kris keefer

2018 450cc Motocross Shootout

 

Unless you have been living under a rock you know that the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC 2018 450 MX Shootout podcast presented by Fly Racing has wrapped up a while ago and we crowned a winner. If you want to go back and listen to all four shows you can stay right here and click on the podcast tab and find each day’s podcast at your fingertips. However, for you non podcast humans out there I wanted to go over briefly each bike’s ranking and what some positives and negatives were about each of those machines. We had nearly 20 testers over the course of three days at three separate tracks to really dig into what each machine has to offer. What I do want to stress is that each one of these bikes are a very capable machine. One rider’s top picks can be someone else’s bottom pick. This is the testament of how close these bikes are and how each can be a great choice for any rider. 

 

In our coverage of the 2018 450 Shootout we used a Motocross Of Nations type of score to get the overall results. Each day test riders will write down notes and rank each machine at the end of the test. After the final day the scores were tallied, the lowest scores being the best and an overall winner was crowned. The Honda CRF450R won the first day at Sunrise Cycle Park in Adelanto, California and KTM 450 SX-F won the second day at the famous Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino. The third and final day was held at Competitive Edge MX Park in Hesperia, California and the Honda would come out on top once again to take the win in the inaugural Keefer Inc.Testing/Pulp MX Shootout! 

 

After going over almost 20 riders notes, below is a compiled brief description of each machine and three positives and three negatives that stood out over the course of the shootout. We also put together what type of rider each bike could be good for. Again this is just an overview of some key things we dove into on each day’s podcast. So…… If you haven't experienced a shootout in a podcast format do yourself a favor and listen to all the info that is available for you to hear. Sometimes its tough to really decipher a rider’s opinion through text without hearing their tone while they speak about it. That can’t be translated fully here on your computer screen or phone and can only be translated through hearing what they have to say. This is why I think this form of testing information is important to get out to you in a more organic, tailgate talk type of way. If you’re in the market for a new 450 MX machine here are the rankings, some stand out qualities and some things that each bike need help with.         

 

 

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

 

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Suzuki was one of the most anticipated bikes to ride in the 2018 shootout. When asking each tester what bike he was excited the most to ride, almost all said the Suzuki. However, after getting off the RM-Z450 most would be scratching their head wondering which direction to go to improve the machine. On the track the Suzuki still corners very well even though it feels like a tank when taking it off the stand. The frame feel of the RM-Z450 is improved from the 2017 version and is more compliant on fast rough straights. The new Showa spring fork was well perceived and while a little soft for most testers is still tons better than the TAC Showa fork that graced the Suzuki last year. The BFRC shock was noticeably comfortable on acceleration bumps and had tons of traction coming out of choppy ruts once we dropped the sag to 108mm. What hurt the Suzuki was the lack of excitement in the engine delivery and the hinged feeling between the front end and rear end of the Suzuki on long sweeping corners. When the track is tilled deep you are able to feel the weight more because the lack of bottom end response. When the track was firmed up and hard packed the Suzuki’s engine delivery was easier to handle and was in the top three of novice testers. 

 

Positives: 

 

  • Shock has good comfort on acceleration bumps 
  • Easy to ride engine character for novice riders (Roll On Throttle Delivery)
  • Slim Ergos 

 

 

Negatives: 

 

  • Soft overall power feel 
  • Fork soft and makes bike feel unbalanced
  • No electric start 

 

 

 

Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX450F 

 

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The Kawasaki is unchanged for 2018, but that doesn't mean it’s not a great bike. The KX450F’s frame has one of the best bump absorption characters in the group. When the track gets rough and hacked out, the frame of the Kawasaki flexes and gives the rider superb feel. The bad news is that the Showa TAC air fork masks that great feeling with its harsh feel for most riders. Heavier riders didn't notice it as much, but Kawasaki needs to get back on the spring fork program to improve this machine. The engine has a snappy throttle response with a free feeling on de-cel without much engine braking. Once rolling on the throttle, the power is not as strong as the Honda or Yamaha, but still creates a lightweight feeling on the track. The Kawasaki still feels long, but not heavy by any means. Most riders thought the green machine is a more neutral turning bike and not the rear wheel biased machine it was a couple years ago. If it wasn't for the harsh feeling fork this bike could be in the top three very easily. We are going to try a spring fork on our 2018 test bike to see what this bike can really do!  

