2019 450cc Motocross Comparison Opinions: Scott Hoffman

Scott Hoffman

Age: Old
Ability: Vet intermediate on a good day
Years Riding: More than 40
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 210 lb.
Personal Rides: 2009 CRF450R supermoto track bike, 2017 YZ250 Smoker, TTR125

After two days of flogging six 2019 450 Motocrossers, trying to pick a “Winner” is not easy, that is why I am not going to specifically. To be totally honest, there is not a bad motorcycle in the bunch, to say one is in last place is possible but not really fair because with a little work and more setup, I think I can make any of the six bikes fit my needs, yet some easier than others with less effort.

I am the one right in the middle, can’t miss me!!!

I have my top three favorites but all for different reasons, each had an outstanding trait or traits. My podium finish is in no particular order yet my 2nd place (if you count top three as the winners) almost made the cut because it started working really well on day two at Glen Helen. As I have aged I have also slowed down (or became wiser) on the track and what I like has also slightly changed. I ride to have fun and still hit most of the jumps on main tracks unless they are really technical (although my corner speed is not what it once was so I often do the stab and grab move). Most stock 450s are not setup for my current weight and I often have to take that into consideration. My riding style and my bad knees also tend to cause me to carry my weight further back on the bike than I should. If I raced I would still be a pretty solid, front of the pack, over 40 vet intermediate as long as we were not doing 30-minute motos-LOL.

OK, spill it: Honda CRF450R, Yamaha YZ450F, and Kawasaki KX450. The KTM was very close on day two to make the top group but I would have to say it missed the podium cut by a very narrow margin.

I am a little outside the target range (slightly overweight), at 210 pounds without gear, it can be a little difficult to dial in each bike with regard to suspension. Some know some bikes would benefit from stiffer springs, at least shock spring or I need to get back to under 2 bills.

Honda CRF450R:
The engine is what made the CRF for me. It’s a beast but manageable and has power all across the board to lug my ass around. It’s tractable and puts the power to the ground, and for me the standard map setting was more than enough. This was my favorite engine package. The chassis is accurate and likes to be ridden hard and goes wherever you ask. The suspension is a little firm on small chop but then it can get a little soft in the mid-stroke and busy, especially the fork in chop. It’s almost not progressive enough, first firm, then too soft. I probably need stiffer springs. The shock is good but I do feel it can blow through on certain transitional holes and can bounce off the bottoming rubber at times; again, need stiffer spring. I was able to get it working better but it required more high-speed compression and moving the fork down in the clamp. With more setup and maybe springs, this could be my favorite bike for sure.
Final Settings: (Stock)
Fork:
C: 7 ( )
R: 11 (12)
Fork Height: 1mm exposed
Shock:
C: 9 (10), HSC: 3 1/4 (3 3/8)
R: 6 (7)
Race Sag: 107mm

When you can’t race, you become a moto journalist, myself and Jimmy Lewis have been doing it for over 40 years combined.

Yamaha YZ450F:
The Yamaha just works and, for me, it has the best stock fork in the class, almost as if the fork and the suspension make this bike for me and this is why it’s on the podium. The stock ergonomics are a little funky but only noticeable when jumping from bike to bike. If you only ride the YZ, you probably would not notice the handlebar seat and peg position is a little off. The bar is slightly too high but I think I would rather raise the seat foam 5-8mm, but overall, it’s a trivial fix and it did not drop in ranking because of a simple fix. In fact, the ’19 YZ250F bar mounts are actually lower than the 450. The YZ450F is very easy to adapt to, very stable, yet not heavy-feeling either. The power is top notch but with the added gearing for ’19, I almost felt it was too much on some tracks. It feels fun but maybe not as efficient on the track because it revs a little faster and breaks traction slightly more with the gearing. Yet with the Yamaha’s Wi-Fi Smartphone map tuner, mellowing out the hit is an easy fix. The YZ was almost my “winning” bike but it didn’t totally overpower my love for the two other machines and some of their overpowering traits and strengths. The YZ is amazing that it caters to so many rider weights and speeds right of the gate with very little tuning.
Final Settings: (Stock)
Fork:
C: 7 (9)
R: 12 (13)
Fork Height: STK
Shock:
C: 9 (10), HSC: 1 1/8 (1 1/4)
R: 12 (13)
Race Sag: 104mm

