2017 Vital MX 450 Shootout 21
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 •
Dyno Comparison Chart:
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.
- KTM 350 SX-F: 232 lbs.
- KTM 450 SX-F: 233 lbs.
- Husqvarna FC 450: 235 lbs.
- Kawasaki KX450F: 240 lbs.
- Honda CRF450R: 244 lbs.
- Suzuki RM-Z450: 246 lbs.
- Yamaha YZ450F: 248 lbs.
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.
Seventh Place - Suzuki RM-Z450
Scores: 6-5-6-7-7-6-6 = 43
Sixth Place - KTM 350 SX-F
Scores: 7-6-7-6-3-5-5 = 39
Fifth Place - Kawasaki KX450F
Scores: 3-7-5-5-6-7-3 = 36
Fourth Place - Yamaha YZ450F
Scores: 5-2-4-4-5-4-7 = 31
Third Place - Honda CRF450R
Honda 2-3-1-3-4-1-4 = 18
Second Place - KTM 450 SX-F
Scores: 1-4-2-2-1-3-2 = 15
First Place - Husqvarna FC 450
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 up my shoulders and waste what little arm length I have when trying to hang back on the bike. As I mentioned at the beginning, this bike is pure fun, but in a racing situation it's not my choice of weapon.
Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX450F
Disclaimer, I love Kawasakis. You always hear riders talk about the bike they feel at home on, well this is the one that gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling. How did it get fifth then? Well, I'll get to that. First off, I love Kawasaki's current ergos. Between the cockpit adjustments, flatter seat profile and thin-feeling frame; as well as a longer chassis and rider area feel, this bike feels like it can be setup for a range of riding styles, if you put the time in. The improvements Kawi has made with the frame hasn't turned it into a rut carving bike yet, but it now offers enough front feedback to give more confidence to get into the turns more consistently. I'd say you're starting with a bit wider line than some of the bikes in the class when getting the Kawi into a rut but once it's in, it carves. Of course the Kawasaki is known as a rear-steering bike and even though they've focused on front end feel, it still knows how to slide around flat, blown-out corners under power. Or it can still power its way through a nice loamy berm, exiting early under power or drifting through it to the end.
Enginewise, the Kawasaki isn't the king of the 450 class like it was a few years ago but it still holds its own. The engine is very responsive with a nice snap off the bottom, not as smooth as some, but not overly brutal in my opinion, although it can get some time to get used to exactly where it comes on. Once you've got it, though, you can use that snap to break the bike loose and change lines on command as you exit corners. Also, you can use this mid-range bark to get the bike to wheelie through chop and pop its way into and out of choppy corners. Up top, the engine does a decent job. It doesn't make a ton of power up there, but pulls long enough to not feel flat. Making it fairly usable so you don't have to short shift in tight sections to keep laying down power and drive forward.
As for the suspension, this is where the Kawi lacks a bit. The shock is a bit too dead-feeling, which I assisted by speeding up the rebound just a bit. I was trying to improve the traction to the rear wheel as I accelerated across hard terrain chop. Up front, the Showa TAC fork has improved, but still takes too much time to dial in. I can get these forks where I want them, but out of the box I always feel like I'm taking too much time to chase away the initial topped-out feeling and improve the comfort. This takes a combination of rebound and compression adjustments, along with air that I just don't have to do to the other bikes. I can get it there, just takes a bit longer than I'd like.
The KX450F is still interesting to me as I love railing it around the outside, or starting wide, squaring up and sliding back across the inside. The response and snap from low-to-mid RPMs allows me to manipulate the bike by wheelying into rough sections and bouncing into and out of corners. I end up doing this a lot, as it isn't the most comfortable in the class. Beyond this, I struggle a little if I enter the corner tight when compared to some of the other bikes in the class, based on the setup I use to attack the faster areas. However, the faster things get the happier I am on this bike, especially when attacking rollers or jumps at speed. And while I enjoy the Kawasaki's engine, it could put down some more power from mid-to-top to be used as some of the other bikes in the class. Yes, 450s are fast, but there are times where you can use a bit more and I'd like a bit more from the green machine these days. I don't expect the most nimble inside-line bike from Kawasaki, but I'd like a bit more comfort to send this bike through the roughest lines and lay the power down to rail around the competition.
Fourth Place: Yamaha YZ450F
Putting the Yamaha ahead of the Kawasaki was literally like pulling teeth for me...painful. It was so close, as I actually rated the Kawasaki above it last year. For '17 the Yamaha really only had new tires, but that was a large help for me as I'm not a fan of the Dunlop MX52 front (I'm okay with the rear, just okay) that the '16 model had. I also took a little different direction with the Yamaha's setup this year, allowing the guys to set me up with a bit less sag as they wanted (around 100-102mm) and trying to work around this. So first off, Yamaha's YZ450F forks are butter. This bike gave me the absolute most confidence to send it deepest through the roughest lines on the track, without a hint of harshness, headshake or any negatives. Just a tad bit more rebound to help the forks recover quicker on some of the downhills and other chop-infested zones, and I was a happy camper. However, I was usually on these lines because I would be down the inside hunting the tight lines as the YZF is just a bit too big for me to herd into those areas. Keeping it wide and flowing however, and I was in love. As for the rear end of the bike, I spent a bit of time opening up the high speed and trying to get the shock to settle a bit more under acceleration. This is an aspect of the bike that bothers me a bit, as to get it to handle well the sag is a bit high, along with the Yamaha having a tall subframe in the first place. Add these together and I feel a bit too high off the ground and the bike is stink-bugged just a bit too much. As the laps wear on, you get a bit more used to it, but it does cost me some comfort and the ability to move farther back on the bike without feeling out of place.
