2016 Vital MX 450 Shootout 7

2016 Husqvarna FC450 vs. Kawasaki KX450F vs. Suzuki RM-Z450 vs.Yamaha YZ450F vs. Honda CRF450R vs. KTM 450SX-F

Do you need a hand in figuring out which new 450 you should buy? Yeah? Well, welcome to the Vital MX 450 Shootout, 2016 edition!

Just like last year, you'll get to examine all five of our test rider's individual comments on each of the six models we tested. Whether the riders agreed or disagreed with one another, you'll see exactly what they thought. They each had a notebook to write down their settings and changes as they went through their bikes, and they revisited bikes that they wanted more time on.

Do you need to get up to speed on what's new for each of the models? You can do that by checking out the First Looks and First Impressions from earlier in the year. Then there's the comparison dyno chart, and our five test rider's comments and scoring on each model. To wrap it up, check out the tallies to see which bike stood atop the podium when the dust settled.

If you're looking for something short and sweet, or just don't have the time to dive through this lengthy article, then check our video edition of the Shootout. In about seven minutes, we'll go through the pros and cons of each bike and tell you the winner: 2016 Vital MX 450 Shootout - Video Edition.

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 ride comments in our First Impressions. They're listed in order by MSRP, from most expensive to least expensive.

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $9,399

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $9,299

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $8,799

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $8,749

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $8,699

First LookFirst Impressions
MSRP: $8,590

Dyno Comparison Chart:

In the numbers game, KTM tops the charts with a massive 58.08 HP at just over 8900 RPM. What's really interesting is when you compare it to its white brethren, the Husqvarna, which makes a bit more than two horsepower less at peak. This can be attributed to the Husqvarna's different subframe/airbox layout, along with different ECU mapping. The Kawasaki is the top performer at around 5500-6500 RPM, while the Honda shows it actually keeps up with the pack until around 7000 RPM, before dropping off sharply. Yamaha's YZ450F shines through by carrying its power the best up top, and carrying the highest peak RPM power at just about 9700 RPM.

If you want to check out each bike's individual chart, including the torque measurements, click here: 2016 450 Shootout - Individual Dyno Charts.

This year's dyno services were provided by Race Tech. Mostly known for their suspension services, Race Tech now has a full range of engine performance services as well.

(Click to expand.)

Data Acquisition

For 2016, we wanted to add a different element to our shootout, so we lined up our friends from LITPro to come out for the day and keep track of all the riders. You've probably seen a LITPro this year if you've looked on the helmets of say Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen, Jason Anderson, and more. It's a black, wedge-shaped box that has a hyper-sensitive GPS and accelerometers to develop a lap time story that compares your line selection, acceleration points, jump height, distance, and speed from section-to-section. It also allows you to compare segments from different laps to show you what you're capable of doing if you can put all your sections together. For a better description of LITPro, check out this piece we did a few months ago on the product - First Look: LITPro.

Originally, our goal was to track everyone's best lap times for the day to show a comparison of which bike they were fastest on. But due to a large rainstorm the night before our Shootout, the track was very soft and changed quite a bit during the day. To help keep the results fair, all the test riders revisited multiple bikes once the track conditions settled later in the day. Through it all, we did learn something very interesting. During our third session of the day, each rider set their fastest lap times...and all were on different bikes, many of which weren't their top pick at the end of the day. This showed us two things; first the track was very subjective during the morning hours, and that the bikes are all very competitive. Yes, you hear it all the time. "All the bikes are great, pick a color!" What our times showed us is that yes, this can be somewhat true. But it also showed us that all our test riders were doing their jobs when picking out the good and bad of each model, in such a competitive 450 field.

If you want to see more of what LITPro is capable of, check out their website at: LITProApp.com.

Test Rider Opinions

Name: Robby Bell / Age: 30
Height: 6' 0" / Weight: 165 lbs.
Riding Experience: Professional Motocross and Off-Road

First Place - KTM 450SX-F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    5 2:03.33 2:01.90 2:01.79 54.69 MPH

What made the KTM my top pick, was how quickly I was able to feel comfortable and confident pushing the bike at pace. The handling felt balanced under braking and acceleration, and for me it had the best overall cornering characteristics. Though the front end maybe didn't settle quite as well as the RM-Z, it was wasn't far off and was very predictable when pushing the front end into and through the ruts. What put it over the top was that, unlike with the RM-Z, I could steer with the rear of the bike just as well as the front. I felt confident that the rear wheel would stay where I wanted it to when throwing the back end around a bowl corner or flat turn. Though some people seem to fear the WP 4CS forks, I felt they worked pretty well at Pala. Admittedly, it isn't the roughest track, but it was fairly rutted and soft while we were riding. There was a little bit of mid-stroke harshness initially, but stiffening up the fork compression a couple clicks helped keep the front end up in the stroke and created a smoother action.

