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PHOTO OF THE WEEK
MXA freelance contributor Brian Converse captured this awesome shot of Trey Canard giving love to the Muddy Creek fans this past weekend. Canard is one of a select few racers that comprehends the magnitude of his effect on adoring fans. That shows through his appreciation, such as in moments like these. Props to Brian Converse for showing the humanitarian in Canard.
FIRST IMPRESSION: 2015 KAWASAKI KX250F & KX450F
It’s that time of the year, folks–new bike season! The MXA wrecking crew patiently waits for months, counting down the days until the new bikes arrive. It’s a vicious cycle, because as soon as we’re done getting through this year’s new breed of motorcycles, we’re already looking forward to the next model year. However, this is what motorcycle test riders live for — it is like pitching in the World Series, riding big waves on the North Shore or scoring that date with the prom queen. We can’t help but enjoy burning fossil fuel on brand spanking new motorcycles — and, even better, it is all in the name of work — which means we get paid. We ride ‘em, race ‘em and, occasionally, we break ‘em.
New bike season for MXA test riders is a hectic time. At the moment we are in the process of testing the 2015 KTM 450SXF, KTM 250SXF and KTM 350SXF. Luckily, MXA test rider Dennis Stapleton came home from a race sojurn to the Philippines, China and Singapore in time to pitch in, which was a good thing because on the day Dennis came home, Daryl Ecklund left for Sweden to start getting ready for our 2015 Husqvarna testing. We gained one and lost one, so when we headed out for day one of the 2015 Kawasaki KX450F and KX250F test session, we drafted Tye Hames to fill in until Daryl gets back in time for a Thursday test at Glen Helen (when the gang of four — Jody, John, Dennis and Daryl — will be back together again). But first, the job at hand—the first ride on the 2015 KX250F and KX450F. We must admit that we were as anxious as ‘tween girls at a One Republic concert when we laid eyes on our 2015 Kawasakis.
THE BABY AND THE BATH WATER
Our major concern with every new bike that we test is the worry that the R&D guys didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water — which means not messing up what’s great about a bike in search of some other elusive character trait. Take the 2009 Honda CRF450 as an example. It was awesome in 2008 and gruesome in 2009. It lost its Honda-ness. So, what is the “baby” of Kawasaki? The powerband. Whether you like the green machines or not, you have to be impressed with their luscious, perfectly placed and solid powerbands. This is a company that knows how, why, where and when to make an engine sing. And, we happy to report that the 2015 engines are as good or better than the 2014 engines.
KX250F powerband: This is how a 250cc four-stroke should run. Thanks to some fiddling with the dual-fuel injectors, a heavier flywheel, three map couplers, a stronger piston, Launch Control and a new exhaust pipe—we think that Kawasaki one-upped the 2014 engine with the 2015 version. The extra flywheel weight helps the hookup and carries some momentum on top—we had some mapping issues on day one, but testing is a long drawn-out process. It was 95 degrees and we felt a little lean, but we can iron that out as we go on to day 2, 3, 4, 5 and 40.
KX450F powerband: The 2015 KX450F engine is the 2014 KX450F engine with a couple swings for the fences; (1) Piston: The new Bridge Box piston is more durable (and over the years Kawasaki has had some piston durability issues). It also raises the compression for a slightly stronger hit. (2) ECU mapping: Although originally we felt that Kawasaki would scrub mentions of traction control from future references we were wrong — the 2015 KX450F has traction control. It is a embedded in a microprocessor that retards the ignition whenever the ECU registers runaway revs at the rear wheel. Technically, this was illegal in the AMA rulebook for decades (although as with most AMA rules, it has never been enforced). In fact Honda had the same system on the CR250 two-stroke 16 years ago — they too touted it in early release literature and then, realizing that it was illegal, never mentioned it again. Honda never took it off the bike, they just never mentioned it again. This year, the factory teams had the rule changed so that only “non-production traction control” is illegal (by that they mean the GET dial — but as with all AMA rules enforcement, it isn’t subject to any AMA sanctions. Either way — the 2015 KX450 has traction control (and they may not be the only one, but they may be the only one that read the new rulebook. (3) Map couplers: The KX450F, and the KX250F, have three interchangeable map couplers that give you the choice of aggressive, stock or mellow powerbands. They can be changed in a second. (4) Launch Control: Press the button on the starting line and you will lose one horsepower in the midrange, two horsepower at mid-and-up and three horsepower on top — then, when you shift into third gear, the ignition returns to normal. Launch Control detunes the power to help the bike hook up off the starting line. All in all—the 2015 engine is as good as it ever was.
Brakes: We don’t know what took Kawasaki so long, but they have finally answered back against the might of the KTM front brake. In fact, Kawasaki went KTM one better by trumping KTM’s 260mm Braking rotor with a 270mm Braking rotor. It’s about time Kawasaki had brakes capable of taming their awesome power.
