2023 MXA 450 FOUR-STROKE SHOOTOUT: GASGAS VS. HONDA VS. HUSQVARNA VS. KAWASAKI VS. KTM VS. SUZUKI VS. YAMAHA
There are those who would tell you, “There are no bad bikes made in 2023.” To a very limited extent, that is true. All seven front-line 450cc motocross bikes have engines that run, wheels that spin, suspension that goes up and down, and some sort of container to hold 2 gallons of gas. But, shootouts are not undertaken to honor mediocrity; they are a rigorous, expensive and time-consuming search for the best. It is true that shootouts offer the consumer a pie-in-the sky idea of the best bike sold in 2023. That promise is, of course, unobtainable, because, as motocrossers, we aren’t looking for a fairy-tale bike that rings all the bells and kisses all the trophy girls. Instead, we desire the best possible conglomeration of attributes that suits our local tracks, our ever-changing weight, never-changing height, speed relative to those around us and a price tag that can be justified.
Before we even started the 2023 search, the MXA wrecking crew broke the seven bikes in this shootout down into three sub-groups: (1) BNG bikes. (2) Modestly updated bikes. (3) First-year models.
THE WORLD OF BNG
BNG stands for “Bold New Graphics.” It is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that this 2023 model is really a 2022 model that has been warmed over a very cold fire. If you are lucky, a BNG bike might actually get Bold New Graphics, but not always. The four-year-old 2023 Kawasaki KX450, seven-year-old 2023 Suzuki RM-Z450 and three-year-old 2023 GasGas MC450F are largely untouched for 2023. Any flaws they had when they were first introduced four, seven or three years ago are still there.
MODESTLY UPDATED MEANS MOSTLY UNTOUCHED
There is only one model sold in 2023 that got a limited number of updates that actually improved the performance of the machine, while ignoring all the flaws that undercut the modest updates. That one bike is the 2023 Honda CRF450. For 2023, it received a series of engine updates designed to broaden the power, mute its sharp edges, and bring the horsepower down to more manageable parameters. How successful were the Honda engineers? If you put the Honda engine in a KX450, GasGas MC450 or Suzuki RM450 chassis, you would have a vastly better machine; however, putting it in a Honda chassis does not compute as well. Unfortunately, putting this great engine in a mildly updated CRF450 aluminum chassis doesn’t erase the unpredictability of the frame’s geometry at speed nor the Showa forks’ harshness in the rough.
THE CURSE OF FIRST-YEAR MODELS
Some buyers like the idea of a totally renovated machine, but others, burned by buying flawed first-year models in the past, are wary of riding an unknown can of worms, thus the mantra “Never buy a first-year model.”
There are three 450cc first-year models on the showroom floors this year—the Husqvarna FC450, KTM 450SXF and Yamaha YZ450F. And we can tell you, without you having to read any further, that all three of them suffer from engineering mistakes, design flaws and questionable decision making. Does the bad stuff offset the good? Not for everyone or every taste, but you don’t make progress by maintaining the status quo—which is why the MXA wrecking believes that the best 450 motocross bikes of 2023 are among the first-year models.
Once all seven bikes are photographed, weighed and dyno’ed, we hand them over to our diverse group of test riders who ride them, race them and work out the bugs. We don’t test bikes for one or two days like most motocross media, we live with them for months. And the knowledge gained on each bike carries over and evolves from model year to model year.
2023 450 SHOOTOUT NOTES
Since the 2023 Yamaha YZ450F came months after we started testing all the other 2023 450s, MXA had already logged a lot of race time on the Honda, KTM, Kawasaki, Husky, Suzuki and GasGas 450s. At one point, after the YZ450F intro at the Star facility in Florida, when we knew the Yamaha’s arrival in SoCal was imminent, we halted all riding on the six other 2023 450s while we procured new parts, plastic and accessories to bring the bikes that had more hours on them up to date with the late-arriving YZ450F.
To our consternation, we also held up the release of the MXA “450 Shootout” that you are currently reading to allow the test riders to put comparable saddle time on the Yamaha YZ450F. It should be noted that supply line issues with parts for the first-year models, and even some BNG bikes, made getting new parts and plastic a struggle. To the best of our ability, we rebuilt every one of our 450s back to like-new condition. At this stage, we’d dynoed all seven bikes on the same dyno, on the same day, at the same humidity with the same operator to ensure comparable numbers. In the final step, just before principal photography for the group shootout began, we installed fresh graphics, new Pirelli Scorpion Mid-Soft tires, ODI Podium Flight handlebars, D.I.D ERT3 Gold chains, SuperLite sprockets and ODI Emig 2.0 V2 lock-on grips on all seven bikes.
SEVENTH PLACE: SUZUKI RM-Z450
WHAT DID SUZUKI CHANGE FOR 2023? Nothing, as in not one single thing. If you can tell a 2023 Suzuki RM-Z450 from a 2022 or 2021 or 2020 model, you should go on “Jeopardy.”