 

 

Positives: 

 

  • Frame bump absorption
  • Snappy throttle response
  • Shock has tons of comfort on braking bumps/acceleration bumps

 

Negatives:

 

  • Fork is tough to dial in and harsh through mid-stroke
  • No electric start 
  • Long feeling for less skilled riders through corners 

 

 

Tie/Third Place: Yamaha YZ450F 

 

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Yes, thats right we had a tie for third place after all the scores were tallied up. The Yamaha YZ450F is all new and hopes were high for the bLU cRU. The Yamaha won the engine category of our shootout on almost everyday as the powerful, yet smooth bottom end delivery, along with a wide mid to top end pull was the favorite with most testers. The Yamaha engine pulls second and third gear very far and makes it easy for any type of rider to take advantage of its spread on the track. The KYB suspension was also the best of the bunch with its very comfortable feeling when the track gets rough. Riders from 165 pounds to over 200 pounds agreed that this suspension was superb on the big bumps of Glen Helen. One of the things that held it back from winning was cornering character. Most riders agreed that on tip in the Yamaha was better, but on corner exits it wanted to stand up too early. Some riders complained of a slight twitchy feeling “on throttle” with the front end. Once “off throttle” the YZ450F felt planted and didn't have the wiggle it once did. A couple riders complained that they still felt the Yamaha was wide feeling, but we think that it is more of a visual thing than a feeling on the track. I rated the Yamaha first at Competitive Edge because of my ability to push on a track that gets rough. Shocking that I rated a Yamaha first, but with a couple adjustments the YZ450F becomes a very good weapon for my style of riding. 

 

 

Positives:  

 

  • Incredible, yet easy to ride engine
  • Best suspension in class
  • Tuneability with new Yamaha Power Tuner app  

 

 

Negatives: 

 

  • Wants to stand up on corner exits 
  • Dip (low feeling) in middle of seat leaves a funky pocket for rider triangle
  • Slight twitchy feeling on throttle 

 

 

Tie/Third Place: Husqvarna FC450 

 

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The Husqvarna FC450 is basically a KTM 450 SX-F, but with a smaller composite airbox, different muffler, Pro Taper handlebars and slightly different (less rigid) swingarm. The delivery of the Husqvarna is smooth and there really is no exciting hit to it anywhere in its power delivery. The good news about this character is that the traction gets put to the ground and the FC450 and has tons of forward bite (AKA traction). It also has a top end pull that is best in class with an over-rev that is as god as its orange step brother. The WP AER fork feels the same as the KTM with a comfortable feel overall feel and this air fork actually moves at the top of its stroke unlike the Showa TAC air fork. The rear end of the bike felt different than the KTM as it is more compliant on fast choppy straights, but it feels like the Husqvarna has sightly less of a planted feel on flat corners. Testers loved the handlebar map switch and most liked the aggressive map (map two) on the tracks we tested at. The smooth power delivery is what hurt the FC450 the most in this shootout, but at the same time was one of the favorites, of some, at harder pack tracks. Again, its all preference and this is how close these ranking were. 

 

Positives: 

 

  • Mid to top end engine pulling power 
  • Compliant, light feeling chassis on hard pack tracks
  • Best air fork in game        

 

Negatives: 

 

  • Soft bottom end power 
  • Flat corners has slightly less of a planted feel
  • Slightly more vibration on high rpm’s than other machines 

 

 

Second Place: KTM 450 SX-F

 

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The orange brigade came damn close to wining this sucker! It is such an easy bike to ride and gives you confidence in its ability to give you maximum traction at any track. The KTM hits harder than the Husqvarna and has more rpm response, which makes it feel slightly lighter than the white version. Testers loved the engine and its buttery smooth, yet exciting pulling power out of corners. It’s almost deceiving because the Honda has more “crack” at initial throttle so you might think you are popping out of corners quicker. However, the KTM never wheelies and sticks to the ground and pushes you forward in a quicker manner than any other bike in the shootout. The KTM’s suspension is what held it back from winning. Although it is the best air fork in today's motocross realm, it still doesn't give the predictability over the course of the day as much as the spring fork. The spring fork also gives the rider slightly more front end traction and that seemed to be very important to most riders in this year’s shootout. The KTM is light, we all know this, but on the track the KTM corners excellent and the weight (or lack of) is really felt when you need to cut down early from a corner. This is where the KTM is superior from others. The KTM and Husqvarna have the best brakes in the shootout and the traction control button is no only a great feature, but it actually works… So try it! 

