There’s never been a time like this. In the past, the number of premium motocross brands was limited to four. Then it was five, then six or seven. Now, with the near-universal incorporation of special editions into the mix, riders have an overwhelming decision to make. KTM, Husqvarna and GasGas have standard models, as well as factory replicas. Kawasaki has the original KX450, along with the KX450SR. Honda actually has three different 450 motocross bikes in the line—the original CRF450R is offered alongside the high-end CRF450RWE and the more affordable CRF450R-S. Altogether, we have 12 bikes gathered at once. There are even more, too. We couldn’t obtain a TM MX450Fi or a standard GasGas MC450F because of availability issues.
Gathering a dozen MX bikes together at once is difficult enough, but comparing so many bikes with any degree of accuracy is usually an impossible task. This year, however, we had a one-year head start. The standard editions of 2022 are predominantly unchanged, so we are already familiar with their strengths and weaknesses. That leaves us to explore where the special editions fit in. We expect them to be better and, for the most part, they are. But, are they improved enough to displace the bikes we chose as the top 450s of 2021? In the end, we can’t rank every single bike in a fabricated countdown. Choosing which bike is eighth or ninth would end up being arbitrary and pointless. For the conclusion, we have selected the podium finishers. The rest can be sorted using our ratings in seven different metrics:
1. Power. This is about sheer acceleration under optimal conditions.
2. Manageability. This is about putting the power to the ground and turning it into results.
3. Cornering. How easily does a bike change directions?
4. Stability. Here, we deal with how busy a bike feels, both on straightaways and in turns.
5. Suspension. Rather than rank the fork and shock separately, we evaluate how they work together.
6. Comfort. This is a catchall for everything, including layout, controls and vibration.
7. Value. We don’t have your bank statement, so we can only offer a bang for the buck rating.
Here’s how it all came out.
GASGAS MC450F TROY LEE DESIGNS EDITION
GasGas is now in its second year under the Pierer Mobility umbrella, and it has to be considered a huge success. The idea of a less-expensive KTM is appealing to just about everyone. In the case of the Troy Lee Designs Edition, however, price isn’t what defines the bike. The MSRP is the same as that of the KTM Factory Edition, and the more price-driven parts that are used on the standard model have been replaced with high-end items. What this bike is really all about is a way to hedge your bets. The KTM and Husqvarna special editions both use the new platform, while the GasGas Troy Lee Designs uses the same frame and engine as the standard version. It has a long list of upgrades, such as the Akrapovic exhaust and the Hinson Clutch cover, and they make it nearly identical to last-year’s KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition.
We absolutely love the GasGas power delivery. It’s smooth, controllable and very, very fast. The Akrapovic exhaust gives it just a little more power down low without any sacrifice. It also ranks at the top of the heap when it comes to cornering. The bike is extremely light, coming in at 225 pounds without fuel. The clutch and brakes are also excellent.
Even though we like the WP XACT air fork for its ease of adjustability, it doesn’t rank as high as the best of the spring forks. The GasGas motor vibrates a little more than most. The alternate maps and traction control don’t present a substantial advantage or change.
Even though this is a new model, it’s a well-known commodity. It’s also well-loved by almost everyone. GasGas will continue to use this platform as the basis for its 2023 standard edition, and that has most riders delighted.
Honda completely redesigned this bike last year and made big strides in weight loss, power delivery and reliability. The frame was redesigned to be less rigid. The twin -xhaust system was abandoned, and the clutch got hydraulic actuation, among many other changes. A handlebar switch gives you options among three different maps, traction control and launch assist. In 2021, there were a few built-in mapping glitches that were resolved in the course of the year. The 2022 model is otherwise unchanged.
The Honda is wicked fun. That’s the result of a hard-hitting powerband, a lack of weight and easy steering. The CRF450R still feels like one of the lightest bikes in the class and steers with amazing precision. It’s also one of the most comfortable bikes ever. The riding position, controls, brakes and clutch pull all combine to make the Honda a bike that feels absolutely right from the moment you get on.