WHY SHOULD THE RM-Z450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? In truth, you can’t win a shootout with a bike that hasn’t been changed since 2018, especially when it wasn’t winning 450 shootouts back then. Not every bike is destined to be the “best in class,” but that doesn’t disqualify them from shooting for the stars. The MXA test riders like the pleasant low-to-midrange powerband of the RM-Z450. It makes 54.87 horsepower at its 8800-rpm peak. That is the least peak horsepower of any of the seven 2023 450s, but it is only 1-1/2 horses less than the 2023 KX450 and has the same torque numbers as the YZ450F. But, in truth, the 2023 Suzuki has enough issues, aside from horsepower, that we wish that back in 2018 when the RM-Z was last renovated, Suzuki had kept the old frame and spent all its R&D money on a new engine. They’d be way ahead of where they are today if they had taken that route.
WHY SHOULD THE RM-Z450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? Why shouldn’t it? The chassis is out of balance. The stinkbug layout creates oversteer. The frame is too stiff, too tall, and too steep. The road-race-inspired Showa BFRC rear shock moves too freely, too quickly and can’t stay in contact with the ground. Sadly, all Suzuki had to do was spec the non-BFRC RM-Z250 shock on the 450 chassis, because the RM-Z250 shock is so over-sprung that it would work better on the RM-Z450. Did we mention that the 2023 RM-Z450 weighs 241 pounds (without gas). We really didn’t have to mention it, because if you ever picked one up to put it on a bike stand, you would know that already.
INTERESTING 2023 SUZUKI RM-Z450 FACTS
(1) Price. The MSRP of the full spectrum of the 450cc motocross bikes for 2023 runs from $10,999 for the Husqvarna FC450 to $10,899 for the KTM 450SXF to $10,199 for the GasGas MC450F to $9899 for the YZ450F to $9599 for the KX450 and CRF450 to $8999 for the 2023 Suzuki RM-Z450. That is a $1900 spread from the most to least expensive.
(2) Cornering. For decades, the Suzuki was the best-turning bike on the track, but most of its competition has closed the handling gap. They may have caught it, but they haven’t surpassed it. The RM-Z450 is still the king when it comes to railing tight inside lines.
(3) Starting. Electric starting is a fact of life on every other 2023 four-stroke except for the Suzuki. That doesn’t mean that having to kick it is the end of the world; it is just that when you stall or crash in the middle of a race, it is going to take much longer to get your RM-Z450 back in action.
(4) Clutch. KTM, Husqvarna, GasGas, Kawasaki, Honda and Yamaha all have updated clutches. If the MXA test riders were asked to rank the seven clutches, Suzuki’s clutch would come in last.
(5) Suspension. Without any R&D for several years, Suzuki has fallen way behind on suspension tech. The RM-Z250 forks are so stiff that it would take a 240-pound rider to get them to move. We also consider the BFRC shock to be a failed experiment. The fact that Chase Sexton ran a BFRC shock on his Honda this past season isn’t proof that the BFRC shock is a winner. Why not? Because Chase’s shock had valving on the shock shaft, which means it’s not an as-advertised BRFC shock. The easiest rear suspension fix would be for Suzuki to use the conventional RM-Z250 fork and shock on the RM-Z450.
(6) Power. The 2023 RM-Z450 has a well-placed powerband. It doesn’t make much in the way of peak horsepower, but the power it makes is very usable. It also features a traction-control system that continually measures throttle opening, engine speed, and gear position to adjust the ignition timing and fuel-injector duration to stop wheelspin. It also offers three Launch Control maps for different starting-line setups. Plus, the GET-developed MX-Tuner 2.0 app allows you to remap the Suzuki RM-Z450 from your Apple or Android smartphone—once you jump through some hoops.
(7) Resale value. In order to afford a new motorcycle at today’s elevated prices, a racer has to sell his current machine for as much money as possible to help cover the price of the new bike. Unfortunately for owners of used Suzuki RM-Z450s, the resale value is very low. Why? First, Suzuki dealers have a reputation for wheeling and dealing on the out-the-door price of brand-new RM-Z450s. Lowering the price for a new Suzuki to bargain levels forces used Suzuki prices downward. Second, since the last major overhaul of the RM-Z450 was five models ago, a used 2022 RM-Z450 is no different from a used 2018 RM-Z, which makes the new model no more desirable than the old model. Third, look around at the bikes at your local racetrack. You will see a lot of KTMs, Yamahas, Huskys, Kawasakis and Hondas but very few Suzukis. As a rule of thumb, if no one is buying new Suzukis, then no one will want to buy a used Suzuki.
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE 2023 SUZUKI RM-Z450?
No one is deluded into believing that the 2023 Suzuki RM-Z450 is the best bike on the racetrack, but it offers a ridable, raceable and enjoyable bike for someone who wants to get in on the motocross experience without having to file for bankruptcy. As it sits, it is the best bargain in motocross, but only if you get the suspension dialed in and leave everything else alone. We have no doubt that Suzuki has the know-how to build a world-beating RM-Z450, but Suzuki has spent the greater part of the last decade watching its competition pull away with new technology while they embraced the old.
SIXTH PLACE: HONDA CRF450
WHAT DID HONDA CHANGE FOR 2023? The 2023 CRF450 engine was a revelation. Honda made these mods to the engine: (1) The intake port’s shape was made narrower and smaller. (2) The cam got a revised lobe profile. (3) The air boot was lengthened. (4) The Keihin throttle body’s venturi diameter was reduced from 46mm to 44mm. Downsizing the throttle body brought the CRF450 in line with the 44mm throttle bodies of KTM, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Husqvarna and GasGas.
