- Bike Checks
2017 Husqvarna FC 450 vs. KTM 450 SX-F vs. Honda CRF450R vs. Suzuki RM-Z450 vs. Yamaha YZ450F vs. Kawasaki KX450F vs. KTM 350 SX-F
Are you looking at making a big purchase soon? Say, for example, a new 450? Are you struggling with the decision on which one you should get? Well then, you've come to the right place. Welcome to Vital MX's 2017 450 Shootout!
As always, you'll get to examine our test rider's comments on each of the seven models we tested in this comparison. Our goal is to give you clarity on the bikes and aspects they agree on; and shine a spotlight on where they disagree to show you how each model against different riding styles, weights, and overall opinions. Every rider is required to spend an equal amount of time on each bike before being allowed to revisit bikes they needed more time on to help narrow down their results and give clarity. Also, each rider is tasked with answering one simple question. "Which bike would you take home in stock form, with what we're able to do with them out of the box and the adjustments available."
If you're looking for a refresher on what's new with each model, you can find the technical info in our First Looks, and our initial ride comments in our First Impressions. First Looks cover the press releases and technical data of each bike, while the First Impressions are our initial test of each model. They're listed in order by MSRP, from most expensive to least expensive.
First Look • First Impressions •
First Look • First Impressions •
First Look • First Impressions •
First Look • First Impressions •
First Look • First Impressions •
First Look • First Impressions •
Below you'll find two charts, the first being a horsepower overlay from all the models and second you'll see an overlay chart for all the torque figures. All the dyno figures are produced from bikes in their standard engine mapping, but some models in this test produce more power or different curves in the optional maps.
Due to a glitch, the KTM 350 SX-F isn't in this overlay. This will be fixed by tomorrow, so please check back if you're interested in how the 350 did in the numbers game.
(Click to expand the charts.)
If you want to check out each bike's individual chart, including the torque measurements, click here: 2017 450 Shootout - Individual Dyno Charts.
Since 2016, our dyno services have been provided by Race Tech. Mostly known for their suspension services, Race Tech now also has a full range of engine performance services.
Our weighing system was done in a fairly simple manner, with all bikes weighed full of fuel and ready to ride. The numbers below are rounded to the nearest full number.
Below you'll find the finishing position for each bike, listed from last to first place. Inside each result you'll find how the personal scores added up, which reflects that model's finishing position. Each rider ranks the bikes from first to seventh, then we add up these scores and the lowest total number wins. After we get past the shock and awe of the results, you'll find each rider's individual results, along with their personal rankings.
Scores: 6-5-6-7-7-6-6 = 43
Scores: 7-6-7-6-3-5-5 = 39
Scores: 3-7-5-5-6-7-3 = 36
Scores: 5-2-4-4-5-4-7 = 31
Honda 2-3-1-3-4-1-4 = 18
Scores: 1-4-2-2-1-3-2 = 15
Scores: 4-1-3-1-2-2-1 = 14
Name: Robby Bell / Age: 31
Height: 6' 0" / Weight: 165 lbs.
Riding Experience: Professional Motocross and Off-Road
Seventh Place: KTM 350 SX-F
There’s absolutely no denying the KTM 350 SXF is a blast to ride, and the seventh-place finish has nothing to do with it being a poorly set up or even uncompetitive in the 450 class. But for me, staying true to the grading system (if I were racing the next day in stock trim, what would I choose) I just couldn’t bump the 350 up the ladder. The bike is exactly what you’d expect out of a 350: It’s underpowered compared to the 450s, but not so much that you feel absolutely outgunned. Plus, the smaller power output makes the bike feel that much lighter and flickable. The 350 SX-F has all of the bright points of its bigger brother, the 450 SX-F. It has outstanding braking power, a very usable hydraulic clutch, confidence-inspiring suspension action and a chassis that work very well together; but on a hilly or sandy track, I just felt that it would be a disadvantage racing that bike against a class of 450s in the pro ranks. If speaking purely from fun factor, things would have been a bit different as this bike would likely rise up my list a couple spots.
When it comes right down to it, this is a great bike to throw around your local track for a good weekend on the bike. But for me, when it comes to lining up on the gate, I would still choose a 450.
Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
Honestly, I was genuinely impressed with the power the Suzuki offered, even after all these years. I actually didn’t remember it having that much power the previous year...but for me, I would have still liked a bit more pull down low. It carries quite well through the mid and upper ranges, but it just needs more snap right off the bottom. Now where the Suzuki falls short for me is that it just has the feel of an outdated bike. That’s an easy statement to make as the bike hasn’t had any revolutionary updates in a few years, but on track it feels a little heavy compared to its competition (even though it still corners well). Also, the brakes feel like they’re the weakest in the class, and the front end (like last year) still has a very harsh and twitchy feel to it. I will say that before I got up to speed the chassis and suspension actually felt really plush, but as soon as I started pushing the bike harder, the harshness and twitchiness in the front end crept in. This was really noticeable under braking, as the fork got deep into its travel. We ended up going up on the air pressure in the forks, in an attempt to keep them up in the travel and off the harsh spot in the fork valving. This helped with a bit more comfort and gained a little more predictability out of them. But the issues feel more like either frame geometry, or internal valving in the fork, maybe a combination of both.
