For 2020, we are settling into a new era for motocross machines. Air forks have come and gone (again), except for the WP forks that most riders have deemed the best versions of air front suspenders. Electric starters are on all but one bike, yet just a few years ago it was completely the other way around. And with fuel injection so far along in development, mapping has become so important to engine character, how to change from one map to another (or build your own) is now vital to how we interact with our bikes.
Some pundits say when buying a new 450 motocrosser, just pick a color and you’ll be fine. These machines have so much power that no mortal can ride them to their full potential and all that other stuff can be worked out. But we aren’t those people. While we would agree that all six of the 450cc motocross bikes in this shootout are very capable and pretty awesome motorcycles, they all have unique characters that can best suit different riders and riding styles. That, in our opinion, is what a shootout is really good at. Not picking one winner and five losers, but showing how each bike works head-to-head, back-to-back, on the same day, on the same track, compared to all the other bikes out there.
Our 2020 shootout included a day at FMF Racing’s headquarters to use their dynamometer and scale. The guys at FMF know what they are doing when it comes to dyno’ing bikes and have decades of experience with their DynoJet machine. After a hot and sweaty day swapping wheels and throwing bikes around, we went to the track for an even hotter time. The first day was at Milestone MX, a jumpy track that most So. Cal. riders know well. It is easy to put in consistent laps with short lap times and the track surface that doesn’t change all that much throughout the day. The second day of testing was at Fox Raceway (formerly Pala) that has a bigger, faster main track, and a vet track with tight turns and a pretty flowy layout.
We had a wide variety of testers for the 2020 Vital MX 450 Shootout that range in size, speed, and ability. Although most are ex-pro riders (one current), they all have different riding styles and preferences and we wanted to have the biggest range of opinions possible. Of course, Klinger is a good proxy for the “average joe” rider - someone that has a lot of experience, but not pro-level speed.
Just in case you missed them the first time, you can check out our First Impressions of each bike by clicking that link. Also, the Specs link will take you to the product page of each machine so you can catch up on specifics. The bikes are in alphabetical order.
2020 Honda CRF450R
2020 Husqvarna FC 450
2020 Kawasaki KX450
2020 KTM 450 SX-F
2020 Suzuki RM-Z450
2020 Yamaha YZ450F
There are pros and cons to using a dyno. On one hand, all dynamometers are different and will typically read different numbers from other dynos. Also, air temp and barometric pressure affect the outcome of dyno readings. On the other hand, using the same dyno to measure all the bikes on the same day and as close together as possible (to have the same air temp and pressure) give a good idea of the bike’s numbers relative to each other. There are dynos out there than have some of these bikes reaching the 60 hp mark. But comparing dyno numbers from different dynos doesn't really mean anything. What is valuable to you, the potential buyer, is how the numbers compare to each other from the same dyno. We did everything possible to get these bikes on FMF’s dyno as close together in time as we could to minimize any ambient environment changes. Below the main chart is each bike's max horsepower and torque in descending order of the highest HP.
Max Horsepower: 56.63 @ 9,700 RPM
Max Torque: 34.28 @ 7,200 RPM
Max Horsepower: 55.75 @ 9,500 RPM
Max Torque: 33.62 @ 7,400 RPM
KTM 450 SX-F
Max Horsepower: 55.19 @ 9,300 RPM
Max Torque: 34.78 @ 7,100 RPM
Husqvarna FC 450
Max Horsepower: 55.15 @ 9,400 RPM
Max Torque: 34.76 @ 6,900 RPM
Max Horsepower: 54.71 @ 9,400 RPM
Max Torque: 33.87 @ 7,100 RPM
Max Horsepower: 53.09 @8,600 RPM
Max Torque: 34.94 @ 6,800 RPM
We weighed the bikes at FMF as well using a centerstand on a single scale. We weighed all the bikes completely full of gas to the top of the filler neck. We know that some people argue that this penalizes bikes with bigger tanks. While that is true, the differences in tank sizes aren’t enough to change the order of the bikes from lightest to heaviest. Also, we weighed the bikes with their tanks full because that is how most sensible average riders start their day of motoing.
KTM: 233.7 lbs.
Husqvarna: 234.0 lbs.
Kawasaki: 242.8 lbs.
Yamaha: 246.9 lbs.
Honda: 247.9 lbs.
Suzuki: 250.4 lbs.
6th Place: 2020 Suzuki RM-Z450
5 - 3 - 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 = 38
5th Place: 2020 Husqvarna FC 450
6 - 6 - 3 - 3 - 5 - 3 - 5 = 31
4th Place: 2020 Honda CRF450R
4 - 4 - 4 - 4 - 3 - 4 - 3 = 26
3rd Place: 2020 Kawasaki KX450
3 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 4 - 5 - 4 = 22
2nd Place: 2020 KTM 450 SX-F
1 - 5 - 5 - 5 - 2 - 2 - 2 = 22
1st Place: 2020 Yamaha YZ450F
2 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 1 = 8
Test Rider Opinions
Vet C rider
6th: Suzuki RM-Z450
I’m among the majority of the testers in this shootout that truly doesn’t want to put this bike in last place. There are things that it does well, and many of the riders said that, especially with a price break, they would not hesitate to buy a 2020 RM-Z450. That being said, someone has to be last.
