showroom floor and take it straight to a National and
race it. It wouldn’t be the fastest bike there. It wouldn’t
have the best brakes. It wouldn’t be the lightest bike on
the track. But, it would have the best suspension. That is
something to crow about.
Power: The 2012 powerband is better than the 2011
powerband because Yamaha modulated the burst off the
bottom and slowed down the quick rush into the mid.
The ignition mapping and exhaust pipe changes produce
a decent spread of power.
Suspension: Awesome is the only word that applies
to Kayaba’s SSS forks and shock. It is the best stuff on
the track in any displacement category of any year of any
bike ever made.
Handling: The new suspension damping reduced the
YZ450F’s tendency to wiggle on the entrance to turns.
It’s not in the same league as the KTM or Suzuki, but it
isn’t as bad as its lack of street cred implies.
The word: Never underestimate the importance of
great suspension. When more powerful engines and
quicker-turning bikes are bouncing through the whoops,
the YZ450F is floating on a cloud. Plus, it is the most
reliable bike in the field. Those two pluses pay dividends
when you are racing on your own dime.
THIRD PLACE: SUZUKI RM-Z450
Number three! In last year’s MXA 450 shootout, the
Suzuki RM-Z450 was a close second to the KTM 450SXF,
but you didn’t really think that the yellow bike could stay
there without anteing up in the high-stakes game of
performance motorcycles, did you? They didn’t win last
year, and there is no way that the exact same bike is
going to win against bikes that have been improved this
year. Yet, the bike was so good last year that it
did hold on to a top-three finish. The RM-Z450 needs
several tweaks to make it into the best bike in the class
(improved shifting, clutch, cooling and spring rates). It
didn’t get them for 2012.
Power: The 2012 RM-Z450’s power is exceptionally
manageable off the bottom, builds steadily through the
middle, and, unlike the dead-on-top RM-Z450s of 2007
through 2009, it pulls across the top without the dreaded
rev-limiter pop. The powerband is deliberate, focused and
has the third-best output of 2012.
Suspension: Suzuki needs to go to stiffer fork springs
to hold the bike higher in its stroke. Without the proper
ride height, the RM-Z450 feels out of balance and low in
Handling: Nothing corners like a Suzuki. The RM-Z450
has more oversteer than any other make (achieved by a
very steep head angle), and while that pays dividends in
the corners, it can get busy in the rough.
The word: The 2012 RM-Z450 is the third best engine
in the 450 class, mated to an agile chassis, average
suspension and a boatload of shortcomings.
SECOND PLACE: KTM 450SXF
Number two! The MXA wrecking crew was torn
between the 2012 KTM 450SXF and the Kawasaki
KX450F. The KTM won the MXA 450 shootout in 2010
and 2011. And, in the minds of a reasonable number of
MXA test riders, it should have won in 2012. Why? This
is a do-it-all machine. It has electric start, but only weighs
one pound more than the KX450F. It has a bulletproof
hydraulic clutch, with the only Belleville washer-style
spring in production. It is the best-handling bike in the
class; although the RM-Z450 earns brownie points for its
turning ability. It has four-way-adjustable triple clamps
to allow the bars to be moved in every direction but up.
The powerband is expansive, easy to use, fast on top
and blessed with the kind of feel that only a carb can
provide. The suspension is a Yamaha clone, albeit not as
good as the YZ450F’s.
Power: This is the most usable power in the 450 field.
It starts off mellow and builds into a crescendo of power
that has to be felt to be believed.
Suspension: The KTM’s suspension is dialed into its
chosen customer base, which isn’t AMA Pros.
Handling: The 2012 KTM 450SXF has incredible
handling. It doesn’t oversteer or understeer. It goes
where you point it.
The word: Even with the best powerband, best
clutch, best brakes, best overall handling and most
creative design, the KTM 450SXF didn’t win in 2012.
Perhaps it should have (and for a host of riders looking
for a sleek, attractive and usable machines—this is it).