New bike season is here. It never fails; at some point every year the staff of Dirt Bike has to divide and conquer in order to deal with a glut of new models that need to be tested all at once. Thursday was typical of this time of the year. We assembled a small army of test riders at Glen Helen and had a three-ring circus going.
      In ring one was American Honda. We’ve only had the new fuel injected CRF250R for about two weeks and we’re still learning the bike. One issue is that most of our 450 test riders out-weigh the target rider for this bike. We enlisted Doug Dubach to help out because he still weighs 150 pounds, which is perfect for a 250F. It was interesting to get Doug together with Wayne and Kevin from Honda. Both of those guys came from HRA, which is Honda’s super secret testing department in America. Doug, of course, has a long history of testing with Yamaha. They all discovered that they have much in common from their years of dealing with Japan. They even had terms and language in common. For instance, they all knew what a five o’clock setting was. After a long day of testing when the riders are tired and want to go home, all the settings miraculously get so good that no more testing is required. Thus, that’s a five o’clocker.
      Doug has his own reasons for helping. His main interest is developing pipes for DRD, and he tried four or five different pipes on the new bike before we even started testing suspension. We got to try one of the final contestants. The Honda, as it turns out, is incredibly strong on top. But by comparison to the new Yamaha 250 it’s soft on the bottom. The DRD pipe that we tried gave the bike a little hit in the middle, which made the linear powerband more exciting.
      As far as suspension goes, Doug was pretty happy with the stock Honda. Most other riders feel it’s a little nervous in turns, but Doug’s feeling was that he could address this with suspension changes, but it would create problems in other departments. On last year’s Honda 450, Doug was never a big fan of the links and shortened shocks that brought the rear end down. He preferred bringing the front end up, and that’s the tact he took with the 250 as well.
      In ring two, we had the Kawasaki guys out helping dial in the KX450. The KX looks unchanged for 2010, but it’s different in some significant ways. For one thing, it’s faster. That’s saying a lot, considering that the bike was already crazy fast last year. Mark Tilley was our primary test rider there, and most of our objective was the make the KX cushier and easier to ride. It turns out that the spring rates are stiffer at both ends for 2010. We ended up resorting to last year’s springs with good results. We also altered the powerband, using Kawasaki’s in -house PEFI software. We installed the ‘hard track’ map, which softened the powerband without loosing any real acceleration. It was a sweet bike when we were through.
      In the meantime, Tom Webb was spending quality time with Tom Moen at KTM. The subject was the new KTM 450SX. The Wolfman was trying to be objective, but it was clear that he had fallen in love with the new KTM. We know it’s fast, but the power is gentle and the suspension is surprisingly cushy. Both the Toms are big guys, and they ended up with a stiffer spring rate in the rear. The new KTM doesn’t have the old ‘stinkbug’ feel, so you can more easily address the soft rear end. We couldn’t help but comment on how stable the KTM was on Glen Helen’s steep down hill. It was as if it had a steering damper.
      Another change that Tom made was to install a new clutch master cylinder with a smaller piston. This resulted in an easier pull. For more details, you’ll have to pick up the November issue of Dirt Bike.
Doug and Wayne exchange notes on what it’s like inside Honda’s and Yamaha’s testing departments.
Greg and Mark await the next Kawasaki KX450 configuration.

 Tom Moen looks for a saddle tall enough to make the Wolfman happy.

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