The tighter the track, the more the Suzuki shines. But on a more natural terrain track and at higher speeds, the bike frankly just isn’t as good as the others ahead of it. It feels twitchy and outdated in stock trim, but it was still good enough for Roczen in the outdoors last year, with modifications, of course...
Fifth Place: Yamaha YZ450F
To put it bluntly, I think the Yamaha is finally feeling its weight in a class that's striving for a physically lighter and thinner feel on the track. The YZ450F is still a great bike, but on fairly blown-out track without a lot of immediate traction, the blue bike felt like a bit more work to ride than the others ahead of it on my list. Having said that, the bike doesn’t do anything poorly, the problem is that it doesn’t do anything that absolutely stands out, either. The motor is very strong, feeling a bit like the KTM 450 SX-F to me, but with a bit more hit. As far as power delivery goes, all the bikes in the class are pretty strong now, so now the rideability goes quite a bit further in the 450 class than sheer power. As far as the suspension goes, the YZ was set up pretty well for me and didn’t do anything odd, but it also wasn’t the most comfortable bike to ride. Like so many of the motocrossers these days, the fork suffered from a bit of harshness, but the shock stood out to me as needing to absorb a bit better. We tried a few suspension adjustments, which improved the bike and maybe it’s the heavier feel of the bike, or maybe it’s the valving of the shock, but I was never fully happy with the tracking feel of the rear end. When it comes to the weight of the bike, I don’t think it’s drastically heavier than the other models in the class, but on track it feels like a whale. I think this comes from a combination of the wider shroud area and the physical weight combined, as the bike just feels a little girthy. You definitely feel that weight in the corners, especially where it feels like it takes some work to lean the bike into a rut or berm. The blue machine also still has that semi-vague front end feel at times, which you can compensate for by steering the bike a little more with the middle or rear of the bike. Taking some of the dependency off the front end to guide you through the corners helps.
All-in-all, the Yamaha is still a great bike, and has potential to be fantastic, but for me it needs to go on a bit of a diet, and improve the front end feel as well.
Fourth Place: Husqvarna FC 450
As close as the podium positions were for me, the fight for fourth was equally close between the Husqvarna and the Yamaha, although the two are somewhat polar opposites when it comes to characteristics of the bikes. What put the Husky in fourth for me, was that the bike was a little more nimble and easier to ride than the Yamaha. Compared to the top three on my list, the FC feels a little more like it’s set up for the vet track than a national level pro track, which isn’t a bad thing at all. But for me, the bike felt too soft straight away, and wallowed around a bit initially during my sessions. Six clicks stiffer on the compression of the fork helped keep the front end from diving as much for my riding style, but then it started to get a little harsh and lost the plushness that is one of the Husky’s bright points. Motor-wise, as well, the bike seemed a bit mellower than the other bikes and I felt that I wanted to ride it more like a 350, keeping it in the upper part of the mid and into the top range of the power curve, to make the best use of its power at my level. As we’ve come to expect, the Brembo brakes were great (the rear was a little touchy compared to the other brands, but easy to adjust for after a couple laps), and then there’s that sweet, sweet hydraulic clutch.
For me, the FC450 wasn’t quite the aggressive feel I’d like out of a race bike, but that’s not the bike’s personality. It’s built a little more for comfort than for speed and it’s very easy to ride, especially during long sessions. Had this shootout been about the best vet bike or easiest, most comfortable bike to ride, this bike would likely jump up a couple positions on my list, maybe even three.
Third Place: Kawasaki KX450F
I’ve raced a KX450F since 2009, so it was no surprise that I instantly felt comfortable when I hopped on the green machine. The ergos feel good, similar to the Honda; brakes were good and the clutch was a stiff pull at the lever compared to the hydraulic offerings in the class, but it still had a smooth activation. I actually liked the power of the Kawi more than the other models, but that’s not to say it was the most powerful bike. Honestly, I just liked the way it delivered the power, offering a very usable and responsive low-to-mid pull, especially with the “soft terrain” (white) coupler installed. I also liked the front end feel of the Kawasaki quite a bit, as it was confidence-inspiring under braking, even though I did feel a bit of harshness in the forks. We tried to compensate for this with a little more air pressure and going a couple clicks stiffer on the fork compression to try to get it off of a step in the valving. After these changes, the overall feel of the front end was good and predictable. Where the Kawasaki really lacked for me was the rear end feel when cornering. Under acceleration and braking, the shock absorbed the chop and bumps pretty well, but as soon as I’d start to enter a corner...the best metaphor I can come up with is that the rear wheel felt almost like a boat anchor out behind the bike, as it took more effort to get the back end where I wanted as the chassis felt a little disjointed. We did try some adjustments to the shock to give the illusion of a “tighter” rear end; tightening up the high-speed, which helped, and I did learn to compensate, but that didn’t negate the fact that it took more effort to keep the back of the bike where I wanted it to be under cornering. For me, this feeling is what demoted the Kawi to the bronze medal on my list.
The Kawasaki is a really good bike and was only half a notch behind the Honda on overall feel, but that boat anchor of a rear end just held it back for me.
