2018 450 MX SHOOTOUT

We take the 450 motocross line-up, a freshly prepped track and a range of testers to determine the best 450 MX bike in 2018. 

Motocross bikes have never been as advanced as they are in 2018. Potential customers are presented with a world of choice when they step into the local dealership. The 2018 line-up is mixed between air-forks and tried and tested spring forks. All bikes are now EFI equipped with either computer based tuning, plug and play tuning couplers or now app-based tuning. Add in electric start versus kick start and you’ve got one of the most exciting line-ups of bikes yet.

Ok, so let’s get the elephant out of the room. No, there’s no red bike here being tested. Honda Australia were unable to provide a 2018 Honda CRF450R due to their late-arrival in the country. We tried to source a 2017 CRF450R from a local dealer as a comparison, but unfortunately that fell-through at the 11th hour. So, with that done, we have five wicked 450 motocross weapons and a pristine track ready for a full day of moto action.

THE TRACK

For our shootout we chose the Maitland MX facility near Newcastle in NSW. The club prepped the track to perfection. We arrived to a freshly ripped loamy surface and the legends from the club watered the track during the day for us. The circuit is littered with jumps, has a set of whoops and a couple of wide-open straights. There is a mixture of flat turns, berms and ruts to test the bikes cornering. Over the day the track dried out and became a little harder in some spots, which was an excellent variety in surface to put the bikes to the test. All-in-all, the Maitland MX track provided an excellent venue to put our 450 range to the test.

THE RIDERS

Here at DIRT ACTION, we feel it’s important to present a range of riders opinions to our readers. There’s no point 5 professional riders telling an average joe what they should buy, it just doesn’t work. Our riders are all experienced riders with a range of speed and riding ability from current pro, to club-racing vet.

CHRIS URQUHART – EX PROFESSIONAL, LEVEL TWO COACH.

Chris Urquhart is one of the most experienced and most highly regarded motorcycle coaches in Australia. Urk raced at a professional level in Supercross, Motocross and Thumper Nats included racing for Star Yamaha, Serco Yamaha and Staintune Racing. He still knows his way around the track at a seriously fast pace and has the style to match. Urk leads our testing staff.

CRAIG ANDERSON – 12-TIME AUSTRALIAN CHAMPION

Craig Anderson needs little introduction. A 12-time Australian National Champion racing for the biggest teams in Australia and the World, Ando has one of the most impressive resumes in Australia. He still competes at a high level, including racing at the recent Vintage Motocross Des Nations

DANIEL HERRLEIN – CURRENT AMA PROFESSIONAL

Daniel Herrlein is based in the USA and races the AMA Arenacross Championship, winning his first round in 2017. Daniel is currently in Australia racing for privateer outfit KSF Racing in the Australian Supercross Championship.

DANE THOMPSON – A-GRADE

Dane Thompson returns for his second Dirt Action test. A regular Amcross and Appin club racer, Dane is often racing events around NSW between his job as an Electrician. In 2017, Dane wrapped up the Dirt Action Amcross A & B Grade title on his trick Honda CRF450R.

GREG MASTERS – CLUBMAN

Greg ‘Hop’ Masters is a long-term Dirt Action test-rider and has built a range of project bikes for us. Still a regular racer at the Port Macquarie Motocross Club, we refer to Hop as “The Diesel” – he will ride a million laps at the same pace all day. A super tall and lanky dude, Hop gives great feedback for the taller riders amongst us. During the week, Hop is a rep for Ocean and Earth.

YAMAHA SHOOTOUT

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CHRIS URQUHART

The 2018 YZ450 is a complete new bike from the ground up and riding onto the track the first time it sure was notable. My first thought was damn this bike feels so light and nimble as I rode around the first couple of laps warming up. Once I got in a grove and stated to throw down some harder laps I became more surprised at how well the bike did everything. Probably my biggest surprise was how well the YZ450 tipped into corners and stuck to a line. This was more a surprise and something that gave me a lot of confidence immediately in the bike. Once I felt really comfortable I turned my attention to the suspension and started chasing some bumps and some kickers off the jump faces to try to get it to do something wrong. The YZ450 behaved extremely well and stayed dead straight no matter what bumps I hit. The engine was really strong and delivered fantastic power all the way through the range but this was no surprise to me as the Yamaha has always had power to burn. What was super cool was how easily you could change the maps with the new app on your phone. All in all This whole package is very user friendly and feels balanced and easy to ride consistently.

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Dane Thompson on the 2018 Yamaha YZ450F.

