Jesse Ziegler - 2008 450 Off-road Opinions - Dirt Rider Magazine

Here's how the 2008 450 Off-road bikes line up in my garage:
I'd go with the Yamaha if I was going to blast across the desert or pound a GP course. I'm not sure you can build a better motor than the WR450 with its strong pull and never-ending top end. It's easy to ride at slow speed and has plenty of zip to get the blood pumping. Ergonomics are pleasing and the bike has a quality build. Also, the suspension does a great job of combining plush with bottoming resistance, especially the shock. However, its negatives include a grabby clutch engagement and a top-heavy feel. These no-nos can be a pain in the tailpipe when the going gets tight and I start cooking single-track trails like a pound of bacon. I'm still not getting these aluminum frames to flex like I want. But in the open, the WR is money, money, money. Stable, fast and well spent money.When I start in the open and get to the tight stuff, I'm almost always wishing for the orange bike. The KTM 450 XCRW is a do-it-all ride like we're beginning to expect from the XC's. My favorite aspects of the bike are the comfortable ergonomics, the strong motor and the best transmission ratios in the class. Everyone fits on a KTM, if you don't, the bike will adjust to fit you. The motor is great, everywhere you could possibly ride it thanks to the linear delivery and, maybe more-so, to the gear spacing. The 6th gear is a godsend when blasting down a powerline road and the cogs from 1-5 are spaced perfectly. Suspension action isn't as plush and is set up for more aggressive riders or those not looking to sit down a lot. Also, this bike is decent on a MX track. Where this bike doesn't shine is when you get lazy. The KTM likes to be ridden, and ridden hard, get lazy and the comfort level drops drastically as the bike will deflect and the seat will wear you out.The Honda CRF450X is the sassy stepbrother to the CRF450R. The motor is zippy, fast and fun. And the suspension isn't the plush-tastic off-road set you'd expect from the heaviest of red 450s: It's fairly aggressive. The most notable change over last years' model is the addition of the steering damper and the new offset front end. I, personally, crank the damper in to the max and enjoy the resistance in the corners. The bike really likes to turn sharp and if you're on your game, you'll swear you're on a motocross bike. The bike isn't plush, necessarily, and resists bottoming decently. The suspension is more moto than off-road feeling. This is a race bike, really. It's great fun in the faster GP style courses or even enduro-style loops. Did I mention the motor is zippy? Pay attention when you're riding this bike, it will pull hard enough to surprise you into the rear fender. It has a torquey initial pull that wakes you up. It's the most-aggressive power delivery in the bunch. Somehow, it still gets traction, though. And that puts this powerplant at the top of the class, for sure. I'm not excited about the front brake on the Honda as it seemed to fade after a few days of testing and I really want to stretch out the distance between the handlebar and the footpeg.The Kawasaki KLX450 proved to be the silent and soft beast in this bunch. It has a soft nature all around, from the seat to the suspension to the power delivery. The bike sounds slower than it is but isn't going to win any drag races against the other animals in this cage. The bike likes to lug and torque more than rev and really is the most fun grunting around instead of blitzing wide-open. The cockpit is neutral, feeling a bit cramped in the bar, which I associate with the wider tank and protruding shrouds. It's easy to grip with your knees and the seat is best in class by far. Our Long Haul KLX has proven versatile to say the least. -- Jesse Ziegler/ 5' 10" ,175 lb./New Vet Intermediate

Racing several of the 450 off-road bikes at Glen Helen's SRA GP gave me a pretty good insight into how these machines perform. I started off the day on the Honda CRF450X and was immediately impressed with the aggressive punch of the motor. For an off-road bike, this thing did pretty well on the MX track! The hit felt good and strong, and the bike pulled hard up the steepest, deepest hills on the course. Cornering was decent, and aside from a bit of wallowing in the suspension through chop my biggest complaint is the fact that I would often misjudge the transmission and downshift a gear too low in corners, often sending my hips into the bars as a reminder. And while I'm complaining, I wasn't a fan of the mushy feel that the brakes took on after a few miles of abuse. Ergonomically, though, the CRF fits me like a glove; I grip pretty hard with my knee braces, and the Honda has several perfect spots on the plastic to do so.Switching off mid-race to the KTM, I could have used some suspension adjustment-a few clicks quicker on the fork rebound and about two turns out on the shock spring, to be exact. The front end held somewhat of a dead, stuck-in-the-stroke feel when dropping into and out of braking bumps, and I would have liked to take some of the weight off the front wheel as well. Still, I couldn't help but notice how much traction the KTM rear wheel likes to grab, nor could I ignore the consistency of the bike's turning habits, especially when leaned over a little. In contrast to the Honda, the KTM's brakes were much more resistant to fading, although the stock handlebar bend takes some getting used to and the tank isn't as easy to pinch. Motor-wise, big orange has plenty of bark and snap, and the gearing felt well suited to the terrain I was riding (I didn't even hip-check the bars one time!).As for the Kawasaki, the first noticeable trait of the KLX is how stinking well that bike handles on mildly rough terrain. Flat corners are great, ruts are a breeze and small bumps aren't a problem; get to the big stuff, though, and you can feel the weight of the bike working against you. I wasn't super happy with the front tire either, given the weak-feeling shoulder knob that would push to a certain point and then simply give out; I hit the deck pretty hard from that one. Ironically though, crashing the KLX reminded me of how much I like the electric start, even if the bike is finicky when cold. When it comes to the motor, racing this bike brings out the fact that it is just a bit too "slow", lacking in hit and overall pull compared to the Honda and KTM. But then again, don't I always preach about how 450ccs of power is more than enough for anybody? Depending on your riding style and racing needs, the rideability of the Kawasaki just might be your thing. As for me, I'd pop for orange or red if I were to go do another GP like this one. -Chris Denison/ 5'10"/ 155 lb. / Intermediate

