2015 KTM 450SX-F vs. Yamaha YZ450F vs. Kawasaki KX450F vs. Honda CRF450R vs. Husqvarna FC450 vs. Suzuki RM-Z450

Welcome to Vital MX's 2015 450 Shootout! We'll keep this short and sweet so you can get into what's important, what our five test riders thought of the six models included in this year's comparison. Down below, you'll find a video that covers most of the day's action, a refresher on the technical info with links to our First Looks and First Impressions on each model from earlier this year. There's also a comparison dyno chart, and our five test rider's individual comments and scoring on each model. Finally, we tallied up the scores to decide the finishing position of each bike. Enjoy!

2015 450 Shootout - More Motocross Videos

The Contenders

If you're looking for a refresher on what's new with each model, you can find the technical info in our First Looks and our initial comments in our First Impressions.

First LookFirst Impressions •
MSRP: $8,999

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP: $8,590

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $8,699

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP: $8,699

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP: $9,049

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP: $8,749

Dyno Comparison Chart:

Click to expand.

Test Riders Opinions

Name: Michael Lindsay
Weight: 155 lbs./ Height: 5'9"/ Age: 22
Riding skill level: Expert/18 years of riding experience.
Bikes ridden/raced past two years: 2012 KX450F, 2013 KX250F, 2014 RM-Z450, 2014 YZ250F (occasional time on every major model)

First Place - Kawasaki KX450F

My decision for the top spot was an extremely tough one. It seems like most of the bikes have some standout points that I really enjoyed, but are coupled with a few nags that aren't as easy to get over without some changes that aren't available in stock trim. As for the KX450F, the engine is strong throughout the range, revs well for a 450, and has the extra grunt when needed. The chassis is a bit on the bigger side, but has a natural comfort to it, without any odd geometry that takes time to get used to. It's not exactly the most nimble bike in the class, but is great on rough tracks. This isn't just because of its stability, but also the predictable way it reacts to whatever is thrown at it. Even though the bike will push the front end at times, I feel a certain comfort in what it's going to do. Unlike the Yamaha's front end, which can go vague, the Kawi offers me enough feedback to know whether the front will washout, or continue to push until I hit an edge or berm to continue on again. As with most stock 450s, the rear shock is a bit oversprung for me, but offers a consistent feel. As per my usual, the preload was backed out to 1/2mm which sets me at about 103mm of sag. To help keep the rear planted, I opened up the high-speed compression to allow it to squat a little better. Beyond this, I made a few other small tweaks to eliminate a little bit of kicking when entering high speed corners. New for 2015 is Showa's SFF TAC system (the forks), which seem to be a bit on the soft and "dead" side on the KX450F. Most comments about this fork have been a bit negative, but luckily for me, my lighter weight eliminates the need of adding too much inner chamber pressure, which seems to cause harshness. I kept my pressure changes to the minimum by adding five psi to the inner chamber and a few clicks stiffer on compression. I did this to eliminate some diving under heavy braking and offer a bit more resistance later in the stroke. Overall for me, the forks aren't terrible, but can't match what Yamaha is offering. To be honest, the KX450F doesn't exactly top any category but seems to be second or third best in every aspect I looked at, making it the best overall package.

Second Place - Yamaha YZ450F

I'll start off by saying how far I feel like the YZ450F has come in the past two years. I was not much of a fan of the 2010-2013 model, as I never found much comfort with the bike. The newest version really shines through with one of the largest gains that Yamaha made with the reverse cylinder head, the immense amount of power. Some manufactures have gone for an easier-to-ride package by keeping the power down, but Yamaha has mastered the balance. This bike is only topped by the KTM/Husqvarna when it comes to peak horsepower numbers, but overall is the strongest engine throughout the whole range. At the same time, it's quite manageable with a bit of forethought on throttle control. The suspension is also a standout, as it falls into an unusual category of being accepted by riders of varying weights and speeds without many changes. Yes, it's a bit over-sprung for me, but the actual action of the shock and forks is exceptional and well-balanced. As for the chassis, it's thinner, but the bulging shrouds still bother me a little, as I ride very far forward on the bike. Also, it seems like you're trying to "herd" the bike a bit when trying to dive into those tight corners. Between the lack of powerful brakes and a pushing tendency, it's hard to commit to getting inside of another rider. Although I feel the front end is more planted than past years, I still feel like it pushes on the exits of corners, and entrances that require a larger lean angle. The main problem I have with this is a bit of vagueness this also produces. As I can't properly predict if the front will wash or continue to push, so I tend to get nervous and abort my line choice. Outside of this, the Yamaha has shaken off its bad rep and is back in the running as a top choice.