 

 

Positives: 

 

  • Easy to ride, smooth yet exciting engine character 
  • Lightweight chassis feel
  • Rear wheel traction (connected to throttle hand)  

 

 

Negatives: 

 

  • Harsh feeling on slap down landings through handlebars 
  • Fluctuation of fork feeling throughout day at track
  • Spokes loosen up quickly so check them often 

 

 

 

First Place: Honda CRF450R

 

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The 2018 barely had any changes you say? Well I am not going to argue that, but I will argue that the changes Honda made were key to each riders feeling on the track. The heavier spring rates front and back, the softer engine mounts and mapping change made a better balanced, easier to ride CRF450R. In our shootout, I express my shock as I didn't think it could win, but every test rider I spoke with loved the exciting engine character that the Honda brings and how easy it was to get in and out of a corner. One tester noted that the fork settled into the perfect stroke height when coming into corners, so that he had just the right amount of front end traction. A hard hitting bottom end, torque feel and a mid to top end that had enough pulling power for less skilled riders to get over larger obstacles. Three maps are available on the handlebar and this allowed the rider to dial in how he wanted the engine to deliver the power. Even though the Honda hovers around 12 pounds on the plus side to the KTM, it feels just as light as the orange bike when cornering. It sticks to the ground and provides enough rear wheel traction to get on the gas early. The suspension is balanced, but most riders wanted to go slightly stiffer on both ends. The only real complaint we got was that the end stroke on the Honda was somewhat empty and soft. The chassis is on the stiff side compared to the other Japanese aluminum frames in the shootout, but only a couple riders felt that on the track. The red machine has a narrow feel along with a cockpit that can cater to larger sized riders now. The 2018 Honda CRF450R proved to be the most well rounded bike for a wide variety of riders. The only real negatives were clutch pull/life and a bar bend that is too tall for some riders.  

 

 

Positives: 

 

  • Strong pulling power that creates an exciting feel
  • Balanced suspension 
  • Ease of cornering 

 

 

Negatives: 

 

  • Slight stiffer chassis feel on hard pack, rough tracks.
  • Clutch pull and life 
  • Shock had soft feeling on end stroke (high speed compression)   

2018 450 MX Shootout Photo Gallery

 

 

Check out some photos from the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC 2018 450 MX Shootout Presented By Fly Racing. Preston Jordan was kind enough to offer up his photo skills for us on Day 1. Check It out below and follow Preston on Instagram @pjj205... 

 

                                                     Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! 

                                                     Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! 

Broc Shoemaker flies the Husqvarna through the clear skies of the high desert. 

Broc Shoemaker flies the Husqvarna through the clear skies of the high desert. 

Colton Aeck has come from a broken back to ripping a motorcycle in less than eight months.

Colton Aeck has come from a broken back to ripping a motorcycle in less than eight months.

                          Tyler Bowers looked good on the Yamaha all day long. 

                          Tyler Bowers looked good on the Yamaha all day long. 

              Joe Oehlhof liked the KTM so much he went out and purchased one himself. 

              Joe Oehlhof liked the KTM so much he went out and purchased one himself. 

            Our novice test rider Matt Sirevaag loved the Kawasaki and its chassis feel.

            Our novice test rider Matt Sirevaag loved the Kawasaki and its chassis feel.

Chris "Big" Johnson commented that the Suzuki felt heavy when taking it off the stand, but was light feeling in the air.  

Chris "Big" Johnson commented that the Suzuki felt heavy when taking it off the stand, but was light feeling in the air.  

          Broc "Nightshow" Shoemaker gets ready for some leg swag on the green machine.  

          Broc "Nightshow" Shoemaker gets ready for some leg swag on the green machine.  

                                                                 Hulk!!!!!!! Smash!!!!!!!

                                                                 Hulk!!!!!!! Smash!!!!!!!

                                               Alex "Harbor Freight" Ray looking clean. 

                                               Alex "Harbor Freight" Ray looking clean. 

     Ty "Kawasaki Grips" Davis was sore for two weeks after his two days of testing with us. 

