Pity the poor fool who enters headstrong and dimwitted into the 2011 motocross fray. For the uninitiated, the motocross world is a confusing maelstrom of conflicting information?made all the worse by the rapid expansion of avenues of personal expression (and most of what is expressed is wrong). If every product is the best, which one really is the best? If every bike is the fastest, which one is really the fastest? If every suspension is the plushest, which one is really the plushest? Pity the buyer who can’t decipher hyperbole from reality.

Finding the truth is difficult enough in everyday life, but in the competitive world of motocross, it’s almost impossible to tell truth from fiction without a code book. You have to understand the politics and the prejudices to fully make a decision based on the input that is availabel. And unfortunately, for the racer who is trying to make the best buy, there is no handy-dandy Enigma machine.

Luckily, the MXA wrecking crew has spent years deciphering complex gobbledygook about the “latest,” “greatest,” “hottest,” “fastest” and “best” motocross bikes made. And, we don’t toe the party line?we are willing to break eggs to make an omelette. We’ve learned, through trial and error, that the best way to break the code is to race the bikes for months?and at the end of the test cycle, use common sense and plain language to deliver the truth (at least our version of it).  We aren’t telling you what bike to buy. We don’t actually care what bike you buy…because we know that if you buy the right bike, you’ll love us and, if you buy the wrong bike, we will have every right to say, “We told you so.”

The MXA test riders have run the 2011 450 motocross bikes through our code-breaking school. We have cut through the static to deliver the word…short, sweet and to the point.


Number six! Oh, the inhumanity of it all. The MXA wrecking crew tears up when we reminisce that back in 2008 Honda owned the MXA 450 Shootout with an incredibly awesome bike (although the forks were incredibly gruesome). What happened after 2008? Honda gambled in 2009 and lost. Now they are paying the debts that they racked up with their oddball choices in power, handling, geometry and suspension. Unfortunately, Honda, which has a terrific reputation for fixing flaws on the CRF450, went so far off the beaten path in 2009 that they can’t find their way back to the straight and narrow.

Power: The Honda CRF450 has a “Sprinter” powerband. Much like the profile of a Sprinter van (which slopes up sharply in the front and then is flat across the top), the CRF450 makes good horsepower from 5000 rpm until 7700 rpm?then from 7800 rpm until it signs off it goes flat. It’s not slow?it is well modulated, very tractable and blessed with a metered throttle response. In short, it is mellow.

Suspension: Maybe it’s just us, but Honda’s stiff-in-the-rear and soft-in-the-front suspension setup is totally wrong. The first time we rode the bike, the test riders thought the forks were broken. Sadly, they weren’t.

Handling: On this generation of frames (used since 2009) the front wheel is 15mm closer to the engine, while the rear wheel is 18mm farther away. The weight bias has been moved forward and the head angle is steeper. Trail has been decreased and the seat height reduced. It may look good on the blueprints, but on the track it oversteers, wiggles, wanders, hunts, pecks and has a mind of its own. It is totally out of balance.

The word: We’d love to love this bike (because we loved the 2007 and 2008 CRF450s), but apart from its light weight and pleasant powerband, it is not lovable. The clutch is useless, the handling is weird and the suspension is schizophrenic. 

If you’d like to read a comprehensive test of the 2011 Honda CRF450 click here


Number five! You may well wonder how the KTM 450SXF could win the 2011 MXA 450 Shootout, while the virtually identical KTM 350SXF languishes in fifth place. Wonder no more! Plain and simple, the 350SXF isn’t as good as the 450SXF. The idea of a mid-size, 350cc, four-stroke motocross bike may look good on paper, but it is really just a niche motorcycle that only appeals to riders who think that 450s are too fast and 250s are too slow. That isn’t as big a group as former AMA head Steve Whitelock, Grand Prix entrepreneur Giuseppe Luongo and KTM’s Stefan Everts think it is.

