2019 Vital MX 450 Shootout

It's that time of the year, time to put the field of 450cc motocross bikes to the test and see which one will come out on top. Are you interested in getting one of these new machines, but not quite sure if it's right for you? That's why we're here, to give you all the information and insight you need to pick the best bike for you. There will be a winner and loser in Vital MX's 2019 450 Shootout but there's still a lot of great bikes stashed in there. While the winner will definitely be the most rounded machine by our tester's opinion, we hope that in reading this you'll find out if that bike or one of the others involved is the dirtbike you're going to put your hard earned dollars down on.

As always, you'll get to examine our test rider's comments on each of the six bikes from our days of testing. 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 or to the track to race the next day with the adjustments available off the showroom floor?"

For this year's 450 Shootout we visited three different tracks in Southern California; Chaney Ranch, Fox Raceway, and Milestone. These three tracks were chosen because of their range of terrain, size, and jump style. Chaney Ranch features constant elevation changes, flowing fast corners, and it's a bit like a backyard track paradise...making for some epic action shots. Milestone MX is your typical modern day motocross track. It's been on flat property, everything is man-made, features a lot of obstacle into tight corners that carry consistent angles. There you're constantly accelerating, jumping, and then braking hard into each corner. Fox Raceway (formerly Pala) and is known for having held two outdoor nationals in the past. For anyone who watched those races, they'll remember that this track features huge obstacles, wide-open straightaways, and deep braking bumps. Beyond this, we continued working with LITPro to keep track of our laps and data for each day. The riders can use this data to help with gauging their performance. Oh, did we mention that we racked up over 1000 laps of recorded testing?

Many of you who have read a Vital MX Shootout prior will recognize the majority of names on our tester list from the past editions. Each of these riders are selected because of their ability to give feedback, their honest nature, plus being able to manage riding a few long days in the Summer of Southern California. If you look carefully at the bios, you'll see what bikes each rider has been riding previously and for those that participated last year, we also placed in their 2018 results for a quick comparison.

The Contenders

If you're looking for a refresher on what's new with each model, you can find the technical info by hitting the specs links, and our initial ride comments in our First Impressions. They're listed in order by MSRP, from most expensive to least expensive.

2019 Husqvarna FC 450
MSRP: $9,999
Specs First Impressions

2019 KTM 450 SX-F
MSRP: $9,899
Specs  First Impressions

2019 Yamaha YZ450F
MSRP: $9,299
Specs • First Impressions

2019 Honda CRF450R
MSRP: $9,299
Specs • First Impressions


2019 Kawasaki KX450F
MSRP: $9,299
Specs • First Impressions

2019 Suzuki RM-Z450
MSRP: $8,949
Specs • First Impressions


Dyno Comparison Charts

Due to the fires in Southern California, our dyno results came out a bit inconsistent and are being swapped out (the dyno we used is exposed to the elements as was down-wind just a few miles from one of the larger fires). We should have a fresh chart by the end of Monday.

Bike Weights

These weights were collected at Race Tech, using a scale that recorded front and rear bias of each bike, along with the total weight. Dry weights are done with the motorcycles ready to ride, minus fuel in the tanks. Wet weights on the other hand are ready to ride with a full tank of fuel. Our version of a "full tank" was to fill each bike until the fuel was at the brim of the tank, then place the cap on. That's as full as they get.

A note for reading weight bias, we've noticed that rear shock pre-load differences (sag) can change the bias reading by one pound front to rear. So take all front and rear bias results with a +/- one pound range of actuality. 

Manufacturer
and Model
Dry
Weight
 Dry
Front Bias
Dry
Rear Bias
Wet
Weight
Wet
Front Bias
Wet
Rear Bias
Suzuki RM-Z450 239 lbs. 114 lbs. 125 lbs. 249 lbs. 120 lbs. 129 lbs.
Yamaha YZ450F 238 lbs. 115 lbs. 123 lbs. 248 lbs. 120 lbs. 128 lbs.
Honda CRF450R 235 lbs. 115 lbs. 120 lbs. 246 lbs. 120 lbs. 126 lbs.
Kawasaki KX450F 231 lbs. 112 lbs. 119 lbs. 242 lbs. 118 lbs. 124 lbs.
Husqvarna FC 450 223 lbs. 107 lbs. 116 lbs. 234 lbs. 113 lbs.  121 lbs.
KTM 450 SX-F 222 lbs. 106 lbs. 116 lbs.  233 lbs. 114 lbs. 119 lbs.

The Results

Below you'll find the results for each bike, listed from last to first place. With each overall result, you'll also find the personal scores of each test rider added up, which reflects that model's finishing position. Each rider ranks the bikes from first to sixth, then we add up these scores and the lowest total number wins. It's simple but effective, allowing you a quick view into how each bike landed where they did. Once you get past the shock and awe of the results, you can scroll down a bit more to find each rider's individual results, along with their personal rankings and write-ups about each bike. Giving each rider their own voice and allowing you to see where we all agreed, and disagreed over the 2019 range of 450s.

Here you'll find our video edition for those that want to just sit back and listen to roughly ten minutes of quick results and insight from our own head of testing, Michael Lindsay. If you have the time however, we strongly recommend you keep scrolling to see the scores of each bike and each of our seven test rider's thoughts.

Video by Joe Carlino and Griffin Denbesten - G.A.S. Productions

 

Also, if you want to discuss the results with us, drop us a comment below the article or join our larger QNA discussion in the forum. You can find that here: Forum QNA - 2019 Vital MX 450 Shootout


Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Scores: 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 = 42

Fifth Place - KTM 450 SX-F

Scores: 5 - 5 - 4 - 4 - 4 - 5 - 2 = 30

Fourth Place - Husqvarna FC 450

Scores: 4 - 4 - 5 - 3 - 5 - 3 - 3 = 27

Second Place - Tied - Kawasaki KX450 and Honda CRF450R

Kawasaki Scores: 2 - 1 - 2 - 4 - 2 - 2 - 5 = 18

Honda Scores: 3 - 3 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 4 - 4 = 18

First Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Scores: 1 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 3 - 1 - 1 = 12


Test Rider Opinions

Michael Lindsay

Age: 26 
Height: 5' 8" / Weight 158 lbs.
Riding Experience: Somewhere between really good and really bad...
Recent Bikes: Everything Vital MX tests
2018 Shootout Results: 1st Husqvarna, 2nd Honda, 3rd KTM, 4th Yamaha, 5th Kawasaki, 6th Suzuki



Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

Welp, I'm sad to do it again but the 2019 RM-Z450 has only minor clicker adjustments made versus the 2018 version, so I guess it's slightly to be expected. Not to say I didn't give it my best effort, while I didn't ride the 2018 a lot after last year's Shootout, I did just enough to have some ideas on what to change. Right off the bat we dropped the sag low, starting around 108mm and finally ending right at 110mm (which required almost no pre-load on the rear spring). With this, we were able to keep some more weight on the rear with the goal of keeping it down in the stroke and not lifting as much mid-corner or under braking. From there, a bit slower rebound out back helped and a few fork adjustments to dial in the balance. I tried going flush on fork height and just a few millimeters, depending on the track and grip I found staying with low sag and adjusting fork height was adequate enough to achieve the balance I wanted. Why go this low? Well for me the stock Suzuki turns too well. It oversteers in almost every situation so I'm constantly trying to get weight off that front tire and improve the long corner feel of this machine. Taking that weight off helps the bike track easier through long ruts and around the top edge of berms, without feeling like the slightest turn of the bar will make it cut down too early.

Oddly enough, I couldn't quite remedy the bike climbing out of ruts early, not because it pushed out but because it climbed the inside of the rut and wanted to exit even tighter. For me this seems to be caused by the Bridgestone front tire, which has an aggressive sidewall pattern that latches onto the rut and pulls itself out when the leading edge comes in contact. I'll put it bluntly, I'd much prefer a Dunlop MX3S/33 or Michelin Starcross out there. But, once I figured out the tire thing, I would consciously counter steer just enough the tire wouldn't catch and I was good to keep in rut-bound.

As for the forks, I found an odd predicament, I don't bottom them very often but they seem to just drive into the mid-stroke too easily. I sped up the rebound as much as I could handle, keeping the forks higher up in the stroke under heavy braking but it still wasn't comfortable. Between the heavy engine braking feel and overall balance on the bike, it just seems to drive too much weight into the forks on faster tracks with deep braking zones. With all my suspension adjustments and balance changes, I got the Suzuki moving around pretty well and actually laid down some good laps aboard it. But, without further adjustments, the RM-Z just transfers a lot of energy to the body. One lap on this bike felt like three or more on the others in the test. So albeit I got the bike working, it wasn't the most comfortable.

"...it's probably not the ideal bike for me"

So how about the power? You know, even though the engine has received minor updates over the years, it's not too shabby. It's fairly stout off the bottom and has good mid range, it just doesn't like high RPMs. It just doesn't make as much up top as the others and it seems to upset the chassis and suspension more than others when up that high. The bright side, the RM-Z has a buttery smooth transmission, making well timed short shift in the meat of the torque a breeze. On tight and mid-speed tracks, I don't mind the power overall, but open tracks are where it shows its age. Once you're trying to ring out third gear and load it for long period of times in fourth, I felt where it really missed compared to the competition. Tracks utilizing second and third gear though, it's competitive. As for the couplers, white was by far the preferred. While it's the more aggressive option, it makes the bike easier for me to ride due to a better connected feel to the engine. With the stock coupler I found myself make too aggressive of moves with the throttle while waiting for the bike to respond, especially on tight tracks. With the white coupler installed, the bike was more crisp and responsive, making my inputs much more effective and actually more predictable.

Ergos are comfortable and easy to adapt to. One thing you have to hand Suzuki, they've never gone so crazy with geometry that the bike feels weird to sit on or adjust to. Sadly, the bike just feels heavier in all situations, but mostly when the engine is up in RPMs due to what I feel to higher than average engine inertia. For me, keeping the RM-Z a gear higher than the competition when coming into corners makes a huge difference in control and wear on the body. So where does the Suzuki sit as a choice? It's at the bottom of my list but there are still good things here. I think the number one is the time this bike has been around in terms of parts, there's a lot available out there and plenty of things to upgrade it with/play with. Overall though, Suzukis best point is the planted front feel and loaded turn in, it's just not something that I need as much as other qualities. For me, I sit far enough forward on a bike in a corner I can get nearly anything to pivot and plant when needed. I look more for a bike that can follow the ground comfortably through fast/open corners as that's my personal fault. As you can see by changes above, I'm constantly trying to calm down how a Suzuki reacts thus meaning it's probably not the ideal bike for me.


Fifth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

Oh this hurt, this one really hurts to type out. For me, the top five bikes in the test have a big list of positives and I'm personally quite a fan of KTMs, rating them very well in the past few years. So why are we here? Similar to my last few sentences during my Suzuki comments, this exact KTM doesn't seem to suit my needs. Let's start with what I like about the bike before I break down what resulted in the fifth place. First off, the bike is physically light. While you hear many of us talk about how other bikes feel as light in movement as a KTM, that's partially due to our region. My thought is a lot of bikes, if their weight placement and inertia are well managed, will feel similar in weight in more hard packed and flowing conditions. Because simply, you're flowing and not having to fight the bike very often. A KTM's true lack of physical weight I think is harder to appreciate unless you're riding in soft conditions, sand, or something loose enough where you're doing more physical work on the bike. What else is good? Brembo brakes, the modulation and control of how much force you're applying is still at its best here. I love these because other than slowing you down, I feel like they have so much control you can load the bike front with more control than other brakes when needed.

