How Do The Kings Of Motocross Compare?
Husqvarna FC450, Kawasaki KX450, Suzuki RM-Z450, Honda CRF450R, Yamaha YZ450F, KTM 450SX-F
Photos/Video: Drew Ruiz, Carter Lyttleton, Scott Hoffman and Jimmy Lewis
We have been leaking segments of our 2019 450cc MX comparison or what some are still calling a shootout, and even though the cat has already been let out of the bag—the 2019 Yamaha YZ450F ended up being our top pick during DBT’s 450cc motocross comparison, here is the test in complete form with a video blog from our test riders. The Yamaha may not have won every category hands down, but is by far the most diverse 450 in the field and can easily be tuned to accommodate a wide variety of riders from novice all the way up to the pro ranks. During our test, riders from the 160-lb range all the way up to 210 lb without gear were able to jump on and go with a simple shock sag setting and maybe a few minor clicker changes. Before we started the test, we were not even sure if we were going to pick a winner, figuring there are always a few bikes that are ranked as first and that same bike is also ranked as 4th or 5th favorite. In this case the Yamaha either won or was chosen as a top three by all seven of our test riders.
The best way to get more specific with regard to our test is to read all seven of our test rider opinions. Pick a rider that might be close to your speed, height, and weight and you might find the answers you are looking for. You can also view the video (yes it is 50-minutes long, maybe treat it like a podcast!) and watch (or listen to) the discussion with four of our test riders breaking down the bikes. Here you will get a feel for how some characteristics fit some riders and some didn’t.
The opinion links are also further below in the story but here is a quick link if needed
DBT has to reiterate the fact that not one of the 450s in our test is considered “bad” by any means, just some are better than others depending on the rider and the track. We are convinced that with tuning, and possibly some aftermarket parts and suspension work, any of the six machines we tested could be made into a winner for any of our seven test riders. But stock-to-stock, the YZ450F took the checkered flag. For some it was a clear-cut winner, for others it was tied as a top three.
The 2019 YZ450F did not receive many changes for the model year 2019 but the subtle changes were enough to elevate a top bike into THE top bike for DBT. Firmer seat foam, thicker wheel spacers, a new lower fork lug, and one tooth up in the rear sprocket refined an already great motorcycle.
When it comes to the front fork, Yamaha killed the field. Yes, the Kawasaki fork was very close but we ended up running one stiffer spring in one fork leg to get to that level. A fork can really make or break a perfect motorcycle and for the Yamaha it only helped.
Except for the fork, the Yamaha does not dominate any one category. In fact, some outperform the Yamaha in certain categories–none offer the entire package like the YZ450F. Every rider in our test was asked, “If you had to buy a bike on Friday and race it on Saturday, what would you buy?” All said the Yamaha. The power tuner smart phone app is another tool that Yamaha offers for free and to some it’s like giving away a free performance exhaust and more with every purchase. The engine on the Yamaha has traction, revs, and is fast, and if you don’t like it, change it with the app—it’s that simple. And with the app, Yamaha has set it up that there is no way to harm the engine no matter how aggressive you go, they programmed a failsafe into the software. The chassis is solid, turns well (maybe not the best), it’s stable and, except for the bar position being a little high for a few riders, there were no real complaints. Set the sag, a few clicks here or there, then none of our test riders (no matter how light or how heavy they were) had to hunt for settings. Go race.
Because Yamaha does everything so well for so many different riders, it’s why it earned the Dirt Bike Test 2019 450cc Motocross Comparison title.
The Kawasaki KX450 was/is a very anticipated motorcycle for the 2019 model year. The KX is all new and very much different than its predecessor. Frame, swingarm, linkage, engine, hydraulic clutch (the first for a Japanese motocrosser), side airbox, and Showa 49mm spring fork make this the best KX450 we had ever ridden. The KX was very close to being the top bike in the comparison and it tied for first amongst several riders. This bike turns better than any other KX and is no longer considered a rear-wheel turning motorcycle. The power is robust and probably puts the most power to the ground from bottom to mid in the field. It is very linear and easy to ride in stock trim, but not totally exciting up top. The chassis is very stable and still retains that KX feel of being a tiny bit longer/stable compared to the field, but that is not a bad thing.
This is another everyman motorcycle but taller riders tend to gravitate to the KX a little more than shorter riders. Kawasaki’s switch back to a spring fork was the right direction because they are easier to tune for the average rider. The stock fork for most riders was a little too soft and during our test we opted to run one .52 fork spring in one fork leg. That single change really made a difference and is a mod we would suggest to any 2019 KX450 owner if you are over 175 lbs. Lighter than that and likely a softer rear spring is the path to a balanced KX.