Second Place: Honda CRF450R
I was really torn between the Honda and the Kawasaki for second place. There were characteristics of the Kawi I liked better than the Honda, but what made the difference for me was the rear end feel of the Honda. I’ve always liked the rear end feel of the red machine; it’s very predictable compared to other bikes in the class and I feel that I can ride looser with the back of the bike. I don’t feel like I have to force it to do what I want, as it’s easy to control and stays where I’d like it to. This was especially apparent while cornering, as the back end followed the front like a well-behaved bike ought to. One particular rut at Cahuilla stuck out: a right-handed corner was slightly off-camber, falling away, but there was a nice rut on the far inside and once the front end even looked at the rut, the rear end fell in line and I could get on the throttle seemingly sooner than most of the other bikes. (The KTM had a similar feel).
I had high hopes that Big Red had worked the kinks out of the front end (from my perspective), and though they did make marked improvements in the front end feel and comfort, it still left more to be desired. Ultimately, that's what kept the new CRF out of the top spot on my roster. I still felt a bit of harshness through the front end under braking, which gave the sensation of a little less predictable traction and left me with a slight lack of confidence when really pushing the braking deep into corners, especially if the braking was being done on a bit of a lean angle. Switching gears to the motor, on track it didn’t feel quite as strong as the Kawi did from a sensation of low end pull and torque, but the bike made plenty of power and was similar to the green machine’s delivery. It offered a little throatier power delivery off the bottom than the KTM. I’m a fan of that, as it gives a more inspiring sensation to the rider. The ergonomics were very comfortable, along with the brakes being on par. However, I will say that occasionally the kickstarter would recoil when I was trying to fire the bike up, just about dislocating my hip. But when I was focused on getting a solid kick down through the starter, it fired up just fine.
For me, this is the best bike Honda’s offered since 2008, and if they could get the front end to have that magical feel that the back end offers, it may have put it over the top for me. At the end of the day, though, if you like Honda’s (or motorcycles in general), you’ll really like this bike.
First Place: KTM 450 SX-F
From the moment I swung a leg over the KTM 450 SX-F, I immediately felt comfortable on the bike. The rider compartment felt good, maybe just slightly short from the seat to the footpegs for my long legs, but not enough to give it very much thought. Right away the Brembo brakes felt good, and the hydraulic clutch is always a lovely feature, offering easier pull at the lever. As soon as I got up to speed, the KTM 450 felt like the complete package as far as the chassis is concerned. It had the comfortable, predictable front end feel of the Kawasaki that I liked, and it matched that with the positive, stable and predictable rear end feel of the Honda (where both of those bikes had a slight trade-off at either end of the chassis). Where the green and red bikes had hits and misses braking into and steering through corners, the KTM was great in both areas. It was comfortable under braking, allowing me to really push it deep into corners, and it tracked very easily and predictably through corners; whether there was a rut to hit, a berm to explode, or a flat surface to steer around. The motor wasn’t my absolute favorite of the class from a fun factor or a personal preference. I tend to like a bike that has a little more hit and low end grunt; I wouldn’t be surprised if the KTM makes as much or more power than most of the other bikes, but the delivery of that power wasn’t as exciting or matched my personal preference. Having said that, it's very user-friendly and easy to control the power that it does make, of which there is plenty. Lastly as far as the suspension setup, which is what I tend to focus on the most, the KTM again had the best settings out of the box. Even at the end of the day, when the track was hammered, it still felt very controlled and comfortable, with the most linear/progressive action in the fork for my riding style. Beyond that, it didn’t have the same level of harshness that other bikes in the class did, which gave a level of confidence in the front end on the track.
This bike is really, really good right out of the box, period...I can only imagine how good Dungey’s is.
Name: Manny Ornellas / Age: 53
Height: 5' 8" / Weight: 188 lbs.
Riding Experience: 50+ Intermediate
Seventh Place: Kawasaki KX450F
For me, the Kawasaki ergonomics felt like home, as they always do. The chassis feels narrow and very easy to move around on, and a steady improvement for the KXF over the years. The power was easy and soft on the bottom, as it pulled into a healthy mid-range punch. The delivery has a bit of a hit there and can be continued to rev when you need it in the tighter sections. The chassis felt quicker than KX450Fs usually do and it "turned in" and tracked tighter lines in turns a bit easier than past models. However, on fast sections and jump faces it felt nervous, moving around a bit more than I expected. It even kicked sideways on a few rutted takeoffs (jump faces), and that really caught me off guard. When I looked at how the bike was set up out of the box this year, the rear axle was adjusted very far forward. I know this contributed to the nervous feel of the chassis, as I run the rear much farther back and stretch out the wheelbase of this bike to help this. The fork worked ok on deep rollers and big landings, but it struggled and had that harsh feel on braking bumps, also adding in a bit more chatter entering and exiting turns than I'd like. The shock worked well and seems to be best when you're really attacking the track, but I didn't gain this same feeling from the front. Right out of the box, this bike was the hardest for me to ride fast because of the balance. Honestly, I could tell that I just needed more time figuring it out, as the chassis setup on the KXF seemed the most sensitive in the class.
Also, the KXF didn't always want to change or correct lines easily at speed, especially in sand. It was willing to let me turn with the gas on and slide the rear, but not as cooperatively as KXFs have previously. The power would hit in the mid and you could use that to your advantage by carrying the front out of a turn and manipulating your lines, but not by steering with the front. More often than not, I'd rev the KXF and ride it like a 250F, which worked the best for me. In the end, it wants to be ridden very aggressively and takes a lot of focus and energy. Very Supercross-like, indeed.
