2018 Yamaha YZ450F: First Riding Impression

Faster And Connected!

Photos by Scott Hoffman

The 2018 Yamaha YZ450F is an all-new motorcycle. Yes it may look similar and share a few components from the previous model but by in large is not your 2017 with updates. One ride will reveal a lot and here we’ll break down the first review of the bLU cRU’s new open class MXer. If you want to see the changes and the details, click here:http://dirtbiketest.com/fresh-dirt/first-look-all-new-2018-yamaha-yz450f/ if you want to know how the changes all work, keep reading.

The first and most obvious change is the absence of the kick-starter. This was not an easy change even though is seems simple. It adds weight and complexity along with a bunch of ill founded concerns like, “What if my battery dies?” Well it may and when it does you should write us a letter in two years after it happens (maybe longer) and we’ll tell you to get a fresh one. Yamaha went to great lengths and thought this out more than most to build the right charging system and a lighter battery with a lot of safety built in so it fires strong and consistent time in and time out. During our first-ride impression it was a warm day at Glen Helen for the most part and the YZ came to life very quickly. We lost more time doing air grabs for the non-existent kickstarter and we laughed in joy every time. The safety feature of the battery is that it has circuitry that will shut down the battery if there is too great of a load on the starter or the circuit. It happened us. When we stalled the bike (on purpose to shut the engine down) and then we tried to restart the bike it fired then shut off quickly. For about 10 seconds the starter would not turn over. We tried to recreate this but could not and we’ll keep an eye on it in further testing. Yet it still isn’t going to stop us from praising the electric starting unless this becomes some sort of an issue. E-start isn’t new and we are glad Yamaha caught on.

The new engine was altered in about every way possible to get more power and Yamaha achieved their goal. Most accounts have the engine putting out an additional three horsepower across the spread. The past YZ450F were never short on bottom power or throttle response so there was no issue here. Mid range was in the game but over time other 450s have been producing more gusto on top. The new delivery is smoother and has longer legs on top with such a full spread of power that it doesn’t feel that impressive if you just rode the 2018 alone. Hop on a 2017 YZ (we did) and you feel like you need a whip to hit the bike when the throttle is wide open and the revs are up. The new engine pulled hard even in deep National-like prep to the Glen Helen circuit and its monstrous uphills. You can easily bang a shift into third gear half-way up Mt. Saint Helens or just let her scream all the way up in second. We feel the 18 YZ450F will be competitive with anything in the class and that is just running the stock and standard map.

With a broader spread each gear ratio in the similarly spaced transmission will last longer and pull a wider range of turns. Short shifting and big throttle openings worked the best for me though riders who were revving the bike more didn’t seem to complain either. Early in the day there were a significant amount of rev limiter sounds from the assembled group of test riders but that seemed to subside as the day went on. Riders were getting more and more comfortable letting the revs drop and getting a pull that was as fast as it is higher in the range. Of note is the clutch feel (lighter than average for a 450) is more consistent with an improved bite when released. We did not have any issues with the shifting and all of our Yamaha’s in the past seem to get better with time.

The biggest news and our favorite part of the package is the Power Tuner app. Free (yes we said FREE if you own a smartphone, old flip phone riders will be SOL) to download this tool. It is the best tuning app aside from some of the factory ignition tuning conversions that are above the comprehension level of most and very pricey in comparison. This app is like giving you 10 exhaust systems, five cams and three different fuel injection bodies but you just have to push a button to install them. It takes most adults about 20-minutes to learn how to use it (10-minutes for your kids). There are three preprogrammed maps into the app and the ability to do more than you can imagine (and more than we even know just yet, further testing to come) with just a few swipes and taps. It is way more capable than the old handheld GYTR Power Tuner and will be a game changer for the future of tuning.