The 450SX-F had great power all the way through the powerband, especially through the low-end and mid-range. It continued to make decent power into the upper RPMs, but I was happier riding it in the low-to-mid portion of the powerband. The motor didn't feel quite as powerful as the YZF, but had plenty of pull, especially for Pala, which features a lot of larger obstacles. For my height and riding style, the KTM seating compartment was very comfortable. I didn't feel like I was sitting too tall on top of the bike, and likewise it didn't feel like I was sitting too low, or down in the seat. The brakes felt really good and controllable, while the hydraulic clutch always offered a smooth pull. As a whole, the bike felt light and flickable in the air, and was also very easy to switch lines while on the ground.

For me, the KTM would need the fewest additions or changes to be race ready from track to track. For Pala, with near perfect dirt and minor sharp chop, it was tough to find too many faults with the bike. I could see adjusting the suspension further on a rougher track to dial it in, but for a stock bike it felt really good to me.

Second Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    6 2:06.20 2:04.95 2:04.34 53.08 MPH

The second spot was a heated battle between the KX450F and the YZ450F. In the end, what led me to pick the KX second was its cornering characteristic compared to the YZF. Kawasaki did quite an overhaul to their 450 for 2016, reducing the weight and getting the handling to feel more responsive on track. I definitely noticed the weight savings right away, as the bike felt especially light in the front end. So much so, that the initial sag setting of 107 didn't put enough weight on the forks and hurt the cornering ability. Once we bumped up the sag to 105, the bike responded and tracked much better into corners, though it also brought about a bit of harshness in the front forks. I went in two clicks on the fork compression to try to compensate by getting the forks up and off the harsh spot in the valving. That helped some, but didn't totally solve the issue. For me, the KX's cornering characteristics are similar to the KTM, but lacked the same ease of cornering, as the front and rear end don't settle quite as well as the orange bike.

The power felt similar to the KTM as well, as it liked to be ridden in the mid-range. But it had good low-end power as well, again though not as much as the YZ, but enough to be enjoyable and exciting. One thing I noticed was that the KX had the shortest distance between the seat and footpegs of all the bikes. I have pretty long legs and I was right on the border of being slightly cramped, but this is easily fixed with the bike's adjustable footpeg location. One more minor squabble I had, was that the KX grips aren't very pleasantm but that's also a pretty easy fix. Overall, the KX450F is fun and confidence-inspiring, and though it doesn't necessarily stand out in any measurable area, it's very solid across the board. I feel some suspension work would dial the bike in pretty quickly and put it right up there with the KTM.

Third Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    3 2:02.25 2:01.70 2:00.94 55.52 MPH

The YZF was an absolute blast to ride, thanks to the incredible power the bike offers. The YZF pulls so hard off the bottom and right through the mid-range, but what's impressive about it is how smooth the delivery is. It wasn't "yank your arms out of their sockets" power, and I felt I could easily control how hard I wanted the bike to pull. One standout moment was when I was leaning too low in a long rut, losing speed and was going to pop out early. I simply opened up the throttle and the bike pulled me right back into and through the rut. That was something I didn't feel from the other bikes in the class.

The YZF also has the best overall suspension setup for me, though I do feel they went backwards slightly on the stock valving in the fork. With the 2016, I felt a little bit of harshness, which is uncharacteristic for a Yamaha. The action of the shock was great for me. Where the YZF could use improvement, and what kept it from the top two spots for me, was how the bike cornered. Particularly, how the front and rear end of the bike felt a little disconnected. For one, I still feel like the bike could settle a little better, and I'd be interested to try a different triple clamp offset to see whether that would improve things. But what I really noticed was how the rear end of the bike didn't quite settle in behind the front when cornering. The rear felt a little vague at times, such as when the front end would track into a rut it felt like the rear wouldn't quite follow as it wanted to push a little wider. It took effort to hold it underneath me and keep the rear tire from going over the rut. Another noticeable characteristic of the YZF was its weight and size. It does feel a little heavier and wider than the other bikes, but it's not a deterrent for me as it helps the bike feel stable and planted. Overall, the YZF is a very comfortable bike to ride and a ton of fun. What kept it in the third position was that I feel it would need a few more modifications to really dial it in for me, but it's definitely not a distant third place.

