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400 FOUR-STROKE ENDURO SHOOTOUT

May 22, 2000
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400 FOUR-STROKE ENDURO SHOOTOUT


A few years ago, there was no such thing as a 400 four-stroke. Now they are everywhere. This is the hottest class of dirt bikes of the 21st century. And in the June issue of Dirt Bike, you’ll find one of the largest comparisons in the magazine’s history, all new 400cc thumpers.
The class didn’t come into being happen overnight, but over the last four years, emphasis has slowly shifted from two-strokes to four-strokes. Now there are no Japanese 250 enduro bikes. And for the year 2000, the 400 four-stroke class is officially monstrous. For this shootout we have the Honda XR400R that more or less started it all, the rule-breaking Yamaha WR400, two versions of Suzuki’s new DRZ400 (kick- and electric-start), the revitalized Husaberg FE400, Husqvarna’s new TE410, the exotic and rare VOR 400E, and KTM’s staggering new 400 EXC.
But like all things young, the new class is disorganized, diverse and anything but uniform. Some of the bikes are aimed primarily at racing. Others are trail bikes. Some are made for hard-core eastern woods. Others have desert blood. Then there’s the dual-sport factor. The Japanese bikes in particular are super quiet in stock form, while the Euro bikes are louder (but still much more muffled than MX bikes) and more ready to ride. We know that the majority of Japanese four-stroke buyers will replace the stock mufflers the minute the bike gets home, so that leaves us with a question: do we test the bikes in absolutely stock form or as they are ridden in the real world? In the case of the Yamaha, riding it absolutely stock just wasn’t a option. The throttle stop, at the very least, has to be removed.
The answer was to do it all. We tested the bikes with the stock mufflers and then we tested the Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha with top aftermarket pipes. For the dyno and on the fabulous Dirt Bike Atomic Scale, the bikes were stock–the only exception being the Yamaha which had the throttle stop and baffle removed. We also tested them in the mountains, in the woods and we even spun a lap or two on some motocross tracks. Like we said, this is a diverse group of bikes, and it took a lot of riding to sort them out. That part really broke our hearts. Here’s what we found.

HONDA XR400R
HONDA XR400R TECH

* Air-cooled, single overhead cam
* Oil carried in frame
* Five-speed gearbox
* No-tool side-access airfilter
* Nearly unchanged since 1996
* Price: $5299
* Dry weight: 265 lb.
XR UPS
* Best torque
* Excellent low-rpm power delivery
* Easy to ride
* Excellent brakes, clutch
XR DOWNS
* Old fashion ergonomics
* Dated motor
* Poor top-end power
* Kickstarter flops in and out
* Steel rear brake pedal

HUSABERG 400FE
HUSABERG TECH

* Simple, SOHC liquid-cooled engine
* Uses crank pressure as oil pump
* Hydraulic clutch
* No linkage
* Only one air filter element for 2000
* Load-sensitive ignition
* Price: $7068
* Dry weight: 243 lb.
‘BERG UPS
* Super lightweight
* Great torque
* Revs so high only dogs can hear it
* Competitive racer at any level
‘BERG DOWNS
* Weird clutch feel
* Hard-turn throttle
* Wide fuel tank
* Requires aggressive riding

HUSQVARNA TE410
HUSQVARNA 410TE TECH

* New bodywork & ergos
* New steering geometry
* Single sided pipe
* Side access air filter
* Price: $6199
* Dry weight: 270 lb.
HUSKY UPS
* Smooth tractable power
* Strong brakes
* Spread out, comfortable rider position
* Tractable, smooth power
HUSKY DOWNS
* Sleepy throttle response
* Overweight
* Creaky clutch cable
* Hard-turn throttle
* Too much vibration

KTM 400EXC
400EXC TECH

* Liquid-cooled, SOHC motor
* Same carb as a 1999 YZ400
* Japanese ignition
* Electric starter AND kickstarter
* 257 pound dry weight
* Price: $6995.
* Dry weight: 257 lb.
KTM UPS
* Unbelievably light for an E-start bike
* Feels light, too
* Versatile suspension
* Great throttle response
* Roomy layout
* Hydraulic clutch works flawlessly
KTM DOWNS
* Mushy front brake
* Slight headshake at speed
* Rejetting necessary for mild elevation increases

SUZUKI DRZ400
SUZUKI DRZ400 TECH

* Available in electric or kick start
* A kickstarter can be installed on the E version
* Liquid-cooled, DOHC engine–very YZ-like
* Side access airbox
* Electric start version: $5349
* Kick start version: $5249
* Dry weight, kick version: 260 lb.
* Dry weight, E-version: 277 lb.
DRZ UPS
* Great low end power
* Great top end power
* Super-quiet muffler you don’t have to chuck
* Slim
DRZ DOWNS
* Tall seat height
* Rearward-sloping seat
* Cramped riding position
* Mushy suspension
* Battery can be drained by leaving key on