Third Place - KTM 450SX-F

In the past, judging the KTMs was quite the challenge as they offered up a different feel than their Japanese competitors. While the KTM still hasn't hit that natural feeling for me, it's a lot easier to jump on one and give an opinion about without spending days on the bike to learn its quirks. First off, I love the chromoly frames that KTM uses. I really feel like they hit a perfect balance between stability and cornering that an aluminum frame doesn't quite match in my opinion. The largest drawback has always been the suspension, which really affects the opinions of what the chassis is capable of. Sad to say, the forks still aren't quite doing the KTM justice. The new 4CS seems to be more consistent then the bladder forks that they replaced, but are hampered by an initial soft feel that can be remedied by adding a few clicks of compression. But this in turn causes a mid-stroke harshness that I can't seem to shake, no matter what further adjustments I tried. I don't mind the forks, as long as I can continue to push but when I back it down a bit, this harshness really comes into play. WP's shock however does do the bike justice. Overall, it's very progressive and comfortable, with an excellent feel when rear end steering under heavy acceleration. The engine on the KTM has the most linear feel of any in its class. It has a somewhat average bottom-end hit that builds very progressively throughout the rest of the range. It's very deceiving as this engine feels similar to the Suzuki or Honda, but completely outruns them as it builds steam. I feel like this engine can be the most broadly used on any type of terrain or rider skill level. Beyond this, the KTM offers up the best brakes in its class, but I'm not the biggest fan of its controls. The actual offset of the bars brings me too far forward on the bike, while the sweep of the bar itself is a bit too much. While the seat-to-footpeg height make the bike seem a bit tall, which stands out to me as my leg length is a bit short for my overall height. All-in-all, KTM brings a great chassis with the easiest to ride engine package, but the forks and overall rider's compartment costs it some points in my book.

Fourth Place - Honda CRF450R

Like some riders, the Honda hasn't been on my favorites list since 2008. The 2013 was a step forward for me when it came to the chassis, but still stale when it came to the engine department. For 2015, the Honda received a pretty decent engine overhaul. This equates to a much broader powerband than its predecessor, as this one actually revs! Sadly though, there still isn't much of an increase down low, and the gearing seems a bit odd. As an example, there was specific obstacle at Competitive Edge that I could do on any 450 in third gear, but on the Honda, it had to be done in fourth. The Honda's gearing leaves third just a bit short, but still not tall enough to eliminate second. The aggressive mapping doesn't remedy the calm bottom end, but it did seem to allow the bike to bark and rev a bit faster, getting you to that next gear sooner. As for the chassis, there's no doubt that this bike is the lightest and easiest to place anywhere I wanted it. The engine seems to play a part in this as it doesn't have as much inertia as some of the other 450s. Meaning it feels like it isn't "fighting" you when you try to make abrupt line changes or dive far inside of someone. The chassis balance itself is better than years past, but I still find that it overreacts on faster tracks and twitches a bit. This year, the bike is the first to come with KYB's PSF2 fork. Internally, it's actually a bit less advanced than the PSF1, but has a larger amount of adjustment. For me, the stock setting on this fork isn't too bad but was a bit harsh in the beginning of the stroke. I lowered the pressure one psi (35psi stock) and did some back-and-forth adjustments with the high-speed and low-speed compression until I gained a little bit of initial hold-up back. Overall, the front end didn't do much out of the ordinary and tracked well. I found there was a bit of guesswork with the new added adjustment, which can get you lost quite quickly. I still feel as if the rear end is a bit tall on this bike, so I preferred a bit more sag at around the 107 mark to try and settle the rear end. Honda's approach on this bike tends to confuse me. On a fresh track in the early morning, I can literally say that I felt that this 450 wasn't fast enough. I found myself looking for more power to get me from one section to the next. Once the track got a bit rougher, Honda's lightweight, easy-to-ride approach makes sense. I found myself almost riding this bike like a 250, diving in and holding it wide open from section-to-section, while placing it wherever I liked. At the same time, however, I feel like the KTM has proven that the engine can be more progressive, or as with the Yamaha, it can put out massive power and still be quite usable. My other qualm with the bike is the rider compartment. Even though it has the same bars as the KX450F, the mounting makes them a lot taller. And while the seat seems to have a pocket, it causes me to sit up quite straight and get settled into the middle of the bike, which just seems a bit off. Even though the rider compartment is smaller, I feel like it's harder for me to move around on because of this pocket. The Honda barely edges out the Suzuki for me, because of its light weight, and the way you can ride it when it's rough and the track's blown out.