The KX would have been the top pick for a few riders if the fork spring addition would have been a stock component and they had the ability to tune the engine without having to buy Kawasaki’s handheld plug-in computer for an additional $700 charge. But if you are a KX rider, we would almost buy that tuner over an aftermarket exhaust in many cases. Yes, the KX has adjustable couplers with three maps total, but making your own custom maps is the way to go if you are a tech kind of rider that likes to tinker. The KX has aggressive brakes that you have to get used to and the hydraulic clutch is a nice addition and has a consistent feel.
Overall the KX450 is another amazing motorcycle but a little more polar to some of our test riders in the field and not as adaptable compared to the Yamaha for some of our guinea pigs.
The Honda CRF450R has the same look as the 2018 but we almost consider it a new motorcycle. The frame is new as is the swingarm, linkage, engine cases, ignition mapping, and suspension settings. The mapping actually has a shift sensor that changes the map depending on what gear you are in.
First off, the CRF is a rocket ship and, for some, almost too fast for their liking. This engine is the king if you are looking at sheer speed and top HP. Yet some felt the power is always there no matter what RPM you are at and that is an amazing trait. The three maps available on the fly do help a tad to adjust the power but many shyed away from the more aggressive map for a good reason. Honda also has available the HRC Tuning Tool that will set you back roughly $500 but this type of tuning was not as requested as much as on other bikes.
However, the CRF is a very polar motorcycle to some, our heavier or faster riders really liked many elements of the CRF while smaller and lighter lads felt the power was too much and the suspension too stiff for their liking.
The CRF is not a bike we would suggest to a beginner or very low-level novice rider. The chassis is very accurate and likes to be ridden aggressively. Some test riders even said the harder they rode, the better it worked and the better the suspension worked. The fork is a little firm compared to other bikes that are running the similar 49mm Showa spring fork. But if you backed off the compression too far, faster and heavier riders felt the fork then rode too low and kind of blew through the stroke.
The Honda was still a solid pick for many of our test riders and several riders felt that with more tuning and setup, the Honda could only get better. The Honda goes where you tell it to go, is very quick handling, and it feels like the chassis is slightly shorter compared to the field but when you hit your marks this bike thrives. A couple riders even said that the Honda would be a great race bike but if they were just a casual track-day rider they might gravitate to the Yamaha or the Kawasaki instead.
The KTM 450 SX-F has been the most talked about motorcycle for the past several seasons. DBT had not ridden the 2018 Factory Edition (FE) which the 2019 is based off of-so we were going in blind except for a one-day impression prior to the comparison. The 2019 KTM is considered a new bike if you don’t count the FE. Compared to the standard 2018, the 2019 features a new frame, lower head design, new bodywork, radiators/cooling system, exhaust and swingarm to name the main changes. We expected this bike to be a top-ranked motorcycle heading into the test but in the end we were a little surprised that many of our test riders struggled with finding the right suspension settings while riding the bike for such a short period during the comparison. The KTM and the Husqvarna are the only two bikes to still run air forks, which is not a bad thing, just different. Many said they liked the light-feeling front end of the KTM, and some of that has to do with the lighter air fork and less unsprung weight at the front wheel.
The KTM and the Husky were two bikes where opinions varied depending on test rider weights and height. Lighter riders ranked the Husky higher than heavier riders for the most part.
The power in the KTM builds and it revs, but some felt it was a little soft the bottom, for the most part the power comes on higher in the RPM range and almost likes to be ridden like a 350. If you like to rev, this might be what you are looking for. Some say the mapping on the 2018 FE was changed and mellowed out a tad with the production 2019 SF-X. The brakes are some of the best on the KTM (strong and with great feel) and the chassis feels like it is easy to ride but not totally lighter compared to the field, even though the scales say it’s light.
Many of our test riders felt the suspension was a little busy and took a lot of setup to get settled down. And when you get it right, you really feel the KTM come alive as a package. It does not like to be unbalanced or too stiff or soft on one end or the other. Some of the heavier riders needed a stiffer shock spring, for sure. Some were able to find better settings by day two but, overall, there were a few minor elements that often ranked the KTM a smidge below the YZ, KX, and CRF overall during our two-day test.