DANE THOMPSON

I loved the smooth power of this bike, it has enough grunt to get you out of trouble in those tight corners without feeling as if its jumping out from underneath you. The suspension felt great, although the stock springs are designed for a heavier rider I found no issues with this on the track and thought this was one of the softer bikes on the day. With a few clicker adjustments I found the stock suspension was adaptable to my 75kg weight and riding style. With the additional features of electric start, Launch control and the new smartphone power tuner app this bike is going to be one of the most desired in 2018.

DANIEL HERRLEIN
The Yamaha had a very strong motor which I liked a lot. The bike would pull almost any gear out of the turns giving riders the option to ride in a taller gear to provide smooth and controlled power. I thought the bike felt very stable at both high and low speeds. The only issue I had was we couldn’t get the sag low enough for my weight (70kg). I believe we were only able to get the sag to about 95mm. Not having enough sag in the bike caused the front forks to dive while going through rutted turns. I feel like this wouldn’t be an issue when the sag is set properly. The app the Yamaha came out with for your phone is very cool. You can adjust the ignition mapping right on your phone and even share your setting with your buddies. The app also helps you keep track of when it is time to change the oil and replace wear parts such as chain and sprockets and engine wear parts.

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Daniel Herrlein

GREG MASTERS

The first thing I noticed apart from the start button was how low the centre of gravity felt on this bike. At first it didn’t feel right to me but after a couple of laps it was awesome. The YZ was the easiest to flick from side to side in the air or on the ground and was really settled in the tight turns. It might seem like a gimmick, but the phone app is an amazing tool for any level of racer. Its super quick and easy to use. 3 seconds via a wireless connection and BOOM you’ve got a new map in your engine. The engine is super strong and with the tuner you can have what floats your boat. I preferred the smooth Hollis map over the more aggressive stock map. The YZ also still accommodates taller riders like me with the spacious ergonomics and adjustable triple clamps.

CRAIG ANDERSON

The YZ450F Had a lot of improvement from the last models I have ridden. I really liked the suspension it seemed to match from and back straight away. I liked the engine, it felt like you could torque it around the track or rev it. The gearing seemed to match quite well to the power, when you come out of the corner it would pull in second, or you could shift it up a gear it would happily pull third. The power and gear matched well. The downfall I didn’t really like I felt like I was a little cramped on it. From the seat to foot pegs on it, but I admit feel like on almost every bike. I can’t bend my right knee well, so I need a taller seat foam on all bikes accept a Honda.

 

KAWASAKI SHOOTOUT

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CHRIS URQUHART

The green machine never disappoints with its comfortable plush feel. I hadn’t ridden a KX450F in a while but a lap in here I was charging into turns harder and harder thinking to myself, man this thing is super smooth. Every time I ride a KX450F I seem to feel so comfortable to bring the pace up right the way from lap 1. I think it’s a combo of the rock-solid power delivery and the way the bike always feels so planted to the track. To be honest my favourite thing on the KXF was charging along the straights full gas and then lining up a rut and just letting the bike roll on in no matter what the track conditions were like. This allowed me to relax so much and reel off the laps without pumping up or running out of energy too quickly. The engine is unsuspectingly strong and I think it’s because how smooth the power comes on you find yourself at the end of the straight going warp speed without even knowing how you got there. I enjoyed riding the Kawi and was hard to finally get off it as I was having such a blast.

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DANE THOMPSON
The power is smooth on this bike, it is slightly underpowered compared to its competition. What it lacks in power it certainly makes up for in its cornering ability. I felt like this bike could be thrown into any corner effortlessly and would respond to your movements really well. I had instant confidence when riding this bike. The suspension handled excellently and did not feel like any previous air fork I have ridden with. It was adaptable to the track on the day. Although this bike does have launch control it is missing the big hitter of 2018, electric start.

DANIEL HERRLEIN
The first thing I noticed about the Kawasaki was how skinny it was. I feel like Kawasaki did a really good job at making the bike feel skinny and nimble. The bike really didn’t stand out in any specific areas as it was just a well-rounded bike. It has smooth power and really good handling. The suspension was very soft and plush almost giving a floaty feel at lower speeds. As I would push the bike harder it felt like the bike would settle down a bit and feel more connected to the track.

12-Time Australian Champion Craig Anderson on the KX450F.
12-Time Australian Champion Craig Anderson on the KX450F.

GREG MASTERS
I liked the way the power and the way in which I was able to roll it on in the corners. I also liked the adjustability of the bike being a tall rider. In the afternoon I rode the KX with its foot pegs lowered 5mm and the bars moved forward in the triple clamps. I noticed the pegs adjustment mostly when sitting down in the corners and found myself further up on the bike – which is a good thing. Out of the adjustable maps, I liked the hard pack map.
Overall it did everything pretty well.