Where else does the KTM shine? For me, it's long flowing sections and how I can stand to control the bike. The feel of the chromoly frame is a big positive for me when standing and trying to control the bike through my feet and legs. The newest generation chassis is a big stiffer torsionally, meaning it doesn't feel like it twists side-to-side as much under acceleration load and even under braking, as the front tire/wheel seems more compliant. Now this is where I'll start going towards the not so positive. Speaking of that front end, I felt like the '18 KTM was more comfortable at my lighter weight. While the new bike is more planted, the setup was harder for me to get used to and find my comfort. I felt like the front lost its ability to follow the ground quite as well and I was chasing some initial comfort I had last year. As I've mentioned nearly a million times on our site, I'm a general fan of air forks and I think the AER48 is the best production version out there. But on this setup, I lost some of the initial movement I thought made this fork so good. 

Stock, the KTM seemed to pop up into my hands too quickly this year and was deflective at high speeds. Slowing down the rebound helped but then the fork felt like it packed under braking. After a few days of testing, on the last day, I found a slight fix for this. Normally I run 105mm of sag but I felt that running 103mms to more naturally load the front end and splitting the difference on my prior rebound change gave me a batter balance. This balance being comfort from the rebound being quick enough, but enough load on the front end that it settled and wasn't topped out or deflective. Even with this change, the front wasn't quite as comfortable as the bikes farther up my list. As for the rear shock, opening up the high-speed compression helped the rear settle under acceleration as I felt the bike didn't do it well naturally, which I'll get to when I talk about the power.

Ergonomics are fairly good, I like the low bars, putting me in a "racey" position. I already raved about the brakes by the Brembo hydraulic clutch was just okay for me. In the past I've always preferred the range of actuation from the Husky's Magura unit, while the Brembo feels like a light switch. However, I really felt like Kawasaki's new Nissin hydro was a bit step forward for the type of actuation I'm looking for. This kind of gave me a more bummer tone towards the Brembo, now knowing it can be a good step better. Now as for the seat, it's a bit odd for me. I found it plenty comfortable and easier to move back and forth on, while keeping me in place under acceleration. But I found while leaned into corners, I didn't like how round the profile was as I'd slip off the inside fairly easily. While some riders get more on top of the bike when cornering, I seem to lean with it and a much more square profile seems to keep my hips more locked in place. I found that mid corner, in a deep rut, I'd just slip to the inside of the bike and lose my sense of balance a bit. It's a small thing, but noticeable.

Lastly, the power, this is the main reason the KTM sits fifth for me. For the past few years the KTM has been going broader and smoother, which I think is good for the general public. The SX-F makes some serious power from mid to top but I felt like the initial response of their 450 went backwards this year. For me, I felt both maps produced a flat or delayed spot initially before the power would snap on. With this, I felt disconnected from the bike and engine, causing mistakes and making it harder for me to vary my lines. As you'll read further one, my top three bikes are physically heavier then this bike, but felt lighter in certain situations where I used their responsive engines to make the bike pivot out of corners, over square edge bumps, and even hop the bike in and out of corners. With the 450 SX-F's somewhat lazy initial response, I found it driving the front into things instead of over them. In turn, I spent more time physically pulling on the bike to get it to work through some sections. Lastly, long ruts were taking some adaption for me due to the lag I felt. I had to start turning the throttle on a bit earlier than I'd anticipate to keep the KTM pulling through a rutted corner as if I timed it the same as some other bikes...the slight mellow response would leave me tipping in just a bit too much before the power brought the bike to life, causing me to stand the SX-F up mid corner. When jumping bike-to-bike, this stood out as something that caused a longer adaption period then other machines on my list.

In closing; I think the KTM is very well balanced, it has some phenomenal features and yes, it's light. While I commented about initial comfort I know with more time I could get that dialed as I was getting close at the end of our last day. But in stock form, the engine drove me nuts this year as it just doesn't suit my needs. I think the wider and more flowing the corners, the easier this engine would be for me to adapt to. But tracks with increasing apexes, inside singles, and other obstacles I want to pivot and pop the bike over...it just wasn't working for me.


Fourth Place: Husqvarna FC 450

Placing my 2018 winner in fourth is odd, really odd. To start off with, yes, I think the 2019 Husqvarna FC 450 is improved over the '18 in some mays but maybe a step back for me in other ways. So what's improved? The power in a way. I liked the smooth and usable nature of the Husky in '18 but I felt like it was more connected initially than the new '19. I think the '19 version does rev a bit freer though. So what I'm getting at is this year, I feel the initial response isn't as good but the quickness of the engine past that point is better for me. This year I spent plenty of time in both map one and two, actually finding map one to be better for me. Yes, map one is smoother, but it felt more connected for me and actually more responsive to my wrist inputs. Map two has more snap or hit, but I felt more of a delay and I felt like I'd rather work with map one as I felt more consistent around the track. Per usual, this engine puts down some serious power mid to top. Once you've opened up a 450 in third or even fourth gear and it doesn't feel like it stops pulling, that's an eye opening experience. The initial response though caused me the same problems I mentioned above with the KTM, I couldn't do certain things on the track I'd like and felt like the bike was taking more physical work then I'd like. Beyond that, there's just some lines I could cut into or switch it up with like the top three bikes on my list.

Yes, I felt like my lap times were pretty darn good one the Husky once I got it dialed in but I mostly felt like my options on these laps were more limited. In other words I felt like I was working inside of a smaller box when compared to my podium choices. As for dialing it in, the balance was easy to find on the FC 450 and I turned my attention to the forks...which unlike the KTM's felt dead and almost soft. I found the good balance the FC had went away under braking as it would dive through the stroke and then recover slowly. At first I tried to stiffen the compression and speed up the rebound, which did remedy those problems. But I still didn't have the comfort I needed all over. Per the Husky technicians suggestion, we reset the clickers and actually raised the air pressure from the standard 10.5 bar to 10.8 bar. I didn't think this was going to be the ticket as I'm pretty light for a 450 and raising spring force usually isn't the answer, but this go around it was money. It had a similar feel to my prior fix but offered a bit more initial comfort at varying speeds around the track, unlike my fix which only worked in a smaller zone.

My ergo comments are nearly identical to the KTM outside of two main things. One, I prefer the Magura hydro clutch due to the actuation distance it has. It's no cable clutch but it's not a full on light switch. With the Magura I felt like I could load the engine easier and have more control mid corner, even getting the bike to react in ways I couldn't get the KTM to. The second ergo thing was related to the seat. I too feel like this seat profile is too round for my style but it's also uncomfortable. By uncomfortable, I mean slightly abusive when compared to anything else in the test. It felt so stiff I just slid across it but the cover was so grippy it just yanked on my pants. I almost had an Eli Tomac moment...which never happens for me. This also made me feel like I was little more on top of the bike, as I didn't settle into it at all. When I've ridden a Husqvarna for a few days, it's a sensation that goes away but in quick rotation...it's something that just takes longer to adapt to then I'd like.

Overall the balance of the Husqvarna was easy for me to obtain and with a few additional clicker changes I was fairly comfortable. The newest chassis is more planted for me but seems to just lack a tad bit of comfort I need at my lighter weight. It's close enough I'm fairly confident I could obtain it with a bit more work though. The engine, albeit better mapped for me versus the KTM, was still somewhat irritating on some tracks. Once again, it just didn't suit my needs as much as the top three. The wider the corners and faster the track, the more I appreciated what the Husqvarna had to offer but it just didn't check as many boxes as my podium selection.


Third Place: Honda CRF450R

As we get into my podium picks, this is where some serious head scratching started and a lot of arguing with myself. Last year, the CRF450R finished second on my list and this year it's third. Is the 2019 worse then? Not a chance. I think all the changes have improved the bike, it's just the other two bikes improved enough to leapfrog it. So what are the positives with the CRF in my eyes? I feel like this is the most playful bike in the test. This is a combination of the chassis, engine, and suspension that seem to reward me throwing the bike around, trying weird things and getting out of my comfort zone at times. Albeit the engine has hardly changed for 2019, the few changes made a difference. First and foremost, the Honda has a different map for each gear it's in. Meaning, it has five different maps for all three modes on the handlebar as well. I felt like this gave the CRF450R the most character change when selecting from the three available modes. Map one was broad, initially connected and fairly easy to use, pulling in an nice linear but strong fashion through the full range and topping out nicely. Mode two is initially so smooth, even slower revving and pulls the longest...while mode three is the most aggressive and playful. This setting gives the bike a nice sharp bark initially and a quicker/more rev happy mid range. It doesn't pull as well through the top as mode one or two, which is to be expected from a leaner setting, but man it's responsive at all RPMs. This really assists the Honda in that playful nature I mentioned, as it makes swapping lines with power, lofting the front over chop and all around technical riding a blast.

Every engine in the top three of my results are fun and I'd really take any of the three, it comes down more to the chassis and suspension that decided my final order. So how about the Honda's chassis? I feel like it's right on the knife's edge of comfort and stiffness, maybe leaning the slightest bit towards stiffness. The top two in my results offered more chassis comfort but the Honda was still an easier ride for me than the KTM or Husqvarna. The biggest change for me with the '19 swingarm and rear frame section changes was how complete the handling characteristics felt on this bike. While I feel that the '17/'18 are more rear steering capable than the prior generation, they still preferred front input. With the '19, I felt like they hit a new perfect mix of front and rear steer abilities. For me, the '19 offers a lot more control out back and the added rigidity makes it more confidence inspiring to force the rear into the exit of a corner, rollers, or any type of chop when heavy on the throttle. In these same situations on the prior two years, there could be a bit of flex and dancing that wouldn't let me full stay committed.

But, as I said before, I felt like the CRF is on the knife's edge. Compared to the bikes above it, I felt like I was chasing just a bit of initial front comfort and a bit of deflection on faster sections of the track. This is where things got interesting as I felt that the Honda's chassis was very sensitive to balance. Just one millimeter of change to the sag or fork height brought about a big change and we chased a few small adjustments until I found the right balance that settled the front down, gave me comfort and kept some high speed stability. I started at 108 mm of sag and three millimeters of fork height, before playing around and eventually ending between 107 mm and 106 mm of sag depending upon the track and four millimeters on fork height. A little bit open on the high speed compression of the shock to settle it under load, two clicks faster on the rebound of the fork and a click softer on compression to keep it moving/working how I'd like. While I had a lot of fun testing and working with the Honda, these little changes took more work than my top picks and was ultimately my deciding factor on placing it third.

"This is take-away from HRC's works billet Nissin caliper..."

Ergonomics wise, nearly everyone says it, a Honda just feels spot on. Well, I finally agree with them. From '06-'08 this rang true for me, from '09-'12 I thought it was alright but from '13-'16...I didn't agree. Now from '17 on, I'm back on the bandwagon and for 2019 they finally went to a 1 1/8 Renthal Fatbar and lowered it just a bit! Hallelujah, I'm in love! For me, this put me in a bit racier position that gave me more aggression and control. Yes, I'm a smaller rider but I honestly think this bend being lower and a little flatter on the curve will be a big bonus for nearly anyone on the bike. The flatter curve should help the taller riders not feel cramped while us little guys can move about the bike and not feel like we're sitting straight up to be at height with the bars. You'll see a common theme in my top two choices about bar height comments, but I really felt like Honda nailed this.

Outside of this, Honda stepped up on something big by updating their Nissin front brake caliper with new brake piston sizes of two different sizes, 27mm on the leading piston (direction the rotor enters the pads) and 30mm on the leaving end. This is take-away from HRC's works billet Nissin caliper and in my opinion really increases the modulation and usage of the brake. The two different piston sizes allows the brake pad to keep more even pressure on the pad, as sometimes the leading edge of the pad will grab too much and wear the pad unevenly. With less pressure from the small piston at the beginning, it allows the later piston to keep the rear of the pad engaged. Yes, it sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but for me it brought the Nissin within the strength and range of usability found on the Brembo front brake.

So there's a lot of good here, why third? Simple, that bit of comfort I chased was instantly available on the next two machines and the range of their use on rough tracks was just a bit better.