The FC450 Husqvarna should be very similar to the KTM but for some it’s not. In fact, two of our lighter test riders picked the Husky as their second-best or tied for best bike in the field. Both liked the smooth, easy-to-ride power and the engine that also revved. But also be aware that both of these test riders normally either ride a 250F or a 350 SX-F KTM. Our heavier riders felt the Husky lacked some bottom end and they didn’t like the clutch engagement compared to the KTM, the Husky has Brembo while KTM uses Magura and they have a different feel. Lighter riders liked the suspension settings more than heavier riders and some said the chassis felt more forgiving on the Husky compared to the KTM. The different handlebar feel and composite subframe show up. This just goes to show how even a minor change can affect the overall outcome of a test or opinion. The Husky had the same busy feel in the front end like the KTM for the heavier riders, and some tried adding a little air to the fork and slowing down the rebound front and rear, which helped but was not a full save. Again the balance of the bike was pretty crucial.
In stock trim the Husky tends to cater to lighter riders, but we know that with additional tuning and a spring change that will change. The adjustable maps do help both the KTM and the Husky and some of the lighter riders really liked the traction control settings. The competition kicked it up a notch in 2019 and we are not saying the KTM and Husky have lost their touch, minor setup and preferences had these two bikes a half grade back for some, yet others had the Husky right there.
The Suzuki is the last mount we talk about but we don’t consider it the worst bike in the field. If there were a grade given for each bike, the Suzuki would still have a solid B average. The chassis turns very well, the power is very strong but the stock suspension settings could be its weakest link. The fork has a similar design as the KX and the CRF (Showa 49mm spring fork) and the shock is a BFRC balance-free shock (the only bike in the field to run this type of shock). The engine lacks a little over-rev compared to the field but it is not slow by any means and it puts the power to the ground. The power has a little “last-generation” feel but is very usable. The chassis is a tad stiff but turns as good as the Honda and is very fun to ride, especially when the track is not beat up. The RM-Z is still way, way better than the last generation and if this bike would have been released a few years back, it could have been a top contender. Even though our test is closed, we have done a few minor setup changes to improve the chassis feel. Look for updates on this bike in the near future.
This is not a bike to overlook, especially if you can save a few grand at the dealer and then custom tune the bike to your specific needs. But remember, you will still need to kick start the RM-Z, just saying.
Part ONE of our Comparison which is kind of part TWO now
DBT went into this 450 comparison with an open mind to test what we and our test crew felt was a real head-to-head comparison. The idea was not to just give each bike a ranking and do some simple math to figure out what or who wins, but to compare each motorcycle and report individual strengths, weaknesses, and how they stack up against the competition. The bottom line, there is not a “bad” motorcycle in the bunch. Some are better than others depending on the rider. Our “winner” may not be your winner. Some of the DBT crew have been doing comparisons for nearly a quarter century. We understand depending on the tracks, the riders, and the order each motorcycle is ridden, that all those variables could possibly alter the end results. All of the bikes came with Dunlop MX3S tires for 2019 except for the Suzuki, which we switched over, even though these tires have technically be replaced with MX33, they are very similar and it made for consistency during our test.
Below is a lot of information to help you see how we tested, weights of the bikes, test rider opinion links and stats as well as links to see the specs of the bikes.
Because of the above criteria, DBT was prepared to “not” pick a winning bike unless the entire test crew really had an affinity toward one particular machine. After the first day of the test, opinions were all over the place. After day two of testing there was still no clear-cut winner. It wasn’t until each rider sifted through pages of notes that we had a clearer picture of the final outcome of the comparison. There were trends and they pointed in a similar direction.
Our test rider picks were unbiased and we chose a variety of test riders from 155lbs up to over 200lbs in 10-pound increments. Rider ability also ranged from novice to intermediate to pro and two levels of vet riders. In the end, there was a lot of diversity in opinions depending on the motorcycle, if anything the rider’s size really swayed how the opinions laid down. There was no one 450 that was unanimously first for everyone but there was a theme when it was all said and done . . . to some degree.
Trevor Hunter on the KX450 wearing Thor gear, Flow goggles, Bell helmet and Sidi Boots.
At Dirt Bike Test, we strive to bring you the best and most complete information about motorcycles and motorcycle- related products. In doing that, it has to be said that a lot of what we do is based upon experience and opinion.
