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Honda’s CRF450R is unique among 450 motocross bikes. The single-overhead-cam motor makes it a little lighter, and the twin pipes are designed to make it feel lighter still. This year, it gets a new KYB air fork with high- and low-speed compression clickers, as well as push-button engine mapping changes. It also gets a new head, a new piston, new gears and a new exhaust.
Husqvarnas might be made by KTM these days, but the bikes are different and have their own dealer network. The FC450 is positioned as the premium version of the KTM 450SX-F. It has the same motor and chassis, but with a different airbox/subframe combination, bodywork and an ignition mapping switch. New for 2015 are a WP 4CS fork, a longer shock and different linkage.
Kawasaki is on a roll, both in professional racing and magazine shootouts. The KX450F has won the “Dirt Bike 450 Shootout “several years running, thanks to its powerful motor and solid handling. The 2015 version gets the Showa Triple Air fork, among other changes. It still features adjustable bars and pegs, engine mapping that can be tuned with plug-in couplers and push-button Launch Control.
This is the brute of the 450 class. The KTM 450SX-F is powerful and has features that other bikes don’t. It has an electric starter, yet it weighs no more than other 450s. It also has a hydraulic clutch and diaphragm clutch spring. For 2015 it gets the WP 4CS fork, a longer shock, new linkage, a smaller front axle for more give and less front-axle offset.
For 2015, Suzuki made big changes to the RM-Z450, but you would never know from its appearance. Apparently, the styling department didn’t get the e-mail. The frame is new with different flex characteristics and is said to make James Stewart very happy. The fork is the Showa SFF Triple Air, and the motor is more user-friendly. The EFI/ignition mapping can still be altered with plugs.
The revolution that Yamaha hoped to ignite four years ago is finally gaining traction. The reverse engine with the rearward-tilted cylinder was revised and got a new chassis in 2014. Now, the 2015 model is further refined with stiffer fork springs, easier airbox access, different frame-flex characteristics and Dunlop MX52 tires front and rear.
This is a new model for Husqvarna for 2015. The first generation of Austrian-made Huskys in 2014 was oddly missing the counterpart for one of KTM’s most popular models: the 350 four-stroke MX bike. Oversight corrected. The Husky version has a different airbox, different bodywork and a mapping switch. And for 2015, it has a new fork, new shock and different linkage.
The 350 is KTM’s best-selling platform in both motocross and off-road configurations. It’s no wonder. The 350SX-F can hang with 450 motocrossers on almost any track and extracts a much smaller toll from the rider. Pros like Roczen and Dungey might need the extra power of a 450, but you probably don’t. For 2015, the bike gets new suspension components among other changes.
As of right now, this is the only 250 with the Showa SFF air fork. The CRF250R gets Honda’s own version of the design with an internal balance chamber, unlike the external reservoir on the Kawasaki and Suzuki 450s. The 2015 Honda CRF250R also gets an engine mode button on the handlebar that allows you to alter the motor output without getting off the bike.
Two-strokes are alive and well! Husqvarna never stopped making them, despite all the different corporate buyouts and takeovers of recent years. The TC250 is the Husky version of the KTM 250SX, and as such has a super-powerful motor in a chassis that is similar to that of the FC250 four-stroke. This year the suspension is new, and the Husky has features that set it apart from the KTM.
In 2015, Husqvarna will go racing in pro motocross for the first time in many years, and the FC250 is one of the bikes that will be homologated for Supercross. It has the same six-speed motor as the KTM 250SX-F but looks and feels very different. Mechanically, the bike’s most significant feature is the electric starter, which is still very rare among motocross bikes.
The KX250F didn’t win any pro titles in 2014. That’s astounding, but Kawasaki probably didn’t have any room left in the trophy case anyway. The KX is still way, way ahead of all other 250 four-strokes on the championship list. The KX remains near the top of the class and has features like dual fuel injectors, the Showa SFF fork and Launch Control.
Most tuners consider the KTM 250 four-stoke motor the most sophisticated and well-designed engine in the class. It’s capable of turning almost 14,000 rpm and makes more power than any other 250 four-stroke. The six-speed gearbox and electric starter are excellent features, and yet the KTM weighs no more than most other 250cc four-stroke motocross bikes.
KTM 250SX TWO-STROKE
We get several letters and e-mails a month from people who complain that the manufacturers have turned their backs on the two-stroke. Some have, but not KTM. The 250SX is modern and well-refined, and it gets all the same chassis improvements that KTM gives the four-strokes each year. In 2015, those features include a WP 4CS fork and a longer shock with revised linkage.
Suzuki didn’t make any changes to the RM-Z250 this year, but that’s actually a sign of strength. The bike remains near the top of the class and a perpetual favorite in the annual “Dirt Bike 250F Shootout.” The RM-Z has a Showa SFF fork and motor characteristics that can be tuned through the use of three different electronic plugs that come with the bike.
TM is a small Italian company driven by passion and not owned by any larger corporation. This year there’s a new importer for the Italian brand that promises an increased emphasis on two-strokes. The 250 motocrosser has a new motor for 2015 with an electronic power valve and an airbox that breathes through vents in the fuel tank.
YAMAHA YZ250 TWO-STROKE
For years Yamaha let the YZ250 two-stroke go unchanged. No one complained because we were all just happy that the bike was still offered. For 2015 the YZ finally got some attention. The suspension was brought up to the same standards used for the four-stroke line, and the bodywork is all new, bringing the venerable two-stroke into the modern age with style.
