Hidden Gems "Vet Racing"

This installment of hidden gems is going to be a little different than the others, in that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with a product. This hidden gem is more along the lines of a mindset and getting back to doing the thing that once gave you so much joy, THAT’S RACING! You see, I call vet racing a hidden gem because like so many other riders sometimes when we get older we can get less competitive. Like many of you out there; once I got into my later twenties, racing became not as much fun as the competition became younger, faster, and more willing to take risks than my 29-year-old married self. (editors note: You were 29 MIKE?! I MEAN, COME ON!! YOU’RE IN YOUR PRIME!!!) Between the ages of 26-29 I found myself in a weird place when it came to motorcycling; I would help Kris test products, go to the track and practice, and trail ride with my friends, but had no real desire to race. The reason I lost that desire is because I was getting smoked by younger, more enthusiastic riders that didn't have a 10 or so hour a day real job. Call me a poor sport if you will, but I found myself mentally defeated before the gate or banner would even drop. 


Like I said, I was in a weird spot because I saw racing the Vet class as “lame” or just for slow people who couldn’t cut it anymore and to me the Vet class was a symbol of admitting defeat. My mindset all changed when I went down to Mexico with Alexander Smith (Malcolm’s son) to race the Tecate Enduro in 2018. You see Alexander and I have a relationship like most of you with riding buddies… We will talk endless amounts of shit to each other before a race knowing damn well that you may lose, but not caring one bit because it’s a “friendly rival”. Alexander had raced the vet class the two years before as he is older than myself (and of course I gave him endless amounts of shit for being an old man) and in 2018 when I turned 31 he said I should race “Vet” so I could “come race with the real men”. When I signed up, I honestly didn’t know what to expect for competition, I figured I would do well, but it still didn’t seem like I was racing for the overall like I used to be (it felt more like being a side show instead of the main event). 


When you race a sprint Enduro you start with your class, so instead of starting on a row between 7-10 guys, I was now starting on a row between 40-50 guys. This was a little weird because I knew there were going to be plenty of guys in front of me that I’d have to pass in every test. As I got to the line and started chatting with the other Vet racers around me it was actually refreshing that everyone was super friendly and in a different place in life, when compared to the 21-year-old fearless riders I was used to starting next to. We talked married life, having kids, our jobs, instead of getting hammered and partying (although a few beers were had after the race). As the race started, I noticed that just because I was entered in the vet class that didn’t we were the slow class. In fact, there were many “Vet dudes” that I had to really push my poor little 125’s throttle cable past its limit to pass or even keep up with. The race was brutal and took over 4 hours to finish with 3 long technical special tests to complete. After all was said and done the results were posted that night and to my surprise, the vet class didn’t end up being the slow class at all! In fact, the first nine riders were pro, followed by the winner of the Vet class (not me) two more pro riders, then myself where I finished 2nd Vet and 13th overall out of 184 finishers. After being all up in my head about racing the “old man” class and feeling washed up, the results showed the first three Vet riders ended up beating the winner of the open class. I’m a basket case! 


I didn’t write this story to stroke my ego (ok maybe it feels good knowing Alexander will read about me beating him again), but to give former younger racers turning old racers some advice. Just because you’re older, think you’re slower, fatter, and less competitive doesn’t mean you can’t go out and still kick some ass. Just know that just because you aren’t as fast as you once were, doesn’t mean you can’t also have a great time. Don’t get me wrong, I'm no pro racer nor do I ever think I was, but I showed up, entered the “old guy” class, raced my ass off with guys my age and had a blast doing it. Isn’t that what this is all about? Having fun and creating memories? Also, it’s fun to be the “young” guy in the “old guy” class. Since Alexander talked me into racing the Vet class in Mexico, I have raced the Vet class everywhere I go and have found the same camaraderie in every discipline (even moto where sometimes other racers are way too cool). The bottom line is that I have found Vet racing to be a hidden gem because it has re-lit a fire under me to get back out there racing and enjoy my motorcycle. Plus, it always feels good to beat a younger guy, shake his hand, then pull off my helmet and show off my shimmering silver locks.  


How To Whip

Not to say that I am James Stewart and that I am whipping every single jump on the track, but I can maybe help you shy away from those dreaded butt whips you’re doing! Let’s face it one of the best feelings of riding a dirt bike is hitting a jump and whipping it flat! It’s bad ass! Plus you can get some good looking Instabangers and possibly pull some chics right? I will attempt to teach you the basics on how to get the best whip you can out of yourself. The key elements of learning how to whip are having proper form and finding the right jump to do it. On the bike you must stay loose and on the balls of your feet. That is probably still to this day one of the hardest things to remember while I ride, which is to ride on the balls of my feet. When you ride on the balls of your feet you are more centered and stable on the bike, also you are able to move around more freely and loose. Another key is to find one of the most comfortable jumps that you ride (with no kickers on it) and that you feel comfortable on. Once you can jump straight and in control, try these steps:


1. Coming up the face of the jump you want to start carving or turning as you're riding up. You almost want a half moon-shaped line going up the face of the jump. This allows the bike to already start the whip before you even take off. I would also start by practicing going off of the jump sitting. It is much easier to whip sitting down than standing. It also gives the bike more pop coming off of the lip. 


2. As you just get ready to leave the face of the jump start pushing against the frame on your inside leg (depending on which way you throw whips). This allows more force on the inside of the machine and keeps its trajectory going that way. As your rear end starts to come out you want to loosen up your outside leg a little to keep the bike in its whip position. You will find that your outside leg will kind of already be off of the outside peg a little (which is good as long as it’s not dangling out there too much). 


3. As you enter the middle portion of your jump you will want to try to turn your handlebars towards the outside (pointing in the upward direction). This helps get the bike flatter as you're pushing with your inside leg to kick back end out, while your pushing with your outside arm on the bar downward to flatten the bike out. 


4. As you begin to come back down to the ground you will want to straighten your handlebar out and stop pushing with your inside leg. This will keep the bike from coming out too far. You will than transfer your weight back to your outside leg to push against the frame to straighten out rear end of bike. By now you and your bike should be as close to straight as possible.


5.  As you begin to come back down to the ground you will want to straighten your handlebar out and stop pushing with your inside leg. This will keep the bike from coming out too far. You will than transfer your weight back to your outside leg to push against the frame to straighten out rear end of bike. By now you and your bike should be as close to straight as possible.

Notes: If you find yourself not completely straightened out by the time you land just make sure your body is as straight on the bike as possible. If your body is perpendicular with your machine and you are stiff your bike will swap back the opposite way and slap you on the ground and then you will be all pissed off at me! Remember, take it slow and give it some time. A solid whip will come to you as you get more comfortable on the bike. Learning to whip doens’t happen overnight and takes some practice. Keep working on it and you'll look like James did when he hit a Supercross finish line jump!

2019 450/250 MX Gearing Specs

I have spent (as well as the Keefer Inc. Test Riders) a lot of time testing gearing on each machine on several different types of tracks. We did our evaluations on tight clay based tracks to flowing sandier based type courses. Since the word “gearing” is in the subject line in a lot of my emails, I thought I would condense some of the best gearing specs we have come up with for our 2019 test machines. We DO NOT however just change the gearing for the sake of changing the gearing like some other media testing outlets, but if a certain bike does need “one tooth” or more we will most certainly recommend that gearing. These gearing specs are for stock engines and/or with aftermarket mufflers. If you have engine work done to your bike chances are you could change gearing on a few of these machines. As usual if you have any questions we are here to help you. Email and I will be happy to assist you.



YZ250F: 13/50 (Stock)

YZ450F: 13/49 (Stock)



KX450: 13/49 (Helps third gear roll on out of corners)

KX250: 13/50 (Stock)



RM-Z250: 13/50 (Stock)

RM-Z450: 13/51 (Helps pulling power down low on deep tracks)



CRF250R: 13/50 (Helps lengthen third gear pulling power without sacrificing second gear roll on)

CRF450R: 14/52 (Helps free up rear end feel of this stiff natured chassis)



This set up on all three bikes will help settle the rear end out of corners, will set your rear axle further back, and help 2nd-3rd gear transition.

250 SX-F: 14/53

350 SX-F: 14/53

450 SX-F: 14/52



This set up on all three bikes will help settle the rear end out of corners, will set your rear axle further back, and help 2nd-3rd gear transition.

FC 250: 14/53

FC350: 14/53

FC450: 14/52

Top 5 Mods For The 2018.5-2019.5 Husqvarna FC450/Rockstar Editon

Not everyone wants to “add” parts to their new dirt bikes, which is fine, but for those that must tinker, we put together a “Top 5” must haves that we would recommend. We will be doing these “Top 5” articles with all of the new 450F/250F machines and will be splitting the information up between and These mods are recommended, by us, through countless hours of testing. If you don’t find a specific aftermarket company that you prefer in this article, don't fret, email me at and we can talk it out like adults should. Again, we will not push something on you unless we know it works. These mods that are in this article will work for the 2018.5/2019/2019.5 Husqvarna FC450 and Rockstar Edition models. 

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1. ECU Re-Map: The 2019.5 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition still feels a little rich on bottom end and lean on top end. The 2019.5 ECU settings are slightly better than my 2018.5 that I purchased, but it’s still not close to where it needs to be. Getting a simple re-flash of your ECU from Jamie at Twisted Development will help the sluggish feel off the bottom and get you more bottom-mid range RPM response. It will make the “light on paper” FC450/Rockstar Edition actually feel light on the track. If you can’t splurge for the Vortex ignition then go with a re-flash of your stock ECU. This is my first “MUST HAVE” on this machine. It will change the character of the Husqvarna for the better.    


2. Black Throttle Cam: A close second to getting this sucker better through corners is installing the black throttle cam so there isn't a huge lag in response mid-corner. With the standard throttle cam the bike comes on soft and then has a big hit that can upset your rolling corner speed. THIS DRIVES ME NUTS! Installing the black cam will help the transition at 0-15% throttle opening through corners. Some dealers will install this cam before purchase, but it’s good for you to check by simply unbolting your throttle housing and checking your throttle tube for the black throttle cam.  


3. 14/52 Gearing: Want to make your shock feel better and help your third gear pulling power? Try going to a 14/52 gearing and you’ll notice a slightly better third gear pull as it could possibly make leaving your RE in third gear through corners much easier. Going up to a 14/52 gearing ratio also helps relax the shock under load, which makes connectivity to the rear wheel more positive. I have tried 13/49 gearing and although it has better recovery than the stock 13/48 and 14/52 gearing, the 13/49 set up didn't add to the shock’s/rear end comfort like the 14/52 ratio did. Try it!  


4. Handlebars/Bar Bend: I have tinkered way too much with this over the past couple years, but I feel like I have finally honed in on a good handlebar bend. I have stuck with Pro Taper’s SX Race bend for my style of riding and my height. The SX Race bend is slightly taller than the stock Husqvarna bend (+7mm), but is not so tall where it affects my corners. The SX Race bend also comes standard with a length of 800mm, which is the exactly the right amount of length most of us are looking for. The stock Husqvarna bend is long (811mm) and gives me a hard to lean feel through corners. I also went with a Fuzion (crossbar style) bar, but that is simply just preference as I could easily go back to a Pro Taper EVO style as well. 

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5. Airbox Mod: You want a little more excitement out of your Husqvarna’s low end? Drill some 1/2 inch holes in the left side airbox cover (as shown) and you’ll get some increased throttle response throughout the RPM range. Rumor has it that all FC Husqvarna’s will be coming with pre-drilled air vents come 2020. The Husqvarna airbox is smaller than the KTM so there his more benefit on the track doing this to the Husqvarna versus the KTM. 

Extras: Kris what about suspension? The AER fork is decent and I can ride with it, but yes of course I would recommend a set of WP Cone Valve forks if you want maximum comfort and front end traction. Do you need a Trax shock? The answer is, “no”. The stock shock is quite good and has tons of comfort. Yes, you can run CV forks with a stock shock. I’ve done it and it works just fine. The AER fork performance is good, but still will change on you throughout a long day of riding.

Keep an eye on motor mounts, spokes, and sprocket bolts as they come loose because of the Husqvarna’s vibration. Yes, the steel frame bikes vibrate a little more than the aluminum frame bikes, so that means you need to check bolts more often.

Top 5 Mods For The 2019 Kawasaki KX450

By Dominic Cimino

So I’m guessing you might have (or thinking about putting) a 2019 KX450 in your garage if you are reading our “top five improvements”. Good! This bike is awesome and deserves some minor updates to make it even better. After racing our test bike for the first time this year I can vouch that the five things you are about to read about have definitely help make this green machine shine. Let’s get into it...


First - Suspension. This is a public service announcement that should not go unnoticed. This is hands down one of the best things that any of you can do to improve your new ride. The new model mx bikes that are hitting the showroom floors in the last few years have proved to have great working components. Look at the BluCru - the KYB fork and shock combo continues to dominate every year. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider getting the bike tailored specifically for you and your riding ability. The KX benefited greatly from Race Tech’s special touch. After two attempts, we got the spring rates/valving dialed in for me, providing a plush/stable ride at speed with great bottoming resistance for the big stuff. I’m so happy with how the suspension feels compared to stock, so this first improvement is a no brainer.

Second - 22mm offset triple clamps. 
The Kawasaki motocross bikes have always handled well in stock trim. Cornering is made easy with their comfortable ergonomics and chassis combination. But after testing Ride Engineering’s shorter offset (stock is 23mm) it was a clear decision to stay with this improvement. Although they have a more rigid feel, the 2019 KX450 became even more playful in the cornering department allowing me to practically point & shoot anywhere I want to go when on the track. Laying over in deep ruts is made easier as well, as the naturally flickable character of this bike and improved cornering precision will make you smile. Let’s not forget that they also give the bike a special look as well, so I always give a nod for these added bonus points. 


Third - Rear linkage pull rod. 
This is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to test this easy bolt-on part from Ride Engineering. And easy it is - two bolts and a sag adjustment (105mm) will really prove to improve the way this 450 feels. The pull rod squats the rear end of the bike out slightly and alters the progression of the shock, which all translates to a more stable ride. There are no surprises even in rough conditions. The KX stays planted and predictable and I have found myself charging the rough sections much harder than I have in the past. This is a great performance benefit at a great price point.