There were two frame mods. The forged bridge strut that connects the frame’s down tube to the extruded rectangular tubes of the frame cradle were made 2mm thicker, while the shock tower forging, where it connects to the top of the shock, was also made 2mm thicker. Test riders didn’t feel any change to overall frame stiffness (laterally or torsionally) with these two frame mods.
WHY SHOULD THE CRF450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? Not because of its frame, suspension or handling. Every test rider who raced the 2023 CRF450 raved about how easy the power was to use. At low rpm, the throttle worked like a rheostat. The rider could dial in exactly how much power he wanted. It was brilliant. Ergonomically, the layout of the seat, bars, pegs and width are class leading; however, the shift lever is very short. The engine and the ergos were the best things about the 2023 CRF450.
WHY SHOULD THE CRF450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? In spite of its awesome powerband, the CRF450 is a twitchy, unpredictable and often scary machine to ride fast. We always consider the CRF450 to be an 80 percent bike—in that it is polite and manageable if you only push it to 80 percent of its potential or 80 percent of yours. Exceed that margin at your own risk. The 2023 CRF450’s best handling trait is at turn-in. Every MXA test rider was dumbstruck by how effortlessly the 2023 CRF450 attacked tight inside lines; however, the counterpoint to the Honda’s incredible turn-in prowess was that it felt very loose on corner exit. Any change to the front end affects the rear end negatively and vice versa. Additionally, the forks have the same problems they have always had, except the trouble spot moves with each model year.
INTERESTING 2023 HONDA CRF450 FACTS
(1) Powerband. Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! This is the most usable Honda powerband since the awesome 2008 CRF450 was dropped in favor of a bunch of Honda CRF450 science projects.
(2) Ergonomics. The rider triangle, bodywork and saddle are perfect for every body type, from endomorphs to ectomorphs.
(3) Radiators. We boiled water in the radiator. Always check the water after every long moto. Switch to a high-pressure radiator cap.
(4) Exhaust flange. The studs backed out of the head when removing the exhaust system. We threaded them back in with Loctite.
(5) Electronics. An incredible number of Honda riders have no idea how the map lights work, which light is which for Traction Control, or how to engage the Launch Control map. There are three settings available for every function. We gave each test rider a crib sheet to help him navigate the options, but Honda seemed to be more interested in dazzling buyers with options without understanding that overly complicated options never get used.
(6) Air filter. From a design point of view, we love the concept behind Honda’s upside-down air filter, but in day-to-day life, it gets dirty very quickly.
(7) Forks. The 2023 Showa forks are a mystery. In 2021, the fork was too soft all the way through its stroke. In 2022, the fork was too soft in the first half of the stroke and too rigid in the second half. For 2023, the fork is too firm in the first part of the stroke and too soft at the end.
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE HONDA CRF450?
The MXA wrecking crew has long-standing issues with some aspects of the 2023 Honda CRF450’s setup that every Honda owner will recognize in the handling and suspension departments; however, we truly believe that this is a better CRF450 than the last three model years. The swing votes in favor of the 2023 model were a massive “yay” for the all-new power profile, the flawless ergonomics, and the solid running gear. But, and this is a big but, the new engine just proved that they need a new frame.
FIFTH PLACE: GASGAS MC450F
WHAT DID GASGAS CHANGE FOR 2023? The 2023 GasGas MC450F may have rolled down the same assembly line as its Austrian brothers, but it is night and day different from the 2023 KTM 450SXF and 2023 Husqvarna FC450; however, it isn’t one iota different from the 2022 GasGas MC450F. Apart from a black drop shadow below the logo on the radiator wing, the 2023 GasGas MC450F is the 2022 MC450F. Strangely, by not updating the 2023 GasGas MC450F, GasGas may have made the MC450F the best choice for a wide ranges of racers of the three Austrian brands. Why? Read on.
WHY SHOULD THE MC450F WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? By sticking with the old frame, old engine, old suspension and old philosophies, the 2023 GasGas MC450F avoided all the teething issues that come with First-Year Models, which, on the 2023 KTM and Husky, were long break-in times, needle bearings that walked out of the shock linkage, Hydro-Stop forks that stopped before they got full travel, 5 extra pounds, and frame rigidity that only AMA Supercross heroes could love. By comparison, the GasGas MC450F seems to have been custom designed for regular folk. You know the kind, local racers who pay full pop for their bikes and don’t want rigid frames, stiff suspension or 10-hour break-in times. It is the everyman’s 450 motocross bike and the lightest 450 on the showroom floors, but it is reined in by factory politics. It could be so much better.
WHY SHOULD THE MC450F LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? In an admirable but failed attempt to provide the KTM experience at the same MSRP as a Kawasaki KX450, Yamaha YZ450F or Honda CRF450, the GasGas engineers forewent all the bells and whistles that set one Austrian bike apart from the other. Case in point, the 2023 GasGas MC450F did not get the exotic electronics package that the 2023 450SXF and FC450 come with. Instead of Quick Shift, Traction Control, Launch Control, an hour meter and two distinctly different maps, the GasGas MC450F comes with one map and no added accoutrements.