Kawasaki KX450:
This mount was right there with the rest—it’s the best KX450 ever made. The power is so electric and there’s lots of it from low to upper mid. The fork is almost as good as the YZ450F, yet we ran our bike with one fork spring stiffer than stock, a less than $100-dollar fix. I felt at home on the KX within seconds of riding it. It’s not the lightest-feeling in the class but still lighter feeling than says on the scales. They did a great job with this chassis and it turns really well. The KX is very stable and settles into corners, easily one of the best vet bikes in the test. The power is amazing but almost too linear as it builds, but I know that with an exhaust or mapping it can be made into a beast with almost too much power, there’s lots more in the can. Why this bike did not win hands down for me included a little more setup (need of a fork spring, which we ran), the fact the Kawasaki Power Tuner is around a $700 cost, something that Yamaha offers for free, and the fork action even with the spring is close but not as good for me as the stock YZ. The KX does everything great but nothing stood out enough to place it above the CRF or YZ.
Final Settings: (Stock)
Fork:
C: 13 (14)
R: 11 (12)
Fork Height: Stk
Shock:
C: Stk, HSC: 1 (1 1/4)
R: Stk
Race Sag: 105mm

KTM in the Middle
The KTM 450SX was very close to pushing this into a 4-bike podium. I struggled with some setup on day one with it being a little busy in the chop and small braking bumps, yet late on day two, KTM techs made some big changes and we finally found a setup that was firm but kept the wheels on the ground and the wheels stopped doing their little dance moves. Again, I am a little heavy for the stock settings and slight air pressure change in the fork and slower rebound (lots) on the fork and shock did the trick. The power on KTM is solid but has this feeling like it needs more bottom but there is bottom there, the Husky is similar and I had even more issues with it. Cracking the throttle in turns from zero, I always had to cover the clutch and slip it as it ramped up but from there it almost felt like it was slow building and not as connected to throttle position—it’s hard to explain. In the end, I preferred Map 2 because it was a little smoother down low and built more top end and had a longer pull for me. The KTM is thin feeling, seat is easy to get around on, and it handled very good after final suspension setup. I thought the KTM was going to be one of my top bikes going into the comparison. It was close and I know I could do more to make it even better but it was just off a tad to make my top three.

Final Settings: (Stock)
Fork:
C: 15 (15)
R: 10 (15)
Air pressure: 10.6 bar, (10.5 bar)
Fork Height: Stk
Shock:
C: 15 (13), HSC: 1 1/2 (2)
R: 10 (15)
Race Sag: 105mm

And there were two left:
The Husky FC450 is very similar to the KTM, but I never felt as comfortable, yet other test riders raved about this bike. Maybe the KTM techs were able help me find a better setup in the end but it too had a busy feeling in the wheels on the Husky, one that KTM was able to tune out better. I also felt like the KTM mapping or engine feel was better suited for my riding style. But part of me felt like the Husky front brake worked a smidge better, yet the only difference is the rotor. The clutch action on the KTM is also a tiny bit smoother, yet I like the bars on the Husky better. Setup and the slight performance delivery is the only reason the Husky is not grouped next to the KTM. The first thing I would change on the Husky would be the rear brake pedal, like the KTM, I kept missing in when I switched to these bikes.
Final Settings: (Stock)
Fork:
C: 13 (15)
R: 13 (15)
Fork Height: Stk
Shock:
C: 15 (15), HSC: 1 1/2 (2)
R: 13 (15)
Race Sag: 105mm

Suzuki RM-Z450:
I hate to write about this bike last because I think it’s very good and I think it has gotten a bad rap. I never rode the ’18 and I know it feels way better than the older ’17. I guess the spring change and slight compression adjuster changes helped. The power is a little old-school feeling compared to the others but very easy to ride and very efficient overall but lack top end and overrev. The chassis turns very well, has a slim feel, and is lighter feeling than what the scales say. The chassis is a little firm on small chop but I think that suspension settings are this bike’s biggest faults. The fork feels stiff initially and the shock is ok depending on the track. When I fixed one suspension issue another went in the wrong direction and vice versa. Overall, it’s a solid motorcycle, yet the others do some things better. It’s maybe in need of more setup, possibly some suspension work, and an exhaust away from being right there? I have seen really good deals on the RM-Z so there might be room to customize the bike to your liking and still be ahead of the game. For smoother tracks it can work stock, rougher tracks it’s not as plush as the rest of the field. I already started to test a rear link and have tried raising the fork oil hight on the RM-Z with some success.
Final Settings: (Stock)
Fork:
C: 10 (9)
R: 10 (11)
Fork Height: Stk
Shock: 
C: 1 3/4 turns out (1 1/2 turns), HSC: NA
R: 3/4 turns out (1 turn)