Fourth - Handlebars. 
Kawasaki has done a great job at providing a motorcycle with a very adjustable cockpit to fit a wide range of riders. Having different foot-peg placements and handlebar mounting positions helps any of us get the most comfort out of our new bike. So why not maximize the comfort even more by selecting your preferred bar bend? I chose a set of Pro Taper EVO bars (in the Husqvarna bend) to achieve this. The low/flat sweep really caters to my riding style, and after trimming 1/4 inch from each side, this really got the cockpit dialed in. These handlebars also offer a bit more flex, so I feel they compliment the Ride Engineering triple clamps added rigidity.


Fifth - Exhaust. 
Our latest test was thanks to our friends at Yoshimura. They provided us an RS-4 full exhaust system to help further improve the power delivery on our 2019 KX450. After a painless installation, we were greeted with better looks and a better sounding tone. Power improvements were found from the mid to top-end as this exhaust really enhanced the free revving character of the new green machine. The mid-range stayed plenty lively with a little bit more aggressiveness that progressed into top-end over rev. I am able to hold gears longer while staying on the gas before having to upshift. I am definitely convinced that once we start adjusting mapping/ECU settings, this exhaust system is going to shine even more.

So there you have the top five improvements for Kawasaki’s newest big bore. Such an awesome bike to ride/race, it truly has been a blast getting this bike dialed in for me and I can’t wait to ride it more! If you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate:

The 2019 Honda CRF450R "Track Toughness" Project (Part One)

There are a lot of you 2019 Honda CRF450R owners out there and most of you food my email inbox with set up questions. If there is one machine that makes me want to ride on pure looks alone, it would be this 2019 Honda CR450R. But… Sometimes looks can be deceiving and although it’s beautiful to look at, the Honda is a handful to ride fast on a rough track. The set up window for this bike is very narrow and you must absolutely “nail it” to get that comfort most of you are looking for on this machine. Trust me, I get it and understand how finicky this CRF450R can be as I have had more time on this machine than any other in my testing fleet. The phrase “Track Toughness” is used a lot in the world of production testing. What is “Track Toughness”?Track Toughness is a phrase that means how well a machine can adapt to any type of track and or track condition. The Honda lacks some “Track Toughness”.

So in order to seek out that comfort we all want out of this sucker and widen that “Track Toughness” window, I have been working diligently on key modifications/settings to pass along to you all out there that will actually help this bike’s Track Toughness. This is not a fluff build, but more for serious die hard red riders/racers that want the most out of their bikes. I will be doing this build in phases, so look for added parts to this article coming soon. Don’t freak out if you don’t see your special mod in this article. Chances are we will get to it in part two… In the meantime here are a few things for you Honda owners out there can try in order to keep that big smile intact from the time you load up your truck, until the time you leave the track.


Swingarm Pivot Bolt Torque Spec: This costs zero dollars and should be done as soon as you get your 2019 Honda CRF450R. Stock swingarm pivot bolt torque spec is 65 ft.lbs., but try to re-torque to 60 ft.lbs. What does this simple adjustment do? It helps the stiff/bound up feel underneath your butt/rear of machine when accelerating and also gives the Honda more rear wheel traction. The Honda chassis has a stiff natured character to begin with so loosening up the swingarm pivot bolt a little helps free it up. Trust me, it helps! 


Vortex ECU (Mapped By XPR Motorsports): I have done a few projects with Chad at XPR Motorsports and he continues to impress me with his meticulous ways. The Honda doesn't need more horsepower, in fact it wouldn't hurt if it had a slightly more mellower delivery. So why install a Vortex ECU? The XPR mapped Vortex ECU will give you more horsepower, but will spread out that newfound horsepower with a longer and smoother delivery than the stock ECU can. The stock ECU still has that herky/jerky roll on power through corners and that really upsets the chassis and my corner speed. That pisses me off! If your corner speed is off than you’re going to have a bad day at the track. Just ask my wife, Heather! 

Chad has several maps that smooths out that low end feel just enough to where you can roll your corners easier and have a broader pulling power down the straight. The over-rev that this Honda gets with this XPR Vortex ECU/mapping alone is worth the price of admission because it allows me to use second gear longer than our 2019 KTM 450SX-F test bike (with a Vortex ECU). It also allows you third gear riders to use that gear more and be lazier, if that’s how you like to ride. Chad has the mapping down and can get you a cleaner, smoother, broader, more exciting power with this simple mod. Did I mention that it helps the stiff chassis feel? Well it does because you can now ride the CRF450R in the lower RPM range (thanks to more torque) and that frees up the frame on chop, square edge, and braking bumps. Yes, sometimes improvements to the engine can directly affect chassis feel. 


Yoshimura RS-9 Full Muffler System: If there is one company that knows Honda’s, it’s Yoshimura! The Yosh muffler makes broader horsepower, keeps the strong bottom end pull intact, and gives the Honda a deeper more throaty sound. Just bolting on this Yoshimura system (without the ECU change) will help the Honda’s on/off feel from 0-15% throttle opening. This is where the Honda needs help and the Yoshimura muffler helps smooth the CRF450R in this area. You will also lose just over a pound with this system. 

14/51 Gearing: This gearing will only work best if you have the above three modifications done. I stumbled across this gearing on a test day and found out that I really liked it. The 14/51 gearing allows you to run your axle farther back (which the Honda needs) and gives the engine a longer 2nd and 3rd gear pull. This gearing also helps the rear of the Honda relax under load and will give the rider extra rear wheel traction. Try this gearing if you have done the above three mods.


Rekluse Torque Drive Clutch Pack: How’s that lever pull doing for you on your CRF450R? Not that great right? I hated going from a light clutch lever pull (on other machines) to the hard feel of the Honda CRF450R. The CRF450R needs some longer clutch life (because I am a clutch dragger), so installing the Rekluse Torque Drive Clutch Pack has increased my life and gives me less fade in longer motos. This kit leaves your stock internals intact, but increases your clutch plate count buy using the “Torque Drive” technology. This mod also gives you a better clutch pull at the lever as it’s not as stiff because the Rekluse Torque Drive Pack allows more disks in your OEM’s footprint.  

Custom Clutch Arm: The Honda’s clutch engagement point is very narrow and although the Rekluse Torque Drive Clutch Pack helps the life/pull, the engagement is still too on/off for me. Chad at XPR Motorsports makes a custom clutch arm that really helps get an increased linear feel out of your clutch engagement. Not only is my engagement point wider, but it also delivers the power to the ground smoother, which in turn gave me more throttle to rear wheel feel. What does that mean? More consistent starts and better mid-exit corner rear wheel connection. This is a modification that you would never know was on the factory bikes when walking the pits at a Supercross because it’s difficult to see from the naked eye. For the right price I am sure Chad at XPR Motorsports could make you one. Thank me later! 


Race Tech Suspension: The most important piece to this puzzle would be the Honda’s Showa suspension. The stock Honda suspension is a little soft for my 170 pound frame and when Honda’s R&D team developed this stock suspension setting for the 2019 Honda CRF450R they needed to get comfort form the suspension to offset the stiffer nature of the Honda chassis. Race Tech took my stock Showa suspension and my A-Kit set and went to work. We ended up going to a .52 fork spring and a .58 rear shock spring to balance the bike out for me. The fork has better hold up and more control than the stock fork and gives me a more planted feeling on initial lean coming into corners. The overall firmer feel of the Race Tech fork doesn't have that harsh nature you would expect from heavier valving, but instead has a better damping feel that still has enough comfort to keep me happy. I tested several fork heights and for me flush-3mm was the best. On faster/rougher types of tracks I went flush on the fork, but on tighter tracks, I stuck with a 3mm height. Getting the correct fork height is still crucial for this chassis. 

I decided to run the stock link and cut the shock 1mm to try and lower the rear enough to where  I don’t get a stink bug feel on de-cel/braking bumps. I played with a ton of sag settings and came up with a 109mm of sag, which gave me the balance to where the CRF450R didn't move much when on/off throttle heavy. Running a little lower sag setting also helped when the dirt was deep or sandy, so that there wasn't too much weight pushed towards the front of the machine causing me to have over-steer. I like that I can hit stuff harder at speed with the Race Tech re-valved shock and also having increased traction on choppy corner exits. The Race Tech Gold Valves keep evolving so if you haven't gave them a try, this might be the perfect machine to give it a whirl. I didn't have the best of luck with Race Tech a few years ago, but Rob and the gang over there have really stepped it up and have their settings down for this model. 


Top 5 Mods For The 2019 Yamaha YZ450F

Not everyone wants to “add” parts to their new dirt bikes, which is fine, but for those that must tinker, we put together a “Top 5” must haves that we would recommend. We will be doing these “Top 5” articles with all of the new 450F/250F machines and will be splitting the information up between and These mods are recommended, by us, through countless hours of testing. If you don’t find a specific aftermarket company that you prefer in this article, don't fret, email me at and we can talk it out like adults should. Again, we will not push something on you unless we know it works. These mods that are in this article simply work for this specific machine. 


1. Fire Power Battery: The stock Yamaha YZ450F battery is a problem. It doesn't like to start in gear and if you do try to start it in gear for too long the battery will drain quickly. I have had countless emails sent to me about Yamaha batteries and the only thing I can tell you guys is go with an aftermarket lithium ion battery. I have been using Fire Power batteries in my Yamaha’s and they all have been great. Not to mention that they are lighter than stock, so losing some weight doesn't hurt. For around $125.00, it’s a fairly inexpensive way to prevent you from being stranded at the moto track with a dead battery. 


2. GUTS RACING Stiff Seat Foam And Gripper Seat Cover: Yes, we know Yamaha made some stiffer changes to the foam for 2019, but once the foam breaks down a little we are back in 2018 all over again and hitting the fuel tank when slamming into ruts. Going to a GUTS stiffer foam does wonders from smacking your butt bone into the fuel cell that lies underneath you. Does be scared off by the word “stiff” as the GUTS foam is stiffer, but not so bad where you will be getting monkey butt. I go with the standard stiff foam and not the phantom foam as I like the feel of the standard stiff foam more. While you’re at it go with a gripper seat cover and prevent your rear end from sliding under acceleration. The stock Yamaha seat is slippery after about 20 hours and will not hold you in place from that explosive Yamaha 450 power.  


3. Heavy Duty Chain: Like most stock chains the Yamaha chain will stretch and be smoked before the 8 hour mark, so get a good high quality heavy duty D.I.D. 520 ERT2 Gold chain. If you don’t mind the weight and the drag of an o-ring chain that is also a great choice. 


4. FMF 4.1 Full Muffler System: I am not going to sit here and tell you that you NEED an aftermarket muffler for the 2019 YZ450F, because you don’t. The stock muffler is so good on this bike that it’s not something you will need right away. However, I know most of you have A.D.D. when it comes to putting shit on your bike, so I will recommend a muffler that I had some help in testing recently. I helped George at FMF come up with a different setting inside the muffler (or core) of this system to create some more back pressure, in order to keep the bottom end that the stock system has. The FMF 4.1 system knocks off almost two full pounds of weight, retains the stock bottom end power, increases the mid range and top end, and will only lose minimal over-rev. I have tried a ton of aftermarket mufflers for the YZ450F and all of them lose bottom end. Not this one…  



5. Front Brake: The Yamaha front brake is not the best of the bunch when it comes to stopping power, but there is a modification you can do to make it insanely good (besides just throwing an oversize rotor on). If you want increased stopping power without the grabby feel, purchase an older Yamaha caliper (that used a bigger piston/part number shown) and an older KTM Brembo master cylinder (part number shown) while using your current 2019 YZ450F brake line and feel the magic coming into corners. You will be able to brake later and modulate the front brake better in shallow ruts than you can with the current front brake. This set up is also much more linear and less grabby than just throwing on an oversize front rotor as well. Just make sure to purchase the stock KTM banjo bolts and use your current 2019 YZ450F front brake carrier along with the current brake pad clip..  

"Top 5" 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 Mods

Not everyone wants to “add” parts to their new dirt bikes, which is fine, but for those that must tinker, we put together a “Top 5” must haves that we would recommend. We will be doing these “Top 5” articles with all of the new 450F/250F machines and will be splitting the information up between and These mods are recommended, by us, through countless hours of testing. If you don’t find a specific aftermarket company that you prefer in this article, don't fret, email me at and we can talk it out like adults should. Again, we will not push something on you unless we know it works. These mods that are in this article simply work for this specific machine. 


  1. Full Or Slip On Muffler System: The 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 lacks a little bottom end and RPM response, so in order to get a little more of that the easiest thing to do is throw on a slip on or full muffler system. I am not going to sit here and tell you that you NEED a Pro Circuit Ti-6 system like the one that is on our test bike, but Joe Oehlhof (our test rider) says that the PC did help the lethargic feeling somewhat. Our “Average Joe” tester is no bullshit so I stand behind his findings. The PC system didn't “wow” us for initial RPM response at first, but we installed the insert into the muffler and that helped back pressure enough to create some more throttle response. Joe and I both liked the insert in for increased bottom to mid range throttle response without losing much top end pull. Installing this PC system helps with coming out of corners and also helps the Suzuki’s recovery time. With the stock system the recovery time out of corners (if you were a gear too high) was embarrassing for a 450cc machine. It would be hard to get back into the meat of the power forcing you to downshift and then immediately upshift, in order to get moving again quickly. With the PC system the rider can fan the clutch lever a couple times (in the higher gear) and it helps get the Suzuki on down the track in a quicker manner. The PC system is a step in the right direction for bottom and mid range pull. It doesn’t help or negatively affect the top end at all. Yes, we would still like a little more to make us happy. But wait… It does get better… Keep reading… 


2. Ride Engineering Link: Simply installing the Ride Engineering link helped balance the RM-Z out on de-cel. If you’re running the stock suspension (valving/springs) this simple mod will help the RM-Z from wanting to transfer its weight towards the front end. The RM-Z450’s BFRC shock is known for unloading on de-cel (or riding high off throttle) and that can cause oversteer (knifing) on entrances of corners. Once you install the longer Ride Engineering link arms on the Suzuki it will settle down on de-cel and not pitch towards the front end as much. Running the sag at 107mm (fork height 4-5mm) with the link arm will alleviate some of your balance issues on the #RMaRMy. 


3. Vertex Hi Compression Piston Kit: Installing a 13.5:1 Vertex piston kit helped get some added excitement out of Suzuki’s bottom to mid range. Stock compression is 12.5:1 on the RM-Z450, but bumping the compression up to 13.5:1 allows for us to still run pump fuel safely. Where you will notice the added pull is on deeply tilled tracks or soft tracks that force the rider to get on the throttle harder. The Suzuki now feels a little “spunkier”, “livelier”, and “more fun” to ride. It also helps the chassis feel lighter when the track is tighter or when it gets rougher. It allows the rider to “pop” over bumps and makes the Suzuki feel a little more playful. 