Fifth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Suzuki's 450 may seem like it's had almost no changes over the past few years. Well, that isn't entirely true. If you ride the 2012, 2014, and 2015 back-to-back, you could notice a large difference. It's all about the chassis changes. The 2015 has improved quite a bit and offers a lot more comfort to the rider, as the '14 chassis was quite rigid in the headstay area. As most would say, the RM-Z450 corners like it's on rails. Once you get it into the rut, it can make you feel like a pro with how easy it'll follow the corner and track around it. But I'm not completely satisfied with just the amazing cornering. To keep it in line on rougher, faster tracks, I have to chopper the bike out a bit when it comes to setup and that's just a bit of a band-aid. In stock trim, the bike is quite a "stinkbug" this year, which can make the it very twitchy or knife under heavy braking. In my opinion the RM-Z also feels quite heavy, which comes into play when I really try to throw it and force it into new lines. The engine is a bit mellow, but a step up from the Honda across the whole range. However, I personally feel like the gearing a bit off as I find that second is over as soon as I exit tight corners, but third isn't usable in the same corner without quite a bit of clutch abuse. As for the suspension, the Showa TAC forks once again aren't completely off-base at my weight. Once again, a bit of added inner chamber pressure and a few clicks stiffer on compression keeps them up in the stroke. The shock itself is predictable but seems a bit stiff throughout the stroke, which puts more strain towards the front end. In the end, it's hard to place the Suzuki this far down the list as I can corner with such ease on this bike, but everything else leaves me a bit wanting.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

So after placing the KTM third, how does the Husqvarna end up in the bottom slot? Trust me, it caught me off guard as well. While most may see it as a white KTM, there are a few key aspects that give this bike its own personality, which weren't for the better. If you look really closely at the dyno charts, you'll find some small differences between the KTM and Husqvarna, such as the subframe/airbox, which pulls in a different amount of air. This creates a powerband that right at the crack of the throttle felt similar to the KTM, but then fell into a flat spot that wouldn't allow the bike to drive forward quite as well. This flat spot really affects how the rear end tracks. Where the KTM would normally stay squatted and drive out of corners, I felt that the lack of mid-range would cause the Husqvarna's rear end to unload and chatter on acceleration. After this, the Husqvarna comes to life late in the powerband and revs out with the most power. But after the flat spot, this late surge would catch me off guard, and leave me sliding out of my riding position, especially since the Husqvarna's seat cover offers almost no grip. There's a more aggressive map, but I felt like this only improved the initial hit before leading into the flat spot, making my line decisions an even bigger guess. Beyond that, the Husqvarna suffers from the same fork problems that the KTM has, but the chassis seems to react different under braking. My best guess is that it stems from the different subframe, which makes the bike feel like it twists when driving down into rough sections. Oddly enough, I actually prefer the shape of the Husqvarna's subframe when it comes to how my legs grip the bike. When it comes down to it, the main reason the Husqvarna ends up at the bottom of the list is because the KTM is even with the Husqvarna at its good points but is better than the Husqvarna on its bad points, leaving me with the thought "this bike can be better".

Name: Craig Decker
Weight: 180lbs./ Height: 6'0" / Age: 38
Riding skill level: Vet Pro/Raced professionally from 1993-2003
Bikes ridden/raced past two years: 2014 KX450F, 2014 KTM 450SX-F, 2014 KTM 350SX-F

First Place - Kawasaki KX450F

I'll start off by saying the KX450F isn’t the best in any given area, but it does everything very well in my opinion. The end result, is the best overall package of all the bikes. It has a great, usable motor and powerband, that doesn't require any work. As for the forks, I've been spending quite a bit of time with Showa's TAC forks and had a rough idea of what suits me. So to get started, I bumped the inner chamber and balance chamber to 180 psi each to stiffen and change the feel of the whole stroke. Overall, the forks are okay and fall about third in my opinion behind the Yamaha and Honda. The handling may not be the quickest, but it's stable and predictable, which quickly inspires trust and confidence in the bike. Beyond that, the way the bike handles rough sections and rutted corners felt less difficult, because the KXF always delivered exactly I expected.

Second Place - KTM 450SX-F

The KTM was a close second for me. I also found it to be a well-balanced bike, with excellent handling but also stable and predictable. It was a little less confidence-inspiring than the KX in G-outs and on hard landings, as it felt like the chromoly frame was flexing in these circumstances and felt a little unsettled. On the other hand, where traction was at a minimum the KTM seemed to find it, while its aluminum-framed counterparts couldn't. The motor on the KTM is strong, broad, and seems to pull forever, making it very easy to use in any situation. Of course the KTM comes with another bonus, the best clutch and brakes out of any of the bikes. Plus, I loved the electric start. The biggest weakness of the KTM is most definitely the forks. They're very harsh for me even with some adjustment and tend to wear you out. This made the stock 4CS forks my least favorite amongst all the bikes.