We were blown away by the all-new YZ250F in 2014. It got the reverse-engine treatment, which is designed to concentrate the bike’s mass inward toward the physical center of the bike. The 2015 version has different EFI settings, as well as a new exhaust cam and valves. The graphics are now embedded in the plastic shrouds, and the YZ250F is available in blue or white at the same price.
The KTM 125SX has long held the honor of being the fastest 125 two-stroke on the market. Admittedly, that’s a small category these days, but the 125 SX is still light, fast and fun. It’s a great transition bike or a destination in itself. The 150 has a different stroke and bore, bringing it to 144cc. The bikes are otherwise identical, and different clubs place the 150 either with 125s or 250Fs.
The Italians at the tiny TM factory put just as much technology in the 144cc two-stroke as anything they make. It has an aluminum frame, an electronic power valve and a super-compact motor. The workmanship on the TM is outstanding, with billet parts and hand-built components throughout. The new bike has an airbox that is integrated with the frame and fuel tank.
In case you’ve been hibernating, here’s the news flash from last year: KTM now owns Husqvarna and has redefined the brand as a premium line. The Husky TC125 two-stroke motocrosser is very similar to the KTM 125SX, but with a composite airbox and new bodywork. So while other manufacturers have abandoned the 125 two-stroke altogether, this company is doubling down.
With all the technology and advancements over the last 15 years, one thing hasn’t changed: the Yamaha YZ125 is the best-handling motocross bike made. When it comes to riding hard with the least effort, a 125 is impossible to beat, and the Yamaha chassis is still excellent. This year, in fact, the YZ125 gets more modern suspension components and fresh bodywork.
The debate over the 150cc four-stroke motocross bike has died down somewhat, with most organizations allowing the CRF150R in the same class as 85cc two-strokes for racing purposes. Regardless of racing rules, the little Honda is the only bike of its kind and is a great way to introduce kids to high-performance dirt bikes.
In 2014, Kawasaki revitalized the mini ranks with new attention to the two-stroke minis. The KX100 and KX85 got more power and upgraded suspension. The engine cases and frame geometry were unchanged, but the look was totally new, and that made the two Kawies a big hit. The 85, in fact, won most of its classes at Loretta’s. The 100 is a big-wheel version of the same bike with 4mm more bore.
Husqvarna’s new parents at KTM are determined to offer a full product line under the Husky brand name. The Husqvarna TC85 rounds out the line with a mini, which will be fully homologated for AMA amateur racing. The bike is very similar to the KTM 85SX, but has its own fenders, shrouds and fuel tank, giving it a different look. It does not have the composite airbox seen on bigger Huskys.
If you watch any national-level amateur race, more than half of the entries in the 85cc classes are KTM 85SXs. KTM dominates the mini ranks—at least in numbers. The 85SX is the fastest of the two-stroke 85s and has a larger layout that caters toward more experienced riders. The bike has a power-valve, case-reed motor and WP suspension like bigger KTMs, but doesn’t have linkage rear suspension.
Availability in the U.S. will be very limited for this handmade Italian motocross bike. It’s the only 85 with an aluminum frame, and the motor has an electronic power valve. TM has a new importer in the U.S. and will probably be bringing in the minis on a special-order basis.
To this day, most engine tuners say that the Suzuki RM85 has the most potential for horsepower after modification. In stock form, the Suzuki is mild and easy to ride with good bottom-end power. It’s physically smaller than most 85s, so it suits younger riders quite well.
Yamaha’s YZ85 has the honor of being the 85 with the lowest price. It hasn’t changed in years, but it is still competitive with the other Japanese 85s, and, in fact, it still has a presence in amateur racing. If racing isn’t on the agenda, the YZ is an excellent bike that requires very little attention from dad.
Cobra is an amazing American success story. This is a U.S. company that took on the Asian giants and went on to dominate youth racing. The CX65 has an electronic power-valve motor with a Pro Circuit pipe and V-Force reed valve. The air filter is huge, the clutch is hydraulic, the suspension is sophisticated, and the disc brakes are strong.
At one time, Kawasaki dominated the 65 class in racing. Now, Kawasaki dabbles in 65-class racing, but the real calling of the KX65 is in teaching young riders the ways of the big-bike world. The 65 is a scaled-down motorcycle with a six-speed gearbox and a real, manual clutch. It’s small and light, letting young kids concentrate on riding without being intimidated.
Youth racing is wall-to-wall KTMs in this class, with occasional guest appearances by Cobra and Kawasaki. The case-reed KTM engine is powerful and compact. It has a hydraulic clutch and a six-speed gearbox. The 65SXS is a limited-edition version with premium parts, including an exhaust and cosmetics that will sell for an additional $800.
COBRA CX50 SR
This is the King Cobra that gave several generations of motocross stars their start. Cobra has been making this machine specifically for racing since 1993, improving and pushing the boundaries all the time. The 2015 version has improvements in the clutch, fork and rear wheel.
The 50cc racing classes are overwhelmingly orange. The KTM 50SX is a serious racer with a tiny case-reed motor, hydraulic brakes and an aggressive centrifugal clutch. This year KTM is also offering the high-end 50SXS for an additional $1200. It will have an FMF exhaust, a piggyback WP shock, upgraded brakes and a long list of cool cosmetic twists. o