8 UNDENIABLE MXA
Motorcycle shootouts are funny
things. They bring out attributes—
both good and bad—that you would
never discover by riding any individual bike by itself. They also tell us
something about motocross racers’
tastes and the manufacturers’ willingness to address their customers’
wants and needs. Here are eight
undeniable facts about shootouts.
1. THE MYTH OF POWER
Neither the fastest bike nor the
slowest bike won MXA’s 2015 450
shootout. Why not? Motocross is
more about power quality than
power quantity. It’s not how much
you make; it’s how you make it.
However, if you don’t make enough
power, it doesn’t matter how you
2. THE CORNERING FABLE
The two best-turning bikes in this
shootout (the RM-Z450 and CRF450)
are one-trick ponies. They turn very
well, but they shake at speed, twitch
in the rough and generally require
nerves of steel and a St. Christopher
medal on big, fast tracks. Overall
handling prowess does not come
with the best-cornering pedigree.
3. THE AIR-FORK FANTASY
Let’s not get too misty about air
forks. They aren’t spec’ed on 2015
bikes because they are the best forks
available. They are OEM equipment
because they are cheaper and light-
er than coil-spring forks. Air forks
improve the manufacturers’ bot-
tom line and weight specifications.
The best forks made in 2015 are
Yamaha’s old-school (heck, just plain
old) Kayaba SSS coil-spring forks.
4. THE CLUTCH CONUNDRUM
It’s no secret that many manufacturers select their clutch-spring
rates based on how easy they can
make the clutch pull feel on the
showroom floor; a buyer is more
likely to be impressed by a light
clutch pull. The downside is that the
Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda and, to a
lesser extent, Yamaha clutches aren’t
up to the task at hand for heavy
clutch users. A new clutch costs $90
for fiber plates alone, so enjoy that
showroom moment as much as possible, because you’ll be back with
your credit card next month. The
KTM and Husqvarna have no such
problems, thanks to their hydraulic
Belleville clutch design.
5. THE GEARBOX RIDDLE
Test riders don’t like bikes that
mystery shift, won’t shift under power
or miss shifts. We believe that most
people who plunk down close to 10
grand don’t like those things, either.
The Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha
suffer from one or more of these flaws.
Honda doesn’t have shifting issues
because its low-rpm powerband doesn’t
create much gear lash. That leaves
Husqvarna and KTM as the most
accurate-shifting bikes on the track.
6. THE SEAT-HEIGHT ENIGMA
The MXA test riders come in all
shapes, sizes and speeds, but modern motocross bikes come in only
one size—extra large. There are no
bikes suited to riders under 5 feet
8 inches tall. If you don’t meet that
height bar, your feet will dangle on
the starting line and your rear fender
will be scratched from your boot dragging across it as you climb on board.
Motocross bikes don’t have to be this
tall. Many factory riders run cut-down
subframes, longer shock linkages and
lower seats to get the fit they need.
Until the “Big Six” realize the error of
their ways, short riders will have to
7. THE RELIABILITY PUZZLE
MXA’s in-house slogan is: “We
don’t make ’em; we just break ’em.”
Reliability is a mysterious trait. Some
test riders are easy on equipment and
can ride the most fragile bikes with
nary a problem. Other test riders break
parts that are still in the toolbox.
For our money, Yamaha builds an
absolutely bulletproof product. We
rarely break anything on a YZ450F,
never adjust the valve train, and
content ourselves with changing tires
to get our maintenance fix.
8. THE BEST-BIKE MYSTERY
In reality, there is no “best bike” in
MXA’s six-bike shootout. Instead, there
are five bikes out of the six that aren’t
well-suited to a rider’s personality, riding style and speed. The KTM 450SXF
wins the 2015 MXA 450 shootout
not because it is the best bike, but
because it is five years ahead of the
four Japanese models in terms of layout, design, accessories and details.
If you don’t need its electric starting,
super brakes, indestructible clutch,
broad powerband, superb shifting,
durable layout or chromoly frame, then
it’s not the best bike for you.