VOR 400E
VOR 400 TECH

* Gear-driven SOHC
* Backwards kickstarter
* Bolt-together frame
* Crank pressure works as oil pump
* Magnesium cases
* Price: $7500
* Dry weight: 258 lb.
VOR UPS
* Super smooth power delivery
* Beautiful workmanship
* Easy to start
* Surprisingly agile
* Flawless hydraulic clutch
VOR DOWNS
* Big feel
* Harsh suspension
* Slightly unstable at speed

YAMAHA WR400F
YAMAHA WR400 TECH

* DOHC liquid-cooled 5-valve
* Electric sensors & gadgets everywhere
* New steering geometry
* Price: $5899
* Dry weight: 265 lb.
WR UPS
* Excellent top end power
* Great suspension
* Super stable at speed
WR DOWNS
* Sleepy low-end power
* Seat position too far back
* goofy throttle stop is standard
* Stock pipe is too loud or too quiet

RATINGS AND RANTINGS

PEAK POWER
1. Yamaha
2. Husaberg
3. Suzuki
4. KTM
5. Vor
6. Husky
7. Honda
This ranking was done with aftermarket pipes on the Japanese bike. If run stock (with the WR baffle removed), the Suzuki would drop down a couple of spots, but nothing else would change

LOW-END POWER
1. Honda
2. Suzuki
3. KTM
4. Husaberg
5. Vor
6. Yamaha
7. Husky
The Honda and Suzuki are super close on the bottom. The Yamaha could be boosted to the top if it had YZ cam timing.

OVERALL SUSPENSION, SLOW SPEED
1. KTM
2. Yamaha
3. Husaberg
4. Honda
5. Suzuki
6. Husky
7. Vor
Both the KTM and the Yamaha are a notch above the others. The Suzuki and Honda are good in the slow stuff, but don’t try to upshift.

OVERALL SUSPENSION, HIGH SPEED
1. Yamaha
2. KTM
3. Husaberg
4. Honda
5. Vor
6. Husqvarna
7. Suzuki
The Yamaha clearly has a western heritage. The Suzuki is truly bad in high-speed whoops.

TURNS
1. Honda
2. KTM
3. Suzuki
4. Husaberg
5. Vor
6. Yamaha
7. Husky
There are all kind of turns. This is a rating for super tight stuff. As the speeds increase, the Suzuki and the Honda drop in the standings while the Vor, the Husky and the Yamaha go up.

STABILITY
1. Husky
2. Yamaha
3. KTM
4. Husaberg
5. Honda
6. Suzuki
7. Vor
Actually, only the Husky and the Yamaha are truly stable at speed. The other five are just different shades of twitchy.

DETAILS
1. Vor
2. KTM
3. Yamaha
4. Husqvarna
5. Suzuki
6. Husaberg
7. Honda
The Vor is a virtual museum piece, with amazing attention to detail. Honda should be embarrassed by the floppy kickstarters, bendable brake levers and ill-fitting air filters that their riders have to put up with.

CONCLUSION
Where do we want to ride today?
We thought that we wouldn’t be able to find a winner. We thought the country was too big, that one bike would be better in eastern conditions and another would be better out west. We thought that one bike would be a better racer and that another would be a better trail bike.
We were wrong.
There’s a clear winner here: the KTM 400EXC. Good power, versatile suspension and awesome handling work everywhere. It’s the best bike for the east or the west and it’s the best bike if you race or just play ride. The only real problem is that if you haven’t already put a deposit on one, you probably can’t get one until next year.
After that, things get pretty blurry. If we were racing tight enduros, second place would go to the Husaberg. Between its super light weight and surprising power, the bike is hard to beat. But it has a problem similar to the KTM’s; just try to find one.
Out west, we would choose the Yamaha for second place. It has the power, the suspension and the stability to go straight and fast for a long time. Just ask Ty Davis, Paul Krause, Nick Pearson or Russ Pearson.
Then there’s the playbike problem. If we weren’t racing, but we just wanted to cross a mountain range where we would have to make our own trail and blaze through scenes that would make environmental kooks cringe, the Honda and the Suzuki would be ideal. The frustrating part about the DRZ is that it could be so much more. With a little work to correct all Suzuki’s unfinished business, the bike could do almost anything, from trailblazing to winning cross country races to running with YZs in motocross. As it is, the DRZ is more like a updated and modern Honda XR400R. The XR, on the other hand, feels badly dated, but can still do a great job in slow motion.
The Vor and Husqvarna are less specialized than any of the other bikes. They don’t seem to be aimed at the east, the west, at play riders or racers. They are vague do-everything kinds of motorcycles. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact that’s why the KTM won. It’s just that the KTM does everything a little better….For the rest of the story, check out the June ?00 issue of Dirt Bike Magazine!

 

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