Fourth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    1 2:05.26 2:04.70 2:03.84 56.59 MPH

The RM-Z is a very good bike, and for anyone who wants to feel like a hero on a turn track, it's the obvious choice. But it does lack in a few areas compared to the three bikes I picked ahead of it. First, I wanted a little more power out of the bike down low, especially with the stock ignition coupler, where I felt I had to clutch the bike on occasion to get up into the meat of the power. Once we changed to the more aggressive coupler, the low-end power improved but I still felt it was a little tame, not as fun and inspiring as the blue, green, or orange bike.

Another squabble I had was the effort it took to steer with the rear of the bike, as I didn't feel it was as easy to throw the back end around a corner. Although, the Suzuki settles and tracks through ruts with the front end very well. Personally, I like to corner more with the rear of a bike, or at least have a very settled, squatted rear end. This is probably why I noticed the cornering characteristics a little more than somebody else might. In that same vein, the rear of the bike felt a little less stable than the other bikes. Though it never really kicked me, it gave the sensation that it may lift or step out over braking bumps or sharp chop. We worked to get the shock to settle down, making adjustments to get it to squat more, which definitely helped as the track became rougher later in the day. Another feature of the bike that took a little getting used to for me, which is again probably more a personal preference, is that I felt like I was sitting more on top of the bike compared to the other brands, giving a slight stink-bug feel to the bike. Overall, I did enjoy the RM-Z, but I feel that it needs a little more work than the other bikes to really dial it in and be a competitor.

Fifth Place - Honda CRF450R

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    4 2:05.34 2:03.84 2:03.84 52.46 MPH

The Honda is an interesting bike to me. I feel there's a lot of potential in the bike, but in stock trim there were a few things I struggled with, starting with the power. It's similar to the Suzuki to me. It makes decent power, especially in the advanced power setting, but it's a little uninspiring to ride and lacks a bit of the fun factor of the first three bikes on my list. Where it lacks in terms of power, for me, is still in the low-end pull. I personally like to have a motor that has more of a hit, which I can then control with the throttle and/or clutch.

Similar to last year's model, I still felt the forks were harsh and twitchy. And ever since 2009, I've felt like the front wheel is right underneath me, giving the bike a short wheelbase feel. We made some adjustments to the forks, which helped, but I feel it would take some internal suspension work and possibly triple clamps, to get a front end feel I'd be more confident in. Having said that, the Honda front end did settle pretty well into ruts for me...not quite the pure cornering ability of the Suzuki...but it was easy to corner. My favorite part about the Honda was the confidence I had in the rear end of the bike. I felt like I could put the rear end wherever I wanted, and I wasn't nervous if I came into a bump or sharp edge a little off-balance or sideways. For me, the rear of the bike would predictably soak it up and stay underneath me throughout the track.

One thing I did notice about the seating compartment was that it pushed me up towards the tank when I was sitting and it required a bit of effort to stay in a more neutral position on the seat. I also noticed how thin the stock grips were. They didn't offer much cushion between my thumbs and the handlebar, which made for some sore calluses on the inside of my thumbs after a few laps, but that's an easy problem to solve. I did like the small steering stabilizer behind the front number plate, as I felt it helped keep the front end from being as twitchy as it otherwise might have been. Overall, the Honda was a very close fifth place behind the Suzuki for me, but the front end harshness and little bit of twitchiness were what held it back.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    2 2:07.24 2:06.79 2:05.19 54.02 MPH

My favorite attribute of the Husqvarna 450 was the engine. It's a lot of fun to ride, making the most power down low and offering plenty through the mid-range, which worked well at a track like Pala. The bike also cornered pretty well, and I could dive into ruts just as well as I could throw the rear end of the bike around a turn. But what caught me by surprise, was how soft the Husqvarna suspension was set up in stock form. At first it felt like I was riding a blown-out Cadillac. We made some adjustments to firm up both ends, but it would definitely take some internal modifications to get the suspension stiff enough (without becoming overly harsh) to keep it from feeling like my old Baja pre-run bike. It feels like it's set up more for a beginner or novice, who likes riding on a pillow of a shock.

I did notice the bike vibrated more than the other five bikes in the class, which you do get used to, but after a long day at the track it could leave you a little more fatigued. The tank/shroud area also felt wide compared to how far the footpegs stuck out from the frame, which made me feel like I was riding a little bow-legged. Again, I was able to get used to this. On the whole, the Husqvarna FC450 is a fun bike to ride, but it feels like it's still a year or two away from competing with the other five manufacturers. Though it's definitely not a distant sixth place, it would take the most amount of modifications for me to get comfortable.

