We scaled more obstacles than this dirt pile to find the best off-road 450 on the market. We banged up six of the top brands to find out what’s what in the enduro world.
What exactly constitutes an “enduro” ride? What does it take to be a great “enduro” machine? The term is thrown around so casually within the confines of racing and riding circles, but in reality it can cover any number of riding situations. In our minds, we have the perfect enduro scenario here in Southern Oregon, with single track woods, wide-open fire roads, water-crossings and hillclimbs galore mere minutes from our office. However, this hardly covers the spectrum of riding available in other places. With the goal of collecting as much data as possible, we gathered up six bikes and six riders, and then rode them over the course of two months from the Pacific Northwest to the southern reaches of California to seek answers to these questions. What transpired was the largest test of like-minded off-road bikes to ever roll out of MCUSA’s garage.
Cast and Crew
The contestants in this off-road comparison represent three different continents and five separate countries. From Japan, the established powerhouse of the motorcycling world, came Honda’s CRF450X and the Yamaha WR450F. Our local Husaberg dealer, the Bike Barn, ponied up the newest offering from Sweden in the form of a FE450e and threw in a 2005 Sherco 4.5i. Considering the miniscule amount of changes done to the ’06 version and then-unlikelihood of securing an Austrian-made KTM 450 EXC, we decided that getting our hands on the obscure Spanish 4.5i was worth it even though it was one model year old. Finally, we sent our American-made ATK back to Oregon’s Best Motorsports for a freshening up and transformation from motocross to enduro specs. The makeover included adding a lighting system, turn signals, kickstand and remapping the ignition.
How many enduro shootouts have you seen this year with a Sherco laying tracks? We scored six, count ‘em, six, large-bore enduros to satisfy our off-road hunger.
As it turned out, KTM decided to join our little party, but opted for a fashionably late entrance. That being the case, the other five were test ridden and dynoed simultaneously near our headquarters in Oregon. The Katoom was limited to Southern California, but we were able to secure the same model bike from Hansen’s Motorcycles so that we could dyno it on the same machine. The Factory Pro dynamometer that we used is a tuning-specific instrument that provides a different set of data than most readers are likely accustomed to. To save you the hassle of researching the difference between modern dynos, horsepower and torque numbers have been adjusted using a correctional margin of 15 % so that our figures are representative of the industry standard established by Dynojet.
Hate the Game, Not the Playa’
Volunteering for the dreadful task of riding these brand-new machines was the regular cluster of MCUSA test-bike groupies and a pair of guest riders for added flavor in this 450 stew of ours. Editorial Director, former mullet and resident short guy, Ken Hutchison was on hand to demonstrate the difficulties of kickstarting tall, heavy bikes. Joining him in the fray was longtime friend and speed-freak Darin Hecker, while I graciously tagged along to fill in as the butt of all jokes.
After giving JC a demonstration of why they call him Big Thang, Brian showed his softer side by trying to downplay Hilde’s embarrassing case of wheelie impotence.
There’s always that one guy in your group of riding buddies who for some unexplained reason can climb just about anything on a dirt bike. In our case it’s MCUSA’s Creative Director, Brian Chamberlain. He handled all big-hill duties while additionally offering a wheelie clinic for the rest of us. As a result, our graphics guy also holds the coveted title of photo monkey. As for the guest testers, photographer and experienced rider Tyler Maddox offered up his impressions during our Oregon testing, and fellow paparazzi/speedster Mark Kariya helped us out in Southern California.
So, with the Who, What, Where and How out of the way, here’s the lowdown on our frothy six-pack of trail machines presented in the order of Webster himself.