Additionally, corporate politics at Mattighofen deemed that the GasGas should be softer suspended, lightly valved, and not as crisp or responsive as the KTM 450SXF. And to ensure this, they closed off the airbox to keep the engine from breathing, built an exhaust system without a resonance chamber, and limited the rider to the mellow map (the ECU has the aggressive map, Traction Control and Launch Control locked away, but it can only be unleashed by buying a $170 switch).
In the end, the budget cutting to meet the $9599 price point of the Japanese competition could not be maintained. For 2023, the price went up to $10,199, and none of the bells and whistles were added as salve on the wound. And that is why the GasGas MC450F finished in fifth when it could have been in the top three.
INTERESTING 2023 GASGAS MC450F FACTS
(1) Suspension. The most noticeable difference on the GasGas is the softer suspension settings. The 2023 KTM 450SXF and Husky FC450 come with 45 N/mm shock springs. The GasGas shock comes with a 42 N/mm spring. Additionally, while the KTM 450SXF and Husky FC450 have the same valving in their forks (both with Hydro-Stop), the GasGas has lighter valving in its forks without Hydro-Stop. Of course, the air forks can be made stiffer or softer with the use of WP’s hand pump, but overall, the GasGas forks are softer—so is the shock valving.
(2) Suspension action. The GasGas setup is designed to suit the needs of the vast majority of riders (Novices, Vets, old-timers, trail riders and play riders). Conversely, it isn’t well-suited to heavier or faster riders, but it is perfect for the typical Vet rider.
(3) Triple clamps. The most obvious difference between the 2023 KTM/Husky combo and the GasGas is that the orange and white bikes have billet-machined aluminum triple clamps. The GasGas has forged aluminum triple clamps that are softer and more forgiving. This is a plus in the rough but a minus on corner entrance.
(4) Power train. The GasGas engine is different from what’s cradled in the 2023 KTM and Husky frames. Instead, it is based on last year’s six-year-old design that has been well loved since 2016. Even in its detuned state, it makes more peak horsepower than the CRF450, KX450 and RM-Z450.
(5) Powerband. The GasGas powerplant suffers noticeably in the low-to-mid transition, but most of this is by design (as in the Austrian designer muted the power to make it more Novice friendly). The power killers are the suffocated airbox, lack of a resonance chamber and disappearance of the map switch.
(6) Handling. Since the 2023 GasGas MC450F uses a tried-and-true platform, riders know what to expect from it. The MXA test riders felt right at home jumping on the 2023 MC450F. It doesn’t take 10 hours to break in. It is easy to ride, compliant over bumps and nimble in corners. Compared to the 2023 Husky and KTM chassis, with their stiff frames and anti-squat rear-end geometry, the GasGas MC450F feels like a well-used pair of running shoes.
(7) Miscellaneous. The GasGas is 5 pounds lighter than the Husky or KTM. The GasGas comes with silver handlebars, triple clamps, and rims (which we like because they don’t look scratched and dinged from roost and tire irons).
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE GASGAS MC450F?
The GasGas MC450F is the favorite bike of the vast majority of the MXA endurance test riders who are assigned to race our test bikes every week, but they are largely Novices and Vets (the people the GasGas MC450F suits best), and you can’t be the best bike of 2023 if you only reach one portion of the buying public.
FOURTH PLACE: KAWASAKI KX450
WHAT DID KAWASAKI CHANGE FOR 2023? Nothing. Apart from the new in-mold radiator shroud graphics, the 2023 Kawasaki KX450 is the 2021–’22 KX450; however, it could be worse. It isn’t all that different from the 2019–2020 KX450. For 2023, the KX450 only received minor changes to the radiator graphics. This is a BNG bike with very little BNG.
WHY SHOULD THE KX450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? In truth, it shouldn’t, and the fact that it has won a few 450 shootouts in 2023 is surprising for a bike that at heart is just a solid, workman-like package with very few superlatives attached to it; however, it is possible to be a good bike without a hook to hang your hat on. It’s not the most powerful 450, far from it, but it delivers a nice, pleasant, brisk, non-confrontational style of power that jumps from a weak low-end to the midrange to the top-end with little or no hesitation. As for the handling part of the equation, once you stop the forks from blowing through their mid-stroke, the KX450 is a sweet-turning machine. Additionally, at 234 pounds, the 2023 Kawasaki KX450 can be grouped together with the Honda CRF450 and Yamaha YZ450F.
WHY SHOULD THE KX450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? Let us count the ways! First, throttle response at low rpm is jerky. Second, the Kawasaki KX450 engine isn’t very powerful. It produces 56.37 horsepower. The KTM 450SXF makes 59.94 horsepower. The Husqvarna FC450 makes 59.30 horsepower. The Yamaha YZ450F makes 58.95 horsepower, and the GasGas MC450F makes 57.07 horsepower.
The 49mm Showa forks are too soft. Why wouldn’t they be? They were too soft in 2020, too soft in 2021 and totally unchanged for 2023. No MXA test rider, from a fast Vet to a quick Intermediate to an AMA Pro, could race with these forks in their stock setup. They bottom hard and bounce off the ground on rebound. In short, the slower the test rider, the more he liked the KX450 forks. Conversely, the faster the test rider, the less he liked the KX450 forks.