For the 2019 offerings, we took on the task of doing a 450cc motocross comparison. No easy feat—well at least for us. Some media outlets show up, ride the perfectly prepped bikes, say a few words to a video camera, add some numbers up and go away. Not us. We do our best to get the bikes early for a few days of riding and testing so we are familiar with each before a comparison. Additionally, we select a diverse group of quality riders who don’t just say something is good or bad, they describe the way things work and try to fix the things that don’t suit them before lodging a complaint.
Big boy Scott Hoffman on the RM-Z450 wearing full Fox gear head to toe.
Everyone wants a winner. But as fickle as it sounds, assigning a number scoring system or ranking to the bikes can all be thrown off by a single rider no matter how much faith we have in them. When you have one rider ranking a bike first then another ranking the same bike last, how can that be? We do have to explain that they are like different flavors of ice cream. How much do you like it when someone else tells you that you are wrong for liking a particular flavor?
Travis Hoffman aboard the KTM450SX-F wearing Alias Gear and Gaerne boots, Bell helmet and Oakley Goggles
For now, examine our list of test riders and the ones that might fit your speed, weight, and riding style. And study what they like and did not like about each motorcycle and their personal order. If we were to have all of these bikes in our garage, trust us, different ones would come out at different times based on conditions and the rider. It is a privilege to be able to ride all six bikes at the same track and go back-to-back. It was awesome to have manufacturer support for this comparison because they know how to tune and tweak these bikes if we had issues. We will try and pass that info along in this comparison and in the reports on the individual bikes that will all be linked throughout this article.
Jimmy Lewis jumping the Husqvarna FC 450 wearing Full Fox gear.
After all was said and done, we are pretty impressed with these bikes and the performance they bring to the table. And we want to hear from you on how we are doing. Use the comment section at the bottom of this story to express your views and help us continue to do a better job here. And as always, you can show support in a couple of ways. If you are shopping online, click through the search ad at the bottom of this article and we get a small commission. And by all means, SHARE this site with your buddies. As we grow, it will give us more power to make DBT work and produce more content.
Ryan NItzen at Glen Helen on the Honda CRF450R wearing FXR gear and Alpinestar boots.
In the end, it was close and some test riders picked other bikes as their top pick or tied several at the top rung. However, not matter how you sliced up the results, we asked most of our test riders, “if you had to pick a bike up on Friday and race it on Saturday, what would you pick?” to see if we could determine a winner out of this. Surprisingly, most picked the same motorcycle, although not always their favorite. This bike may not have had the best engine for some, the lightest feeling chassis, or the best brakes. However, it just does everything really good and offers something nobody has. That bike was the 2019 YZ450F, the winner of the DirtBikeTest 450 Comparison. Every test rider had the Yamaha at least tied for their top pick. It did not wow everyone, other bikes had some better defining traits but also had some traits that hindered their ability to dominate the test as well. The Yamaha fits and can adapt to such a wide variety of riders from 155 pounds to 220 with very little tuning. And Yamaha is the only model to offer a smart phone App that can wirelessly tune its engine with ease, and its free with every Yamaha.
Dustin Hoffman on the Winning YZ450F wearing Fasthouse gear, Sidi Boots, 6D helmet and Spy goggles.
Like we said, it was close and at the end of day two of testing we were planning on not being able to pick an overall winner because our feedback was so diverse and the bikes were so close. You will be able to read this as we keep posting rider opinions and videos of the complete DBT 450 Comparison.
For right now, read test rider opinions and you can also reference back to our “First Ride Impressions” to get up to speed on any one bike–and look for our video and story of how our 450 Comparison breaks down in more detail.
Honda CRF450R–$9299.00–First Ride Impression (click photo)
Kawasaki KX450–$9299.00–First Ride Impression (click photo)
KTM 450SX-F–$9899.00–First Ride Impression (click photo)
Suzuki RM-Z450–$8949.00–First Ride Impression (click photo)
Yamaha YZ450F–$9299.00–First Ride Impression (click photo)
Husqvarna FC450–$9,999.00–No First Ride Impression
Weights (accuracy +/- 1 lb., bikes ready to ride with a full tank of fuel)
KTM 450SX–234.1 pounds
Husqvarna FC450–235.2 pounds
Kawasaki KX450F–244.5 pounds
Yamaha YZ450F–247.4 pounds
Honda CRF450R–248.8 pounds
DBT 450 Comparison Crew
Ability: Off-Road Expert/Pro
Years Riding: 15
Weight: 155 lb./ 175 with gear.