4. Hinson Clutch Kit (Basket, Pressure Plate, Inner, Fibers, Steels, Springs): The stock clutch fades quickly during motos and the clutch lever actuation (engagement) is very narrow. Once the Hinson clutch kit was installed the feel of the clutch was more positive and less vague. The Hinson also took the improved bottom end we got from the muffler/piston and transferred that power better to the rear wheel. The stock mushy lever feeling was gone and a slightly stiffer firm feel replaced it. However, it wasn’t a “Honda hard pull” feel, just a slightly firmer/more positive than the stock Suzuki pull. We have been riding with the Hinson clutch for over a few months now and that feeling hasn't changed one bit. We also have to change our clutch plates less as the Hinson set up doesn't get burned up as quickly. 


5. FCP Engine Mounts: If you still feel like the chassis is stiff during your late motos going to these mounts will help alleviate some of that harsh/sharp feeling through the headtube of the frame. I have tried these FCP mounts on most bikes and although they DO NOT work on every machine, I have found great results with them on the Suzuki RM-Z450. Immediately the front/top mounts got rid of some of the stiff bound up feeling of the chassis and allowed it to settle even more entering corners, stayed planted transitioning through the middle part of the corner, and allowed the suspension to absorb acceleration chop while keeping the rear wheel planted under acceleration.  This was just another improvement from a simple bolt on part that gave me that secure feeling, to allow me to carry my momentum through corners and push the bike a little harder. Note: We tried just the top mounts first (for comfort/straight line stability) and then went to the front mounts for increased cornering (lean angle) ability. Use both for best results… 

2019 Husqvarna FC350 First Test

Written By: Matt Sirevaag/210 pounds/Novice/Electrician

Since the smaller bore 350cc machine came along it seems there has been a heated debate in whom this bike is aimed at. I only owned and ever ridden 450cc bikes because that is what I thought I needed. I love my big bore bikes and never had the thought of a bike less than 450cc cross my mind. I am 5’9”, 210 pounds, but in my mind a 450 is where it’s at, or at least I thought… Keefer and I thought it would be fun and educational to stick me on the 2019 Husqvarna FC350 that Husqvarna so graciously let us evaluate. Just to let the readers out there know this bike does have some Husqvarna factory accessories, so it’s not completely stock. This bike has triple clamps, a hydraulic slave cylinder cover, Pro Taper gearing (14/50), and FMF exhaust. Let’s not beat around the bush, one of the most asked questions we get here at Keefer Testing is mostly engine related. How is the engine on the FC350? Does it have enough power of my size? How does this bike compare to a 450? Is this bike right for me? I can’t tell you if this bike is right for you, but I can give you my honest opinion and hopefully steer you in a good direction, for your next purchase.


Engine: Can one hundred CC’s less be that good? The way I see it yes it can, to be honest the majority of consumers buying 450’s don’t need nor can use all that power, including my-self. Yes, having gobs of torque at your finger tips puts a smile on your face, but do us novice riders really need it? As soon as I jumped on the FC350 I was surprised at how smooth the bottom end was. It had more torque feeling than a 250cc four-stroke, yet not as over powering as a 450cc bike. The smooth bottom end made rolling on the throttle through mid-corner a blessing in disguise for me. I was not as timid to give her a little more throttle in order to help improve my corner speed, which needs some help. Now don’t let this smooth bottom end fool you however, when the corners get deep/rutty, it still has plenty of torque to pull my 210 pounds through the deeper loamy sections of the track. Another notch in the old cap for a smooth bottom end power delivery is when you get on the throttle it doesn’t upset the chassis (when coming into the middle to end part of the corner). Once you exit the corner this is where the FC350’s engine really shows a rider what it’s capable of. What it might lack in 450cc torque down low, it makes up for it with a strong mid to top end pulling power.

The FC350 has a very similar mid to top end pull with an over-rev as good as the 2019 CRF450R (that I own) and that is a good thing. I have a saying that I use to my buddies: “yes, I ride a 450, but I only use 300cc’s of that 450cc power plant”. I never thought it was the truth until I had the chance to test the Husqvarna FC350. Not only were my lap times faster on the FC350, but I also noticed the more I rode the Husqvarna the more confidence I had in my riding (because I was not timid of the big power of the Honda). I can only count on one hand how many times I felt I needed more power out of this white machine. This is where the full FMF 4.1 exhaust came in; the FMF exhaust really did some manipulation to the engine character of the FC350. As soon as I hit the track this exhaust really gave the FC350 a little more pep. This feeling was mostly noticed through mid-corner where the little bit of extra torque (the FMF had) made the bike feel lighter and more agile in corners. When you found yourself in the wrong gear the FMF muffler also improved engine recovery time and made it easier for me to correct my bad shifting habits.

After riding both exhausts back to back (FMF/Stock) I noticed the stock exhaust almost made the bike feel a little lazy down low. The FMF 4.1 made the bike more exciting down low then continued to feed its way to an even meatier mid range pull. Between the two exhausts I felt as if the top end was pretty close to one another. I know that if I go purchase my own FC350, this FMF exhaust will be at the top of my list. It took an already good engine and gave it some added excitement with a 450’esq feel.


Chassis: You take a good non over powering engine and stick that with what I feel is a good chassis and now we are talking. As you ride the FC350 you can tell you don’t have that 450 weight to throw around. As you charge into corners this chassis, though light, has a very planted feel on the front wheel, which lead to me having more confidence coming into corners. The light feeling also makes this bike a blast to throw around in the air, which helps me feel like I can whip (editors note: ummmmm. No….) The FC350 likes to be leaned over and can stay leaned over until you want to exit out of a corner. This lead over sensation is something I always struggle with on bigger bikes, like my Honda CRF450R.  A 450cc machine has a heavy feel with that extra torque, along with the gyro effect, due to more rotating mass, but the 350 doesn't have this feeling. Having less rotating mass makes the FC350 feel much lighter on the track compared to a FC450, which on paper is only a couple pounds heavier. Something that has been an on going trait of a Husqvarna is rear wheel traction and the FC350 is no exception.  You only have 350cc to pull you around, but rear wheel traction is as good, if not better, than that of the FC450. Typically with bikes that corner well (with a light feeling) they sometimes aren't that stable at speed (straight-line). I was surprised to find the FC350 fairly stable when hard on the throttle while on long straights. The FC350 may not have the straight line stability as a Yamaha YZ450F, but it does have better straight line stability than the Honda CRF450R, I currently ride. Even with the steel frame this chassis does have somewhat of a comfortable feel on rough sections of the track. This was most noticeable on braking bumps coming into corners. The Husqvarna retained that planted feel with not much movement in the bike (front to back). You do get a firm feel through the chassis, but not as much as the 2018 model that I spent some time on previously. Part of this might be the new Husqvarna factory accessories triple clamp that not only comes on the 19.5 FC450 Rockstar Edition, it’s also available through your local Husqvarna dealer. These clamps were designed to help decrease binding as well as have a better flex characteristic on the track. This could be part of why I felt the new FC350 had more comfort on small chop than last year’s model.


Suspension: Being a larger rider (without the height), I do a pretty good job at testing the weight range of stock suspension. The 2019 FC350 is using Husqvarna’s latest version of WP’s AER fork and WP rear shock. In stock trim (with 105mm of sag) I was not to sure how I would feel about the suspension spec that the Husqvarna R&D team may have come up with. Once on the track I could immediately feel the WP AER front fork dive quite a bit on corner entry and off gas situations. This was caused mostly by my weight and the stock 10.5 bar recommendation of the AER fork. I slowly went up .1 bar increments at a time until I found my happy place, which was 10.8 bars. This allowed the fork to hold up on de-cel, helped bottoming resistance, and have a decent amount of comfort on light bump absorption. 


 With the stock clicker settings and at 10.8 bars the fork was fairly compliant through the beginning part of the stroke. Although when hard on the front brake (on downhills) the fork would sit a little too far down in the stroke causing a stiff or harsh feeling through braking bumps. At the end of the day I found a good overall fork setting at 10.8 bars, 10 out on compression, and 9 out on the rebound. This gave me the best balance of hold up and comfort and allowed me to push my hardest without giving me an uncomfortable feel. Slowing down the rebound on the fork definitely gave the front fork a more predictable feel lap after lap. 

The only real issue I had with the WP shock was on the exit of corners. I felt the rear of the bike would squat too low causing the front wheel to get light and lose front end traction. Most of this is caused by being undersprung for my weight as the FC350 is set up for riders between 160-185 pounds. I could have gone and purchased a heavier spring for my weight, but most of us who purchase new bikes just want to ride. So in order to get the best setting I could out of the stock spring rate I started a quarter turn in (stiffer) at a time on the high-speed compression. The reason I made this change was to get the rear end of the bike to sit a little higher in the stroke and hold up on corner exit, which put more weight on the front end. Stiffening the high speed compression also helped the shock not blow through on the faces of jumps. When I managed to finally get done tinkering with the high speed compression I ended up being one turn out. 

I would have to say that this FC350 is very forgiving in the set up department. The window of adjustment is fairly large to make a wide range of riders and their abilities happy unlike the CRF450R. When I was experimenting and found myself way off on sag/clickers/spring rate the Husqvarna still cornered and handled very well. All I did was play with clickers to get a little more comfort over performance out of the suspension. The best shock setting that I came up with was a 105mm of sag, one turn out high speed compression, nine out on low speed compression, and eight out on rebound. I was very pleased at how balanced the bike was once I found these settings. I have to say WP in my eyes has done very well and come a long way (with their suspension settings) since the last time I got a chance to spin some laps on a set. Out of the box the AER fork is pretty good and gives the consumer a large range of adjustment, without having to rip off your forks, to send them to get re-sprung. That saves you a little money and saves you the anxiety of not having your bike to ride.


Extras: The Brembo brakes work great and work better than my touchy Nissin Honda units. The Brembo’s are progressive, which also makes my cornering a lot smoother. I can ride my finger on the lever (through corners) without the stress of locking up the front brake when arm pump is present. Coming from my Honda, having a hydraulic clutch on the Husqvarna is like a god send. The Honda clutch lever pull is tough and can give me a tight left arm when pushing, but with the Magura hydraulic clutch, the feel is much smoother and the action is always the same throughout my motos. 


So what did I really think of the 2019 FC350? Before this test I was a so called 450 only guy. Would I now take my own hard earned money and purchase a Husqvarna FC350? The answer is not that complicated… Hell YES, I would! I am blown away on how much I like this machine. If I never had the chance of testing this bike I would have never thought of purchasing anything less than 450cc motocross bike. Don’t get me wrong a 450 will still put a smile on your face, but do most of us need al of that power? I don’t, that’s for damn sure! If lap times don’t lie, my lap times were always two to three seconds a lap faster on every track I tested on. Not only were my laps faster, I was able to do more laps without getting fatigued as fast. I can honestly say that next year when I go to slap down my money on a new dirt scooter a 350cc bike is at the top of my list.

2019.5 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition First Impression

The latest Husqvarna has hit our grubby little test hands and we are here to let you in on what we thought of it. The 2019.5 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition has some small changes from the previous version, but we wanted to see if those changes made a difference on the track. Not to be outdone by the orange side, Husqvarna has a few different bits and pieces to their bikes to separate themselves from the brigade. Below are ten things that you all should know about the latest “Edissssssssshhhh” offering from Husqvarna.    


What are the changes to the 2019.5 Husqvarna Rockstar Edition?   


Rockstar team factory racing graphics
New CP box-in-box piston & new PANKL connecting rod 

New topology optimized rocker arms

New factory machined anodized triple clamps 

Factory start for front fork
Black frame
Composite skid plate

New FMF 4.1 Slip-On muffler
New Factory D.I.D DirtStar wheels

Factory GUTS Racing seat cover
Semi- Floating front disc
Front brake disc guard
Black rear sprocket 

Pro Taper EVO handlebars

ODI soft lock on grips


 Engine: On paper there are only three pieces to the RE’s engine that have changed… The CP box in box piston, the Pankl connecting rod with brass bushing, and topology optimized rocker arms. Now with those three things in mind I wasn't expecting much change from the 2019 KTM FE, but to me the free-feeling of the engine is slightly more noticeable in 2nd and 3rd gears than the orange bike. When revving the Rockstar Edition out in second gear there is much less engine de-cel drag than the 2019 version. The RE also feels like it pulls farther in second gear than the 19, but the overall bottom end delivery has slightly more RPM response due to the FMF slip on muffler. I tried the stock Husqvarna 2019 muffler at this test and it provided a smother roll on power delivery than the FMF, which made rolling corners easier, but the FMF system had more punch out of the corner.

ECU Settings: ECU settings are the most important piece to your modern day four stroke engine. An ECU setting that is spot on can help the bike’s chassis and an ECU that is not mapped correctly can hurt handling on the track as well. The Husqvarna’s ECU setting is not as good as the KTM FE in stock form, plain and simple. Yes, it’s the same ECU as the KTM, but feels different on the track! Why? I DON’T KNOW!!!!! I only know what I feel on the track and I am telling you it’s not the same low end delivery. It’s slightly rich off the bottom (0-10% throttle opening) and has a slightly disconnected feel to the rear wheel, which hurts the handling of this bike mid corner. It’s tough to roll the corner smoothly with that jerky on/off feel from the mapping (on very low RPM only). To help remedy some of this I experienced with back pressure on the muffler. With the stock mapping, the FMF slip on needs some back pressure, so installing the insert into the muffler can help that 0-10% throttle opening. Once I got some added back pressure, the Rockstar Edition smoothed out on low RPM and gave me some connection back to the rear wheel through/out of corners. Map 1 (linear pulling power with less throttle response down low, but more top end pull) and Map 2 (more pulling power/RPM response down low and slightly less pull up top) also has a distinct difference on the track and are more noticeable than the 2019 mapping choices. This is all good news for future RE buyers.  

Chassis: If you're a Husqvarna owner you know that it takes more time to break in the 2019 steel frame compared to a Japanese aluminum framed motorcycle. I have only a few hours on this chassis and it still has that firm feel to it much like the KTM FE did. It takes a good 7-8 hours on this frame to feel broken in or “relaxed” on the track. The RE turns as good as the 2019 version (once mapping has been remedied) and all the same excellent “change of direction” qualities are apparent on the RE as well. Straight line stability is not the best of the 450 bunch, but not the worst neither.   