Third Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Although I chose the YZ for third place, I could easily flip flop my third and fourth picks, as it was a matter of picking your poison. The highlight of the Yamaha is the motor, which was personally the best of all the 450s. It's super fast and never leaves you wanting for more. The power is strong, but it's rider friendly and very usable at the same time. It reacts quite well to small throttle position changes and is very responsive throughout the range. The YZF's suspension is very good in stock form and some would argue it's the best of the group, I really had no complaints after just setting the sag. What stopped me from placing the Yamaha higher in the order is the front end, as I still feel some of its old characteristics are haunting it. The front is hard to trust for me, I feel like the front wheel traction is poor especially on entrances to corners. When I would start to turn in and initiate the corner, the YZ had a very unpredictable feel, like it could wash out at any moment. Beyond that, I found that the front end was a bit twitchy for me in higher speed, rough sections as well. Another dig towards the Yamaha is that it feels like the biggest and bulkiest bike of the group, especially in the shroud area.

Fourth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Like I said, placing third and fourth were hard choices for me. What ultimately made my decision was the motor, as the RM-Z is very uninspiring in the power department. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not slow, but when you compare it to my top three, it leaves you unimpressed. What the Suzuki will do to impress everyone is turn. It's the best turning of all the bikes, as it's effortless and fun to carve corners. The cornering prowess comes with a price in my book though, I feel the bike is a little less stable than my top three and unsettled at high speed. The RM-Z's shock was my least favorite of all the bikes, because it was very stiff when sitting under acceleration and would often spike and transfer a harsh action up through the seat. With the forks, I set them up about the same as the Kawasaki's, other than I added six psi to the outer chamber as well. Once again, these forks weren't spectacular, but are better than what's offered on the KTM/Husqvarna. Overall though, I liked the RM-Z and felt comfortable as soon as I threw a leg over it.

Fifth Place - Honda CRF450R

The highlight of the Honda was how nimble it was. It felt light and maneuverable in the corners and in the air, almost like a 250F. I also liked the Honda forks the best of all the bikes, with the stock settings being a big improvement over the past model. The CRF runs smooth and vibrates the least of any of the bikes. Handling-wise, it's a good turning bike, second only to the RM-Z. But like the Suzuki, the great cornering comes with a price of a less stable and more unsettled ride at high speeds. The shock was a little soft for me, causing it wallow in the roller sections and under heavy loads. What hurt the CRF the most was that it was the slowest of the group. Again, the motor is usable and smooth but when compared back-to-back with the other bikes, it's the slowest one. While I tried all three maps and could feel the changes, I was left wanting quite a bit more.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

I know the KTM and Husky are essentially the same bikes, but I was shocked at how different they felt. Unfortunately, the differences were all negative for me. The motor felt lethargic compared to the KTM. Both map settings felt like the power was soft compared to the KTM. The subframe also gave the Husky a different feel as well, and would make you swear that it had a different frame as well. The seat wasn’t as flat as the KTM and swooped up a bit more near the fender, which made it feel like I was being pushed forward all the time. Furthermore, the saddle area of the seat seemed a bit lower and made transitioning from sitting to standing more of a chore than the KTM. The bodywork seemed bulkier as well. Like the KTM, it is fitted with my least favorite fork. Fortunately, it has the class-leading clutch, brakes, and electric start, which are its positive points.

Name: Derrick Caskey
Weight: 195 lbs./ Height: 6'2"/ Age: 42
Riding skill level: Vet Intermediate/35 years of riding experience.
Bikes ridden/raced past two years: 2012/2014/2015 Honda CRF450R

First Place - Yamaha YZ450F

The track conditions of Competitive Edge, in my opinion, really highlighted the strengths of the Yamaha. That being said, the YZ450F has an awesome motor from bottom to top. It's just ridiculously fast. The first half of the day the track was very loamy and the Yamaha engine just kept pulling, making even the largest obstacles a bit easier. The suspension worked great front and rear right out of the box, so I never made any major changes outside of setting the sag. This of course meant that I found it the most confidence-inspiring of all the brands to ride bone stock. My only real struggle with the Yamaha was diving into tight corners from high speeds. The brakes are on the weak side, coupled with the wide feel and a bit of front end unpredictability (not as bad as the 2013), I'd find myself occasionally missing the insides and bouncing off the edge of the track to make the corner.

Second Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Prior to this shootout, I have never ridden a KX450F. The Kawasaki has great overall power, starting very strong off the bottom-end and leading into an excellent midrange, especially when using the aggressive map plug. Being a taller rider, I found the chassis was very comfortable, and there were a ton of options to open up the rider's compartment as needed. The brakes were very good, but still not quite up to the Brembos found on the KTM or Husqvarna. Suspension side, the rear end worked perfectly, requiring just a little bit stiffer compression. However, I did find myself struggling a bit with the forks. In stock trim, they're soft and sit a bit lower in the stroke. But the few things I tried to stiffen it, caused it to become very harsh. Overall, It's easy to see why the Kawasaki has been at the top of some 450 shootouts in previous years. It's a good overall package, but for me, the front forks held it away from the top spot.