Name: Derrick Caskey / Age: 42
Height: 6' 2" / Weight: 195 lbs.
Riding Experience: Vet Expert

First Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    6 2:15.95 2:15.95 2:15.95 52.75 MPH

After I participated in last year's 450 Shootout, I was surprised how much harder it was to select this year's winner, as my top three picks could have almost been swapped around for a few different reasons. However, the Yamaha nudged the other two out once I finally decided which bike I'd pick if I had to race it as-is the next morning. I feel like I would be most competitive on the Yamaha. The Yamaha was my first pick last year, so in the interest of fairness, this year I chose to ride it last. Considering we were riding at my favorite track, and realizing what was new about the other bikes, I honestly didn't expect the Yamaha to come out on top. I know on paper the Yamaha isn’t drastically changed in 2016, but I felt the bike was hands down better than last year's model. The 2015 didn’t have a really strong bottom-end punch, but the midrange would kick in and it would pull forever. In contrast, the 2016 has a lot more responsive power off the bottom, and still pulls just as well, if not better through the top. For me, the Yamaha motor is the best of all the 2016 models. This improved bottom-end, along with the suspension changes, made the bike feel a lot lighter than the 2015 in the corners.

The suspension updates, along with the chassis improvements, have created a very well-balanced and controlled feel. After setting the sag at 100mm, slowing the rebound on the shock down two clicks, and sliding the forks up 3mm in the triple clamps, the bike also had an improved front end traction and feel when compared to the 2015 model. Also, having the larger 270mm front rotor was a big improvement, as I was struggling with heavy braking when diving into inside corners on the '15. After two-and-a-half hours on six different bikes and the track in the worst condition of the day, I felt like I was turning my fastest lap times of the day in comparison to the track conditions.

In my opinion, the only thing Yamaha should focus on is narrowing the width of bike, especially at the front. The Kawasaki and KTM both feel a lot thinner and more nimble than the Yamaha, plus they're a bit easier to throw around. This is what made the pick for the top spot so difficult, because those two also have some great characteristics that the Yamaha hasn't quite nailed.

Second Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    4 2:06.71 2:15.59 2:14.39 51.99 MPH

To put it bluntly, the 2016 Kawasaki was awesome. I think with a little work to dial in the forks (which I know can be done), the bike is near perfect. The new chassis was very comfortable in regards to the seat and bar combination, and is easy to tailor fit to my size. This lighter and slimmer 2016 model was easier to flick around in the air, but was also improved in the corners. I found myself confidently whipping the bike out further and further on jumps, feeling that it could be easily brought back to land safely. With the limited time, I went Kawasaki's recommended air pressures for my weight at 180 psi inner, 203 psi on the balance, and 18 psi on the outer. At this setting, the forks worked okay, but I would have needed a few more days of riding to find a air pressure combination to completely make me comfortable. The shock worked very well, even with being under-sprung for my size, as I just increased the compression a couple clicks and it helped compensate enough to give me confidence in the rear end all day.

As for the engine, the standard coupler puts out great overall power, with okay hit off the bottom, into a fairly healthy mid-range and top-end. However, I preferred the aggressive coupler as it increased the bottom-end, but I felt like it may have given up a little on top. Outside of this, I really don't have any complaints. Both the front and rear brakes felt great, and nothing really popped out at me as a large negative. It was very hard to not pick the Kawasaki as my winner, because I feel that in its stock form with a few more days of testing with the bike, it could have been the best for me.

Third Place - KTM 450SX-F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    3 2:14.47 2:13.50 2:13.04 52.99 MPH

On paper, the KTM started off great, as I set my fastest recorded time of the day. After jumping on the KTM in the third session, I immediately felt like this was going to be my top pick. First off, the electric start is very cool and just spoils you. Beyond that, the bike in massively better in all aspects when compared to last year’s model I tested. The biggest surprise was how light the bike felt, especially after coming off of the Suzuki, and I just felt very comfortable on it right away. That's a different sensation for me when compared to KTMs of the past.

The front forks and shock were a little soft for my weight. Since the KTM is on spring forks, I'd definitely say I'd need heavier springs to keep riding this bike. I immediately stiffened the compression two clicks on the forks, which was better, but I couldn't go much stiffer without creating a harshness in the forks. As for making adjustments on the 4CS forks, it's really nice to be able to use the quick adjusting knobs beside the track, instead of having to ride back to the van and grab a screwdriver.

On the engine, I as very impressed with responsiveness and strong bottom-end, which felt like it pulled all the way through the powerband. I switched back and forth with the stock and aggressive mapping, and found I preferred the aggressive map, as it pulled better off the bottom and into the mid-range RPM.