Personal Rides: 2011 Yamaha YZ250, 2019 KTM 250XC
My name is Trevor Hunter and I am an aspiring young off-road racer. I have ridden Yamaha’s most of my life with my ride for the last 2 years being a YZ250; however, I just switched it up and moved over to a 2019 KTM 250XC. I am not really ready for 450cc motocross bikes largely because they scare me a bit with all the power they have to offer. I like a smooth, easy-to-ride engine that I can keep in control and keeps the arm pump down to a minimum. Similarly, I like a smooth, compliant chassis with softer suspension for my weight and my lack of aggression while riding a 450. .
Ability: Senior Expert
Years Riding: 40
Weight: 192 lb./ 213 with gear.
Personal Rides: 2005 Yamaha YZ125, 2017 KTM 1090R
I’m Jimmy Lewis and my current MX bike is a Yamaha YZ125. As a senior rider now I find the power of a 450 is really more than I need but having it to play with is awesome. And if I’m on the motocross, I’m playing around. I like a smooth power that has a real wrist to rear wheel connectivity so I can control it –and a chassis that turns on the front wheel as opposed to one that likes to slide or rear turn. I’m picky about suspension so that I can feel the ground. But I hate a bike that deflects or one that bottoms when I don’t expect it. Lately I’ve been a fan for the Kawasaki KX450 and especially the Yamaha YZ450F largely because of its engine tuning app.
Ability: B Class (turned desk jockey)
Years Riding: 15
Weight: 160 lb.
Personal Rides: 2018 KTM 350sxf and 2015 KTM 250sx
I’m 21 years old and my current bike is a 2018 KTM 350SXF. I had aspirations to be a pro racer but for now its work and riding when I can. I like a bike with enough power to keep you satisfied but not so much that it rips your arms off. I’m not very picky about suspension I just like a bike that is comfortable to be on and easy to throw around.
As a 24 year old intermediate rider I like to think I still have what it takes to hang with “the boys”. I like to ride anything with two wheels and a throttle but my passion is on the motocross track! Over the years of riding I have grown to appreciate a motor that has a strong bottom yet still revs to the moon and good suspension that lets me push it to my limits. 450’s have been my bike of choice over the past few years and they seem to suit my riding style.
Ability: Vet intermediate on a good day
Years Riding: More than 40
Weight: 210 lb.
Personal Ride(s): 2009 CRF450R supermoto, 2017 YZ250 Smoker, TTR125
Regardless of being a grumpy old cynic with a broken down body and bad knees, I still love to ride motorcycles. Regardless of my current girth, I still enjoy variety from 125cc smokers all they way up to adventure bikes now and again. Yes a middle-aged overweight man riding a 125 is not a pretty sight and cruel to the 125 but still fun. 450s are still my go-to displacement. I ride a little too much over the back because of my knees and years of bad habits and I like a bike with usable bottom but also a nice surge into the mid/top to toss my mass across larger jumps. I have slowed down a tad over the years but still hit most jumps on the main tracks and have gained more appreciation for better suspension but also a bike I don’t have to fight in turns. I am always messing with the bikes I ride, making suspension changes between tracks and if I have a computer or App to change engine management, I keep trying to find the perfect fit for my riding style or lack there of. I think Jimmy’s scales are broken.
Name: Ryan Nitzen
Ability: Moto Intermediate
Years Riding: 15
Weight: 175 lb.
Personal Ride: 2018 Honda CRF450R
I’m Ryan Nitzen and I’m a 23 year old intermediate level motocross rider. I stand 6 feet tall and tip the scales at 180 pounds. I currently own a 2018 Honda CRF450R and prefer to ride jump-filled Milestone Mx on the regular. I mostly ride 450s in the smoother maps because they are easier to hold and I’ve found across the boad the smoother settings suit my riding style. I am not a huge racer as I hold down a job but still wish I could kick my skills to the next level. Terry Beal is my friend and boss at Push Marketing and I’m brought to you by CostaRicaUnlimited.
Dustin Hoffman here, no relation to the other two Hoffmans in the test and no I am not an actor, but I am a new father. I like to ride and spent years crafting my trade as a Pro Supermoto racer back in the day. I had plans to race supercross a several years back but a pre-season injury wrecked that season and the opportunity never came around after that. I still ride when I can and love to toss it sideways or upside down when possible. Might not be as fast as I once was but still ride for fun and like testing new bikes and products for DBT. Yet I can never get my homework done, the writing part. Lucky Jimmy and Scott can’t jump! Thanks Sidi for my boots and 6D for my lid.
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