2017 Yamaha YZ450F Review | First Ride

If It Isn’t Broke, Why Change It?

As you may all know by now the 2016 Yamaha YZ450F is a pretty darn good machine. It won our 450 MX Shootout by a good margin and you can see a sea of blue when you’re at any local moto track. For 2017 Yamaha focused on most of the changes to the 250F and pretty much let well enough alone on the 450F. There are a couple minor changes to the 2017 YZ450F that Yamaha felt would make a difference on the track: One is that the YZ450F comes standard with Dunlop MX3S tires (instead of MX52’s), a redesigned airbox that helps prevent contact with the quick-release quarter-turn Dzus air box fasteners, an updated rear brake rotor material that has better heat resistance for better braking feel, and finally BNG’s (Bold New Graphics) that are molded into the plastic.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
You will not see anything major to the eye when you are looking at the 2017 Yamaha YZ450F. A new set of tires, redesigned airbox, new rear brake rotor material, and BNG’s is what we get on the new blue machine.Photo by Heather Keefer

I happened to schedule my family vacation around the 4th of July long before Yamaha planned the 2017 YZ450F/250F intro at Glen Helen (which happened to fall on the same day I was gone), so I decided to work on my vacation and hold my own YZ450F intro in Colorado over several days (where I was vacationing). I went and rode six different tracks (all of them which had vastly different terrain) with the 2017 YZ450F to see if the small changes that Yamaha made helped or hurt the New Year blue model. So what did I find out? The only change that made a difference that was felt on the track was the Dunlop MX3S tires. This was a good move by Yamaha as the YZ450F corners far better with the MX3S tires than last years MX52’s. The front end has more bite and you feel like you’re a part of the track instead of having marbles underneath you. You see the MX52 tires were ok if you were riding blue groove, hard packed tracks only. Anything other than that type of terrain would leave you with minimal traction and a very vague feeling front and rear end. The MX52 tire is not consistent like the MX3S, with the 3S tire you will at least know where your rolling point or break of traction is. In the dirt bike world consistency is key and Yamaha just added a little more consistency with their motorcycle. I never noticed any difference in rear braking power as it still felt great when the rear brake got hot.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
Yamaha made the right choice by making Dunlop MX3S tires standard on the 2017 YZ450F.Photo by Heather Keefer

Some of you may have heard that some 2016 YZ’s have had some frame weld issues (near the head tube) and Yamaha re-assured us that the 2017 models have been addressed and that it is no longer a problem. We never had one weld failure on our 2016 YZ250F/450F test bikes and we have put over 100 hours on them each. So with all this being said if you are not familiar with the YZ450F, here is a breakdown of the machine on the track, some tips to help you get more comfortable, and basically what it’s like to ride the 2017 YZ450F.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
With the new MX3S tires the Yamaha has more front end bite, which helps improve cornering ability.Photo by Heather Keefer
2017 Yamaha YZ450F
MX3S tires on 2017 Yamaha YZ450FPhoto by Heather Keefer

Engine:

If you are looking for a fast yet rideable 450cc’d engine then you are in luck. The 2017 YZ450F produces big horsepower, but is very easy to ride. The bottom end pulls very smooth into a mid-range that is extremely strong. Using third gear isn’t a problem through corners with the 2017 YZ450F. The “Blue Bertha” will cater to lazy riders and energetic youngsters as well. Second gear works as well through very tight corners if you choose and will pull you down the next straight fairly far until you have to shift to third. Top end is pulls far and I only used fourth gear only very long straights. Third gear pulls so long that fourth gear seems to be only for very fast type GP style tracks. The Yamaha doesn’t have the over-rev like the KTM 450 SX-F, but it is not very far off either. There is a map that I have saved on the Yamaha Power Tuner for over a year on the YZ450F that will broaden the top end/over-rev and smooth out the roll on power, which works on almost every track I rode up in Colorado the past week (look for a photo of the map in this article). The 13/48 tooth gearing on the YZ450F is good, but if you prefer to get into third gear sooner use a 49 tooth rear sprocket and this will help.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
I made my way around several different tracks in Colorado (some private, some public) to put the 2017 YZ450F to the test. Minimal changes were done to get a comfortable setting on various types of terrain.Photo by Heather Keefer

Suspension:

It’s no surprise I am a huge fan of a spring fork. A spring fork is consistent out on the track and will not change vastly when putting in longer motos. The KYB SSS fork works well, period! It has comfort, hold up (damping), and will not give you a harsh feeling anywhere in the stroke. For my 170-pound frame I can ride fairly aggressively with the stock valving and spring rate. On braking bumps the fork will not dive excessively and the ride attitude of the YZ450F doesn’t give you that pitchy feeling. The shock works best at 100-102mm of sag and will give you great forward bite (rear wheel traction) out of corners. I was impressed by how I could get a little out of shape in deep sand whoops and the rear of the bike would work hard to keep you pointed straight. I did go a little softer on high-speed compression (a quarter of turn) to help the rear squat a little more on hard pack tracks. This is the best production suspension on any current motocross bike on the market today. Let’s hope Yamaha stays with the spring fork and further develops their settings for an even friendlier plush ride.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
Senior test editor Kris Keefer aboard the 2017 Yamaha YZ450FPhoto by Heather Keefer

Chassis:

The one question I get asked most about the YZ450F is “does it corner good”? The answer is “yes it does”. Does it corner like a Honda or Suzuki? No, it doesn’t. However, I think this is a good thing. To get a machine to corner as well as the Honda and Suzuki you will have to sacrifice some stability. The 2016 Hondas and Suzukis are not known for their straight-line stability. The Yamaha still has a little mid-corner heavy/push feeling, but you can help yourself and improve this by raising the fork up 4-5mm in the clamp. Doing this will help with cutting down off of a berm and will make the Yamaha lay into corners a little easier, without sacrificing too much stability. Yamaha likes to run their chain adjusters very far back in stock form so you will not have much room to work with once the chain stretches out, which will be around the 8-9 hour mark. It is important to make sure when you install a new chain on the YZ450F that you run the chain adjuster similar to where the stock position is. Running it up further forward will only hurt your straight-line stability and make the rear of the bike kick entering corners. Frame absorption on square-edge chop is pleasant and doesn’t feel harsh to the legs or hands. The frame change that Yamaha made to the YZ450F in 2016 really helped side-to-side movement under acceleration.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
If you’re hopping on a YZ450F for the first time it may feel wide through the middle of the bike, but feels light through the air.Photo by Heather Keefer

So can we really say the 2017 Yamaha YZ450F is better than the 2016? Let’s just say it is a refined version of its younger sibling. The Dunlop MX3S helps the bike in every aspect on the track. Installing a set of MX3S tires is something we usually did to our YZ450F immediately once we got it back to the office. It is going to be tough to beat this machine in the 2017 450 MX Shootout, that will be coming very soon. This is still one of my favorite bikes to ride in our test fleet. It handles great, is exciting to ride, has proven reliability, and always puts a smile on my face when I twist the throttle.

2017 Yamaha YZ450F
Raising the fork up 4-5mm in the clamp really helps the 2017 YZ450F lean into corners much easier.Photo by Heather Keefer
2017 Yamaha YZ450F
Here is a custom map that you can try on your 2016-2017 YZ450F. This will smooth out the bottom end and broaden the mid-top end range, for better pulling power.Photo by Heather Keefer