Second Place: Yamaha YZ450F

This bike was the surprise of the Shootout for me. While I had ridden all the bikes prior to this test and knew Yamaha had made big strides with the '19 with the right changes, I guess it might have been over-shadowed in my mind by some of the newer/shinier toys coming into this. For me, the Yamaha has landed in third and fourth a lot over the years. While they keep making strides it's just a bike I never fully clicked with and didn't give the giggly/excited feel I usually get from the bikes at the top of my list. Well, the YZ-F put a smile on my face this year, that's for sure.

How'd they pull that off? Balance...not just chassis balance but an overall balanced machine. From the power, to the suspension, chassis and handling characteristics; this bike just felt like everything was working in unison. Yamaha and their R&D team deserves huge credit for listening to all my comments, my test rider's comments and every media outlets comments from last year. They targeted all the small things that the '18 didn't quite nail and corrected them for the new year. I'm remember saying something along the lines of the '18 Yamaha was a huge step forward but just missed all the little details. Well, I think they only missed one, bar mounts...please go back to the shorter ones, that five millimeters would be huge. Other than that, they nailed it. What were the changes? One, seat foam stiffness. On the '18 it was soft, you hit the subframe when seat bouncing and just had a sinking couch feeling when you sat on it. For '19 they went a bit stiffer, it's still comfortable but it makes the bike feel skinnier when sitting due to it not squishing out, it's easier to move on and be aggressive, instead of sinking in and getting stuck in place. Two, the wheel spacers are more rigid and while this sound gimmicky, it's noticeable. I can't say I notice the rear much but up front, the front wheel is more compliant in the rough and when pushing into deep braking zones. It basically twists around less, offers more positive traction feedback to the rider, and is more planted. This, along with the suspension setting changes really helped my confidence in the bike when entering ruts.

Three, the suspension settings got an overhaul. Last year I nicknamed this bike the teeter-totter, as it never settled down and continued to pitch front-to-rear. In '19 the bike is much more composed, holds up higher in the stroke, and most of all, it's balanced! No more front low, rear high under braking, to immediate rear squat and front popping out of ruts when on the throttle. This change took the YZ-F from big floating couch, comfortable but a handful, to a well mannered and aggressive race bike. I always felt that the Yamaha was a bike I loved riding at around 80-85% but not a bike I wanted to push on, it never seemed to get better when I attacked. This bike on the other hand nudged me to push more and more, a sensation I'm not used to from a YZ450F, oh it was a nice change of pace.

Change four, the mapping and gearing. Break out your orange helmets but yes, the '18 needed a tooth on the rear sprocket. Over the years, Yamaha had made their bike more of a tractor with long pulling power and super spread gear spacing. Yes, in theory you didn't have to shift the '18 as much but I did, it was never in the right spot of me. This year the bike is much easier to use as on tight tracks second is in the right spot, while third is great for wider corners. Last year I always felt like the bike was too lugged down and revved too slowly to compensate. I actually though the bike needed two teeth to even out but they opted for one and a remap that gives the engine a more free and rev-happy character. This gives it just the right pick up initially, feeling connected and strong. In the mid-range, it's linear, pulling strong but not pulling your arms off. Overall, it just feels more responsive and free to rev, which helps the whole bike feel lighter. This change, combined with the suspension updates, really gave me a bike that I felt was more variable around the track. Fast outsides, tight insides, banking out earlier to miss bumps, chopping up a corner to setup better for the next, popping wheelies over braking bumps… It just worked and made the prior "couch" still comfortable in the rough but much more aggressive. 

"Seriously, I hope more OEMs step up with this..."

Now what did I change? Not much, we mostly focused on bike balance. With their base settings the bike was well balanced and comfortable, but just a bit tall in long corners where I couldn't really drive the bike and had to roll off throttle. For this, we went two millimeters lower on fork height and opened the high speed compression enough to get the bike to settle down and squat more front and rear. This helped me not feel so top heavy and off balance when in these long but slow corners. With the changes, the Yamaha was easier for me to ride from the middle of the bike and not have to throw myself up front like I used to when trying to get into corners. I only find myself diving to the front of the bike in the tightest situations now, and yes, it still feels a tad bigger up there with the way my legs are setting against the bike. It's not much, just a bit more than some of the others.

As for the mapping comments, a big positive Yamaha has is their free tuning app. Seriously, I hope more OEMs step up with this, as it's one of the main reasons I fell in love with the bike. The stock map was just a bit too much for me when it came to the transition from low to mid RPM power, just enough I was backing out of the throttle to control it and unsettling the bike a bit. I tried a few maps, ending up on TP 2.0 (Travis Preston's personal map, I'll figure out how to get a download link in this article) which kept the connected response, free engine feel but just cleaned up that initial to mid hit enough I could stay in the throttle and keep the bike driving forward without a delay on my part. Now why second? Oh this took a pros and cons list with my number one bike that was insanely long. What finally did it was something the top bike nailed for me just a bit better, control while standing. For me, the Yamaha was amazing in the rough but I didn't feel that I was quite as technical on the bike with the balance and feel of the bike between my legs. I tended to sit more on the Yamaha and while I really couldn't complain about the ergos outside of the tall bar mounts, my top choice was just a bit more playful for me while equaling the things I liked about the Yamaha and just a bit easier for me to climb onto the front of in the tightest of corners.


First Place: Kawasaki KX450

Ohh my heart that pumps green blood has rejoiced. I've made it no secret in past Shootouts that I've owned quite a few Kawasakis and last year I gave them fifth, it sorta crushed me. I give them their fair criticism and it hasn't been near the top for me in a few years now. It just didn't deserve it, period. From the day I rode this bike at the intro, I was giddy. In every aspect I think they killed it with this bike (okay, except one aspect, which I will mention at the end). The list of changes is easier to obtain in our First Look or First Impressions as there's a lot to discuss here. Let's take them one area at a time, starting with the frame, swingarm and other associated goodies; aka the chassis itself. 

For years now, the KX450 (formerly KX450F) has had some serious chassis comfort to the point it felt like an extension of the suspension itself. Except one problem, they had a fork that was challenging for the majority to setup but I always felt like the Showa SFF TAC worked the best on the KX frame over the competition's due to that extra bit of comfort. Knowing Kawasaki would be chasing improved grip, front steering input and a better balanced handling characteristic worried me, because I wasn't sure they would keep the comfort. Well, they kept it for '19 and for that I'm so stoked. As for the TAC fork, it's gone and replaced by Showa's 49mm spring fork, nick-named the A01. While structurally it's similar to the fork now used by Honda and Suzuki, it of course has its own settings and some extra coatings. For years, the KX has had either DLC or some form of titanium nitride coatings on the lower tubes but this year they matched it with a dimpling on the inside of the upper tubes; allowing oil to settle in microscopic dimples and keeping things moving a bit smoother. While it may sound like PR speak, I will say the KX has the most initially plush forks this year, at least in my opinion. This mixed with the chassis comfort really gave the Kawasaki an amazing feel in the rough, no matter what track we hit.

Talking more about those forks, initially riding them I'd swear the fork springs are perfect for my lower weight but oddly enough, it has the same rate as the CRF450R. Albeit with different settings and a much lower oil level (once I did some investigation). While this fork is so supple initially, it can eat through the mid range just a bit quickly. To work with that, I found speeding up the rebound worked well at my weight, holding it up higher in the stroke when in aggressive braking zones and other spots of continuous impacts. For the biggest landings and just brutal moments of energy, I found the fork bottomed a bit easily but the control at the end of the stroke was amazing for me. I never once felt like I was going to lose the bike even though I knew a spot or two a lap I could potentially bottom the fork. If a track had a spot that exaggerated this, one or two clicks of compression could clean it up but going any further than that would lose that initial feel I was in love with. Overall, I found I'd keep that slight controlled bottom sensation to keep the initial plushness that was aiding me on 99% of the track.

Shock wise I found to be possibly too stiff to match to the forks and I think this is the one flaw for the '19 KX450 from a general view. The chassis takes some of this away but I feel like the rear drives the front forks just a bit too much so mainly focused on running a little more sag, 106-107 mm, taking a little high speed compression away from it, and even slowing down the rebound on certain tracks. While this may sound like a few more chasing tweaks than I made to the other two bikes on my list, I found them right off the bat when I initially tested the bike; the reward was a bike that was on par in balance if not a little better for me than the other two in my podium rankings. Once we nailed the balance, I could ride it at every track we tested on and really didn't consider another change towards the suspension, I was just happy.

The power is the biggest departure for me from the prior Kawasaki, but in a good way. Starting off, this engine feels so much more free on acceleration but even more when off the throttle, really aiding the KX in rolling through long corners and just floating over chop. On acceleration, I felt like the KX450 gave me the most connected experience with throttle roll-on and really helped me manipulate the bike with power and gave me a wide range of lines I could choose from between this power and what traction the chassis/suspension offered up. With the stock coupler installed, this initial hit was just a little much in places and almost felt like it dropped off a bit before going into a linear mid range. Swapping over to their black "mellow" couple, cleaned up the transition from initial throttle to that mid range torque, but without giving up that crack of the throttle response and connection I was so stoked on. As a small bonus, this coupler pulled even further and finished off up top a bit cleaner. For some, maybe there could be a bit stronger mid range but for my style I was more than happy. As I mentioned prior, all three on my podium had engines I loved for varying reasons and it's hard for me to pick a favorite as they all worked for their own reasons.

Ergos, oh so close to perfect, oh so close. I love the seat and transition with the plastic front to rear. This bike gave me the most positive connection from my feet and lower legs, giving me the best grip when standing no matter where I was on the bike. As I mentioned on the Yamaha, this is the main reason the KX got the nod for me. I LOVE standing through corners and feeling that connection. So what was off? Handlebars...I'm going to do a small plead here. Honda and Kawasaki have shared the same bar bend for years and as I mentioned with the Honda, they went to a slightly lower but flatter Fatbar. That exact bar would be so perfect on this bike as well. I heard some of our smaller guys even say that the KX wasn't as open as the Honda in the cockpit and the bar does that for me. I found myself rolling it back more than anything else to get the right height from it, as it's just tall enough it sits me too upright in the saddle and almost make the rear feel low initially. Luckily, I could roll it back just enough to get over it but the sweep of the bars drooped just a tad this rolled back.

Controls? The front brake on the Kawasaki is powerful but just a tick off the range of usability of the Brembos or the Honda's caliper but the pure braking strength is there. The rear is odd though, with a 250mm rotor I had to be careful to not drag it even in the slightest as it gets hot in a flash and pulls the engine down. It doesn't take much actuation to get this brake locked, but it does produce some serious power. I was split on the larger rotor as it helped in some areas but might have been a tad bit too much in others. The more I rode the KX though, the less this stood out to me. And that hydraulic clutch? Money! Hydros for me are a want and irritation at the same time. I have short fingers so the light pull of a hydraulic is amazing but I need the engagement length and usability of a cable clutch for my style. The best compliment I can give Nissin/Kawi over this thing is it took no time to adapt to. Yes, I knew it was a hydro, but it was so close to the feel and engagement length of a cable clutch that it was all smiles.

Now what's it all like in motion? Well, it's my winner so that should give a small clue. As I mentioned prior, the new Kawi chassis retained comfort but did it accomplish anything else? Yup, it's given the KX the most rounded handling characteristics they've ever had. It slightly leans towards their rear-steer feel which works just a bit more towards my style but it's right up there on front end input. It's not as planted as the Suzuki or even the Honda, but I felt that it was a bit better than that Yamaha. What it and the Yamaha both did, that I loved, is rolled through the middle and followed the ground, sorta like what I get from the Husqvarna. It felt like it rolled across bumps and carved with ease, giving me the confidence I needed in the mid-to-long corners that I tend to struggle with. Tight corners are easy, long ruts are hard! And the Kawasaki aids me in just the right areas. Another big help to this was that free engine character I mentioned before, as it helps the bike roll the middle of the corner, without putting too much engine inertia into that front wheel. The forks, engine, and chassis work in unison to help me feel like I still know how to ride, whether I'm sitting or standing (big smiles there!). I think the last thing that confirmed this choice for me was the weight of the bike. It's physically lighter than the other Japanese models (still a bit heavier than the KTM or Husqvarna) but due to the power and response, it felt the lightest in most situations for me. Oh and it joined the magic starter button crew. Woot, woot!