There are three major issues facing the KTM 350SXF: (1) The 100cc disadvantage adds up to a 10 horsepower deficit to a 450cc bike in the meat of the powerband. (2) A 450cc engine makes its peak horsepower at 8000 rpm, while the KTM 350SXF hits its peak at 12,200 rpm. That extra 4000 rpm increases the wear and tear on the little engine?shortening its life span (especially compared to a 450). (3) The original idea of the KTM 350SXF was to build a bike with the light weight and handling of a 250, and the power and torque of a 450. That didn’t happen (as the 350SXF only weighs five pounds less than the 450SXF).

Power: The 350SXF isn’t tuned the way we would like it. It is basically a slow 450 until 9000 and then a powerful 250 from 9000 to 12,200. We expected something closer to the original, broad 1998 YZ400 powerband.

Suspension: If it had come with the forks and shock from the 450SXF, it would have been better. As is, it is too soft.

Handling: Very, very good.

The word: No need to polish the apple; the 2011 KTM 350SXF is basically a 450 motocross bike with a slow engine in it. If that appeals to you, go for it.

If you’d like to read a comprehensive test of the 2011 KTM 350SXF click here

Kawasaki KX450F

Number four! You may remember that the Kawasaki KX450F won the 2009 MXA 450 Shootout, but it finished third in 2010. And now the KX-F is fourth in 2011. Amazingly, Kawasaki has made some noticeable improvements to the KX450F since it won the shootout crown three years ago. It is, strangely enough, a better bike than it was when it won, but not good enough to win today. Kawasaki does deserve kudos for constantly updating their machine to try to make it better, but their focus is never on the attributes that most racers want changed. The Kawasaki KX450F needs to lose 15 pounds, tighten up its ergos, refine the shifting, downsize the bulk and firm up the suspension. It doesn’t need any more engine mods, because the KX450F powerband is a thing of beauty.

Power: Every MXA test rider loves the Kawasaki engine. In terms of power placement, thrust and purity of purpose, there is nothing like the KX450F power delivery. This is the second best engine in the class (behind the KTM), but for racers looking for raw power, it might well be the best powerband.

Suspension: Nothing to get misty over. The front forks are adequate, but not noteworthy, while the rear suspension is improved, but still a little overwhelmed by the power delivery.

Handling: Even if the KX450F had perfect geometry, which it doesn’t, it wouldn’t show its true potential because it is too tall, too heavy and too bulky. There is no finesse to riding a KX450F; you aim it, pull the trigger and hang on. The concept of turning the corners is an afterthought.

The word: To the MXA wrecking crew, the 2011 Kawasaki KX450F has the heart of a fighter plane stuck in the body of a heavy bomber.

If you’d like to read a comprehensive test of the 2011 Kawasaki KX450F click here

Yamaha YZ450F

Number three! You didn’t really expect a bike that didn’t win the 2010 MXA 450 Shootout to win the 2011 shootout, did you? Especially when it is virtually unchanged. In fact, the YZ450F actually dropped one spot from last year’s second-place ranking. Even the casual racer will note that the three newest bikes in the 2011 shootout hold the top three spots. The KTM 450SXF is all-new for 2011; the Suzuki RM-Z450 was completely redesigned in 2010; and the Yamaha YZ450F blew the lid off the modern motorcycle design in 2010. The difference between the three bikes is that KTM and Suzuki put effort into their 2011 models; Yamaha did not. There are some paradoxes at work here: The Yamaha YZ450F gets dropped to third overall in spite of the fact that it has the best shifting, suspension and technology. It just doesn’t have the power of the KTM or the razzle-dazzle of the RM-Z450.

Power: The YZ450F engine is okay, but not great. It has that archetypical fuel-injected quality?a hard hit off the bottom, quick rush into the midrange and then flat on top. The bike may be third overall, but the engine doesn’t have a top-three powerband.

Suspension: Awesome is the only word that applies to Kayaba’s SSS fork and shock. It is the best stuff on the track in any displacement category.

Handling: In the world of 450cc motocross, there are two “great handling” bikes, one “good handling” machine and two bikes with issues. The Yamaha isn’t in the top two or the bottom two.