Personally, I got along better with the 2020 RM-Z than the 2019 bike. Wait, what? The bike is unchanged. How can they feel different? That is a good question and I wasn’t the only tester to say that this Suzuki had more comfort than last year’s bike. I have two theories on why this is. One, Suzuki, either here or in Japan, can be sending the bike out with different clicker settings or they’ve changed something in the frame or suspension without telling us. This has been known to happen. But I sort of doubt that since I don’t see a reason that they wouldn’t tell us. Second, which is more likely, we might just be more used to the bike after three years of riding the same machine.
Taking all that into consideration, for me, the RM-Z is still the bike I want to ride the least out of all the machines in the test. The main reason is lack of comfort and a dated engine character. To be honest, I don’t hate the suspension, and the bike had a good balance for me. Some feel like it is too stinkbug (nose down, rear up) but I prefer a bike to be more in that direction than choppered-out. But the bike still just beats me up. When the track is smooth or soft, it works well, but it will transmit every tiny little bump and chop and edge and hole to the rider when the track starts to get rough.
The power isn’t bad, it is just slow-revving and chuggy. The dyno numbers support this feeling on the track. It makes the most torque at the lowest RPM, but makes the lowest HP, also at the lowest peak RPM. I just short-shift the bike, and refrain from wringing it out and I can use the power. But the slow-revving nature takes away from its high torque numbers because it lacks excitement and snap.
5th: KTM 450 SX-F
I know that I don’t share the majority opinion on the handling of the KTM, but since the chassis change a few years ago, I haven’t been as comfortable on the KTM as I was on the earlier generation frame. This is the main factor on why it is in fifth place for me. I have a hard time getting it to corner smoothly since I feel like it resists my initial cornering input. But this is also personal since everyone has their own way of turning a bike.
What I like about the KTM is its ergos and lack of weight. The bike is really light which gives it a fun, agile feeling especially for a 450. And then the seat is nice and flat, the bike is thin overall, and nothing snags when moving around on the machine.
For me, the power and suspension are both just alright. Neither are bad, but the bikes placed above the KTM stand out as doing at least something better or giving me more confidence. The power character is typical KTM with a smooth low-end, strong mid-range, and top-end power for days. The suspension works fine for me, but is neither the most race-oriented setup or comfort-oriented setup. Overall the KTM left me with a “plain oatmeal” taste in my mouth this year. It gets the job done, but there isn’t anything specific about it that makes me want to ride it more than the other bikes. That being said, I do find its lightness, ergos, and moderate level comfort more appealing than the RM-Z.
4th: Honda CRF450R
I feel like a jerk putting this bike in fourth place, but I don’t gel with this bike as much as some of the other bikes in the shootout. As I’ve said before, I’m not a super-fast guy and my ultimate goal with riding moto is to have as much fun as possible, not necessarily to win races. All of the other testers are ex-pros of varying degrees of aggression so if you chasing checkered flags, their opinions will probably better match your own. As it pertains to the Honda, I feel like CRF450R is much more suited for the racer than the “have fun on the track” type rider.
First off, the power is very impressive, and, something that isn’t always the case, the dyno numbers actually match up with the seat-of-the-pants assessment on the track. According to our dyno numbers, the Honda makes the most peak horsepower and I definitely got that impression while riding. There is an aggressive snappiness to the power from the first crack of the throttle throughout the rpm, all the way to the top. I felt like it didn’t have as much top-end pull as KTM/Husky but that also could be because those bikes make more of their power up there, where the Honda’s spread feels much broader. It feels quick-revving and torquey, similar to the Yamaha, but the blue bike has a bit more controllability where the Honda feels like it is a little more “rip your arms out of the socket.” Obviously, that would be a good thing for a lot of riders, but for me, I prefer more control. I liked the stock map the best because the aggressive was too aggro for me to ride smoothly, but the mellow map takes a while to build rpm which threw me off a bit.
I did try map three with the traction control, which was pretty good. It helped slow down the rev rate in dry and/or slick corners. It is a very subtle system that doesn’t cut in or make any sudden adjustments. It just feels like you switched it to the mellow map, just for that corner.
The suspension is good, but this is also where I start to feel like I’m just not riding the bike to its full potential. The fork and shock feel like they sacrifice some comfort for more performance. I never felt a plushness or cushiony feel that, on other bikes, gives me confidence and more control over the machine. Overall, I think the Honda is a precise-handling machine that works the best with a more talented rider on it. That being said, I feel like it is the easiest machine to pop over holes or bumps on the track. It likes getting creative and using the first braking bump to sort of bunny hop over the rest into the corner, where other machines don’t have as much pop, for lack of a better word.
