Yamaha never had a chance to win the “2017 MXA 450 Shootout.” The die was cast when the only noticeable change Yamaha made between 2016 and 2017 was to recess the holes in the gas-tank cover where the Dzus
fasteners go. You don’t need a degree in plasma physics to see that a bike that finished fourth in the “2016 MXA 450 Shootout” is unlikely to move up in the rankings
just because the Dzus fasteners don’t catch on your pants anymore.
Yamaha is the most reliable bike on the track. It can take a licking and keep on
ticking, but so can a Caterpillar D6. Ever wanted to race one of those?
HOW DOES THE YZ450F RATE IN THE MAJOR CATEGORIES?
Power output: Very good. You don’t find a lot of mid-to-top powerbands in the
ranks of 450 motocross bikes. Normally, a 450cc engine designer is trying to find
ways to mellow out the power and move it lower in the powerband. Not Yamaha.
They went for the gusto with an engine that pulls harder on top than it does on
the bottom. In a straight line the YZ450F is a guided missile that is zeroing in on
the next turn. It does its best work beyond 9000 rpm—and in the motocross world
9000 rpm and up is the territory of professional motorcycle racers who are willing
to hold it on and leave it on. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be ridden by a Novice
or a Vet, just that it won’t live up to all its potential. To the MXA wrecking crew,
the best YZ450F strategy is to go richer on the fuel and retard the ignition map. We
added a 9-ounce flywheel weight to churn up the powerband, and then geared it
down by one tooth with an eye towards getting into third gear sooner. This takes
away some of the snarling aggression off the bottom and spreads out the transition
into the top.
Suspension: Excellent. We are pretty sure that this is what Honda was aiming for when they decided to switch from air forks to coil-spring forks for 2017.
Yamaha’s Kayaba SSS components are the gold standard of motocross suspension—
and they have been for 11 years. How is it possible that no other company has been
able to build better suspension than the stuff that Yamaha started using in 2006?
Most of the motorcycle industry spun its wheels in pursuit of air forks and, worse
yet, a different air fork every year. Yamaha didn’t go chasing unicorns.
Handling: Fair. For most MXA test riders, the Yamaha YZ450F’s handling characteristics are not their cup of tea. We think that it is vague at tip-in, pushes on flat
corners, has a hitch in its giddy-up at mid-corner and weighs 238 pounds (but feels
like it weighs 239 pounds). MXA has been critical of Yamaha’s front-end response
for as long as we can remember. Superb handling has never been Yamaha’s strong
point—suspension, yes; cornering, no. Maybe it’s just us, but we find the ergonomics to be weirdly disconcerting. In stock trim, it feels too tall in the rear. It gives
the impression that it’s overly wide at the radiators. It feels tippy and top-heavy. It
isn’t flat enough for our tastes. And, creative centralization of mass can’t make up
for the 16 extras pounds it carries over the KTM 450SXF. We know that if we only
raced a YZ450F and never adapted to another brand of bike that the YZ450Fs pec-cadilloes would seem natural. So, if you own a Yamaha YZ450F, stay off of a KTM.
Brakes: Fair. Yamaha brakes have never been class-leading, so when everyone,
save for Suzuki, went to 270mm front brake rotors to trump KTM’s 260mm rotor,
you would have thought that Yamaha would maintain their status quo. We don’t
think so. The Yamaha front brake is grabby and not as well modulated as it could
Clutch: Very good. For a cable-operated, coil-spring clutch, the YZ450F is the
best of the Japanese manufacturers’ offerings. We typically run stiffer clutch
springs for added security.
Weight: Poor. When KTM knocked 12-1/2 pounds off of the 450SXF in three
short years, the “Big Four” were left gasping at the rapid change. With their four-year development cycles, they couldn’t respond, proven by the fact that the 2017
Honda CRF450, the first new bikes released since KTM joined Weight Watchers,
didn’t lose a single pound. As for Yamaha, they aren’t the heaviest bike on the track
for 2017, but they are much closer to the heaviest than the lightest.
Horsepower: Good. Given that the 2017 YZ450F engine package is identical
to the 2016 mechanicals, it makes the exact same horsepower—it peaks at 56. 85
horsepower at 9800 rpm. That’s solid, but really unchanged mathematically from
the 2015 and 2016 engines. In the pecking order of peak horsepower, the YZ450F
ranks fourth behind the KTM, Honda and Husqvarna (for comparison, the KTM
makes 57. 98, Honda 57. 49 and Husqvarna 57. 14) to Yamaha’s 56. 85.
2017 YAMAHA YZ450F CONCLUSION
Two years ago the 2015 YZ450F was third in the MXA 450 shootout. Last year
it dropped to fourth because it didn’t get appreciably improved. This year it drops
to fifth for the same reason. Yamaha must see the writing on the wall, and since
they are on the fourth year of the YZ450F’s production cycle, we are ready for our
yearly chant of “Wait until next year!” The pressing question is whether Yamaha’s
product planners are ready to match the technological leaps that KTM took over
the last two years. If they are, we are ready.