Romain Febvre's World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM

Hail To The King

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
The MX1 champ’s Factory Yamaha YZ450FM is a true work of motocross art.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Late last year, while Ryan Dungey was busy wrapping up the 2015 Lucas Oil AMA Motocross title in America, a storm was blazing across Europe by way of the 2015 FIM Motocross World Championship. Considered the toughest and deepest season in FIM history, the 2015 series saw several top racers in an all-out fight for the title, with the only certainty being that whoever came away with the MXGP gold plate was going to have to work for it. But as the rounds went by, one 23-year-old Frenchman rose above the rest to become the champ. Just like that, Romain Febvre was the king of the MX world.

Shortly after the season wrapped up, Dirt Rider got an incredible last-minute offer from the Yamaha Factory Racing Yamalube team. To paraphrase, it said: “Come to Italy and test Febvre’s bike. Tomorrow.” As the unofficial European ambassador for DR’s testing squad, I was called into action to fly to the famed Dorno, Italy motocross track to complete the evaluation. So quick was the turnaround that my e-ticket didn’t arrive in my inbox until I was on my way to the airport, but before I knew it I was in the land of pasta and wet dirt, staring down one of the trickest machines I have ever laid eyes on.

Romain Febvre's World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
Febvre's championship-winning Yamaha may have started life as a stock YZ450F, but the finished product is an incredibly trick, borderline priceless version of the blue MXer.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

The Royal Engine

Febvre’s bike began life as a stock Yamaha YZ450F, but the finished product is nothing like the stock platform it once was. Of course, the heart and soul of the championship-winning steed is the engine. The bike’s internal motor modifications are confidential, but speaking to team owner, Michele Rinaldi, I learned that the team progressed through the 2015 season with a three stage motor 'improvement' package at three key points of the season. These changes were introduced after extensive testing for reliability and output as both the bikes and riders upped their pace and strength through the torturous MXGP season. With Romain being a rookie in the 450 MX1 class in 2015 (he aged up after finishing 3rd in the 2014 MX2 World Championship), this factory bike was specifically molded to allow this young man to develop strength and confidence in the big bike class. Obviously, this worked out well for the team—Febvre not only scored the World Championship but an MXON overall as well—and it would seem that less can be more in some instances, with the various stages of the motor’s tune providing a seamless transition up to the 450’s full potential.

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
The Factory Yamaha squad progressed through the 2015 season with a three stage motor 'improvement' package at three key points to help Febvre gradually get used to the incredible performance of this machine.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

The electric start-equipped engine package consists of factory 'secret internals' with the head being clinically modified from stock, different cams, a special piston, a complete Hinson clutch, and a unique four-speed factory gearbox. Larger radiators and a 2.0 radiator cap keep the flow going to the engine and help manage the internal temps at full speed. Akrapovic took care of the YZ450FM’s exhaust needs with fine titanium engineering and a touch of personalization thrown into the mix. The GET ignition and all areas of mapping are tuned and set in house. Interestingly enough, Romain used a five-speed gearbox for the North America MXGP at Glen Helen, and this was the bike that Yamaha chose to offer us to test (note: the engine was in the ‘third stage’ of the improvement plan at this point).

Romain Febvre's World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
You know you’ve made it when your name is on the side of a full-titanium exhaust system.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

The team’s stepped-approach to tuning proves just how organized (and impressive) the factory program is; not only did the engine techs introduce the mods at pre-planned points throughout the season, but they were the right times to do so. The Factory Yamaha team has evolved an all-around element of precision, a product of competing at the top of their game for so many years. This evolution has extended into the ever-changing world of electronics, which seems to be working hand-in-hand with every mechanical tweak. For every new piece of ‘hardware’ that graced the engine, the EFI also received ‘software’ changes to absolutely maximize performance. This level of development requires massive investment on the team’s part, and it truly is a full factory effort to produce such a package as what we had the privilege of testing in Northern Italy.

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
DR test rider Geoff Walker described Febvre's machine as the most trick bike he had ever tested—and Walker has tested a lot of great bikes!Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Your Majesty's Chassis

Across the board, this Yamaha’s chassis and hard parts are all one big work of art with maximum performance in mind. From front to rear this bike oozes class and durability, and you can tell that the team’s engineers left no stone unturned in their collective quest to maximize the bike’s ability to finish every single moto. The full factory KYB Air fork and KYB shock are closely monitored in house with every technical aspect running closely with the KYB factory. The stock frame—and several key frame angles—is modification-ready through a specially designed factory swingarm to help with traction, as well as longer wishbones that lower the rear of the bike. The link arms run a rear start device that is available if Febvre chooses to use it at any track.