Forks: Forgive us for skipping over the 2015 KX250F forks. They are the same single-spring forks as in 2014, but with firmer damping at low-speed and into the midstroke. Nothing new, but slightly improved. The real meat on the Kawasaki bone is the switch from Kayaba PSF air forks to Showa SFF TAC air forks on the 2015 KX450F. TAC stands for “Triple Air Chamber” and these are the production version of the works forks that most factory riders use. Go to your dealer or wait for the full test in MXA if you want a complete understanding of how the TAC forks work, but suffice it to say that they have air pressure in the right leg only (but housed in three separate chambers—thus Triple Air Chamber). The left leg contains the damping system (and no air or coil spring). We’d love to tell you that we loved these forks, but this is just an impression based on riding at one track (Milestone), which is very limited in what it has to offers in the way of true test potential. It’s just jumps and short straights between jumps followed by more jumps and more short straights between them. So, real suspension testing will have to wait for Cahuilla, Glen Helen, Comp Edge and our secret test tracks.
What we can tell about the TAC forks, apart from the fact that they went up and down, is that they offer more tuning options than any fork on the planet — which means you have a plethora of ways to make them better (not just with clickers and oil height, but with three different air pressures). However, we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you that you also have the ability to make them a lot worse. The ability to change the oil height in four chambers (three with air), air pressures (some as high as 145 psi), compression and rebound clickers (on the left leg) and a very unique feature in which you can change the relationship between the air pressure in the main chamber and the negative spring pressure to alter the length of the fork, make tuning the Showa SFF TAC air fork a daunting task. We think that we will get a handle on it, but on day one we tried lots of stuff, got lost several times and returned to the stock settings and started over—and that was on the track that put very little load on the forks.
What do we think: Don’t be foolish. We rode each bike for several hours. It was only one day of a long test process. We don’t rush. We want you to know what you are spending your money on. Thus, we liked some things and struggled with other things. We didn’t expect to master the setup in one short exploratory day. And, we will master it once we start in earnest to learn everything that we can — hopefully saving you some serious trouble. We don’t think that Kawasaki threw the baby out with the bath water—just that getting the water to the correct temperature is a little more daunting than it was one year ago.
* Showa Separate Function, Triple Chamber Air Forks have replaced the Kayaba Pneumatic Spring Fork.
* Revised shock valving.
*Higher compression piston.
* Revised ECU setting to retard the ignition when real-wheel speed increases too quickly.
* Oversized, 270mm front brake rotor.
* Lighter subframe.
* New plastics.
* New Bridge Box piston.
* New head pipe with a resonance chamber.
* New magneto rotor.
* Revised dual-fuel injection.
* New Showa Separate Function Fork valving.
* Firmer shock settings.
* Oversized, 270mm front brake rotor.
* Lighter subframe.
* New plastics.
* Four-position handlebar mounts.
* Two-position footpeg mounts.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE 2015 HUSKYS?
Husqvarna continues to ramp up their efforts, and the 2015 line-up is a reflection of that commitment. MXA‘s Daryl Ecklund took a trip to Sweden earlier this week to test ride the new Husqvarnas (look for a feature on that trip in an upcoming issue). For now make sure to check out our coverage on the new bikes by clicking here.
KTM MUST-READ: WHAT IT’S LIKE TO RACE THE ’15 KTM 450SXF
You could read puff pieces about a new bike, such as the 2015 KTM 450SXF, on some other websites, but MXA is dedicated to testing. We’re also committed to you. It would be great if every motocross enthusiast plopped down $8500 on a new bike, but we know that money is tight for most people. It’s not advantageous for us to spew out a report that is either lacking significant information or is a love fest for a bike that doesn’t deserve it. Simply put, we’re not liars. And, because we’ve been testing for decades, we know what we’re doing. Okay, enough tooting our own horn.
Check out this first impression of the ’15 KTM 450SXF. It’s not the complete test (we’re still in the middle of it), but it should provide a bit of clarity on our thoughts of the orange beast. Simply click here. We also have a video of the bike in action, which you can see below:
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS? THOMAS PAGES’ BIKE FLIP
Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool
And now see it in motion…
WHY KEN ROCZEN WILL WIN THE 450 NATIONAL TITLE
Images courtesy of Brian Converse
Statistics, my friends. Statistics. I like numbers. I may not be a whizz at calculus, but I admire the impact of numbers. Take motocross, for example. There are 12 rounds, consisting of two classes, each running 24 motos. Each moto is 30 minutes plus two laps. Lap times hover around the two minute mark. It means that someone like Ken Roczen will log roughly 408 laps over the entire National series. That’s about 816 minutes, or 13.6 hours of race time. Wow.