Suspension: WP has changed their branding strategy so don’t freak out about the XACT name just yet (we can explain that one in another article). I do like the silver color change that WP has done for the RE/FE line of suspension and that color change will also be on the 2020 production models. The WP AER fork has an updated piston that allows for a tighter tolerance along with valving updates. The standard air pressure fork setting has also now gone up from 10.5 bars to 10.9 bars on the RE. The rear shock likes a sag of around 105mm, but the overall feel of the RE’s WP suspension is slightly firmer with more hold up than the 2019 model. Would I rather have a spring fork? Of course, but the updated AER fork does have some qualities that I like. I like that the front end feels light (de-cel/off-throttle) while keeping front end traction high enough so I don’t have to change my riding style up. I am a front end steering rider and the AER fork will give you what you need on initial lean. The mid stroke of the RE’s WP fork has a free-er feel and the action seems smoother than 2019, which makes for a plusher ride. The shock doesn’t feel that much different to me than the 2019, but then again, I never had a problem with the 2019 shock.    

Gearing: It comes with a 13/48, but with the FMF slip on muffler, it doesn't need that extra tooth like the KTM does. The FMF has more bottom end pull than the Akrapovic so stock gearing is just fine. 

milestone -1-26.jpg

Lightweight Feel: You would think with an engine character that is so smooth down low and linear feeling, that the Rockstar machine would feel heavy on the track, but it feels quite the opposite. It’s light, flickable, and if you want to make a sudden line change, it can do that exceptional as well. Leaning into corners and keeping it leaned all the way through the corner is the Husqvarna RE’s strong suit. I can also stand up through corners much easier on this machine (compared to other colored machines) due to the lightweight nature and slim feel.


Pro Taper Handlebars: Say what you want, but handlebars are a huge piece to a bike’s puzzle. Compared to the KTM/Neken combo, the Husqvarna/Pro Taper combo is much friendlier to the hands/wrists out on the track. There is less vibration and more dampening character through the EVO bars, which I prefer on rough tracks. 


FMF Slip On: The FMF slip on has better RPM response and more excitement than the Akrapovic. The FMF is louder than the Akrapovic, but the FMF also needs that insert put in with the stock mapping. If you have an FMF system already on a current Husqvarna/KTM model than that insert (that’s probably still in your box or garage) will work inside this new system on the RE.   


GUTS Racing Seat: Just like the KTM seat, this GUTS seat is very grippy, but also will eat your butt cheeks up on a long day of motos. The foam itself is not the problem, it’s just that the pleats on the seat are very aggressive. Just be ready to spackle the cheeks up with some Bag Balm if you're riding sand or plan on doing a long day of riding.


Factory Trips Clamps: The Husqvarna aluminum factory CNC-machined triple clamps feature optimally tuned steering stem stiffness, in order to try and achieve perfect alignment and precise fork clamping for a highly responsive and smooth fork action. They can be adjusted to an offset of 20 or 22mm that gives you the option to change your Husqvarna RE for different track conditions. I noticed zero added rigidity riding with RE’s clamp (compared to the stock 2019 clamp). I also didn’t notice any improvements on the track (with the the RE clamp), but the blue does look eye popping!    

So which new “Edition” machine should you get? The white one or the orange one? These bikes are like 1A and 1B and both have minute differences on the track. I prefer the Husqvarna’s components (with the FMF slip on, GUTS seat, and Pro Taper handlebars), but I also like the KTM’s low RPM feel a little more than the Rockstar bike. Find out what is more important to you and go that route. However, just know when it was time to spend my own money on a dirt bike, I did choose the Husqvarna Rockstar Edition.  

If you want to learn more about this 2019 Husqvarna 450 Rockstar Edition, listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or here on right now. We try hard to give you a couple different avenues to digest your dirt bike information.   

2019.5 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition First Impression

It’s only February, but are we really seeing a 2019.5 model already? Yes, that’s right, KTM introduced the 2019.5 450 SX-F Factory Edition to us media dweebs out at Fox Raceway in Pala, California Tuesday morning. I have been putting a lot of time on an orange bike lately for an article that is up right here (50 hours on the KTM 450 SX-F) on, so this model release came at a perfect time. A time where I can really dissect the differences between the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F and the 2019.5 KTM 450 FE. Now even though this is only a first impression, I managed to come up with ten things about this fresh orange model that you may be interested in. These beauties will be arriving in dealerships come early March. 


What are the changes to the 2019.5 KTM Factory Edition?   


Red Bull KTM Factory Racing graphics
New CP box-in-box piston & new PANKL connecting rod 

New Factory machined Anodized triple clamps 

Factory start for front fork
Orange frame
Composite skid plate

 New Akrapovič Slip-On muffler
 New Factory D.I.D DirtStar wheels

 Factory seat with Selle Dalla Valle logo
 Semi- Floating front disc
 Front brake disc guard
 Orange rear sprocket 


Engine: On paper there are only two pieces to the engine that have changed… The CP box piston and the Pankl connecting rod with brass bushing. Now with those two things in mind I wasn't expecting much change from the 2019 version, but to me the free-feeling of the engine is very noticeable in 2nd and 3rd gears. When revving the Factory Edition out in second gear there is much less engine de-cel drag than the 2019 version. The FE also feels like it pulls farther in second gear than the 19, but the overall bottom end delivery is smoother because of the Akrapovic slip on muffler. The stock muffler has more bottom end hit, but the Akrapovic, along with the engine changes, make for a stronger pulling mid range. There are two points of the Fox Raceway track where the 2019 must be shifted to third gear (out of corners), but the FE doesn’t need to be shifted and can pull second gear to the next obstacle. The top end and over-rev seem to be the same as the 2019, but that is just fine with me as the KTM FE has enough power for me. 

ECU Settings: I was told from the KTM R&D staff that the FE’s ECU settings are the same as the 2019 and that left me bewildered. Why? Because out on the track the ECU settings are so much better on the 2019.5 version than the 2019 machine that there is NO WAY they could be the same. Now I am not into conspiracy theories, but to me someone from KTM Austria must not have passed on the “updated” ECU info to the guys at the North American office. On the track the rich low end 2019 feeling is not apparent on the FE and the lean top end de-cel pop, that comes standard on the 2019, is also not there on the FE (no matter how hard you rev the 2019.5 out). Map 1 (linear pulling power with less throttle response down low, but more top end pull) and Map 2 (more pulling power/RPM response down low and slightly less pull up top) also have a distinct difference on the track and are more noticeable than the 2019 mapping choices. This is all good news for future FE buyers.  

Chassis: If you're a KTM owner you know that it takes more time to break in the 2019 steel frame compared to a Japanese aluminum framed motorcycle. I have only a few hours on this chassis and it still has that firm feel. It takes a good 7-8 hours on this frame to feel broken in or “relaxed” on the track. The FE turns as good as the 2019 version and all the same excellent “change of direction” qualities are apparent on the FE as well. Straight line stability is not the best of the 450 bunch, but not the worst neither. You can drop the WP XACT fork down to the first line (2.5mm up) like I did to help straight line stability.  


Suspension: WP has changed their branding strategy so don’t freak out about the XACT name just yet (we can explain that one in another article). I do like the silver color change that WP has done for the FE line of suspension and that color change will also be on the 2020 production models. The WP AER fork has an updated piston that allows for a tighter tolerance along with valving updates. The standard air pressure fork setting has also now gone up from 10.5 bars to 10.9 bars on the FE. The rear shock likes a sag of around 106mm now instead of 105mm, but the overall feel of the FE’s WP suspension is slightly firmer with more hold up than the 2019 model. Would I rather have a spring fork? Of course, but the updated AER fork does have some qualities that I like. I like that the front end feels light (de-cel/off-throttle) while keeping front end traction high enough so I don’t have to change my riding style up. I am a front end steering rider and the AER fork will give you what you need on initial lean. The mid stroke of the FE’s WP fork has a free-er feel and the action seems smoother than 2019, which makes for a plusher ride. The shock doesn’t feel that much different to me than the 2019, but then again, I never had a problem with the 2019 shock.  


Gearing: It comes with a 13/48, but with this Akrapovic slip on muffler I think I want a 13/49 to help with throttle response to help with recovery and second to third gear pulling power. I have also tried a 14/52 with good results as well, so feel free to try that too. 


Lightweight Feel: You would think with an engine character that is so smooth down low and linear feeling that the orange machine would feel heavy on the track, but it feels quite the opposite. It’s light, flickable, and if you want to make a sudden line change, it can do that exceptional as well. Leaning into corners and keeping it leaned all the way through the corner is the KTM FE’s strong suit. No one in the class can beat an orange bike in this category. 

Dunlop MX3S Tires: Even though you can’t purchase them anywhere anymore, these tires are still going strong on the KTM production machines. Well…. At least for another year anyway. 

Vibration: Every time I get back on a KTM from a Japanese bike I notice more vibration. The updates that KTM have made to the FE internally have improved the vibration slightly. The 2019.5 doesn't give you as much feedback to the hands as the 2019 does. Good news!  

Selle Dalla Valle Seat: This factory seat is very grippy, but also will eat your butt cheeks up on a long day of motos. The foam itself is not the problem, it’s just that the pleats on the seat are very aggressive. Just be ready to spackle the cheeks up with some Bag Balm if you're riding sand or plan on doing a long day of riding. 


Factory Trips Clamps: The KTM Hard Parts aluminum Factory CNC-machined triple clamps feature optimally tuned steering stem stiffness, in order to try and achieve perfect alignment and precise fork clamping for a highly responsive and smooth fork action. They can be adjusted to an offset of 20 or 22mm that gives you the option to change your KTM FE for different track conditions. I noticed zero added rigidity riding with KTM’s Hard Part FE clamp compared to the stock 2019 clamp. I also didn’t notice any improvements on the track (with the the FE clamp), but the orange does look factory!    

If you want to learn more about this 2019 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, here on, and or right now. We try hard to give you a couple different avenues to diet your dirt bike information.   

 50 Hours On The 2019 KTM 450SX-F

I have been hammering down a lot of motos on the 2019 KTM 450SX-F before it has to make its way back to the KTM offices to make way for the 2019.5 KTM 450 Factory Edition. There are still some consumers out there that are concerned about KTM’s durability and wonder if you can trust the Austrian machine over the course of several hard hours. Well to try and give some real world feedback, I have purposely been a little “over abusive” on this particular test steed to see if in fact we can trust the KTM engineers and their R&D department. I have just went over the 52 hour mark last week and have accumulated over 20 of those hours in the past three weeks on rough test tracks near my home. This KTM 450 SX-F has seen its fair share of the testing workload on many parts, accessories, and product evaluations in its 50 hour lifespan. A 50 hour engine, on my scale, is like a 75-80 hour engine on a regular blue collar average racer/rider. If you’re looking for shiny new photos of the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F you came to the wrong place. You might as well go hit the back button and look at the 2019 450 MX Shootout photos because these pictures are of a work horse and not a show pony. Below are some of the key points I wanted to share with you current 2019 KTM 450 SX-F owners and maybe potential KTM buyers about our test unit. 


Engine/ECU Settings: KTM’s R&D department is well aware that they may have missed the mark on stock ECU settings on the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F, but that doesn't mean you should just dismiss this engine. Some “other” media outlets are claiming that it’s too difficult to ride with the rich down low and lean up top feel of the standard ECU setting. There are a couple things to consider here: one that this engine does take some time to break in and feel like it should and two it does get slightly better with some time. Let me explain… When you first get your KTM 450 SX-F and ride her it may feel very tight, sluggish off the bottom end, have some de-cel pop, and may even flame out on you in corners. Some of these symptoms die off after 8-10 hours of riding time on the engine. I used the stock ECU box/settings for the first 16 hours and I had some of those symptoms until around hour 9, then the de-cel popping went away and also some of that sluggish feeling coming out of corners. The rich feeling still seems apparent under low RPM’s no matter what, but KTM is aware of this and will be making some changes to the ECU come factory Edition time. So does that mean you current 2019 KTM 450 SX-F owners are screwed? No. I just wanted to make it clear that this bike is very much rideable in stock form without a ECU re-flash. 

If you DO NOT want to spend the money on a Vortex ignition you can get your standard box re-flashed from Jamie at Twisted Development or Chad at XPR Motorsports. Both of these companies have a better ECU setting for you current orange brigade riders out there. Either one of these guys have a map that gets some more excitement and a cleaner air fuel setting to make the power even more useable. If you DO want to spend the extra $800.00 or so, the Vortex is simply magic for this engine. The engine delivery still remains so smooth yet easier to ride and increases the use of second and third gear. Going to the Vortex ignition gives you the option to ride with less effort while deceasing your lap times because the workload is simply less with the power character the Vortex gives the orange machine. I repeat you DO NOT have to have the Vortex to make the KTM 450 SX-F engine better! You can save some money and re-flash your current ECU!

What about durability once you go with a Vortex ignition? I have yet to have any durability issues with going to an aftermarket ECU that is correctly mapped from either said company above. It is one of the only modifications you can make to your machine that will make a noticeable difference in power without sacrificing the lifespan of your engine. 


What about clutch life? I am notoriously hard on clutches and I usually only get 9-10 engine hours on any given Japanese manufacturer clutch, but with the KTM I can almost double my lifespan. The KTM 450SX-F has only seen two clutches in the past 50 hours and I have been letting my engine run on the same oil for 5-6 engine hours at a time. To me that is impressive. I also DO NOT notice slippage under load when the engine gets hot. The hydraulic clutch is something that I have come to appreciate more through the years and although the engagement of the KTM is a little on/off feeling the overall performance of the clutch itself is amazing under heavy race oriented type stress. 

What about engine maintenance? I am not going to sit here and tell you I am some great mechanic and I am busing out valve clearance checks every 20 hours. I did check the valve clearance after 25 hours and they were within spec and I haven't checked them since. Like I mentioned above I have used Blud Racing 10/40 or Maxima Premium 10/40 oil in this bike and have only changed the oil every 5-6 hours. I am usually a 2-3 engine hour oil change kind of guy, but the KTM has held the rigorous amount of riding time that I have put on it. 


Chassis/Suspension: During the course of the 50 hours I spent on this machine I went back and forth with the stock WP suspension and the WP Cone Valve fork/TRAX shock. The Cone Valve fork provided me with more front end traction (under lean angle) and I could just be more aggressive with getting over my front end without it being inconsistent on a longer moto. The TRAX shock has more of a dead feeling than the stock shock yet provided only minimum comfort gains (over stock). The stock WP shock is very good for my weight and for the combinations of trans we ride here in California. If you’re serious about racing and performance than I would recommend this set up. IF you’re a weekend warrior and want to improve your riding, DO NOT worry about this as the stock stuff will be just fine.