Front and rear, the KTM has awesome brakes, which really gave me some extra confidence to push deep into the inside lines around the track. Overall, the new KTM cornered well and I was really able to get the bike into any line, grab a handful of throttle, and stay in the corner without extra effort of input on my end. Additionally, I haven't been a fan of hydraulic clutches in the past, but I had no issues with it on the KTM this year. For me to keep the KTM, I'd at least want some internal work done on the forks and replace the bar bend to something a bit straighter than what is currently offered.

Fourth Place - Honda CRF450R

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    6 2:18.78 2:17.54 2:15.19 52.50 MPH

I'm a diehard Honda guy, which means it kills me to rank it fourth in the 2016 Shootout. That being said, I personally know the Honda has drawbacks in stock form, but does offer great potential. Due to my many seat hours on the Honda, it instantly feels the most comfortable to me and the seat-to-bar positioning, and fits my style the best. The bike still feels very light and nimble, although many competitors are getting really close.

I know Honda isn’t broadcasting any motor updates, but I felt that the 2016 was slightly better in power over the 2015, or at least more responsive. As for the mapping, I ws leaning towards the stock setting, as the aggressive map felt too lean. The overall lack of power in stock form is still Honda's weakest link. That said, the Honda begins to shine a bit more as the day goes on and the track breaks down. Once the track dries out and hardens up a bit, you see what Honda is pushing for with his bike. But when it's early in the day and the track is soft and loamy, you can get a bit frustrated.

As for the suspension, I went with their recommendations on the fork and really didn't make much in the way in changes from there, as well as with the shock. As I'm very comfortable with the bike, the balance felt fine but the shock definitely feels under-sprung for my weight. Overall, the Honda offers a light and nimble package with an easy to ride feel. The engine however does have some great potential, but needs an influx of cash to get it where the other brands have started.

Fifth Place - Husqvarna FC450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    1 2:18.20 2:17.25 2:16.09 52.50 MPH

The Husqvarna was definitely the most interesting bike to ride in the Shootout. Interesting because as you can guess, you end up really comparing it to the KTM due to the shared engine, chassis, and other components. While it's heavily improved over last year's model and is overall a very good bike, it ended up fifth largely because of that comparison.

The motor was a solid competitor and pulled strong from bottom to top. I tried the standard and aggressive maps, but wasn't quite happy with either as they didn't feel as clean as the KTM, so I think both could be improved. For instance, I like the response and hit better on the aggressive map, but the standard map pulled better from mid-to-top of the RPM range better.

The suspension worked well, after I slowed the rebound down a couple clicks and stiffened the compression on the forks two clicks. As with the KTM, I couldn't go too much stiffer without harshness, and I feel like I really needed stiffer springs.

The brakes were awesome and was really becoming a fan of the hydraulic clutch as I felt it worked a lot better than last year's and even better than the KTM version this year. (Editor's note: The Husqvarna features a brake fluid type of Magura clutch in comparison to the Brembo mounted to the KTM.) The bike felt slim and nimble, while the seat cover is far better than the slippery one on last year's bike. With better engine mapping and front fork set up, the Husqvarna would be closer to a top contender for me.

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    2 2:16.18 2:36.00 2:14.54 52.17 MPH

The Suzuki was the biggest shock to me this year. Due to the other bikes going on diets, I really noticed how heavy this bike feels in comparison. Starting with the engine, it was a little too smooth for my liking with the stock coupler. Because of this, I really preferred the lean coupler as it made the bottom-end much more aggressive with a little compromise on top. Considering I tend to short shift quite a bit, this worked well for me to get me into the next gear faster and feel like I had more punch when I needed it.

In cornering, I still feel like the Suzuki has this nailed withe a front end that feels every planted on corner entry. I ran 174 psi on the inner chamber, 188 on the bottom, with the outer set at zero. On the rear, I ran the sag at 105mm, high-speed compression a quarter turn out, and the rebound one click slower. This setup worked well to get me through the day, and settle the rear of the bike down, but the forks still didn't feel quite right and need some further attention to get my full confidence in them.

As with some of the bikes, the bars were not not great with my style and caused a bit of a struggle at times. While the Suzuki is a solid performer and does a good job in most of the categories, it's time for it to go on a diet and maybe get a bit more performance from the engine.

Name: Ricky Diaz / Age: 25
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 145 lbs.
Riding Experience: Expert

First Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    4 2:08.89 2:08.17 2:07.69 54.42 MPH

It was a very tough decision between the KX450F and the YZ450F as to which would take the top spot on my list. The main reason I chose the Yamaha was the power. In my eyes it's in a class of its own. It is super-snappy and responsive down low, while pulling extremely well all the way up top. What I enjoyed most about the power, and it was kind of surprising, is how extremely useable and manageable it was. Even though it clearly feels the strongest, it almost feel like the engine is tied to you wrist, and can easily be controlled with the right input.

