was easy to get along with on the trail or the track. With a sag of 102 to 104mm (depending on how much the rider complained of pitching feeling) the Yamaha feels plush and creates tons of traction.
One big reason the Yamaha didn’t grab the top spot was its heavy weight feeling when in tighter sections of the trail. Lean angle and direction changes take some thought, and you are not able to squirt your way in and out of tight sections like you can on the KTM. Once you have the YZ450FX leaned over and in the line you want, it sticks and is able to hold that line very well. It’s just getting to that point that is a little slower than we would like. Straight-line stability is another strong attribute of the Yamaha. Where its weight hurts it in tighter sections, it helps in faster, rough areas. The YZ450FX feels planted, and not one tester complained of a nervous feeling. We did find that raising the fork up 3 to 4mm will help the Yamaha turn quicker in tighter sections and not sacrifice much stability.
Some testers complained of a wide feeling when sitting on the Yamaha but didn’t notice it much when standing. No hand guards on the Yamaha was an issue during our test, as the YZ450FX doesn’t come standard with them. Durability has been a strong suit with our 2016 YZ450FX, as it endured plenty of hard miles and never needed more than oil and air-filter changes. We wish there was an easier way to the gas cap for racing purposes but can appreciate the seamless feel when riding. Some testers noticed the throttle pull was on the harder side when comparing it to other machines in the shootout. The Yamaha YZ450FX is a great do-it-all machine, but most testers felt it needed to go on a weight-loss program if it wanted to compete with the XC-F.
Why It Should Have Won
The strong, usable engine comes with suspension comfort that can’t be beat.
Why It Didn’t Win
There is a heavy feeling at low speeds and in tighter areas of the trail.
Third Place: Husqvarna FX 450
The Husqvarna FX 450 was a close third behind the Yamaha, only one point back. New to the Husqvarna lineup this year, the FX 450 incorporates the same changes the KTM went with for 2017, such as the disappearance of the WP 4CS spring fork and the emergence of the 48mm WP AER fork. Other smaller changes Husqvarna incorporated with the FX version is a top triple clamp that is slightly stiffer, the outer lower portion of the fork tube decreased 1mm, updated one-piece handlebar mounts, aluminum head stays (instead of steel), a softer rear shock (5.4 N/mm spring rate), and a multiswitch handlebar-mounted map and traction control unit. With all of these key changes Husqvarna made, the result is huge out on the track or trail. You might think that if the KTM finished first, why isn’t the Husqvarna at least second? Keep reading.
Having almost an identical engine to the KTM, the character of the Husky’s engine is different. One reason is the Husqvarna uses a carbon-composite airbox and its volume is smaller than that of the KTM. The FX 450 rolls on smoother off idle and doesn’t have quite the excitement the KTM does. When traction is prime, this hurts the Husky in sheer performance. When traction is not at an optimal level, the FX 450 shines and gets a little easier to ride in the lower rpm.
We had both of these types of conditions during our test, and most testers still preferred the KTM power character due to its playful low-end nature. The FX 450 pulls very strongly in the mid to upper part of the power but prefers to pull each gear longer rather than to be short-shifted. Some testers liked this, and some preferred to lug their machines more. Top-end and over-rev make the FX 450 a fun bike to let sing across any fast section of trail. Climbing steep, loose terrain is no match for second or third gears, as both will get you up almost anything. Being that the Husqvarna was much more controlled at low speeds, the TC button wasn’t used as much with testers. Some testers did like Map 2, as it gave the FX 450 more bottom-end pull, but they commented that it shortened the mid- to top-end pulling power more than they preferred.
The FX 450 suspension, although very comfortable, also had a soft nature to it, especially on a motocross track. On low-speed technical trails the fork worked great and soaked up very well all the impacts that the front end took. At faster speeds the fork moved too much in the stroke and would blow through and bottom more than we’d like. Adding a little air pressure to the WP AER fork helped but then hurt the low-speed comfort we loved so much. The balance was tricky, and it demanded more work to set up the front end on the Husqvarna than the bikes that finished in front of it.
The rear of the bike, although soft, also had a nice, comfortable feel to it on sharp square edges. It moved in the stroke but didn’t bottom as violently as the fork did. Stiffening up the high speed and slowing the rebound down helped this and, unlike the fork, didn’t cause an issue in other areas of the track or trail.
The light-feeling FX 450 chassis was well received by most of the testers on fast, choppy trails, but some said they felt a little headshake from the front end on occasion. Even when stiffening the fork the headshake didn’t improve or get worse. The Husqvarna will accommodate sudden line-change choices with ease with its lightweight feel and gives the rider the freedom to explore different lines on the track or trail. The steel frame is still one of the best bump-absorbing frames in the class, and there is the right amount of rigidity balance, along with that lightweight feeling, that gives riders confidence. We did notice the Husqvarna comes with a loose-feeling steering head (similar to the KTM), and most riders liked the feeling of the steering a little tighter like on other machines to help with headshake on faster terrain.