The word: The 2011 Yamaha YZ450F is a safe bet. It’s not the fastest, but not the slowest. It’s not the best handling, but not the worst. It’s not the sleekest, but not the bulkiest. It is the most reliable bike with the best suspension.

If you’d like to read a comprehensive test of the 2011 Yamaha YZ450F click here

Suzuki RM-Z450

Number two! The first runner-up. In the world of high-powered, high-dollar motocross shootouts, you can’t afford even a minor faux pas on your new race bike. The 2011 Suzuki RM-Z450 could have easily won this shootout. But, alas and alack, the RM-Z450 needs several tweaks to turn it into the best bike in the class. That said, if you don’t look good in orange, yellow just might be your color.

Power: The 2011 RM-Z450’s power is exceptionally manageable off the bottom, builds steadily through the middle and, unlike the dead-on-top RM-Z450’s of a few years ago, it pulls across the top without the dreaded hard rev limiter that scared small kids on the side of the track. The 2011 RM-Z450 engine offers great breadth, infinitely usable power and no sudden surprises. The powerband doesn’t have much personality or sparkle, but that is because it is deliberate, focused and metered. It’s a very good engine, but not an exciting one.

Suspension: Suzuki made efforts to make their suspension better. The addition of stiffer springs (front and rear) was a good step, but they didn’t go far enough. The Showa forks and shock need even stiffer springs to hold the bike higher in its stroke. Without the proper ride height, the RM-Z450 will feel out of balance and low in the front.

Handling: The RM-Z450 is razor sharp, super steep and as agile as a Russian gymnast. Nothing corners like a Suzuki. The RM-Z450 has more oversteer than any other make (achieved by a very steep head angle), and that means that the rider must pay attention to chassis setup.

The word: As for the flaws, (1) It won’t shift under a load. (2) The clutch fades in the back of the truck. (3) It overheats easily, and (4) the spring rates are too soft.

If you’d like to read a comprehensive test of the 2011 Suzuki RM-Z450 click here


Number one! The best bike in the class. Obviously, the MXA wrecking crew wasn’t surprised that the 2011 KTM 450SXF won the 2011 MXA 450 Shootout. Why not? Because it handily won the selfsame shootout one year ago with a bike that wasn’t as good as the 2011 model.

Power: Every MXA test rider from Novice to Pro loved this engine. It is everything that every other engine wishes it were. It starts off with a metered and well-regulated low-to-mid thrust. Then, once in the midrange, it starts to pull harder and harder. By the time the KTM 450SXF engine gets into the top end, it is in hyper drive. It has a solid wall of power, and each section of the powerband is perfectly suited to the job at hand. It is an engine without fault. Oh, by the way, it is the only 450cc motocross bike with a carburetor.

Suspension: A lot of people are taking KTM seriously because they switched from a no-link to a rising-rate linkage suspension system for 2011. Whatever floats your boat. The overall feel of the 2011 450SXF suspension isn’t all that different from the no-link 2010 setup. It was good in 2010 and it is good in 2011.

Handling: The MXA wrecking crew used to dread the long, tall and bulky KTM 450SXF’s handling. It suffered from understeer and hit inside lines only by accident. No more. The 2011 KTM 450SXF has incredible handling. It is the only totally neutral chassis on the track. It doesn’t oversteer or understeer; it goes where you point it.

The word: Think about it for a second (without your anti-KTM tin foil hat on). This bike has the broadest and easiest to use powerband. This bike has the best clutch. The KTM brakes are vastly superior to anything on the KX-F, CRF, RM-Z or YZ-F. The 450SXF has superb all-around handling. In a cookie cutter world, the KTM is the most creative design. It weighs less than the Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki?but still manages to come with electric starting. You can change the air filter without using any tools. The KTM 450SXF has no equal in 2011. It doesn’t just win the 2011 MXA 450 shootout?it blows the competition off the track.

If you’d like to read a comprehensive test of the 2011 KTM 450SXF click here


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