I will admit, I've never felt completely at home with the SFF and/or air forks other manufactures choose to use, unless they have quite a bit work done to them. As for the SSS KYB suspension on the YZ450F, I had no complaints or required any major changes that needed to be done to push the bike hard. On the negative side, I still would like to see this bike narrowed down some. The width while sitting in the cockpit is nothing that you can't get used to after several motos, but becomes much more obvious the farther forward on the bike you ride. Being of smaller stature, I would really feel more comfortable and in control of the bike if it was just a bit slimmer.

Second Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    2 2:10.22 2:09.92 2:09.04 59.95 MPH

As I stated above, the Kawasaki had a shot at the top, but ended up second. My favorite aspect about this year's KXF is definitely the weight reduction. It really feels like Kawasaki shaved a lot of weight off of this bike for 2016, and you can feel it immediately while on the track. This weight loss, combined with the thinner frame, really added a lot of confidence for me that I haven't had with the past KXF models. For me, it was by far the easiest and most fun to corner.

The Kawasaki crew started me off with the sag at 105mm, and I never felt the need to change it at any point during the day. I felt like I could make the bike go anywhere I wanted it to, especially as the track got rougher. If for some reason I needed to make a last-second decision and cut down quickly in a turn, the bike did so perfectly and the front tracked right into the new line. I was also fairly happy with the power that this bike had as well, especially after I switched the the more aggressive coupler to get more low-end response out of the bike. Although it's not as powerful as the Yamaha, it felt very competitive compared to the rest of the field.

Third Place - Honda CRF450R

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    6 2:10.75 2:09.84 2:09.64 53.91 MPH

Since I personally own a 2015 CRF450R, I tried to save this bike until later in the day to give it a fair comparison. The reason I own one, is the fact that I'm a big fan of the slim and flickable feel of the Honda. As a smaller rider, the cockpit gives me a lot of confidence in how I can control and give input to the bike when riding.

As you may guess, the power of the Honda definitely didn't blow me away when compared to all the other bikes, but it definitely comes into its own as the day goes on. As the conditions break down, the engine really suits the chassis, allowing me to ride closer to the limits without putting myself into a bad situation. This makes the Honda the easiest bike to lay down consistent laps. Honda does offer three different engine maps, in which I chose the third and most aggressive setting, as it makes the bike feel the most responsive.

As for the suspension, the stock forks are a bit twitchy and deflective at high speeds, but the shock feels very planted at speed.

Fourth Place - KTM 450SX-F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    1 2:10.47 2:09.97 2:09.79 54.38 MPH

The KTM was my first bike of the day, when the track was very soft and smooth, so I made sure to take it for another spin after things got rougher. I noticed in the early session the bike felt a bit underpowered, which surprised me considering how much I've heard about the KTM creating some big power numbers. Once I rode it later in the day, I was still a bit surprised. Yes, the bike was fairly quick, but didn't feel as responsive or powerful as the YZF. I enjoyed riding the SX-F in both of the power settings, as both had their positives so I didn't really choose one over the other.

In regards to the suspension, I didn't enjoy the feel of the forks. As I went stiffer with the forks, they held up better so I could try to push into corners but it still didn't offer enough confidence. The front end felt a bit harsh in certain sections, which would make it hard to get into the corners. The KTM felt quite planted but the fork issues made it a bit hard to maximize its cornering capabilities. As for the shock, it felt great and I made minimal adjustments to it. I felt confident in it at low and high speeds, along with accelerating out of corners due to its consistency.

Fifth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    3 2:08.34 2:08.00 2:07.79 54.34 MPH

I'd never actually ridden a Suzuki RM-Z450 before, but I can understand why people are saying the bike feels outdated. The Suzuki definitely felt like it was the heaviest bike out of all the manufacturers, which had its pros and cons. While I did feel the effects of the weight towards the end of a long moto, as I didn't feel as comfortable scrubbing and making last minute corrections with this bike, it felt very planted entering corners and I never felt like the bike wanted to wander off at any point.

As for the suspension, I did notice the shock packing pretty excessively and getting too deep into the stroke, which we fixed by speeding up the rebound a couple clicks. As for the engine, I was really wishing the Suzuki had a bit more punch. Even though the Honda is shown as being down on the power, the Suzuki doesn't feel as responsive. Because of this, I had to make sure I was in the correct gear at all times, or I'd find myself punishing the clutch to compensate and get over obstacles. Overall, Suzuki could really make its way up the charts if it was a bit lighter, and had more responsive and usable power.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    5 2:11.28 2:11.25 2:10.24 52.79 MPH

Much like the RM-Z, I have never ridden the FC450, so I was curious to see what it had to offer. With all of the similarities this bike has to the KTM SX-F, I was was expecting it to feel pretty much the same, but after just a few laps, I realized that was not the case. I was really struggling with this bike, and definitely needed more time than we had available to get comfortable on it. I tried both of the ignition settings through the handlebar-mounted switch, and I was only able to feel somewhat comfortable on the FC450 while it was in the aggressive power mode. In the standard mode, the engine felt like it vibrated a lot more, and just didn't have the power delivery I expected from a 450.