CRAIG ANDERSON
I felt like the adjust ability in the footPegs helped me. It felt like it had more room when they were dropped. Engine-wise, the power did sign off a little bit to me, in saying that It was a bit easier to ride than most of the others which have crazy power, it was that little bit smoother.  I had to play with the suspension a little to get it right. The air fork was a bit harsh but we got it a lot better and when it was sitting a little lower.

HUSQVARNA

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CHRIS URQUHART

The FC450 has such a primo look and fell. If you are chasing a bike that has that little bit of finesse the Husky is for you. When I sit on the Husky im like yep this bad boy is such a sweet ride! The ergos of the FC 450 are so spot on and it’s such a balanced ride with more power than most will need in a lifetime. The WP air fork feels amazing and does no wrong all the way from the sharp chattery bumps through to the big impacts. I ended up with 136PSI in the fork which gave it a nice plush feeling while still holding up under brakes and on corner entry. The rear shock matches this feel perfectly and handles everything from jumps to whoops in such a confidence building way. My favourite setting for the electronics was map 2 with TC (traction control) activated. The track at Maitland had a lot of grip through the mid turn but was becoming quite slippery on the exits so the TC setting really came into its own. When it came to stopping the husky the new Magura brake combo was so strong I had to be careful of how hard I braked into turns.

DANE THOMPSON
This bike had loads of power and it loved riding it the higher rev range. Having a hydraulic clutch and gripper seat is a great addition to assist with the power of this bike. The suspension felt great and handled extremely well under high speeds and choppy conditions. This bike was quite slippery in hard packed conditions but loved the loam and ruts, this may mean a simple tyre change. This bike is loaded with features such as electric start, traction control and mapping that can be changed on the go.

Chris Urquhart.
Chris Urquhart.

DANIEL HERRLEIN

Not much to say about this bike as it is basically the same as the KTM. One difference is our test Husky had Magura brakes instead of the Brembos like the KTM. At first I was not a fan of the Magura brakes because they are not quite as responsive as the Brembo brakes on the KTM. After getting used to them I felt they provided a smoother feel making it easier for the average rider to use the brakes properly without locking them up and sliding out of control. Current stock of Husqvarna’s have Magura, but we may see future bikes in Australia fitted with Brembo.

GREG MASTERS

I really liked how comfortable I felt on the Husky. At 187cms I sometimes get hung up on the radiator shrouds but the shape of the Huskys were really accommodating. I felt the motor made fairly strong power. Map 2 did feel more lively to me. I felt the Husky was one of the more forgiving bikes that I could be more aggressive on without getting into too much trouble especially when my tongue was about to get caught in the chain and started to riding over my head. I’m also a fan of the premium components, when you purchase a Husqvarna you know you are ready to hit the track straight from the dealer.

CRAIG ANDERSON
Obviously everything feels a lot like a KTM, it felt like it sat a little higher in the rear with the different subframe. The power seemed to be a little flatter off the bottom when compared to our test KTM. But otherwise it’s the same as the engine. Even though the forks are supposed to be same, it felt a little soft in the front end. The controls are high quality, It seemed to lack a little punch off the bottom.

Ando skims across Maitland's whoops on the FC450.
Ando skims across Maitland’s whoops on the FC450.

 

SUZUKI SHOOTOUT

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CHRIS URQUHART
Suzuki have nailed it with the new RMZ450. I immediately felt super comfortable on the yellow machine. I first rode my warm up session with the richest of the 3 maps that you have to choose from and thought it was super smooth but didn’t hit hard enough for me. However this would be a fantastic setting for a clubman rider or on hard pack tracks. I ended up with the leaner map or standard which really brought the RMZ to life. The overall feel was great and through the fast sharp edged bumps the RMZ suspension worked a treat. The thing that felt really good straight off the bat was the flat seat and rider position. I felt that everything was easily accessible and easy to use.

Dane Thompson on the 2018 RM-Z450
Dane Thompson on the 2018 RM-Z450

DANE THOMPSON
The power on this bike is extremely smooth but it does have less grunt than some of the other bikes on the market. It makes it super easy to ride however and that’s a great asset to the bike. I found that the bike handled well after adjusting the suspension and this bike gets plenty of traction. I did have a bit of trouble when turning the bike, it felt a bit forced, which could be due to my weight on the bike. Suzuki holeshot assist control is a nice addition, but again missing the big feature of an electric start.

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DANIEL HERRLEIN
The Suzuki has the smoothest power of all the bikes. I feel the Suzuki engine would be good for someone who really likes to twist the throttle hard.  The suspension felt really good right away from the stock settings. The only thing we adjusted was the geometry of the bike by changing the sag and the fork height. The bike would turn really good, the sharper the turn, the more the bike would turn.

