Let’s get this out of the way first. Although every bike in this shootout is designed to do the same thing, they aren’t all alike. In fact, they are completely different. You’ll have to take our word for it, because it’s unlikely that the five major motorcycle brands are ever going to give you brand-new machines and unlimited time to get used to them. But, they did offer that to the MXA wrecking crew—and we are here to tell you that you can’t just pick your favorite color and live happily ever after. Each of the five bikes showcased here has it own unique personality.
In the “2014 Motocross Action 450 Shootout,” it is not just a matter of which bike is the fastest or which one has the best suspension. What really matters is which one is right for you. It is important to note that even the MXA test riders don’t believe that there is a perfect bike. They often choose to race a bike that they gave a low rating to in the shootout because it suits their style better than the bikes they rated higher in the overall test data. We’ve tried to give you a healthy understanding of each bike’s good and bad attributes. After that, the choice is up to you.
FIFTH PLACE: HONDA CRF450
If a brand didn’t win last year’s shootout and didn’t make any significant changes to this year’s bike, the writing is on the wall. Honda is lucky in one aspect—2014 was not a year for major changes on four of the five bikes in this comparison. Only the Yamaha YZ450F engineers pulled the trigger on a remake. You don’t need a trig degree to see that nobody moves up if they didn’t make any significant changes; however, they can go down if another brand steps up.
AS AN OVERALL PACKAGE, THE 2014 CRF450 IS JUST A WARMED-UP VERSION OF LAST YEAR’S BIKE. IT FINISHED FOURTH LAST YEAR BECAUSE IT BEAT OUT THE WEIRD-HANDLING 2013 YZ450F. THIS YEAR, THE YZ450F LEAPFROGGED OVER IT.
The reality of the Honda CRF450’s lot in life is that it is slow. One bike always makes the most horsepower and one always makes the least. The Honda is the latter, not the former. Not only is the CRF450 down on power, but it is way down on powerband breadth. It makes great low-end power, but signs off at 8600 rpm. It still revs after 8600, but it doesn’t go anywhere if you don’t shift at peak.
All that said, this is a super-easy bike to ride. Why wouldn’t it be? It is mellow, pleasant and laid back—just what you’re looking for in a nanny, but not necessarily in a high-end race bike.
51.97 horsepower at 8600 rpm.
This bike is slow. Yes, it does have a nice powerband and is easy to use, but that’s like a blind date that is described as “funny” and “nice.” No matter how you cut it, giving up three, four, five and six horsepower to the competition means that there are places on the track where niceness isn’t going to cut the mustard.
As an overall package, the 2014 CRF450 is just a warmed-up version of last year’s bike. It finished fourth last year because it beat out the weird-handling 2013 YZ450F. This year, the YZ450F leapfrogged over it.
FOURTH PLACE: SUZUKI RM-Z450
The 2014 Suzuki RM-Z450 blends a solid powerband with the absolute best cornering of any bike made. Although Suzuki’s hop-up program for 2014 actually consisted of little more than an ignition mod that they seemed incapable of explaining with any clarity, the yellow engine is still a sweet piece. It’s not a Pro-level engine because it lacks top end, but it has an easy-to-use low-to-mid transition that always seems to be hooked up. The RM-Z450 powerplant is at a disadvantage in a straight line, but it knows how to put what it makes into the ground.
THE 2014 RM-Z450 WAS IN THE RUNNING FOR THE THIRD SPOT, BUT WHEN WE ARE ON THE RM-Z450, WE TRY NOT TO USE THE CLUTCH AS MUCH, MAKE SURE THE RADIATORS ARE FULL, BRAKE EARLY, AND ARE THANKFUL WE SENT THE FORKS OUT TO BE REVALVED.
Suzuki’s switch to Showa SFF single-spring forks last year was not a good trade, especially since Suzuki’s engineers didn’t make any changes to them for 2014. These are the worst forks on any bike sold in 2014. The bike is also the heaviest bike in this shootout and has a spotty reliability record in MXA’s hands. Although great in the corners, the RM-Z450 is very busy at speed, with a front end that flicks left and right when you least expect it.
54.10 horsepower at 8700 rpm.
If we were Suzuki, we’d fix the basics, because the handling, power and ergos are okay. How hard is it to build contemporary radiators, brakes, clutches and fork settings? This bike is an acceptable race bike when it comes to fit, feel, power and cornering, but it can’t win shootouts with average power, feeble brakes, a weak clutch, inadequate cooling, bad forks and more tonnage than any other bike in the class.
The 2014 RM-Z450 was in the running for the third spot, but the YZ450F has better suspension, more horsepower, a stronger clutch, better cooling and is more reliable. When we are on the RM-Z450, we compensate for its flaws by trying not to use the clutch as much. We make sure the radiators are full. We brake a little early, and we are thankful that we sent the forks out to be revalved. We make these compromises for the joy of diving to the inside in every corner.
THIRD PLACE: YAMAHA YZ450F
The 2014 Yamaha YZ450F is the most improved 450cc motocross bike of the year. Not only did Yamaha fix most of the bike’s previous flaws, but the YZ450F has three character traits that no other machine can touch.
