As opposed to other genres of motorcycles, motocross bikes are judged solely on racetrack performance. So what better way to test our Yoshimura Yamaha YZ450F Project Bike
than to race it at the MTA Vet World Championships at Glen Helen
Raceway? Our thought’s exactly…
If you’re not familiar with our Yoshimura-prepped ’10 YZ450F make sure to peruse the Yoshimura Yamaha YZ450F Project Bike
review. If you don’t feel like reading it then here’s the Cliff Notes summary: Yoshimura Research and Development took a brand-new YZ450F and modified a number of components within the engine, drivetrain and chassis in hopes of improving the bike’s outright performance. While some of the mods can’t be considered cheap (the bike has $6000 worth of upgrades), we were absolutely shocked by not only how ridiculously fast it is on track but how easy it was to ride.
OFF TO THE RACES
Each year, Glen Helen Raceway, Southern California’s biggest, fastest and most challenging motocross track hosts the MTA Vet World Championships. The race is open to both men and women, regardless of skill level, with the only requirement being that you’re over the age of 30 (there is a 25-plus class on Saturday). The event attracts racers from all over the globe. We saw racers competing from Mexico and Sweden just to name a few countries. We competed in Sunday’s 30-plus Novice class.
One of the best things about racing motocross is how simple it is as compared to other forms of motorcycle racing i.e. road racing. Bike prep wise you don’t really have to do much besides making sure your bike’s topped off on fluids, the air filter isn’t too dirty, and setting the tire pressure. While you don’t necessarily need a brand-new set of tires we fitted a fresh set of Dunlop’s affordable Geomax MX51 intermediate terrain tires to make sure we couldn’t make any lame excuses if we sucked it up on track.
It’s also worth noting how much easier it is to set-up your bike. Compared to street bikes, its way easier to dial-in your suspension settings and once you find a setting that works you don’t need to spent a lot of time making adjustments for different tracks and/or tires. This allows you to focus more time on riding. Lastly, racing motocross is more affordable with a race entry fees only costing $45 for the majority of classes.
On race day there typically is one quick practice in order for you to check out track conditions and scout out ruts and race lines. However, it isn’t enough time for you to get comfortable with the layout so if you’ve never ridden at GH it’s a good idea to hit up the track on Thursday or Friday before a big race weekend to acclimate yourself to the track because Glen Helen is all about speed. It’s the only track that I know where you actually use top gear on a 450. Therefore it’s important to have a bike that not only gets up and goes, but has strong brakes and stiff yet plush suspension.
The start of a motocross race is my favorite part of the race. There is just something exciting about lining up with a bunch of other like-minded motorcycling maniacs before drag racing down a straightaway and into Turn 1 in hopes of emerging first. It is pure adrenaline overload and I love it. A total of 26 riders were in my class so the starting gate wasn’t totally full yet there were enough riders to ensure some decent bar banging action.
Similar to many other Southern California tracks, Glen Helen employs a concrete starting gate. While some prefer conventional dirt starts I actually dig concrete starts as it levels the playing field and makes it so the person with the fastest motorcycle won’t necessarily get the holeshot due to the slippery surface of the concrete.
Getting a good start off concrete is all about smooth and gentle launches in order to avoid spinning the rear tire. And that’s where the smooth bottom-end power of the Yoshimura-tuned engine and fantastic clutch action courtesy of the upgraded Hinson componentry helped considerably.
When the gate dropped I slipped off the concrete and onto the dirt gently without much wheel spin. As soon as I hit the dirt I pinned the throttle and started banging on the gear shift lever up through the gearbox. Immediately apparent is how much smoother it switches between each cog courtesy of the special In-house Superfinishing (ISF) process. ISF is a special friction-reducing coating that is applied to moving parts, in this case the transmission gears. It’s similar in effect to hand-polishing but it’s far less labor intensive which makes it much more cost effective than ever before. This helps make each gear mesh more smoothly and allows the transmission to operate more freely.
I started to tangle with another rider as I entered Turn 1 which caused me to let off the gas and hesitate for a second which made me lose a few spots but I was still inside the top-5 as we leapt off the first table top and into Turn 2. The guys running first and second opened a bit of a gap on me and I was basically riding by myself for the majority of the race.
My race was one of the earlier ones in the day so the track wasn’t very rough yet. Even still the performance of the Noleen-tuned suspension really made the bike easy to ride. Believing that the front end spring rate was a bit soft in our original review, Noleen fitted slightly stiffer fork springs (0.48 kg/mm versus 0.47 stockers.)
Although it wasn’t a drastic change the bike felt quite a bit different when you were speeding downhill. The bike had a much more level chassis pitch and always felt like it had extra suspension stroke when large bumps were encountered downhill. In fact, given the limited amount of track time with the new set-up I never got the confidence to really maximize the added damping ability of the fork. Still it was a welcome change compared to before.
I ended up taking a fifth place finish but was well out of sight of the four guys in front of me so I was going to have to find some more speed in the second moto.
The start of the second moto was almost identical to the first one. I got onto the dirt well and powered passed folks before letting off a bit early into Turn 1. Even still I was toward the front. I made a couple passes right away and was now in third position. I managed to stay with the two front guys this time and followed them for the next two laps.
At one point it almost felt like I was cheating considering how quickly I caught up to them courtesy of the insane amount of power that the Yosh-tuned engine pumps out. While bottom-end is actually a bit softer as compared to stock, the mid-range and top-end engine performance is unreal. And when you combine that with the phenomenal traction of the Dunlop rear tire I could achieve some pretty outrageous drives up GH’s near vertical hill climbs. Equally as pleasing was the outright power of the oversized front brake which made slowing down from warp speed a simple affair.
Within a few moments I was within striking distance. As I came around a slow flat 180-degree turn toward the back of the track I didn’t stay in the rut and ended up tipping over. The bike didn’t stall but I was now a few seconds behind the leaders. I hastily started sprinting again anxious to try and catch back up. I was hitting all my lines and everything was good until I stared motoring up the first hill. I was in second gear and had a decent amount of momentum but when I hit the uphill ledge jump I swapped out in the air. I immediately thought ‘oh my God I’m going to crash’ and instead of keeping my weight forward and the throttle pinned I high-sided and ended up landing on my head.
If you crash at this part of the track you’re in trouble as riders can’t see you as they jump up off the ledge. I immediately picked up my bike and tried to wheel it off track, however it’s so steep here that I struggled. Fortunately I was so far ahead of the fourth place person that I already had the bike re-fired as they came around, but I was forced to take a long detour down and around the hill in order to get back on track due to the position where I crashed. I bent my handlebar in the crash so it took me a while to get comfortable again on the bike and I actually almost crashed again going down the second hill. I ended up nursing it back home in 18th place in Moto 2 and ended up 10th overall. It wasn’t the result I wanted but that’s what happens when you hit the ground when you’re racing. Moral of the story is stay up on two wheels at all costs!
All said and done I am beyond impressed with the performance of our Yamaha project bike. Not only is it ridiculously fast it is by far one of the easiest dirt bike’s I’ve ever ridden. From its smooth powerband to its supple suspension performance it proves that with a few modifications you can get your bike dialed for racing motocross.