As for the engine, talk about punch. Yamaha has been making some serious initial power the past few years and even though they've been trying to calm it down per se, it's still very noticeable. This hit is enjoyable when popping over obstacles out of corners and using the snap to manipulate the bike through rough sections, wheelying over bumps, etc. Yamaha changed the gearing a year or two ago, by taking away few teeth to help manage some of the bottom end grunt and make each gear feel much longer. The Yamaha produces enough power to get away with that and it's helpful in some areas and not so in others. Where it's good is power management; making the Yamaha easier to ride and making each gear pull forever. Where I don't like it is that it feels like you're in second gear way too long at times and it's harder to hit some corners in third, that just seem to be a bit between this gearing spread. Also, I'm someone who likes to downshift a lot when jumping into a tight corner to use the engine braking to my advantage. The tall gearing causes the bike to stay at a fairly low RPM though, as I downshift to second, unlike any other bike in this test. For me, this little nag was noticeable and caught my attention a few times.
Honestly the Yamaha's power, when used correctly, is outstanding and the suspension is top-notch as we've come to expect. These aspects alone would make me consider it for the podium, but there some of the comfort issues not related to the suspension that hold it back. The bar bend of the Yamaha has too much sweep for my liking, rolling my elbows in a bit too much. Also, the height of the bike I mentioned above isn't present on any other bike in the field and makes me question why the Yamaha needs to be like that. Lastly, it's the heaviest model in the class and although it hides its weight well, it still rears its head from time to time and catches your attention. All in all, I really hope to the see the Yamaha go on a diet in the future, and figure out the chassis balance without having to feel so tall. Because the engine and suspension on this bike deserve to be farther up the list.
Third Place: Honda CRF450R
As I said at the 2017 CRF450R intro, this bike isn’t life-changing but it sure is competitive. The new Honda takes the last step on my podium, but this podium is filled with bikes that are so darn good all-around, it was really down to just looking for certain aspects that suited my riding to make these final decisions. So let's kick it off with the good, the new chassis. I haven't been a fan of Honda's chassis since the 2009 model came out (I rode an '09 for five minutes when it came out and was instantly unimpressed), but this bike really is so well-balanced and in my opinion is better than the fabled 2008 chassis. What does it do right? Front end feel and feedback above all. Since 2009, the CRF450R has worked its way into the tightest of corners, but it wasn't for me. The constant weight those bikes had on the front was a false sense of security for me, as they had a lot of traction but when it went away, it went away fast! The new chassis doesn't have as much constant weight or traction up front as the past models, but it's so much more predictable and can be pushes (in a good way) without knifing or falling on its face so suddenly. You can feel the front tire follow the ground better when the going gets fast and rough. I would argue that in tightest of situations the previous Honda actually had a bit more traction, but once you get the new bike in it follows through so, so much better. This is the first Honda in a while that I feel can rail corners with serious speed, instead of just being a point and shoot bike. But on the other hand, the rear end is so improved and it can be rear steered just as well as the Kawi, but with even more consistency. How? The shock is pretty darn good. It's a bit stiff for me, so opening up the high speed was needed. But it's very active in terms of rebound and allows the tire to follow the ground quite well. Depending on the conditions I would go a click or two slower if I couldn't load it as hard as I'd like, to make sure it stayed a little more squatted under power.
Part of this new found rear-steering ability was also due to the power. This thing is night and day better than the outgoing CRF engine, producing way more power everywhere, especially up top where the old bike just fell on its face. Actually, fell is too nice, more liked tripped down a steep staircase. Now the CRF produces power and a range of pull from mid-to-top that's usually reserved for the KTM. But, it's still pretty mellow right off the bottom. It's very torquey and responsive like the old bike, with the new chassis balance putting this power to the ground. So much so, it packs the front end all the time if you roll onto the throttle in the low RPMs, just like a tractor. Now if you have the RPM up a bit, I'd say above 5,500, it pulls a lot quicker and snaps more to life as it begins its charge to the rev limiter. The one downside to this engine is that transition point from tractor to pull, as I feel like it could bridge that gap a bit better, especially in third or fourth gear. If you roll on in higher gear it just feels a bit too lethargic and takes a bit too long to get into that build for my taste. I'd like to fill-in that gap just a bit to get the RPMs to build a bit quicker initially. Now the third/aggressive map helps here, while also helping it pull up top even cleaner, but it's not enough to fill-in the bottom transition like I'd want. A bit of clutch dab helps here, but dang, it's a bit too stiff of a pull for my poor small fingers (size XS to S gloves...) to do corner-after-corner without my left arm turning into a brick.
I've talked about handling, power, and rear feel...well how about the forks? This is a big year for Honda, of course, as they've swapped from KYB's 48mm open chamber PSF2 air fork, to a new production fork from Showa which has 49mm lower stanchion tubes, and twin chamber dampers with 14mm damping rods. This fork really is pretty darn close to an A-kit/works level spring fork and is a big swing for the red machine. First off, I'm a fan of air forks but even I'll admit this was a big step in the right direction for this bike. Oddly though, these forks were close to being good for my weight and it seems like Honda went a bit light with their settings this year compared to the other 450s in the class. Even with that, I was still chasing a bit of initial feel with this fork in low-speed situations at my weight. The one thing I was worried about these "A-Kit" forks showed up was how'd they feel, and they're a tad bit rigid on the low-speed chop where I can't load the front end with enough force. In response I went softer on compression to keep it moving initially, so I didn't let the fork top out and not budge as it tried to follow the ground. Overall, they're still a massive move for Honda that's positive, but this is one area I'd like to see them improve a bit.
With its ergonomics, the CRF is one of the easiest bikes to ride over the front in an aggressive stance, while doing it comfortably. The new chassis also allows this as it's stable enough at speed to allow you to get over the front. At the same time, it's a bit easier to scoot back on under braking than the past bike. The cockpit was also a big improvement for me, as the seat profile is flatter and easier to slide around on. The previous bike had a bit of a "pocket" towards the front of the seat that was easy to get stuck in. So my end thoughts? Best first year of a generation bike that Honda has had (way better than '09 and '13 changes), although I still want to see some tweaks in the initial power and the forks. But, I think these improvements are very attainable for Honda next year. Oh, and one last thing. Honda, put electric start on this bike stock and charge me the price of the RX model. This bike is a bit of a pain to start when hot, I want the magic button.
