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2003 Cannondale X440 Comparison

Friday, February 28, 2003
2003 4-Stroke 450 Shootout
Many of our testers felt the Cannondale had been unfairly labeled a motocrosser when it really belonged in the enduro category.
In fact, the seating position and relative size of the Cannondale had many in our group thinking the X440 had been stuffed into the wrong category. Cannondale may have been a little over ambitious by calling the 439cc bike a motocrosser.

"If I had to pick one of these bikes to take into the woods, I'd take the Cannondale," said Drew, concurring with the rest of our group. "The motor is real strong and the suspension feels pretty plush. Plus, the electric start makes it the perfect bike if you get stuck on the side of a hill."

While it's still a bit of a stretch to think the X440 will be competitive on a Supercross track, there's no question Cannondale's latest effort is a significant step in the right direction. Indeed, Drew was able to lap almost as fast around Racetown on the X440 as he did on the other bikes, which shows that there's much more to a quick lap time than pure power.

Now 50% More Absorption!

First off, the stock suspensions on these bikes are plenty good enough for less experienced riders. It's only when it comes to Pros and fast Novices when the differences can be discerned.

Right from the start, Drew judged the plush 46mm Ohlins fork on the Cannondale to be too soft as delivered. Closing up the compression damping helped but not enough. Hard riding, heavier riders will want to opt for stiffer fork springs or at least altering the grade and amount of oil in the tubes. The linkless Ohlins shock out back is adequate but, again, doesn't quite hold up under the abuse of a Pro.
2003 4-Stroke 450 Shootout
Unfortunately it looks like the Cannondale will become a footnote in the books of 4-stroke lore because of recent bankruptcy proceedings.

However, Cannondale wasn't alone with the soft stock suspension. The 46mm Kayaba fork on the YZ is fine for the average rider, but as delivered was deemed too soft for competition. The Kayaba shock out back, with separate adjusters for high- and low-speed compression damping, does its job well enough.

The suspension of the KTM was perhaps the biggest concern. Most rear suspensions connect the shock to the swingarm via a linkage, and by changing the sizes of the links, mechanics can alter the linkage ratios to suit different terrain. KTM, however, uses a linkless rear suspension designed by WP, which is more difficult to tune and is thought by many to be less responsive.

Our testers found the KTM to be a little unstable over braking bumps and through the whoops. And this also affected the front end, as both Drew and Mandahl said the 48mm WP fork didn't work well during braking bumps. The residual effect was a loss of confidence through certain portions of the track.

"The suspension was good over the table tops," said Drew about the KTM's WP components. "It soaked up bigger hits well, but it wasn't as responsive as the rest of the bikes over the smaller stuff. It wasn't bad by any means, I just couldn't get a feel for what it wanted to do sometimes."

2003 4-Stroke 450 Shootout
If these bike are indicative of the direction 4-stroke performance bikes are headed, we're in for years of good times!
That leaves Honda to take the best suspension honors. The 47mm Showa Twin Chamber fork is the all-around winner simply because it feels so good in every area of the track. The CRF outshined the competition most clearly when hitting braking bumps, as it sucked up the terrain undulations with ease. Our Pro, however, still felt as though they were a bit soft for competition. The Pro-Link rear suspension features a Showa shock that also has the trick dual adjusters for both high- and low-speed compression, and it was so good we barely touched it.

Slow Down!

It was difficult to determine which bike had the better set of brakes, as each come with powerful discs front and rear. After riding the YZ, guest tester Joe Wallace commented that "It's tough to complain about brakes because they're all so good in stock form."

When left up to our Pro guy, he had to give the nod to the Yamaha.

"The brakes were awesome on the YZ," said the 29-year-old. "They weren't too grabby. Both the CRF and the YZ had really good brakes. If I had to choose one, I'd say the YZ was better, but just barely."

Drew also noted the KTM's front brake needs a fairly strong pull to be effective, this despite the largest in class 260mm rotor compared to the 240mm and 250mm discs on the others. Drew judged the Cannondale to have good brakes, too, but noted they have to work harder to slow the extra weight of the X440. 

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