2018 YAMAHA YZ450F

Two days ago we got the 2018 YZ450F for testing. This is the most exciting bike of the year for us. Everything is new. For our video on the technical aspects of the YZ450F, click here. This is the beginning of a long process because we know so little right now–usually we have notes and opinions from last year’s bike to fall back on. All that is irrelevant now. We’re okay with all the changes to the YZ because it was a bit too much to handle last year. It was fast and heavy. Up front, you can see the new bike is thinner, it has a very different riding position and there’s no kickstarter. We love that electric starter!

First things first: the YZ is still fast and heavy. You have to get over it, man up and eat your Wheaties. Last year, we weighed the bike at 237 pounds without fuel. This year it’s 239 on the same scale. The good news for Yamaha is that the 2018 Honda is a pound heavier. The bad news is that the KTM is 15 pounds lighter. The Suzuki is expected to be the same as last year’s (237). And the Yamaha is fast. Whacko, insane, holy-smokes fast. That’s the main reason this bike will take time to test. We have to learn how to ride it when we’re in awe of it. Yamaha also changed the riding position by raising the bars and lowering the seat.


Despite being the fastest object in the universe, the YZ is easier to ride than last year’s bike. You never have to shift! Put it in second and go. Or third. If you’re still intimidated, Yamaha lets you off the hook by making it relatively easy to detune. You can put the Power Tuner app on your smart phone that connects to the bike by Wifi. There are three maps preloaded, and the mildest of the three makes the bike easier to manage. As far as the app itself, it can be a little fussy on an Android phone, but seems better on an iPhone. We’ll have more on the new Yamaha coming soon, and it will be featured in the October issue of the print magazine.


KTM’s electric bike is coming to America. This has been available in Europe for some time and the U.S. distribution will be very limited. It will only be available through designated E-bike dealers, and so far there are only 11 of them stateside. The electric bike has the same chassis as the 250 Freeride two-stroke that’s been over here for two years. It’s a pure trail bike with no pretense as a motocrosser or a racer. In Europe, it’s street legal, although the U.S. homologation has yet to be completed. For now, it’s an offroad bike, but in California, it does qualify for a green sticker.

We spent a day riding the Freeride E at Wildomar OHV part near Elsinore and had a lot of fun. The bike will run for about an hour of trail riding on a charge (longer if you go slow, shorter if you gas it up). Then it takes an hour to charge, providing you have a 220 outlet. The charger is a big heavy thing that sits on the floor on plugs into the bike’s lithium ion battery. The battery, by the way can be removed fairly easily. A spare is about $3000.

Troy Vanscourt came out to ride the bike for photos and loved it. The bike feels pretty fast. In acceleration it could probably stay with a 150XCW, but the way the power is very, very different. As most people know by now, electric motors have monstrous torque from a standing start, but don’t have much roll-on from, say, 20mph to 40mph. KTM has done a great job of smoothing out that instant response, but it still takes careful throttle control to find traction. The bike handles good at trail speed. Most of the components are from the 85SX, And we love how quiet it is. The price is $8299, which is amazing for an electric bike.


We have another electric bike in the shop right now. I talked a little about the Zero FX dual-sport last week, and since then I even raced it. The Old School Scrambles at the Glen was technically a vintage bike race, but it had a support class for modern bikes. What could be more modern? The course was in the Lucas Truck Race Stadium at Glen Helen, which is flat and smooth, and I figured I could do well with dual-sport tires. As it turns out, traction was a big issue. The bike makes a lot of power, but it’s a struggle to hook up. It makes you think hard and long about the kind of power delivery that we’re accustomed to. I think I have some of it figured out. With a gasoline engine, the throttle position is merely a suggestion of the power output you want. A much bigger factor is RPM management. You use the throttle, the clutch and the gearbox to manage the power you need, typically entering a turn a couple thousand rpm below peak, then whacking open the throttle and letting the bike progress through its powerband. On an electric bike, there’s only the throttle for that control. You have to be much more precise and it takes skill. Eventually, there will be some kind of programming to replace that skill. I’m all for that. Dan Alamangos shot the photo.


While we’re on the subject of off-beat motorcycles, we have a Kawasaki Versys X 300. This is a new category: Micro adventure bikes. BMW has a 310 adventure bike and I hear the Honda 250 Rally is selling like crazy. This week I got to spend time on the Versys and then shot Mark Tilley riding it in places it probably shouldn’t go. The Versys is more street oriented than the Honda Rally and much faster. The motor is a screamer. It revs like crazy but doesn’t have any torque whatsoever.


The Versys is way more fun than the Rally on the street, just because it’s a Twin and gets up and goes pretty well if you rev it. There’s no hit anywhere in the powerband, just lots and lots of Rs. In the dirt, it’s a little awkward because of limited ground clearance and steering lock. But it’s perfectly at home on dirt roads. The price is amazing: $5399. If you want antilock brakes for some reason, it’s $300 more.



I know, this is a pretty weak teaser, but you should know that Honda will be announcing something new at Loretta Lynn’s this weekend. Come back here to on Sunday around 6:00 p.m. pacific time and it will be worthwhile.


See you next week,

–Ron Lawson

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