Those wanting to ride or race dirt bikes won’t find a class of motorcycle packed with more performance and high-flying technology than that of the 450 Motocross class. From a jump-filled Supercross track to the wide-open sweep of an outdoor course these dirt bikes are built for speed across a broad range of terrain and obstacles. This year Motorcycle-USA brings you its largest off-road comparison to date with seven machines competing for supremacy in the 2012 450 Motocross Shootout.
Honda’s CRF450R ($8440) has won more MotoUSA 450 Motocross Shootouts than any other brand and returns as reigning champ due in part to sharp handling and its “light is right” design philosophy. Engineers wasted no time advancing the platform with improved suspension calibration, tires and footpegs as tested in the 2012 Honda CRF450R First Ride.
Last time around the Suzuki RM-Z450 ($8399) finished strongly, impressing our testers with radical handling paired with strong, yet friendly engine manners. Although it isn’t sporting any significant updates per the 2012 Suzuki RM-Z450 First Ride report, it’s still a potent package capable of running at the front.
Over the years the Kawasaki KX450F ($8399) has earned a reputation for the assertive performance of its engine and well-proportioned but slightly larger feel. For ’12 Team Green enhanced these areas and endowed the new KX450F with the most number of updates as reported from Red Bud in the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F First Ride. Kawasaki has had tremendous success in the AMA ranks last season but can its winning pedigree transfer to our shootout?
Yamaha proves that there is more than one way to build a competitive 450-class dirt bike with its YZ450F ($8350). The blue bike features a unique engine and chassis configuration to make the bike easier to command on track. As usual, our testers enjoyed riding it in the 2012 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride but will the amusement equate to a better result?
KTM is the only manufacturer to offer not one, but two 450-class race bikes. First up is the one-of-a-kind 350 SX-F ($8499). This Austrian entry offers 250-class handling with high-revving power comparable to a thundering 450. With tit-for-tat engine displacement, the 450 SX-F ($8799) is aimed squarely at Japan’s finest. The orange brigade made a few subtle improvements to both machines in hopes of making it more user-friendly around the racetrack.
Husqvarna has a long, rich history in motocross and off-road racing, but until recently it lacked a 450-class entry that could go toe-to-toe with the best from Japan and Europe. That changes with its new TC449 ($7999) as reviewed in the 2012 Husqvarna TC449 First Ride. This year marks Husky’s first appearance in our big-bore MX comparison and we’re glad they’re with us.
After outfitting each bike with a set of Dirt Digits backgrounds we returned to our all-time favorite motocross track, Zaca Station. Set in the beautiful hills of the Santa Ynez valley off of Highway 101, near Santa Barbara, California, Zaca features not only the best dirt this side of the Mississippi but a fast, flowing outdoor course that allowed us to get a precise read on the nuances of each machine.
Testing duties were headed up by pro-level riders Matt Armstrong, Scott Simon and Chris See. Also joining us is intermediate test riders Bret Milan and Frankie Garcia. EKS Goggles’ Rich Taylor also showed up to make sure we were all equipped with its latest eyewear. Taylor, a former pro and long-time development rider, has been testing dirt bikes since many of us were in diapers so since he was there, we decided to put him to work, too.
Considering the tremendous level of performance offered from each machine, rather than base the results on our favorite color, we opt to combine rider opinion with objective data. Tank-full curb weights are measured, as are rear-wheel horsepower and torque figures. We’re also conscious of exhaust noise, so we record sound levels as well.
Performance testing took place at Zaca to collect holeshot and third-gear roll-on acceleration times. Lastly, cueing off our industry-leading sportbike shootouts, we introduced a new scoring category – the Super Lap. After picking the starting order at random, from a hat, each bike was topped off with fuel, sag and lever position set, before riders Scott Simon and Chris See each put in one flying-lap. There were no re-dos, as the Super Lap is a one shot deal that measures the outright speed of each bike under simulated race conditions. Lap times were averaged giving us a winner.
Each bike is rated on our standardized Formula One-based score card. Final rankings are assessed by awarding 10 points to the top ranking bike, followed by eight for second, seven for third, six for fourth and five for fifth, etc. So let the games begin: which 450 is the best of ’12?