3rd: Husqvarna FC 450
I think this is a love-it-or-hate-it bike because, in the nicest way possible, I’d say that this bike’s suspension and engine character are soft. But for a 450, that isn’t a bad thing, at least for me. Hopping on this bike, I’m immediately comfortable and I have a very high level of confidence.
For 2020, Husky made it clear that their suspension changes were to make the bike more appealing to the 90 percent of average riders rather than the 10 percent of pro-level riders out there (and I’m firmly in that 90 percent). What that means in terms of performance and how the FC 450 feels on the track is there is a high degree of plushness and the bike is overall very forgiving. I can ride the bike harder and more consistently than bikes that feel twitchy, stiff and too aggressive. The Husky, as far as chassis and handling goes, feels like the antithesis to the Suzuki, and also very different than the Honda.
But the FC 450 is also very light which allows me to pick which lines I wanted very easily and I can change directions quickly. Even turning is better with this bike than the KTM. I think with the direction they went with the chassis a few years ago, the softer settings work really well.
The power is also on the mellow side, but in such a way that I can ride the bike more like a 250F and get a little twist-happy with the throttle, without flying off the track. It still has 450cc power and makes good HP numbers, but it is metered out in a linear, controllable way that really makes you feel like you are in charge, not the bike.
Overall, my impression of the Husqvarna is it’s the 450 that most of us need, but maybe not the one that we want. Meaning, on paper, we all claim to want the fastest, gnarliest, most aggressive bikes that possibly exist. But I can say with complete certainty that I can ride the Husqvarna smoother, faster, and for a longer period of time than most of the other bikes in this shootout and still have just as much fun.
2nd: Kawasaki KX450
For a bike that had no changes of consequence, the KX450 moved up my personal rankings this year. The reason? This bike does everything really good, just not great. And I think that is becoming more important to me as I ride more and more bikes. I would say the overall vibe of the KX is similar to the Yamaha, but it just doesn’t have as many high notes.
The motor on the KX is extremely responsive and it feels very connected to the rear wheel. I also can control the power well, but it is a barky, exciting power that is a touch behind the Honda and Yamaha as far as max output, but still more snappy than the KTM, Husky, and Suzuki. Some riders complained about a less than stellar mid-range but I didn’t find it lacking, just not explosive. I think the finger-follower design gives the bike a quicker-revving but smoother power that I prefer.
I’ve also begun to appreciate Kawasaki’s chassis more and more each time I ride it. There is a balance of control, precision, and comfort that is sometimes easy to overlook. It isn’t a super-sharp turning bike like the Suzuki or Honda, but it isn’t far behind and I found it much more stable and less affected by poor track conditions. Even though it isn’t the lightest bike on the scales, it definitely hides that weight really well on the track. I never had the feeling that I need to give the bike more input to get it to turn or change directions.
The suspension is a solid package that doesn’t do anything wrong. Some say the fork is too soft, but for my speed, I didn’t have that issue. If anything, I prefer a softer fork to help with front-end bite and feedback. I would say that the KX doesn’t have the softest, or firmest, or most comfortable, or most performance-based suspension, but it is in the middle of all that, and just easy to get used to and ride a fast pace...at least for me.
1st: Yamaha YZ450F
Like I said in the First Impression of this bike, I was a big fan of the 2019 YZ450F and didn’t think it needed much changing at all. But, for 2020, nearly every area of the bike was updated, and I was very happy that they didn’t mess anything up. Actually, they made it just a little bit better.
For me, there isn’t one thing that I don’t like about the Yamaha. The only thing that I could possibly say that might be a slight negative is that it has more of “pocket seat” than the other bikes, but that isn’t something I don’t like since it is in the correct position for me. I typically like the flatter seats of the KTM and Husqvarna, but not once did I feel like I was out of place on the Yamaha, but some riders do.
Without a doubt, there is some secret voodoo magic working in the Yamaha’s suspension. The fact that a pro-level riders and vet-paced riders can both rave about the comfort and performance of the suspension is just plain hard to really explain. In practical terms, if there is a jump or rhythm on the track that I haven’t tried yet, I would always wait till I was on the YZ450F to give it a go. That is because I have so much confidence in both the bike’s suspension and chassis that I know if I do something completely dumb, I have the best chance of riding it out on the Yamaha. This year the fork was stiffened a little, so I went two clicks softer and it was perfect.
The power is also incredible. It feels very similar to the strength and torquyness of the Honda, but is way more controllable and easy to ride. The throttle response is somehow the most instantaneous of any machine. The right grip is directly connected to the rear wheel and makes the bike both exciting to ride but never feels like it will bite you. The bottom end has a good amount of torque without being surgy, the mid-range is barky and strong and the top end pulls great.
Another overall aspect of the YZ is how consistently it performs at different tracks. If a track is smooth and perfect, any bike feels pretty good, including the Yamaha. But when the track gets rough, some bikes perform worse and worse, but the Yamaha still works great. On the other hand, some bikes like sandy tracks, faster tracks, jumpy tracks, or tight, small tracks, but usually not all of them. The YZ450F likes all of them.
