2012 450 MX Off-Road Shootout

Justin Dawes | February 16, 2012

How many of you out there have a 450 Motocross bike? Show of hands please. Now, how many of you use said bike on the motocross track exclusively? Where did all the hands go? It’s funny how so many purchasers of 450cc MX specific bikes don’t actually us them on the track. If you head out to just about any trail riding area you are sure to find just as many MXers as off-road specific enduros tearing around on the hills and valleys. We’ve always pondered if you were to ride a full-on motocross motorcycle on the trails, which would be the best, so finally this year we decided to find out with our first ever 450 MX Off-road Shootout.

For this test we decided to round up the top scoring 450-class bikes in our 2012 450 Motocross Shootout, load them up in an RV and head for the Southern California desert for some off-road shredding. We chose two of California’s most popular riding areas to unleash bikes of this caliber, Glamis and Ocotillo Wells. 

Glamis is well known in these parts for the seeming endless expanse of sand. The hills, slip faces and wind-shaped bowls make for a roller coaster of a ride. Opportunities for massive airtime abound and every turn strokes your ego. Every year the number of motocross bikes seems to grow exponentially at this hot spot, so it was a no brainer to include this location in our test.

The second stop on our tour would be the mud hills, mountains and canons of Ocotillo Wells. Its 85,000 acres of varying terrain challenge even the best riders, and just about anyone who rides here leaves humbled by some natural obstacle. The only thing

the desert location lacks is tight runs though trees, but some of the slot canyons are just as trying.

Honda’s CRF450R is one of the most common machines seen in both of these desert environments, so we expect that it should do well in this contest. This year the Red Racer has been updated slightly with suspension tweaks, larger footpegs and new GeoMax M51 tires. Its always-nimble handling and light weight should make it a force to be reckoned with in the tight stuff, but what about when the pace quickens to warp speed?

In this year’s 2012 450 Motocross Shootout the Kawasaki KX450F bested the competition on the fast yet technical Zaca Station Motocross track. The massive power put forth by the Kawi’s motor should be king at the dunes, but taming it down on the

technical trail work could be tough. Kawasaki has always has success in racing the KX off-road so we expect good things out of the Green Machine. 

KTM is nothing short of a powerhouse in the off-road segment in trail bikes and racing. Some of the Austrian company’s non-MX DNA has undoubtedly made its way into the 450 SX-F. Features like electric start and a hydraulic clutch are not the norm on the track, but on the trail they can be indispensable. Without a doubt our testers expect the Katoom to do well in this showdown. 

Yamaha’s YZ450F finished fifth on our 2012 450 Motocross Shootout, but when splitting hairs to find the best bike on the track one small issue can send a bike to the bottom. Out here in the desert the judging criteria is a bit wider and looser than on the track and that could play right into the hands of this super-stable straight line handler. Kudos were given during motocross

testing to the plush and controlled suspension of the YZF which should carry over well to desert duty.

Last but not least in this off-road tussle is the 2012 Suzuki RM-Z450. Basically unchanged for 2012, Suzuki decided to not mess with what works and it showed in the results in the MX shootout with a second-place result thanks to ultra-sharp handling, but will that attribute be its downfall in the dust and rocks?

Testing duties were handled by a widely varying group of dirt shredders. We enlisted our truly insane stunter and dirt maniac Brian “BuuS” Steeves, all-round ripper Frankie “Full Factory” Garcia and retired fast-guy Jamie Beckett from One Industries. Then we brought in the sage wisdom of our fearless leader Ken Hutchison and mixed in Adam Waheed’s wild style. Finally yours

truly rounded out the group with my washed-up desert racer skills.

The only modification from stock trim was the addition of paddle tires and safety whips for the sand dunes. Other than that it was box-stock just like the average Joe out for a weekend at his favorite spot.

Our scoring system is the tried and true scorecard that includes subjective and objective categories. For the objective categories we relied on the data from our 450 Motocross test completed just a few days before we hit the road for our desert road trip. We removed the Holeshot and Super Lap categories, as they are racetrack specific, and then we added a fuel capacity field. In the Subjective categories it was business as usual.

So with that we are set to go forth and shred the dez in the search to find out which 450cc motocross bike works the best when used in the real world away from the track. I’d like to say it’s a tough job and somebody has got to do it, but I’d be full of it. We all love to ride off-road and this could turn out to be one of our favorite tests of the year.


Justin Dawes

Digital Media Producer | Articles | Raised on two wheels in the deserts of Nevada, "JDawg" has been part of the industry for well over two decades. Equal parts writer, photographer, and rider, he is a jack of all trades and even a master of some.

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