I ended up running the stock AER fork for the last 20 or so hours on the KTM just to see if I can push around the track and found out that running the standard air pressure at 10.5 bars, with the compression at 20 clicks out, and the rebound at 14 clicks out was sufficient. This setting provided me the comfort without getting too harsh through the mid stroke during longer motos with bigger braking bumps/square edge. If you find this setting to be a little harsh on your hands and you're around 185 pounds go with a 10.6 bar setting, compression at 24 clicks out and a rebound of 14 clicks out. This will help hold the front end up on de-cel and help with harshness. 


What about the 2019 KTM’s stiffer frame? The stiffer chassis takes some time to get used to if you're coming off of a 2018 model. Don’t be scared off by the 10% increase in torsional rigidity stiffness. Just like the engine, the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F frame took me a little longer to break in to feel some quality bump compliancy (compared to Japanese machines). I see/hear riders complaining about the 2019 frame stiffness, but to me as a long term owner/consumer I prefer this. Why? A couple reasons: one the 2019 has a more positive cornering character than the 2018 does, feels lighter through mid corner, and doesn't feel clapped out at 50 hours! The 2018 frame (at 50 hours) felt worse than a 100 hour Yamaha YZ450F frame. With the stiffer chassis that KTM came out with in 2019, my test bike feels better now than it did when I was at 25 hours. The overall compliancy has softened up a little bit, but not so much where I feel the frame flexing under load like I did with the 2018 chassis.       


Gearing: I have ran the stock gearing, tried going to a 14/52, but have settled on a 13/49 for my final spec that I prefer at most tracks. I liked the 14/52’s traction character out of corners, but I feel like I lost a a little third gear recovery. I like running third gear through corners and with the 13/49 I feel like I can leave the KTM in third gear (with stock ECU) and fan the clutch minimally to get the orange brigade back into the meat of the power. The 13/49 gearing also doesn't hurt second gear pulling power that much to where I am forced to shift earlier than I did with the 13/48. I am fairly certain that Husqvarna will be making that 13/49 gearing change to their 2019.5 Rockstar Edition models as well. Give it a try if you're a third gear kind of rider. Oh and did I mention I have only changed out one set of sprockets/chain? Yep. 

Handlebars/Grips: I have been on a crossbar kick lately, so the Pro Taper Fuzion “SX RACE” bend has been on the KTM 450 SX-F for over half its life. I was in search of a slightly taller bar bend than what comes stock on the KTM (height 79.5mm, 52mm sweep) and a bar that flexed more, so going with the Pro Taper SX Race bend was great for me, especially in corners. I can still get over the front of the bike, but my elbows are up a little more naturally and I feel better when standing on the bike. If you're a crossbar kind of guy, the Pro Taper Fuzion bar has a EVO-ish flex character and will not feel as rigid as some other crossbar brands. Also note that the stock lock-on-grips/throttle tube also can get heavy after around 20 hours, so check your plastic tube for wear. The plastic on the lock on grips can get rough inside and make your throttle pull hard. IF you ware looking to put standard grips on go with a Motion-Pro throttle tube. I prefer plastic tubes more than aluminum ones for flex reasons. I am not a full time racer guy anymore so I don’t need the durability of an aluminum tube .   

Air Filter: Buy yourself a KTM 250SX two-stroke air filter cage because they come without a backfire screen and then go get a Twin Air filter. Just doing this little modification gave me some added RPM response which helps the KTM feel even lighter in tight sections of any given track. 

Wheels/Tires/Axle Blocks: You will have to check your sprocket bolts and spokes religiously, but if you use a little blue Loctite on your sprocket bolts you should be good. You can also increase the rear wheel traction by going with some Works Connection Elite axle blocks that will eliminate the fixed left side axle block from your axle. This allows both axle blocks to float under heavy load (acceleration) and will not give you a binding rear end (harsh) feel. It sounds minimal, but makes a difference on acceleration chop. You can also run your wheel a little farther back if you're changing your gearing to get some added straight line stability that the KTM can use at times. 

Rear Brake Pedal Spring: The stock one sucks! I break my brake pedal spring every 3-4 hours! You either are going to have to load up on brake pedal springs or go with a CRF450R brake pedal spring with the rubber over it (condom style). This helps with the vibration that the spring experiences, so it doesn't break. 


FMF 4.1 Muffler System: I have tried a lot of systems for this bike, but there is only one that I liked better than the stock system. The FMF 4.1 helps bottom end roll on power out of corners, gives you some added mid range meat, and keeps the stock system’s top end intact. You will shed almost 1.5 pounds and the exhaust note is not obnoxiously loud. I leave the insert out of this system and run it how it comes in the box. The KTM R&D team in Austria worked together with FMF to develop this muffler so it ensures that the air/fuel ECU mapping is correct when purchasing this system. Smart. 


Seat: I went with a Selle Della Valle seat for added butt traction out of corners. This seat is really good, but also really hard on your butt! I have been chaffed more times than I can remember, but it keeps you locked in that’s for sure! It also is super durable and takes washings well.

2019 250 MX Shootout

After two episodes, 13 riders, over five hours of rider opinions, three vastly different tracks, over 90 pages of notes, and several engine hours later, the 2019 250 MX Shootout is dusted. We set out to find the correct 250 four-stroke motocross machine for you and have came away with the final ranking. Below are the final scores (that were tallied up by using an olympic style scoring) and a brief evaluation/summary of each bikes strengths and weaknesses. If you want to hear more about each bike and get a much broader/detailed breakdown of each machine, click on the podcast tab to listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast Presented By Fly Racing And Race Tech right now! 

First Place: Yamaha YZ250F


This wasn't a surprise as the Yamaha boasts unreal amounts of torque for a 250F, which makes any type of rider smile from ear to ear. The YZ250F comes on strong down low, has a wide mid-range and pulls much farther up top than it did in 2018. Combine that with the best suspension in class it was tough to beat when it came to riding a very rough track. The amount of comfort that the suspension gave for a wide variety of riders was unmatched and proved that this is one of the most broad spectrum motocross machines available today. When asking testers to pick out one negative, most found it difficult to think of one, but the exhaust note under higher RPM’s was annoying. 


Most torque/pulling power in class

Plushest suspension 

Yamaha Power Tuner App makes it easy to tailor the power for each rider (it’s free with purchase of bike)


Wide feeling, still noticeable for a few laps

Exhaust note is annoying

Bridgestone X20 tires aren't as good at mid corner as Dunlop

Second Place: 


Surprise! Surprise! At least it was to me. In my final ranking I rated the Honda fourth, but in the overall standings the Honda CRF250R was second best in the shootout. Why? Almost every test rider agreed that the Honda’s chassis was the most agile and well rounded over the course of the test. Bump absorption was superb at rough tracks, ease of cornering, and a lightweight feel all had most of the riders buzzing. The downside to the Honda is you have to ride it aggressively because it simply doesn't have the torque that the Yamaha does. The CRF250R revs out farther than the Yamaha, but its sweet spot is much narrower than the YZ250F. I guess the old theory of “engine is king” is somewhat thrown out the window in this case. The Honda's map switch and its maps are actually noticeable. Most everyone agreed that “map three” was the better map to get some added bottom end feel out of corners where it’s needed. The 2019 Honda also didn't want to overheat like it did in 2018 so maybe that’s another reason why it moved up the ranking in 2019. 


Chassis has a good balance of straight line stability and ease of cornering 

Mid-Top end power rivals the KTM and Husqvarna 

Suspension has comfort along with excellent hold up for larger riders 


Lack of bottom end torque

Clutch abusers will notice fading in longer motos

Transmission spacing is weird (2nd gear feels long, but 3rd gear feels short)

Third Place: KTM 250SX-F


The KTM250SX-F has a deceiving engine character and is smooth and linear down low, but actually has “meat” to its pulling power. It’s exhaust note is quieter than its competitors yet builds RPM’s more calculated, which leaves the rider with more rear wheel traction. If there is one thing lacking in the KTM’s armor it has to be bottom and mid range RPM response. It simply needs more excitement in this area to keep up with the blue bike. This easily can be changed with mapping, but KTM doesn't have a handy ECU tool to make that change accessible to the consumer. The handlebar mounted map switch works well and there is a distinct difference between map one and map two. The TC button is an added bonus that no one else has and it actually works on hard pack areas of the track, so don't be afraid to use it. Not to mention that you can turn it on and off while you ride or as the track deteriorates. The KTM’s AER fork isn’t the worst fork in the bunch, but the two bikes ahead of it simply are more comfortable when the track gets bumpy. The KTM is lacking some front end positivity while leaning and that was a complaint with over 50% of the testers. KTM and Husqvarna have the best brakes, a solid hydraulic clutch, and ergonomics that fit a wide range of riders. 


Mid to top end pulling power 

Feels light on the track

Clutch that never fades


Lack of bottom-mid range end RPM response (excitement) 

Fork lacks some mid-stroke comfort on de-cel bumps

Handlebar has stiff/rigid feel

Fourth Place: Husqvarna FC250


Whether you like it or not the Husqvarna FC250 does feel different than the orange bike. The Husqvarna has a slightly smoother roll on delivery, but to most test riders had a better pull on top end/over-rev. The vibration wasn't as apparent on the Husqvarna as it was on the KTM and the overall chassis forgiveness (or in the production testing world we call that “track toughness”) is better than the brigade as well, but not as good as the YZ250F (king of track toughness). Simply put, the Husqvarna got ranked behind it’s “blood relative” because of a less exciting bottom end power delivery when the track was deep. If the track was hard pack, most testers like the Husqvarna more, but with the conditions we tested at being 70% loamy and 30% hard pack the FC250 got a fourth place ranking. The AER fork didn't have the comfort of the Honda or Yamaha on small bump absorption, but with that being said could make our heavier testers happier on overall balance around the track, due to its easy to to adjust nature. 


Mid to top end pulling power

Feels light on track

Comes with Pro Taper handlebar 


Lack of bottom end RPM response 

AER fork lacks mid-stroke comfort 

Seat cover eats your ass up on longer rides 

Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX250


The Kawasaki KX250 is unchanged for 2019 as Team Green focused its efforts on the KX450. The engine on the KX250 is snappy/exciting down low and has an impressive amount of torque out of corners, but it’s short lived compared to the other bikes in its class. Running the white (lean) coupler helps the Kawasaki pull better through the mid range and gives it increased RPM response on mid-top end. The muffler note still sounds like crap, so hopefully Kawasaki will give the 250 the 450 exhaust note treatment. The Showa SFF fork was split 50/50 with testers as half could find a comfortable setting (mostly heavier riders) and the other half (smaller, lighter testers) couldn't make it plush enough on small to medium sized bumps. The back half of the KX250 had zero complaints and the frame’s bump absorption is comfortable, but all the complaints came from the front end. Cornering the KX250 felt light and nimble and tracked well through the middle to end of rutted and flat corners alike. Faster heavier riders noticed the rear of the bike being a little low and that hurt the initial lean of the Kawasaki. We are looking forward to seeing what the R&D guys have in store for us in 2020 with the KX250. 


Great bottom end RPM response 

Straight line stability 

Mid to exit of cornering stability 


Top end pulling power

Exhaust note

Harsh fork and tough to set up for a variety of tracks (Track Toughness) 

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250


To give this bike a sixth place pains me, but again Suzuki is still a great choice for a lot of riders. Let me explain why. The engine is snappy and quick off the bottom, especially when coming out of tight 180 degree corners, the RM-Z250 also has the best “lean in” coming into corners than anyone else in the shootout, and lastly the Suzuki’s suspension is decent when the rider tips the scales above 185 pounds. So with all this being said why did it get sixth? Simply put the RM-Z250 needs another 20%-25% more power everywhere, could use a softer fork/shock spring rate, and needs a less rigid feeling head tube area. The Suzuki transfers a lot of the track to the rider and that made most of the test riders back the throttle off (especially when the track got super rough). The frame just feels like it doesn't want to flex near the head tube area when pushing the Suzuki into a corner with decent size braking bumps. The best way to describe this feeling is like when you have a knot in your back muscles and you can’t seem to massage it out, but you constantly feel a tightness in that spot of your back no matter which way you turn, lay, sit, etc. That is the RM-Z250’s frame in a nutshell. There is however tons of potential in the engine and it feels exciting coming out of corners, but the Suzuki only teases you with that excitement and then it immediately runs and hides from you. Where did it go? We don’t know, but we want more of it! If the track was tight and smother (AKA Arenacross/Supercross) the Suzuki wouldn't be sixth, we do know that. 


Snappy throttle response 

Cornering ability

Ergonomics comfortable for most sizes 


Frame stiffness on rough tracks

Needs more pulling power/meat/torque

Over-sprung for most standard 250 sized riders   



2019 KX450 Stage 1 Modifications

“Fine Tuning Chassis And Handling With Ride Engineering”

By Dominic Cimino

As you may or may not be aware by now, I am enjoying my time on Kawasaki’s newest big bore. We are deep into the initial stages of fine tuning this dirt bike to my personal preferences and have logged a lot of laps with only a couple aftermarket modifications. Pro Taper handlebars, Race Tech tuned suspension, and most recently, Ride Engineering’s rear linkage and off-set triple clamps. I wanted to give you some insight I experienced during testing Ride Engineering’s chassis specific parts and what worked best for me to date. 


Performance Link:

This was the very first thing we bolted onto the KX450 and it definitely proves to be worth the investment. You can immediately feel how this shock link makes the bike more planted. It technically lowers the rear end when compared to the stock setting, which translates to a squatted feel (which I like on my bikes regardless of color). After setting the sag to Ride Engineering’s recommended setting (103mm), I found that sliding my fork up 3mm in the triple clamps from flush improved things even further. With the fork flush in the top clamp, the KX lost some of the initial lean-in feeling entering corners. The bike just wasn’t as responsive overall when I wanted to point and shoot places. After sliding the fork up, it allowed the bike to regain “some” of those specific handling traits that we all like with this bike. For this test, keep in mind that I kept the stock triple clamps on to get a true gauge on improved performance, and I feel that for a $220 bolt on part, this performance link is worth it. 