Second Place: KTM 450 SX-F
I've never owned a KTM, but the past two models that the Austrian manufacturer has pumped out is really making me rethink that (if I still bought bikes that is, spoiled job and all.) Yes, it costs a bit more than the competition, but the "Ready to Race" moniker is starting to make me a believer. Between this and the top bike on my list (which should be easy to figure out by now), I'd honestly consider riding stock all year. Starting off with the chassis, KTM's chromoly steel frame has really hit the perfect middle ground in terms of stability, along with traction and steering feel from both ends. While Honda's new chassis comes close, I slightly prefer the front end traction on the latest KTM. With regards to ergonomics, the KTM is very comfortable and has become quite compact over the past few years. Their newest bar feels a lot more normal in terms of sweep and height, but is a bit too wide for my liking. The KTM's bodywork is also a bit odd for me, as it's one of the harder bikes for me to grip with my legs, while the Husqvarna's bodywork suits me better. I do have a small complaint at the pegs, as I wish they had a bit more traction and the shift lever is also a bit long for my liking.
As for the engine, this bike has what feels like the widest ranging power in terms of pull. It starts off stronger than the Suzuki, Honda, and Husky; responsive like the Kawasaki but with a bit more grunt, only coming below the Yamaha for pure off-the-bottom snap. But, it builds into my favorite mid-range and revs quickly into a top end pull that I didn't quite know a 450 could produce. The only bike that pulls harder at the top than this bike is the Husqvarna, but it takes a bit longer to get there. Both map one and two on this bike have their advantages on this bike in my opinion, as I would use map one as the conditions broke down. But when things are loamy and fresh, map two's aggression off idle snap really allows it to plow through the berms and snap over obstacles with ease.
As for the suspension, WP's AER 48 is a great step forward for KTM and really offers the advantages of an air fork but without any noteable drawback, in my opinion. The initial topped-out or harsh feel we're constantly running away from on Showa's TAC fork isn't present here, as the AER has a supple feel that they've combined with just the right amount of rigidity in the clamps and chassis to give the rider enough feedback to make decisions, without rattling me around. Although as I've found with all of WP's AER 48 forks, they're just a tad soft at the end of the stroke for as far forward as I ride. Honestly though, it's quite simple for me to fix. A few clicks stiffer on compression helps, but gives up just a bit too much of the initial feel I love. So instead, I up the air pressure just a few PSI and then soften the compression a couple clicks. Air pressure as a spring ramps up quickly at the end of the stroke, so more air pressure offers a good change late in the stroke. While compression does typically change the whole stroke, it takes away just enough beginning tension, while still leaving me with a bit of extra bottoming resistance due to the extra air pressure. The rear on this bike is very, very active and loves square edge acceleration chop, as it recovers so quickly and places the rear tire back to the ground quickly. In loam and long corners, however, I would slow the rebound down just a tad to keep it planted and from moving around too much. Like almost all 450s, the rear shocks are a bit oversprung for me, but at the same time the KTM offers just enough comfort to have me forget this little fact.
Add in the outstanding Brembo brakes...wait, why are they so much better? I always mention it, but it's simple to explain. Even though the Japanese manufacturers have opted for larger rotors, the sizing of pistons the Nissin master cylinders and brake calipers use produce a lot of power, but not in the most usable fashion. They all feel a bit similar, mushy then nearly locking. Well-bled they're responsive but a bit too grabby, especially as the rotors get better. The Brembos however have a better combination of piston sizes between the two components, placing more even pressure to the caliper itself. This offers a more progressive brake, it takes a little more lever travel but offers so much more control. Ultimately giving more power as you can get closer to the edge of locking, without actually locking them up. The hydraulic clutch has been a battle for me in the past as the ease of pull helps with my short fingers, but the actuation distance hasn't been my favorite. The Brembo hydro unit feels a bit too on-off for my taste, especially on the 450. While the Magura unit found on the Husqvarna offers more a bit more engagement length like I'd find in a cable clutch, while still offering the ease of pull.
The verdict? The KTM is in my opinion the most responsive, more race-like bike out of the box. So how'd it get second? Simple, the KTM's snappy response (not just the engine, but the overall chassis and handling characteristics as well) is great in the short run, allowing me to put down some confident and fast times for myself. But, the winning bike on my list has nearly all this, but just a tad bit more comfort in the long run, and just a tad bit less in the short run. In the end, I went for the long run pace and that's how the KTM ended out second.
First Place: Husqvarna FC 450
You know, I gave this bike last place two years ago...so it's kind of surprising how far it has come. Even more surprising is how the changes the Austrian manufacturer made to their two bikes this year worked even better for the Husqvarna, in my opinion. How did it win? First off, it has all the good points I mentioned above in the KTM. The Brembo brakes are outstanding and offer such a better range of usage, plus the electric starter is becoming a must-have on my list as I ride with them more and more. The bike is just a tad bit heavier than its orange brethren, but still a featherweight compared to others in the class.
But what makes it stand out? Let's start with the little things: the Magura hydraulic clutch has a bit more modulation and usage range than the Brembo, feeling more like the engagement I'd find on a cable clutch. The bodywork on the Husqvarna suits my body positioning and leg shape a bit more naturally, so I felt like I had more grip and control when the going got rough and nasty. As for the handling characteristics, it follows the same story as I wrote above. The balance of this chassis from cornering to stability is near perfect, leaving me confident to hang it out at high speeds but also able to maneuver my way into any type of corner without much thought. The difference in the subframe/airbox and the swingarm (KTM and Husky have different ones this year) give the white machine a bit of a plusher feel all the way around. It's not as responsive from a rigidity standpoint as the KTM at times, but the comfort and the way it lets both ends of the bike follow the ground a bit better is well worth the tradeoff for me. I made similar suspension setting changes to both ends of this bike as I would with the KTM, the only real difference was slowing down the rebound just a bit more on this bike's shock. This was partially due to the chassis feel and power delivery as I wanted to keep it a bit more planted. I hope they don't bother to put a spring fork on this bike, as the AER 48 is on the money for me. I love the initial feel of this fork, plus the extra adjustment and the bottoming resistance/control found in an air fork. Like the KTM, I went up three PSI for a bit more bottoming resistance but a few clicks softer on compression to retain the initial plushness. Due to the extra cushion from the differences in the chassis, I felt as I could go a bit stiffer with this fork if I wanted without giving up as much initial feel that I wanted.