Honda’s testing for that 2021 redesign was cut short because of COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, the suspension settings are mismatched; the rear is too soft for the front. This can be fixed in the aftermarket, but Honda hasn’t made the correction in-house yet. The Honda also has a very hard-hitting powerband. As we said, this makes for a fun bike to ride, but it’s not that practical when it comes to racing for position. The mild map takes away peak revs without doing much to smooth out the power delivery.
We love the Honda and know how to get the most from it. Justin Jones rode our test bike in the final two Nationals of 2021 with only suspension modifications. Honda designed the CRF450R with talented riders like that in mind, but it isn’t as suitable for rank-and-file novices and intermediates.
In 2021, Honda brought back the previous version of the CRF450R as a means to alleviate short-term supply issues. The response was so good that the same bike returned as the 2022 CRF450R-S alongside the standard and RWE versions. The motivation is price; the RS sells for $8599, making it the most affordable bike in the 450 class. This is based on the same bike that was introduced in 2017. It has the older chassis, the twin exhaust system and the cable clutch.
Like the CRF450R, the RS is a mauler. Twisting the throttle on a fresh track with lots of traction puts a big grin on anyone’s face, and most say it’s the fastest bike in the entire shootout. It also has excellent overall suspension. Honda revised this each year between 2017 and 2020, so it was at the end of its evolutionary cycle, whereas the 2021 Honda is starting from scratch. The RS also turns well and has excellent ergos.
The Honda RS is so powerful that it’s hard to ride, even for pros. The old clutch is back on the RS like an ugly friend, and it’s as bad as ever. And even though we feel the Honda turns well, it’s a very busy motorcycle everywhere. When you combine that with the extreme power and the fact that it’s slightly overweight, the Honda CRF450R-S is a handful.
This bike demonstrates how far we have come in five years. When the first model of this generation was introduced, we loved it because it was so powerful. Now, we’ve learned that you can go faster with less muscle. We still love riding the Honda, but it’s a demanding bike to race.
Honda clearly wanted to build something more than another race team replica here. The CRF450RWE has a long list of features that go beyond team graphics and truly go after more performance. It has a ti-nitride treatment on the fork tubes and shock shaft. The clutch cover and clutch basket are Hinson. The pipe is a Yoshimura RS-12 full system. The head is hand-ported. The filter is a Twin Air. It has D.I.D. DirtStar LT-X rims, a Throttle Jockey seat cover and more.
Power, power and more power. The RWE is strong everywhere. Ironically, that makes it a little easier to ride than either of the other Hondas. The powerband starts its wild ride at lower rpm, making the hit a little less sudden. On top, it makes even more than the others. Like the standard model, the RWE feels light and easy to toss around. It weighs 234 pounds without fuel, which is 1 pound more than the standard edition due to various add-ons. The clutch, brakes, ergos and workmanship are excellent. It is, by overwhelming vote, the sexiest looking bike in the group.
The suspension spring rates and valving are the same as on the standard edition; only the fork tubes are different. The reduced friction has an unexpected result. The suspension feels even softer than that of the standard model, which is already too soft. The power is more manageable than that of the standard model, but it’s still more than most riders really need. The motor has an occasional hiccup at mid-level throttle openings, and the bike is very busy at speed.
There’s no bike that turns heads like the Honda CRF450RWE. Everyone looks at it and asks about it. It is, just like the other two Hondas, a very aggressive piece of professional equipment for experienced riders.
Husqvarna has been somewhat successful in carving out its own fan club, distinct from KTM’s. The biggest factor in this is the change in suspension; the standard-edition FC450 has less suspension travel and a lower seat height than the KTM 450SX-F. It works out to about ¾ inches in the middle of the seat. Otherwise, the FC450 is very similar to the KTM. It has the same motor, the same frame, the same controls and the same triple clamps. The bodywork, handlebar, airbox and rims are different.
At the very top of the happy list is cornering. This is a strength for all of the Austrian bikes, but thanks to its lower seat height, the Husky sits at the top of that list. It also is easier to get off the start line for both tall and short riders. It’s one of the lightest bikes in the shootout at 223 pounds without fuel. As always, we love the motor because it has excellent peak power without being intimidating.