Sixth Place: KTM 350 SX-F
The fair thing to say about the 350 is it's really easy to lay down plenty of consistent lap times on this thing! Yes, it has to be ridden a bit more like a 250F, which means you're using the clutch and gearbox more than the 450. It turns and jumps like a 250 SX-F, but pulls like a mild 450 that loves to rev to the moon. Plus, it feels quite a bit lighter than the 450 SX-F (even though it's not much lighter) and sounds awesome when you're pinning it. Ergo-wise, it feels a little tall in the saddle and is a typical KTM: super-narrow. The features and layout are identical to the orange 450. The AER fork worked really well on anything I threw at it and its adjustability is second to none. A click makes a difference and a couple pounds of air can noticeably change the spring rate. The rear tracked superbly even on rough and rutted surfaces that upset some of the other bikes. The shock worked great on everything and its adjustability and sensitivity to changes matched the fork.
"Less is more" plays out really well here for the rider that just doesn't want all the power that a 450 can deliver (especially at the end of a long day). The power is adjustable via the map switch and it really does make a difference in how the power is delivered. The traction control works: I tried it on an off-camber that was slippery and the bike stayed on-line better with TC engaged. The things we take for granted on a KTM like the hydraulic clutch, excellent brakes, and electric start are all to be expected from the company that armed Tony Cairoli with this same bike for quite a few years. So, why is it ranked sixth? Simple, this is a 450 shootout, and at the end of the day it's just not as fast as a 450. On the other hand: That might be exactly what makes it the perfect alternative for those that just want to do laps all day and have fun.
Fifth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
For a 450, this is an easy bike to get on and just go. The layout is the standard bearer of four-stroke motocross bikes and just feels normal when you pull out on the track. But there's a penalty to be paid for that, as the RM-Z is accused of being the same bike for all these last ten years. Well, it's not. This bike is the recipient of constant revisions and improvements and it shows. This bike has a racing legacy amongst privateers and that shows, too. Getting on the RM-Z I immediately remembered why that moniker means "find the inside line!" This thing turns like a 250F, and while the bike doesn't really feel light, it does corner like a smaller and lighter bike. The power is classic "pull from the bottom" Suzuki and it will rev, even though it's more inclined to be ridden as a short-shifter. The drawback is the fork, which is tricky to set up and you need to get the air settings just right. The front end feel is pretty good in most conditions, while exhibiting a little bit of that classic air fork harshness that TACs are known for. The shock did everything right as long as you set it up in the classic "slow with plenty of rebound" mode. With this, the bike was always ready to take whatever line you wanted and with confidence. The gearbox felt very smooth and shifts were on point; which is important due to the bike really working better when short-shifted. Ergonomics on the Suzuki are good and the bike doesn't feel as wide as I remember. In fact, the Suzuki felt fairly slim and was easy to move around on. This is the classic "does everything good" bike that's like Rodney Dangerfield: It doesn't get no respect. It should. It's easy to get around the track on this thing. Really...easy.
Fourth Place: KTM 450 SX-F
This bike is fast. At times it's too fast, for me, that is. It wants to attack and it wants to rail everything. It does everything really, really well, but while saying that, it's not the easiest bike to ride around the track. It's a bigger/faster version of the 350. But, it's not bigger, it just feels bigger and slightly heavier. Weird, because, it's not really any heavier. Ranking it fourth seems like an injustice, right? It's not. I'm an honest "old-guy" that races Over-50 amateur and I'm just calling it like it is. It's a really fast bike that wants to be ridden faster and harder than I want. It has great forks, just like the 350, that work good everywhere and the shock is right there, too. The suspension was best when being pushed really hard and the motor seemed to like that, too. Even on the easy map this thing would bark. I like this bike, I really do. It's just that other bikes were easier for me to get faster laps on and they seemed a bit more planted in the tricky sections.
Everything that I love about KTMs is here: the hydraulic clutch, awesome brakes and electric start. Every bike should have those same features. This bike is probably the closest thing to their actual works bikes that KTM has sold. There it is: a works bike just might be too much for me to handle. If I were a fast pro? This would be a bike I could race right out of the crate. Huh? Did I just say that? Then why is it fourth? Because, I'm not a pro! Sometimes a bike can have too much and if you are a rider that wants that? Here it is.
Third Place: Honda CRF450R
Wow, Honda got it right this time. This thing is so much better than the '16 that it's unbelievable. The chassis? Near prefect. The engine? Makes power everywhere that the '16 didn't. Yes, a Honda that shreds right out of the box. Oh, and get this: It's actually kind of loud! Yup, a loud Honda! Whaaaaaa? My very first lap on the Honda was a heater when I checked my times, talk about first lap comfort. It really felt like Honda blended the best traits from the last three generations of CRF450Rs into a bike that is reminiscent of the HRC bikes that dominated in the 80s. Yes, it's that good. Sitting on the bike it feels like it has a bit more "neutral" seating position than the past few models. And, it's narrower in the mid-section, too. No more feeling like you're right over the front fender all the time. No more front-to-back chassis setup sensitivity (Chad Reed, are you listening?). The fork? I'm pretty sure they looked at the SSS on the Yamaha and felt they could do it better, and that's a tall order when you think about it. The SSS has been a crowd favorite and now it has company. For me, the fork was a little softer and more forgiving than the SSS on the Yamaha. That's a good thing for us old guys, but there were times it seemed just a little too easy to blow through the travel. Remember, I'm 190 pounds, so Honda may have aimed a bit on the lighter side for their newest 450. But out back, the shock is near perfection. It's always doing everything it can to keep the bike planted and hooking up. This bike is easy to keep straight in the ruts and kickers, too. The balance between the front and rear of the CRF is the kind of feel you usually only get after a good revalve/suspension tuning. If you can't feel confident on this bike, you might want to take up golf. One little nit-pick: the front brake seemed a little soft initially and took a little more effort than other bikes.