21.5mm off-set triple clamps:

Next up on the chopping block were these 21.5mm clamps. The stock clamp off-set on the 2019 KX450 comes in at 23mm, so 1.5mm is a pretty decent adjustment. It shows immediately when on the track too, as the bike handles completely different. Ride Engineering’s purpose when developing these clamps was to make the bike turn on a dime and leave a nickels’ worth of change… and I’m pretty sure they accomplished that! The steering became very aggressive and literally allows you to look in the direction you want to go as the bike follows. If anyone out there reading this would like to have assistance in corners and/or ruts, you may want to consider these clamps on your bike. The bike will point and shoot as you wish, the lean-in feel entering ruts is much more sensitive, and when you are physically in the rut, the bike likes to lay over with ease. But for me personally, I felt that these clamps were a little too much for my riding style. I naturally tend to ride over the front-end a lot (I’m a desert rat, remember?) and because of this, the front end became over-aggressive. At speed, I lost confidence because my bike inherited a twitchy sensation, making me feel like it could “knife” at any moment. Although it gained huge advancements in corners, I would rather the trade-off for better stability at speed. If you tend to ride tighter tracks at slower speeds, these clamps would probably be a no-brainer. 


22mm off-set triple clamps:

Ok - I know you might be saying, “really bro - .5mm different off-set?? Can you really tell?” The answer is whole-heartedly, YES. That 1/2mm really translates to a more predictable front-end steering feel, where the bike gained more stability in the places it needed it. In my layman’s terms: this is the happy middle between stock and that Supercross ready 21.5mm off-set. These clamps still allow you to enter a corner with ease (although not as easy as the 21.5’s) and keep you laid over until you exit. We kept the fork at the 3mm mark in the top clamp, and it proved to be the best position while testing. It really was a cool experience to test all three of these clamps during the same day to decipher which was best for me. 


On another note, I did want to mention a vital characteristic of the stock triple clamps that stands out after riding with different sets: they are less rigid than the Ride Engineering sets. This translates into a more compliant chassis feeling, where the bike feels better over small chop/bump absorption, as well as slap-down landings. This directly correlates to what you feel in your hands while riding, because I liked the stock clamps for these exact reasons. I personally think that some of you out there might have a hard time telling/feeling the difference of what I’m explaining here, so please take this little tidbit with a grain of salt if you’re not sensitive to small changes in your machine. Keep in mind, a TON of research and development go into OEM production clamps, but they have to appeal to an average rider world wide. Ride Engineering is taking that a step beyond and really fine tuning the handling characteristics for those of us that want more (hence the title of this update, “fine tuning”). That is what their clamps are providing - more precise and predictable handling for a motorcycle that already does it well, which in turn translates into more smiles at the end of the day. 

Stage 1 is almost complete on this 2019 Green Machine. I would like to re-visit Race Tech for some changes on suspension before we embark on the next slew of modifications, which will find us in the power department. This motorcycle continues to get better with every bolt we turn, so please stay tuned along the way. As always, we are here to help in any way we can, so feel free to send me an email if you need more info or have questions:  Thank you for reading!

2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 "NEED ONLY" Build (Part Two)

OK, so here we go with the long awaited part two of the 2019 RMZ450 “NEED ONLY” build.  As we stated before in part one, this is a damn good bike that just needs a few improvements.  So, in this part of the build we focused on trying to find a little more power, improving clutch feel and durability, and just some bolt on parts to add a little more “NEEDED” comfort.


What: High compression Pro Circuit piston

Why: Simply stated, the bike needed more bottom end power

Conclusion: Once I picked up the bike from Pro Circuit, after they added the high compression piston, I couldn't wait to get it to the track and see the result (we are able to run pump gas as the compression ratio allows us to). I was surprised that such a small change could make a big difference.  The power was improved in all aspects of the power band, not just bottom end delivery.  On bottom end (with stock piston), the stock power was too mellow and the recovery characteristic was poor especially when the track is ripped deep.  This mod improved bottom end torque and recovery was vastly improved when I was in the wrong gear.  If I am being picky, I still want a little more RPM snap, but we may be able to get that with ignition or different mapping (this may be in part three). Surprisingly, the biggest improvement to the power was through mid to top end pull.  I feel like anytime I grabbed third gear, this bike had a smooth yet very noticeable meatier pull up through the top end (compared to the stock piston).  Overall, this Pro Circuit HC piston took a weak stock powerband and made it fun to ride with more than enough power to clear obstacles out of corners or pull you out of deep corners, but kept the rideability and rear wheel traction high. To me the is a “MUST” on this bike to improve excitement factor. Note: Running white coupler for best feeling on track.


What: Hinson clutch (outer basket, inner basket, pressure plate, fibers, plates, heavier springs, and clutch cover)

Why: To improve overall durability and get rid of the vague feeling at the clutch lever

Conclusion: The Hinson family has been making top quality clutch components for as long as I can remember.  In 1997, when McGrath made the switch to Suzuki, he enlisted Hinson to solve his clutch problems with that model, not factory Suzuki. Immediately the feel at the clutch was more positive and less vague before I even made it onto the track.  Once I rode the bike on the track, the Hinson clutch took the improved power that we got from the piston and transferred that to the rear wheel.  The stock mushy lever feeling was gone and a slightly stiffer firm feel replaced it.  However, it wasn’t a “Honda hard pull” feel, just slightly firmer/more positive than the stock Suzuki pull. I have been riding with the Hinson clutch for over a month and that feeling hasn't changed one bit.  The Hinson durability is second to none and the improved feel was welcomed. Editors Note: Also just to give you guys, the reader, more insight on Joe’s riding technique, he is known to be a clutch destroyer. Joe is very hard on clutches and to say that a clutch has made it over a month without changing plates says something.  


What: FCP Engine mounts

Why: Chassis felt a bit rigid on corner entrance, transitioning, and exiting choppy corners

Conclusion: I couldn't remove that small insecurity when entering corners, no matter what I tried with the suspension. I figured it had to be due to the stiffness in the chassis and not the suspension.  Kris Palm approached me at Milestone and bolted on his engine mounts for me to give it a try. Keefer told me that some of FCP mounts have made a differene in the past, so I was curious to see what they would do to this chassis. Immediately the mounts got rid of most of the stiff bound up feeling of the chassis and allowed it to settle entering corners, stayed planted transitioning through the middle part of the corner, and allowed the suspension to absorb any acceleration chop while keeping the rear wheel planted under acceleration.  Another improvement from a simple bolt on part that gave me that secure feeling to allow me to carry my momentum through corners and push the bike a little harder.


What: Pro Taper (bars, grips, throttle tube, front brake lever, clutch perch/lever, chain, sprockets, and hour meter)

Why: To achieve more comfort, adjustability, and durability 

Conclusion: Bars - Once I found the right balance of bar height and bend while sitting and standing, I was happy with the SX Race bend.  

Grips - Working my full time job doesn't allow me to ride as much as I would like. Having the right grips are key and the soft compound 1/3 waffle gave me that cushy feel, allowing me to ride all day with no issues and the grip was excellent.

Throttle tube - The stock plastic throttle tube had a sluggish/slow feeling to it so when we replaced it with the aluminum tube the throttle had a lighter, snappier feel.  Plus it obviously is stronger and more durable in a crash.

 Front brake lever - In addition to looking great with its black color and having a cool Pro Taper cover/shield, the XPS Lever offered great adjustability with the dial to adjust reach and its multi directional folding capabilities kept it from breaking or bending in a crash.  

Clutch perch and lever - The Profile perch and lever offered the same great looks as the XPS front lever, friction free feel, quick adjust star to adjust clutch play, and a nylon sleeve to allow the perch to pivot in a fall.  Additionally it folds in almost all directions further protecting it in a fall and the reach is also adjustable.

Chain and Sprockets - I kept the stock gearing ratio but, opted for the black Race spec front and rear sprockets which gave me increased durability and looks. The Pro Series 520 mx chain gave me that cool gold chain look with minimal stretching and longer lasting chain life. 

Hour meter - The wireless hour meter was literally the easiest part I've ever applied to a bike. Peel and stick, then hit the button for info. It works off of vibration (eaaaaaaasyyyyyyy Keefer) while the bike is running, which led to a few complaints of additional time being added during transport. I live on a dirt road roughly 2 miles from pavement and i have had absolutely zero issues with this. 


Overall I'm happy on this build, as Keefer mentioned, the whole point was to take a bike that consistently finishes towards the rear in the shootouts and show how great this bike can be with a few key improvements. I truly enjoy riding this bike and feel a confidence i've been missing since those years where I rode all the time. For the average guy, who may only get to ride once a week or less, to be able to hop on his bike and feel comfortable going fast is priceless. I feel we were able to achieve just that and hopefully this build will help you get that same feeling. Thanks for reading and stay tuned, i have a feeling this build may not be done yet.

Joe Oehlhof

14 year professional motocross racer

Finished 16th in points in 2005 in 450 class

Made every main events in 2005

Best 125 SX finish was Pontiac with a 4th Place 1999

Rode for AM Leonard KTM, Team Subway Honda, WBR Suzuki

Best Of 2018

Where did the year go? Wow! Time flies when you're riding, testing, typing, and talking about dirt bikes! With 2018 coming to a close I look back on the bikes/products (yes, some are 2019 bikes that I tested in 2018) that arrived or gained popularity this year and I picked a few that I think deserve some recognition. I went through a lot of bikes, parts, and gear this year so it was tough to narrow it down to just a few, but in the end these are the ones that stood out to me. I am a very picky guy, (just ask my wife) so pleasing me is somewhat difficult, but these products/bikes below indeed did something in order for me to write about them once again. As 2018 draws to a close, I salute these companies, manufacturers, and products for making the sport faster, safer, and more comfortable for all of us enthusiasts out there. Here they are in no particular order….

Vortex ECU For KTM 450 SX-F/Husqvarna FC450/Yamaha YZ450F: 


If there is one thing you can do to improve your modern day four-stroke power delivery, it would be to map your current ECU. Yamaha has an awesome PowerTuner app to play around with, so you can get your power delivery the way you like it (within a safe parameter) on the track. On the flip side to the Yamaha, the KTM/Husqvarna comes with a handlebar mounted map switch that allows you to choose between three settings (standard, aggressive, and traction control) so you can go pick and choose on how aggressive you want your orange/white bike to be while riding. However, if you really want to get more usable power, that is controlled, and broader, the Vortex ECU mapped by Twisted Development is my number one go to modification. On the 2019 KTM/Husqvarna 450’s the ECU comes rich down low and somewhat lethargic, which makes the bike heavy feeing. With the Vortex ECU mapped by Jamie at Twisted Development the stock KTM/Husqvarna lethargic power delivery down low becomes a snappy, easier to ride machine that pulls stronger out of corners and longer down the straights. By simply taking your seat off and plugging this Vortex ECU in, these two bikes quickly become two of my favorite machines to ride. You also have 10 pre-programmed maps on the trim dial so you can choose how aggressive you want your power delivered. Run the Vortex on pump fuel or race gas, it doesn't matter because there’s a map for both. The improvement you will feel on the track is huge and noticeable right away! 

2019 Yamaha YZ450F: 


Small changes to the 2019 Yamaha YZ450F made it our 450 MX Shootout winner and my favorite bike of the year! No it’s not the lightest bike on the market, but it’s engine delivery is unmatched, has the best production suspension in the game, has a better cornering ability for 2019, and is the most reliable bike on the track. Every time I think I may have found something better, I hop back on the ol’ 2019 YZ450F and fall in love all over again. It’s one of the only bikes I can ride in stock form and go very fast on right away. Kudos to all the Yamaha Japanese engineers and North America test riders for making an incredible machine! 

6D ATR-2 Helmet:  


6D Helmets launched their ATR-2 in 2018 and improved on an already great ATR-1 helmet. It has a shorter chin bar/nose area, shorter visor, and is lighter that the ATR-1, but keeps all the safety features of the ATR-1. It’s hard to write about something, that in some cases, can’t be fully tested until shit goes wrong. In the world of helmet safety, we as buyers have to be very trustworthy customers. I mean…We have no choice, but to trust in a certain helmet company’s technology right? We have to trust in what the helmet company is telling us (about their latest safety technology offerings) is in fact the truth and works in real world conditions, just like the test results say back at the testing facility. The only way to truly know if the helmet “works” or not is to crash and that is something that riders usually aren't looking to do. However, when it does come time to test the safety aspect of the helmet, it better damn well work and be what we paid for. I have worn and trusted in the 6D technology for quite sometime now and even spent my own money on a few helmets for my kid and I. My son and I both have crashed in an ATR-2 and came away dazed, but not confused. I feel whole heartedly that this is due to the 6D Technology, plain and simple. 

Ride Engineering One Piece Handlebar Mount:   


The Ride Engineering One Piece Oversize Bar Mount has a one-piece top that is designed to resist bending much better than the stock bar mount. Precision machined from aircraft quality aluminum, there is also a 6mm difference between the forward and back mounting positions. Ride Engineering also machines their own stainless steel posts that prevent over tightening, unlike some other competing brands that DO NOT use quality posts. I have stuck these Ride Engineering bar mounts on the KTM 450 SX-F and the Honda CRF450R with great results after crashing. I never had to find something to bang my front wheel off of to try and straighten my bars/mounts after a crash. These powerful suckers do not cause added rigidity to your ride and only cost $104.95, but you can save 20% by using the code Keefer-20 over at 

Guts Racing Firm Seat Foam And Gripper Wing Seat Cover: 


The real only downside to the Yamaha YZ450F is the seat density and cover. The foam is not firm enough near the middle portion of the seat the rider sometimes can hit the fuel tank when pushing hard into corners. So when you think of the words “hard” or “firm” you may think of uncomfortable right? Well in this case you would be wrong. The “firm” GUTS foam is just what the doctor ordered, especially when I am slamming into corners. With the GUTS firm foam the density is harder in the middle of the foam/seat, but also on the sides of the foam where you need it (especially when riding aggressively). Your butt is not always placed directly in the middle of the seat when you're riding, so why just make the middle part of the foam firm? GUTS thought of this because all of us riders need to have a firm feel on each side of the foam as well. The GUTS Racing foam provides the correct amount of density, so I am not pushing my tushy through the foam and into the plastic of the fuel cell. On top of the foam gripping the bike is important to me so Andy from GUTS makes these special “wing” gripper seat covers so my long legs have something to lock on to when standing up through rollers or choppy terrain. Having the “wing” seat also improves the cushioning of the side of the seat even more with the added padding sewn into the cover. It’s a brilliant idea and works awesome!

Works Connection Elite Axle Blocks For KTM And Husqvarna: 


Consisting of a pair of CNC’d Elite axle blocks, a titanium drive-side receiver, and a square removal tool nut, the Elite Axle Block Kit converts your stock KTM/Husqvarna rear axle from a fixed design into a floating type. KTM and Husqvarna Factory teams use this same floating type design on their race team bikes to improve traction as well as straight line stability, and it actually works! Another key component is the integrated receiver post on each axle block that allows the use of a caliper to precisely measure and match the left and right axle block’s position. This assures exact alignment of the chain and sprocket, which is critical to prolonging chain and sprocket life. I have been secretly running these on my KTM and Husqvarna test bikes for almost a year now and it may not seem like it’s much once installing them, but you will notice more rear wheel traction and a less harsh feeling under acceleration chop. 