There are five bikes in this comparison that use the WP Xact air fork, and we feel the same way about all of them. We love the adjustability but feel they give away a little performance to the best of the coil-spring forks. There’s no real disadvantage in the reduced suspension travel of the Husky, although some riders notice the reduction in ground clearance, particularly in rutted tracks.
Husky’s target rider is said to be a little older than KTM’s, simply because of the brand’s legacy. That’s why the reduced seat height is a smart move. The bike remains virtually on par with the standard KTM in performance.
HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION
This year’s Rockstar Edition is a completely new bike, sharing virtually no parts with the standard Husky FC450. It happens like this every four years or so as the company tools up for a big change, which is coming in 2023. The frame geometry is similar but has more rigidity. The motor is smaller. The bodywork is new. The shock is new, and there are updated electronic controls. The Rockstar Edition does not have the reduced suspension travel of the standard model. The bike also features Quickshift, which is a mode that allows easier full-throttle upshifts. As a special edition, it also gets goodies like the WP holeshot device, and a split triple clamp.
The Rockstar Edition might be all new, but it shares many of the same strengths with the previous generation. It’s fast and has a smooth, controllable power delivery. Thanks to more aggressive mapping, it also has more power, especially in map 2. We still consider cornering to be one of the bike’s biggest strengths, although it has a very different feel compared to the older version. The bike seems tall in the turns and squats less under power. The bike clearly is more stable in extreme conditions and at high speed.
The new frame puts very different demands on its suspension, which means the settings we liked on previous models don’t work as well. We reduced compression damping to try to arrive at the same feel, but haven’t yet worked out the best settings. This isn’t surprising. The bike also gained weight. It comes in at 231 pounds without fuel, which is 8 pounds heavier. Some of that is in the Rockstar Edition parts.
The previous model had reached the end of its development cycle, and all the settings had been sorted out. This one is a blank slate that will require testing and adjustment. For those reasons, we consider the Rockstar Edition to be a lateral move in performance; not better, not worse. This is only the start, though, and this platform has lots of room to grow.
Kawasaki hasn’t made many substantial changes to the standard KX450 since it was redesigned in 2019. That was when it got electric start, a hydraulic clutch, a new motor, a new chassis and a very long list of other changes. It has also won every Dirt Bike “450 Shootout” since then. In 2020, it received a cupped disc clutch, a Renthal Fat Bar and a few other updates, but it remains the same bike with the same personality.
The biggest reason that the Kawasaki has done so well in the pages of Dirt Bike is because it has been the easiest bike to ride of all the 450s. That’s still true. The power is very smooth but still strong enough to get the job done against a class of brutes. The most substantial strengths of the KX450 are best stated by listing the things it isn’t. It isn’t heavy. It isn’t nervous. It isn’t hard to handle, and the suspension isn’t harsh. It is about as unintimidating as a 450 can be.
The most damning shortcoming for the KX450 is that it doesn’t win any one category. Again, the bike is defined by what it doesn’t do: It doesn’t make a lot of power. It doesn’t have the best suspension. It isn’t the lightest or the best cornering. It doesn’t have push-button mapping or traction control. On the dyno, the Kawasaki has a peak output that’s about 3 horsepower down compared to the most powerful bikes in the test.
The Kawasaki might be the most boring bike in the 450 class, but that’s actually a big asset in a group of bikes that can be a little too exciting for the average rider.
The Kawasaki KX450SR is tied with the Honda CRF450RWE for the dubious honor of being the most expensive motocross bike on the market today. Like the Honda, it goes beyond race-replica status by offering a ported head, an upgraded exhaust (a Pro Circuit Ti-6 titanium system) and a Hinson clutch cover. Kawasaki goes even further by including an Xtrig ROCS triple clamp with PHDS bar mounts and by using completely different suspension components. The fork and shock are specially prepared KYB components in contrast to the Showa-equipped standard edition.
