Working class motorcycles are defined by the 450 enduro bikes. These motorcycles are tasked with casual riding and racing in every conceivable environment from wide-open desert terrain to the tight confines of East Coast woodlands. The market has been held over by minimal changes to the European machines, but the mechanical highlights have been relatively few and far between. For 2012 there’s quite a bit of big news, so we rounded up the four biggest players available from American dealerships and set out to see which holds the crown.
MotoUSA headed out of its regular testing grounds to sample these beastly enduro bikes. Our test crew loaded up and drove to the region outside of Tucson, Arizona for three days of riding across desert terrain. This included loose, rocky climbs, sand washes, cactus fields, rocky single-track and dried waterfalls. Invites were extended to Yamaha, Honda, KTM and Beta. We put pupular motocross bikes to the off-road test in our 2012 450 MX Off-Road Shootout, but when it comes to true enduro bikes, this quartet makes up the core of the U.S. market.
Honda hasn’t touched its CRF450X in seemingly forever. But why should it? The 450X has earned a reputation as one of the best Baja weapons on Earth. Riders everywhere enjoy the bulletproof reliability and proven performance that this dirt bike has to offer. Obviously if it can rack up titles south of the border and displace the XR650R as the premier desert racing motorcycle, the CRF-X should be right at home in the Arizona climes. Riders of the Japanese brands have been waiting patiently for the 450 enduro machines to get a major overhaul, but it isn’t happening with Big Red in 2012. That honor, and one of the primary reasons we put this shootout together, falls with Yamaha.
The Yamaha WR450F is a stalwart. It stemmed originally from the early modern 4-stroke movement that was pioneered by the Tuning Fork brand. It blazed the way for enduro Thumpers and has been a trusty steed that brought Yamaha up to the durability standard usually reserved for the red bikes. But, like the Honda it has gone unchanged for many years. Fortunately, Yamaha dumped its resources into the WR for ’12 and the result is a much needed breath of fresh air. Everyone knows that the technology from the motocross world eventually gets trickled down into the off-road lineups. With Yamaha’s radical reverse-cylinder YZ450F taking headlines in the past couple years, it seemed like a natural progression for Yamaha to add a headlight to the design. The blue team definitely injected moto DNA into the WR450F, but it comes primarily from the YZ250F instead of its big brother. Yammie engineers stuffed the 450 powerplant in to a YZ-F chassis, and our test rider came back from the 2012 Yamaha WR450F First Ride with a lot of positive feedback. This is its chance to prove itself.
Beta has the least experience in the 450 enduro market. The Italian brand has only been making enduro bikes of any size for less than a decade. Hailing from a trials background, it wouldn’t be surprising if the “play bike” brand had some
issues to sort out. However, our past experience with the Beta lineup of full-size bikes has shown that’s definitely not the case. Beta engineers have proven to be fast learners. Taking its engine design into its own hands back in 2010 has allowed the company to move forward with a completely unique build. The RR lineup is the full-on enduro (street-legal versions available as RS models) and the 450 rules the roost as the premier entry for competitive riders. It’s easy to identify the Beta with a simply glance as it brings styling cues unlike any of the other bikes. Fortunately, as we learned with the 2012 Beta 350 Comparison test, the Italian is a runner.
KTM has several 450 off-road models in its 2012 lineup. The Austrians have been an enduro powerhouse for decades and the trend continues. Even though the orange company has made a big push in the American motocross segment, it hasn’t forgotten about the bikes with kickstands by any means. The KTM 450 XC-W was the chosen representative and it brings a different look and feel to the test with its translucent fuel cell, new fuel injection, completely new engine and big pricetag. With a new player from Japan and the encroaching Italians, KTM wasn’t set up for an easy weekend play date.
We chose Arizona for its unique appeal and a chance to ride some fresh trails. We set up camp with some friends and traversed the area outside of San Manuel, north of Mt. Lemmon which is also popular with dual sport and Adventure Touring riders. The odometers were around 350 miles by the time we finished and five different riders took turns on
each bike. Our Pros-to-Joes testing crew ranged from 17- to 40-years-old and stand 5’8” to 6’4” in height. Included are MotoUSA regulars: Digital Media Producer Justin Dawes, Off-Road Editor JC Hilderbrand (author), Editorial Director Ken Hutchison and test pilot Frankie Garcia. We also brought Arizona off-road racer Michael Martin to give us a local’s perspective.
Before getting dirty, the bikes danced across our digital scales with full tanks of fuel and we spanked their rev limiters on the in-house dyno. They also passed our sound meter and we scoured their spec sheets for other noteworthy details such as fuel capacity and MSRP. Each test rider ranked the bikes on a spectrum of performance categories using our hybrid Formula 1 point system (1st – 10 points, 2nd – 8 points, 3rd – 7 points, 4th – 6 points). The scores were tallied for a nail-biting outcome. We have included the full scorecard and our testers’ personal opinions. Take these into consideration and read on for the 2012 450 Enduro Shootout.