I’ve never cared much about riding factory 450s. I take that back. When I was a pimple-faced teenager, I dreamed of riding a super- star’s bike, but now Eli Tomac’s KX450F, Ryan Dungey’s 450SXF
or Cole Seely’s CRF450 would be my last choice to race on any given
Sunday. After you’ve tested enough works bikes, the glamor fades
away. I actually dread the days when I’m assigned to test the one-off machines of the factory stars. I’m a spoiled test rider, I know, but
these bikes are no fun to ride. The suspension doesn’t move. The
components ricochet off every nook and cranny. The powerbands are
brutal. These bikes are set up for the harsh take-offs and landings of a
Supercross track. I was once an AMA National Pro; maybe, just maybe,
I would have been a factory rider if I had set my bike up so that it
was hard to ride.
“IN RETROSPECT, MY FIRST FEW
MOMENTS ON THE TRACK WERE FUNNY.
WITH A PUNCH OF THE THROTTLE, THE
REAR END CAME OUT TO SAY HELLO.
I WASN’T EVEN HALFWAY DOWN THE
START STRAIGHT WHEN TIME SLOWED
DOWN AND I THOUGHT TO MYSELF,
“I’M ABOUT TO CRASH A BIKE THAT COSTS
MORE THAN MY HOUSE!”
Which leads me to testing Romain Febvre’s Motocross des Nations-winning Yamaha YZ450FM—not just riding it at the local track, but
on the exact same Maggiora track where Team France had won the
prestigious event for the third straight time. It all started while watching poetry in motion at the Motocross des Nations (MXDN) this year.
It was obvious that many of the European stars, such as Tony Cairoli,
Jeffrey Herlings and Romain Febvre, had effortless riding styles. By
comparison, Team USA’s riders looked as if they were working harder
to go just as fast. I started to ponder, was it man or machine that was
making it look so effortless? Two days after the MXDN I would get
my chance to find out. John Basher and I had been invited to ride the
Yamaha works bikes on the exact same Maggiora track where the race
had been held. I felt like a pimple-faced teenager again, and you would
too. I was in Italy with my buddy John riding Yamaha works bikes on
one of the most iconic racetracks in the world.
My assignment was to test the bike of 2015 FIM 450 World
Champion and two-time MXDN winner Romain Febvre. It was a 230-
pound, electric-start Yamaha YZ450FM. Before climbing aboard the
Frenchman’s steed, I chatted with Yamaha GP team manager and
Romain’s mechanic Massimo Rampant about Romain’s relationship
with his YZ450FM. He was transparent about every detail. It was as if
he had nothing to hide (unlike the secretive U.S teams).
“I’ve worked for seven or eight riders before Romain, but it was
never easy like now,” said Massimo. “The first and most important
thing is that Romain knows what he wants. He doesn’t change his
mind. He likes to try many things, but only on practice days. When
race day comes around, he doesn’t change a thing and focuses on the
track.” When I asked him what Romain was particular about and what
parts he was hard on, Massimo said, “He doesn’t like the rigid feel of
By Daryl Ecklund