The suspension on this bike did feel similar to the SX-F and I found myself with a similar setup. I went stiffer on the compression in the forks to help them hold up under heavy braking, and set the shock sag at 105mm. Even though the Husqvarna is so similar to the KTM mechanically, it feels like it's an unrefined version.

Name: Chris See / Age: 26
Height: 5' 11" / Weight: 170 lbs.
Riding Experience: 25+ Pro

First Place - Honda CRF450R

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    1 2:12.43 2:11.89 2:11.39 55.74 MPH

Honda obviously didn't win my top pick because of its raw power, but it did take the win because of its overall package. It starts at the rider cockpit; when I sit on the Honda I just feel comfortable because of how thin it is and the feeling of the bar bend. With that said, every great thing has its faults and in this case, the Honda's front end can be less than desirable. For me, the biggest complaint would be that when traveling through the initial part of the stroke, the fork ramps up to compensate and creates a severe mid-stroke harshness. I do think this also comes from the rear of the bike not being very supportive, with a stiff enough rear spring for my style. I bumped the fork up to 38 PSI with two clicks stiffer on compression to help hold it up in the stroke. As for the shock, I slowed the high-speed down three clicks and set sag at 106mm, trying to get the rear to settle a bit more under acceleration. These changes seemed to be what worked best for me.

At the end of the day, this test was based on what bike is best off the showroom floor and that was the Honda for me. This is because it can corner on a dime, and can be placed anywhere I wanted due to its light, nimble chassis. The power may not be as arm ripping as its competitors. but it's linear and useable no matter what track conditions you place it in. For me, this made it hard not to pick the Honda as my day-to-day bike.

Second Place - KTM 450SX-F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
6 2:12.12 2:11.62 2:11.14 55.12 MPH

For me, the KTM made the most gains for the 2016 model year. By far the biggest change was just how comfortable the bike is in the rider cockpit area. The other positive I immediately noticed on the KTM, are the Brembo brakes, hydraulic clutch, and of course the electric start. Once on the track, I was very impressed with the KTM's ability to turn just about anywhere. The front end feels so planted, and has enough traction, that I felt like I could put the bike wherever I wanted.

As for the engine, I chose to stick with the stock map as I liked the smoother bottom-end power, which increased into more of a noticeable hit as it reached through the RPMs. If I was looking for more hit out of the corners, I just reached for the hydraulic clutch and gave it a little tap, knowing it wouldn't fade throughout the moto.

The KTM still has one major lacking point, which are the forks. For me, it still feels like the 4CS forks fall through the first part of the stroke, then get into the mid-stroke and become extremely harsh. Stiffening the forks would help the initial hold-up, but create an even harsher feeling in certain situations. As for the rear shock, I didn't have any real issues to complain about, as it seemed like this issue was reserved for the front end. Overall, the newest WP shock actually works quite well and was quite predictable. If KTM could just solve the harshness in the forks, this bike could easily take the number one spot.

Third Place - Yamaha YZ450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    2 2:10.76 2:10.37 2:08.39 55.61 MPH

The Yamaha YZ450F was one of my favorite bikes of the day to ride, but also one of the most frustrating. The motor is absolutely awesome and you can never complain about not having enough juice on any area of the track. From snapping out of a corner, grabbing a handful of throttle mid-straightaway to hit a triple, or just screaming it to the rev limiter in tight sections, the Yamaha does it all. Then take that awesome engine package and back it up with some of the best suspension in the industry, makes this thing a killer package. But for me there is a huge downfall, which comes up when trying to corner this beast. The Yamaha has a front end push for me when coming into corners and exiting if you try to rush things. You definitely have to take your time and smoothly roll through your corners with this bike. For me, I really feed off front end input and the Yamaha just didn't have enough of it to keep me confident at all times. I feel as if you shouldn't have to change your whole style of riding for a bike doesn't suit you.

Another complaint would have to be the brakes. Although they've upgraded the rotor size, for me the brakes didn't have the consistency as the laps went on when compared to the other bikes. The last thing that still irks me, would have to be how wide the rider cockpit felt. When sitting in an aggressive corner position, the bike just feels really wide compared to some of the others. Overall, however, it's hard to love this bike due to that amazing engine and the superb suspension.

