In recent history there hasn’t been an off-road motorcycle with more hype surrounding it than Yamaha’s 2010 YZ450F. The Tuning Fork’s PR crew had our heads spinning with the promise of a reversed engine with the intake and fuel-injection neatly tucked in up front and the tornado-style exhaust exiting from the back. Furthermore, Yamaha pledged that the new aluminum chassis would be proficient at not only putting power to the dirt, but, through clever engineering and mass centralization, make the machine feel much lighter and more agile while in motion.
Fortunately, this propaganda lived up to expectation as we were seeing stars after our 2010 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride. Perhaps the most memorable feature after two days of riding at Budds Creek was just how easy it is to ride, which can be contributed to the harmonious relationship between engine, chassis and rider.
“The Yamaha was probably my favorite,” states McElroy. “Overall feel was killer. It tracked really well. It soaked up everything in its path easily and it stayed planted on the ground. The motor had decent grunt down low and would pull no matter what gear you’re in.”
“The ergos… everything was spot on,” he continues. “It kind of felt like the KTM in the sense that it’s a really easy bike to just hop on and ride. It certainly doesn’t feel like a typical Japanese bike, but it’s just a really smooth bike as a whole. There really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about it.”
McElroy wasn’t the only rider enamored with Yamaha’s newest offering. The YZ-F ranked high for our Vet Expert rider, Tod Sciacqua. As a test rider for multiple magazines over the past decades, Big Air has seen a lot of bikes, but he still had this to say:
“The best, most innovative motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. It has the most balanced suspension and the most powerful motor. The fuel-injection is right there. It’s just instant power.”
“The centralized weight, you can really feel it,” he adds, “especially going into braking bumps. Normally a bike packs down and tries to buck you; this one just glides across the roughest part of the track. It’s easy to steer into the rut, out of the rut. It’s the most confidence inspiring motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. I just wish I had one.”
One of the reasons the Yamaha “glides across the track” is its superbly balanced Kayaba Speed Sensitive suspension. We’ve loved the Yamaha’s class-leading comfort and plushness for years and the YZ is the only 450 to feature this particular premium KYB componentry. Like the 2009 machine, it continues to impress, especially on the bumpiest, nastiest terrain you can find.
“My favorite thing about this bike is the suspension,” Armstrong notes. “It is really plush throughout the stroke and absorbs every bump effortlessly, plus it’s balanced. This really helped the bike feel planted in the corner.”
Although lighter rider’s loved the YZ’s suspension, the springs were too soft for the big boy in the group.
“The suspension was just too soft,” says Milan. “The spring rates were not nearly heavy enough for me, and when the track got rough, the bike pitched front to back, which is typical of a bike with soft springs.”
The Yamaha’s retooled frame, swingarm, and engine function together with the suspension to deliver a bike that handles differently from the competition, and for that matter, any other off-road motorcycle currently produced. Despite being the heaviest bike on the scale (tank empty), when in motion, the Yamaha will surprise you with its agility. In fact, after riding the other bikes, it takes a few laps to acclimate yourself to its unique handling traits. Steering is very neutral with the YZ never turning more or less than what the rider inputs through the Pro Taper handlebar. It isn’t as sharp as the Honda and certainly requires a bit more handlebar input than the other bikes but it is always balanced and controlled.
It would seem that a bike which turns so well in slow corners might be a handful through faster sections, but that simply isn’t the case. At speed the Yamaha tracks straight through obstacles and resists headshake. However, as Milan mentioned before, heavier riders can overwhelm the stock capabilities of the suspension making it less stable than the Kawasaki or KTM, but on the whole, the Yamaha soaks up everything.
The YZ’s braking capabilities were also well received by our testers. While brake feel isn’t as good as the KTM or Honda, it does offer more than enough power to scrub off excess speed. It all comes back to the excellent overall chassis where perfect balance allows for the rider to get aggressive at the levers.
The YZ450F has the most compact cockpit of all the bikes. Armstrong said he would have preferred a taller handlebar.
In terms of engine performance all of the testers appreciated how effectively the YZ transfers power to the rear tire, especially in limited traction environments. Right off the bottom, the engine actually feels stronger than all but the Kawasaki, however, the dyno proves otherwise as the Yamaha is behind all but the KTM until around 5500 rpm. From there it catches the Honda and runs neck and neck with it until the rev limiter shuts it down. Kawasakis have been known to “sound fast” in the past few years with their obnoxious exhaust note, and the Yamaha is guilty of this in its own way. The elevated sense of acceleration could be attributed to the intense induction roar emitted from deep inside the forward-positioned airbox.
In the holeshot test, the YZ accelerated into Turn 1 just behind the lightweight Honda, which proves how effective it is at the business end of the Dunlop rear tire. Furthermore, its shorter gearing help maximize engine power and allow it to accelerate more quickly despite being slightly down on overall power output. Just look at the results of the third gear roll-on test in which the short-legged Yamaha was the only bike to near the rev limiter in our allotted distance. During the test you could hear that the Yamaha was almost at the rev limiter while others still had room to go.
“One of the best motors for tracks with limited traction,” comments Milan. “Strong pull from low-to-top with no flat spots at all. Easy to ride and plenty fast but zero hit or pop whatsoever. And I have to admit, I missed that hit in certain sections where I wanted to steer the bike with the rear tire.”
“The motor pulled really hard out of the gate with really good mid and top end power,” says Armstrong, also noting its smooth delivery. ”The one thing that I noticed was it didn’t want to start when the motor was hot.”
As Armstrong points out, this is potentially the only annoying trait of the YZ’s engine. When the engine is cold, it starts first or second kick – every time. But when the engine gets hot it requires finesse and a specific top-dead center procedure, much like the older 4-strokes, to get the engine to fire.
Although its five-speed transmission has no awkward gaps of any kind between each gear, and has virtually no play in the shift lever, at times it’s hard to catch an upshift during maximum acceleration. It’s also next to impossible to find neutral at a stop.
Yamaha’s ergonomics aim at shorter riders, even more so than the CRF’s. The bike feels similar to the Kawasaki in terms of width and the seat is flat allowing the rider to maneuver his body forward or backward unencumbered. However, the spacial relationship between the rider triangle makes for an extremely tight cockpit. It’s almost sportbike-like in how compacted the rider control surfaces feel.
“The rider compartment was a little cramped even for me,” says Armstrong who stands 5-foot, 7-inches. “I like to ride forward on the bike and sit high on the tank. I feel the bike would be a little roomier with some taller bars.”
“I felt like the bike was just too small for me,” says Milan flatly. “But the cool thing about the Yamaha is that you can adjust the handlebars forward or back. I moved it to the farthest forward position and that helped substantially.”
Indeed the ability to adjust the position of the handlebars in four ways really allows the rider to tailor the YZ to his or her particular riding style. We also really dig the humungous works-style footpegs that not only look cool, but disperse energy better when landing jumps or pounding through whoops.
Just like before, the 2010 Yamaha YZ450F continues to impress us with just how easy it is to ride. Whether the track is rough or smooth, its suspension gobbles up everything. Plus it has an engine that’s equally effective at putting that power down to the ground. If you’re looking for the easiest 450 motocross bike to ride the new Yamaha is it.