Although we didn’t sound-test the Husqvarna’s muffler, it’s definitely quieter than the KTM’s pitch. The profile of the FX 450 is flat and narrow and is super easy to move around on. However, Husqvarna managed to supply a seat that is like having little spikes on your rear end while you ride. While you stayed planted on acceleration you also got more skin irritation. We love the ProTaper handlebar bend on the FX 450, as the rider triangle (footpeg to seat to bar) on this machine fits a wide variety of riders. If you are looking for a little smoother power delivery than the KTM but want all the same high-quality parts like Brembo brakes, hydraulic clutch, and a very-easy-to-use handlebar ignition map switch, then the FX 450 would be a very wise weapon of choice.
Why It Should Have Won
The engine is smooth down low with tons of top-end/over-rev. A lightweight chassis feeling makes it easy to charge in tight sections of trail and/or move around on the track.
Why It Didn’t Win
The soft suspension needs more damping feel when riding aggressively. The throttle response/bottom-end feel needs more excitement.
Fourth Place: Honda CRF450RX
The Honda CRF450RX is an all-new machine that is based on the all-new CRF450R. The RX has the same chassis and engine as the R model but with a few key off-road specifics. The CRF450RX comes with revised cylinder engine hangers (for added flex), a revised ignition map for smoother power delivery, softer suspension settings, a 2.25-gallon plastic fuel tank (the R model’s is titanium), 50-tooth rear sprocket, 18-inch rear wheel, electric start, and Dunlop Geomax AT81 tires. The three bikes ranked above the Honda have had some time in this class, and for its first year in this shootout the CRF450RX finished fourth on almost every tester’s score sheet.
The Honda’s engine is very potent and can make for a very fun ride or a very tiring one depending on what type of rider you ask. The CRF450RX engine is very responsive at low rpm, and even on Map 2 (smoother map) can still be quite a handful on tight sections of the trail. In softer conditions or trying to climb up steep hills that same engine responsiveness is a welcome feeling. Midrange to top-end power rivals the KTM and Husqvarna. Second gear is surprisingly very usable and pulls far, while using third gear to lug the Honda around technical areas works well, too, with the CRF450RX’s strong engine package.
Over-rev is not quite as good as on the orange and white bikes, but it is slightly better than the blue machine’s over-rev. Most testers tried the aggressive mode and immediately went into Mode 1 or 2 (standard or soft). We would like to try a little heavier flywheel to get some added torque/chugging ability to where the rear tire feels more connected to the ground. The moto-esque, snappy engine gets to be too much to tame once the trail turns rocky and technical, especially when you begin to fatigue.
The suspension, although softer on the RX than the R, still feels moto inspired when riding on the trail. The 49mm Showa fork moves in its stroke, but most thought it moved too much in the stroke initially and rode in the middle/harsh part of the travel. We tried to remedy this by going both ways (softer and harder) to see if it affected the balance of the bike, but most testers agreed it still felt harsh over high-speed square edges and rocks going either way. Once through the middle part of the stroke the fork feels comfortable and can withstand hard impacts (like G-outs or steep jump transitions).
With the recommend sag of 105mm the rear of the bike feels on the firm side as well initially. Coming out of corners the rear of the bike wanted to bounce around and not return quick enough, so speeding up the rebound one to two clicks helped free up the shock. This let the rear wheel feel more connected to the ground when rolling on the throttle. Speeding up the rebound on the shock also helped its deflection and let the rear wheel bite harder when climbing hills with hidden rocks. The harder you ride the CRF450RX the better the suspension works, but for some novice testers they needed more comfort from both ends.
The Honda chassis is nimble and quick and is easy to get into corners and laid over quickly. Moving in and out of tight spots on the trail with ease was also a bright spot with the CRF450RX. We noticed a little headshake from the front end, so we dropped the fork from 5mm to 2mm in the clamp, and this calmed things down in the front end on faster, choppy trails. Doing this also didn’t hurt what we liked about the quick-handling feeling of the CRF450RX. Bump absorption of the Honda frame is on the firmer side, and this gives the sensation of a tighter, solid feel when the track or trail develops some sizable bumps in it.