The 2014 Nationals just surpassed the five round mark (42 percent of the series). Though the racing is far from over–there are 14 motos still to go, or 350 points up for grabs–Ken Roczen will win his first 450 outdoor crown. It’s inevitable.
Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly set in stone, but Roczen’s chances are looking good. He has a 16 point lead over Ryan Dungey, 43 over James Stewart and 44 ahead of Trey Canard. Though the advantage over Dungey could evaporate in a single moto (25 points), statistically Kenny is still in charge. Why? Over the past decade only two racers have squandered the points lead after topping the chart through five rounds. The few? Chad Reed in 2011 (thanks to a wacky and wild catapult off his bike at Millville that he wasn’t able to recover from the rest of the series), and Ricky Carmichael in 2007. It’s not accurate to put RC in this category, because he ran a limited schedule and retired after Millville. In the opening five rounds Carmichael had amassed a 16 point lead over James Stewart (who didn’t win the title) and a massive 82 point advantage over eventual winner, Grant Langston.
Time will tell whether Ken Roczen wins this year’s 450 National title, but the numbers are on his side.
CYCRA RACING TRIP: A PICTORIAL PERSPECTIVE
Daryl Ecklund and I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, last week to hang out with the Cycra Racing folks. Owners Ken and Glen Laivins, along with right-hand man, Scott Highland, built MXA two very sweet race bikes to test. The JGR-tuned Yamaha YZ450F, with retro white/red plastics and graphics got the most looks from everyone at the tracks we visited. There was also a fresh KTM 350SXF that deserved attention.
Take a look at my shots from the trip. Thanks to Cycra Racing for having us out! Same time next year?
JGR YAMAHA TRACK
JGR owner, Coy Gibbs, thinks big. He started his own race team, pulled in outside sponsors, lured in factory Yamaha support, and signed his own riders. While the ever-modest Gibbs will never admit to his self-made success, the facts are the facts. What really makes Coy shine is how cool he is. The North Carolinian is straight up nice. And honest. And many of the attributes that make up a good person. It’s great to see his program thrive through thick (race wins courtesy of Josh Grant and James Stewart) and thin (rider injuries and Stewart fleeing the team mid-season).
I first visited JGR several years ago, with the objective to test Justin Brayton’s YZ450F at JGR’s outdoor track. I flew into Charlotte in March–not exactly perfect riding weather during that time of the year. It was overcast most of the time and rained sporadically. Still, MXA tester Dennis Stapleton and I got the job done at Coy’s rented outdoor track.
Fast-forward to last week, when we were riding a collaboration JGR/Cycra Racing YZ450F. We tested the bike at JGR’s new facility, set in the woods about an hour outside of Charlotte. The layout, built by Mark Barnett, was unreal. And, because Coy Gibbs thinks big, he bought all of the land that the tracks sit on. He also purchased the heavy equipment and built a spacious garage. Naturally the track is Pro-level caliber due to the quality of racers that frequent the JGR compound. Mother Nature proved a worthy foe once again, as rains swung through the area in the mid-afternoon, but not before we got a good amount of testing in. Special thanks to Spencer Bloomberg for massaging the track to make it ride-ready despite inclement weather the day before.
Highlights of the outdoor track include a 120-foot step-up triple, rollers everywhere, another big uphill triple, and an array of corners of varying angles. To say the track was challenging is an obvious understatement.
CYCRA RACING/JGR YAMAHA YZ450F
CYCRA RACING/FTI KTM 350SXF
RIDE ENGINEERING RIDER FREDRIK NOREN GETS THE CALL
Press release: Ride Engineering/Ohlins/Pro Circuit backed privateer Fredrik Noren to ride for factory Honda for the remaining 2014 Outdoor Nationals. Starting July 4th weekend at Redbud, the former Swedish national champion will be on Barcia’s factory CRF450R. Noren has been putting his production KTM equipped with some Ride Engineering hard parts, Ohlins suspension and a Pro Circuit exhaust, consistently in the low teens and Honda noticed.
Fredrik is running these Ride Engineering products on his KTM 450SXF:
NEW! 2013+ KTM Rubber Mounted Triple Clamp Set 20.5mm Offset (KT-BTB44-BA)
Kawasaki/KTM Rubber Mounted Over-sized (1 1/8″) One Piece Bar Mount (KX-BBM00-CA)
Steering Head Stabilizer Bracket Kit for KTM (KT-SHSB3-KT)
Showa MX Steering Dampener (MX-HPSD9-00)
KTM Suspension Lowering Link (KT-LKA44-GE)
NEW! KTM Billet Axle Blocks-Black (MX-AXL25-KT)
Good luck Fredrik!
ON & OFF THE ROAD WITH KEVIN WINDHAM: CAREER
“I miss the ability to raise 50,000 people with one pass or one win. That’s something that’s really special about racing.”