As for the engine, this bike puts out the most horsepower but is so easy to ride due to the way it comes on initially and builds throughout the range into a beast. Similar to the Honda, it has a point in the RPM range where things really start to ramp up. For the Husky though, it happens a bit later in the revs. While on the Honda I found this changeover point to be a slight negative, on the Husky I don't, due to the initial power. On this bike the roll-on power is a bit slow to build but there's just a bit more to where I don't get worried like I did on the Honda. Especially when in the more aggressive mapping, which made this taper point more progressive and less noticeable as the power shifted. Also, with the top end pull being so strong, I was just more aware on this bike on what gear selection I would make for the next obstacle. If I wanted it easy and controllable, I left the bike in third; if I wanted to go for it, I clicked down and sent it in second with some serious aggression. To cap things off on how it got first, simple, this bike had short run sprint pace and long run consistency I didn't quite find in the other bikes. The KTM was the closest and that's why it's second. For me, the KTM is a bit better in the short run and the Husky a bit better in the long run, and I value the long run a bit more when it comes to 450s.
Any negatives? Yes. The shift lever is a bit too long for my size eight feet! That goes for the new, longer brake pedal, as well. Also, the footpegs would be the first thing to go for me, as the traction just isn't quite enough for me as I found myself slipping more often than I'd like. The rest of the ergos were good for me. The newest bar bend they've been using really suits the rest of the cockpit and the flat, grippy seat has some gnarly traction...in a good way. What to improve? I still feel like I could find a l'il more middle ground between the KTM and Husky's initial power. But I'm splitting hairs at this point and if they improve upon this bike or another manufacturer tops this bike, I'll be squealing like a little girl to ride it, because this bike was outstanding as is, and it's hard to imagine them getting much better.
Name: Zach Peddie / Age: 23
Height: 5' 7" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Riding Experience: Current Pro Supercross and Motocross
Seventh Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
The Suzuki has fairly good bottom end grunt, it's just very smooth and without much excitement. Down in second and third gear it feels very competitive with the rest of the class, but up in fourth and fifth it doesn't seem to have the same pull. Also, while it does rev well in some of the lower gears, it goes a bit flat and doesn't continue to drive forward. So for me, short-shifting made the most sense and used the best area of the Suzuki's engine. The chassis set up was comfortable and familiar to earlier 450s, making it easy to throw a leg over and adapt to which was fairly enjoyable. The seat-to-footpeg height made for a comfortable position when both sitting and standing, but was a little wider around the motor area of the frame. This made the bike seem bulky and harder to maneuver than the others, requiring a bit more input from the legs to work than some of the other bikes. The suspension was quite a bit on the soft side, requiring me to stiffen the compression along with speeding up the rebound quite a bit. This kept the fork up in the stroke more and allowed it to stay more usable hit-after-hit under braking. The shock also needed to be a bit stiffer to keep the bike balance, allowing me to attack the rough sections and corners with more confidence. The brakes were okay, along with clutch feel. Nothing outstanding, just okay in these aspects. Overall, the Suzuki offers a feel that many will find familiar, but also a bit old at the same time. It's still good, just not the good I found in the other bikes of the Shootout.
Sixth Place: Kawasaki KX450F
The Kawasaki had its good points and bad. Starting off, the engine was pretty good bottom to top; nothing outstanding as it seemed to struggle to pull through the range under heavy loads for me. It was responsive off the bottom, but just didn't have the straight pulling power some of the others in the class do. The chassis feel was nice though and interesting. It felt sleek and very slender, giving it a light and nimble feel to squeak into the tight corners. However, it ended up just being okay at this at it still felt like it preferred to be steered by the rear. Although, the thin feel made it easy to grip tight with my legs and hang on through the rough stuff. I thought the suspension worked well once you were settled into a fast corner or pushing up to a jump, but on slower sections I struggled a little. Through these sections I felt like the bike wandered around a bit and wouldn't settle when I couldn't push it or shove into something with force. Overall, the rider's compartment was comfortable and very adjustable, making it a comfortable bike to initially be on. But as time wore on, I was just looking for a bit more from the engine and the bike to stay a bit more planted.
Fifth Place: Yamaha YZ450F
Straight up, the Yamaha has a ton of power off the bottom and hits the hardest in the class. This grunt can be really useful at time, allowing me to blip over obstacles at the last section and using the power wisely to pick my way into and out of a rough section. But, it can also make life a bit difficult in longer corners as the grunt of this power could upset the bike a bit, making throttle control in these areas very key to putting down a consistent lap. The bike continues to pull well into the midrange but for me, it feels like it revs through the rest of the range a bit too quickly. Along with the great power was a good clutch to hold back the brunt of the engine when needed and bringing things to life consistently, without fade, when in the higher gears. The brakes are big and strong, although a bit grabby at times but they can put out some serious power. While the suspension was plush and comfortable, I found the forks to be too soft when pushing hard and allowing the bike to stinkbug a bit too much. Overall, the bike is a bit tall in the rear when balanced out for front and rear traction. Lastly, the bar bend is odd, with a bit too much sweep for my liking.
