Best 2016 450 Dirt Bikes Preview

Our preview of the 2016 450 MX Shootout

The 2016 450 Motocross Shootout is upon us, and the work has officially begun toward building out the massive seven-bike comparison. All of the new model intros for the 450s are complete, which means that the next phase for the best 2016 450 dirt bikes is logging 10 hours on each one prior to the shootout.

The reason that Dirt Rider puts equal time on each machine is that we do not get these bikes at the same time; for example, the Honda and Yamaha intros were relatively early in the summer, and the Kawasaki and Husqvarna just came to us in the last two weeks. If we simply began riding each bike without end when we got it, we'd go into the comparison with unequal amounts of time on each. 10 hours has proven to be the magic mark where everything feels good and broken in, so we've been working toward that benchmark while simultaneously working on settings for each model.

So far, the Yamaha was the first machine to reach the 10-hour mark, so that bike is parked back at the shop. This week's task was to get the Honda CRF450R, KTM 450 SX-F, Suzuki RM-Z450, and Kawasaki KX450F to 10 as well. The testing team took the bikes to Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR) in Palmdale, where the 450s ate up the sandy hills and big jumps. Our riders were stoked by how well the Suzuki cornered on flat terrain; it was easy to carve turns without a rut to push against. The Honda's engine character is still rider friendly and cornered well especially when ruts started to form. Our novice tester praised its lightweight feeling around the sandy circuit.

We were once again stoked on the KTM 450 SX-F’s motor, which is controllable down low and rips up top. The bike saw a minor hiccup early in the day when one of our testers came up a hair short on a big triple; we suspect that the already-plush fork blew through and caused the front tire to impact the bottom of the fender; there, sandwiched between the rigidity of the clamp and the landing, the spokes bent and actually broke an inch above the nipple (which is rare). Luckily, we had another KTM on hand and were able to borrow the front wheel for the day. Looking back, we know that the spokes were a proper tension and that the axle was tight, so this was likely just a freak impact where the wheel hit just wrong.

Fresh off the intro at Mt. Morris Raceway in Pennsylvania, the Kawasaki is still going through various settings as we work to find the ideal fork pressure setup for rough terrain. We used Showa’s new phone app to try and dial in the TAC fork and it helped some, but the front end still wanted to dive, when braking hard, coming into corners. We do like the Kawasaki’s lightweight front-end steering feeling more than last year’s rear end biased machine. The engine is more controllable down low when the track hardens up, but we will be playing with couplers come shootout time to try and get more excitement out of the green machine.

The other bikes in the comparison—the Husqvarna FC 450 and KTM 350 SX-F—will join the five mentioned above late next week for a final prep day, where we’ll be installing fresh Dunlop tires, new filters, and clean oil in each machine. From there, the bikes will be impounded until the shootout begins the following week. As usual, we’ve got several days planned at multiple locations. Keep up with the comparison of the best 2016 450 dirt bikes on our social sites, and be sure to grab the upcoming Dec/January double issue of the magazine for the full review.