Gone are the days of heavy, plodding 4-strokes. This batch of thumpers can do everything those 2-strokes can do, and maybe more!
The Honda, even after just one year on the market, received several tweaks for ’03. A number of changes have been made to quicken the steering of the new bike. Steering rake has been dramatically reduced from 28.6 degrees to just 27.0, trail is correspondingly reduced from 4.68 inches to 4.30, and the wheelbase is shortened from 59.4 inches to 58.5. A new shock linkage raises the swingarm pivot by 7mm, which doesn’t sound like much but is significant and should help the rear tire get grip under acceleration. A new airbox, air cleaner, revised jetting and 50mm shorter muffler work with the internal engine changes to help the winged machine breathe easier.
The increased power of the CR450F is a necessity because one twist of the throttle on the Yamaha and it’s clear it makes the most power. Many of our testers were surprised at the amount of torque and acceleration nestled at the bottom-end; some were downright shocked at how mad this thing rips.
The unbridled power of the YZ is most apparent during corner exits where things quickly got hairy with a liberal twist of the throttle. The 449cc engine overwhelmed the stock Dunlops spinning the rear wheel mercilessly, wearing the knobbies to nubs in no time.
“The power is awesome, but it tends to hit real hard on the bottom,” said our Pro rider Steve Drew. “(The power) felt like a light switch,” he said, adding he believed a heavier flywheel might smooth out the powerband.
The same sentiments were echoed by just about everyone in the group. It seems as if Yamaha may have gone a bit too far lightening the engine internals for quicker spooling up. It has such an immediate hit off the bottom that some testers resorted to slipping the clutch out of the tight stuff in an effort to keep the front end on the ground. We pondered whether changing final-drive gearing might help because the 4-speed transmission has one fewer ratio to work with, but we decided that there’s simply a limit to how much traction is available. So you better have this missile pointed in the right direction before you pull the trigger.
Yea, the Cannondale was heavier than the rest, but Steve Drew proves it doesn’t stop a good rider from railing.
The CRF450, despite trailing the Yamaha in the dyno battle, was selected as having the most usable power. It’s hell-for-strong, and yet the power is entirely manageable. The Cannondale and KTM both have power that is easy to manage, but they come up a bit short in outright speed.
The CRF has nice, linear powerband that hits on the bottom but not too hard, and it still has a good top-end hit for when the corner ends and the straightaway begins. The result is the smoothest delivery of power of any machine we’ve ridden, 4-stroke or not. Our dyno charts show the CRF (as did the Yamaha) maintains delivery of more than 42 horsepower all the way to 11,250 rpm, giving the CRF’s engine a wide pleasure zone. Conversely, the KTM and Cannondale are significantly outclassed above 9500 rpm.
“The Honda feels slower than the YZ to me,” said fast guy Drew. “Maybe because it’s easy to ride. The Yamaha makes me feel like I’m fast because I’m fighting it, but the Honda is just so smooth in an out of corners, after we clocked some lap times, it was obvious to me that the Honda is dialed in right out of the box.”
“Exiting corners was a breeze on the CRF as the rear wheel hooks up perfectly and drives you out of corners with minimal wheel spin,” added test rider Brian Chamberlain.
Our only beef about the Honda‘s engine was that is stalled several times during our tests, and it sometimes was difficult to re-fire. Turning up the idle speed helped some, but it didn’t eliminate the glitch.
While the CRF was top-notch and the YZ was over the top, the KTM and Cannondale both have very respectable engines. They may be slightly down on power, but that’s not to say that they don’t perform.
In fact, even the weakest of the bunch, the Cannondale X440 drew praise from our group of testers. The fuel-injected bike has power everywhere, and it’ll prove to be a relative handful for a novice rider. The EFI works well, but some expressed concern that the electronic wizardry might cause problems during the abuse typical of a dirt rider. Also, a rider can notice a bit more compression braking from the injected engine.