The Power Tuner App is a surprisingly powerful tool to modify the power delivery to your personal preferences. If the track is slick in the morning, you can mellow out the bottom end hit. If you are a lugger and just want to stay in third gear all the time, you can get more bottom end. Personally, the stock map worked great for me and the changes to the engine improved the power across the entire rev range.
6th: Suzuki RM-Z450
The Suzuki has the worst rep in the moto community. Many people are talking trash and probably have never even ridden the bike. Truth be told, it’s not bad at all. In fact, I really enjoy riding it. The riding triangle is very comfortable (much like the Honda) and it’s easy to hop on and feel comfortable instantly. The engine is a little soft on power and the chassis is a little on the stiff side. I think both could be massaged and the bike could be really good. The bike arguably offers the best turning in the class and although it is heavy on paper, it doesn’t feel that way on the track. If you can get the Suzuki cheaper than the other bikes, it would be tempting to put a little extra cash into it and customize it to your needs. The bike has tons of potential.
5th: Kawasaki KX450
The Kawi is pretty good across the board. It doesn’t do anything the best, but it’s also not bad at anything… my only real complaint was the overly soft front fork. I really like the bike….I just don’t love it.
4th: Honda CRF450R
The Honda feels the most comfortable to me to just hop on. I love the feel of the controls, and rider triangle (seat, footpeg, and handlebar location). The bike feels very easy to change direction, whip, and throw around in the air. The suspension is good, and the engine is the hardest-hitting in the class. It is very peppy and exciting to ride. The biggest problem for me is that when the track gets rough, it can be a handful. The strong engine and agile handling make it a little twitchy at high speeds.
3rd: Husqvarna FC 450
The Husky is similar to the KTM in many ways. The engine was a little bit more mellow and the suspension was a little softer. Both better suited towards a lighter rider or a vet guy. Something very small to complain about but I’m not a huge fan of the seat cover. It’s overly grippy and gives me monkey butt….but again, a very easy change if you buy one.
2nd: KTM 450 SX-F
The KTM has really stepped up their suspension in the last couple of years. The air fork is extremely good and almost on par with Yamaha’s fork. Chassis balance is good and I felt that the shock and fork worked in unison together. Both KTM and Husky both felt like the smallest and most compact bikes of the shootout. I would honestly prefer a little higher bar or a slightly higher bar mount. The KTM/Husky had a great blend of high-speed stability with razor-sharp turning. The engine was also very fast. Great bottom through top-end but I felt that it could use a tiny bit more over-rev.
1st: Yamaha YZ450F
The Yami had class-leading suspension. Plush and comfortable, yet great hold up and bottoming resisting on the hard hits. The bike was very stable and had great balance. The engine was smooth off the bottom but built power quickly in the mid and top end. Good over-rev, and very little engine braking. One of my only complaints was that the bike felt big and tall compared to all the other bikes (but within a couple laps, you hardly noticed it).
6th: Husqvarna FC 450
This bike is really maneuverable. Once you get the suspension setting that works for you, this bike is a point and shoot no matter what obstacle is ahead of you. It feels light and easy to flick around especially in the air. The only downfall is that the suspension is a little too soft for me in stock form. The motor is pretty decent, but I found it to be a little off the mark. I felt that it was just a little too soft as well and not lively enough.
5th: KTM 450 SX-F
This is a great all-around bike. The motor is a great linear package. Good bottom, mid, and top with plenty of over-rev. The handling matches the motor package. It's a very balanced bike that tracks well through corners, and is very maneuverable and predictable. It was a little busy for me as far as suspension goes. I felt that on the smaller braking bumps it didn’t track quite as well, but on the bigger braking bumps and g-outs the bike was compliant and predictable. The KTM corners well too. As soon as you were able to settle into the corner the biked tracked really well.
4th: Honda CRF450R
This bike has the best motor in the field for me. It had such great delivery off the bottom that transferred into a very stong, usable mid-range power that never signed off up top. The bike also handled pretty well for me. I had to make a couple of adjustments just to get it to settle down on braking bumps coming into the corner. Once the bike settled into the corner, it tracked well, especially in the tighter turns. Great overall machine!
3rd: Suzuki RM-Z450
This bike is a cornering machine! It doesn’t matter what type of corner you’re in, this thing holds tight, tracks well and is super-predictable. Even though the chassis is a little rigid, it’s such a predictable bike that you have the confidence to charge into sections that could be rough and gnarly and you know how the bike is going to react. The balance is on point! The motor lacked the excitement it needed to have. It felt soft and lacked horsepower and when you got through the midrange power it lost any over-rev.