2018 Yamaha YZ65: 


Anytime a manufacturer develops a new dirt bike for kids I am all in. Yamaha introduced a new model to their lineup with the YZ65 in 2018 and it was well perceived not only by my little test guy, but by many other littler riders and parents alike. The YZ65 has a potent engine, great suspension, and adjustability that lets little riders a chance to grow with their machines. We even let our test rider Dustyn Davis ride it with his friends at the 24 Hours Of Glen Helen and the   YZ65 lasted the entire time in the muddy conditions. We have almost 80 hours racked up on this test unit along with a WORCS championship that Dustyn won along the way. 

2018 Top Gear Choices: 

You guys knew this was coming right? I am such a gear fanatic that I couldn't just pick one set that was my favorite, so I am giving you my top three sets of gear that I tested/wore throughout 2018, in no particular order: 

  1. Fly Lite Hydrogen: Lightweight, flexible, and most of all very comfortable the Fly Lite Hydrogen gear is a joy to wear on long days of testing. It’s ventilated enough to breathe through the hot summer days in the desert, but also is durable enough to last through the abuse I can throw at gear. Not to mention the solid colorways that FLY came back to for 2019 has me all giddy like a school girl on prom night. 


2. Fox FlexAir: When you put a set of Fox FlexAir gear on you really notice how lightweight and minimalistic this stuff really is. The gear is snug and so streamlined when I am riding that I notice that I can move around on the bike a lot better. This is a real thing folks! Just like cyclists streamlined, form fitting gear helps your body become more agile while riding and Fox does it right with the FlexAir gear! 


3.  O’Neal Hardwear: Say what you want about O’Neal, but they have come a long way with the styling of their gear. I wanted to put O’Neal in this mix because the Hardwear fit is much better in 2018 than it has been it quite sometime and there is no other gear out in the market that is as tough as the Hardwear pant and jersey in my opinon. Yes, the gear is a little heavier than the two above it, but the stuff is tough and has a clean look for 2019!  



If you like analyzing your riding like me then the LitPro is a pretty incredible tool to have. Look, I will be target up with you. I wasn't on board with the LitPro a while back because it was too damn hard to use and confusing to me. However LitPro has made some updates to their app and made easier for us idiots to use the device. I have been riding with the updated software for a few months now and by no means am I a pro at it, but at least I can see each session I do and analyze my lap times, my line choice, what’s faster, and which bike I may be faster on at any given time. I love that I can get with my buddy Travis Preston and really show him how fast my corner speed is compared to him! To me that is worth the $499.00 price tag! You can even track your heart rate during each moto, just in case you really want to go all “Baker Factory” out there! 

2018.5 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition: 


Did you really think you were going to get through this without me mentioning the Rockstar Edisssssh? No, the 2018.5 Husqvarna Rockstar Edition didn't win our shootout, but that doesn't mean I didn't get happy every time I rode one of these suckers. I would talk about how much fun it was to ride (to my wife) so many times that she finally got sick of it and went and bought me one. The Rockstar Edition has better ECU mapping than the 2019 FC450, it feels the lightest of all 450’s on the track, is super connected from my throttle hand to the rear wheel, and my lap times (from my LitPro) always said I was fastest on it! Simply put, the 2018.5 FC450 Rockstar Edition is just a fun bike to ride and gets even better with just a couple modifications like an FMF Muffler, removal of the backfire screen, and some good race fuel. To me the Yamaha and Husqvarna are my two most favorite bikes to ride of the 2018/2019 model year!   

2019 Honda CRF250RX First Impression 

What? Honda has another new model? Yes, that’s right, the 2019 CRF250RX is Honda’s latest off-road addition to their growing stable. We had a chance to let our “Electric Diesel” test rider Tod Sciacqua ride it at Cahuilla Creek in Anza, California for a full day of ripping. This is just a quick first impression, but we will be re-visiting this machine for a long term test soon so don’t fret your pretty little dirt bike faces. If you want to hear more about this red machine, click on the “Podcast” tab and listen to Tod and I talk about what this bike is like to ride. 


This all-new CRF250RX is specially designed for closed-course off-road competition only, so just know that this machine will not be OHV legal until you get a spark arrestor. Some of the CRF250RX key features that Honda would like you to know are:

  • Large-capacity, 2.2 gallon resin fuel tank 

  • 18-inch rear wheel

  • Forged aluminum sidestand

  • Sealed drive chain

  • Suspension with settings dedicated to closed-course off-road use 



  • High-performance, 249cc single-cylinder engine with dual-overhead-cam design and high rev limit.

  • Finger rocker arm with Diamond Like Coating (DLC) maximizes valve lift while retaining a low engine height

  • Downdraft intake layout improvies air-charging efficiency

  • Dual exhaust ports enable ideal air-charging efficiency

  • Cam profile, which is based on feedback on the CRF250R used by the Team HRC factory MX2 race team

  • Intake- and exhaust-port geometry provides strong low-rpm engine power while also maintaining stellar top-end performance

  • 44mm throttle body offers ideal low-rpm intake airflow for strong corner-exit performance

  • Honda’s piston oil jet with five nozzle holes provides superior piston-cooling efficiency and reduced knocking, enabling a precise ignition-timing setting for optimum power delivery

  • Lightweight AC generator keeps weight to a minimum and minimizes friction losses

  • Electric-start standard for easy, fast engine startup

  • Easily selectable Standard, Smooth, and Aggressive riding modes enable easy tuning depending on rider preference or course conditions

  • Selectable HRC launch control provides a steady stream of torque for excellent performance on race starts

  • Exclusive ECU settings for ideal engine performance and rideability in off-road situations



  • Lightweight aluminum frame with tapered main spars provides great rider feedback

  • Low center of gravity reduces front-end lift for strong acceleration

  • Renthal Fatbar® handlebar reduces steering-system weight, and flexes for comfort

  • Top triple clamp features two handlebar-holder locations for moving the handlebar rearward and forward by 26mm, ensuring rider comfort. When holder is turned 180 degrees, the handlebar can be moved an additional 10mm from the base position, resulting in four total unique handlebar positions

  • Newly shaped footpegs are 20% lighter and shed mud more easily, giving the rider great feel and confidence in all riding conditions

  • Engine guard allows excellent airflow, boosting engine-cooling performance

  • 49mm Showa SPG coil-spring fork with dedicated settings for ideal handling and comfort in technical conditions experienced in off-road racing

  • Fork protectors have outstanding coverage for protection in off-road conditions

  • Black rims offer strong presence parked in the pits or out on the trail

  • Lightweight front-brake caliper uses pistons of different diameters (30mm and 27mm) for strong braking performance

  • Front-brake hose resists expansion for precise braking

  • Smooth bodywork layout eases rider movement

  • In-mold graphics are durable and resistant to peeling caused by washing or abrasion

  • Dunlop Geomax AT81 tires provide optimum feel and traction in challenging riding conditions


So now that you have some idea about what Honda did to this sucker, what did Tod think about the 2019 CRF250RX: 

Going into the test day I was thinking this would be a corked up slow trail bike, not really expecting the awesomeness of the power potential this race bike truly really had. One of the first things I noticed was the oversized tank and the 18” rear wheel with the sweet looking racing black rims. Yes, I am sucker for black rims because it just makes the red plastic pop that much more. Throwing your leg over the Honda for the first time, you will notice the large fuel tank and by appearance you may think this tank will affect your riding while on the trail, but once you take off you forget all about it.


I want get this out of the way right now because I feel no one talks about this enough. There are three different power settings on the handlebar, which to me is always great for different riding conditions you may ride on any given day. I may be in the mood for different conditions, on any given ride I go on, so having the aggressive, smooth, or standard “mood” settings is perfect for the many different riding moods that I have. The engine delivery is snappy and responsive enough to pop me up over rocks, logs and the occasional rain ruts that we encounter here on the west coast from time to time. I only weigh in at 155 pounds so having too much power is a concern to me at times when looking to purchase a bike. With this CRF250RX I feel like I can manhandle this machine more because the power delivery is fun, yet never gets me in trouble when riding. The mid range to top end pulling power feels just like the 2019 CRF250R to me and that means it pulls far and likes to be revved. If there is anything I could complain about the engine, it would be lack of some torque down on very low RPM. The throttle response is crisp and instant, but the bottom end delivery can feel empty if I was on a tight trail that was somewhat sandy.  


The Showa suspension feels like it was tailor valved for my riding style and weight. Again I am not a heavy guy and this Showa CRF250RX suspension was plush for me out on the closed course trails of Cahuilla Creek. On the occasion I hit the moto track on the way into the pits, the suspension had enough hold up for the jumps that Cahuilla provided. Overall, I can’t sit here and type any real negative on the suspension side (as I love me some spring forks) and Showa knocked it out of the park with this fork setting. We set the sag at 106mm for my weight and I was happy right away with the balance that the HondaI had. I am sure Keefer will nitpick the crap out of this thing more at a later time, but for now lets just say the Showa suspension was great for my smaller stature. 

48mm Showa spring forks grace the new 2019 CRF250RX.

48mm Showa spring forks grace the new 2019 CRF250RX.

 While riding the diverse terrain I noticed how nimble and easy this CRF250RX is in the tight stuff (and through corners). Although the nature of the chassis is agile and quick handling, the straight line stability feels planted and not as twitchy as the 250R. On tighter switchbacks the CRF250RX feels light and very playful and that makes me want push harder through the tighter terrain. One thing is for certain about the evolution of dirt bikes these past few years; it’s that the brakes have improved dramatically. A lot of media testers don’t talk about how important good brakes are and the new Honda provides some great stopping ability. The front brake on past Honda’s felt somewhat spongey and soft to me, but this 2019 CRF250RX has a strong front brake that lets me charge into corners much harder than I can remember.   

The Honda loves to carve up some berms.

The Honda loves to carve up some berms.

Did I mention I love electric start? Well, I do! You might think you don’t need an electric start on a 250, but after a full day of riding, kickstarting your bike gets tiring. Us older guys love this feature as it just makes riding a dirt bike more enjoyable to me. The biggest bummer to me on the day was that they didn't let me take the bike home. I will have to say that I am also mystified that Honda doesn't put handguards on this machine. The seven mile loop that Honda laid out for us was filled with blood sucking demon branches that will attack you any chance they can. Just ask my right forearm! The Honda CRF250RX comes with a skid plate, which is mandatory for any off road bike, so why aren’t handguards mandatory on this sucker as well? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? 

Dear Honda, we need handguards please!

Dear Honda, we need handguards please!

Great job to Honda on making a hybrid machine that is easy to manage and fun to ride. Look for more 2019 Honda CRF250RX updates at soon or check out the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast on this site right now! -Big Air Tod  

2019 85cc MX Shootout 


Nothing brings me more joy than watching my son share the same passion that I do for dirt bikes. However making the decision (as a parent) to purchase the correct machine can be somewhat confusing, difficult, and expensive. That is where Keefer Inc. Testing comes in! We decided to do a 2019 85cc shootout for you moto loving parents out there, but also give you some insight on which bike might be best for you and your little one. This was a big undertaking for myself as it’s tough to get kids to open up on how each bike feels, but we can officially say that the 2019 85 MX Shootout has officially taken the checkered flag after three days of testing, over 50 pages of testing notes, eight test riders, and after countless engine hours have racked up on thee little bikes. The tracks we chose to test at were good for a wide range of abilities and wasn't so gnarly that your typical 85cc novice couldn't have some fun. We feel the tracks we tested on were the best tracks (combined with the prep that was performed) that brought out each machines strengths and weaknesses. In doing this we know the information gathered was the most accurate we could offer from our 11-14 year old testers. Below are the final rankings and a brief evaluation summary that were tallied up by using an olympic style scoring. If you want to hear more about each bike, get a much broader breakdown of each machine, and hear from one of the testers, click on the podcast tab to listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast Presented By Fly Racing And Race Tech this week!

Check back soon for a “Best Settings” article for each machine and a full photo gallery. We also will be doing some “Living With” articles with a few of these throughout the 2019 year, in order to give you parents some feedback on what is breaking and what you can do to make these bikes even better. Just don’t go all mini parent on your kids! Let them enjoy riding their dirt bikes and having fun with their family and friends. #KeepKidsOnDirtBikes

The 2019 Suzuki RM85 wasn’t available when we had photo day, so look for more action shots of the RM85 when we post up the “Best Settings” article.


First Place: Tie KTM 85SX/Husqvarna TC85

MSRP: KTM 85SX $5,899.00

MSRP: Husqvarna TC85 $5,999.00

Unlike its bigger brothers, the KTM and Husqvarna are identical on paper and most of our test riders couldn't feel the difference between the two on the track, hence why we chose to have a tie for first place. Both engine packages are powerful enough to make even our pro test riders smile. Every test rider underestimated the power of the small but mighty engine, however it wasn't so gnarly that it scared our novice kids. Make no doubt about it though, these are racing that want to go fast. The KTM and Husqvarna have a smoother delivery down low (similar to their bigger four-stroke counterparts), but once both hit the midrange, they explode with a pulling power that gets you down the track in a hurry. Simply put the engines in both of these machines out perform all of the others in class and put smiles on every one of our young testers faces. Heck, I even rode them and it put a smile on my face! I wish I had these engines when I was on minis! The beauty of these motors is if you wanted to tame the power or move it around, you could very easily do so with the power valve adjuster. You can turn the power-valve adjuster on the right side of the engine 1/4 of a turn clockwise, have your little one ride the bike, come back to the pits and turn it 1/4 of a turn counterclockwise (from stock), and have them tell you which one he or she prefers. Doing this makes a big difference in the power delivery, so it’s worth the time and effort to give it a try to make the rider feel comfortable. Plus it’s a good evaluation to test their “test rider skills”. The top end and over-rev is what really sets these engines apart from the Yamaha. The Yamaha is better down low, but once opened up, the KTM and Husqvarna simply out pull it down the straights. You can just hear how much further the KTM and Husqvarna rev out when watching/hearing the kids ride each machine.

