We fly to New Zealand to ride a bike that could well be the most versatile Japanese machine ever built
Story Damien Ashenhurst | Photos Geoff Osborne
Yamaha is throwing models at the market like it’s a snowball fight and it’s in it to win it. The last couple of years have seen a heap of new bikes on and off road and there’s still more to come. Still, you have to be impressed with what the company has been able to do with the YZ450F. Not only did Yamaha produce a brilliant motocross bike but from that base design we also get the WR450F and the YZ450FX. The WR450F we’re fairly familiar with but until now we’d only seen the FX as a 250F, which was a brilliant little bike with more spunk than its WR-F cousin.
The YZ450FX is aimed at racers and those lucky few in Australia with access to rec rego, a much smaller audience than the WR450F attracts. But it will also be a popular model in New Zealand and America — here we’ll just have to wait for legislators to pull their fingers out. And let’s hope they do soon because this is a great bike.
But we’ll need move on to the ride before I go into one of my anti-establishment rants. Stupid government …
The concept behind the YZ450FX is simple. It’s a lighter bike than the WR-F but not as aggressive as the YZ-F. It has electric start, which most motocross riders would be thankful for, let alone the trail crew.
It has a plusher suspension setup for enduro conditions and the ECU runs a map that offers a slightly more subdued output compared to the YZ-F. It also has silver rims, which are shinier than black rims. Makes sense, right?
The YZ-FX runs the wide-ratio gearbox and the same frame mounts that come with the WRF. And in a complete tip of the cap to its enduro leanings, the bike also comes with an 18-inch rear wheel, bashplate and sidestand. So, as you can see, it’s a true coming together of the YZ-F and WR-F. It’s that middle ground that those who find the YZ-F too much and the WR-F not enough will appreciate.
And, while we’re talking about it predominantly as an enduro bike through this feature, don’t doubt that this bike will show up on an MX start line in numbers. The e-start and less pounding ride will attract a lot of riders and one of those happens to be the muscle behind the bike’s development: the great Josh Coppins. He personally loves the YZ450FX as an option on the motocross track.
The YZ-FX frame is YZ-F all the way, with the exception of the reduction of the mounts from 8mm to 6mm, which serves to offer more flex. The engine is also all YZ-F with few exceptions. The rearward-slanted powerplant has proved to be strong and reliable no matter what’s thrown at it and Yamaha saw no reason to mess with it except to fit the WR450F gearbox.
Obviously, the electrics are beefed up to handle the electric start but the bike carries nothing as bulky as the WR450F wiring loom.
Did I mention the launch was in New Zealand? No, I didn’t. Righto, the launch was in New Zealand. We flew into the Kiwi paradise of Queenstown which is one of the coolest towns on the planet. It’s beautiful, friendly and chock full of stuff that you look at and say, “We’d never be allowed to do that in Australia.”
Hence the fact that we could ride the YZ450FX anywhere because in New Zealand law enforcement has better things to do than hunt down trail riders. The guys across the ditch — or dutch, as they say — really are governed a lot smarter than we are. They just hit the eluctric start button or slam the kuckstarter and go. Maybe adjust the cluckers during the day but aside from that they can ride all day wherever it’s allowed (which is almost everywhere) with no fear of a full-scale police operation. OK, no more Kiwi jokes, but they really do have this stuff sorted.
Our ride started on a property operated by Offroad Adventures, a company run by the super-cool Columb family. The property has a bunch of tracks and places to explore and the family couldn’t be friendlier and more focused on making sure you have everything you need for a great ride.
We spent the morning doing a bunch of loops on one of the tracks before we headed into the mountains. And man, does NZ have mountains! We have hills. They have huge, never-ending, snow-capped monsters that stretch as far as you can see, which seems like forever because there’s no pollution.
I admit that when the launch was first proposed I had in the back of my mind that the FX would be like riding a YZ-F and spending hours trail riding on a motocross bike didn’t really appeal. Who wants to be beaten up like that if you don’t actually have to do time in a Turkish prison?
Lesson number one on the launch was that the bike feels little like a YZ-F courtesy of a far plusher feel in the initial part of the stroke. I sped the compression up by three clicks at the shock but did nothing else to the suspension the entire ride.
This bike is well balanced and surprisingly comfortable with no sign of the punishing ride I expected. The FX handles the smaller trail trash with ease and of course big drops, jumps or G-outs are no problem. Though it’s certainly not as plush as a WR-F, I was blown away by how forgiving it is while maintaining a robustness to handle the higher-speed sections and bigger hits.
The steering feels lighter than a WR-F and, while the overall weight difference isn’t massive, it is noticeable that you’re on a lighter bike. That, coupled with an engine with more poke than anyone could ever need, makes the FX an insanely fun bike to ride on the trails. It would also be a good option for the extreme enduro crowd (we’d fit the thermo fan) looking for a reliable, tough build on a lighter bike.
I’m honestly not sure how many hours we rode but we arrived at the track early in the morning and got back to the hotel in time to go to dinner. We spent most of the time going up a mountain, going down a mountain or riding along the side of a mountain.
The tracks were predominantly open and quick with plenty of rocks and plants with spikey shit all over them. I got off the 450 at one point and got onto a YZ250FX, a bike I really like, and to be honest I just wanted the 450 back. It’s a far easier bike to ride than I thought it would be and it’s also rewarding and a crazy amount of fun.
Is it better than the WR-F? That’s a big question and in fact it’s just as big as is it better than the YZ-F because the YZ450FX can and will pilfer riders from both motocross and off-road. Sadly, our laws will restrict the numbers of riders drawn to it for trail riding but motocross riders looking for a less Chad Reed-ready bike will love the FX for its extra flex, slightly less brutal engine and electric start.
This is one of the first modern bikes that we feel truly pissed we’ll miss out on through lack of rec rego. The YZ250X is fun and the YZ250FX is brilliant, too, but Yamaha’s X formula seems to come together at its best in the 450FX and that the Kiwis and Americans will get to enjoy it more than we can just sucks.
If your riding allows the use of a non-registered bike, don’t hesitate to jump on a YZ450FX and give it a go against a WR-F. And if you’re looking for a torque monster with less of a mean streak on the MX track, then again, give the FX a go. Yamaha has an incredibly versatile bike on its hands; we just need a member of parliament to get on one and see what we see.