Derrick Caskey

Height: 6' 2"Weight: 190 lbs.
Riding Experience: 40+ Intermediate
Recent bikes: 2017 Honda CRF450R (current), 2014 Honda CRF450R
2018 Shootout: 1st Honda, 2nd Yamaha, 3rd KTM, 4th Husqvarna, 5th Kawasaki, 6th Suzuki


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

One of the hardest parts in doing a shootout is picking the last bike. This year, the bikes are all pretty good but there's things they each excel at that puts it into perspective once you get your leg over them back-to-back. The first thing you notice about the Suzuki when you throw your leg over it, is that it's only bike in the class without electric start. A couple years ago when only the European bikes had it, it didn’t seem to be that important. Now a couple years later, when all brands have it but one, it all of a sudden seems to stand out...in a slightly annoying way. I know there are a lot of riders that still don’t care about electric start, but when you have to rate them it's difficult not to take it into account. 

Beyond the kickstarter, the RM-Z450 motor is smooth and easy to ride. It has a very linear feel from bottom to top. While it didn't pull through the top as many bikes in this test did, it was still decent but definitely preferred to be ridden in that initial to mid-range. As for the couplers, the white/aggressive plug was my favorite to get a bit of extra response from the Suzuki. As for the fabled Suzuki cornering, it's still there and this year, more than last, I was able to get an overall balance that I was confident in. I found that the chassis worked better for me when running a little more sag in the rear, sitting at around 108mm. This helped the initial oversteer feeling when cornering and overall balance of the bike, giving it a better range across different types of corners. I think Suzuki made a good decision on going back to the spring fork last year and the new shock, although many testers felt it was too stiff, actually worked pretty well for me at my weight. For minimal changes, the Suzuki is still a pretty good bike that I was able to do all of the obstacles on the three tracks without any problem. Overall, it doesn't do anything better than other bikes in the class but it's still a solid choice, especially if you want a kickstarter.


Fifth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

It feels very strange to rate the KTM in fifth this year, because it's not only one of the lightest bikes, but also produces some of the highest numbers on the dyno. Honestly, from a feature standpoint, the KTM is a great bike right off of the showroom floor. It comes with Brembo hydraulic clutch and brakes, the very adjustable WP AER48 forks, traction control and electric start. Personally, I'm a fan of the AER and most air forks but unfortunately the spring forks from the top three picks on my list seemed to be better suited to me this year. Overall, it just came down to comfort and how easily I could find it. On the forks, we went up to around 11.2 bar on the pressure and went out two clicks on compression. This change gave the forks good hold up in jump faces and landings while still allowing them to absorb the smaller braking and acceleration bumps. This was better than the lower stock pressure for me and held a good balance, but just wasn't as initially supple as some of the other offerings.

In the rear, I would definitely need a heavier spring, but we set the sag at 105mm and it worked fairly okay with two clicks in on low-speed compression and a quarter turn out on high-speed compression. As for the engine, the power seemed a little slow right off the bottom for 2019 and then a strong mid range hit that pulled great through the top. I tried both engine maps at the push of a button, and even on the fly (which is cool). Map one was a little mellower in the middle than Map two, but neither map addressed the soft bottom end. Personally, I like a lot of bottom end hit but if you are skeptical on the power of a 450 being too much, it might be the right choice for you. For me however, I found that it didn't satisfy my needs and give me the control that come of the other bikes offered. Now don't get me wrong, the KTM is very fast, just on the mid to top, but it's definitely the softest feeling at the bottom. As for the traction control is a nice feature when the track is muddy, but I rarely used it if it wasn’t. Overall the KTM was easy to achieve the balance I wanted and offered a very planted ride, but the lack of initial power and the slight miss on comfort compared to my top picks is what set it down the list.


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Fourth Place: Husqvarna FC 450

The Husqvarna FC 450 again ranked fourth overall for me. However, I do feel like the bike improved over last year, just not as much as the bikes ahead of it. The Husqvarna comes with all the bells and whistles; the hydro clutch, Brembo brakes, traction control (at the push of a button) and the AER fork. Right off the bat the bike is very lightweight, stable at high speeds and rails through corners with a fair bit of ease. The Ergonomics are very comfortable and makes it very easy to move around on. Of all the air forks, the AER 48 are one of my favorites, albeit the only ones left in production. 

"...the Husqvarna is very smooth from bottom to top but a bit mellow overall"

This year, it’s difficult to explain, and I'm not sure if it's due to the fork set up or the chassis but; the top three bikes on my list seemed to absorb anything that wasn’t a straight on hit, in a more forgiving manner than the Husky and KTM....and of course the Suzuki. It was as if you could almost relax more and be confident if you didn’t hit something perfectly, that you wouldn’t be punished as bad for it. And in the case of the Husqvarna, I didn't have that relaxed feeling like my top three picks.

The best set up I came up with was setting the air pressure at 11.2 Bar and backed out the compression clicker on the front two clicks. In the rear we set the sag at 105mm, went in a couple clicks on low speed and backed out the high-speed a quarter of a turn. For me, I feel that the Husqvarna improved in the engine department as last year the power seemed very corked up and slow to rev, whereas this year it seems to rev freer. However, the Husqvarna is very smooth from bottom to top but a bit mellow overall. I did try both ECU maps, and once I tried map two, which is the more aggressive map, I left it there the rest of the time. The Brembo brakes are still awesome, very strong but mostly they have great feel at the lever and even the rear pedal. The Husqvarna made big improvements this year, and in my opinion is better all around than last year. Fourth however is just a sign at how well rounded these machines are and how the little things mattered on my top three. 


Third Place: Honda CRF450R

Keep in mind, I'm a diehard "Honda guy" so it's very difficult for me not to put the Honda in the top spot, especially as it's better than last years bike. While the list of changes isn't massive, I felt that they definitely made improvements in all the right directions for me. For 2019, Honda focused a lot on its chassis and the changes made the bike feel a lot more stable than the '17 and '18 models. This was mainly felt in the rear of the bike when coming out of fast corners or really anywhere it was looking for traction on uneven terrain. The bike felt like it would track straight through the rough terrain, rather than dance side-to-side or wallow in the stroke. Settings wise, I ran the sag at 107 mm and the shock seemed to work well especially with the chassis/swing arm change. In the suspension department, the forks were the weakest link. Don’t get me wrong, the forks aren’t bad, I think it’s just the stock internal set up more than anything. I just couldn’t get them to work as well for me as the spring forks on the Yamaha or Kawasaki, but they were still better than the other sets I scored below the CRF. The best setting I found on the forks was two clicks stiffer on compression and two clicks slower for rebound. 

Although the engine didn’t have any major changes this year, the exhaust and mapping updates definitely made the Honda feel like it was more powerful than last year. The bike made good power from bottom to top and really didn't leave me wanting much more. I preferred map three for most tracks, but liked map one on harder packed tracks with less traction. Three was a bit snappier all around while map one was more pliable in the slickest spots. Honda also made improvements on the front brake caliper and it was as close as I've ever come to finding the feel/power of the European Brembo brakes. Last little note, I like that Honda went to the oversized bars, albeit it's a bit shorter on rise, it offers some positives and negatives for a taller rider. For me, Honda is definitely making improvements in all the right places and I hope they continue down this road.


Second Place: Kawasaki KX450

The 2019 Kawasaki KX450 was my second pick for 2019 and was very close to taking the number one spot. Honestly I couldn't go wrong with this bike either, as it came down to the last day of testing for me to choose which was best for me. The bike is possibly the most drastic improvement I've seen from an OEM and I give kudos to Kawasaki for making it happen. Last year I ranked the Kawasaki fifth, and this year it was in a tight three-way battle for first. Right out of the pits, bike immediately feels very comfortable with the suspension, chassis, motor, clutch, and brakes making for a complete package worthy of a good ranking.

I started off the day completely stock, and had to stiffen the compression clickers both front and rear as I felt the bike was just overall a little soft. Once firmed up, the KX worked amazingly well (even with stock springs). For me, this where the Kawasaki and my top choice separated themselves from the Honda, as I was able to find suspension settings quickly that I could be comfortable and get aggressive with. Considering in the past, the forks were one of the biggest complaints and the move back spring forks was completely the right move. The only small dig I could place here is the fork being a bit softer than the shock at my weight. As for the motor, it has a very strong pull from bottom to top, and didn’t seem to lack anywhere, with the initial hit being a big standout. For me, the ergonomics are pretty good with the cockpit leaving plenty of room to move around about comfortably. 

Speaking of the ergos, one of the coolest things about the Kawasaki is that there are many adjustment options; from the footpeg height to handlebar mount positions. Also, the new hydraulic clutch has a very cable-like feel and the brakes had very strong stopping power. The only thing that kept the Kawasaki from the top step was that for my weight, the suspension was very good...just a little softer stock than the Yamaha which slightly effects how aggressive I can be. My only other criticism would be the bar bend being a bit tall and the look of the bike being a bit rougher than some of the competition.


First Place: Yamaha YZ450F

Every year it seems to get tougher and tougher to pick the best 450. I know I have said this every year, but this year was harder than ever, as I really struggled to pick a winner. In a lot of cases my top three came down to some real nitpicking since, out of the box, the Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Honda all fit my riding style and the ergos didn't leave me wanting. The Honda’s trailing the other two because finding the right fork set up was a bit challenging. In the end, my order is mostly based on out of the box comfort level. With enough time, I felt I could get these top three onto a fairly even playing field depending upon the tracks, so rating them on how quickly I got them there seemed like the best option. In this case, Yamaha took top honors for me this year. Even though Yamaha made their big model change last year, the subtle changes they made this year were the icing on the cake. Out of the box, the Yamaha feels the most comfortable and is very confidence inspiring because it will go where ever you want it to go, in almost any condition.

The rougher the track got the more the Yamaha's suspension and chassis shined. I think the Yamaha has the best stock suspension of all the brands and seemed to work the best across the range of tracks we tested on. The Suspension had a plush feel but even with stock spring rates, the bike still held itself up well and handled the biggest obstacles at my weight. I was able to get away with just going in on clickers and didn't feel like heavier springs would be as important as some of the other models. We ended up setting the sag around 102mm, went in two clicks on the low-speed compression for the shock, and another two clicks stiffer for the compression on the forks. 

The changes Yamaha made to the lower axle lugs and wheel spacers made the bike corner better, and was mostly noticeable at the front-end of the bike. In the past, the Yamaha favored the outside lines, but now has no problem diving into an inside rut with the best of them. Yes, I just said that. As usual, the YZ450F has a super strong motor and 2019 is no different. It has a very broad power band and makes plenty of power from the bottom all the way to the top. Last year I felt the Yamaha would benefit from adding one tooth to the rear sprocket and this year they successfully made that change, bringing the gearing right into the sweet spot without overpowering it in the tighter sections. Another huge plus for Yamaha, although not new this year, is the phone App that modifies the engine ECU maps for free. This is state of the art technology, that would allow you to adjust the maps trackside very easily. With 450s having a ton of power, it's really fun to manipulate it however you see fit. In all, the YZ450F is an awesome bike and I think my only constructive criticism would be go back to black wheels, and maybe pick a better handlebar bend.


Sean Klinger 

Age: 32
Height: 5'8" / Weight: 215 lbs.
Experience: 30+ Novice
Recent Bikes: 2007 Honda CRF450R, 2018 YZ250F, 2018 KTM 500 EXC-F
2018 Shootout Results (for DirtRider): 1st Yamaha, 2nd KTM, 3rd Honda, 4th Husqvarna, 5th Kawasaki, 6th Suzuki


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

Last year, I didn’t have as many issues with the Suzuki as I did this go around and this a perfect example of why Shootouts are valuable. With a nearly unchanged bike, you’d think that I’d feel the same about the RM-Z but with all of the other bikes getting better, the yellow bike seemed that much less appealing. 

