new frames and is sensitive to the pull of the throttle
cable, which he runs a lot of play in. Romain is very easy
on the engine and clutch, although he is extremely hard
on the rear brake pads. He can go through three pairs on
race day, as he tends to drag the rear brake.”
The bike itself is a work of art. All hardware, internal
and external, is titanium, save for the axles (as the FIM
rulebook bans Ti axles). The precious metal is accented
by the carbon fiber gas tank and subframe. The total
weight of the bike, without gas, is 8 pounds lighter than
a standard YZ450F, and that’s with an electric starter and
battery (it is, however, still 8 pounds heavier than a stock
2017 KTM 450SXF). Romain’s bike shed some weight by
only using a four-speed transmission. The frame remained
standard, although the rake was extended out 3mm to
help with stability, and the swingarm was reinforced to
add rigidity to the rear end.
When I swung a leg over the bike, the first few things
I noticed were the sweptback bar bend and the hump
in the seat, which I tended to sit directly on top of.
Other than those two peccadilloes, all the controls were
in a normal position. The pull of the Brembo hydraulic
clutch was smooth, as was the throttle. For me, Romain’s
desired free-play in the throttle felt incredibly strange.
Overall, I felt that Romain’s setup was awkward. Having
become accustomed to stereotyping these fine machines
in the past, however, I was trying to have an open mind
and not judge a book by its cover—at least until the
rubber hit the dirt.
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!” Unceremoniously, I slid out, with the only damage
done to my ego. I turned right around and went straight
back to the pits. Luckily, the pits were only 50 feet away.
I thought maybe Massimo had forgotten to set the tire
pressure, so I calmly asked him to set the pressure for
me. “No,” Massimo replied.
Thinking that something was lost in the translation
from English to Italian, I asked slower this time: “Could
you set it for me, please.”
Massimo said, “No.”
I decided to try a new tack. “Can I set the tire
pressure?” I asked.
“No,” said Massimo for the third time.
I started laughing, because this wasn’t the first time
at a test ride when the factory personnel wouldn’t let
me adjust tire pressure. I decided to press a little harder,
“Why not?” I asked. That is when Massimo told me that
he couldn’t change the tire pressure because Romain ran
bib mousses front and rear.
I got back on the bike as Massimo told me to take a
few laps to break in the new mousses. Only 50 percent
of the track was fully prepped from the MXDN race. The
faces of the jumps, insides of corners and the hills were
in raw form. I thought the track looked challenging from
the sidelines; riding the track was a whole other story.
The lips had huge kickers on them, while the landings
were ultra steep. I’ve ridden on a wide assortment of
tracks around the world, and this one caught me off
guard. But as the mousses got softer, I could feel the rear
end start to grip the ground, and, nestled into Romain’s
cockpit (instead of sitting on top of it), I picked up the
The initial part of the stroke on the forks was super
soft. They absorbed small chatter like it wasn’t even
there. I was concerned about jumping the bigger jumps,
as I feared the forks would blow through once I hit the