About that new engine: it pulls cleanly with just the right amount of torque right off the bottom. The way the Honda builds power is "stealthy", it just keeps building and building. Again, it's got more power everywhere than the '16 and here's the surprise, it's never too much. Sure it will shred with monster wheelspin, but it gives you exactly what your right wrist asked for. I fell in love with map three, that fast setting, which has more hit but still allows you plenty of "power control". The real secret to their success on this "clean sheet of paper" redesign is how well the whole package works together, as it's almost too easy to ride. Sounds crazy, right? Like I said, I fell like they've taken the best features from all the previous CRFs and rolled them into this bike: The '16 motor was really easy to use, the '08 chassis had great balance, and the '12 could turn really, really well. All of those ingredients are in there and a lot more. There's an HRC badge on the triple clamps and there's plenty of "HRC" inside, too.
Second Place: Yamaha YZ450F
I had a little bit of time on the YZ-F last summer with the Rockstar/OTSFF/Yamaha Canada Team. I rode nicely prepared and crazy fast versions with both Showa and KYB setups and I liked this stock '17 better. Honestly, that surprised me for a moment, but it was very clear to me that Yamaha put in a lot of time finding settings for both the engine and chassis that were good for regular guys like me. The forks were virtually perfect: a little firmer and slower compression than what I would have thought I wanted, and yet they allowed me to attack the turns better than the Honda. The shock was a little bit softer than the fork which made for really good acceleration out of the turns. The chassis balance on the Yamaha was just a little bit better than the Honda and I think that's what made the difference on my lap times and my willingness to hang it out just a little bit more on the blue bike. To be fair, I think the Yamaha was simply set up a little bit better for a heavier rider, and the red and blue bikes were really close for me. The brakes on the Yamaha get the nod and the power on the Yamaha is just a little bit more thru the mid than the Honda. I'd have to sum it up by saying the Yamaha accelerated a little bit quicker than the Honda and got me from point A to B quicker. Personally, the Yamaha doesn't feel ergonomically different to me. Others talk about the wideness at the front of the shrouds, but that had no effect on me. Taking it on and off the stand, this bike feels heavy, but that mostly goes away on the track.
I don't often hear much discussion about the Yamaha's handling when it comes to turns and changing lines, but this bike does both with amazing feel and confidence. The front end traction is quite a bit better than the first version of this chassis and the bike tracks through ugly ruts like a champ. It really likes sand, too, and maybe that's why Goerke looks so good at Gopher Dunes? It jumps as good as any of the other bikes and rewards aggressive riding with superb tracking in the rough. This is a bike delivers fast laps with ease.
First Place: Husqvarna FC 450
I can't truly explain just how smooth and fluid this bike is, as Husky obviously has done their homework and found their own settings. Yes, all the same things are there that you find on the KTMs, but they work differently and with a bit more forgiveness on the Husqvarna. Ergonomically the Husky is easier to hold on to because the tank/seat/sub-frame/air-box/side panels provide a little more grip for your inner legs. The suspension seems a bit more forgiving and a lot less aggressive than the same components on its orange sibling. The fork simply felt more compliant in the initial travel, and didn't relay all the edges and kicks that the SX-F fork/chassis does. The shock was in the same mode as the fork (more forgiving) and allowed me to be more aggressive on technical sections, without the little bit of extra feedback from the KTM. I know, I know...how could the Husky be ranked so differently (namely, higher) than the KTM? Well, they're that different. The Husky was very easy to ride aggressively, allowing me to pick really challenging and technical lines with ease. There were some fast laps where I could get the FC to a smooth inside line that would take a lot more effort on the other bikes. It's the kind of bike you want for a late afternoon moto at Mammoth Mountain MX, the chassis is that good.
The engine was perfect. It's fast and you don't even realize it due to the amount of time that your spending picking whatever line you want. It doesn't have a huge hit at any given part of the delivery, but it just keeps pulling. I was more inclined to rev the FC due to the completely linear power delivery and the bike's ability to track thru anything. Off-camber? Attack. Inside rutted-choppy line that'll get you to the next turn quicker if only you could get to it? Attack! Try to go up the "sidewall" at the exit of that turn and see if you can carry more speed doing it? Attack! Try that short-inside approach to that big jump? Attack! The combination of how the motor is constantly pulling and the FC's total willingness to go anywhere at anytime: Voila! We've got my best 450 MX'er. There's another bonus: the map switch and TC (Traction Control) on the FC turn it into the ultimate vet bike: use them and you've got a pseudo-FX (off-road) that's forgiving and ready to go deal with an Endurocross or a pure muddy conditions. Using map one I was able to get traction in places that you wouldn't expect. Simple, this bike was the best for me by far: fast and forgiving.
