Best Motocross Bike 3rd Place—2020 KTM 450 SX-F

The orange bike rounds out the podium in the 2020 450 Motocross Shootout.

When KTM made significant changes to the frame, suspension settings, and cylinder head of the 450 SX-F in 2019, many expected it to be at or near the top of the shootout rankings. However, its more rigid chassis, harsh suspension setup, and mellow power delivery put it outside the top three in last year’s 450 Motocross Shootout. With room to improve, KTM enhanced the power delivery of its flagship motocrosser and found ways to make the suspension more supple, thereby lessening the frame’s stiff feel. The Austrian manufacturer’s efforts improved the 450 SX-F in comparison to last year, which enabled it to finish on the podium in this fiercely competitive class.

2020 KTM 450 SX-F Engine

The 450 SX-F churns out the most peak torque in the class with 33.7 pound-feet at 7,000 rpm. At 234 pounds, the KTM is the lightest bike in the class.
Left: The 450 SX-F churns out the most peak torque in the class with 33.7 pound-feet at 7,000 rpm. Right: At 234 pounds, the KTM is the lightest bike in the class.Jeff Allen

Before the comparison test got underway, we mounted a Dunlop D404 street tire on the rear wheel and ran the 450 SX-F on our in-house Dynojet dynamometer, where it cranked out 53.2 hp at 9,500 rpm, just 0.1 hp less than the Honda to rank it second in peak horsepower. The KTM is the best motocross bike in terms of torque, as it produced the most at peak with 33.7 pound-feet of torque at 7,000 rpm. We then mounted a fresh set of Dunlop MX33 soft-to-intermediate-terrain tires to ensure consistency in traction among the six competitors through the duration of the test.

The 450 SX-F has a long, predictable power delivery that is smooth and easy to control. It builds consistently with moderate bottom-end, good midrange, and excellent top-end and over-rev. KTM went up a tooth on the rear sprocket for 2020, and the new gearing is well matched to the power of the engine. The meat of the powerband is the top-end and over-rev; it and the Husqvarna can run the same gear the longest of all six bikes. The KTM engine is a touch stronger than the Husqvarna but builds power in the same linear manner as its not-so-distant relative. The Brembo hydraulic clutch works flawlessly, making it easy to manipulate the power of the orange machine and giving it a more precise overall feel.

The 450 SX-F produces 53.2 hp at 9,500 rpm, which is just 0.1 hp less than the Honda CRF450R.
The 450 SX-F produces 53.2 hp at 9,500 rpm, which is just 0.1 hp less than the Honda CRF450R.Robert Martin

With two maps that can be changed via the switch on the left side of the handlebar and traction control, which can be used in either map, the 450 SX-F offers some of the easiest and most functional tuning in the class. KTM improved map 2 for 2020, making it more aggressive and more powerful overall, while map 1 is the same as last year. However, its throttle response is still not as crisp as the Kawasaki, Yamaha, or Honda, and it doesn’t rev as quickly as those three bikes either. Traction control is useful when the track goes away and becomes drier and slicker later in the day. The KTM is the second-quietest bike in the test, just a little bit louder than the Husqvarna.

2020 KTM 450 SX-F Suspension

The KTM has a good engine, much better suspension settings than last year, and is fun to ride. However, it’s still being held back because of its air fork and slightly rigid chassis.
"The KTM has a good engine, much better suspension settings than last year, and is fun to ride. However, it's still being held back because of its air fork and slightly rigid chassis." —Allan BrownJeff Allen

The settings of the Xact suspension components are a huge improvement over last year, especially the fork. The biggest advantage the air fork has is the ability to adjust the air pressure for different weights, skill levels, and riding styles. The stock air pressure is 10.5 bar; pro riders increased it to 10.7 bar, while Vet A and novice-level test riders either left it stock or set it just slightly less than standard at 10.4 bar. Once they found the air pressure setting they liked, fine-tuning was done via the compression and rebound adjusters.