Honda’s odd fuel tank shape had some testers feeling bowlegged when sitting on the bike. It didn’t affect them while standing, but some felt it made sticking their leg out somewhat difficult. While the others in front of it have oversize bars, the Honda still comes with a 7/8-inch 971 Renthal handlebar that bends easily. We wish the red bike would come stock with hand guards, as some testers hurt their paws while slapping trees on the trail. We do like the clutch action of the CRF450RX, and the lever pull is “one finger” easy, plus the throttle pull is much easier than that of the Yamaha. With some added comfort to the suspension and some minor tweaks to the ignition map settings for a smoother technical off-road setting, the Honda could be closer to the front of the pack.
Why It Should Have Won
It has a strong, exciting engine character along with moto-style cornering ability.
Why It Didn’t Win
Lack of suspension comfort in choppy conditions held it back.
Fifth Place: Beta 430 RR Race Edition
The Beta 430 RR-Race Edition is a very unique motorcycle that is improving with each passing year. It was hard to rank this bike in fifth place, and most testers who were familiar with Betas commented the Italian-made off-road motorcycle is getting easier to hop on and feel comfortable fairly quickly. Beta made some changes from its standard 430 model in 2017 and decided to offer the Race Edition that comes standard with 48mm Sachs closed-cartridge fork, Sachs shock, a quick-release front axle pull, flag-style hand guards, extra-wide billet-aluminum footpegs, dual-material rear sprocket, billet-aluminum chain-tensioner blocks and oil filler caps, seat pocket for enduro scorecards, black anodized rear brake and shift levers, and even some black Excel rims for the new year.
The Beta’s powerplant comes on smooth and calculated when raising the rpm. It is not slow, but its mellow power delivery didn’t get most test riders excited. The 430 gets great traction even with the less-desired Michelin FIM-spec Enduro rear tire. Midrange pulling power is where the Beta likes to be ridden, and it pulls second and third gears adequately. The six-speed gearbox spreads out nicely, but we usually were in the first four gears. The engine feels more like a 350, though less snappy with more pulling power. The lack of engine-braking was a welcome, free feeling when on and off the throttle.
You don’t see Sachs suspension every day, but this is the best Sachs suspension we can remember. Usually the damping on the fork and shock are inconsistent and fade somewhat when getting hot, but they seemed to improve this dramatically. What was an issue over the course of our test was the soft overall suspension feeling. The fork worked excellently when the trail had small chatter or square edges and soaked them up well, but hitting rocks or G-outs the fork would blow through too quickly. The shock reacted the same way; coming out of corners the rear of the bike squatted nicely and absorbed small chop but bottomed when pushed hard into whoops or steep jump face transitions. We tried stiffening both ends but noticed minimal hold-up and we began to feel more of the small stuff on the trail. This suspension would be great in the woods but wasn’t the right setup for this shootout.
The Beta chassis feeling is very stable at high speed considering how soft the suspension is. Also, for how heavy the bike reads on the scale it doesn’t correlate on the trail. It feels light and agile, and the only time you notice the weight is when you want to flick it around (or rear brake slide around a corner). The Beta loves front-end-steering riders and will oblige them with plenty of front-wheel traction when entering corners. However, some of our rear-end-steering riders commented that they actually liked the way the Beta entered and exited flat, loose corners. We do like the frame absorption of the steel frame, and the vibration was minimal coming through the handlebar.
You can go onto betausa.com and build your own 430 with some of Beta’s offerings in its BYOB (Build Your Own Bike) program. You pick the options you want and your bike is delivered to your local dealer how you ordered it. The Michelin FIM spec tires are not the best-feeling tires on lean angle, especially the rear tire. The consistency of the rear tire was hard to predict, and as good as the Race Edition put power to the ground, it could be better if Beta went with a taller knob pattern. The gas tank spout on our Beta was oblong and caused our gas cap to leak fuel when topped off. The Beta 430 RR got more than one best-looking-bike award nomination with its beautiful red, blue, and white color scheme. We feel like this could be a great West Coast racing machine if it had heavier fork and shock springs along with more low-end snap. Don’t let the ranking fool you, as with only a couple of personal modifications this could be a useful weapon in any off-road condition.
Much like the ribbon on the trail or the arrows pointing you in the right direction, this shootout was written to help you decide which machine will get you to that “checkered flag,” a.k.a. your local dealership. Every one of these machines has a standout quality, and that can be a useful tool to your individual riding style and riding preference. That said, the KTM came out on top in this shootout. It’s the whole package for that do-all bike, all while being both easy and fun to ride. If you’re like a lot of guys who want that moto bike but also find yourself having some trail fun or riding some high-speed events, take a good look at all these machines; one might be the perfect next bike for you.
|Best-Of Category Winners|
|Best Torque Feeling||Yamaha|
|Best Lightweight Feel||KTM/Husqvarna|
|Best Straight-Line Stability||Yamaha|
|Seat Height (in.)|
|Ground Clearance (in.)|
|Weight w/ Full Tank (lb.)|