The over-riding characteristic of the RM-Z450 is rigidity, and I would say there's way too much of it. Riding it alone, without any other bikes to compare it to, you might get use to it and/or just not know that there are more comfortable 450s. But riding it back-to-back with any other bike in the class, the rigidity is extremely apparent. And for some riders out there, their riding style might work with a rigid chassis, but not mine. As a vet rider not looking to set blazing lap times, I just want to have fun on the track and jump what I want, hit the lines I want, and go as fast as I’m capable of going. On the Suzuki there were some jumps I just didn’t do, because if I didn’t perfectly grease the landing, I was in for some serious harshness. Also, if I flat landed or cased the jump, I wasn’t sure how the bike would react. 

Working on the suspension, I tried to get more comfort out of both the front and rear by going softer on compression, with the goal of getting it to settle down a bit. Not only was small chatter abruptly transferred on the way up, the fork and shock seemed to bounc back too fast. I slowed the rebound down on both ends, which helped a bit, but on slap downs and square edges, my wrists and lower back just hurt. I didn’t want to go too soft on the fork, because then I would be riding too far down in the mid-stroke and that would be harsh as well. 

The engine has strong torque character that is more tractor-like/slower revving than other bikes. It also has more vibration that was very noticeable when first hopping on it, but I would get used to it over the moto. There's no huge fault in the power but when comparing it the other bikes, there isn’t anything that is exciting or unique - it isn’t the strongest, smoothest, most controllable, or anything else. For me, it was predictably linear feeling but didn’t blow me away. It would be best suited for a short shifting type of rider, since ringing it out didn’t provide any more excitement than lugging. 

As far as turning the bike, I usually like the way the RM-Z handles and some of the other testers did still feel like it had good front end bite. But this year, I struggled getting the RM-Z to turn the way I wanted it to. I was hoping that softening the fork would give me more grip but I felt  that on decel, when coming into corners, there was too much weight going to the font, dropping the fork into the harsher part of the stroke and causing it to push the front tire. But with it stiffer, it still felt like it wanted to push. I might be an outlier in this regard, but it was happening constantly and my confidence in turning was super low. 

Even with all the changes last year, it somehow still feels like an older bike. Kickstarting a bike is fine and we’ve all done it for so long, but when it’s the last bike to not have a button, it sticks out as the question, “How have all the other OEMs figured out how to have electric start without being too heavy and Suzuki hasn’t?” I do have to say it started very easily, with the first kick every time, even when I was tired and gave a half-assed effort. 


Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX450F

It bums me out to put the Kawasaki in fifth place because I like the new bike more than I liked the 2018 model. But, not better than the other bikes. The first thing I noticed was that the cockpit feels smaller than the other bikes. I’m not tall or lanky but I felt cramped. Kawasaki did put the footpegs in the lower position, which I sort of liked and sort of didn’t. It relaxed my knee bend and made the transition from sitting to standing easier, but it also moved the pegs a little farther forward and brought me closer to the handlebar. There are other positions for the bar mounts but I ran out of time to test them since that takes a while to adjust and put back for all the other testers. Also, ML pointed out that the taller bar bend might also be making the cockpit feel tight since it doesn’t allow you to lean as far forward or back. 

At my speed, all the 450s have more than enough power, so what I’m looking for in an engine is a fun, usable characteristic. With the stock map, the KX felt more like a lightswitch than a throttle. I can understand why fast dudes would like this but it took some extra effort to modulate the throttle and not upset the chassis. At the same time that throttle response is great, because when you want power it is there, I just would prefer it to come on a little mellower. The black, mellower coupler was much more pleasant to ride for me. It takes the edge off the bottom, and even adds some mid range into the top end. This made it way more usable without making it any slower. The power is definitely more aggressive than the KTM or Husqvarna, while being quicker revving and more exciting than the Suzuki, but I like the Yamaha and Honda motors better. 

The balance of the bike was off for me in stock form. It had a stink-bug (nose-low, rear-high) stance that seemed to be a side-effect of the softer fork and an active rear shock. Before I go any further, I do have to say that the Kawasaki’s new fork is a million times better than last year’s. There's a good amount of comfort but I had to stiffen it up to get the bike balanced. We also went softer with the shock and from 105mm of sag to 108mm which helped a lot. 

Handling is better than last year’s as well, since in the past the Kawi has been known as more of a rear end steering bike and I’m more of a front end steering rider. I think the issue, though, that I was getting the bike to corner constantly came back to the rider triangle. The KX has more of a “sit in” feel for me and I felt more locked into a pocket rather than being able to move around on the seat for different corners. Plus, it doesn’t feel that heavy but not the lightest for me either.  


Fourth Place: Honda CRF450R

Similar to the Kawasaki, I hate to rate this bike this low because it doesn’t do anything wrong, it's just that three other bikes match my personal style better. I struggled to get a comfortable setting with last year’s CRF, but this year it was much easier to find a set up that worked for me. The 2018 model felt overly rigid and twitchy, yet when Honda said they made the frame and swing arm more rigid for the 2019 bike, I was worried. But my initial impression of the bike was that it had more comfort but without losing the awesome agility that I liked from last year’s bike. As ML explained during the First Impressions of this bike, it's very noticeable that the stiffer rear section of the chassis matches up well to the front rigidity, meaning the overall energy absorption is more even throughout. This actually gave for a smoother ride, if that makes sense.

I like the motor better than the Kawasaki but not as much as the Yamaha. To me it feels a little more free revving and exciting than the Kawi, and the three maps make a bigger difference than the couplers do on the green machine. Map three is the most aggressive and was nice for a tighter track, where the jumps are right out of the corners and you need more snap down low. Map one, the standard, worked better for a longer or more open track that required me to stay in each gear longer. Throttle response is great and similar to the Yamaha, there is a light, fun characteristic to the power that doesn’t rip your arms off...but has plenty of meat when you want it. 

Suspension wise, I felt a bit of harshness initially, but instead of going softer, we stiffened the compression two clicks. I was riding too low in the fork stroke and riding in the harsher part of the fork travel, and with a stiffer setting I got more hold up and the bike was more settled coming into turns and down choppy parts of the track. It also made slap downs much more pleasant on the wrists. On the shock we went softer on the HS but stiffer on LS to level and settle the rear. 

With this set up, the bike turned really well for me, especially at the beginning of the turn. I feel like initial lean in is almost effortless and makes taking an inside rut a breeze. But, I also feel like Honda’s overall precise-handling chassis demands more diligence from the rider. Meaning, once in the turn, be it a rut or berm, it still reacts a lot to rider input. If you don’t have awesome cornering technique (I don’t), that can lead to a unstable feeling in the mid-corner and exit. But, if you rail ruts like a champ, you’ll appreciate the Honda’s precise handling feel.


Third Place: Husqvarna FC 450

My overall thought process in ranking these bikes is primarily which bikes I would like to ride more than the others. With the FC, I rather ride it than the fourth, fifth, and six place machines. The main reason for that is comfort. Hoping on the Husky, it is just a super confidence inspiring machine for my kind of riding, which, again, is not crazy fast. I like more vet tracks than mains. 

Starting with one of my favorite traits of this bike (and the orange one) - the ergos. Over the last few years, both Austrian bikes have adopted a very “sit on top” cockpit that features a slim feel and very flat, neutral seat. The seat profile is also more rounded unlike the flatter seats on the  Japanese bikes. I just gel perfectly with this set up, and I make a big deal of it because this is something you can’t change with aftermarket parts. Sure you can get a different seat and bars for any bike, but on the Husky it;s the overall layout of the rider triangle that gives me a huge sense of control. 

"At first the bike was a little choppered out..."

I’m not always trying to shave seconds off my lap time so I take a mix of inside and outside lines, whichever I feel is the most fun on that particular lap, and the Husqvarna has a very planted feeling when taking both. It isn’t the sharpest turning bike, but its lightweight feel makes up for that, so I can turn it consistently and confidently with a berm or in a flat corner. 

I did have to make more suspension adjustments with the FC than the SX-F, which is one reason it is further down the list for me. At first the bike was a little choppered out, so to get the balance I wanted we went one turn stiffer on the shock high speed compression. From there we also went from 10.5 bar to 10 bar in the fork, but also went two clicks stiffer to keep some of the hold up. This was the magic set up for me. The rear didn’t squat too much on corner exit and jump faces, while being more willing to drop on corner entry but wasn’t too soft at the same time.

I get why super fast guys might not like the engine in this bike, but I do. Map one is standard with map two being the aggressive one. Map one is good for really slick conditions, be it super wet or super dry, but for everything else I preferred map two; which ads more hit to the bottom and mid-range. Overall, I find the power (in either map) extremely usable. That's sort of dirty word because some people think it means slow, but I mean what it means. With the Husky, I feel like I can use more of the power than some of the other bikes. The mellow bottom end is very easy to modulate, but it has a wicked top end that if you stick it in a gear for a little longer and rev it out like a 250F, it's a blast to ride. I also like that it has a noticeably quiet exhaust note.


Second Place: KTM 450 SX-F

More sensitive testers might put a bigger gap between the Husqvarna and the KTM but for me they work pretty similar. Overall, I give the nod to the KTM because it was less choppered out/more balanced for me to start with and its power characteristic, while very similar, has more excitement everywhere. I was also flip-flopping back in forth between the KTM and Yamaha for my overall win, though they are drastically different machines. 

Again, my overall fondness for the orange bike is due to the comfort and control it offers. The chassis and suspension work together to soak up so much of the square edge chop and track irregularities that I feel like I can take the roughest line without a worry. Also, the “sit on top” ergos are awesome. I’m more of a front end steerer and I can get the KTM to turn with ease. But, unlike some other bikes that require you to have proper technique all the time to get them to work, I feel like the KTM is just as easy to turn with I’m blown out, tired, and hanging off the back of the bike. There's also a forgiveness that the bike has that allows for a wide range of riding styles to be able to turn the bike consistently, at least in my opinion. 

"The chassis and suspension work together to soak up so much of the square edge chop"

Suspension wise, all I ended up doing was dropping the air pressure in the fork from 10.5 bar to 10.2 and that’s it. Yes, I didn’t even touch the shock. For me, the KTM’s shock has been my favorite of the bunch for the last few years. I feel like it offers great feel, tons of traction, and reacts predictably in all situations. The fork worked equally as well for me. I’m not slamming into jump faces nearly as hard as the fast guys and at my pace I had great front end traction, a plush overall feel, and the only reason I dropped the air pressure was to get a little more weight on the front for balance. 

This ‘19 KTM 450 SX-F retains the same power character that KTM has been known for. That's a usable, mellow bottom end hit, a strong mid-range, and a fantastic top-end. Some of the other testers commented that there was a disconnected feeling with throttle response but I didn’t notice that as much. I do feel like some of the other bikes have better throttle response but with the KTM that wasn’t a problem for me. I feel like this motor gives me a lot of options; if I want to be a typical lazy, vet 450 rider and ride the entire track in 3rd gear, sure, that's not a problem. Sure I might have to feather the clutch a little in the tighter corners, but it doesn’t fall on its face. But, I can also get more aggressive and run 2nd gear in a lot of places as well. The top end pull is fun to use and where on other bikes I would shift to third, I could leave the KTM in second still hit the same jump, no problem. 


First Place: Yamaha YZ450F

For me, this was a great bike last year and the small changes for this year made it even better. When I think about the YZ-F, the first word that comes to mind is predictability. Rough track or smooth, jumpy and tight, fast and flowing, square-edge chop or sand; the YZ450F is so predictable, stable, and planted. I’ve even talked to the Yamaha guys about this because I was a little confused that I road the bike better later in the the day than I did earlier when the track was smooth. They said they weren't surprised because that was a focus for the YZ450F’s chassis - consistent ride-ability, in all kinds of terrain and types of tracks. 