Name: Derrick Caskey / Age: 43
Height: 6' 2" / Weight: 190 lbs.
Riding Experience: 40+ Expert
Seventh Place: KTM 350 SX-F
Honestly, the KTM 350 is a great bike. I have had the opportunity to ride the '17 on a few different occasions, all at faster tracks without big jumps and have actually had some of my best times on it. Like the 450, it comes with cool features like the electric start, hydraulic clutch, Brembo brakes, traction control, and the new AER air forks. The power comes on smooth (compared to 450s), builds into a strong mid and keeps pulling all the way to a top that no 450 can touch. This really shone on off-camber turns and hills if you started the section a gear high, as it put the power down and built through the range without spinning the tire. Compared to any of the 450s, as you'd expect, the 350 is just easier to throw around and dive into corners. Because of this, it's easier to ride longer and harder than any of the 450s in the class. This is the perfect bike if you're a lighter rider, transitioning from a 250 to a 450, or just want a grin on your face and racing isn't your top priority. Ever wanted a heavily modified 250, but without the cost and maintenance associated with one? This might be the ticket. However, I feel like it just wouldn’t have enough for someone of my size at a track that you needed the power to get over a larger jump right out of a corner. For me, the more the better, so I missed the extra grunt. Otherwise, the 350 does everything very well and is a blast to ride.
Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
Other than some cosmetics, the Suzuki is pretty much unchanged, again. With this, it still gives up a lot to the other brands in the power and weight departments. The motor doesn’t do anything bad; it's well-rounded, but it just could use a little more everywhere. I think the Suzuki still corners awesome and lets you pick any line you want in the turn, even the tightest inside line you can find. For me, the forks worked fairly well and overall had better function then the TAC on the Kawasaki. Overall, the ergonomics and rider compartment was roomy, supporting my build and riding style just fine. The brakes were okay, and the clutch had decent action, but it got a little hot as I abused it a little to make up for the softer powerband. The Suzuki's still a solid performer and does a decent job in all the categories, but not particularly amazing or standout in any. On the real positive side, the base design of this bike has been the same for so long, you know what you're getting in terms of reliability. I know sometimes when bikes undergo big changes there's always concern for durability, I don’t know of any big issues Suzuki has with that, but obviously they haven’t had to change it for any bad reason. Lastly, Suzuki did do a great job on the cosmetics this year, as I think it looks better than ever, but it's just a little old.
Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX450F
Last year I ranked the Kawasaki second and only really had complaints with the forks. Kawasaki did make some modifications to their fork for 2017, but I still didn’t think it was much better than last year. I know the potential of these forks, and I just think they need to be set up better as the changes we made just weren't enough. The Kawasaki is still a very good bike and like the Yamaha, it mainly suffered because the Honda, KTM, and Husqvarna have improved that much. The motor felt very similar to last year, possibly a little crisper do to ECU changes; the bottom isn’t the strongest, but has a very strong mid-to-top end pull. The chassis is comfortable with good seat to tank transition, and due to the adjustability is very open for multiple sizes of rider. It corners well, but doesn't quite have the front end grip of the Honda or Suzuki. However, it's definitely easier to take the inside lines when compared to Yamaha. The Kawasakis have had that rear steer reputation, but this year it seemed to be better at having a more traditional front steering feel and overall balance. The Kawasaki does an okay job all the way around, just in my opinion nothing great. The forks are still the biggest concern and keeps it away from a podium position.
Fourth Place: Yamaha YZ450F
The 450 shootout was difficult this year as the bikes are getting better and the differences aren't as easy to pick out. The Yamaha didn’t change much this year, but since it was my pick the last two years, why should it have? The 2017 isn’t much different than last year, but now I had to rank it fourth. The Yamaha didn’t get worse than the brands in front of it only got better The 2017 still has a super-strong motor, with lots of torque down low and makes good power all the way to the top. The chassis and suspension still have a very balanced and controlled feel. I felt the biggest struggle with the Yamaha was the cornering, The front end wants to push in the turns, and would want to come out of the rut if coming in hard into an inside line. We set the sag at 100mm, went in two on the compression on the shock, and slid the forks up 3mm in the triple clamps. This helped a little, but the bike still encouraged you to use the outside lines whenever possible. Yamaha needs to focus on narrowing down the width of bike, and losing some weight as it gives up close to 15 pounds to the KTM. The Yamaha shines on faster, more wide open tracks than it does on tighter ones. All the brands feel a lot thinner and more nimble than the Yamaha and feel like they are easier to throw around.
Third Place: Husqvarna FC 450
Husqvarna definitely stepped up their game this year as it was in my opinion a lot better off the showroom floor than the 2016. Like the KTM, it comes with the added perks of electric start, hydraulic clutch, Brembo brakes, and a lot of electronics. The AER forks, like on the KTM, were very good; being easy to adjust and has initial feel that you search for on most air forks. I set the air pressure at 158 psi, then went up a couple clicks stiffer on compression and a couple clicks softer on rebound. I wanted to make them stiffer but they would get a bit harsher as I went in more on the compression. The bike handles and corners very well, with both ends of the bike giving excellent traction. The ergonomics are very comfortable and makes it extremely easy to move around on, outside of a fairly wide handlebar. The motor doesn’t have the same hit as the KTM off the bottom, but mid-to-top is very strong and actually ends stronger. I took the time to try both engine maps, and number two (aggressive) was by far better for my riding style, giving it a bit of that missing snap off the bottom. The brakes are awesome. Very strong with good feel at the lever and pedal, making for great power, but keeping it usable.
