For part one of the 2017 450 off-road shootout, click here.
Racing, trail riding and owning a 450 off-road bike
Racing at speed and trail riding in technical terrain aren’t opposites, but they don’t often mix. The bikes in this group were given the very difficult task of being rough and gentle at the same time. They all succeed in different ways and fall short in others. Overall, we were stunned that all four managed the nearly impossible task of working well in wildly different environments as well as they did.
Coming into this test, we assumed there would be one winner for the trail, a different winner for racing and an overall compromise. That’s not exactly how it played out, but here’s how they ranked.
ON THE TRACK
Beneath a thin veneer, these are all motocross bikes at their core, so it isn’t surprising that they all worked so well on the racecourse. All have superb power and suspension for motocross. The finishing order for this portion of the test was extremely close.
FIRST PLACE: HUSQVARNA FX450: No one should be too surprised. The FC450 motocross bike was a close second in our motocross shootout two months ago, and the FX450 is almost the same bike. The milder power output that was blamed for that narrow defeat actually worked in the Husky’s favor this time. The kinds of racecourses we see out west typically have an EnduroCross section that rewards the Husky’s smoother nature.
SECOND PLACE: KTM 450XC-F: For now, KTM is inseparable from Husqvarna. We can talk about how the two brands have separate identities and are developing separate traits, but we haven’t seen a shootout where they didn’t finish back to back since the two brands merged. The fact that both names have done so well in tests this year can be attributed to one factor above all—the WP AER 48 fork. It changed the way we think about air forks and made the KTM a much more competitive motorcycle.
THIRD PLACE: HONDA CRF450RX: Third place on the track goes to Honda, just as it did in our motocross shootout. The off-road version has all the same assets: agile handling, plush suspension and instant throttle response. It suffers from a dramatic increase in weight over the motocross version, and that’s hard to justify, even with the addition of electric start.
FOURTH PLACE: YAMAHA YZ450FX: The YZ450FX was fourth in the track portion of the test for virtually all of our test riders. In the past, Yamaha could always count on superior suspension to bring up the bike’s overall score. The fork and shock are still outstanding, but the tide has risen in that category. As a result, the Yamaha’s weight has become its overriding personality trait. At the end of the day, it’s still 24 pounds heavier than the Husqvarna.
ON THE TRAIL
Here’s where we expected the results to turn upside down. None of these bikes was initially designed for off-road. Repurposed motocrossers can only be expected to perform so well on the trail, where assets can turn into liabilities. That’s why the final result surprised us in a big way.
FIRST PLACE: HUSQVARNA FX450: It wins because it has the best power delivery at low rpm, and that’s overwhelmingly important when you’re dealing with so much horsepower. What’s most surprising is that the motor is unchanged from the MX version. Husky technicians report that there’s no remapping, no extra flywheel and no change in engine tuning. The MX version would have won this shootout as well. Having said that, we still believe that it’s too much motorcycle for most trails and most trail riders. As good as the FX450 is, just about any 300cc two-stroke will be quicker and easier to manage off-road.
SECOND PLACE: KTM 450XC-F: The slight difference in low-rpm power delivery between the Husky and KTM is most evident on the trail. We suspect that this is almost entirely the result of the pipe. The KTM is slightly louder and a little snappier. Like the Husky, the KTM has excellent brakes, a flawless hydraulic clutch and is freakishly light. All those things are just as good on the trail as they are on the track.
THIRD PLACE: YAMAHA YZ450FX: Going into this, we expected the Yamaha to win the trail section of this test. We thought the gearbox was going to be the deciding factor. As it turned out, the Yamaha makes so much bottom-end power that no one really needs such a low first gear. The gearbox is still a big asset for some riders, though, and Yamaha still gets credit for taking the off-road market seriously. Weight, again, was the bike’s biggest liability.
FOURTH PLACE: HONDA CRF450RX: Honda approached this bike the right way. It’s the only bike with a kick-start lever as a back-up, and it has a larger tank. Even the bike’s weight isn’t that big of an issue. What hurts the Honda most when you get in slow, tough trails is that it’s difficult to manage all that power. The CRF’s power is nervous, and, even with the mildest map, you end up using the clutch more than the throttle to regulate the bike’s speed. Then the clutch fades. What’s odd is that although the Honda’s map switch covers a very broad range, it needs even more.
Where does that leave us? First of all, we’re delighted that we have a much clearer, more decisive winner than we expected. We never would have guessed that one bike could be the favorite in both categories of this test. For that matter, second place is clear, too, but after that, it’s all about where you ride and what you do. Just understand what these bikes are all about—racing first. They demand the same attitude from their riders.