The 2019 450 motocross bikes were compared over a month of riding, starting with a session at Porterville’s MX facility in the central valley of California. The Honda CRF450R, Kawasaki KX450, KTM 450SX-F, Husqvarna FC450, Suzuki RM-Z450 and Yamaha YZ450F were compared and run with some very revealing results.
Everything has changed. If you haven’t paid attention to 450-class motocross for a few seasons, you might not know any of these bikes. Over a three-year period, Honda, Husqvarna, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha have taken turns redesigning their flagship motocrossers, going far deeper than the usual cosmetics and fluff. No manufacturer has something better waiting to be released.
The 2019 Honda CRF450R got a significant number of changes. The frame and swingarm have been redesigned, plus the engine cases are new and have lost the kickstarter components all together. The bike also got launch control and a long list of detail changes. It keeps the layout that was introduced in 2017, with the intake that goes over the top of the shock, a coil-spring fork and a SOHC motor with both rocker arms and finger followers.
The Honda has riders who absolutely love it for its aggressive nature. Even they admit there’s room for improvement. If you’re a fast, tough guy, it’s hard to do much better.
The 2019 Husqvarna FC450. The frame is all new and the motor, with its new head, make tons of power smoother than ever. Husqvarna also gave the bike new bodywork that’s narrower across the front. Under it all, the bike is still very similar to the KTM 450SX-F, which rolls out of the same factory.
The biggest difference between the two are the bodywork, the subframe and airbox, the Magura clutch master cylinder, the Renthal handlebar and the Dirt Star rims.
The Husqvarna is an amazing feat of engineering without any substantial faults. It’s light, fast and has high quality parts everywhere. The bonus is that it’s as good for beginners as for pros.
New bikes come and go all the time. The 2019 Kawasaki KX450 goes beyond just being another redesign. It reflects a different philosophy for a Japanese company. The result is a bike with a bunch of firsts for Kawasaki and for Japan. The KX450 has a new DOHC motor with a valve train that uses finger followers between the cams and the valves, which is a design that has only been seen on 250 MX bikes so far. The clutch has hydraulic actuation with Nissin hydraulic components. The motor has electric start and a coil-spring Showa that has a titanium nitride coating on the lower tubes.
Kawasaki has proven that Japanese bikes don’t have to be heavy and that they can compete with the newest technology from Europe. The KX450 is a bike that everyone likes and everyone can ride well.
The 2019 KTM 450SX-F is lighter and fast and they focused on smoothing the power delivery out. The motor has a new, more compact head, the frame has been redesigned with more rigidity, the bodywork is new, and there are dozens of other changes. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has similar changes to the 2019 Husqvarna FC450.
KTM has pushed the bar higher and higher in motocross over the last six years or so. Now that KTM has shown the rest of the world how to do it, the rest of the field has closed up. Still, it’s hard to beat a bike that has such big advantages in weight and power.
There are sure a lot of Suzukis out front in pro motocross. That’s because the RM-Z450 is a proven commodity. It’s long been considered the standard in handling at any level. Last year, Suzuki made its biggest change in years. Touting the RM-Z450 to be “all new,” the bike turned out to be a continuation of the existing model in most ways. It looked different and had a new frame and a coil-spring fork, but it behaved much as it had for years. For 2019, it has minor changes like a softer rear shock spring, but it still is the only bike in the 450 class without electric start.
We know why pro teams love this bike so much. It’s like a blank slate. You can build it into anything you want, and you know the end result can be similar to the bikes that James Stewart, Chad Reed and Ryan Dungey rode and loved. It’s not a pro-class winner in stock form, but it is a very solid performer with unlimited potential.
Yamaha loves being different, hence the backward engine designed YZ450F. Last year, the bike was reconceived, and everything was changed [except] the reverse head concept. The mind blower for the new bike was the Power Tuner App. This allows you to tune the EFI mapping with a smartphone. The bike also got a new electric-start motor, a new frame and the latest incarnation of the KYB coil-spring fork–the one that single-handedly ended the air-fork era for Japanese bikes. The 2019 YZ arrives with very few changes beyond what came last year. The front wheel is more rigidly mounted, the suspension is stiffer and the seat foam is more dense.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Yamaha is the most high-tech bike in the group. It’s also the most offbeat and sparks the most disagreement. In suspension and motor manners, though, the Yamaha is unanimously at the top of the pecking order.
SORTING IT OUT
Choosing a winner among winners
This year there’s no unanimous winner. The rising tide of the 450 class has brought all six bikes to the highest level ever. No two dirt bike test riders ranked the bikes in the same way. In fact, five different bikes got at least one vote apiece for overall winner.
In the end, bringing order to the chaos wasn’t so hard. Even though the riders ranked the bikes differently, they all said almost the same things. They just had different priorities, based on skill level and type of riding.
FIRST PLACE: KAWASAKI KX450
This isn’t as big an upset as it seems. The Kawasaki has always been a secret favorite among Dirt Bike editors, even in years when other bikes (or more specifically, the KTM) won. It was simply disqualified time after time by spotty failures; its ludicrously complicated air fork, its lack of electric start and its weak brakes. All those things were corrected, and then Kawasaki just kept going.