Experience: 20 years riding
Current Ride: Really no bikes, a 2006 CR250R that’s been framed for three years since it’s my little project
I have raced AMA supermoto for 10 years, failed 250 supercross rider, enjoy freeriding and occasionally try to go fast. I can enjoy almost any bike that works, but I look for something predictable yet agile.
Like most are people are starting to realize, all of the 450s these days are good. There isn’t any manufacture that has these huge flaws like 5-10 years ago. That being said, my “favorites” are broken down into groups. The differences are slim, broken down into three group, most issues could easily be remedied via suspension work for the most part.
The first bracket holds the Yamaha, Husqvarna, and Kawasaki. (No particular order these are all my tie for “number one”)
Yamaha YZ450F– There are a few things on the Yamaha that are very very good. First being the suspension, it’s plush and seamless through the stroke with great bottoming resistance. It is incredibly impressive how comfortable and forgiving the KYB suspension feels. Especially on top of the stroke, there is zero harsh feedback. The other strongpoint to the YZ I feel is the motor and the ability to tune the fuel/ignition. Stock the motor allows you to ride super smooth or a bit agro depending on your mood or track. The motor has plenty of power and is lively and very fun. The rider compartment is different at first but for me it didn’t feel wide or abnormal. The only thing I might change is the bars, being that I prefer a flat and low bar bend. The suspension was excellent like I said, so good that I didn’t make any adjustments
SETTINGS- all stock, stock map, standard sag around 104mm
Kawasaki KX450: The Kawi is the other bike out of the six that had incredible suspension. It is similar to the Yamaha in how progressive and plush it feels. We had a half spring rate up from stock in the fork. This really helped at Glen Helen with the rougher conditions, allowing the suspension to hold up higher in the stroke. Even with the slightly stiffer fork, the Kawi was very forgiving and plush up top. The other thing the green machine does incredibly well is tracking. The front and rear wheel track so well in flat rough corners where the rut has been blown out, or deep ruts and berms. I heard some people complaining of a front-end push but I did not have any of that. The bikes ability to track in unfavorable conditions blew me away. To me the Kawi is the most stable out of the bunch. One thing I enjoy all the time, but more so at Glen Helen is a hydraulic clutch, it has a very smooth feel that beats a cable pull any day for me. The kawi suspension was also so good that I did not make a change either day. We did have a half rate stiffer spring in the fork which made it work very well for me at glen helen.
SETTINGS- all stock, black coupler, 105mm sag
Husqvarna FC450: While the WP fork is not as progressive as the spring forks on the Yamaha and Kawasaki, the Husky was still one of my favorites. The suspension was good for me, I ended up adding some rebound at Glen Helen to help with some deflection under heavy braking in braking bumps. I love the steel frames and the flex they have. The rider compartment and ergonomics jell with my riding style. Part of that may be the flat seat and the low bar bend. I actually enjoy the mellow/smooth power delivery, which is a characteristic of the Husky’s power package, I have about one fast lap so after that I am just holding on. The traction control at Glen Helen actually helped quite a bit when powering up the big hills there. I enjoyed how agile the bike is while remaining predicable. Also something worth mentioning is the brakes and the clutch. Obviously the Brembo brakes are good, and outbrake everything else for me. However with the hydraulic clutches they all have subtle differences, I like this Husky hydronic clutch more than the KTM and Kawi. It had a butter like pull that was smooth and easy while engaging softer and smoother.
fork rebound 3 in, 15 ended at 12
shock rebound 3 in, 15 ended at 12
map 1 with TC
The next group of bikes holds the Honda and KTM. These bikes also stood out in certain areas, but my preferences leaning towards a forgiving feel ended up with these in the second group. With small changes these bikes would all be tied with the top group, however out of the crate stock, I would have to change a few things to get me stoked.
KTM 450 SX-F: Let me start off with saying I can’t believe that the KTM and Husky feel so much different. The differences that ended up getting the orange bike in the second group are few, but they result in an increased rigidity. The Neken bars feel harsher than the stock Husky bar, that’s the first thing I’d change. Secondly is probably due to the subframe we can’t change out to the composite plastic like the husky has, but I think due to the stiffness it made the suspension feel harsher than the Husky, so it would take me some time and playing to find the right combo on the KTM. The bar change alone could get rid of the feedback on the top of the stroke. The power package in the KTM is more barky and aggressive than that of the Husky, so if that’s what you like or if your a bigger dude with more weight to haul around this engine package will suit you. But more often than not, I will lean towards something with a smooth soft hit on the bottom of the power. The bike handles great and is very agile, also having the Brembo brakes the stopping power is too tier. The suspension at milestone was rigid and harsh, and I went from 10.5 bar to 10.2 bar on the fork and half turn out at high speed on shock. However at Glen Helen with a rougher track it worked very well and I did not change anything.
Fork- 10.2 bar
Shock- half turn out in HSC
Sag- 105mm range
Honda CRF450R: I’ve been a Honda guy a long time. And I know if I bought this bike and really set up the fork (spring/valving) I’d be in love with it. The power is everywhere. I think the most impressive power goes between the Yamaha and this new Honda. It was kind of shocking how much power there was anywhere in the rpms. I’ve always been very keen of an aggressive handling bike, but I think the front end was a little too sensitive to me. The fork had a gap between the firm top of the stroke and the mid stroke. We added a couple clicks of compression front and rear and it make it better and calmed it down a bit. With an entire day focusing only on this bike I know I’d find a happy place, and if I owned one, with fork work it could be my perfect bike. The shock was good, just struggled a bit with the fork. We ended up adding 1.5 clicks slower on fork rebound and 3 clicks in on compression, shock went 1 slower on rebound. Mainly just to hold it up higher and calm the bike down a little. The front brake is a big improvement over years past. And how light feeling the bike feels as well as how will it handles long rutted corners is very impressive.
Fork rebound: 1.5 stiffer, compression 3 clicks in from stock
Shock: 1 slower on rebound
Last bike is the Suzuki, but it is not a bad bike by any means.
Suzuki RM-Z450: I’ll start with some positives. This bike does everything good, it just does not have one huge stand out like a lot of the other bikes may have. It tracks in flat corners, handles ruts well, feels light in the air and has a decent engine. It’s just not the most exciting bike. The engine is strong don’t let people fool you, it just delivers the power in a way that’s more of an older style. The new 450s feel eclectic and much more linear, even the aggressive ones. The Suzuki just kind of didn’t attract attention and so I think it falls behind the other manufactures. For me being 175 without gear, I like a plush set up, and I never found a good set up with the suspension. I feel like it was way to firm all the way through. I went harder and softer and between and couldn’t get it quite right. I softened it up 5 clicks in the front and a bunch in the rear and felt better but even then it still felt too firm for me, but softer was the right direction. If I had a Zuk of my own and had the suspension reworked for my style and weight, I would have no problem owning one. Even though it technically came in “last”, it is still a fun bike.
Fork- 5 softer compression
Shock- ¾ turns out
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