There’s nothing boring about the KX450SR. It has significantly more power than the standard edition, but it’s still not hard to handle. Kawasaki has successfully walked a very fine line by giving the bike more straight-line acceleration without surrendering the bike’s friendliness. The suspension is clearly an upgrade over the standard edition, although not a major one. The overall rates are still on the soft side, which favors older riders and sportsmen more than pros. Like the standard model, the KX450SR instills confidence in its rider through stability and predictability.
It has the same general weaknesses as the KX450 standard edition: the SR isn’t the best in any one area. It still doesn’t have the latest user-defined mapping technology. It still doesn’t have the thrill factor of the Hondas or the cool-kid aura of the Austrian Special Editions. Also, that price.
The Kawasaki SR is an upgrade over the stock KX450, which we already love. It has just enough of a performance boost to make it appealing to elite pros without sacrificing its charm to the rest of us.
If any bike is a known commodity in the motocross world, it’s the KTM 450SX-F. Its last big change was in 2019 when the frame became a little more rigid and it got a new, more compact head. Since then, the bike has been incrementally refined, awaiting the next big change. That will come in 2023. It still has all the things that are KTM staples, such as WP suspension components, Brembo brakes and a Brembo hydraulic clutch.
First and foremost, the KTM’s power delivery is a magic balance between controllability and sheer muscle. It’s very difficult to combine those two so well. The fact that the same motor is shared by the GasGas and standard Husky steals KTM’s thunder slightly, but each of those has its own subtly different personality. If you want more throttle response, KTM has a vented airbox cover, which works well with map 2. The bike is also the lightest in the shootout, if only by ounces compared to the standard Husky. It is a good 10 pounds lighter than any of the Japanese bikes. Finally, the KTM is fantastic in turns. Part of that might be because of the light weight, but it is also the result of good geometry.
In truth, the KTM’s suspension is no real weakness, but there are still purists who don’t like the WP Xact air fork. For extremely high speeds over rough terrain and in G-outs, the chassis can be a little loose feeling, too. The motor vibrates a little, and many riders say the Neken handlebar has a harsh feel.
There will probably be a run on the remaining KTM 450SX-F dealer inventory now that the word is out that this is its last year in this configuration. The bike’s fans are devoted with good reason. There’s also a good chance that nothing in the 450 class will ever be this light again.
KTM 450SX-F FACTORY EDITION
As everyone has probably heard by now, the 2022 KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition is an advance scout from 2023. It will be manufactured in limited quantity as a pilot run for next year’s standard edition, thereby giving the KTM Red Bull Racing team the latest hardware for the 2022 Monster Energy Supercross season without violating the production rule. It has a new frame, a new swingarm, a more compact motor, new bodywork and a new rear shock, among other things. It does not get some of the upgrades that the Factory Edition has gotten in other years, such as an Akrapovic exhaust and a Hinson clutch cover.
Compared to the standard edition, the Factory Edition has a more stable, well-planted feel. Steering is light, and it tracks well through turns. Overall, the KTM is still very agile, even though longtime KTM riders might find it has a very different feel. As far as the power delivery goes, the 450SX-F is still amazing. In map 1, it feels similar to the previous KTM 450SX-F. In map 2, the meat of the powerband comes at higher rpm. If you combine that with the vented airbox cover, you have a very, very powerful motorcycle. The new Quickshift mode really does help.
The KTM might not be the cornering wizard it once was. It’s a little heavier, and steering is a little slower. It squats less under power, resulting in a very tall stance. As we pointed out with the Husqvarna Rockstar, your tried-and-true suspension settings might or might not work. This is a more rigid chassis that is at the very beginning of its run.
The Factory Edition has all the same strengths as the bike it supersedes. It has an amazing motor. It turns well, and it’s still light, if not as light. If you expected a massive improvement, that might come in 2023 once we learn how to make the suspension work better with the new frame. For now, we consider the new platform a great start, and it will only get better.
Is there still room in the market for an old-school 450 with a kickstarter? Suzuki thinks so. It’s no secret that Suzuki has scaled back its emphasis on motocross. The current RM-Z450 hasn’t changed since 2018, and even then, it was behind the times. This is a plain-wrap motocross bike with no battery, no electric starter, no on-the-fly map switch and no traction control. That appeals to certain riders.