(1) Yamaha’s SSS suspension is head and shoulders above the other offerings. It has good damping, reasonable seal life and the proper spring rates.
(2) The YZ450F is bulletproof. It can take a licking and keep on ticking.
(3) The engine kicks out the jams with a very effective powerband that reaches across the rpm range with dynamic power.
GREAT POWERBAND, SUPERB SUSPENSION AND BULLETPROOF RELIABILITY—ECCENTRIC HANDLING AT TURN-IN. COMPARED TO THE PREVIOUS YAMAHA YZ450F, “YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY.”
The previous YZ450F powerband was not very well integrated. It came in segments that didn’t mesh well with the rpm range above or below the one you were in. The new powerband is seamless. It is fast and feels faster. The coolest thing about the 2014 YZ450F powerband is that it has the most horsepower of any 450cc motocross bike ever tested, yet it delivers that power in a very gentle way (except for the irritating bark off the bottom).
58.24 horsepower at 9900 rpm.
If we could have sat in on the design meetings for the 2014 Yamaha YZ450F, we would have suggested that they richen up the fuel map, advance the timing and change the gearing. We also would have worked harder to get the looseness out of the front end at tip-in, reconfigured the gearbox ratios, and tried a skosh harder to get some girth out of the airbox region. Nevertheless, we applaud the Yamaha engineers for their fabulous suspension settings, broad and powerful (albeit lean) powerband, and the incredible durability of the components. The improvements are quantum leaps in a year that saw only incremental changes from the competition.
Great powerband, superb suspension and bulletproof reliability—eccentric handling at turn-in. Compared to the previous Yamaha YZ450F, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
SECOND PLACE: KTM 450SXF
The 2014 KTM 450SXF makes the most usable horsepower across the broadest range with the easiest-to-use low-to-mid transition. It has the best brakes, clutch, stability, shifting, starting, torque, gearbox and overall handling. And, even though it has electric starting and a battery, it isn’t the heaviest bike in the class. The biggest fly in the KTM 450SXF’s ointment is the WP suspension. It is average at best.
56.95 horsepower at 9400 rpm.
THE KTM 450SXF IS THE GREATEST FOUR-FIFTHS OF A BIKE MADE. THE ONE-FIFTH THAT HOLDS US BACK FROM GIVING THE BIKE WITH THE BEST OVERALL HANDLING, BEST CLUTCH, BEST BRAKES, BEST SHIFTING, BEST AIRBOX AND BROADEST POWERBAND THE TOP SPOT ON THE PODIUM IS THE STUFF HOLDING THE BIKE UP.
Over the last three seasons, MXA has thought about giving the KTM 450SXF first place in the 450 shootout. But, we always pull back because of the suspension. Our major KTM complaint hasn’t changed, and, sadly, KTM has made very little progress toward fixing it in the last three years. We are disheartened by the recurring suspension woes of the Katoom. We want better suspension components, more low-to-mid power to get the bike into the meat of the powerband sooner and a true-to-life shock preload ring.
The KTM 450SXF is the greatest four-fifths of a bike made. The one-fifth that holds us back from giving the bike with the best overall handling, best clutch, best brakes, best shifting, best airbox and broadest powerband the top spot on the podium is the stuff holding the bike up.
FIRST PLACE: KAWASAKI KX450F
The 2014 KX450F’s powerband overshadows every other attribute of the green machine. It doesn’t make the most power, just the best power. The 2014 Kawasaki KX450F is all about the way the power is delivered. Kawasaki’s engineers found a way to make a bike that is fast without being scary fast. It has the right amount of power for every situation—not piddling power, but lusty and aggressive thrust. What about the rest of the overall package? Apart from the phenomenal engine, the rest of the KX450F is just average. It is a big bike with quirky handling, weak brakes, an obnoxiously loud muffler, an iffy clutch and confused ergos.
55.05 horsepower at 9000 rpm.
IN TRUTH, WE ARE BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. AND, THE LIGHT THAT SHINES FROM THE 2014 KX450F IS ITS BRILLIANT POWERBAND. THE KX450F HAS A PHENOMENAL RACE ENGINE. IT OOZES POWER IN THE PERFECT PROPORTIONS FOR EACH SITUATION. OUR MYOPIA ALLOWS US TO OVERLOOK THE AVERAGENESS OF THE REST OF THE PACKAGE.
The 2014 KX450F would be so much better if it were lower, lighter and sleeker. If we could change anything on the 2014 Kawasaki KX450F, it would be the overall bulk of the machine. The KX450F engine carries the day for the KX450F, because the rest of the package is midpack. The Kawasaki has managed to win shootouts despite having weak brakes, a marginal clutch, stodgy upright handling, obnoxious sound and a famously weak chain guide. But, since most Japanese bikes have subpar brakes and clutches (when compared to the KTM), the penalty for being mediocre isn’t as severe as it would be if the RM-Z, CRF or YZ-F were stellar.
In truth, we are blinded by the light. And, the light that shines from the 2014 KX450F is its brilliant powerband. The KX450F has a phenomenal race engine. It oozes power in the perfect proportions for each situation. Our myopia allows us to overlook the averageness of the rest of the package.
MXA 2014 450 SHOOTOUT VIDEO