With the stock settings, the fork is good and offers a decent amount of comfort in the initial part of the stroke. It is a little busy, but can be noticeably improved with adjustments such as stiffening the rebound, which also helps cornering. Test riders who lowered the air pressure stiffened the compression to help with bottoming control on big hits, and it also reduced pitching. On the other hand, the pro-level riders who increased the air pressure were able to soften the compression to find the ideal amount of comfort they were looking for as well. While the fork setting is undoubtedly improved for 2020, it still does not offer as much plushness or comfort as the Kawasaki and Yamaha.

The Xact air fork on the KTM and Husqvarna work for a variety of riders of different sizes and skill levels, and hit all the tunable marks, but just don’t offer the same feel as a spring fork.
"The Xact air fork on the KTM and Husqvarna work for a variety of riders of different sizes and skill levels, and hit all the tunable marks, but just don't offer the same feel as a spring fork. Even with a revalve, time, and testing, they're still air and a constant (mandatory) adjustment to check and set." —Casey CasperJeff Allen

The shock is well matched to the fork and offers slightly less comfort than the Husqvarna due to its stiffer setting and the difference in subframe materials between the two bikes. The orange machine’s bump absorption on acceleration is tolerable, but not quite as good as the Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Husqvarna either.

2020 KTM 450 SX-F Chassis/Handling

The 450 SX-F is very predictable and easy to ride. I never felt out of control on it and the stability is great. I also like the rigidness of the front of the bike; it provides a lot of feeling when entering corners.
"The 450 SX-F is very predictable and easy to ride. I never felt out of control on it and the stability is great. I also like the rigidness of the front of the bike; it provides a lot of feeling when entering corners." —Tanner BassoJeff Allen

The 450 SX-F is the lightest bike in the class at 234 pounds, and the low reading on the scale translates to the track as it feels light while riding it and is easy to make direction changes on. It’s similar to the Honda in terms of ease of maneuverability, but not quite as much in that direction. It has a great combination of being able to corner with surgical precision and possessing good straight-line stability as well. It works well with 104mm to 105mm of sag, and like last year, the chassis still feels fairly rigid, namely the front of the bike. Some pro-level test riders like the amount of feedback it provides, but most would prefer a softer feeling from the chassis; raising the fork in the triple clamps to put more weight on the front end is one way to somewhat alleviate it. While the chassis stiffness is noticeable like it was on the 2019 model, the improved suspension settings help disguise it much better.

The KTM’s ergonomics are very good. The radiator shrouds are slim and have a straight profile as they protrude outward. The bike feels narrow between the rider’s legs, which makes it easy to go from sitting to standing. The seat is flat, easy to move around on, and very comfortable. The Neken handlebar is wide and can take some time to get used to; it’s also stiffer than the ProTaper bar that comes on the Husqvarna and therefore does not offer as much flex and comfort, which is most noticeable on abrupt, square-edged bumps. The KTM and Husqvarna share Brembo brakes, which are the best and most powerful on all of the bikes. The ODI lock-on grips that are standard on the KTM and Husqvarna are the best in the class as well.

The KTM has a very broad power delivery, a phenomenal Brembo hydraulic clutch, and lots of tunability with two maps and traction control.
"The KTM has a very broad power delivery, a phenomenal Brembo hydraulic clutch, and lots of tunability with two maps and traction control. While the mapping is improved for 2020, it still doesn't have as crisp of a throttle response as the Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Honda." —Andrew OldarJeff Allen

Why The 2020 KTM 450 SX-F Should Have Won

It’s the lightest bike in the class and one of the best handling with its nimble feel and good straight-line stability. It also has a good engine that pulls in the higher rpm longer than most, along with a fantastic hydraulic clutch, the strongest brakes, and traction control.

Why The 2020 KTM 450 SX-F Didn't Win

The chassis is a bit too rigid, the suspension doesn’t have as much comfort as the Kawasaki and Yamaha, and the engine doesn’t offer as much bottom-end power or as crisp of a throttle response as the Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Honda.

Gearbox

The 2020 KTM 450 SX-F is significantly improved over the 2019 model and moved up two positions in the shootout rankings from last year.
The 2020 KTM 450 SX-F is significantly improved over the 2019 model and moved up two positions in the shootout rankings from last year.Jeff Allen