Kawasaki’s engineers spec’ed a jumbo-sized 250mm rear rotor on the 2021–2023 KX450. The big rear rotor lacks modulation. It is too grabby. There is no brake, and then there is too much brake. Surprisingly, Kawasaki’s engineers spec’ed a smaller 240mm rotor on the 2023 KX250 and KX450X.
The 2023 Kawasaki KX450 is at the low end of the motorcycle industry’s electronics movement. Instead of push-button maps, they have old-school plug-in couplers. No Wi-Fi. No Bluetooth. No easy-to-use buttons on the bars.
INTERESTING 2023 KAWASAKI KX450 FACTS
(1) Maps. To change maps on the 2023 KX450, Kawasaki supplies several plug-in couplers. The green plug-in is the stock KX450 map, and it delivers the best all-around power. The black coupler mellows out the complete rev range and gives up 1 to 2 horsepower from 6000 rpm all the way to 11,500 rpm. The white plug-in is the aggressive coupler. It produces the exact same horsepower from bottom to top as the stock green coupler but delivers the power with a crisper feel (and a little less over-rev).
(2) Clutch. The 2021–2023 KX450 clutch has a large, 146mm clutch basket, which allows for 7mm-larger clutch plates. Kawasaki got rid of its horrid judder spring system and replaced it with a full-size eighth plate. And, finally, Kawasaki replaced the five individual coil-type clutch springs with a large-diameter Belleville washer. Unlike with five separate coil springs, the larger Belleville washer applies pressure to the clutch pack evenly around its circumference.
(3) Overheating. We run a 2.0 kg/cm2 Twin Air Ice Flow radiator cap to keep the radiator from spewing fluid.
(4) Handlebars. Kawasaki’s marshmallow-like, rubber bar-mount inserts are useless. They twist and deform in even the smallest crashes. We replace them with stiffer aftermarket bar-mount rubber inserts.
(5) Brittle plastic. Kawasaki specs very brittle plastic, especially the fork guards. They can be cracked by roost. Additionally, the front number plate cracks down the center, and the elongated arms of the radiator wings crack vertically. Order aftermarket plastic (especially the fork guards), because it is more durable.
(6) Durability. The exploding chain roller, splintering fork guards, stripped bolts, marshmallow bar mounts and cracked muffler hanger portend trouble ahead.
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE KAWASAKI KX450?
The 2023 Kawasaki KX450 is a nice, pleasant and fun-to-race bike, but by no stretch of the imagination is this the best 450 motocross bike of 2023. If Kawasaki really wanted the KX450 to be the 450 of the year, it would have spec’ed what it learned from its $12,650 KX450SR Special Racer. It needs better forks, advanced electronics, improved durability, a stronger chain roller, better plastic and more actual horsepower for 2023.
THIRD PLACE: HUSQVARNA FC450
WHAT DID HUSQVARNA CHANGE FOR 2023? Literally, every part of the Husqvarna FC450 was changed for 2023. It got a new frame, new engine, new axles, new swingarm, new airbox, new seat, and new shock. In addition to the mechanical parts, Husqvarna update the electronics, added Quick Shift, embraced anti-squat rear suspension geometry, and made all the suspension adjustments capable of being changed without tools. It is a given that KTM and Husqvarna shared the majority of the 2023 updates, but Husqvarna is the only motocross manufacturer to shorten its suspension settings in an effort to bring the seat height of their chassis down.
WHY SHOULD THE FC450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? The 2023 Husqvarna FC450 powerband is almost perfect for the average racer because it combines manageable low-to-mid power with forceful mid-to-top acceleration. It allows the rider to roll the throttle on sooner at corner entrance and keep it on through corner exit. It doesn’t burp, jerk or lift up. It is smooth. It makes going faster a rider option, unlike some bikes that don’t give the rider any options short of puckering up and hanging on. The Husky FC450 is pleasant to ride. Pleasant doesn’t mean “slow.” More accurately, it means “controllable.” Additionally, the Husky FC450 is one of only two bikes to get into the 59-horsepower territory (59.30).
There is no denying that science is on the side of Husqvarna’s lowered suspension. The FC450 handles exceptionally well. It can do some magical things on the track. The FC450 carves through deep ruts with ease and glides over braking bumps thanks to its lower center of gravity. You can feel the Husqvarna’s improvements in lean-angle traction and rear-wheel connectivity. Best of all, the majority of riders can touch the ground—which no other brand can claim—not even its KTM stablemate.
WHY SHOULD THE FC450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? The 2023 FC450 is not built for Pro-speed riders, or rather it is over-shadowed by its orange stablemate for this group—in both suspension setup and throttle response. The KTM’s forks ride higher in their stroke and have a firmer feel as they go through their travel. On the engine front, Austrian engineer’s management of airflow on KTM, Husqvarna and GasGas machines means that the power builds slowest on the GasGas, a little better on the Husky, and virtually unimpeded on the KTM. We don’t like the idea of fudging performance by starving the engine for air in order to rig which of the three Austrian brands makes the best power; however, the Mattighofen plot to suffocate the Husqvarna actually produced much better Vet-style power from low-to-mid. Fast riders want more airflow, stiffer suspension and a harder hit, thus the KTM is perfect for them. The Husky FC450 offers smoother suspension, more manageable throttle response (thanks to less air through the airbox) and a lowered chassis that rails corners and glides through ruts.
