Age: 24 years young
Years Riding: 20 years on and off
Weight: 195 lb
Personal rides: 2018 YZ450F
After two days of non-stop riding all the 2019 450 bikes it is very tough to choose what bike will be crowned a winner. Each and every one of these bikes are really good and have specific traits that make them stand out from the field. Having two days of riding at two totally different style tracks definitely showed each of the bike’s characteristics. All of these bikes are very capable machines that can easily be tailored for most riders, provided that rider starts out in the right direction.
I was able to narrow it down to which bikes I liked best–but it was not easy as I found settings that worked well with each of my favorites and struggled with some that I ranked a little lower. With more time and some heavier springs, specifically on the KTM and Husky thongs could change around a bit. Also getting comfortable on the bikes takes time and I know that played into my opinion. As an experienced intermediate rider I really prefer a motor that has a lot of bottom to mid pull, and a chassis that is well balanced. I like to lean over the front of the bike to get front end feel.
Here are my choices and opinions:
The Yamaha YZ450F is my number one pick, It did not take long for me to get it dialed in. Being that I own and race a 2018 YZ450F I thought the bike would feel exactly the same with the few changes for 2019, but the small changes they did definitely made a huge difference in the chassis handling. The bike seemed to track everywhere I wanted and you could actually use the front end to steer. The Yamaha has one of the strongest motors and the Yamaha tuner app definitely makes it that much better! The stock mapping was pretty good but as I have said I really like a bottom to mid pull. It took one minute to switch maps to something that suited my style. The only thing I noticed I was not a huge fan of the bar position, they were on the taller side. But changing handlebar bend or position or height is a normal practice on most of my bikes.
Honda CRF450R: The CRF450R had a ton of changes since 2018. The motor was full of power, it seemed to pull through any corner or down any straight away. Even though I like a really hard hit in the bottom end, the standard map seemed to be more than enough. The aggressive map was good when the tracks were really loamy but once the tracks dried out it was way to aggressive. On day one of testing at Milestone MX the Honda was one of my favorites. The chassis feels very nimble, light and goes wherever you point it. However on day two of testing at the notorious Glen Helen Raceway I could not seem to get the fork and shock to compliment each other in the high speed sections especially coming down the big hills, the front end felt twitchy or nervous feeling. I think if I had one spring rate stiffer in front and rear it may have helped in the higher speeds. Another thing that really stood out to me is the exhaust header seemed to be sticking out pretty far and was always in the way of putting my leg out for corners.
Kawasaki KX450: The KX450 is a solid bike. I ended up running the aggressive coupler to get more of a mid range pull, but it seemed to kind of revv out quickly. I think with an exhaust or maybe a different map and it could be one of the strongest motors. I can not tell you how happy I am Kawasaki decided to put a Showa spring fork instead of the air fork. We did have 1 spring rate stiffer in the front on one side, the suspension overall seemed to work fairly well. The KX corners a lot better than previous years and feels very stable. One of the downsides is the bike still feels like its very long. The KX450 is a great, I just feel it would take a little more to set up to my preferences.
KTM 450SX: The KTM motor seemed rev up slow and it liked to be ridden in the power up on the top end. The bike has 2 different maps that you can change on the fly and engage or disengage traction control very quickly. One of the biggest things I like in a bike is being able to lug the bottom end and KTM seems to have mellowed out the map and put all the power up top. I really like the Japanese manufactures aluminum frames because they are ridged. If KTM made the frame a little more rigid and you could definitely feel it, it felt more like the aluminum frames to me. The WP AER air fork is hands down the best air fork out there however it still does not feel as good as a traditional spring fork for me.
Suzuki RM-Z450: The RM-Z450 is a great bike, it does everything well. It corners good, even though it is the heaviest, you can not tell when your riding it. I think the thing that holds this bike back from the others is the motor is a little slower revving and it does not really have a trait that has a “wow” factor. The stock coupler had a descent pull but almost hit a flat spot in the mid range, however the LEAN coupler seemed to fill in that flat spot but the motor still seemed to be a little slower revving than most. I think the Suzuki with a few mods would be a great bike but in its stock form it lacks a little compared to the rest of the field.
Husqvarna FC450: To my surprise the FC 450 is my last choice. For me the chassis has a lot more flex than I am use to and I could not get comfortable with that feeling. The suspension was a lot harder for me to get dialed in even though it is very similar to the KTM. I think it had to do with the chassis. The suspension seemed to get very busy feeling over small chop and braking bumps and felt unstable at times. Similar to the KTM motor the FC 450 really liked to be ridden up top and it did not have the low grunt like some of the Japanese models.
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