Second Place: KTM 450 SX-F
I actually got to ride the 2017 KTM prior to the shootout when we did the intro a couple months ago, and I went back and forth several times with my choice for the winner. The KTM is an awesome bike right off of the showroom floor, being the lightest in class even and with the electric start. The new air forks were the only thing missing in my opinion from the KTM being my pick in 2016, as the previous 4CS just really held the bike back. The new AER forks are really good, and with a little time can really be tuned to fit you to a T. Beyond that, the bike hosts many cool features including the electric start, hydraulic clutch, top-notch Brembo brakes, and a host of electronics (including electric start) at the touch of a button. The motor is very strong from bottom to top, and definitely doesn’t leave you needing more. The traction control is a very nice feature especially in slippery conditions. I like the way the traction control kicks in on cornering but does take getting use to when jumping. If you go off the takeoff expecting to scrub or whip, when the traction control kicks in as the rear wheel breaks loose, it is a lot more difficult to bring the bike back straight for the landing. I would probably only use on very muddy conditions where this wouldn’t be a concern. I tried both maps (at the touch of a button), but preferred the more aggressive map two. As the loamy conditions became more hardpacked, I would switch to map one to keep some of the wheelspin down when exiting corners, rather than run map two with the traction control so it wouldn’t get the weird sensation off jumps. As I said the choice for top three was very difficult, and I think the only thing that would have pushed either the KTM or Husky to the top would be up-front cost of the bikes (as they are more expensive) and the cost of OEM replacement parts.
First Place: Honda CRF450R
Year-after-year, the winner is hard to pick and this year was the hardest I've had yet., as I went back-and-forth on my winning bike for a few days. When it came down to it, in stock trim, I'd take the new Honda over the KTM. Honda changed almost everything on the bike this year, yet it still carries many of the traditional Honda feelings that I like very much. The biggest difference, it's finally competitive in the power department. However, it's not too much, as the initial bottom feel is still very smooth and could actually use a little more. But the mid-to-top pull was something I haven't felt on a Honda before, unless it was heavily modified. It has just enough at the higher RPMs to take on the KTM and Husky, which no other bike in the class can claim. I tried the different maps and preferred the third, most aggressive map. It added just enough snap down low and even a bit better pull up top to allow me to place it above the KTM in the end. Moving over to the new chassis, it's very confidence inspiring and has great front-to-rear balance. Finally, Honda has eliminated the high rear end feel like prior year models. No more stinkbug! Even though the Honda has a small overall feel, the controls and position of everything really allows someone of my height to move around freely. Honestly, I felt that it fit my riding style the best out of the box, as I felt more in control and on top of the CRF. Even thought it's not actually as light as the KTM or Husky, the way the weight is placed helps the Honda feel just as nimble and light as the two featherweights in the class. The suspension worked well for me, but the front was a little soft and would require definitely require heavier springs. Even though it's a bit on the soft side, the way I'm able to work around the bike allowed me to work the bike through the sections without slamming into every obstacle. Honestly, I was expecting to be disappointed with the spring forks, as I'm one of the few that actually like air forks (at least some versions). I was actually impressed with the new spring forks that Honda came out with this year, and definitely preferred them to the KYB PSF 2 air forks that came on the 2015 and 2016 model. I have no complaints in the rear, as the shock settled, drove across chop, and handled everything as I wanted. All-in-all, I could definitely take this bike stock for the year and keep the same grin I had on all day.
Name: Michael Lindsay / Age: 24
Height: 5' 8" / Weight 155 lbs.
Riding Experience: Too much testing, not enough racing...
Seventh Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
The Suzuki RM-Z450 is really the odd duck of this class. While most manufacturers are on three to four year cycles with each generation of bike (frame geometry, bodywork, suspension and engine overhauls), the Suzuki is in its tenth year on this base platform. During this ten-year span; the engine has been modestly upgraded every few years, the bike has had three different fork systems, and four different main frames. When you think of it like that, there's just two major things missing to keep it in line with the other manufacturers development cycles, a moderate weight loss and new bodywork. Although there's one heavier bike in the class, the Yamaha, which is equipped with spring forks. If you put those on the Suzuki, it would be the heaviest.
So, after all this time, how does the ol' girl perform? Surprisingly, it's still competitive in many aspects even as we enter 2017. First and foremost, the best thing Suzuki has going for them is their ergonomics, which feels like a dirtbike. Yes, that sounds stupid, but it's true for people that have ridden throughout the 2000s and into the early '10s, as this bike has the same basic feel as the majority of bikes did before major geometry changes. If you're looking for a bike that felt like a 450 you rode from the mid-to-late 2000s, you'll feel at home on the RM-Z. Outside of a slightly weird bar bend (for me), it was easy to warm up and get going on this bike. Once moving, that old-school frame feel is comfortable but at the same time a bit bulky around the frame spars compared to other bikes in the class. Not bulky like the Yamaha, as it goes from skinny to really wide in places; the RM-Z just feels a l'il bulky around the legs, but consistently sized across the bike. As for the actual chassis feel, out of the four frames I mentioned this is the best. Suzuki has gone to rigid in the past and this latest version from 2015 and above is very comfortable and offers just the right amount of feedback to really understand the amount of traction you have front and rear. I personally set up the Suzuki a little low in the rear, as I feel that it has enough constant weight on the front to turn with my riding style. If I run 103-105mm of sag with the forks in the middle line as they are out of the box, the bike actually turns too quickly for me and climbs out of ruts. So I push the forks out a few millimeters and go to around 107mm of sag to slow down the reaction and gain some stability in the fast sections.