INTERESTING 2023 HUSQVARNA FC450 FACTS
(1) Suspension. By shortening the forks by 10mm internally and externally, the front of the Husqvarna can be as much as 15mm lower than any other bike (counting the ability to slide the forks up in the clamps). When you combine the shortened forks, with Husqvarna’s totally different rising rate-shock linkage, shorter shock and reduced stroke, the rear of the Husky is 1 inch lower. You don’t need a degree in physics to realize that a lowered center of gravity is a major positive when it comes to handling.
(2) Valving. The FC450’s shock and fork valving are essentially the same as the 2023 KTM 450SXF’s, but the suspension feels plusher. The KTM forks ride a little higher in their stroke, which is good for faster riders willing to hit things harder; but, the Husqvarna can run lower air pressures to smooth out the action of the fork, deliver a much more responsive feel, improve front tire contact and increase overall comfort.
(3) Chain slack. Set your chain slack at 70mm. If you don’t, your chain will be too loose and whip like a runaway roller coaster. Keep an eye on the chain buffer pad right before the countershaft sprocket for excessive wear.
(4) Shock linkage. On an undetermined number of Husqvarnas and KTMs, the needle bearings in the shock linkage walk out and bind up the shock linkage. MXA replaces the needle bearings with a new caged bearing (KTM part number 58033097000).
(5) Airbox. The Husqvarna looks like it has the same large, KTM-style airbox vents just below the seat on both sides of the FC450, but it doesn’t. Husqvarna’s airbox vents are molded shut.
(6) Powerband. From a mechanical point of view, the 2023 Husky FC450 has almost identical numbers to the 2023 KTM 450SXF engine, but the KTM hits harder and has better throttle response. From an in-the-saddle perspective, the 2023 FC450 has a more pleasant power delivery and feels more hooked up because the throttle response is muted.
(7) Differences. How can two identical engines feel different from each other? The short and sweet answer is that the KTM Group doesn’t want the KTM, Husky and GasGas models to have the same powerband. And, they managed to achieve three different performance envelopes by controlling how much air gets through each brand’s unique airbox cover.
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE HUSQVARNA FC450?
This is the perfect Vet bike. It has an incredibly manageable powerband. There is no burst and wheelie syndrome. It simply pulls more and more as you roll the throttle on. Husqvarna should own the Vet market because they have the best bike for riders looking for a bike they can touch the ground on. It offers incredible handling and has a powerband that is supremely manageable. It offers unique characteristics that no one else provides.
But, the FC450 finishes behind the KTM 450SXF in the 2023 MXA 450 Shootout, because someone in the corporate offices didn’t want it to win.
SECOND PLACE: KTM 450SXF
WHAT DID KTM CHANGE FOR 2023? For 2023, the KTM 450SXF got a totally new engine, tightly wrapped in an all-new frame, with redesigned bodywork, improved WP air forks and hand-tuneable controls on both the forks and shock.
WHY SHOULD THE 450SXF WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? To tell the truth, while waiting for the 2023 Yamaha YZ450F to make it to American shores, most MXA test riders were positive that the KTM 450SXF was going to win this shootout. Why wouldn’t it? It delivered the broadest range of power and the most peak horsepower (at a well-placed 9400 rpm). It was lighter than any of the Japanese-built 450s and was blessed with the strongest brakes, a bulletproof clutch and Quick Shift clutchless upshifts. Add in the best shifting in the class, optional quick-turn throttle cams, and the easiest-to-use air filter ever designed, and you have a winner in the making.
WHY SHOULD THE 450SXF LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? The WP XACT air forks are controversial. Some riders like their adjustability and 3-pound weight savings, while others prefer 3-pound-heavier coil spring forks for their plusher feel. The most common complaint is that the new frame is too rigid. The added rigidity was a nod to Pro riders but exacerbated life for the first 10 hours of break-in time for Vets and Novices. It is a sad fact that motocross bikes keep getting taller, and that is especially true of the 2023 KTM 450SXF. It is skyscraper tall. If you don’t have long legs, your boots aren’t going to touch the ground; think Husqvarna.
INTERESTING 2023 KTM 450SXF FACTS
(1) Powerband. It is a lot stronger than last year from low to mid. The previous 450 engine always seemed down on power as it worked its way towards the midrange. The 2023 engine jumps out of the corners and pulls harder into the midrange. That added midrange means that riders don’t have to race with a 100-percent commitment to bleeding the revs dry.
(2) Weight. We can’t blame you for thinking that the KTM 450SXF is light, but it is actually over 5 pounds heavier than it was last year. It is still lighter than any Japanese-built 450 but not anywhere near as light as the 2023 GasGas MC450F at 222 pounds.
(3) Handling. The combination of the 450SXF’s progressive powerband, chromoly tubing, spot-on head angle and accurate frame geometry, gives the 450SXF inspired handling. The handling got a lot better after the break-in period when the engine was freer revving, the WP XACT air forks were plusher, and the chromoly steel frame got much more resilient.
