When a manufacturer goes all-in on a bike redesign, it’s expected that it won’t completely reinvent the wheel the following year. Sometimes changes are needed because the bike receives an unpleasant welcome or problems start to crop up. In the case of the Yamaha YZ450F, 2010 was about as revolutionary of a year as it can get. For ’11 the engineers were happy to leave it well alone. A minimally larger fuel tank (200cc) and a reworked clutch actuation arm are supposed to be the headlining news. So after landing second in our previous shootout, a quiet year could only bode well if the competition did something to take a step back or fail to progress.
In our objective testing, the Yammie scored no better than mid-pack on any of the segments. Right away this didn’t help its cause in the chase for shootout glory. The YZ450F blew the loudest at 94.8 decibels, plus it got beat to the first turn by three bikes and was only faster than the Suzuki in the third-gear roll-on.
Our testers still haven’t found a 450 that can match the YZ-F in suspension performance. All but one tester labeled it in first place, and that other guy awarded it runner-up. The supple fork and shock make a package that is tough to beat with good bottoming resistance and effective adjustability. Despite feeling heavy at a standstill (247 pounds curb weight) it manages to have amazing handling, which is another tribute to its impressive Kayaba components and a well-tuned aluminum chassis. Yamaha also has the advantage when it comes to centralized mass in the 449cc engine. Riders regularly comment about how the center of gravity feels low and the rotating engine mass is positioned in the frame to aid handling.
Speaking of the powerplant, the YZ-F is a 450 that can torque its way around the track thanks to its engine mapping and gearing. Only one of our testers liked riding it in the top-end. It’s not a revver, but strong bottom-end and midrange punch are the Yamaha’s signature. The torque chart shows a massive surge off the bottom that stalls temporarily before thrusting upward again. None of our riders noticed a flat spot in the delivery. It makes the third most peak horsepower (52.4 HP) but only beats the KTM 350 in torque production (33.1 lb-ft).
We had a hard time starting it in gear, which was made worse by a difficult-to-find neutral. This might seem like a small gripe, but it’ll be more than annoying when you’re kicking furiously after a tip-over and dropping positions like they’re going out of style. Four testers considered it the hardest to start, which contributed to its lowest score in that combined category. Remember, the Yamaha was only two points away from the shootout podium. We’re not saying this is exactly the reason it missed out, just pointing out how important these small details are when all of these bikes are such great motocross platforms.
Something we do like, however, is that in addition to the new graphics, Yamaha is the only manufacturer to offer a limited-edition version in this tough economy. We took advantage and reserved the white and red package which is one of the sexiest combos this year.
2011 Yamaha YZ450F Rider Impressions:
Bret Milan – 6’4” – 210 lbs – Intermediate
Straight line stability is excellent, but the bike tended to rock back and forth more than the others through whoops and rough corner entrances. Once I got the corner initiated, the Yamaha would track well through the turn, but it felt more resistant to directional changes than some of the other bikes. The ergonomics were really a mixed bag for me. I absolutely loved the adjustability of the handlebars with four possible bar positions. The seat was relatively flat, narrow, and easy to move around on as well, but the radiator shrouds felt extremely wide in relation to the rest of the bike.
It might feel a little heavy on slow sections, but that shouldn’t be a problem because the YZ-F wants to go fast.
The motor made very competitive, but boring power. The Yamaha is actually very fast, but it didn’t stand out in any way – but there were no real faults either. Just like the rest of the bikes, I felt that I could benefit from stiffer springs, but I didn’t notice any major issues with suspension performance. The action seemed smooth and well balanced.
Frankie Garcia – 5’8” – 165 lbs – Novice
The Yamaha suspension is the best of the bunch. It almost felt as it was revalved and seemed too good to be stock. The fork was stiff, in a good way, but very plush, especially the mid-stroke. The shock balances out the bike and works as well as the fork. The Yamaha’s turning is awesome since the front end has a ton of grip and has an effortless feel. In soft corners it can even knife at times and unexpectedly turn in to the steering stops.
The engine is fast and powerful, but the powerband is a bit on the shorter side. Throttle response is spot on and very snappy, which I like a lot, and was one of the key features of the Yamaha motor. It still wouldn’t hurt if the bike pulled a little longer in each gear. The clutch operation is smooth and predictable with good feel that makes it easy for the rider to use. Still, the transmission is a bit hard to shift when under a load, and I think the gear ratios could have been spread out a little further to eliminate having to short shift the bike.
Yamaha had a wide feel around the tank. The shrouds stick out quite a bit and it could either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the rider’s preference. The seat height was perfect, the bars seemed to be kind of short and narrow and the pegs were a little on the high side. But none of this caused any problems; it just gave off a different kind of feel.
A tight rider compartment can make taller riders feel cramped, but the Yamaha offers four different bar placements to adjust the rider comfort.
Kody Koger – 6’0” – 182 lbs – Pro
Stability and steering was perfect on the Yamaha and I had no complaints. We did not make one adjustment to the suspension. The way the bike is balanced made the suspension work awesome. Whether it was big braking bumps or little chatter bumps, it soaked everything up. It’s my version of a Cadillac.
The motor is very strong. Low-end to top-end was very fast and the throttle response was perfect without any delay at all. The clutch worked smoothly although after a while of ride time it did start to slip. The transmission shifts through all the gears with ease, even if you over-rev the motor. This bike was great for me. I loved it all the way around and it was very easy to get used to.
JC Hilderbrand – 5’11” – 190 lbs – Novice
Riding the KTM and Yamaha this year were both like a role reversal. Last year I loved the KTM, this year it didn’t work for me; in 2010 I was really underwhelmed by the Yamaha, but for 2011 I really enjoy the bike. There was a bunch of hype on the Yammie last year about how crazy it handled, but it felt pretty normal for me, and a bit heavy. Yamaha reps say there’s really nothing changed, but I’d swear it’s a different bike. All of a sudden it goes right where I want it to, every time. The thing is unshakable and yet it’s mindlessly easy to turn. It’s not as razor sharp as the Honda or Suzuki, but it feels much more solid in the turns. From a testing standpoint, this was the hardest bike for me to shakedown. Mostly we’re making suspension changes to help sort out the chassis and handling, but I really couldn’t come up with ways I wanted to make it better. The suspension handled everything I could throw at it and it’s a bike I can just go out and ride easily. Really the only thing I wanted to change was the weight – I still think it’s a pig.
I like to torque around the track a gear or two high, so it seems like the Yamaha would be right up my alley. It is for the most part, but even a short-shifter like me wanted a bit more pull on top – just for those occasions where I do decide to wring it out. This is something that the GYTR handheld tuner would be good for. In a day-to-day living arrangement, changing air filters would be a pain. I also don’t like how fat it makes the radiator shrouds, but the filter stays remarkably clean in its location above the fuel tank, so I guess it’s a tradeoff.