2nd: Kawasaki KX450
It's still the same ol’ Kawi 450. Great all-around bike. I like to steer with the rear of the bike. It still has some of that characteristic as previous model, but added a front steering characteristic. It's kind of the best of both worlds. The bike tracked well coming into the corners, settled in nicely, and tracked on through. The suspension was compliant and progressive all around...especially the shock! It’s one of the best rear shocks in stock form that I’ve ridden. Such great bottoming control especially on g-outs and tracking on acceleration. Accelerating through braking bumps, the tire stayed on the ground and you could just accelerate! The forks were a little soft for me on braking bumps, but nothing a little suspension work couldn’t fix. Great engine. Such a good all around powerband. Good delivery off the bottom, and I loved the mid-range and great top-end power.
1st: Yamaha YZ450F
This bike was the biggest surprise for me this year. Yamaha, which is a great bike, hasn’t fit my riding style for so many years, but this year it seems to work for everyone's riding style. The handling was so on point! The bike was really balanced and confidence-inspiring. The straight-line stability and bottoming control was number one in its class, for me. You could charge hard at high speeds and even be more aggressive in braking bumps coming into turns and easily settle into the turn and rail. The bike even felt lighter this year and was super-nimble and easy to flick around. It had a great motor package, with great delivery, great mid and never seemed to sign off! Brakes were great, ergos were great, chassis was great… pretty much everything this bike did was great!
6th: Suzuki RM-Z450
6th place I hear you say! Well you know, the Suzuki is not a bad motorcycle. It’s just the others are a little better and it has the feeling of an older 450 that really holds it back from moving up the rankings. I will say this, in the right hands with some setup you can win on this bike! The engine has an older four-stroke feel with good low-to-mid torque but signs out a little early at the top. It handles and turns well, however, has a heavy feel that is quite hard to get away from. In stock form, even with 110mm sag it had a stinkbug feeling caused by the front fork. Stiffening these up four clicks helped but still didn’t quite have the comfort and confidence inspiration I would expect of a modern 450.
5th: KTM 450 SX-F
Putting the KTM in 5th does not do it justice, I actually feel bad about it since the bikes are so close. But for me, the major reason was that I just couldn’t quite get used to the SX-F as easily as the other machines and it didn’t quite give me the confidence to push the bike towards its limit. I feel that the best way to ride the KTM is to short-shift through the gears, use the torque that is in abundance with its powerplant. If you try to override the KTM it doesn’t work as well, but smoother and slower with more precision it can actually be faster, right? I actually struggled more with the forks and ended up going stiffer in air pressure and it helped. However, in the mid-stroke, I couldn’t get the feeling I was looking for. Still a great bike, and like I said 5th does not do it justice.
4th: Honda CRF450R
The Honda crew have made some great improvements in the 2020 model, and some minor changes are noticeable on the track. Cleaner, smoother mapping was my initial feeling that translated on the bike being easier to ride. On the first day of the test I struggled with the Honda, for the chassis feel I was looking for, however, on the second day with actually using the Traction control and map three felt really nice for me. I enjoyed riding the Honda, and it was a bike very much capable of being on the podium. Probably what kept it off for me was a little unpredictability entering the turns when you chop off the throttle, a little more fine-tuning or the addition of the steering stabilizer could eliminate this. All in all, it’s an improved motorcycle from 2019.
3rd: Husqvarna FC 450
The FC 450 is a great bike, hands down. And to be honest, I didn’t really have any complaints, and didn’t actually have to make any changes to suit me. A forgiving and predictable chassis and easy-to-use power, the Husky is all-around a great machine. I tried both maps with traction control on and off. This initially seems rather a lot to take in but finding the right setting for the track and conditions did make quite the difference. The suspension adjustments from 19’ with the softer rear spring was a positive for me. I always look for a bike that tracks and can put power to the ground and the Husqvarna did this with ease and enjoyment. Although I’ve never been a fan of air forks, the WP fork on the Husky is very good, yet it doesn’t quite give me the confidence of a spring.
2nd: Kawasaki KX450
The battle of the brands for 2nd place was really close, however the KX just pipped the others in my rankings. Straight away I felt comfortable on the Kawasaki and it was probably the easiest bike to ride in my opinion. The chassis is comfortable, nimble, and easy to turn which was used to be a question mark for the previous generation green machine. Without a doubt the engine is easy to ride, it’s responsive and fun, yet safe and predictable at the same time. Entering the turns is something that I really like about the KX, however, this could be due to the soft front fork. It’s a give and take with the bike that can hurt on hard landings and larger high speed braking bumps. If it was me, a stiffer spring rate would probably solve the issue and potentially would be the bike to win. Across both the tracks the Kawasaki was good, and invited you to ride it hard, that was a great attribute.