(4) Suspension. WP reworked the forks and shock for 2023 with the goal of making the damping firmer at both ends of the stroke. As far as mechanical changes go, the WP XACT air forks got new valving and Hydro-Stop bottoming cones, while the rear shock and shock spring were shortened 15mm. Even though the shock and spring are shorter, the shock’s stroke is unchanged from 2022, and the spring rate is still 45 N/mm.
(5) Electronics. All the electronic switchgear has been updated. On the left handlebar is a multi-switch that allows the rider to choose the stock map, aggressive map, Traction Control, Quick Shift and Launch Control (by pressing the Quick Shift and Traction Control buttons at the same time). On the top triple clamp is a new hour meter that also functions as the FI diagnostic light. On the right handlebar is the electric-start button and kill button (be careful not to get it wet when washing the bike).
(6) Ergos. Once considered an odd-feeling machine in the 1990s, KTM 450SXF has put that criticism far behind it with sleek, slim and narrow ergonomics—and KTM was brave enough to bulge the bodywork in the places where rider contact needed a little help.
(7) Chain slack. If you don’t set your chain slack at 70mm, the chain will eat the front edge of the chain buffer pad (and eventually cut grooves in the top of the aluminum swingarm). Keep an eye on the lower chain pad also.
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE KTM 450SXF?
Apart from the break-in issues, we were mightily impressed with the way the 2023 KTM 450SXF felt in motion. The added 5 pounds is noticeable at the front wheel, but it isn’t a deal breaker because the KTM is still lighter than the RM-Z, YZ-F, CRF and KX-F. The ergonomic width of the tank, shroud and side panels makes it easier to grip the bike with your knees. The airbox is larger. The footpegs have more grip, and the powerband is almost perfect from idle to over-rev.
FIRST PLACE: YAMAHA YZ450F
WHAT DID YAMAHA CHANGE FOR 2023? Everything. What didn’t they change? The wheels, forks, handlebars and brakes. This first-year model doesn’t feel much like a Yamaha. It has a handling package that is focused on corner entrance, more in the vein of Suzuki and Honda, and an engine that makes its peak horsepower at a very high rpm.
WHY SHOULD THE YZ450F WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? This is the best Yamaha YZ450F to come down the pike in the last 12 years. A giant portion of the accolades should go to the Yamaha engineers for their willingness to address the human element of what was wrong with the previous YZ450Fs. Every one who raced a YZ450F knew that previous YZ450Fs were too heavy, too wide, too tall, too bulky in the midsection and too loud (especially from the gas-tank-mounted air intake). No more, the 2023 YZ450F is slimmer, sleeker, lighter and quieter. Best of all, it is now much improved at corner entrance, when leaned over in a rut, and where front-tire accuracy is of utmost importance.
We loved the throttle-to-rear-wheel connectivity. It is amazing. The engine’s power curve is surprisingly linear. It puts every ounce of internal combustion energy into the rear wheel. And, of course, the Kayaba SSS suspension is class leading.
WHY SHOULD THE YZ450F LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? The charm of the amazing connectivity between the throttle and the rear wheel results in a sudden burst of uncontrolled power when rolling the throttle from off to on. It delivers lots of unintentional wheelies, and with its peak power located high in the powerband, thanks to 500 rpm more of over-rev, it can get scary fast. It is twitchy at speed and suffers from head shake in the rough. Every MXA test rider claimed that the new KTM-clone clutch needed constant cable adjustment as it got hot and would benefit from a stiffer Bellevile washer.
INTERESTING 2023 YZ450F FACTS
(1) Powerband. It isn’t a lot stronger power-wise than last year, nor is it the most powerful bike on the track, but it does a much better job of putting that power into the ground from low to mid. It can be a handful because one second the bike feels balanced and hooked up, and a second later the front wheel is off the ground and the rider is mono wheeling in whatever his last direction was.
(2) Weight. Compared to last year’s YZ450F, the 2023 model feels almost weightless in motion. At 233 pounds, it makes direction changes effortlessly.
(3) Airbox. The new airbox has a higher capacity cover and sits 15mm lower on the frame. Plus, the previous flat-piece-of-toast air filter has been replaced by a domed air filter that has 56 percent more surface area. All of this is an improvement, but it is still a Rube-Goldberg design. We had dirt migrate past the front of the filter cage. We greased it heavily. Plus, the backfire screen is now integral to the air filter cage, which means that when you remove the air filter, nothing stops dirt from falling directly into the throttle body.
(4) Handling. Forget everything you thought about how well your old YZ450F handled. The 2023 YZ450F is a new dawn. For 2023, Yamaha has tried to mate aggressive turn-in with acceptable high-speed stability. Thus, for 2023, the Yamaha YZ450F turns in with the best of the super-accurate breeds; however, there are conditions where there is more than a little over-steer at the front wheel and, conversely, a lot more head-shake at speed. This is a nervous chassis, always hunting and pecking for optimum traction.
(5) Seat. Although the new seat helps flatten out the riding position, its abbreviated pyramid shape means that it is an uncomfortable 5 inches wide where you sit. And you sit higher than you did last year—and no one thought it was low in 2022.
(6) Dimensions. The radiator shrouds were moved inward 50mm, and this is in addition to a 6mm-narrower fuel tank. The all-new 2023 plastic fits tighter to the frame to form a smoother interface. The rider triangle is improved for taller riders by moving the footpegs 5mm down and 5mm back (and when combined with the 5mm-taller seat, the footpeg-to-seat-height measurement is increased by 10mm).