The Suzuki has a smooth, easy-to-use powerband. In many ways, it’s similar to the Kawasaki KX450’s, and that bike is a habitual shootout winner. It also handles well in turns and is perfectly stable at speed. In fact, on a tight track, it’s capable of keeping up with any of the 450s. The front suspension is excellent, and the bike has a comfortable layout. The Suzuki’s one high-tech feature is Suzuki’s Holeshot Assist Control, which is a decent launch assist system.
The RM-Z450 is oddly overweight for a bike with no electric starter. It is 239 pounds without fuel, which places it in a tie for the heaviest bike in this group. That weight was more or less normal five years ago—but not now. The Suzuki’s current Showa rear shock arrived in 2018 and wasn’t considered a step forward. The rear suspension isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as the system it replaced.
Everyone is surprised by how well the Suzuki handles and performs once you get over the fact that it’s so old-fashioned. Pro motocrossers still can make it work at the highest level. Its price makes it attractive to those who don’t care about trends and fashion.
The Yamaha YZ450F demonstrates how fickle the fortunes of pro motocross truly are. Two years ago Yamaha’s pro racing team couldn’t do anything right, and people casually talked trash about the production bike. Now, Yamaha is winning everything, and the YZ450F is a wonderbike. In truth, the YZ hasn’t changed that much since its last redesign in 2018. That year saw a total remake of the frame and motor. Yamaha also introduced the Power Tuner smartphone app at that time.
The Yamaha YZ450F is strong in almost every category across the board. It has excellent suspension at both ends, especially for advanced riders. The coil-spring KYB fork and shock have become the measuring stick that all other bikes are judged against. The power is excellent in both quantity and quality. It comes within a few tenths of having the most peak power and still is reasonably controllable. What’s better is that you can personalize it with the Yamaha Power Tuner. This is no gimmick; it’s a real tool that anyone can master. The bike’s straight-line stability is also very good.
Many riders complain that the YZ feels big and clumsy in tight turns. It weighs 239 pounds without fuel on our scale, which is 16 pounds more than the lightest bikes here. Large riders also feel it’s a cramped motorcycle with a low seat and high footpegs. Riders who aren’t familiar with Yamahas often complain about the intake noise.
We have always loved the YZ450F, even when it wasn’t winning races at the pro level. Now, it’s especially satisfying that others are seeing it our way. The YZ is also considered the most reliable bike in the 450 class.
Up front, we promised a podium with the top-three bikes in the 2022 450 class. We thought it would be a nightmare to sort out a dozen motorcycles. It turned out to be easier than we expected. The bikes that we loved in 2021 are still the bikes we love today—with a little company.
FIRST PLACE: KAWASAKI KX450SR
The KX450 has been our favorite 450 motocross bike since it was redesigned in 2018. The reason is simple: we’re mortal. If we were all professional athletes, we wouldn’t need a bike this forgiving and sweet. The SR version of this KX is slightly—only slightly—better in performance. Admittedly, a $3000 premium over the standard model is a big price tag for such a small gain, but managing your finances isn’t our job. We don’t know how deep your pocket is; we can only say what works best on the track.
SECOND PLACE: KAWASAKI KX450
We have perhaps the most consistent test riders in the testing world. We like what we like, and the standard Kawasaki KX450 continues to occupy a warm place in our editorial hearts for all the reasons we listed earlier.
THIRD PLACE: YAMAHA YZ450F
In our 2021 450 Shootout, the Yamaha finished closely behind the Kawasaki. It does once more. For the record, we could have included a Yamaha YZ450F Monster Energy Edition in this comparison, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. That bike is identical to the standard bike in every way except appearance. The YZ450 still has an edge in suspension and technology that allowed it to withstand the onslaught of the 2022 special editions.
There were high hopes for the new platforms from Austria. As it turned out, the previous bikes from Husky and KTM are so well sorted out that it would be a very tall order for a brand-new bike to do better right out of the gate. But, the Factory and Rockstar Editions are already so good that they basically battled their respective predecessors to a standstill. That bodes well for the future.