Fourth Place: Honda CRF450R
Having spent a few years aboard a '08 CRF450R, I was excited to see if the newest Honda could finally live up to its legacy and it came close to my expectations. Starting off with the new engine, it kicks off with lots of roll-on power that came on very smooth, before building steam into a great midrange and finally top end power that the CRF hasn't really had before. It really, really shines up top in all gears, giving the bike a very aggressive feel as you wring it out, but a very mellow and soft feel down low. The new chassis, plus seat and peg position made the bike a lot more roomy. It's still compact enough for my size, but much easier to move about on at the same time. Much like the majority of the 250F class for width and feel around the rider's area. The new suspension was great front and rear, with easy adjustments, as every little click seemed to make a noticeable difference on this setup. Overall, the front was a little soft but was an easy fix with just a few clicks. As for the bike balance, it's quite the change from the '09-'16 models, as it still feels small and light, but more leveled like the '08. Actually, it even felt a bit low in the rear at times and had the ability to rear steer, which Honda hasn't had in a long time. Overall it's maybe not as snappy of a chassis as the last few years, but it follows into and out of corners much easier, especially when things get rough. All three engine maps on this bike had noticeable differences, but the third most aggressive one was my favorite. Overall, the new bike is really a right direction for Honda, but while it's good and I don't have any major complaints beyond usual setup, the podium bikes were just a but better for me.
Third Place: KTM 350 SX-F
For me, the KTM 350 SX-F was a big, big surprise. If ridden correctly, I feel that I could easily be a threat on a line full of 450s. It's so light and flickable, much like a 250F but has just enough power to take it to the big dogs. The motor had good bottom power, not necessarily the torque of a 450 but a lot more grunt than any modified 250F I've ridden. Now where it really shines is the bottom three gears, as first, second, and third just seemed to pull forever when compared to a 450. In some cases you shift more often, but in tighter areas you can continue to wring it out to the top of each gear when even a 450 would run out of juice. Now in higher speed sections, where the bike could be clicked into fourth or fifth is where it didn't seem to have the pull to take on a 450 at all times. The chassis and suspension were so in tune on this bike, especially the front fork, which just had better initial feel than anything else in the test. Without the weigh and inertia of a 450 engine, it just made carving in and out of corners a breeze, at least it feels like it after you've been on a 450. The shock was responsive and predictable, which I liked a lot. Even though you're screaming this bike, the rear end continues to settle and find traction, even at those high RPMs. Everything else after that is just bonus: great brakes, hydraulic clutch (which is really great on this bike sine you use it more than on a 450), electric start, and just the overall rider's compartment. Even though it's just a couple pounds lighter than the 450, I'd swear by riding it that it's much, much more. Honestly, I think this bike is quite a threat in the 450 class once you adjust due to the way you can ride is so aggressively. This bike would shine in the rougher tracks, where the 450s huge power just can't be put to the ground that consistently or without just tiring you out.
Second Place: Husqvarna FC 450
The Husqvarna FC 450 has a unique distinction of making the most horsepower in the class but also being so smooth off the bottom. Actually, in map one, it really resembles the KTM 350 SX-F. As it starts off with good response but not brutal snap and pulls each gear forever, although it takes a bit longer to rev. Honestly, this 450 takes the longest to get through second and third, but not in an underpowered way, just a long pull feeling. Up top, it screams almost like the 350, but with even more power until it finally signs off and the 350 pulls just a bit longer. This made the Husky great in the tight sections, as you could just leave it in second gear from section-to-section, focused on line selection and not worrying about power. I loved the chassis setup on this bike, with the controls being near perfect for me. The suspension was a little quick in the rear, so we slowed up the rebound just a bit. Then up front, we stiffened the forks up so I could push over the front and be a bit more aggressive. In the end, however, the Husky lost out to the KTM because the KTM is just a bit more precise and feels like a race bike out of the box. Where in turn, the Husqvarna feels a bit more like an everyday practice bike, just a bit softer and mellower all the way around.
First Place: KTM 450 SX-F
The KTM 450 SX-F was honestly like their 350 but on steroids. I say this because of how progressive the power is, starting off snappy and responsive, then building to RPMs I didn't know a 450 could pull to. Because of this, I could really ride the KTM however I wanted. Short-shifting in the slick sections, or just screaming it gear-to-gear. I could nearly ride a smaller track in second if I'd like, or pull third and fourth through any corner. The KTM chassis and rider's area were super comfortable. At my size, the bike was very easy to move about and grip with my legs, but didn't feel too compact at the same time. Also, I was absolutely in love with the hydraulic clutch and brakes. Actually, a little change that I really noticed was the new rear brake pads and longer pedal gave a lot more control and feel. As last year, I was locking the rear brake too easily but now it was much more useable. The stock suspension settings were really on point, with a little quicker rebound and a few click stiffer on compression I was right at home. As for the little things, the aggressive map is what I preferred and I actually found the traction control to be pretty useful late in the day if things are getting really, really slick. All-in-all, the KTM 450 SX-F is the more pro-ready race bike I've swung a leg over and easily the bike I'd take home if I had to have it in stock form.
Name: Shelby Paget / Age: 30
Height: 6'0" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Experience: 30+ Intermediate
Seventh Place: Kawasaki KX450F
Rating these bikes is quite difficult, as all 2017 450’s (and 350) are incredible bikes and as the testing was underway it was apparent that it was our job to split hairs to determine how these machines stack up against each other. I actually had really high expectations for the 2017 KX450F since it had recently been overhauled, but during my time on the Kawi I never felt fully comfortable. Before I get to where my main complaints lie, let’s point out some of the great things about the green bike. The KXF has a great slim profile, feeling very light as you take it off the stand and has a smooth long power that even allowed me to stay in third gear for a full lap. The bike seemed to really enjoy long berms and provided a very stable feel on the fast sections as well. I could be wrong, but the bike itself felt a tad longer than most the other bikes which may attribute to these things. The feel of KXF was most noticeable over jumps and in the air for me, as it was easy to move around on. Suspension was okay but nothing exemplary, and the front brake was impressive. What kept this bike from getting anywhere near the top, for me personally, was the fact that with even a few click adjustments I could not seem to get this bike to be well-mannered in flat or rutted corners. I would find myself struggling to keep the rear end under me and if I managed to get the rear under me, then I had issues keeping the front from pushing out on me. This made cornering very frustrating for me, if there was not a long berm in the turn to bank off of. I also noticed a bit more vibration from the Kawi’s cockpit than the other competitors. In the end, rear suspension and overall handling characteristics for my style just didn't quite match up, leaving it at the bottom of my list.
Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
The 2017 RM-Z450 is one bad-looking bike! I know there hasn’t been a huge makeover on this bike for some time but the extra black parts/accents brought it back to life a bit for me. Being that I put the RM-Z in fifth place, one might think this bike is not very good, but that’s the wrong assumption. Despite the Suzuki sharing many attributes with my old 09’ I used to have, the bike can still hang with most the pack. The RM-Z has very smooth but strong power from bottom-to-top, and shines by being very playful in the air and in the ruts. The tighter the section, the better you feel on this bike. The downside was the suspension, which seemed to be sprung too stiffly for my weight. This resulted in the rear end stepping out and swapping left to right unpredictably through some rougher acceleration sections on the track. Everything was good on the Suzuki but in a class this stacked, good won’t put you at the top of the class in stock trim.
Fifth Place: KTM 350 SX-F
Being critical of the KTM forks in the past, I was excited to see how the new AER forks were on these otherwise amazing bikes. The KTM 350 SX-F is a complete package and is very competitive, given the right conditions and suitable track for it if you’re lined up next to a gate of 450s. Everyone raves about the fit and finish of these KTMs and I think it’s often taken for granted because not many bikes today in stock form have such incredible brakes, clutch, or other standard features like the orange machines. It was my first time playing around with the “on the fly traction control” and maps on this bike, and I’ll have to say they're not only “technically” cool features, but they work! I was able to take inside flat, sandy lines and have full traction coming out with the TC on, whereas on the other bikes it was more of a threading the needle type of line. I’m not sure if it’s just a mental thing or actual result of having the TC on, but I felt that the bike was a little more hesitant to “slide” or turn off of jump faces that some of the other bikes would be more likely to do so. The maps are great to play with while the track conditions change or if you become a little tired as the day goes on. One of the other areas that really stood out on the 350 was its ability to easily dive into tight ruts and turn on a dime, while taking little to no effort compared to the 450s. The only reason, unfortunately quite a large one, that the bike wasn’t further up the rankings was that if I had to line up on a gate full of 450s tomorrow, for a typical SoCal MX track, then I would feel quite a bit underpowered. The 350 has to be ridden much more like a 250F than I would like when I could just ride its bigger brother, making line selection a bit more key.
Fourth Place: Yamaha YZ450F
For myself, I ended up seeking out a bike in blue last year simply for the reputation of amazingly plush and active suspension, and the 2017 YZ 450F inspires just as much confidence and comfort in the suspension department as my trusty blue steed at home. But my first impression when getting on the blue bike is that it's by far the widest bike in the class. Yamaha has definitely decided to ignore the slim design of the other manufactures by continuing to keep the wider cockpit in play, and for my style it really stands out. I feel that this is a disadvantage when entering corners if you like to move around on the bike a lot like I do and get really far forward. Also, it just constantly feels like I'm using a little extra effort when it comes to moving side-to-side and just all over the bike. The wide feel does however add quite a bit of area to grip with your knees, and you don’t have to always remind yourself to keep pinching like you do on some of the slimmer bikes. For me, the bike is very planted whether it be in the corners, covering rough braking sections, or descending choppy hills, which I mostly attributed to a well-balanced chassis design and suspension that has set the bar for quite some time now. An area of concern was the front brake, which felt almost like an on/off switch; this was especially evident under hard braking sections where I would notice the front brake grabbing so aggressively that my front end would end up diving in a harsh way. As for the engine, it's so strong off the bottom but the spread out gearing makes it extremely smooth and easy to use. The great power and stable chassis wasn't quite enough to make of for the little quarks of the YZF and landed this bike just out of the top three for me this year.
Third Place: KTM 450 SX-F
I was able to spend quite a bit of time on the KTM 450 SX-F and in all honestly, it’s an incredible bike. The bike has top-of-the-class power with some of the best trimmings that I mentioned are also on the 350. I've always felt like I sit much more over the front on the KTM’s than on any of the other brands and this same feeling is evident for me on this year’s model. The cockpit is welcoming and with the thin, flat seating area, moving around on the bike is seamless and natural. The AER forks are a huge step in the right direction for KTM and has helped really fine tune this package when compared to previous year KTMs. Something comfort-wise I noticed on the KTM, was that the frame seems to bow out a bit near my ankles and actually helped me feel more attached to the bike while going through rough sections on the track. This also made it easier to squeeze the bike with my boots to hold on tighter when the power comes on as hard as it does. As for handling, the KTM kills it and goes exactly where I want it to and follows the ground well. I did find myself shifting more on the KTM than the other 450s, since I was often fumbling between second and third gear on the track. Most notably, I was struggling to get the KTM into third gear while coming out of a section in second under a heavy load. Although the KTM is light, I seemed to struggle a bit more throwing it around and jumping it as comfortably a the top two bikes on my list. Compared to the Husky, this may have had to do with how the bodywork worked for my riding style on the bike. Although the KTM isn't in the top spot for me, I would still feel very confident lining up to the gate on this beast in its stock form on any day. Oh yeah, also...electric start is amazing!