The suspension, especially the fork, is just fantastic. I’m not sure the magic sauce that they're using but it is both plush, yet has great hold up and does what I want it to do when it's light, when it's heavy, and everything in between. Normally as settings get more performance focused, they lose comfort and vice versa, but not with the Yamaha’s suspension. It has a ton of both and I jumped some stuff that I didn’t on any other bike, because that's how good the suspension was. I wasn’t scared of OJ’ing or casing because the suspension worked so well, as it didn’t bounce or deflect weird when I did mess up a jump. It was also the most predictable on take offs and had the most balanced feel in the air. With some of the other bikes, if I wasn’t in the exact right position or got sloppy with the throttle, I would be a little squirrely in the air, but I felt the Yamaha was like autocorrecting for me and I would come of the lip just the right way.  

Moving on to the power, for me, it's the most exciting and lively motor of the group. With the stock map, it has a crisp, strong bark with excellent, near-instantaneous throttle response. So much so that I wanted to try a mellower map. I tried what Yamaha calls their Linear Smooth map that mellows out the bottom and has less of hit from bottom to mid. This let me use second gear more than the stock map because, with the stock map I would leave it in third gear to get less of a hit down low - second gear would be too snappy. But with the Linear Smooth map, I could use second when I wanted to. Then, I also tried a map developed by Travis Preston, Yamaha test rider/media guy/ex-moto pro. That map seemed to have slightly less hit on the bottom than the stock, but more than the Linear Smooth, then have an even more free revving, less engine braking feel that was very fun and easy to ride. TP was stoked that I liked it because it is rare that pro-speed dudes and vet-speed dudes like the same settings. 

And this is when the another amazing feature of this bike comes in - the tuning app. Being able to change the power with your phone is not a gimmick. If I owned this bike, I truly don’t think getting a pipe or engine work done would cross my mind, at least until I explored all the different option with the tuner. When the track was ripped deep in the morning, I liked the stock map with the instant power. As the day went on I could dial it back a little to get the right combo of aggression and usability. There are a massive amount of options that really impowers the rider to make the motor character that they prefer. 

Handling wise, I get along with the Yamaha really well. I would say it was the easiest for me to get in and stay in the inside rut in tight corners. I might say the the KTM and Husqvarna were just barely more happy on flat sweeping corners, but overall I had the easiest time turning the Yamaha. Even though it isn’t as light on paper as other bikes, it feels light on the track and can change lines and respond to mid-turn adjustments really well. The ergos aren’t as open and flat as the KTM and Husky but the rider pocket isn’t too deep and I can move around without feeling locked in, which is what I prefer. 

At the end of the day when I think about the bike that I want to keep riding after riding all of them, I want to keep riding the YZ450F. I feel like I would be just as happy racing it as I would just having a fun day at track, or even riding GP or longer moto-ish off-road races. The suspension and chassis feel are both predictable, comfortable, and performance driven which is a really hard thing to balance. I think it says a lot that really fast guys and chill riders both find that the engine and suspension suit their needs and are happy with the way the bike rides overall. 

There are only two things that would make this bike better for me personally, based on what I prefer in a bike. If it had a seat that was a little more flat front to back and maybe more of a rounded profile, it would feel more like the KTM/Husky which work great for me. Second, not that it feels heavy, but it would be even more controllable and fun to ride if it lost a few pounds to be in the KTM/Husky weight range. If it did that, it would be absolutely unstoppable. But as is, it is still my favorite bike and a 450 that I could ride fast all day… fast for me, anyway. 


Zach Peddie

Age: 25
Height: 5' 7" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Riding Experience: Current Pro Supercross and Motocross
Recent Bikes: 2017 Husqvarna FC 450, 2016 Yamaha YZ450F
2018 Shootout Results: 1st KTM, 2nd Husqvarna, 3rd Honda, 4th Yamaha, 5th Suzuki, 6th Kawasaki


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

Let's start with the good on the Suzuki, the chassis and overall bike felt low to ground, which definitely suits my build. As for the forks, I felt like they handled the big stuff as good as I could with good bottoming resistance and a strong, late-in-the-stroke progression that handled big obstacles and aggressive moves well. The negative with the fork was low speed and smaller chop though, as it felt a bit slow and just didn't take small energy well. It just seemed to beat me up in these situations.

As for the shock, we couldn't quite get the sag right due to my weight and had barely one millimeter of pre-load on the spring. Whether it was braking or acceleration, the rear just didn't feel as planted as I'd like and had a bit of constant movement side-to-side.

Coming into corners was tough, as the front fork didn’t want to plant and if I wasn’t going fast enough, it would tend to wash out. As for the engine, the power was smooth and good in second and third gear but signed off quickly in third. As your clicked fourth, you could feel the lack of power compared to the competition as it struggled to pull it more effectively. Overall, the Suzuki needed to be pushed hard to lay down good times and the comfort wasn't there to make this happen lap-after-lap.


Fifth Place: Husqvarna FC 450

The Husqvarna is smooth, I mean really smooth. And no, I'm not talking about the ride itself, I'm strictly speaking of the engine. It's extremely broad but just didn't do anything exciting throughout the RPM range. It reminded me of a well mannered tractor, laying down torque and just doing the job. But, in a sense it did just one job by not having enough reaction to get the bike to change direction or snap around like I wanted.

As for the suspension, it felt a bit topped out like I was high in the stroke and skated about as it didn't settle much for my weight...but at the same time the fork went through the stroke quickly on bigger jumps, landings, and other obstacles. However, it was also somewhat dead feeling after these big hits in terms of rebound. The shock was predictable and comfortable, but was overshadowed by my issues up front. The chassis was a dream to stand on and ride in the attack position but wasn't the easiest to work with when sitting. I was sort of struggling to get my leg up high in deep corners and I couldn't stay in place on the seat. With a bit more setup time, I think I'd be quite dialed on hard packed but softer conditions are still on the outs.


Fourth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

The KTM was odd for me this year, the bike was balanced and probably my favorite to stand and attack sections from that position but once I sat down, I felt like I was really on top of the bike and a bit off balance. The actual seat profile was a bit off for me and I found myself sliding off the sides a bit in the corners and upsetting my sense of balance even further. As for the corners, the position seemed to mean a lot as standing through ruts was comfortable but when I tried to sit and attack them, I found myself struggling to get the bike settled in, as it actually wanted to stand up and pop out of the rut a bit.

"when the bike would finally hit it would pop up"

The overall power was broad but initially it was bit too strong, after what felt like maybe a small flat spot. I think this power is part of what made the bike stand up in corners if I was in high gear, when the bike would finally hit it would pop up. As for the suspension, the front end popped up into my hands, especially on bigger hits. Slower rebound helped, but it was weird to feel it being that deflective. The KTM was just a bit hard to setup this year and left me scratching my head after my sessions were done.


Third Place: Yamaha YZ450F

The Yamaha just stood out in the rough, in so many ways. As I had expected from past experience, the YZ-F was balanced on fast and rough straights, but so composed when entering corners. The rougher and choppier these corners got, the more the bike shined. The only small thing I chased was the bike feeling a bit tall in the middle of long corners, we made some chassis adjustments to settle the bike lower and it even improved the traction. This change was all-around improved but did make the fork feel a tad soft in the mid-stroke but at this point I'm really nitpicking as the whole package was really on point.

As for the power, I felt that the initial engine map was a bit too aggressive off the bottom and swapped to TP 1.0 map, which was a bit easier to use initially but then revved quicker in the mid range. This gave the YZ-F an overall lighter and more playful feel due to how the power allowed me to work the bike. Surprisingly, the stiffer seat foam made the bike more aggressive and more comfortable at the same time. I felt more in control, instead of sinking into it. Another huge positive was the combination of frame comfort while keeping a planted feel. I felt like the Yamaha was the perfect combination in this aspect and with the right balance this year, it made it so much easier to ride the YZ-F more aggressive than I have before.


Second Place: Kawasaki KX450

The Kawasaki was slim and so easy to squeeze with my legs/knees. This made the KX easy to control then lean into the corners and, once I was sitting into the saddle, the controls and ergonomics were pretty close to being spot on, with the handlebar maybe just being a little too tall for the other changes on the bike. Speaking of height, I felt the Kawi was just the right height off the ground once it settled into the ruts, giving me a lot of confidence and overall control.

As for the suspension, the forks felt spot on for my weight and really offered initial comfort that impressed me. The shock was predictable, albeit a little dead and maybe a tad bit too stiff for my setup. Engine-wise, the KX is responsive and fun initially, but then mellows out a bit in the mid but continues to pull consistently through the top. It's really strong overall in second and third, but maybe takes a bit longer to get into the top of fourth compared to say the Yamaha or Honda. Overall, the new KX450 is a blast with super strong brakes, a thin feel and the best hydraulic clutch in my opinion.


First Place: Honda CRF450R

Honda nailed the balance between plush, yet aggressive when I think of the whole package. I found the CRF to be as planted as the best in the hard packed sections but I was able to push, hang it out, and slide it around when it was more loose or if I found a sandy corner. The next positive point for me with the CRF was the riding position, it felt like the right combination of sitting into the bike, not on top of, but not sinking too deep into it. In all, the Honda made me feel in control of it but also allowed me to stay with it and slide about.

The harder I pushed, the better the suspension felt for me. It was just about finding the bike balance the first day of testing and after that I just made a minor clicker change here or there depending on the surface. The updated front brake was fairly noticeable and for me was on par with the Brembos found on the KTM or Husky. As for the engine, it's so playful with a sharp snap initially and strong bottom pull, but tapers off just right into the mid range to keep it lively but easy to use. In the end, the Honda just seems to nail it for my riding style. From the chassis, to the suspension and engine...it all works for me.


Manny Ornellas

Age: 56
Height: 5' 8" / Weight: 188 lbs.
Riding Experience: 50+ Intermediate
Recent Bikes: 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450, 2016 Husqvarna FX 350, 2017 Honda CRF450RX
2018 Shootout Results: 1st KTM, 2nd Husqvarna, 3rd Kawasaki, 4th Honda, 5th Yamaha, 6th Suzuki


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

The RM-Z gave me some of my absolutely fastest and most consistent laps. It also beat me up pretty good while I was putting those laps in, but it did allow me to attack the worst turn at Milestone harder and with more confidence than any other bike in the test. Now to be fair, I have a LOT of hours on the '18 RM-Z and I love the way it turns (the '19 is virtually the same bike), which translated into instant comfort when I got on it. The ergonomics feel good and the bike is easy to move around on. It really rewards a rider that uses inside lines for making passes or shortening up the track by going as tight inside on a twisty section of track. 

The motor pulls from way down low and has a lot of mid range torque. That power delivery works well with the chassis, plus those tight turns and lines that it likes to attack. On the Suzuki, you don't have to shift as much as other bikes if you're willing to use leave it a gear high, using a little bit of clutch and letting her pull from down low. 

The clicker settings I ran with the fork were a bit better than what the '18 had and that helped deliver a little less abuse on my way into the rough turns. But the shock, and to some extent the Bridgestone front tire, are gonna beat you up in a lot of those turns...especially if they're deep, rutted, or choppy. The tire likes to climb out of a rut due to way too much side-bite and it does this at exactly the WRONG time! The shock (compression) still refuses to move quickly enough to absorb those kickers that are waiting for you in that fast line out of the turn.

Between the shock, lack of electric start and that front tire, the Suzuki takes a bit of a beating in the ratings. I know it's a great bike and it really blossoms with just a little TLC. But, again, this is about how it works right out of the crate.  


Fifth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

KTM's SX-F was great in the soft silty dirt at Chaney, when you could keep the throttle on consistently and rail. It's really good on turn entry and choppy terrain, but where it gets weird is when you you chop the throttle on and off in a tight turn, it doesn't come on as hard as you expect or as quickly. Sometimes, it just requires clutch work or a down-shift where you wouldn't expect it to. The KTM wants to go fast but it wants to do it from the mid-range on up. When I did attack hard and pushed it this way, the bike delivered. But when I didn't? It reminded me it was a precision bike. It works great in on-throttle aggressive riding. In-fact, it works really well until you have to chop the throttle and make a sudden change in a tight turn, like when passing a fallen rider. It took more conscious effort to get it going again versus some of the other bikes. 