Third Place - Honda CRF450R

The Honda immediately felt most comfortable to me, because it's the bike I currently ride, and the seat-to-bar positioning fits my style the best. The CRF450R feels the lightest and the most nimble compared to any of the other brands, which made it the easiest to move around in the air and easiest to make quick line changes with. In cornering, I felt the Honda was the easiest to turn and track into corners, followed closely by the Suzuki. For 2015, the engine improvements are quite noticeable on the track but still has it towards the tail end of the pack. I only ran the mapping in the most aggressive setting, as the stock power is the Honda's weakest link. That said, the motor does have an electric feel that's very fun to ride when it's rough and slick. With loamy tracks however, I found it difficult to consistently make it over some of the bigger obstacles. As for the forks, I went up to 37 psi (stock 35 psi), then added a couple clicks to the compression, which I also did to the rear. The shock still felt a little under-sprung for me, as most of the brands did with my weight. The new suspension has a lot of adjustability, but I can often find it difficult to know which clickers to adjust thanks to the added high-speed and low-speed adjusters in the forks.

Fourth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

I was really looking forward to riding the 2015 Suzuki. I'd had the opportunity to ride the 2014, which I quite really liked, outside of some front fork issues. Starting off, the engine was very easy to ride, but not as impressive as some of the other brands. Smooth power may be a plus, but sometimes you really miss the grunt some of the other 450s are capable of. I think the Suzuki, like the Honda, enters into corners the best. Since cornering is my biggest struggle, any help is appreciated. I like being able to dive into an inside line at almost any point coming into a corner and feel confident that the bike won’t push or tuck like some of the other brands. The chassis is extremely well-balanced, but the suspension needed to be a bit stiffer on both ends to keep the bike from blowing through. My major complaints with the Suzuki were in the rider's compartment. I felt that the seat was too hard and the bars were too low with too much sweep, causing me to not be able to stand in a proper position when attacking sections.

Fifth Place - KTM 450SX-F

Riding this KTM 450SX-F was actually the first opportunity I've had to throw a leg over a European bike. Meaning, I had no idea of what to expect, but was actually quite impressed with the bike overall. The immediate bad were the front forks, which were too soft and didn't respond well when stiffened up with the clickers. The result was more hold up, but a harsh feeling through the mid-stroke. The engine was the was very responsive, very strong off the bottom with a progressive pull throughout the RPM range. Oddly enough, the engine and rear suspension characteristics made the bike seem very similar to the Kawasaki. The brakes, both front and rear, are amazing and give you huge confidence to dive deep inside and grab a handful. The KTM corners well, but definitely feels like it's lacking in ease after riding the Honda or Suzuki. Being new to the KTM, I found I'm not a huge fan of hydraulic clutches, as I prefer the feel of traditional cable clutches. Also, the stock bars I felt had too much sweep.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

Starting off, the Husqvarna felt like it was the heaviest bike of the six brands. Although the motor puts out big horsepower numbers, the bike doesn’t feel like it. The Husky is softer on the bottom and then hits somewhere in the mid-range, before pulling strong to the rev-limiter. The aggressive mapping helped this issue, but I still desired more bottom-end. The seat was very slippery and the bars, like the KTM, were too swept back for my preference. Bonus points do go to the amazing brakes, as it's equipped with the same Brembo brakes as the KTM, which offers great braking power and consistency. As for the suspension, the forks sat low in the stroke and became very harsh in the mid-stroke when stiffened up, no matter what combination of clickers were used. Honestly, the Husqvarna was the last bike I got to ride, when the track was at its roughest. Making the fork issues stand out more, but even with more tuning time, I don’t think it would have ranked any higher for me.

Name: Chris Johnson
Weight: 160 lbs/ Height: 6'0"/ Age: 24
Riding skill level: Pro/Raced professional motocross and off-road since 2009
Bikes ridden/raced past two years: 2014 KX450F, 2013 YZ250F

First Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Starting off, I thought the KX450F was the best all-around bike. While it didn't stand out as amazing in most categories, it also didn't have an real flaws. However, this bike does shine when it gets rough. If you got out of shape or make a mistake it's real easy to counteract and extremely predictable in how it'll react in bad situations. It doesn't turn in very quickly, but holds its line well once you're into the corner. As you can guess, this means it's very stable down long rough sections. The motor is really strong and has a great low RPM pull, which really suits me since I like to carry a taller gear than most. The downside is the forks, which could use a little work initially. I found that I would struggle a bit on small, chatter chop, which gave a bit too much feedback to hands and arms. The shock suits its "rear-end steering" nature, as it squats down well and is fairly plush when tracking across bumps on exits of corners. The Kawi takes the top spot on my list because it's the bike I could hop on right out the showroom floor and feel the most comfortable racing.