Fourth Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    3 2:08.59 2:08.37 2:07.69 56.46 MPH

Right off the bat, you can really tell that Kawasaki has made some huge strides this year. I can't say enough about how much thinner and lighter this bike feels when you swing a leg over it. At the same time, the green monster was still extremely stable at speed and creates a huge amount of confidence the faster you go. The Kawasaki has always been a front-end high bike...well, at least since I started riding them...and that is still the case here. I think it's both a good and bad thing for this bike; good in the sense of when it's rough, the bike is stable and that's what you want in that situation. But it can be bad in the sense that the bike feels squatted in the rear and high in front in corners, causing it to stand up a bit when on the throttle. This is part of what makes the Kawasaki more of a rear steering bike, which just doesn't suit my style. For me, this was the biggest negative and brought the bike down a bit in my final decision.

Other than that, I feel that this bike also had some of the best air forks I've ridden, as I made very few adjustments and was much happier with the overall action when compared to past years. Overall, this Kawasaki has seen the biggest improvement in my eyes, but it just wasn't enough to break the top three for me.

Fifth Place - Suzuki RM-Z450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    5 2:10.52 2:10.12 2:08.19 54.29 MPH

Starting off, old yellow yeller is still an all-around decent bike. But for the first time, I can finally say this bike feels old to me. The biggest reason behind this is not only the looks, but the overall feeling of the bike. It starting to feel a bit heavy and the characteristics have been nearly the same year after year. Yes, the Suzuki turns great, but quite a few have caught it in this regard, all while making improvements elsewhere.

Really, my major complaint with this bike are the front forks. By the end of the day I had a decent setting, but no matter what we did I always felt that the front end would drop through the stroke a bit and deflect off chop. In the air fork era, the Suzuki really feels like it needs some help with the overall action.

In the engine department, things are pretty mellow for the most part. It makes decent power everywhere, but nothing that stands out and has me writing home about. By no means am I saying this bike can't get the job done for you, but in my case I'm going to spend my money on something that is changing and growing with the time, not on the bike that is staying the same. In retrospect, the RM-Z still holds a positive for the crowd just looking for a bike that makes them feel like a king on a corner track and won't wear them out before they get there.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC450

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    4 2:09.20 2:09.20 2:09.20 54.25 MPH

The Husqvarna was a very odd bike for me to wrap my head around. The suspension is a bit soft on both ends but at the same time the rear of the bike feels very rigid, due to the the different subframe design. It made for a confusing setup, as the bike felt unbalanced. As I stiffened the forks, things improved, but also created a the harsh feel that I found in the KTM. The rigid feel in the rear of the bike left me questioning what to do to fix the problem, as I still wanted softer to improve how the rear-end tracked but also stiffer to get more hold up. Compared to the KTM, I ran a bit more sag to help improve the rear traction as the bike didn't naturally squat as well under acceleration. This was probably due to to the way the FC450 produced its power, which was fairly smooth overall if judged against its orange brother. Compared to Suzuki and Honda, though, it did still feel quite a bit more powerful but had a smooth feel like those two produced. As you can guess, the Brembo brakes and electric start on the Husqvarna were massive pluses, especially considering the negatives I ran into with the bike.

Overall, the FC450 isn't a bad bike but just doesn't feel as polished as it could be when you really think about the potential of the package. This alone really hurts the bike when rating it compared to the other bikes in the class.

Name: Michael Lindsay / Age: 23
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 145 lbs.
Experience: Expert

First Place - Kawasaki KX450F

Session Average Lap Fastest Lap Lap 99 Top Speed
    1 2:19.45 2:17.70 2:16.04 54.94 MPH

Another year, another super-close finish! It honestly took me a solid two days to decide if my top pick was green or blue, but I came up with the same answer as I did last year. I just feel a bit more comfortable on the Kawasaki when all the conditions are added together. For 2016, Kawasaki definitely improved the all-around handling characteristics. The new, lighter, and more nimble chassis kept the rear steering and stable feel that I enjoyed from the previous model. But it also added confidence in the front end that they haven't had before. Also, while air forks have been somewhat of a struggle for some riders over the past few years, I was quite happy with the improvements Kawasaki made with the Showa TAC fork this year. The combination of air pressures is similar to a setting I was running last year, so my changes were held to the clickers on the valving leg. With Pala having quite large obstacles, I stiffened up the compression a few clicks to keep the fork a bit higher in the stroke when tackling the track. At my lighter weight, the actual action of the fork was quite consistent, and really added to the improved front end tra


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