The lay out is typical thin and light KTM. This SX-F feels as light as ever and does everything in typical Race-Ready fashion. The ability to move around on this bike is still amazing and effortless. For me the suspension was very good, while feeling agile and absorbed all the big hits in stride. On slower stuff, it was still agile but didn't feel as flickable as the '18 to me. This can probably be attributed to me not getting the different power delivery figured out. With a little more time and some adjustments, I'm pretty sure the KTM can do whatever you want it to do on the track. 


Fourth Place: Kawasaki KX450

Kawasaki's latest KX450 is actually really, really good but it was just a little soft for me...namely up front. The chassis, suspension components, and engine are all new and amazing. But within a few minutes on the bike, I could tell it's a serious race machine. To put it bluntly, with my style, if I was 168 pounds instead of 188 pounds this bike would be farther up in the ratings. 

The feel of the bike is a lot like the my second place machine, with the bar-seat-peg layout being near perfect and even the new seat feels spot-on. In the air, it's as good as any of the bikes in the shoot out. Yup, it feels that light and flickable. When I could carry the front through rough turn entries it was amazing but when I couldn't it was a little harsh and delivered a few good hits. I think that's simply springs that are too light for me or possibly the oil height, as the forks just rode a little too low in the stroke. Late in the day, when the track was hammered, things were just a little more challenging on this bike. Playing with more compression just made it a bit angry with me and I just felt a bit too heavy for it. This just meant I had to spend more effort getting this bike around the track. While saying this, I found the shock and the rest of the chassis were as good as any bike here.

Then there's that new motor with it's hydraulic clutch. The motor is still a Kawasaki: it pulls and it likes making power. From gear-to-gear, it's very fluid and always pulls that next gear even if you shift a little early. Also, this new KX sounds a lot healthier than the prior one. Oh, about that new clutch? Didn't even notice it. It works like a really good but super consistent cable clutch. Which for me, is a good thing. While doing way too many abusive tight turn photos at Fox Raceway, I abused the living (expletive) out of that clutch and it didn't change its tune. 

 Component wise, the Kawasaki is right up there with the best: special coatings on the fork, hydro-clutch, a great shock and an all new engine that's rips like a typical KX. But, this is about how this thing is out of the crate...even when a heavy old dude is on it. 


Third Place: Husqvarna FC 450

From my notes: "Light and flickable, with the feeling that I'm on a really fast 350". Yes, that's a compliment. The Husqvarna had its own power characteristics that can best be described as very linear. It comes off of a very smooth and predictable bottom, into a mid that pulls quickly into nice steady, but rev-able top. It never rips your arms off...it just keeps going. For me, this made for a bike that feels extremely light on the ground and in the air. 

The chassis felt like a slightly improved version of the '18. It had the same confidence inspiring stability but with improved front end feel. Most notably, is the better/more direct feel from the front of the bike I felt this year. Honestly, I didn't notice much difference in the new bodywork other than...well...I'd swear the '19 is easier to hang on to with your knees. Out back, the shock feels really good for me and works in harmony with the air fork. 

About that "really fast 350" feel, the FC seemed very easy on me. It didn't take much effort to get it to do what I wanted and it never did anything to zap my energy...all the while giving me great lap times. At the same time, it wasn't as easy to get a really fast lap in as it was on a few of the other bikes. That's when I had to get more precise on the FC and work a little harder on turn entry and exit. That, too, was very 350-ish. It was different and at times more fun than the bikes ranked ahead of it. Overall, however, it just didn't offer as much character or well-rounded abilities as my top two choices.


Second Place: Honda CRF450R

Changes on the Honda ranged from the frame to the engine-cases and even the swingarm. Can we just call this a new bike? We should. It handles like a new bike, at least to me. Overall, it was very close to the Yamaha in performance. It's just slightly more work on the Honda when it comes to the tricky turns and when changing lines. 

"The engine is both faster and smoother"

The new frame and swingarm team up to make a difference along with a revised fork and shock. While the new chassis and settings feel much more compliant over choppy turn entrances and exits. The back end stays on the ground and hooks up with a lot less effort than the '18, making the bike feel a bit more complete. Honda, like a few other bikes in the test, benefits from wisely refined suspension settings; however, at the same time, they surprisingly threw some serious investment into a few big parts (the aforementioned frame and swing-arm). The bike was over-all more comfortable for me and the cockpit on this bike might be the best. The bar-to-seat-to-peg lay out was mere perfection from the moment I got onboard. 

The engine is both faster and smoother in its transition through the bottom to top and really makes solid power that you can use to get good laps in. It's an enabling power package just like the my top choice and I quickly figured out how much throttle I needed in any given situation. The gear box was typical Honda precision and overall, I actually liked the basic characteristics of map one the best. On map one the bike was a perfect balance of torque and rev, for me. 


First Place: Yamaha YZ450F

When you look at the list of changes you'll see little parts and revised settings that don't seem important or that you don't expect will make the bike handle nicer, run stronger or feel lighter. Well, they do a lot more than that: they make it entirely BETTER. 

The first thing I wrote in my test notes is: "Amazing refinement and chassis balance. Lots of little changes that truly make this bike too easy to ride fast!" Another word that needs to be used here is “ancillary.” They changed little things that are critical to the overall mission of this bike. You don't expect fork lugs, wheel spacers, or stiffer seat foam to make much of a change; but they do. The bike is light on its feet and is easy to change lines on, whether it's a fast sandy sweeper or a rutted tight turn. Across the board, it just feels lighter and better...there's no other way to sum it up. 

Suspension wise, they've done the same trick at changing little parts. As Michael states in the video, they've made some pretty amazing changes to the valving. With this, Yamaha has  created a base setting that just about anyone can work with and dial in to get a good set-up for themselves. The YZ-F feels more balanced, lighter and still feels nicely confident at speed like Yamahas usually do. The suspension components provide plenty of noticeable change from just a small adjustment and feels very much like "A-Kit" suspension. Ergonomics-wise, the Yamaha doesn't seem too different, it just has that lighter feeling and it really is easier to move around on compared to the '18. Can different seat foam help that? I'd say so.

The engine makes usable power everywhere. The new maps we tested still pull pretty good from down low, continuing into an even and smooth mid-range that allows you keep the bike tracking controllably as it revs to whatever level of top end you desire. It's spools up surprisingly quick and smooth, but still puts the power down in a wonderfully controllable way that is a new level of "shred." I call this thing "deceptively quick" and while the gear spacing seems a bit closer, it's much easier to pull from gear to gear. This bike is just better...everywhere. Refinement is the theme here and it delivered for my top choice of 2019.


Blake Savage

Age: 26
Height: 5' 8" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Riding Experience: Ex-Pro
Recent Bikes: Hasn't owned a bike in three years.
2018 Shootout Results: Didn't attend.


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

Ahh the Suzuki. Well, the first thing I did is pull it off the stand and noticed this bike may need to go on a calorie restricted diet. Initially when I sat on the bike, everything had good natural feel and for me a Suzuki has never been a hard bike to feel comfortable on in a static position. The shroud and seat profile feel fairly slender and easy to grip between the legs. As I went to get going, I can’t help but notice and point out there's no start button and I have to reach down, pull out the kickstart thing, and push it down with my leg for the bike to start. Although, I will give it credit as I never had to kick more than two times for the bike to fire up, so it made the job as easy as it could possibly be. But if I’m in a race to the Taco shop with the other bikes, I guess I'll have to wait last in line. 

After a few laps, the bike was actually easier adapt to than I expected but a few things that stick out. Under braking and small chattery acceleration bumps, the bike has a heavy feel and makes each character of the motorcycle feel exaggerated. This is both from the physical weight of the bike and the weighted feel the engine has. The rear stood tall, so the balance was slightly off, and it put some extra weight over the front when braking. When exiting the corner, I had a tendency to also oversteer the bike and would lose drive. Also, at straight line speed the bike didn’t feel very stable and was taking extra work to hang on to through wide open sections of the track. The engine was nothing out of the ordinary and well rounded, I would say. It had a smooth delivery with some mild torque that made the engine easy to work with through whole power curve. The bike has a good base and don't think it needs a full revamp to make it competitive, but it has some serious catching up to do a multiple areas.



Fifth Place: Husqvarna FC 450

The Husqvarna was a bike I was really looking forward to spinning some laps on, after hearing so much hype about it. Right away though, you can immediately tell this is a much different bike than anything from Japan. From the second you literally pull it off the stand and throw your leg over it, sit on it, you can just feel this is a different machine. The seat shape is very round and the extreme firmness of the foam made it difficult for me to have a good connection with the motorcycle. The areas between my legs where I like to have a tight connection with my ankles and knees, felt like...I just didn't have anything to hang onto. It gave me the sensation that my legs were floating around more than normal. When I got on the track and grabbed a handful of throttle, I notice a dead feeling in the engine initially but while the bottom wasn't stellar, the mid and top range was everything you needed. I tried both maps one and two for the ECU and the more aggressive setting (two) definitely helped, but was just not enough. 

For me, I'm always looking for the balance of the bike and the Husky had great balance under acceleration, but not under braking or when off the gas. The fork had a tendency to want to blow right through the top of the stroke and wasn't recovering or coming back up quick enough to take the next blow. With that, I had some times that I felt I would lose or tuck the front end, even having a difficult time when getting into ruts. Overall, the suspension didn’t move a whole lot and produced a dead feeling. It felt like it was missing the playful action which would allow me to corner the bike wherever and whenever I needed to. With time I know this bike has potential but there was a few too many things to work on when compared to the bikes up my list. 


Fourth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

The KTM for me was just a step forward in the right direction compared to the Husqvarna, but still a lot of the same feeling I just had coming off the Husqvarna. The seat feeling and firmness was better, which gave me a better/more positive feel. Sadly, I had similar disconnected feel while trying to stay tight with the bike. The fork has more holdup and gives the bike and all around better balance feeling, a balance that was right up there with my top choices actually. 

Engine-wise, things were pretty mellow through the bottom end power, not a lot of torque feel initially. But the mid to top were fairly favorable. Actually, I'd compare the motor to a good looking girl, but without much personality. This engine is more friendly for a smoother rider or maybe that vet class racer, but for me, I’m looking to get in and out of corners, ASAP! As everyone knows, the white and orange bike come from the same mother, but have two different personalities. If I'm a biased Austrian manufacture fan, I’m sorry but I am going with the KTM with the nod.


Third Place: Yamaha YZ450F

The Yamaha was not what I expected. Of course it has the reputation for having a fast motor, nothing has changed there, but now the bike has a much improved stability feel to it. Straight line speed, even high speed sweeper corners I had great confidence, and the bike didn’t feel that it was going to do anything I couldn’t predict. Albeit the cornering has improved, the tight 180 degree corners was where I struggled more with it. I didn’t have as good feel for leaning the bike over compared to my top. Turning with the front end wasn't as easy so I felt that needed to use more throttle to slide the rear around and get it cornered and out. This caused me to adjust the way I rode but once I figured it out, I could work with it quite well. The Yamaha seemed to be more enjoyable at a track with longer ruts, but I needed more time to get it shine in those tight corners. 

The engine is the one that the widest range of people would like, because everyone loves a fast bike. Not saying all that power is usable for most people, but it’ll definitely blow your skirt back. The engine revs fairly quickly and free, requiring me give it a quick shift. If I didn't shift quickly, I felt like I was just making more noise than driving forward as it would spin up a bit. But I know that hearing this thing bark is what most people love to hear these days, ha! Overall, the Yamaha is much improved but wasn't my usual cup of tea. However, it more than exceeded my expectations.