Second Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Yamaha has definitely stepped up their game with the YZ450F. The standout on this bike is the engine, which is awesome if you like a lot of power. It starts off with the strongest bottom-end and continues on just as strongly through the mid and top range. The suspension is also quite impressive. Outside of setting the sag, I didn’t hardly have to adjust anything to the bike to be happy. This made the bike great to ride when the track was rough. The strong engine and great suspension made the bike easy to drive fast into the far outsides and rail out with tons of momentum. The slightly larger feel left me a bit mixed, as it was easy to left it float through the rough chop, but was a bit hard to dive inside on. The only real downside to this bike is trying to fight it into tight sections when the time comes to switch up your lines or dive inside of someone.

Third Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Hopping on the RM-Z450, I was able to find comfort quicker than with any of the other bikes. This bike straight up turns amazingly well and gives you the most confidence in your ability to rip corners. The TAC forks on the RM-Z need work, just like on the Kawasaki. I definitely spent quite a bit of time adjusting the settings to my liking and to try to find trust with the front end. Once I had the forks a bit more dialed, I found the chassis was very well balanced and easy to push your limits on. The real downer with the Suzuki was the motor, which really left me wanting more throughout the entire range. From bottom-to-top, I just needed more in most situations. Other than that, I really like the overall feel of the bike, and how quickly I was able to get comfortable on it.

Fourth Place - KTM 450SX-F

The KTM has definitely become easier to adapt to than in past years. The engine was extremely broad, but a bit smooth off the bottom for my taste. Luckily, the KTM has joined the adjustable engine map trend and it happens to have an aggressive map. This gave it a bit more initial hit and allowed me to carry a higher gear in some corners. The forks were my biggest dislike on the KTM, as the 4CS forks were very harsh. This affected my overall feel with the front end as I couldn't push or trust it entering corners or keep it stable in heavy chop. This gave the bike a rigid feel since I was getting all the feedback into my hands and arms, which left me fairly uncomfortable. Although the Brembo brakes and electric start were awesome, I wasn't a fan of the hydraulic clutch, since I prefer the feel and actuation of a cable-actuated clutch.

Fifth Place - Honda CRF450R

There's no arguing about it, the Honda is definitely the lightest 450, but I never really could get comfortable on it. The suspension is well-balanced on both ends, but was fairly soft and I could bottom them quite easily. I ended up going stiffer on both ends, but couldn't get it quite stiff enough to push as hard as I'd have liked. Beyond that, I found the seat was pretty soft, so I could feel the subframe when I'd seat bounce or press down hard when exiting corners. Although the engine wasn't spectacular, I did like the ability to change the power a bit with the easy-to-select map switch. I spent most of my time in the aggressive map to try and liven up the bottom end a bit. All said, the Honda's lightweight 450 needs a bit more excitement to rank higher on my list.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

The Husqvarna was the bike I struggled the most to get comfortable on. Mostly because it felt like it reacted slowly to everything. This seemed to be a combination of how the harsh forks tracked, and how the engine was a bit slow to respond to throttle input. Because of this, the bike also felt heavier than the KTM, as I was having to force it into corners and struggle to make quick line changes. The Husqvarna's engine seemed a bit dead and slow to rev, even with the more aggressive map switched on. I did think the shock was quite good, and it hooked up well exiting corners and felt quite plush throughout the stroke. It shares the awesome brakes and electric start from the KTM, but also has the hydraulic clutch I didn't care for. I feel as if improving the front end of the Husqvarna would offer more positive improvements for the whole bike when compared to the KTM and would bring their ranking closer.

Name: Jessie Huntley
Weight: 160 lbs./ Height: 5'9/ Age: 20
Riding skill level: Ex-Pro/14 years of riding experience/2 years racing professionally in the USA and Costa Rica.
Bikes ridden/raced past two years: 2013 Kawasaki KX450F

First Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Every time I've ridden a Suzuki, I've always felt immediately comfortable. From the ergonomics, and the chassis, to the balance of the bike, everything is extremely comfortable for me, which makes it easy to ride and go fast on. Hands down, the overall best thing about the Suzuki is the cornering and handling of the bike. I have the confidence that I can put the bike anywhere I want to without any hesitation. Its smooth powerband makes getting the power to the ground relatively easy, especially through slick sections where having that is really key. Personally, I could have used a little bit more low to mid-range power in a few situations, but overall the power was pretty consistent and very easy to ride. One thing that I was anxious to try out was the new triple air fork. I was actually really surprised by the way the forks performed through the rough Competitive Edge bumps. I never had any "weird" moments or anything drastic happen, they actually worked extremely well in the choppy sections, holding a planted and plush feeling which helped me be confident every lap knowing I could charge the rougher sections. The bike planted well into the corners and never had any "pushy" moments like I experienced on some of the other bikes. The shock worked fairly well, but there were a couple moments I felt it was a little on the soft side through the deeper chop. Overall, I felt like the Suzuki was the most comfortable bike for me and produced the best all-around and most consistent package for a whole bike, making it my favorite.