Once set here, I have no complaints about the chassis for handling, but I do have some for the suspension. Not to be too harsh, but this fork is harsh! (Horrible word-play, I know...) When Suzuki first went to the Showa TAC system in 2015, it was early in its development, but now the other bikes equipped with this system have learned and moved forward. Sadly, the forks on this bike haven't done the same. They're very dead-feeling, requiring me to open the rebound a modest amount to get them active and moving. Before the change, they would take the first hit or two okay, but on faster/longer sections it would fall through the stroke and get progressively harsher. Once the recovery of the fork was better, it would feel a bit topped-out. A better combination of air pressures that closer mimic what the KX450F and CRF250R use can help this situation (more TAC than inner chamber, and using outer air to create speed sensitivity) but it's not quite the same feel as the settings on the RM-Z aren't designed around these settings. All-in-all, I can get the Suzuki's forks more comfortable, but not in the ball park I'd need for comfort all moto. As for the shock, things are good out back. Suzuki has an 18mm shock shaft and a larger adjuster in their shock (mimicking a Showa A-kit shock), meaning it's very sensitive to changes. I like it a bit slower in the rear and I try to drive this bike across the rough sections with the rear, to get away from the harsher forks. But when it becomes fairly choppy, a simple rebound click could help me adjust how I used the bike.
As for the engine, it's nothing impressive, but nothing bad. It's responsive off the bottom, not blunt but it builds in power constantly after coming on at a very low RPM. It pulls decently through the end of the range, just enough to have a complete powerband feel. But, the Suzuki definitely does its best work when short-shifted and using that progressive power build down low. Its older engine feels like it makes a bit more inertia than the other bikes, so it can fight you a bit in the rough stuff at high RPMs. Leaving me to only scream in when I'm not risking it on rough sections with the rear. With the way this bike puts down power and weights the front, you can point it nearly anywhere. If the rear is setup properly, it can slide around almost anything you need to. This allowed me to take some unique lines aboard the RM-Z and makes my one or two lap pace very competitive. But the reason the Suzuki is at the bottom of my list is the long run pace. Due to the comfort issues with the fork and using energy to utilize these unique lines (some used less energy, some used more), I couldn't ride the Suzuki fast lap after lap.
Sixth Place: KTM 350 SX-F
The KTM 350 SX-F is terribly hard to rate in a 450 Shootout. If it comes down to pure enjoyment and grins, the 350 is a solid podium contender. But when it comes to actually racing it, yes, you can turn similar lap times as a 450. However, racing directly against a 450 is a different deal, as they can stop you and cut under you during a race. Using their stop and go power to hold you up as you need to carry a bit more momentum. Of course, the 350s long run pace is great, as the power output and lessened inertia allow you to ride it longer and harder in most cases. So how about the power? The original 350 was like a powerful 250F, while the current version is more like a 350. Sounds dumb, right? Well, I say it feels like a 350 because it is between how a 250 and 450 produce power. It has toned down 450 feel off the bottom, while screaming way up high like the 250F. Off the bottom, however, it just doesn't pull the higher gears out of corners like a real 450 can, especially when obstacles are involved. This is where more of the 250 feel is involved as you do just a bit more shifting and have to dial in your lines a bit more to keep the 450-like pace going.
Where this bike shines most is the handling and suspension department. Even though it's between the 250F and 450, the inertia the 350 creates from the engine is much closer to a 250F. Meaning when this bike steps out or gets unruly, it just doesn't pull away from you the same way a 450 does. It just has less fight and corrects much easier when the going gets tough. Also with the lack of engine braking, when compared to the 450, the forks are a bit easier to setup as you're not fighting the extreme loads under deceleration a 450 engine produces. Plus, the rear shock tracks better at high RPMs on the 350 than a 450 would. Or more consistently I should say, as when it steps out a bit it's easier to gain control again. As for the actual suspension, I upped the air pressure three PSI in the forks for more bottoming resistance, but softened the compression a few clicks to keep the initial feel I wanted. Shockwise, I opened the high-speed compression up a bit to get the rear of the bike to squat more under acceleration. I was looking to get a bit more off the back off the 350 and hang it out like you would on a 250F.
Enginewise, it's hard to compare it to any of the 450s because it's not one. Weaker off the bottom, but smooth. Revs much faster into a strong middle pull and screams much higher than anything else in this test. In loamy conditions, it can't touch a 450 when both are ridden well, but it becomes more competitive as the track breaks down and things roughen up. As for engine mapping, I ran the second/aggressive map to gain more snap off the bottom and I found the traction control a bit unnecessary on this bike unless you're in true wet/muddy conditions. In anything else, it just gives up too much power on the bottom to squirt the bike around as I'd like.
Just like the orange and white 450s, the electric start, hydro clutch, and Brembo brakes are awesome features. The cockpit is comfortable, although the handlebars are too wide for my taste. Especially as they open