Yamaha’s Off-Road Racing Do-All Weapon
Photos and video by Scott Hoffman
The 2019 Yamaha YZ450FX proves how serious The bLUcRU is about off-road and their FX line. The 450FX is a 2019 YZ450F plus more! Closed-course off-road racing, specifically GNCC in the East is on the rise and Yamaha has their finger on that trigger. Yamaha chose to have us back East and picked South Carolina and Am-Pro Yamaha’s Randy Hawkins ranch as the place to test the big 450. Maybe not the best location, tight trees and slippery single-track for any 450cc, a territory more suited for lighter and more agile bikes, but it showed confidence for sure.
New for 2019, we’ll say everything. The biggest change is to the frame and engine all designed around the electric starting. Gone is any contingent for a kick-start and replaced with a more weight centralised engine package. The cylinder head, camshafts, piston and clutch are all upgraded to produce more power and better rideability according to Yamaha. The frame is stiffer in a lot of directions but in doing this they are also tuning in a certain flex character to make the bike feel less rigind to the rider. A lot of this with engine hanger and suspension tuning as well as tilting the engine rearward by 2-degrees if measured at the cylinder. Upgrading to the phone-based application for tuning the ignition and fuel mapping is a huge improvement and we don’t have to tell you how much we like this feature. One step more, the FX gets the 2-position push-button, instantaneous on-the-fly mapping change switch. Bonus!
Off-road upgrades are consistent with the other X and FX staples across the line. An 18-inch rear wheel, kickstand, off-road racing tuned suspension, wide-ratio gearbox and O-ring chain. But going a step further the 450 gets its own skid plate, some clutch tuning tricks, and get this, a bigger fuel tank! Increased capacity from the YZ tank by .56-gallon.
So how does it ride? Well a quick day on the bike is never enough to get a full impression but we used every minute to get a grasp on the new model. Straight away we’ll tell you this FX retains all the great characteristics we praised on the 2016-2018 YZ-FX and refines them while also cleverly being able to take stabs at its competitions strong points as well. Let us explain.
Probably the YZ450FX’s best trait in the full-size off-road racing class was it’s lighter and more agile handling and the lively and free-revving motor. Well, both seem improved. Especially in the tighter and slippery terrain both of those traits stand out and any improvement would go a long ways. Like its motocross brother, the YZ-FX has a more precise handling feel but at the same time transmits less of that feel to the rider. A lot of that is due to suspension character and a lot of that is the connectivity of the power to how the bike works overall. TheYZ-FX acts as a complete package and that package can be tuned so easily with the tuner and clicking the suspension.
We don’t have to praise the Yamaha’s suspension-it has been done. The 450, like all the X and FX bikes has a stiffer nature so it can work beyond just tighter trails and woods riding and make a stand on a grass track or even a motocross track if needed. It is a compromise setup designed to work everywhere and we feel Yamaha is right on. The clickers can tune it pretty far in one direction or another. But for our sprint enduro style trails we tested on this day it was just a matter of taking out a small amount of compression on the fork and adding a little high-speed compression to the shock, all while making sure the ride height was not too low in the back. Even the switch to Dunlop’s MX3S gave a better feel for the ground where tire pressure played into the feel of the suspension.
The engine has it all and if it doesn’t you can tune it into about anything you’d ever need. In these conditions maybe even less would have been better for a lot of the riders, evidenced by a lot of them using a “Torquey” map provided in the tuning app. This allowed riders to run 2nd gear in the trees and not have too much throttle response for the conditions. I prefered to run the stock map or even better the “MX Power Feeling” map and run in third gear. You could also switch to the second map with a push of the handlebar mounted button. Map 2, indicated by the lit up blue button, is a softer power delivery achieved with tuning inside the ECU. This internal map 2 tuning stays with that map no matter what “remapped” map is placed on top of it. Map 2 is called an extreme conditions map by Yamaha and it’s base setting takes some of the throttle response out by taming the boost engine will give with big turns of the throttle. It’s a little bit like a traction control feeling and deadens the delivery even if an aggressive map is added on top of it. For most this will work out exactly as intended and is a good compliment to having a standard or an aggressive map in the first position. Additionally Yamaha provides a “High Revving” and a “Mild Power” map for riders to try and then it is easy to build your own for further customisation.
The base power mirrors the feeling we get from the MX bike we like so much. The YZ-FX has plenty of power and torque at any RPM but specifically off the bottom the Blue Bike has a lot. All while being smooth and a lot more resistant to stalling than some others. Just make sure the idle isn’t too low like we experienced on our test bike. As it revs the feeling is very lively and free revving with excellent hand to rear wheel connectivity. Of note is Yamaha tunes the clutch with different friction plates and an altered leverage ratio at the lever. This lets the rider have more control over the feel of engagement as well as add some claimed durability. The downside for some is the clutch loses some of the “bite” or snap when the clutch is released suddenly. Those riders use to a MX bike might notice this feel. We did not have any issues with the clutch heating up but our rider with small hands struggled to find a good lever adjustment to have optimum control.
Shifting was great and the ratios are right where they need to be for this style of off-road racing. We know how much just a one-tooth rear sprocket change can make for getting the bike right for the conditions and we feel that this would be the case for the FX specifically. Adding one tooth for tighter conditions could be optimal for some riders.
Then there is the handing. One of the sought after traits is to have a bike that is stable yet nimble and turns well when needed. So much of this these days comes down to integrating the suspension and engine character to work for the rider. The revised chassis on the Yamaha was stiffened up but somehow that translates into a bike that feels a little lighter and a little less rigid when hitting roots and bumps. A 450 is never really light in the woods but we venture to say the Yamaha is one of the best in this department. Since the connectivity of the engine is so good, a rider can really make the handling behave however they’d like. The turning is predictable and the bike will follow the front wheel or it is easy to get it sliding when needed. In the trees the bike has just enough stability for confidence while not being tough to move it side-to-side to slither through tight spots. And while the front of the bike looks wide visually, it does not feel like it when riding.
The usual stuff like brakes, handlebar, footpegs all work just fine. There really isn’t anything that stands out as awkward unless pulling the front part of the seat off to get to the gas cap seems strange. Kudos to Yamaha for upping the fuel capacity from the MX bike but whether it is big enough depends upon the type of racing you’d be doing. The handguards on the bike were not stock but appreciated.
Overall if you are hunting for a 450cc bike to slice through the trees we can’t find much to complain about with the YZF. We have always been happy with the bike in faster conditions, it behaves on trail rides and can even tackle the MX track. And for 2019 all of the upgrades are pointing this bike in the right direction.
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