Second Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Being that my personal bike is a KX450F, it was easy for me to adjust to and get comfortable on the 2015 model right away. One of the standout things throughout the last few years for the Kawasaki is definitely the motor package. It has a great low-range power that never seems to die-off, even as it pulls to the top of the powerband, making it an overall really fun motor to use. Like the RM-Z, the Kawasaki also uses the triple air fork this year. The forks worked extremely well through the rough sections of the track, producing a consistent feel throughout the entire stroke, and didn't leave me second-guessing whether or not I could really push in the rough sections. However, I did feel like front end had a tendency to push coming into some of the corners instead of holding a planted feel. The shock seemed to perform better through some of the smaller bumps, but I wasn't quite as confident on more of the high-speed rough sections, as it would tend to kick instead of tracking straight through the bumps. The large amount of adjustment in the riders compartment was a huge plus, considering The bike does tend to feel slightly on the tall side. Having the opportunity to make changes to suite the bike specifically for you is something I think all riders can appreciate. Overall, the Kawasaki doesn't stand out too much in any sense, but is as solid as ever.

Third Place - Yamaha YZ450F

The past generation Yamaha 450 is a bike that I've always enjoyed riding, and I never understood why it got as much of a bad rap as it did a few years back. Hopping on the track, the it was easy to notice was the power. Wow, this bike is honestly a rocketship! It's definitely the fastest bike out of the entire 450 group. It has the strongest hit down in the bottom and mid-range, and continues to pull extremely hard until the second you let off the gas. It truly felt like I was on a modified bike the first couple of laps until I got the hang of it. The whole suspension/chassis on the Yamaha is another thing that really surprised me and that I was extremely impressed with. The shock worked great everywhere on the track, and I never felt like I had any issues. The forks also worked awesome through the bumps and choppy sections, I felt like the harder I rode the bike, the better the front and back end worked together, which made trying to ride the bike fast an easy task. However, there was one thing that did shy me away from the Yamaha, there's a nervous and twitchy feel to the front end in some of the high-speed sections. There were times where the bike felt unpredictable and unsettled, so we did slow the rebound down a couple of clicks on the forks to help with this problem. Another thing about the Yamaha is that it's definitely a wider bike. It would really catch my attention when entering a tight rut, where the bike really had to turn in order to execute the corner. It was hard with the wider feel to get the bike to get settled into a tight rut, but it still cornered decently. Overall, I think that Yamaha has a great package with the 450, a super fast motor and great suspension to handle it. But, some of small issues surrounding the chassis knock its score a bit.

Fourth Place - KTM 450SX-F

The KTM's a bike that just has a completely different feel compared to the Japanese bikes, and takes more time to get comfortable on. The newest version's a bit quicker to adapt to, but I still didn't feel quite as comfortable on it as I did on some of the other bikes. The motor on this bike worked extremely well at Comp Edge, where we tested, as it seems more suitable for a faster style track. The bike has a decent low-range hit, but it really shines once it gets in the meat of the mid-range and up into the top-end portion. The power transition is really smooth, and it never feels like it's going to rip your arms out of their sockets, which is a great thing for riders of all skill levels. One thing that I struggled with on this bike was the suspension. It felt like it was on the soft side for me, and on harsh transitions it would blow through the stroke. Generally, I tend to favor suspension that's on the stiff side, so we were able to make some changes and go stiffer on compression on both the forks and the shock in order to get me feeling more comfortable and confident. This not only helped the bike in the harsh transitions, but also giving it a better feel throughout choppy bumps. Cornering wise, I did feel like I was having trouble with the bike wanting to stand up, but after we made the suspension changes it helped the bike settled into corners. One thing I love about the KTM, is that it feels like a bike you can really steer with the back end. This makes sweeper-type corners extremely fun and ultimately an easy task! It also gets praise for having awesome brakes, a great clutch, and a fairly slim feel to it. Overall, The KTM 450SX-F has some great features, but it takes a little more time to get comfortable with.

Fifth Place - Honda CRF450R

For 2015, the Honda is still one of, if not, the lightest and most nimble feeling 450s. Motor-wise, the Honda has felt relatively "slow" over the past couple of years. For this year, I would say that the bike is definitely still too much on the mellow side for myself personally. It's not that it's terrible, but it's definitely not as fast as some of the other bikes. It does have an extremely smooth and controllable powerband, which makes it really easy to ride, especially if you're riding it on a track that is rough and beat up. One of the coolest features of the bike, is the different map/power settings on the bar that you can change with the push of a button, which gives you the option of three different settings (standard, less aggressive, and more aggressive). For me personally, I was favoring the standard setting the best, as I really couldn't tell too much of a difference between it and the aggressive setting, but the less aggressive setting had a significant decrease of power all across the board. I do think the less aggressive setting would be a great aspect for a lower-level rider or someone just jumping on a 450 to get used to the power. I felt like the shock worked well right out of the crate, and I didn't have to tinker around with it at all. It tracked great through the slow and high-speed rough sections, and I never experienced anything sketchy while riding it. One of the biggest downfalls for me on this bike were the forks. They felt extremely harsh and lacked the plush feeling at the initial portion of the stroke. We were able to soften the forks up a few clicks to help with this problem, but it was still hard to be confident in really pushing it with the uncertain feeling up front. The Honda's nimble feel makes it feel extremely light off jumps, and also helps it corner pretty well. Overall, the Honda leans more towards a rider looking for a "softer" and easier to ride 450. But it has positives that can suit any rider.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