Second Place: Husqvarna FC 450
Husqvarna has made huge strides over that last few years and 2017 is no different. They have continued with the unique composite subframe design and I believe this is a move in the right direction. Not only does the subframe make a difference in overall chassis feel, but it also heavily impacts the power delivery because of how the air is fed to the engine on the Husky. Though many people assume the KTM and Husky are cut from the same cloth, they do feel and ride very differently from each other. Aside from the incredibly progressive and strong brakes, e-start and hydraulic clutch, one of the best attributes I noticed right away was its ability to turn and turn well. This bike handles incredibly well and especially shines in fast rutted corners. You can jump into a line and the Husky will keep you planted all the way through it, without hesitation. The power is just as strong as the KTM but actually felt more useable to me, since I found myself being able to roll on the throttle a little earlier than most the other bikes in this shootout. I did have a few complaints even though this bike is my runnerup for 2017. I would have to adjust the rear brake pedal to be a bit further out from the case cover, because my toe was having trouble finding the pedal in a few sections. Also, the seat is extremely firm and I even found myself slamming a bit harder than anticipated on the front, slim portion of the hard seat. Outside of those small gripes, the Husky is a sure fit top runner for 2017 in the 450 class!
First Place: Honda CRF450R
The first place spot, for me personally, was clear-cut from the first time I hopped on the bike. The red machine restored my hope in Honda to live up to their legacy once again. This bike really suits me near perfectly right off the floor. Aside from the amazingly executed makeover, the Honda rides like I would want my personal bike to ride. It has a whole new slimmed down profile and Honda has finally addressed the dog nose stance that has plagued their previous bikes, bringing in a new, balanced chassis. Plain and simple, the Honda won on my list because of how instantly comfortable I was on the bike and how much of a complete package the folks at Honda delivered. They ditched the air fork and went back to a spring fork with 49mm stanchions and updated internals which has only helped compliment Honda’s already great-handling chassis. As soon as you pull out of corner and up a nice hill, you can tell Honda spent some time making sure the power was very strong, yet useable. I felt that the CRF put the power down and tracked best out of the class this year and I never felt uncomfortable rolling into the meat of the torque, regardless of the conditions on the track. The bike repeatedly inspired confidence in me across all types of corners, jumps, and other sections of the track. I’m not quite sure what is about the Honda, but it goes off jump faces buttery-smooth and allows the rider to really play with the bike, without compromising comfort in the air. The suspension is smooth and progressive throughout, even though I did notice a slight bounce back, springy feel if I were to come up short or over jump a section. Though the hydraulic clutches are a treat, the Honda clutch was easy and felt great throughout the motos despite my two-stroke abuse habits! As for negatives, I know there's an e-start option which you can buy separately from Honda, but I think this should come standard for this bike. Simply, it’s an awesome feature and I don’t want to have to kick a bike in 2017, when I’m tired and just want to ride a few more laps. I would also like to see some black rims stock on the CRF for total wow factor, and Honda could possibly work on quieting down this bike off the floor since it was by far the loudest-sounding bike on the track. Aside from that, the 2017 Honda CRF450R knocks it out of the park for me and I wasn’t able to hold back a continuous stream of smiles, hoots, and hollers while spinning laps on the red machine!
Name: Micky Carter / Age: 32
Height: 5' 6" / Weight: 140 lbs.
Experience: 30+ Pro
Seventh Place: Yamaha YZ450F
The Yamaha YZ450F creates great power, but for me I couldn't carry the higher gears that I'd prefer. It's not that the Yamaha doesn't make enough power, it just seems to be geared a bit too tall and needed to be down one more gear in the corners than I'd prefer. Because of this, I was riding the bike in a more aggressive point in the power range than I'd like. As for the suspension, things were pretty dialed front and rear. The overall size of the bike was the biggest drawback for me. At my size, everything just felt a bit too big and it took away from my ability to handle it all across the track. Mostly, though, I struggled in the corners with the YZF, whether it be an inside rut or a wide outside berm as I felt like the bike was just a bit too much to handle. Especially since I spend a lot of time at the front of the bike, where the large radiator shrouds were always on my mind. I did find comfort in the controls, however, as the rider's compartment itself was comfortable and it also had comfortable clutch action and feel. All-in-all, the gearing just put the power in the wrong place for my personal preference and the bulkiness of the bike didn't suit my style.
Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450
The Suzuki gave me instant comfort for the overall feel of the chassis and the rider's area. It really has a familiar feel without any odd features or new geometry to throw you off. Around the legs, the Suzuki isn't wide, but it's also not the skinniest by any means. It didn't bother me, but didn't impress me in the nimble fashion some of the other bikes did. The engine is well-rounded, but has to be ridden fairly hard. Also, it has to be shifted quite a bit and can't be left a gear high in some of situations that I'd like. The suspension was okay but not very balanced, as the front is quite soft in stock trim; requiring faster rebound and compression, even at my weight. Without those changes, it got quite deep under braking and didn't have much hold up if you were to overjump anything decent-sized on the track. The rear was a bit better and felt better matched to a stiffer front end. A major downside for me was the brakes, which just didn't have the feel or power as the other Japanese models, let alone the brakes found aboard the KTMs and Husqvarna.
Fifth Place: KTM 350 SX-F
The 350 is easily the most fun bike out there. This was obvious to me, as I personally rode and raced one this past year, but fifth is as high as I could rate it. As I said after racing one all last season, I know how it is and a 450 for me is still better in racing situations. Getting past that however, it's a joy to just put in laps with. It's really much easier to ride than the 450s and just feels like a much lighter bike, even though it's only a couple pounds under the KTM's own 450. This bike is rewarding no matter where you go on the track; if you hit the tight insides it's so easy to work in and out of the ruts, while screaming it outside was a huge amount of fun as you could really use the more of the bike's capabilities. Beyond that, the brakes, clutch and just quality of parts on the bike feel top-notch. The rider's area is easy to move about on, which is great on this bike because you really want to get all over it as you hang it out. Placing it fifth sounds bad, as I have to say again how fun it really is, but it's just not the bike I'd choose against a field of 450s.
