By now it’s a foregone conclusion the two-wheeled off-road world will one day be filled exclusively with the sounds of deep, throaty 4-strokes. The impending extinction of 2-stroke machines isn’t even a topic of conversation in the industry anymore. However, the level at which 4-strokes currently perform has turned the motorcycle world on it’s axis and changed the way riders, dealers, and manufacturers view the world.
The 2003 crop of high-performance open-class 4-stroke motocrossers is an impressive array of machinery injected with even more power and refinement creating a jaw-dropping assortment of bikes. Yamaha felt the wrath of Honda who dethroned the almighty 426 as king of the hill with the introduction of the CRF450R in 2002. Never one to rest on its laurels, Yamaha pushed its engineers back into the drawing board and what resulted was a bigger and badder YZF that could rival the best their red-winged arch enemy has to offer.
The 2003 YZ450F represents a complete redesign for Yamaha which is hoping an increase in power, a loss of weight, and a host of other changes will lure potential buyers away from the CRF.
Yet, not even the two largest motorcycle manufacturers are safe from the opposition in the growing 4-stroke industry. Across the pond in Austria, KTM has been pumping out solid 4-strokes for the better part of two decades. Until recently, though, it had yet to put out a machine that could compete with the 250cc two-strokes. The 2003 KTM 450SX is a bright orange beacon warning the world that they plan on going head to head with Honda and Yamaha in the battle for thumper supremacy.
Even though Honda, Yamaha, and KTM are well established motorcycle manufacturers with near endless resources, the high performance 4-stroke market is so new that smaller companies have been able to try their hands at building a competitive 4-stroke racer. Cannondale is one such company. Ever since its first effort rolled off the assembly line on February 13th, 1999, it has steadily refined them. This year, for the first time, it has released a machine that is officially anointed the title of “motocrosser,” the fuel-injected X440.
Four bikes, four companies, and four very different design philosophies. Which is best and how do they stack up against one another? We took all four of these wicked rides and push them to their limits hoping to find out which one would walk away with the 2003 4-stroke motocross crown.