     Ty "Kawasaki Grips" Davis was sore for two weeks after his two days of testing with us. 

                                                                       Best Dressed.

                                                                       Best Dressed.

2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 First Ride In North Carolina

Suzuki Comes To Play In 2018

Story By Dominic Cimino 

 

                                                      The new 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 

                                                      The new 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 

 

To say we were excited to throw a leg over the new 2018 "Zook" would be an understatement.  There was much debate as to which machine held the highest regards in the "most anticipated bike of 2018" category, but we feel that the all new RM-Z450 is in that mix. It is pretty crazy to think that this yellow big bore had remained practically unchanged since 2005, aside from a few updates here and there. But Suzuki finally put an end to the "Ole Yeller" era with a completely redesigned bike focused on not only elevating the brand, but also supplying riders and racers around the world with a bike that can "Run", "Turn", and "Stop" better than the rest. 

 

So why is the RM-Z450 one of the most anticipated bikes of 2018?  As stated, after over 10 years the bike finally has changed, and not just the graphics, but a complete overhaul. Think about it: we are on a pretty sharp three to four year time frame with almost all other Japanese manufactures that release new models to the market. Some good, some not so good, but changes nonetheless.  Not to mention, KTM and Husky have been flipping new bikes faster than an In n Out cook does patties.  This left Suzuki no other option but to reveal a new machine that would leave us foaming at the mouth to ride.  And where did we get to finally ride this beauty?  The private facility owned by none other than the Joe Gibbs Race Team, located in North Carolina. The stage was set and the bike was ready, so let's get into it. 

 

The 450 experienced changes from the ground up, and we do not plan to dive into every minute detail in this story.  If you missed the previous link on KeeferIncTesting.com that unveiled most of those changes, click here to read through it: https://www.keeferinctesting.com/motocross-testing/2017/6/28/2018-suzuki-rm-z450-first-look.  Instead, we wanted to share our thoughts after getting up close and personal.  At first glance, she is an absolute beauty!  She has sharp lines in the new “beak” body design, hints of blue that really grab your attention, and ergonomics that will make your mouth water.  Once we sat on the bike and assessed all of our controls to adjust things accordingly, we noticed something was missing... the "magic button".  No electric start on this new 450, and with the way the industry is headed, it made us ponder why it was not included on an all-new bike in 2018.  We asked the Japanese born North American Motorcycle Operations Manager what the scoop was, and he revealed a pretty blatant honest answer: they simply ran out of time. We like that honesty! Suzuki was so focused on creating a brand new bike for the market, that everything else on the motorcycle took priority over tinkering with something foreign to the motocross lineup. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before that button makes it's debut. Nevertheless, this didn't hinder our excitement to get on the track after a couple swift kicks on the old fashioned, longer than normal, start lever.  

Yes, the Suzuki can still carve a corner like no one else. 

Yes, the Suzuki can still carve a corner like no one else. 

 

Once in motion, the 2018 RM-Z450 exudes a lively motor package with crisp throttle response.  The changes to the air boot design, fuel pump, and injector location all worked very well together, as it complimented the bike's extremely usable power curve. We feel that this RM-Z power character is so linear in the RPM range that you can ride in second or third gear whenever you choose. If you want to rev the bike, it allows you to due to having great over-rev.  If you want to cruise and stay more in the bottom end torque zone, it allows you to with ease as well. This new bike doesn't make you work to find the "meat" of the power, as it is incredibly user friendly no matter what position your throttle hand is in.  We personally did not utilize the additional ignition couplers while testing, but our friend and fellow test pilot, Dustin Pipes of PulpMX.com did, and he explained the leaner, more aggressive map was much better for him and the conditions we were in.  On the flip side, we were plenty satisfied with the available power in stock trim. 

 

Even with the weight of the Suzuki RM-Z 450 on the heavy side, the yellow machine is quite flickable. 

Even with the weight of the Suzuki RM-Z 450 on the heavy side, the yellow machine is quite flickable. 