1st: Yamaha YZ450F
Yamaha has made huge gains in their 450 over the past years. I rated the Yamaha 1st in 2019 and to be honest I was doubtful they could improve upon what they had with the substantial changes for the 2020 machine. They impressed yet again and only got better. The engine character is impressive, very easy to ride and inspires confidence. Mapping was very good and a light, easy-revving feel was joyous to ride. I tried both maps that come standard and settled on the ‘TP’ map that suited me well. Handling was good, initially I did feel like the front end was a little bit busy for my liking but a couple of clicks on rebound was the cure. The shock felt good and had a consistent safe feeling that didn’t do anything unexpected. I did notice that the YZF felt slightly smaller than the previous model but all helped it feel more nimble. I did notice initially that the front of the bike felt wide, only at the front however and after half a lap or so it wasn’t an issue. Kudos to Yamaha for making a great bike again. If there was any doubt about the first place, LITPro data showed that I was fastest on it both days of the shootout.
6th: Suzuki RM-Z450
If we were ranking bikes only concerned with aesthetics this one would be much closer to the top for me. Sitting on the bike it feels skinny, it has nice seat-to-bar height, and the grips are hard but not terrible. I picked this bike last, but that does not mean it was a bad bike or that I didn’t like it. Suzuki has left little to be excited about over the last few years, but this is a cheaper, reliable, great-turning 450 that can be very much competitive at any level. The bads have been listed before: It’s rigid, it needs more over-rev, it’s heavy, and the suspension is hard to figure out.
The positives for me are the corners, it has a planted feel that creates confidence in corner speed and momentum. I was looking for more over-rev and tried the richer coupler which made a positive difference but still had me wanting more. The mid-range on the bike is strong, so short-shifting is the way to go. Suspension was hard to set up for me. The less than ideal sag number didn’t help the program, either. We were only able to get about 112 sag due to my weight this left the bike riding lower in the rear than I would like and giving the fork a more harsh feel.
5th: Husqvarna FC 450
Next up was the Husqvarna 450. Starting off with suspension, this bike was the furthest off for me on sag, we were only able to get to about 118 on sag. The first day, Milestone had some holes and this bike would transfer a lot of impact to me. On the second day with Fox Raceway being a faster track I felt the bike handled better, especially when I hopped the bumps a bit more. Riding from the pits the bike already had a choppered feel for me, but at 240 lb, no bike is set up for me out of the box. The suspension is very plush and with it on the softer side, it really hugged the corners for me. The power is very smooth with tons of over-rev. My best setting was the vented airbox cover and map 2 traction control off. I felt I could ride the bike a gear high and had plenty of power, but where I felt it was best was running a gear low and letting it rev. The clutch has a great pull, and the brakes are awesome. I would say the handlebar bend and grips were my favorite.
4th: Kawasaki KX450
In fourth place, I feel the Kawasaki is not getting the credit it deserves. The bikes are all so good the results really come down to some very trivial things. The grips on this bike are by far the worst in class. The front brake lever is very thin and felt harder for me to control. The forks are very soft and get low. Now getting to the positives the bike turns at the front of the class. The grip to the ground, especially in flat slippery corners, was awesome. The engine is very strong with good over-rev. The over-rev gives the bike that free light feel. I felt with this bike I had the best results in playing with the bumps, whether that meant jumping a couple of bumps into the corner, or keeping the front wheel up over a bump it made that the easiest. I felt like I had the most control with the hydraulic clutch meaning it wasn’t just an on/off feel.
3rd: Honda CRF450R
I have owned the ‘17, ‘18, and ‘19 Honda 450 and felt going into this that the 2020 would be my favorite bike of the group. On day one this was the last bike I would ride and track conditions had deteriorated not to mention fatigue had set in, but I was excited to ride the bike I knew so well. We were able to get sag to 105 which was the only bike I was able to get the ideal number on. With the spring that turned down, it did create some shock-overpowering-the-fork feel so we lowered the forks 2mm and with that improved the turn in on entrance of corners The power of the bike creates instant confidence and comfort. The faster I went and the more aggressive I was I felt like the bike got better and better.
On Day 2 this was the first bike I would ride and the cornering really shined for me early. The power in the softer corners was able to pull me through but manageable enough that I wasn’t pushing the exits of corners further out. The bike has a nimble feel and comfortable to lean with the bike through the corner. So why did it miss out on top for me? I felt like I had to ride this bike the hardest to make it work for me. I got the most tired on this bike and also made the most changes to the Honda. The clutch has the stiffest pull of all the bikes. The mapping was great. I felt map 2 was a more noticeable change this year. I tried the torque control and feel with more time on the bike would have been fun to experiment, but ended up turning it off every time after only a short time.
2nd: KTM 450 SX-F
Deciding a winner between these two bikes was very difficult for me, and I had to go back and ride them both again to finally decide a winner. In riding the KTM it was initially obvious how much stiffer the bike was than the Husqvarna. The KTM has a stiffer shock spring that was a big plus for me. I loved the ride height on this bike it stayed up in the stroke, but still had a plush feel. Map 2 with vented air box was the best setting for me. Unlike the Husqvarna, I felt this bike reacted better in a gear high and although the power was good it was a little softer than I desired but one dab of the clutch and it put it right where I wanted it. The KTM use to feel so much different to the Japanese bikes, but now I feel the gap isn’t as big. I had instant comfort for me riding the European bikes. The KTM was very easy for me to ride and felt the more laps I did the faster and more comfortable I could ride. The light feel gives a very positive feel through corners. I felt that the KTM was the best shifting bike even under heavy load.