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
The factory KYB Air fork is, in a single word, faultless. Hard landings, chop, big hits, hills, and hard braking all failed to phase the front end.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

The X-Trig triple clamps have a wider clamping surface than stock and are things of complete beauty. Attached to them, the WRP bar has an old school, low-slung feel; Febvre runs them in a rear-of-neutral position. The incredible turning ability of the bike in the hands of its factory rider has been on display all season long, so for the test I chose to leave the bike exactly as RF runs it (including the funky handlebar setup). This Yamaha’s hydraulic clutch with its 'tall' chamber extension has been a key part on the factory bikes for a few years now, and the feel at the lever is very positive. Febvre’s brakes are Braking discs bolted to Kite hubs with a 280mm front and a smaller-than-stock 220mm rear disc—a product of the team looking for weight savings in unique areas. Coming from a Supermoto background, Febvre’s rear brake is really only used for steering. Also out back, the carbon fiber subframe is an amazing unit, though it has to compete for ‘trickest part on the bike’ with the full titanium bolt arrangement, footpegs, and footpeg mounts.

Romain Febvre's World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
Yes, that’s a carbon fiber subframe. No, the factory team does not give these away after the race.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Fit For A King

Given the countless hours that the team has invested into making a machine of this level, there is definitely an emotional connection between bike and rider that is an absolute honor to experience. A World Motocross Champion’s Factory Yamaha is, of course, a very special bike, and you can feel its quality from the first tap of the electric start. The smooth motor filled me with confidence the second the knobbies hit the dirt on the amazing Dornoland track, with the perfect acceleration serving as a reminder that this engine led an incredible 158 laps in the MXGP season. Usually, a test rider’s job is to ask questions of an engine, but I felt as though the power character was asking questions of me as it begged to be taken into every realm of its delivery. In my first laps, I tried everything I could—to bog the motor, to over-rev it, to brake hard and then roll the power on—and yet this engine breathed perfectly in every little test that I gave it.

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
Like a gentle giant, this motor rolled on smoothly with its power and kept pulling aggressively without getting too scary.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

The biggest surprise was not just in the perfect tuning, but the fact that the power remained supremely easy to control (a possible throwback to Febvre’s Supermoto-born preference of maintaining perfect traction). Yes, when and if I asked for the ultimate serving of speed, Febvre’s bike had the ability to deliver more overall ponies than I could ever use. Yet like a gentle giant, this motor rolled on smoothly with its power and kept pulling aggressively without getting too scary. To say this is possibly the sweetest delivery of any bike I have ridden in my 12 years of testing would not be a falsehood. This motor delivered a perfect amount of power, which I felt would always help—and never hinder—its pilot.

As you may be able to tell from the photos, I am a large human. Romain, on the other hand, is a full factory, ultra-fast racing whippet, so of course the YZ450FM is fully set for his weight and body size. I could fit onto the bike without many problems, with only the seat hump and low clamp/bar setup reminding me that this machine was tuned for a smaller guy. When dropping into the correct place for the turns on this bike, the chassis almost took care of itself, as the bike would settle into any berm, line, or rut with practiced ease. Cornering was an effortless endeavor, and the smooth power only highlighted this natural feel. The high degree of traction that the bike maintains—coupled with a fantastic balance in both low and high-speed turns—made me feel like I was flying with minimal effort or exertion.

The factory KYB Air fork is, in a single word, faultless. Hard landings, chop, big hits, hills, and hard braking all failed to faze the incredible progression, comfort, and raw performance of the front end; never before have I experienced such an incredible setup. Going into this test, I thought that the engine would have been the single biggest surprise of the entire experience, but now I can see that while the power is incredible, Febvre’s fork just might be the most magical component on this Yamaha. While the front end had great feel and liked to ride high in the stroke, the shock was a couple of clicks away from perfection. Initially, I felt a bit of bottoming under heavy rollers, but I must also admit that I definitely outweigh the diminutive Frenchman. A few added clicks of compression would have made the rear end feel nearly as perfect as the front.

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
While the front end had great feel and liked to ride high in the stroke, the shock was likewise just a couple of clicks away from perfection.Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Oddly enough, I adapted to the low feel of the handlebar fairly quickly, and it wasn’t but a few laps before I had become perfectly comfortable with the controllable brakes, the smooth-as-silk clutch, and the altogether tight and tidy feel of the entire package. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and while I would have gladly ridden this bike until the sun went down, the team kindly asked that I complete my evaluation and park the bike before I put too much time on the factory-tuned engine. Overall, Febvre’s bike left me with an inspired feeling in that it showed me what a 100% friendly machine looks like. Yes, the YZ450FM has incredible power, but shining brighter than the raw speed was the fact that it does nothing out of control. This package, as proven, can be ridden hard for the entire duration of an MXGP moto, giving the rider zen-like control for every second of every lap. This, of course, culminates in the now-real possibility of a 2015 FIM Motocross World Championship win. Congratulations to the Yamaha Factory Team—and Romain Febvre—on not only building such an amazing machine, but also in riding the YZ450FM to what I am sure is its full potential.

Romain Febvre World Championship-Winning Factory Yamaha YZ450FM
We are honored to have received the opportunity to ride this amazing machine. Huge props to Yamaha for the exclusive invitation!Photo courtesy of Yamaha