You cannot always judge a book by its cover, but in the case of the new RM-Z, you definitely can.  As stated previously, just the looks of this 450 makes your mouth water, as it's sharp lines and updated styling evoke a sense of great handling characteristics naturally.  This stays true when on the track, as this bike will point and shoot anywhere you want it to.  We found ourselves several times charging into corners assuming we would push the front end or get stood up in deep ruts, but to no avail, it is proven once again why the yellow machine is known for it's amazing cornering abilities.  You will feel like a hero entering ruts, flat corners, and just about anything else that requires changing direction. Transitioning from the back of the bike all the way to the tank is effortless, as the ergonomics are slim and playful. The new lower-bend Renthal FatBars really catered to our smaller test rider, and compliment the overall feel of the rest of the bike.  The dimensions of the rider cockpit are also comfortable, as the combination of the bar, peg, and seat (rider triangle) dimensions work well with one another. In regard to its weight, the 450 is on the larger side of the scale weighing in at close to 250 pounds (with fuel).  But, because this bike handles so well, you will really only feel the weight when lifting it on & off the stand in the pits.  The balance of the chassis is also a highlight, with almost equal weight distribution applied to the front and rear end.  We did experience a little front end twitch from time to time, but we are positive that when we spend more time testing in different conditions that we can remedy this minor issue. 

 

Showa spring forks grace the front end of the 2018 Suzuki. Look at the color of those fork legs! 

Showa spring forks grace the front end of the 2018 Suzuki. Look at the color of those fork legs! 

As for the suspension package, we are all delighted to have spring forks back.  They proved to make the front end of the bike stable and planted, as the new beefed up internals allowed us to be aggressive in all circumstances. We did get the fork to bottom every other lap on the steep transitions and jump faces found on the JGR track, but we were reluctant to increase compression because we did not want to sacrifice how the fork felt everywhere else. As for the rear shock, this thing is interesting to say the least. The RM-Z450 utilizes Showa's BFRC technology found on their GSXR-1000R: Balance Free Rear Cushion.  All controls and adjustments are found on the upper shock reservoir that focuses on unique damping adjustments to control compression and "rebound".  We put "air quotes" on rebound, because there is no longer a rebound clicker adjustment. You will have to make 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, etc. turn increments on the new rebound adjuster instead of "clicks". Again, one day was not enough to really dissect how this thing works in depth, and what you need to do to make it work better.  But we can say that minor adjustments make noticeable differences.  The range of tuning options has multiplied significantly, and with proper time, one can really have some fun getting in tune with this shock.  To round out Suzuki's new motto headed into the new year of "Run", "Turn", "Stop", we will lastly talk about the RM-Z's brake package.  Up front you will find an oversized brake rotor that increases stopping power.  After burning the brake pads in for a few laps, we can tell you that the stopping power is improved; but we can also tell you that the front brakes are still nothing to brag to your friends about. The 2018 set up is good, but not great.  The rear brake sees a newly designed master cylinder that helps eliminate mud build up and the possibility of your boot getting hung up, and we can admit we had no issues with getting great feel and stopping power out back.  But because the term "Stop" is so heavily utilized in Suzuki's new marketing campaign, we feel that the front brake could be and should be so much better. 

The Suzuki's engine package is useable and even more powerful than in 2017. 

The Suzuki's engine package is useable and even more powerful than in 2017. 

 

Ok, time to wrap things up on the new Zook.  We can go on and on about a lot of things 2018 RM-Z related, but trust us, we want to ride it more first!  Yes, we found some things that we weren't the biggest fans of, but those were small slices out of a big pie.  This bike is awesome, and the truck taking it back California needs to step on it.  The motor is great, and the ergonomics are fantastic. The styling is drool worthy, and the suspension package is very unique.  Overall, we are confident that this yellow machine has what it takes to be a front-runner in the new year.  The 450 class is always stacked, so we are very happy to know that the Suzuki engineers took that to heart, as they are incredibly prideful of their motocross heritage.  They wanted to put extreme focus on regaining a solid foundation on the competitive side of the industry, and appeal to amateurs and professionals alike to establish one hell of an RM-Army.  In the end, to say we had an absolute blast at this year's Suzuki media intro would be an understatement.  We were spoiled with generous hospitality in so many facets, and were given the chance to ride a track nestled inside a lush green forest with dirt that everyone dreams of. Not to mention, even Mother Nature was on our side!  It was beautiful, and we want to thank everyone involved with this event for really showing us a great time.  Stay tuned on KeeferIncTesting.com for more coverage and future stories on anything RM-Army related.