2011 450 Motocross Shootout

JC Hilderbrand | December 22, 2010

It’s time again for the mother of all motocross comparisons. The 2011 batch of 450 motocross bikes features more technology, speed and raw power than ever before. When it came time to pick up our test units, the MotoUSA trailer was the fullest it’s ever been with the addition of a new entry to the class, plus a complete lineup from the Big Five. Suzuki made it out this year and KTM brought two bikes, so let’s meet the contenders.

2011 Honda CRF450R
2011 Kawasaki KX450F
2011 KTM 450 SX-F
2011 KTM 350 SX-F
2011 Suzuki RM-Z450
2011 Yamaha YZ450F
With an extra entry into the 450 racing division, we lined up the most bikes in MotoUSA’s motocross shootout history. All of the Japanese manufacturers were represented with KTM bringing two bikes from Austria.

Honda landed in fourth during our 2010 450 Motocross Shootout and apparently didn’t like it. The red riders came out with another revised edition of the CRF450R for ’11 and engineers polished the CRF from the ground up. New suspension, chassis and steering damper adjustments target the confused handling, while a modified engine mapping and new throttle body for the fuel injection take the engine up a notch. Riders on the new bike have an even greater level of refinement to look forward to.

As usual, Kawasaki steps into the ring with the heaviest fists. Having established a reputation for its mega-engine, and winding up third in 2010 after being deemed the most demanding machine, the KX450F has been tweaked this season to make that massive power easier to control. Fuel and ignition mapping is the key, and Kawasaki still offers the tuning kit as an accessory for even further tweaking, but is the big Kawi able to play a bit nicer this year?

KTM picked up its first MotoUSA shootout victory in a surprise upset just one year ago. The 450 SX-F pulled off its triumphant coup over the Japanese by virtue of its user-friendly engine and a chassis that finally allowed that powerplant to shine. The Austrian manufacturer found the missing element last year but immediately went to work changing up the program. A new model year sees KTM abandon its long-defended PDS suspension setup for a new linkage. The change sparked a host of tweaks, though engineers decided to leave the carbureted engine alone. It had a good thing going, but KTM proved that it’s not willing to rest on its laurels.

Not only did KTM revise its amazing 450 machine, but it also introduced the industry-shattering 350 SX-F intended to bridge the gap between 250 and 450 four-strokes. Since the 350 is allowed to race in the big-bike division, and it has seen great success in only its first year of professional racing. We threw the fuel-injected wonder-bike into the mix to see if it really belongs in this class of MX bruisers.

Due to a limited availability in 2010, we were forced to conduct our test without the Suzuki RM-Z450. Fortunately, Suzuki now has 2011 models on hand and brought one out to showcase its championship credentials. After all, Suzuki did storm through AMA SupercrossAMA Motocross and the 2010 Red Bull Motocross des Nations. Was it worth the wait?

And finally, Yamaha returns with the unconventional YZ450F after changing everyone’s perception of how to build a motocross bike with its crazy reversed cylinder, tornado-style exhaust and fuel injection. In only its first year the YZ-F took the runner-up position in a hard-fought comparison. The Tuning Fork crew did very little for the new model year, choosing to make only the smallest of changes.

Armed with only a slick set of Dirt Digits preprinted backgrounds for each bike, we again headed out to the high desert to one of our favorite test tracks – Racetown 395 – with technical support from all the manufacturers. From there we ventured to the scenic layout of Zaca Station MX and the notoriously long, rough confines of Glen Helen. The bikes were run through a host of data acquisition for acceleration testing and each took a turn on the dyno. Our scales pinpointed who trimmed the fat, while a decibel reader measured how obnoxious they are and we also factored price into the scoring. On the track our riders kneaded out their opinions for a real-world assessment. Once tallied, everything was combined using our modified Formula One point scale, including a bonus for the bike that is most popular in our For My Money section.

Now that you know who the players are and where we threw roost, you’ll be glad to know that we rank all six bikes. Yes, feelings will be hurt, but we’re not going to simply pick a winner and leave it at that. We rake in the data so that you can sort through it and apply it to your own racing world. Chances are you don’t ride at the same tracks every week that we tested on, nor do you have exactly the same riding style. That’s why we included even more testers this year. We brought back some of MotoUSA’s standby test mules who are returning from the 2010 shootout, plus we extended invitations to a new batch for an even broader sample of dirt motorcyclists. We’ve got riders of all sizes that range from slow to pro, and even some speedy old guys. On each page you’ll find not only the hard data about each bike, but more rider opinions from the men who actually logged hours in the saddle.

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.