The hydraulic clutch was well perceived by each tester and the overall abuse that the KTM and Husqvarna clutches can take is better than the other colored machines. Usually air forks are a nightmare on big bikes, but in the world of small bikes, I don't think it’s as critical. Not one test rider complained about the 43mm WP AER fork and in fact it was easy to dial in for our wide range of testers. We normally stuck with the recommended 5 bar of fork pressure, but dialed it down to 4-4.5 bars for the lighter kids with great success. The KTM and Husqvarna do sit a little taller than the other bikes in the shootout so that is something parents will have to know going in before purchasing. Some of our smaller testers could quite touch the ground when seated, so be forewarned that you may have to lower the seat height for smaller riders. The handlebar bend is tall, wide, has some rise to it, but gives room for riders to grow into. The bar pad that KTM/Husqvarna use are horrible and should be replaced immediately with a foam style pad. The downside to these two machines? Price! They are over a grand more than any other bike in this shootout, so be sure you’re ready to pay for that “Race Ready” motto.


Incredible mid-top end engine delivery

Balanced Suspension 

Hydraulic Clutch 



Lack of bottom end power (compared to Yamaha)

Hard feeling bar pad

Could be tall for smaller riders

Who Are These Bikes For? Riders that want to go racing and ride very aggressively.  


Third Place: Yamaha YZ85

MSRP: $4,599.00

Yamaha came in with a new YZ85 for 2019 and it was well perceived by most testers in our shootout. The engine on the 2019 Yamaha YZ 85 is very strong coming out of corners, but doesn't pull quite as far as the KTM and Husqvarna on top end/over-rev. The Yamaha has more of an exciting hit down low than the orange and white bikes, but just doesn’t have the recovery through the mid range like the front runners do. When some testers made a mistake coming out of corners they had to cover the clutch way more than they did with the KTM and Husqvarna. If the clutch was abused (like some novice kids can do) the YZ85 started to slip and drag during the course of the day. You could hear it starting to slip, so we were forced to change out the clutch plates after our second day of testing. The tighter the track we tested at the more the testers liked the power and RPM response of the Yamaha. It is a very exciting power delivery. The good news is that the jetting is clean and crisp with the Yamaha and comes ready to go right from the crate.

The 2019 Yamaha YZ 85’s suspension has a plush feel to it and to most testers had more comfort (in fork) on braking bumps than the Husqvarna and KTM. However our heavier testers couldn't quite get it to hold up enough for their aggressive style and had to really pay attention to downsiding jumps perfectly. Straight line stability was also praised as testers thought they could hit bumps faster at speed and the Yamaha remained stuck to the ground/planted. Compared to the KTM and Husqvarna though the Yamaha corners a little slower. Entering corners some testers thought it felt tough to lean the YZ85, which forced them to use outside lines more instead of getting into a tight rut. The handlebar bend was well liked by every test rider and the way the Yamaha fit all of our testers was amazing. Simply moving the bar mounts forward or back help create a smaller or larger rider triangle for each test rider. The ground clearance seemed to be just right for the wide range of riders as each felt comfortable right away. If you’re looking for a competitive bike that isn’t a KTM or Husqvarna, look no further than the YZ85. The blue bike should be your top pick simply because it’s a great bike that costs less than the top two machines. With a pipe and silencer the YZ85 could be as fast as the orange and white on top end.


Great bottom end power delivery

Ergonomically fits a wide range of riders

Stable at speed 


Clutch life

Slightly slower cornering compared to Husqvarna and KTM

Black frame paint chips way too quick 

Who Is This Bike For? Riders who like a lot of RPM response and like to be aggressive on fast tracks. 


Fourth Place: Kawasaki KX85

MSRP: $4,349.00

Fourth place goes to the Kawasaki KX85. The green machine honestly doesn’t do anything bad, but from what we heard from each test rider, doesn’t have any real stand out “this is the best” qualities (compared to the other machines) either. The engine delivery is calculated and easy to ride, which did make our younger/novice test riders more confident in charging around the track. There is no real explosive hit out of corners, but instead the rider has tons of traction at the rear wheel that is exceptional under slippery conditions. The Kawasaki gets pulled through the mid range and top end at faster/deeper tracks and our more experienced riders were just looking for more power throughout the power curve. The jetting comes a little rich so raising the clip up one or two really helped the rich/lethargic feeling on low end. The suspension is plush yet very soft for any test rider over 100 pounds, so if you are on the bigger side, a set of heavier springs and a re-valve might be in order. The lighter/smaller kids that tested the KX85 loved the bump absorption and raved about how stable the bike was for them on rough tracks. The KX85 corners well and to most testers had the best overall cornering stability that allowed kids to push past their limits through fast sweeping corners. The Kawasaki feels longer and lower to the ground, which makes it planted once under a lean angle. The KX85 is tailor made for smaller riders as the bars are swept back/low and the rider triangle is very small. Kawasaki needs to update their bar spec and quality of handlebar as it is dated compared to the others (besides Suzuki) in the shootout. We do know with a little work the KX85 is a weapon of choice for a lot of young amateur racers, but in stock form needs some updates to make it better than the top three. 


Stable at speed

Plush suspension for smaller riders

Rider triangle great for kids coming off of 65’s


Vanilla power delivery

Small cockpit for bigger kids

Soft suspension for aggressive riders over 100 pounds

Who Is This Bike For? Riders that race motocross and grand prix’s that prefer stability.


Fifth Place: Suzuki RM85

MSRP: $4,199.00

The Suzuki ranked fifth, but although the looks of the RM85 look dated, the engine is actually quite good. I would say this is the most underrated/peppy engine in the shootout. The test riders felt the RM85 had better bottom end/RPM response than that of the KX85, but couldn't quite match the top end pulling power that the other bikes ahead of it had. Top end was short and the jetting was also a little rich for sea level riding conditions. We raised the clip up one (leaner) and this helped RPM response a little through the mid and top end range. Once jetting was leaned out most testers thought the Suzuki RM85 had a lightweight feel coming in and out of corners because of the snappy throttle response down low. Lightweight testers didn't mind the mellow mid-top end pulling power feeling, but riders that were over 100 pounds and more aggressive, simply needed more engine. The suspension is soft stock and compliments lighter riders well, but if you're an aggressive or heavier 85cc rider, you will want to get some heavier springs ASAP. The ride attitude of the RM85 on the track was tougher to figure out (with aggressive riders) because most of them complained about the front end feeling low on de-cel. With some of that front end dive though came increased front end traction through corners. Just like most Suzuki’s, the RM85 turns as well as the front runners in the class and likes tight inside lines the most. If the corners are sweeping and long the Suzuki can get a little unstable/twitchy for lighter riders. Straight line stability was well perceived with larger testers and was a little harder to handle with lighter riders. A couple testers complained about vibration coming through the handlebars and the grips hurting their hands. Suzuki desperately needs to update this area of the RM85 as we think these are the same bars that were on Buddy Antunez’s Suzuki when he was an RM80 rider back in the day. Although on paper the Suzuki is heavier it feels light on the track! Even thought the Suzuki RM85 is fifth we think this is a great bike for any local or novice/intermediate racer. My son Aden says this was one of the most fun bikes he has ridden at Milestone to date! Trust me, that says something as he is pickier than his old man.  


Good bottom end snap

Gives riders confidence in tight corners

Lightweight feel 


Mid-Top end power

Soft suspension 

Dated handlebars and grips (cockpit)

Who Is This Bike For? A lighter novice rider that needs to gain confidence through ruts/corners.  

Best Overall Categories: 

Best Bottom End: Yamaha

Best Mid Range: KTM/Husqvarna

Best Top End: KTM/Husqvarna

Best Over Rev: Husqvarna 

Best Fork: Yamaha

Best Shock: Yamaha

Best Cornering: KTM/Husqvarna 

Best Straight-Line Stability: Kawasaki

Best Lightweight Feel: Suzuki 

Best Brakes: KTM/Husqvarna

Best Ergonomics: Yamaha

Best Shifting: KTM/Husqvarna

2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 “Need Only” Project Build Part One

The 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 didn't fare well in any magazine shootout this year. Does that mean it should just get shunned and not paid attention to? No, absolutely not. Like I have said in my podcasts before, every bike is good, it’s just up to you on which one is right for you? How much you ride, what type of rider you are, and how fat your wallet is, carries a lot of weight when it comes to purchasing a new motocross machine. The one thing Suzuki has over other manufacturers is that you can get a leftover new 2018 RM-Z450 and even a new 2019 RM-Z450 for much less than any other brand. You can find a brand new RM-Z and save yourself $4000.00! When it comes to saving money, why wouldn't you want to buy a Suzuki! When you got a family, bills at home and maybe a wife that wants something of her own, being able to purchase a $10,000 dirt bike is not really an option. However, when you can purchase a 6-7 thousand dollar dirt bike it becomes more appealing, especially to the wife. 

I wanted to create a 2019 RM-Z450 project build that was only on a “need only” basis. ‘What does the Suzuki need? If you were going to save up some money, after your Suzuki purchase, where would the wise decisions go to? I didn't want this to be a fashion over function type of build, because frankly, not everyone has cash coming out of their asses to spend on meaningless shit for their dirt bikes. The cash people do have is hard earned and not everyone is looking to bling out their ride. Not everyone’s bike is “Too Lit”! Sorry Enticknap, but there are no gold wheels or gold necklaces with this build. If you’re rich then just stop reading this article now because this isn’t for you. I recruited my long time friend and former AMA Supercross rider Joe Oehlhof to help me build this yellow bike. Joe is as blue collar as they come and doesn't spend money on just anything. He left the pro scene, became a San Bernardino County firefighter, got married, and has three kids. He loves riding at a high level, but also knows he can’t be dumping all of his money into dirt bikes anymore. With all of that being said, we wanted to build a Suzuki RM-Z450 into what we feel would be a competitive bike to win a shootout. What would it take? Why did we change the parts that we did? How did it work out on the track? These are the questions that this series of articles will answer. We will continue to evolve this build, but for now here is part one of what, why, and how the 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 is getting better. 


What: Pro Circuit Ti-6 Full muffler system. 

Why: To help bottom-mid range power delivery/RPM response and lose weight. 

Conclusion:  The stock Suzuki RM-Z450’s power is vanilla at best. It’s lethargic down low and needs some excitement. The KTM 450 SX-F’s power is smooth, but still has enough pulling power to keep most people happy. The Suzuki lacks pulling power, so we installed a Pro Circuit Ti-6 muffler on and got some added pulling power. The PC system didn't “wow” us for initial RPM response at first, but we installed the insert into the muffler and that helped back pressure to create some more throttle response. Joe and I both liked the insert in for increased bottom to mid range throttle response. Installing this PC system helps with coming out of corners and helping the Suzuki’s recovery time. With the stock system the recovery time out of corners (if you were a gear too high) was embarrassing for a 450cc machine. It would be hard to get back into the meat of the power forcing you to downshift and then immediately upshift, to get moving again quickly. With the PC system the rider can fan the clutch lever a couple times (in the higher gear) and it helps get the Suzuki on down the track in a quicker manner. The PC system is a step in the right direction for bottom and mid range pull. It doesn’t help or negatively affect the top end at all. Yes, we still need more to make us happy. 


What: Pro Circuit Fork/Shock re-valve and linkage.

Why: To help bump absorption and help pitching when on/off throttle hard. 

Conclusion: Jim “Bones” Bacon retired, but Joe bugged him enough to help us with our Suzuki suspension woes. In stock form the Suzuki dives under braking and then squats too much under load when exiting a corner. This upsets traction and balance when trying to push the limits around the track. The chassis also feels slightly rigid at times when the track is square edgy and hard pack. Bones re-sprung the suspension for Joe’s weight (190 pounds), valved it, and installed 1mm longer pull rods. The difference on the track was noticeable immediately for the better. Sometimes when you get your suspension re-valved you notice some added comfort, but get some negative effect on other portions of the track, where the stock stuff feels better. The PC suspension helped balance out the ride attitude of the RM-Z450 on de-cel and increased cornering ability for both of us. There was less pitching sensation when chopping the throttle therefore the front end became more predictable on entrance of corners. Cornering stability was also improved, especially through choppy/long ruts. The Suzuki felt more planted inside the rut without feeling harsh like the stock suspension did. Exiting corners we both thought that the connectivity to the rear wheel was better once on the throttle. Straight line stability improved and the chassis felt slightly less rigid on square edge, which helped overall end-of-day type comfort. This can be attributed to the longer link allowing the initial part of the linkage curve to be a little stiffer feeling. After riding with the Pro Circuit tuned suspension we both feel there is more comfort than the stock WP suspension that comes equipped on the KTM/Husqvarna. Both Joe and I could be more aggressive on the track with more predictability than the stock stuff had to offer. To get both of us riders happy on a set of suspension is tough to do since Joe and I have a 25 pound difference in weight. 


What: Pro Taper EVO handlebars and Race Cut grips. 

Why: Joe didn't like stock bend or the stock grips.

Conclusion: Some people will like the stock bar bend some people will not. Joe was in the “not” category. Joe is 5’9 and I am 6’0. I am long. Joe is short. I didn't think the stock bend was bad by any means, but I wasn't opposed on changing the bar bend. Originally Joe decided on the Pro Taper Windham EVO bend, but I told him that was too high of a bend for his short stature. Of course he didn't listen and got them anyway. Guess what? He didn't like them. He tried my Husqvarna stock Pro Taper EVO bars on my KTM and decided on that bend for the Suzuki. Guess what? He loved them. We cut the Husqvarna stock bend down to 804mm (they come 811mm standard) and slapped them on. We both thought we could could get over the front end better than the stock Renthal FatBar Suzuki bend. Putting the PT bars on also increased flex/comfort on chop as we had more comfort. Yes, we are old, we like comfort. Since Joe doesn't ride as much anymore because he has a real job, his hands are “riding pussified” somewhat. So in order to make his lotion soft, dinner cooking, fireman baby hands happy, we went with a Pro Taper race cut grip, which we both liked. The PT’s offer a softer compound than stock and help keep more cushion for the pushin. 

Just performing these first three modifications helped the 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 out tremendously. We both are still looking for more overall power however and will continue to evolve the curve with a couple more modifications. The stock Yamaha and KTM have more pulling power and can pull each gear farther than what our modified Suzuki can do. We are still under budget on this build (compared to a off the showroom floor 2019 YZ450F and KTM 450SX-F), so look for part two of this 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450 “NEED ONLY” build soon. We also will be talking about how much we spent on an upcoming Rocky Mountain ATV/MC “Need Only” Suzuki Project Build Podcast coming up soon.  

What's Coming: 

High Compression Piston

Engine Mounts 


If you have any questions about this build please email me at and I am happy to guide you.