Fourth: Honda CRF450R
The new Honda CRF450R was definitely the bike I was most excited to ride, I mean really, who isn't excited to try this bike and see if it matches the hype? So, was it? Well first off, the bike did feel "like a Honda" when you first got on it. It was a bit roomier than the past bike and felt the lowest out of the box, which was a big benefit for me. How about the new engine? It's actually really similar to the '16 off the bottom, starting off mellow but with a decent amount of torque, but builds into a strong mid-range and keeps building as the RPMs build, stretching farther than any past Honda. It has just enough bottom end power to pull a higher gear as I'd like, but could also be ridden aggressively and leave it down a gear when needed. As for the suspension, it was pretty good. The shock received no complaints for me, and the forks worked really well in most conditions. Overall, they were softer and had more comfort than I had expected. Although, on the rougher downhills I noticed it got a bit twitchy and pushed a little more at the bottom than I'd like. The biggest compliment I can give the bike was how easy it was to cut down in corners, kind of like a 125. Overall, it's a big improvement compared to the past model, and a good first go for Honda on this new style bike. With a few more tweaks, it'll probably make its way even higher up the running order.
Third: Kawasaki KX450F
The KX450F was a bit deceiving in the engine department, as it was easy to clear a lot of the obstacles on the track. Even though it doesn't put out a ton of power compared to some of the other bikes, it seems to make use of it quite well and feels responsive across all the gears. The Kawi also had the ability to be ridden in high gear in a mellow fashion or very aggressive as well, which gave me the impression that the Kawasaki has consistent power throughout the range. Also, the chassis was very skinny and easy to control between your legs, even though it's not as overall small feeling as the Honda or KTM/Husky. The brakes were quite strong. Not as usable as the Brembos, but still very strong when it came to pure stopping power. The suspension front and rear seemed fairly well-balanced, neither end was fantastic in action, but overall good enough to get the job done. The one snag for me was the Kawasaki's clutch, which had a long reach at the lever that I couldn't get a good pull on, and couldn't use it as well as I had liked. Overall, the Kawasaki just gave me a bit more confidence than the Honda when it came to the bigger obstacles on the track, while being fairly on par everywhere else.
Second: KTM 450 SX-F
The KTM ranks high in my sheet because of the quality of many of the components. The hydraulic clutch and electric start are a near must, along with the stock adjustable levers it comes with, which is a big positive for me. From a power standpoint, it has a lot of bottom grunt and can be ridden low in the RPMs to keep things mellow but can be held wide open in low gears as well. It's hard to argue that this engine isn't the most all-around usable for multiple styles of rider. Everything feels right at home on the bike, except it's a bit tall for my liking, even when the sag is set properly. The new AER 48 fork is outstanding, personally I run WP's Cone Valve fork on my personal bike and the feel of this fork is on par with mine in performance. It's a bit different feel, but still very, very good. While the chassis is nimble, the bodywork isn't as easy to hang on to compared to a few other bikes. Overall, this bike is very good all the way around and just doesn't leave you wanting in the slightest way.
First: Husqvarna FC 450
The Husqvarna is a clear-cut winner in my book. This was a simple decision to come to, as I actually own one because of how good it is in all conditions. It has all the positives of the KTM when it comes to components and add-ons. The engine is similar, but just a bit more mellow down low but not missing the pull needed to ride a gear high. It's just enough easier to ride in certain areas with the difference in power to gain the slight nod from me. Also, the bodywork is a bit easier for me to grip, as this bike offers the most control and feel for me when I'm holding the bike. Also, whether it just be the seat profile or the actual subframe, the Husqvarna doesn't feel as tall as the KTM, fitting my build a bit better. With this, it's just a bit easier to move around the bike and be aggressive even though the bike is a bit mellower, making for a great combination. As I mentioned before, the Brembo brakes are just fantastic, easily offering the most feel and usable braking power in the class. The adjustable levers, electric start, and hydraulic clutch are well worth the extra money the Husky commands over the Japanese models, in my opinion. Plus, the bike just looks awesome, whether it's standing still or passing you on the track.
Almost everyone was waiting to see if the all-new Honda CRF450R would finally make its way to the top of the charts. While it did for a couple riders, it just wasn't enough to take the victory over the two Austrian bikes. However, it was a very strong first year showing for this generation of Honda's big-bore four-stroke motocrosser. Last year, the KTM's forks held it back to third in a tight battle for the win between itself, the Kawasaki, and the Yamaha. But even with just the right upgrades it just squeaked up to second. How? That's because the biggest shocker of all happened, the Husqvarna FC450 went from last place in our 2015 Shootout, to first for the 2017 model year. That's pretty darn impressive! Last year's winner, the Yamaha YZ450F, was still praised for its suspension and excellent engine, but the overall size and weight hold it back just a bit compared to the three well-balanced machines above it on our list. The Kawasaki KX450F moved down to fifth, with a mix of opinions that put in anyhere from a podium spot, to last on some lists. The KXF has gotten lighter, thinner, and more nimble the last few years...but the rest of the class has caught up to its strong engine. Also, some setup issues allowed it to go no further. Landing in sixth was a first year machine for us, throwing the KTM 350 SX-F in the fray. It is an option for the masses and we wanted to give our feedback on it when compared directly to its competition. Lastly, the Suzuki RM-Z450 is showing its age but the riders still had very positive things to say about the bike. As everyone has heard for years, it corners like a dream; the engine still holds its own, but the suspension (namely the forks) let it down heavily and make it hard to rate higher in stock trim.
For us, the most interesting part is the overall scores. As you can clearly see, the Husqvarna, KTM, and Honda are well-regarded on every rider's list. The talk was really centered around how well-balanced these bikes are, from their chassis, to suspension, and even their engines. It really was hard to find a negative with these three.
Hopefully we've shown you what you needed to know about the 2017 450s, and given you some solid insight if you're looking at purchasing one of these bikes for yourself. As always, we'll be back in year's time to give you all of our test rider's thoughts on the 2018 450 models, along with any other shootout we perform. Any thoughts or suggestion on the format? Or maybe a question about the actual results of this test? Drop us a note in the comment section below.