First Impression: 2023 Yamaha YZ450FX

Yamaha’s flagship YZ450F stole the thunder for 2023, receiving all the latest and greatest updates, but that doesn’t mean the YZ450FX doesn’t have its place anymore. Relatively unchanged since 2021, this off-road racer has proven itself with all of our riders over the past two years and though it hasn’t changed, we view that as a good thing. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?

As we’ve come to expect, the YZ450FX isn’t short on power for 2023. Easily one of the fastest 450cc off-road race bikes, the YZF packs a mean punch down low and carries that steadily through the mid-range and up into the top end in a more aggressive manner than most off-road bikes. Initially, the 450FX is a little hard hitting and jerky right off the bottom, making it tough to maintain control for some riders. Carrying taller gears, or utilizing the FREE GYTR Power Tuner App (more on that later), helps remedy this and goes a long way on this bike. Once you get past the initial hit, the bike offers gobs of power and torque in the bottom end and smoothly transitions into the mid-range and top end in a linear fashion without any big surges or drop offs.

As mentioned above, playing with the GYTR Power Tuner App goes a long way on this bike. We like to smoothen out the power a tad, especially initially, as it helps the chassis and overall bike feel tremendously. Two of our favorites are the Magic Map and JL Smooth Map (pictured below). The Magic Map is the more aggressive of the two, but it still diminishes that hard hit off the bottom and is usually our go-to for faster terrain riding. The JL Smooth Map is what you’d expect – very smooth and torquey and easier to ride, putting the power to the ground effectively without ripping your arms off or upsetting the bike.

The transmission on the YZFX is a rare breed in this category – 5-speed semi-wide ratio transmission. First gear is very low, so much so that we rarely ever dip into it. Second gear is much more usable in the tight stuff and third gear is our go-to. The bike has so much power on top that we can roll corners in third and carry it for so long without having to make a shift. Overall, the gaps between all the gears are well spaced and the bike has the power to pull all of them with stock 13/50 gearing.

Moving onto suspension, Yamaha’s KYB SSS components lived up to its hype and are very good out of the box. In stock trim, it handled all three of our riders of varying sizes and speed with minimal adjustments and with good feedback. As we’ve learned from past experience with this bike, the forks are a little undersprung and as a result, it gives a stiff/harsh sensation when in reality it’s not too stiff. Riding too low in the stroke causes the bike to feel a little unbalanced and in the stiffer valving, but stiffening up the compression a few clicks and speeding up the rebound a click or two helped our riders go in the right direction. 

As for the shock, the shock does work well but is on the softer side. It’s not dangerously soft by any means, but if we’re nitpicking we know we could go stiffer. Overall, the suspension truly is some of the better setup components right out of the box and we can and have gone racing in a wide variety of conditions with only minor clicker and sag adjustments on past versions of this bike.

In the handling department, Yamaha has followed the trend in recent years and given us a precise, agile chassis that isn’t quite as stable as it may have once had, but it is more reactive to rider input and offers improved cornering. It’s still one of the more comforting chassis in its class, just now it’s appealing to faster, more aggressive riders more than it did just a few short years ago. The biggest difference is how much lighter the newer version feels, and most of our riders are fans of it out on the track and trails.

Yamaha is in rare air maintaining a cable-actuated clutch and we’re here for it. While it is rider preference, Yamaha’s cable clutch is as good as any, if not better than most and we don’t feel the need for a hydraulic setup. Since 2022, the handlebar mounts have come in position three (forward hole facing backwards), and most of our riders (tall and short) prefer it to be in the back mount facing forward. It settled the bike down and put us in a more neutral and comfortable position on the bike. The Yamaha isn’t as wide as it is perceived to be and within a few laps, all of our riders felt right at home, even after spending a considerable amount of time on the thinnest of bikes. We applaud Yamaha for equipping their bike with Dunlop MX33 tires front and rear. The AT81F front tire in particular isn’t as well liked with us as its stiffer nature tends to hinder performance with these big 450’s, and the MX33F is more comforting and confidence inspiring for most of our testers.

The 2023 YZ450FX has a complete package where everything works in unison and feels like it’s meant to be. With the ability to tune maps using the GYTR app, dialing in the motor is simpler (and cheaper) than ever and really changes how the motor runs and ultimately how the bike handles. Suspension is usually a highlight with Yamaha and for a stock off-road bike, this appears to be the most universally praised of the bunch with our testers thus far. With just a few clicks here and there, we could get riders from 160lbs to 200+ comfortable in all conditions. 

Stay tuned as we gear up for our 2023 450F Off-Road Shootout/Comparison as we put the Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, and GasGas head-to-head.

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