In the end, the Honda was too refined to be beaten. The CRF450R was the unanimous winner in our shootout with the YZ450F a close second.
It may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but all our participants are truly excellent bikes, and it's just small details that provide the differences.
What's clear, though, is the Cannondale is significantly heavier and less powerful than the others, and this makes it an unlikely choice for motocross racing. It's a very good choice for riders who like to play in the woods or the desert, and the electric start goes along way towards winning over potential buyers. It's quite exotic and, as a playbike for less experienced riders, it's a good choice if the MSRP of $6995 doesn't frighten you.
Unfortunately, Cannondale is in big financial trouble. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the beginning of February after struggling to work the bugs out of its motorcycle line. The plan now is for the motorcycle division is separated from the bicycle division, and that production will be able to continue once an investor is found.
The KTM 450SX is an impressive machine on its own, and its flaws only become obvious when ridden alongside the cream of the crop. It wants nothing more than to compete with the Honda and Yamaha, but in the end it just couldn't keep up. It isn't quite as refined and we never could wrap our heads around tuning that rear shock. Plus, at $6598, it's 200 Ben Franklins more than the Japanese duo.
The war between the Honda and Yamaha is a battle of inches. There's simply not much in it. The YZ's soft fork can easily be fixed, although you're gonna have a tough time fitting an extra cog in the tranny if you can't live without a 5-speed. But if you want the fastest motocrosser, perhaps ever, and like to blast into berms with your body riding over the front wheel, you will love to have the nimble YZ in the back of your truck.
Honda may be the winner, but a few minor changes in '04 and Yamaha could be wearing the 4-stroke crown.
As good as the YZ is, it is the CRF that narrowly emerges as the winner of this shootout. Honda is known for its extensive R&D work, and those boys got it right again. Finding something wrong with the Honda was often an exercise in futility. The CRF is a finely polished machine, and at $6299 it ties the Yamaha as the bargain of the bunch.
So, in 2003 the CRF450R continues to wear the crown as the best motocrosser in the open-class 4-stroke category. This is a bike that cries out to be ridden, and it doesn't matter if we're talking a pro or a beginner. It inspires confidence and allows the rider to get the most out of the machine and himself.
Take a bow Honda, this year you are once again king of the hill. Just keep your eye out for that snarling blue blur coming up behind you!