Second Place: Kawasaki KX450

The Kawasaki for me was the surprise of the whole shootout. Having spent a season racing on them a few years back, I was blown away at how far it came. I felt comfortable right out of the gate and in all the right places. From the way the bike accelerated and its' overall light feel, I could move the bike around well and set it into any line I wanted. The motor package was actually very strong, yet smooth at the same time, especially in the mid range. It was actually one of the most usable powerbands in the class. 

"I thought the bike still had a tall/bigger feel to it...but not a "heavy" big feel"

As for my settings, I played around with clickers and would always find myself going right back to where I started. It had this plush feel initially, right at the top of the stroke. This allowed the front tire to follow the ground, giving it good traction and connection with varying surfaces. But, it had a progressive feeling down low in the stroke which was just enough to handle energy when it bottomed. On the negative side, I thought the bike still had a tall/bigger feel to it when compared to a Honda, but not a "heavy" big feel. It was light, but just a bit tall. And you know what they say, “Big ones need loving too!”. For me, being a small guy at 5’8", the bars were just too high and that would be the very first thing I would change. Aside from that the new Kawasaki was fantastic, but was just a tick-off my top pick when the days rounded out.


First Place: Honda CRF450R

Getting on a Honda has always had this comforting, home feeling that will bring a smile to your face, well it sure did to me at least. The saddle/seat feel, footpeg height, handlebar reach, etc offered a positive sensory feedback that really aids to setting up the bike and getting comfortable. I found this more on Red than I do with any of the other bikes. After spinning my first laps, I noticed myself wheeling and jumping over bumps, and putting it in any rut or line with ease. There was a certain playful feeling the Honda has; leaving it nimble, light, and reactive. 

Initially, the balance of the bike felt tall in the rear, and had me searching for acceleration traction exiting corners and was making it a bit tough to carry speed in high speed sweepers. For me, that was quickly fixed by riding swapping to three millimeters on the fork height and 106-107mms of sag. That gave it an all around balanced feel for me, in any situation on the track. The firmness in the fork and shock was nearly dead on for my body weight so my adjustments here were minimal depending upon the track surface. The engine doesn’t have one crazy character that comes to mind and its very easy to ride. It has plenty of torque off the bottom, but a nice smooth pull into the mid range and all the way through to the top! I didn’t find myself having to think about shifting a lot to stay where the power was, as it seemed to have something at every RPM for me. Between this power and the balance on the bike, I found myself easily able to concentrate on my actual riding, making for an all-around great experience. If I’m pulling out the check book, I'm going all in on this bike.


Chris Hay

Age: 36
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 160 lbs.
Riding Experience: 30+ Pro
Recent Bikes: 2018 Kawasaki KX450F, 2017 Yamaha YZ450F, 2012 Suzuki RM-Z450
2018 Shootout Results: 1st KTM, 2nd Honda, 3rd Yamaha, 4th Husqvarna, 5th Suzuki, 6th Kawasaki


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

It’s hard to put any bike in sixth place, but the RM-Z has a slightly older feel compared to the other bikes ahead of it. It has a motor with tractable power from low to mid and I could use this to my advantage on flat or soft turns. Up top it pulls OK but signs off early, hitting a harder "wall" than the others in the class. Changing to the rich coupler helped slightly but not enough compared to the other bikes in the test, it just felt minor and not like the map selection found on the other machines.

It's a Suzuki, so it turns well, but had a heavy front end feel under braking and an overall stiffness from the front that transferred throughout the bike and into the body a bit. The front fork felt like it had plushness higher in the stroke but then built up drastically to a mid then bottom harshness...which took a lot of effort to ride due to the energy placed on myself. The shock felt decent on acceleration, however, on braking it had a tendency to pitch and transfer the energy to the front of the bike. This made my earlier comments about the fork even worse. No doubt this bike is capable of winning at any level of racing and lap times were right there with the others, but it just took a notably higher amount of work to make it happen. It also hurts that it doesn’t have a electric start like all the other bikes in the class.


Fifth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

Putting the KTM in fifth definitely hurt my psyche, as it won the last year's shootout for me. With the model being completely new it does carry some of the positive traits of the previous year's model, however, the new engine gave a tighter revving character that has tremendous power all the way through, but just choked up at times. The KTM required a different way of riding and if you were smooth, finished your braking early and accelerated smoothly, it was rewarding. I felt that I needed to be patient and ride the bike with surgical precision to get the most out of it. Where I did struggle was with recovering from mistakes, and the bike had a tendency to stand up on the exit of the turns. That precision I mentioned didn't seem to be that forgiving if I pushed harder causing me to make more mistakes.

Also, on a few occasions, I felt in between gears through the turns, with second being a little low and third being a little high. Switching between maps did help a bit and map one was more usable for me. Map two was aggressive and was good when you had a long soft corner, but in ruts it tended to stand up more when the power finally came on. The chassis had a stiffer feel than what I remember from last year, so we did drop air pressure from 10.6 to 10.4 to get the front end feeling plusher when entering turns. The shock and rear end of the bike was pretty good and absorbed landings well, but was a bit rigid on acceleration and braking bumps, causing it to feel a bit deflective at times. To me, the KTM is a great bike with a lot of great qualities, but for me it didn’t quite have the comfort of the bikes in front of it. Overall, the KTM just takes more time to adapt to.


Fourth Place: Honda CRF450R

Putting the Honda in fourth was a tough call. From the moment I sat on the bike it has a fantastic feel and the new lower Fatbars improved that for me just a bit. The Honda builds good power and the new maps have a definite noticeable difference more than previous years. Map one was smoother and revved out well but did sacrifice a little off the bottom. Map two was even more mellow and definitely stood out as a hardpack only selection if I'd ever use it. Now map three was my favorite and it really changed the character of the engine initially. It had more of a snap and pulled strongly from the bottom before going more linear in the mid range. Compared to the other two though, it did sign off a little early at the top, so I shifted just a bit earlier.

Initially, the front end felt a little loose and slightly vague entering the turns but when I warmed up to the bike and pushed harder into the middle part of the stroke, it went away. If anything, I think stiffening/speeding up rebound initially would be something I’d like more, keeping it pushed into the ground and more planted. As for the rear of the bike, there wasn’t anything that stood out but stiffening a little on compression helped me a bit on acceleration. While the bike was fun to ride, I felt like I wa just missing on the balance a bit. The more I adjusted, the closer I got, I just didn't quite get there by the end of our testing.


Third Place: Husqvarna FC 450

The Husqvarna was a bike I couldn’t really fault, to be honest. It felt like the power over the previous years model was much better and more free. It was still very smooth but gets stronger as the engine builds. Compared to last year, it's the ease of getting through the RPMs that's noticeable, where it just took too long to rev out in 2018. Overall, it's easy to ride and offered good connection to the ground that inspired confidence on mixed conditions. On each of our days of testing, I rode the Husky when the track was at its roughest and I was pleasantly surprised how good it felt. One thing that really stood out was the chassis and how different it felt compared to last year. I felt much more predictable and handled everything really well, especially on braking where comfort is extremely important for me. I found myself wanting to push the bike harder into the turns and it handled it with ease.

On the bigger jumps it did have a bit of a slap down feel from the front fork so a small adjustment softer on rebound did help, to keep the bike from bouncing back into my hands. Also, we did make a switch to the shorter throttle cam that comes with the bike stock and that was something I liked more. The original cam took a longer pull and felt like it kept turning to get the bike on full throttle. With the smooth power it's nicer to just get the bike into a higher throttle position, quicker, to put that power down. Overall, I'd say it's a positive improvement over the previous model but just not as good all-around as my top two bikes.


Second Place: Kawasaki KX450

What can I say about the all new KX that hasn’t been said already. I’ve spent a lot of time riding the 2018 model and even earlier version I've owned, hands-down Kawasaki have improved this bike in every aspect. Initial impression from jumping on the bike is how much narrower the feel between my legs was and an overall front-to-rear size that felt smaller than the previous model. Another plus was the new hydraulic clutch, which I almost forgot was on there due to it feeling so much like a cable clutch. They really nailed a good balance between the easy pull of the hydro but keeping the actuation feel of a cable style clutch.

From the first lap, it was very easy to ride and without a doubt I was comfortable enough to put some fast laps in after one or two rolling ventures around the track. The power is easy to manage and pulls really nicely out of the turns, feeling very connected and manageable. The slight miss was that the midrange had a little flat spot I sensed from time-to-time, but not something that was a big problem. The chassis felt really good and mostly it was extremely forgiving, it inspired confidence on hitting braking bumps and smaller square edge bumps were barely noticeable. It had a great combination between being planted but also flexing/giving enough to take on square edges without deflecting. As of the suspension, it was very plush initially, especially the fork. Really, they felt good to do whatever I wanted on the track...the only thing I did notice was a little bit of bottoming on a hard landings or when pushing hard into a long braking bump section. I did go a couple of clicks stiffer on compression to help this and it did help, but also it did take a little of that suppleness away. 

With a bit more time I'd work towards balancing the fork but overall, the KX450 is a huge step in the right direction and gave me confidence I didn't think a Kawasaki could produce. 


First Place: Yamaha YZ450F

Wow, the Yamaha really did blow my mind! The YZ-F might just sound like it has a small list of refinements from the previous year but I didn't think that it would be this better, and it really is. It always feels like a quality bike sitting on the YZ-F, for me I had to pull the handlebars back slightly and that made the cockpit more to my liking. Initially, yes, it has a slightly bigger feeling but that was overshadowed by its amazing power and light feeling it gives off once in motion. What really made the bike shine was the great connection I felt to the rear wheel, making acceleration out of the turn second to none. It's almost like you could feel the tire biting into the dirt as you turned the throttle little-by-little. This power was very easy to manage and could be rolled on or hammered, really opening up the options and making things just enjoyable.

The chassis and suspension really didn’t require any major changes, in fact I didn’t have to adjust anything to feel comfortable straight away. After a bit, we did raise the forks in the clamps and drop the shock a little from stock, which helped the bike feel like it was a bit closer to the ground and increased my overall confidence. To be honest, the Yamaha was the bike I had the most fun riding and it inspired my confidence to do obstacles on the track with ease. My list of changes was short due to how well balanced it was stock and beyond that I was working with an engine I loved from the moment I pressed the button. There's not much else to say other than this bike put one heck of a smile on my face.


Conclusion

The only returning bike to the podium from our 2018 Shootout ended up being the Honda, albeit it didn't repeat the win but tied up with the all-new Kawasaki KX450. While our first impressions of the KX450 were super positive and we expected it to be on the podium, many of our riders were shocked by how good the revised Yamaha YZ450F was. Yamaha did finish just off the podium last year in fourth, but it was close to being in the top three. With just the right revisions it was able to overtake the Honda and just nudge in above the Kawasaki, due to a well rounded response across all our riders. Absent from the podium were the second and third placers from last year, the KTM 450 SX-F and Husqvarna FC 450. This was a real surprise for many, as a good majority of our test riders are the same as last year, with many favoring the 2018 counterparts of both bikes. The 2019 models however came with a few small challenges and ultimately the top three of the YZF, CRF, and KX were just a bit more well-rounded when it came to checking off what mattered to each guy. Bringing up the rear is the only repeated position from 2018, as the Suzuki RM-Z450 took sixth place again. However, nearly every test rider agreed with a year under their belts, it was easier to setup the Suzuki this year and depending upon the track there were some good things to say about the machine. Overall, however, it's just a tick off in almost all departments and while many said they wouldn't mind logging in more laps on it, all the other machines were just more favorable.

Hopefully we've given you the insight and feedback you're looking for one the 2019 450s. If you're looking at purchasing one of these bikes for yourself, we hope you now have the tools to make the right call and get the machine to fit your needs. We'll be back next year give you all of our test rider's thoughts and opinions on the 2020 450 models (man that's a crazy year to throw out there, time flies!). Now do you have any thoughts or a suggestion on the format? Or maybe a question about the actual results of this test? Drop us a note in the comment section below or you can get in on our discussion in the forum for a special QNA dedicated to the Shootout and its results. (Forum QNA - 2019 Vital MX 450 Shootout)


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