The first thing that I liked about the WR is the smooth strong motor. It's soft off the bottom then picks up and throws the pony's down through the mid and top. It is very easy to ride. The second thing that I liked is the plush suspension. It's soft and supple in the initial part of the stroke then transitions well into the mid and bottom of the stroke. There's good movement and tracks very well on the small hard pack chop. The third thing is how well the bike fits my medium build. The peg, seat, and bar positioning are in a good neutral location. The bike feels narrow and is easy to maneuver around on.I didn't like that it is a little top heavy making it hard to maneuver in some of the tight switchback areas on the trail. Second, is that it could have a little bit more bottoming resistance. When there is an emergency ditch or a random deep whoop. The frame hits the ground and becomes very unstable. The third thing is the throttle response. When lugging the bike around hard packed slippery turns or running a higher gear in a slower section. If you grab some throttle there is a hesitation.KTM450XCW
I liked the six speed transmission. Being able to ride the bike a gear higher at high speeds gives less engine drag and makes the bike more stable at high speeds. The second thing is the suspension stability in deep high speed rollers. The shock has good movement is calm with no lifting. The third thing is the power to gear ratio. The bike is smooth and easy to ride. It has plenty of horsepower and the perfect gear ratio to match and pulls any gear.The thing that I didn't like about the bike is the width. I felt that the tank seemed a little wide down low and was a little hard to reach the foot controls. The second thing was the seat--still firm and is not a comfy ride when its time to sit down.KLX450F
The thing I liked best about the KLX was how roomy the bike felt. It was easy to maneuver around on the bike and get a hold of the controls to set up for any type of terrain that is thrown at you. I also liked how aggressive you could get on the bike. This bike may be for more of an aggressive riding style. It was still plush, but you can attack the rougher sections as if you were on an MX bike.One thing that i didn't like about the KLX is the gear ratio. The spacing between 3rd and 4th gear was a little to much, and I felt the bike lacked the power to pull it. It felt like it had to many bolt on motor restrictions. It seemed like there was power in there somewhere, it was just restricted. The other thing that i didn't like about the bike was the start button. It's not in a fixed position on the throttle housing which takes up more room on the bar for hand guards and things. The start buttons that are on the throttle housing are more convenient for starting them as well.CRF450X
The Honda feels like more of a moto bike compared to the rest of the bikes in the field. The suspension has a firmer feel which worked well for me in the more technical rougher sections. I was confident in trying to jump across something knowing that I wasn't going to blow through the stroke and have a harsh landing.That also relates to the motor. The bike had a snappier feel like an MX bike, which is good for those last minute line selections. Helps you get to where you need to be on the trail. I also like how nimble and easy it was to maneuver the bike around in the tighter slower sections of the trail. But at the same time the front end felt light and twitchy at higher speeds. Especially in the sand. Another thing that I didn't like was how high the foot pegs feel compared to the seat. The bike feels a little to cramped for my style.
Tyler Ruiz 5'9"/180lb/ B rider

Choosing between any of these bikes, you'd be best to know what you were going to be doing with the bike. If you do a bit of everything, like I tend to do, then they all work but two better than the others. I'm personally torn between the Honda and the KTM. I lean towards the Honda for it's new light feel and agility, plus a motor that is snappy and responsive while still being friendly when it needs to be. Even on the MX track, the X was surprisingly good. It runs like that straight from the dealer and in the hundreds of hours I've put on CRFXs I've never had a mechanical issue. But I don't hit the rev limiter or let my bikes suck dirt past the air filter either. I'd definitely have to get a bigger tank and I wish for the 6-speed of the KTM out in the desert.The KTM would be a solid choice mostly because it will do everything well and suffers very little no matter where you are riding or racing, with the exception of the MX track and KTM makes the XC for that. The power is buttery smooth and then it really comes alive up in the spread, it is clearly the fastest bike here. I'll bet these motors will run forever and I know the chassis stays tight for a long time. I miss the lights and I think the muffler could be a little quieter, but those are small issues easily fixed.Between these two bikes it comes down to how much track time I'm planning on putting in. More track time means the more I prefer the Honda.If I were just trail riding I'd seriously consider the Kawasaki. It feels fast and is friendly, and so quiet! It has the plushest suspension for the more relaxed pace and you can sit down and have a blast, not a sore ass. And the WR is definitely at home if you are riding faster and more open terrain. I was surprised at how many of our testers liked this bike so much on our desert ride. Just know that you have to fiddle with it a bit to get the bike running up to par.Jimmy Lewis 5'10"/185 lb A Rider