GREG MASTERS
The 2018 Suzuki RM-Z looks amazing, it’s such a sharp looking machine, the updates have given it the new look it needed. I preferred the lean map for more throttle response. It livened up the engine and gave it that extra excitement. I did feel a noticeable engine braking, which I wasn’t the biggest fan of. Being a taller guy, I simply rolled the handlebars forward and was comfortable on the RM-Z. Overall the RM-Z is a really good bike but it does lack that excitement. On the flip side, it makes it really easy to ride which will appeal to a range or riders.

Craig Anderson
Craig Anderson

CRAIG ANDERSON
The first laps on the RM-Z450 weren’t that great. I felt like when I turned the throttle it didn’t really do anything, it was almost like you had to really turn the throttle. But the more I got to know the bike and become more comfortable on it, I had to rev it and it was better. I rode this bike a couple of times to get to know it, once I got it set up it was a lot better. The power isn’t as aggressive as the others, but it was probably the easiest to ride out of all the bikes. Harder to ride faster, but easy to ride for longer.

KTM SHOOTOUT

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CHRIS URQUHART
As I first rolled out onto the track on the KTM I rolled the gas on and thought wow what a weapon. Everything feels spot on on this beast. The way the KTM launches as you roll the throttle on is amazing. I played around a lot on the KTM hitting the same sections over and over trying different gears and actually trying to pick some faults with the orange machine. The power is fantastic no matter what gear you are in whether you want to short shift or rev the thing to the moon it just keeps going forward. The electronics work a treat too with the 2 different maps and traction control option. This is far from a gimmick and makes a massive difference to how the power is delivered. I liked the balanced feel of the KTM and the WP air fork is a massive win and the adjustability you have with a simple fork pump blows me away. One thing I loved about the KTM is how no matter how hard I kept pushing it, it remained predictable and didn’t do any crazy stuff. This to me build confidence and lets you relax as a rider.

Greg Masters
Greg Masters

DANE THOMPSON
This bike had loads of power and it loved riding it the higher rev range. Having a hydraulic clutch is great however it is missing a big key which is the gripper seat. The suspension felt great and handled extremely well under high speeds and choppy conditions. This bike was quite slippery in hard packed conditions but loved the loam and ruts, this may mean a simple tyre change. This bike is loaded with features such as electric start, traction control and mapping that can be changed on the go.

DANIEL HERRLEIN
The KTM is a well-rounded bike with lots of power with a smooth delivery. This bike is great for riders that like to turn with the rear end. I was able to slide the rear end around berms and flat turns almost effortlessly compared to most of the Japanese bikes that like to turn with the front end. One thing I noticed was the forks felt a little harsh and twitchy at high speeds with the standard pressure. I lowered the air pressure in the front forks and that immediately made the forks feel much more plush at higher speeds, shows the impressive adjustability in the air forks.

GREG MASTERS
The bike has a lively and aggressive feel, but is also forgiving. I’m a fan of the hydraulic clutch and electric start. After a couple of laps I went a little less air pressure in the forks which improved the feel for me. A real race thoroughbred which delivers strong power but is very manageable. Map 1 was enough for my ability. Once you start riding you soon understand why KTMs are getting the results at the highest level of competition. Nothing I didn’t like really. This bike has spunk!

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CRAIG ANDERSON
I liked pretty much everything about the KTM, the only thing I didn’t like was the air fork. I didn’t mind it under brakes it held up well but when you turned in, it had a bit of a dead feeling it was honestly about the only thing I didn’t like. It was different to the Yamaha because to me, I had to ride it in one particular way. I couldn’t switch between revving it right out or short shifting. When you ride in the meat of the power its great. The overall power and weight and change of direction is really good. I did feel at times as if I was falling off the back a little bit, but I liked the feeling on the bike – it was really easy to ride and especially easy to ride fast.

 

WINNER

YAMAHA YZ450F

450 winner

All-new for 2018, Yamaha have developed an amazing 450 motorcycle for riders and racers alike. It’s lighter, more powerful and the app-based tuning has given it that little touch ahead of the competition. The most talked about feature of the new Yamaha is the amazing handling, we had test riders from 98kg to 70kg, from current AMA professional to clubman and each rider commented on how well the YZ handled around the Maitland circuit – that’s impressive.

With Dean Ferris resigning with the powerhouse CDR Yamaha team to race the 2018 Yamaha YZ450F here in Australia once again, you can expect to see plenty of blue around the race tracks in the new season.

With the additional features of electric start, launch control and the new smartphone power tuner app this bike is going to be one of the most desired in 2018.”