2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride

JC Hilderbrand | October 20, 2010

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See the new motocross bike in action in this 2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride Video.

Yamaha reshaped motocross in 2010 with the introduction of its radical YZ450F, but for 2011 the silence from the blue camp is just as impressive. The Tuning Fork crew only made a pair of changes to the 2011 Yamaha YZ450F, and if you listen to what Yammie reps have to say, that’s as groundbreaking as the original full-blown redesign.

It may just be a clever way to spin an otherwise quiet R&D year, but at the same time, there’s a definite truth to the fact that we’ve heard little about the 2010 YZ-F in the way of recurring problems. Yamaha is proud to point out that the 2010 model wasn’t rushed into production and the engineers didn’t need to fix anything for ’11. The most recent examples that come to mind are the Suzuki cases that broke in 2008 and Honda’s heavy reworking after a new model in 2009.

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Want to know what it’s like to ride the new YZ450F? Take it for a virtual spin with a lap around Racetown 395 with Damon Huffman.

Instead Yamaha simply expanded the fuel tank 200cc for a total capacity of 1.64 gallons (though it was the CRF race bikes that ran out of fuel this summer). The other change is a reshaping of the clutch actuation arm which has a slightly different cam shape and is 6mm longer. The result is a different arm ratio which is supposed to decrease the amount of free play at the lever over the course of a moto.

Everything else is the same for 2011, so the four-valve, dual overhead cam engine has the same 97 x 60.8mm internal bore and stroke. That means it should pump out the same 47.3 horsepower and 30.3 lb-ft of torque, or at least very close as every bike varies slightly.

“The power delivery is smooth and light feeling,” says professional tester Damon Huffman. “All it takes is a little feather of the clutch and the motor comes alive. I was really impressed with the power, whether you want to take it easy by lugging it or pinning it around the track – the engine is an all-around package.”

2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride
Huffman was happy with the engine delivery
and the handling. The Yamaha is the same
great all-around machine that it was in 2010.

Damon, who did not ride the 2010 model, also praised the YZ-F for building revs quickly which aids in a lighter feeling. Quick-spinning rpm is part of the 450’s snappy bottom end, which really felt at home on the soft traction of Racetown 395. We also appreciated it on the tighter, jumpy confines of Perris Raceway where carrying a gear high was always met with adequate power to hoist the bike and 180-pound rider over any obstacle. The Dunlop 756 rear tread was happy to eat up the soil on both tracks, but for more slippery terrain, we’d be happy to tame down the power output with Yamaha’s handheld Power Tuner.

Neither of our test tracks got rough, but the open layout of Racetown definitely allowed for the Yamaha to showcase its stability. The Kayaba fork and shock remain one of our favorite setups and combine with the bilateral beam aluminum chassis to give the rider a rock-solid ride. Huffman set the shock sag at 104mm and was pretty happy, though he did need to slow down the rebound significantly to keep it tracking. A little stiffer on the fork compression helped keep the front end up in corners and the Yamaha was good to go for Huff-daddy.

Fortunately, the Yammie also knows how to rail ruts. With a balanced feel and centralized mass from the unique engine layout, this bike was equally comfortable making the tighter turns of Perris’ compact layout. But without any little bumps to make use of the Kayabas’ supple nature, both ends felt a little undersprung on the slower, jumpy track. What we did appreciate at Perris was the tighter rider compartment since we didn’t have to move around as much to counteract high speeds.

“The overall feel of the bike is good,” says Huffman of the Yamaha’s ergos. “The massive radiator shrouds feel a little wide, but the rest of the ergonomics feel right. The seat is rather grippy (there were several riders with shirttails flapping), and the footpegs feel a tad high for the seat height, probably only affecting riders over six-feet-tall.”

2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride 2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride 2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride
A neutral chassis makes the YZ450 a great turner. For 2011, new graphics and a slick red/white special edition improve looks.

I stand 5’11” and had no problems with the cockpit. Huffman was more comfortable once he rotated the bars forward, but never had to make use of the extra handlebar mount holes. Two mounting holes and offset bar clamps make for a lot of adjustability, and would have given him considerably more room by moving the ProTaper bars even farther away. But the issue isn’t with the bars, it’s with the tall footpegs. It feels like Yamaha’s development riders were a little short on inseam, and this leads to a hunched over feeling while standing, though ultimately it’s not bad. We do like how wide the pegs are, which gives an extra solid platform.

2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride
2011 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride
The Yamaha proved its ability to adapt to fast,
open tracks or tighter layouts.

The Yamaha weighed in at 250 pounds with a full tank during our 2010 450 Motocross Shootout. The new bike should be a tad more with the extra fuel, and there’s no denying it still feels heavy. Yes, it hides the weight very well on the track, but it still isn’t as light as the 2011 Honda CRF450R, nor is it as thin with the somewhat thicker shrouds.

The standard blue version comes with new graphics and white on the lower radiator shroud, which updates the look significantly. Our test unit was the white/red special edition with black Excel rims, gold drive chain and a black rear fender which we find even more attractive. A red gripper seat cover looks twice as good as the grey one from last year, and add in the slick preprinted backgrounds from Dirt Digits (check out the carbon fiber print) and the ’11 Yamaha is one darn sexy machine.

For some reason, perhaps because the hype has died down or because the track conditions were virtually perfect, I actually liked the YZ more this year than I did in 2010. We’ll see if that’s still the case when we put it against the rest of the ’11 450 class. Regardless, the Yamaha YZ450F is a very solid bike on all fronts. As for the minor changes, an extra splash of fuel is always a good thing though we didn’t notice significant changes in the clutch. We adjusted the free play a regular amount.

“I thought the Yamaha 450 was a complete package,” agrees Huffman. “It has a great engine, good suspension on a stable chassis and the controls function smoothly. Really this bike does everything pretty well. It’s just a matter of dialing it in for your specific needs.”


JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

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