1st: Yamaha YZ450F
Going into this Yamaha was not high on my like list. I had ridden a 2018 Yamaha the week previous and felt the engine braking gave it a heavy feel and in the middle of the corners the bike would push through the rut and find myself questioning my riding technique in every corner. The 2020 was a huge improvement for me instantly. The engine braking I previously felt on decel was gone, which instantly gave it the light feel of KTM and Honda. If I was going into a rut and it had something I didn’t like as soon as I turned my head the bike was going where I wanted it to go. Yamaha seems to have made a few refinements in reducing engine drag and the changes were noticeable in gaining that light feel and free-revving character. On day one I left the bar mounts in the forward position and for day two I moved them to the back position and felt more at home, especially while cornering. The engine is super fun to ride and there is instant controllable power at any time. I hardly ever had to use the clutch, but when I did it had an easy pull and great feel.
6th: Husqvarna FC 450
The Husky to me was a big let down, and I think it all came down to suspension. To me, it was like riding a trampoline with an engine. The rear shock was way too soft for me and the forks were super-busy. For me to get it to work, we pretty much had to make the rear shock dead and have no reaction. It was immediately felt on the first jump you hit trying to kick you over the bars. Besides the suspension the rest of the bike was okay, the engine is smooth with over-rev but still a slower version of the KTM. It almost felt like they went for a slower rider on husky and built the KTM for the racer.
5th: Suzuki RM-Z450
For as much grief as this bike gets, it's not as bad as everyone says. I personally enjoyed it plus the price point on the bike makes up for a lot. The engine was way off, slow with no over-rev. You can really feel the stiffness of the chassis when you hit a big bump or a square edge. It doesn’t absorb quick fast impacts, you seem to find your body doing most of the absorbing in those situations. I do believe that someone who wants more power than a 250 but thinks they can’t handle a 450 would enjoy the Suzuki. After some suspension changes this bike would be good for a slower rider. It has great cornering with being able to do sharp angles.
4th: Honda CRF450R
The 2020 Honda I believe is a great vet rider bike. The engine is strong but it’s nothing that will throw you off the bike. The bike feels like it sits high off the ground with a lot of travel in the suspension. The Honda was very close to the Kawasaki to me where it basically did everything good but nothing stands out.
3rd: Kawasaki KX450
The Kawasaki to me is just GOOD. Everything on the bike works really well, but just isn’t great. Nothing stands out and nothing performance wise stands out a negative. Just the front brake lever being way too skinny and the stock grips outdated and hard. It builds power well and has a fast engine. The cornering is good, very easy to get up front and stay up there. The KX also turns sharp with ease, as well as stays in long open ruts well.
2nd: Yamaha YZ450F
This year we are seeing a great improvement from last year’s model. The overall weight of the bike for me was a great help. In the last model you felt that the bike wanted to throw you to the ground every time it got out of line. The front brake makes a massive difference to me as well. I believe they added a much bigger piston this year. It also improved the feel of the brake allowing you to drag it in those shallow ruts. The power of the engine is smooth but aggressive all the way through. The only problem I had with the Yamaha is I felt the pocket of the seat is too big and far back. When you get on the gas in the turns it tends to scoot you back into that pocket and with that picking the front wheel up and getting off balance.
1st: KTM 450 SX-F
I put the KTM in first place because I felt the bike was made for me. For my weight, height, and riding ability - the KTM is ready to race. I felt really smooth and fast power with a hit that was good but not pulling your arms off or making you fall back off the bike and interrupting your technique. The suspension felt like it used the whole stroke. It rode up in the stroke and absorbed all the big bumps. There was a specific big bump on the track that I decided to hit on every lap on purpose and I felt the KTM handled it a lot better. I also loved to see a rut blown out and be able to pull out turn sharp and go forward instead of losing the front.
6th: Suzuki RM-Z450
It’s really hard to put the Suzuki in last place. Yes, it doesn’t feel as good as the other bikes but it isn’t bad, either. That being said, it doesn’t have electric start and for me that is a dealbreaker, especially since I’m on the shorter side. I don’t want to think about having to kick the thing mid-moto in the middle of the track with people right and left and being tired. On the track, I feel like the bike is overall a little high. Like the center of gravity is too high and I’m sitting high on the bike. And, opposite the Honda where I felt the front tire biting the ground, I felt that the Suzuki front end was loose. Engine-wise, it is a little slower than the other bikes, but does that bother me? I wouldn’t say so. I notice the bike being a little off the pace, but it isn’t a dealbreaker for me because 450s are a lot to handle already. It’s more about the handling of the bike where I don’t agree with the Suzuki. And, the bike isn’t bad. The guy that gets sixth-place in a race is still a really good rider, just that we only have six bikes to compare. In my mind, I don’t think of the Suzuki as a “last place” bike, just a sixth-place bike, if that makes sense.