(7) Ergos. Once considered the machine with the worst ergonomics of any bike made, the 2023’s all-new plastic and ergonomic package vastly improve the feel of the bike.
() Maps. We tried to stick with the stock map (blue light not lit), but the very-high-in-the-rpm-range peak power (58.95) was a handful late in the moto. Eventually, we put in a much mellower map that took the bark out at low rpm and made the power delivery much more manageable. You can see MXA’s maps below:
MXA’S 2023 YZ450F FUEL & IGNITION MAPS FOR BROADER & EASIER TO USE POWER
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE YAMAHA YZ450F?
The 2023 Yamaha YZ450F wins the 2023 MXA 450 Shootout because it is a marvel of innovation, engineering, frame geometry and power management. But, most of all, we appreciate the “human factor” engineering that went into the design to make sure that the end user’s previous concerns, complaints and issues were addressed—something that wasn’t considered when designing previous Yamaha YZ450s.
THE 2023 MXA 450 BIKE OF THE YEAR
After hundreds of laps, untold gallons of gas and late hours in the workshop, the MXA wrecking crew narrowed the potential winner of MXA’s 2023 450 Shootout down to two bikes—the KTM 450SXF and the Yamaha YZ450F. It saddens us that only one of them can stand on the top step of the podium, because they both offer exclusive takes on how to achieve motocross nirvana.
We race our test bikes every week. That means that we are looking for function over form and performance over flash. That said, the 2023 YZ450F and 2023 450SXF are the two best race bikes made in 2023. They aren’t flawless, and they are both dreaded “First-Year Models,” but they are less flawed than the red, yellow, green, red and white offerings.
We would love to call the 2023 MXA 450 Shootout a tie between the Yamaha YZ450F and KTM 450SXF, but that would be a cop-out. Man for man, every MXA test rider believed that the Yamaha YZ450F was the best all-around 450 motocross bike of 2023.
WHAT DO THE 2023 450s WEIGH FROM LIGHTEST TO HEAVIEST?
The AMA and FIM instituted minimum weight rules for reasons of safety and equality. Since lighter bikes work more efficiently, the sanctioning bodies were afraid that a manufacturer would cut corners to build the lightest possible bike, forcing other teams to build even lighter bikes. Before weight limits were legislated, there were lots of high-profile failures with the 180-pound works bikes of the era. Weight limits set an acceptable standard for safety and to keep privateers competitive against factory teams. The current minimum weight limit for a 450cc motocross bike is 220 pounds. These are the actual weights of the current crop of 2023 450cc motocross bikes (lightest to heaviest). They have been weighed on the same calibrated balance-beam scale under the official AMA and FIM system of empty gas tanks but all other fluids.
WHAT DO THE 2023 450s COST FROM LOWEST TO HIGHEST?
These are the Manufacturers’ Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP) for all seven 2023 450s. These are recommended as the price that a dealer should put on the bikes on the showroom floor. Of course, the dealer is free to lower the price if he is overstocked and, by the same token, a dealer can raise the price if the bikes on his showroom floor are in limited supply. Thus, the MSRP is little more than a suggestion. It is important to remember that bike prices are set in the country of origin. That means that the price in the USA is determined by the exchange rate of the euro to the dollar for KTM and Husky and the yen for Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki.
2023 MXA 450 SHOOTOUT DYNO RUNS BY RPM & BRAND
DECIPHERING THE 2023 MXA 450 SHOOTOUT DYNO NUMBERS
To make the dyno numbers make sense, MXA listed the seven bikes in vertical columns across the width of the chart. The horizontal boxes are broken by rpm in rows from 5000 to 6000 to 7000 to 8000 to 9000 to 10,0000 to 11,000 rpm—with peak horsepower and torque filling out the nine horizontal rows. Additionally, we color coded the boxes to illustrate the bikes with the most horsepower at every rpm, plus peak horsepower and torque. The dark blue boxes represent the most horsepower at each column, while the light blue boxes indicate the least horsepower by rpm.
To read the dyno chart, simply run your finger vertically down the column under the bike you’re interested in. For example, if you want to know how the 2023 Honda CRF450 ranks on horsepower, you will see that the CRF450 has four blue boxes. The first three boxes show that the CRF made the most horsepower of the seven bikes at 5000 rpm, 6000 rpm and 7000 rpm. That indicates that it had very aggressive low-end power, which is backed up by its fourth blue box, where it made the most torque of all seven machines. Move your finger over the KTM 450SXF column. It has three blue boxes. They are located in the 9000 rpm, 10,000 rpm and at peak horsepower rows. In the simplest terms, the KTM 450SXF was the strongest engine through the midrange and produced the most horsepower overall.
The light blue boxes indicate the bikes that made the least horsepower, peak horsepower, or torque in the nine rpm categories. The Suzuki RM-Z450 received the majority of the light blue boxes, but the Yamaha YZ450F made the least power at 5000 rpm and 8000 rpm. The Husky FC450 took the spot at 6000 rpm.
MXA’S 2023 450 FOUR-STROKE SHOOTOUT VIDEO TEST
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