We were able to try a few maps and make some of our own right away. Here we could personalize the power delivery and character more than we can describe in a few paragraphs. We were able to quickly share some of the maps (via text message or email) and load them in the ECU. It was awesome and simple, especially without a plug. Of course the experts on the internet have already brought up security–don’t buy in so quick. It has as much security as the connection you are getting this information on. I tried to hack into the brain of MXA bike ECU to see if their test bike made more power than anyone else already, we failed. Also you’d better put locks over your suspension clickers too, while you are being cautious, of course.

With the altered maps were able to slightly slow the rev build on the top end and boost the throttle response so the engine actually pulled a gear higher with even more confidence. It was like adding a tooth to the rear sprocket (a common trick, as some will attest). We also tried a few that were not to this test rider’s liking but we know some of our testers would love the changes based on their preferences. These personal touches are what this app is great for and it shows the capability of current bikes and modern technology. With the app you can choose to send the new map to two different maps inside the ECU. What could this mean? A close look at the diagnostic plug set (where the old plug to hook the wired Power Tuner was) has a plug that looks suspiciously like a map switch set of wires and is called a communication control unit in the manual in an area that was called plug for optional part. You guess what may be coming? When quizzed Yamaha guys smiled and shrugged shoulders.

Going into the chassis, here is a story that is a little harder to tell. If there was ever a love it or hate it, the YZ chassis since 2010 has been it. Seems each year Yamaha took a slightly different direction and to some even tried to make it something it wasn’t. Originally the YZ was a front wheel steering ride that tracked well and turned sharp yet acted unstable to some. As years went on stability went up and turning got more difficult. For 2018 it feels like there is more weight on the front wheel and the bike likes to turn again. Ride height is critical and we found a big difference when it was set at the recommended (100MM) compared to when it was too low. In most cases the stability is improved as well. The older bikes were rock solid and stable but only when going very straight. The 2018 is stable and maneuverable at the same time. It doesn’t lose the stability when the bars get turned slightly out of line like the 2017 and earlier bikes could. The steering input is lighter and takes less effort on the bar too. We’d venture to say that if this YZ isn’t turning for you on the faster and flowing turns of tracks like Glen Helen then you didn’t play with the setting enough and are likely too low or too high in ride height. Tighter turns and back and forth quick turns will have to wait for another track. But we are very confident that this new ride turns very good.

The weight is claimed to be the same. Our scale will tell us the truth but as a rider it feels just a little bit lighter on the track. Not enough to put it at the head of the class but an improvement nevertheless. It’s biggest thing is the visual aspect at the top of the airbox which is now styled different and thinner. It is also slimmer everywhere and depending on where you grip it and the size of your body will determine how much you feel it. Shorter riders and those that rider over the back will feel the lower back end of the bike more than the thickness. There is nothing that protrudes or interferes while moving around, especially getting forward. The rider compartment feels a little more roomy but not stretched out.

Yamaha has been hitting a homerun with the suspension lately and this bike will be no different. With some improvements to the KYB parts internally to achieve better oil control and volume, the same positive feelings will continue. It still has a very plush initial feel for a bike that has great bottoming resistance as well. With stock clickers, which we never felt the need to change, the new ride was more supple than the 2017 without having as much yaw. It dives less in turns and on deceleration but isn’t choppy. Balanced front to rear and it rides level. Granted the track was soft and loamy and never got dried out and hardpack, which may reveal something more, but it was plush. Then bottoming on both ends was improved and GH had the jumps that were five feet too long for this rider’s shoulders. We tested it. We’ll test it more for sure.

We’ll have the 18 YZ450F out at the track a lot in the next few weeks to gather more information for full test in the near future. If you have any specific questions ask them in the comments below and we’ll get answers from the track, the right way. First impressions are all very positive with some needed upgrades and game changing things included with this YZ for free. It still has a very familiar YZ character that YZ lovers will appreciate yet the bike isn’t as far out in its own world so that is polar to those converting. I would not be afraid of putting money on this YZ if you are in the market for a new 450 motocroser.