5th: Husqvarna FC 450
I was way more comfortable on the Husky than I have been in the past, but I liked the bike differently at the two tracks we rode. I felt really good at Milestone. So much so that I was sort of shocked, just based on how I felt about the Husky in the past. It corners really good and the engine is easy to ride. Even though they are different bikes, we always compare the KTM and Husky, and while some other guys didn’t feel this way, I thought the Husky was pretty close to the KTM this year. But, at Fox Raceway, I didn’t feel as good on the Husqvarna. I felt like the suspension was too soft for such a fast track. Like it was a little too springy, spongy for me, especially the shock. I wasn’t comfortable on some of the bigger jumps. I was having to overthink it to scrub the bike. I wasn’t loose or fully relaxed. But, lap times were decent, and the overall feeling besides that was good. I like the suspension of the KTM better, but if I would get a Husky, all I would need to do was give the suspension some attention.
4th: Kawasaki KX450
Every year we say similar things about the Kawi. There is nothing bad, but nothing that really stands out as great, either. But it is a good bike, it turns good, and the power is good. Honestly, for me, just looking at the bike and the side with the muffler, I just can’t. All the other bikes have clean, modern looking exhausts. If I bought the Kawasaki, I would have to change the pipe right away. Compared to the other bikes it’s just plain ugly. And the grips, which are the first point of contact with the bike, and the Kawi grips are so stiff, so hard. I don’t know what it would take for Kawasaki to put something comfortable. Especially when you want to ride all day, our hands are raw. To be honest, those little extras where why this bike is 4th, not pure performance because it is a good bike. And I still like the electric start and hydraulic clutch.
3rd: Honda CRF450R
The Honda did much better at Fox Raceway than at Milestone for me. I put down fast lap times at Milestone and it was turning really well but the suspension had some issues. The suspension felt too soft when I overjumped something or not timing the jumps just right, I was bottoming out the fork and shock. But then it was too stiff on decel, and on the high speed stuff. Sometimes coming into the corner it was a little shaky. I could ride fast on it, but couldn’t push as hard as I wanted to. But at Fox, I think the track suits the Honda way better. I think there is a lot of weight in the front of the CRF450R. If you have a track where the traction is not so good or where there are not a lot of ruts and you need to push hard on the outside of the bike to stay in the line, the Honda is really good at that. It is easy to get out of corners and cut into corners and to change from left to right to left. The front tire just sticks to the ground like crazy. The engine is really strong too, like really powerful.
2nd: KTM 450 SX-F
The engine is great. Easier to ride, I feel, than in the past. It is still very powerful but a little more manageable on the throttle, especially at Fox where it was a little slippery. The bike feels small, you can feel that it is light and thin. The KTM is really easy to turn, maybe even better than the Yamaha for me, but the suspension needs a little work to make me happy on the stock bike. It is far from bad, and I had the fastest lap time on the KTM at Milestone, but it doesn’t give me exactly the same confidence on the track that the Yamaha does. I don’t have the cushion I do with the Yamaha if I do something wrong. All the extras are good too, like the bar, and the grips. I mean, it really is ready to race, there isn’t much to do with it.
1st: Yamaha YZ450F
I liked the Yamaha equally on both tracks. Most of the bikes I either liked better at Milestone or at Pala. That’s big and shows that the bike can be good on any kind of track. The main thing I like about the Yamaha is the suspension. It gives me a certain level of confidence that is hard to get on a stock 450. Also, I feel like the work that they did on the engine makes the bike feel lighter and easier to ride. It really changed the bike. I already liked the 2019 because of the suspension and the engine was fine but there was a little bit of a heavy feeling. Overall, they kept what was good and they improved what needed to be improved. It still feels a little wider, a little bigger, but it never really bothered me while riding. I like the footpegs and the bar, they both feel good to me. I did put the bar back in the position that was stock from last year, which made it even better handling for me. Overall, I felt confident, comfortable, and I had fun on the Yamaha.
Hopefully, the net takeaway of all this information is, again, not thinking of one bike as the winner and five losers. We include all of the tester notes so that you can understand why a bike worked or didn't work for each rider. It also explains that, while we do have to rank them, some bikes are extremely close to each other and small things like bars and grips can sway opinions. Just like last year, our second and third place finishers had the same amount of overall points, but like we say in the video, we gave the better ranking to the KTM because it earned at least one first place ranking.
Also, while Klinger is the only non-pro or non-ex-pro rider, all of the testers involved have different riding styles and preferences that come out when they explain why each bike ranked where it did. This isn't just fast guys picking out the fastest bike. We work hard to gather all the different notes and opinions so that you can best match your personal style with what our testers shared in this Shootout. We know this is whole bunch of info and we appreciate you taking the time to read through it. Now, it's on to the 250s!