First Impression: 2023 Yamaha YZ450F

New & Improved?

Story and Photos by Trevor Hunter & Scott Hoffman

It didn’t take much for Yamaha to lure a slew of moto journalists to the hallowed grounds of the GOAT Farm, former testing spot of none other than Ricky Carmichael and now home to the multi-championship winning Yamaha Star Racing camp. There must be something in the water or the dirt at this place – we took a sample home for testing!  

Why were we there? This was the first time us peasants got a chance to toss a leg over the much-anticipated 2023 Yamaha YZ450F. The trip was amazing and Yamaha did us right but was it all necessary? For us, heck yes, but for the bike, it would not have mattered if we were at the Farm or a chunk of dry California desert, the results would probably have been the same – the all-new YZ450F is really, really good. 

And when we say new, we mean new and not just updated. In the end, there are very few parts that carry over from 2022. The very short list includes wheels, muffler, throttle body, basic suspension components, handlebar, and maybe the lower engine bracket. From there it’s new. Yet, Yamaha did not want to completely alter the legacy of what has made this one of the most popular bikes amongst the common man, not to mention its proven pedigree in AMA Supercross and Motocross as of late. 

Although the frame is new, the position of the steering head, shock mount, swingarm, crank, and countershaft have not been altered. The goal was to address all of the small items racers, media, and customers have been asking for, and they did a stellar job doing just that. 

First off, the new YZ is light on the scales, we are talking over 5 pounds, making it the lightest Japanese 450 to date according to Yamaha (we have not yet weighed the bike). The chassis is slimmer by a two inches in the shrouds, footpegs lower and set back a few millimeters, and the seat is raised for an improved rider triangle. The bodywork is sleek and all new.

The engine is another highlight. Can you say WOW? We did! It’s a powerhouse, yet rideable and tractable down low. The YZ450F packed a mean punch last year, but with no mapping changes, it hit hard and could be a lot to manage – especially late in a moto. This year, the YZF packs that same punch but delivers it in a “softer” manner. No, it’s not slow by any means. But it is more rideable and puts power to the ground like no other. Throttle response is still crisp and the power is lively down low, but they massaged it just enough to be more rider friendly and we feel faster in the end.

Another big change is the rev limit is increased by an additional 500 RPM for a screaming and very usable top-end pull. This is the biggest difference engine wise from previous years. The YZF wasn’t all that effective as RPMs increased, but this new engine pulls into the over revs similar to a 350cc four-stroke. From top to bottom, this motor is very impressive yet rideable. Previously, the YZ450F was a third-fourth gear bike on most motocross track, but the new platform really opens up 2nd gear a lot. So much so that we probably could’ve ridden most of, if not the entire track in 2nd gear, in part due to the 500RPM increased rev limit. The power is so broad and linear on this bike that you can shift much less on both ends — rev it or lug it and it’ll pull it.

The engine is three pounds lighter and much slimmer (they are now using the 250F rear brake pedal, showing how drastic of a change it is). From the dry sump case design to the new roller bearing crank to the smaller, lighter single-spring steel basket clutch design to the larger yet slimmer transmission, Yamaha went all out.

In addition, the free Yamaha GYTR Power Tuner app has been updated and is more user-friendly, offering simple 1-5 scale options, traction control, and more. However, the option to still create and edit maps like before is still there, with custom tuning of the Fuel and Ignition at certain RPMs/throttle openings.

A GYTR Hydraulic Clutch will be a simple bolt-on feature that any can do.

Another cool feature is the GYTR Hydraulic Clutch option out of the GYTR catalog. Though we didn’t get to try it in Florida, the unit bolts on in probably less than 10 minutes if you prefer this over the cable actuation. We’ll be giving this a try later on when we can get our hands on a bike.

Suspension has always been a Yamaha strongpoint and they didn’t want to mess with what already works. Yes, they did some revisions internally but the basic KYB SSS fork that many have known and loved from Yamaha remains the same. While Yamaha offered some of the best production suspension previously, not all of us were completely in love with the performance. At times, the bike would be harsh and a bit hard to control and feel comfortable on. This new bike performed very well on our lone day in Florida. It offered pretty good hold up and performance while providing the comfort we look for in a 450.

It wasn’t all that rough with just media guys on the track, but the Star crew pre-built some braking bumps and even left a small section rough so we could get a decent feel for the Kayaba bumpsticks. Initially, they had us running around 97mm of sag, but our smaller tester felt it wasn’t enough with a stinkbug feel and lacking some stability under braking. The first change was taking out ¼ turn of high speed compression in the shock which helped the rear end ride lower and squat a little more, alleviating the front end a touch. Additionally, we stiffened up compression in the fork 2-3 clicks to help the front end ride higher in the stroke and have a better overall balance through braking bumps. The last change was adding another 2-3mm of sag (I tend to prefer a little more sag than recommended/most use) and that again helped with stability under braking and balance the bike out more. Even with these changes, the bike still corners much better than ever before. Since we’re on new terrain

Handling wise, the Yamaha still maintains a lot of its good characteristics while enhancing areas it lacked previously. Gone are the days of a YZF feeling wide and big – not that it really has as much these last couple years, but the stigma has stayed around. Now, the bike is incredibly narrow at the tip of the shrouds and is no wider feeling than most other bikes. Likewise, the rider triangle is much improved for most as the updated seating position is much more in line with the rest of today’s bikes. Overall, the transition between the feel of riding a Yamaha and any other bike will be much more seamless in terms of rider cockpit and ergonomics.

Cornering on the YZF is improved tenfold, easily carving corners and turning down quicker than before. Between the lightness of the reduced weight, the agile feel of the chassis, and the thinner bodywork, this bike is easier to corner. We wouldn’t say it’s Suzuki-like, but it’s in the ballpark – which is good enough for most. However, it still maintains much, but maybe not all, of its stability and is still near the top of its class in that department. This was Yamaha’s goal when designing the new bike – keep its strengths but improve the weaknesses.

Despite the muffler being the same, the bike has a nice racey tone to it and the intake noise is decreased dramatically. The bike sounds good both on and off the bike.

Our only “gripe” early on with the YZ450F was upon corner entrance, we were struggling with an unsettled front end. As stated previously, the suspension changes largely fixed this small issue we were having, but some of it could have been different dirt/terrain than we are used to, as well as a front tire we don’t always agree with. Nonetheless, it will be something we keep an eye on whenever we can get our hands on one in our usual testing grounds.

This two-piece design engine mount is an interesting design that made a world of difference in pre-production testing with the bLU cRU.

Overall, we feel the new YZ450F has improved in so many areas with very little, if any, regression in performance. From the engine, to the chassis and handling, to the rider cockpit, the bike feels better in every way we would want it to. 

To really get a clearer understanding of how this bike handles, we’ll have to get it on more familiar terrain back home. But for now, the bLU cRU has us wanting more!

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