I didn't know what to expect before I hopped on the Husqvarna, as I've never ridden one before and I was definitely curious to see how it performed on the track. Coming in, it's been said that this bike is equivalent to the KTM, just with a few different features. In my opinion, I thought the bike felt quite a bit different than the KTM, actually a lot more than I had previously anticipated before spinning some laps on it. The motor on the FC450 is very unusual, truthfully, it actually feels slow. The low end power is definitely lacking a lot, and it made some of the jumps immediately out of corners feel very hard to get over in comparison to the other bikes in the lineup. It slowly comes alive up top, but it still felt like it was nothing crazy to write home about. It's just generally a very weak and mellow powerband, possibly something that would be suitable for lower-level riders. Like the Honda, the Husqvarna features two different map/power settings (standard, more aggressive) right on the bar to change to your preferred liking. Personally, the aggressive setting suited me best, adding a little bit more power from bottom to the top-range in the powerband. I was really impressed with the shock on this bike. It had an extremely plush feel to it, and it always felt predictable no matter how hard I would hit some of the bigger bumps. However, the forks were something I really, really struggled to get dialed in and comfortable with. I made changes both ways, but nothing ever seemed to help me be comfortable or find confidence with the forks. Once the bike settled into a rut, it did corner decently. Some of the things I liked on this bike were the excellent brakes and the clutch, which made it easier to ride. The seat on the Husqvarna was a real problem, as it was very slippery. I could feel myself sliding back coming out of corners, instead of having traction to stay in place. With some changes, the FC 450 could be a great bike, but I just couldn't ever get one hundred percent comfortable or confident while riding it.

The Overall Results

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

Scores: 6-6-6-6-6

Pros: Strongest top-end power - Best in class brakes - Hydraulic clutch

Cons: Weak low-to-mid-range power - Harsh forks that have too much give and take when adjusted - Seat cover lacks traction

Fifth Place - Honda CRF450R

Scores: 4-3-5-5-5

Pros: Lightest 450 on the market - Agile chassis and smooth engine makes it the easiest bike to ride aggressively

Cons: Overall weakest engine in the class - Small rider compartment - Can be a bit unstable on tracks with higher speeds

Fourth Place - KTM 450SX-F

Scores: 3-5-4-2-4

Pros: Best brakes in its class - Forks are adjustable without tools - Hydraulic clutch

Cons: Harsh forks that have too much give and take when adjusted - Unusual bar bend and taller seat height may bother some riders

Third Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Scores: 5-4-3-4-1

Pros: Most confidence-inspiring when cornering - Comfortable ergonomics

Cons: Engine is broad but feels lacking throughout the range - not as stable on rough, high speed tracks as other bikes in the class - Showa TAC fork is time-consuming and confusing to set up

Second Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Scores: 2-1-2-3-3

Pros: Best all-around stock suspension - Most overall powerful engine in its class

Cons: Wide radiator shrouds - Some riders find vagueness in the how the front end tracks when entering and exiting corners

First Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Scores: 1-2-1-1-2

Pros: Broad engine package meshes grunt with smooth power - Stable chassis - Rider compartment is extremely adjustable

Cons: Showa TAC fork is time-consuming and confusing to set up - Bike's larger feel may bother smaller riders

Conclusion

There you have it, our 2015 450 shootout winner is the Kawasaki KX450F. Although the scoreboard doesn't quite reflect how close Yamaha's YZ450F was to taking the crown, most agreed it's become quite the competitor compared to the previous generation. After that, the middle of the pack really changes up based on each test rider's style preference, and that should becomes obvious after reading their comments. This also reveals how some riders can have different opinions and feelings about different aspects of the bikes. Such as one rider liking the forks on one bike, while another can't find comfort. But at the same time, it can also confirm some major flaws or positives in a bike when every rider agrees upon them. Finally for those who are wondering how our rider's ratings were selected, we based them off this simple question. "Which bike would you feel the most comfortable riding/racing with what's available in stock trim?" Hopefully we've helped you make a purchasing decision, or at least given you some extra info to think about when it comes to the 450s offered in 2015.

Written by Michael Lindsay // Photos by GuyB // Video by Kyle Cowling

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