WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW! 2021 MXA 450 FOUR-STROKE SHOOTOUT

GASGAS MC 450F vs. HONDA CRF450 vs HUSQVARNA FC450 vs. KTM 450SXF vs. SUZUKI RM-Z450 vs. YAMAHA YZ450F vs. KAWASAKI KX450

Motorcycle shootouts are a funny thing. Any guy with a computer and a YouTube channel can do one. He can pick the worst bike as the winner, the best bike as the loser or, if Dad owns a motorcycle shop, his brand as the most awesome machine of the year. He can weigh a hefty 242 pounds and claim the bike with the stiffest suspension has the best handling, or he can weigh slightly less than a ballerina and think the bike with the softest suspension is the top choice. No one is an idiot in the safe zone of his own website, no matter how much of a buffoon he is off of it. There are lots of shootouts where the test riders only ride each bike for 30 minutes or less. There are shootouts that are run like a kangaroo court, where unqualified test riders vote for the bike they like best, which always seems to be the one they already own (because the other models “felt odd”). It’s a wild and woolly world out there in shootout land. That’s democracy for you.

MXA SHOOTOUT PROTOCOL 

MXA has been testing bikes and doing shootouts for five decades. We promise you that MXA does not test bikes with the system used by other media outlets. We don’t do one-day tests, and we don’t let 16-year-olds who have only ever ridden a Yamaha vote for “Bike of the Year.”

Purpose. MXA isn’t looking at these seven bikes for their play riding, enduro, off-road or professional practice riding prowess. MXA considers the 2021 450 four-strokes to be pure-bred race bikes, and that’s how we tested and rated them. In simple terms, we raced them. Not once, not twice, but every weekend. Not with just our in-house test riders, all of whom are former AMA Pros, including Daryl Ecklund, Josh Mosiman and Dennis Stapleton, but with Novice, Intermediate, Vet and slower-than-slow test riders. 

Dyno runs. When we weren’t racing them, we did our due diligence. We dyno’ed all seven bikes on the same day on the same dyno, eliminating any temperature or humidity variables. And we didn’t just dyno them once. If we saw anomalies in the first group of dyno runs on the seven bikes, we re-dynoed the bikes with a second set of runs (each set was seven pulls on the dyno). We used the exact same dyno that we have used on all previous MXA dyno runs, and we had a factory mechanic supervise the testing.

Weight. We weighed all seven bikes on the same calibrated scale using the AMA/FIM method, which is with the gas tank empty but all other fluids. We don’t weigh them with the “curb weight” method of full gas tanks. That rewards bikes with small-capacity gas tanks and punishes bikes with larger gas tanks. Gas weighs 6 pounds a gallon, so a 1.5-gallon gas tank will weigh 3 pounds less than a 2-gallon gas tank. But, even if the rider fills his tank up to the brim, which the average racer typically does before practice, the rate of fuel burn ensures that the tank is only full for 5 minutes. And, you don’t have to fill the tank all the way to finish a 15-minute moto.

Stock is best. We don’t modify test bikes during the test period, and, even if we did, the mods we made would not be the same as everyone else’s. We leave the modifications up to the consumer. We will make mods for safety purposes, to replace broken parts or to test optional parts that come with the bike (i.e., KTM’s optional vented airbox cover, quick-turn throttle cams or push-button maps). In the case of WiFi mapping options, we run through them and make note of their performance but always return the test bike back to the stock ECU settings. The same is true of the suspension settings. Each and every test rider starts the test with the owner’s manual fork and shock settings and is free to make as many clicker changes as necessary. We will install stiffer fork and shock springs to match a rider’s weight or speed, but we do this on separate forks and shocks so that we have the stock suspension units available for comparison. We do break things and go through our fair share of chains, sprockets, plastic and bars, but we replace broken parts with the exact same OEM parts as stock.

2021 450 Shootout video MXA

Tires. We run the tire model and size that the bike left the showroom with on our test bikes for a large portion of the test period, then we swap all seven bikes over to the exact same brand, model and size of tire. We do this to eliminate the differences in tire performance. For the “2021 MXA 450 Shootout,” we used Maxxis MaxxCross MX-ST tires as our control tire in the final month of testing. As a final caveat, we also put the same brand of grips on every bike, using ODI Emig grips. Why? Because the stock grips are the biggest area of complaint when you have as many testers on the bikes as we do.

Hour meter. We try to put as many hours of race time on all seven bikes (typically around 40 hours). But, most of all, we don’t rush. Yes, we know you wanted the “2021 MXA 450 Shootout” to come out sooner, so did we, but we refused to leave two or three bikes out of the test or bypass our set-in-stone test regimen. Yes, we understand that all the other media outlets’ shootouts were done months before ours, but those shootouts only had four or five bikes in them. 

All brands. We didn’t finish our “2021 MXA 450 Shootout” until we had all seven 2021 450 motocross models from GasGas, Honda, Husqvarna, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki and Yamaha. And, we took the time to make sure that each bike was ridden long enough, hard enough and by enough test riders to give every bike a fair shake (in the case of the very-late-arriving Suzuki RM-Z450, we got permission from Suzuki to use a virtually identical 2020 RM-Z450 while waiting for our 2021 model). 

Our shootout results aren’t a blanket statement about what you should buy; they are only a suggestion. And, as you will see as you read further, it bears little resemblance to the shootouts that you have already read. In reality, there is no best bike for everyone. The worst bike for one rider could well be the best bike for you. The fastest bike could be the worst or best depending on the track. But, no matter what, buying a bike based on plastic color is the lamest reason to buy a brand, but still valid—afterall, it’s your money. 

Of course, we pick a winner, but MXA is happy with the bike you bought if you’re happy with it.

THE SEVEN 450 CONTENDERS

2021 GASGAS MC 450F 

WHY SHOULD THE MC 450F WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? The GasGas is a motocross hot rod. It is the base model of the KTM 450SXF and sells for the same price as a Kawasaki KX450 or Yamaha YZ450F, which is $800 less than a KTM 450SXF. But, don’t think of the MC 450F as an entry-level motocross bike. You may not get KTM’s map switch, free-flow muffler, hour meter, billet triple clamps or vented airbox cover, but you do get a Brembo hydraulic clutch, steel clutch basket, Pankl transmission, 270mm Brembo front brake, braided-steel brake hoses, 222-pound weight, chromoly steel frame and KTM’s industry-leading engine technology. In essence, the 2021 GasGas is a sleeper, which means that under the hood are all of the serious Austrian pluses. One caveat: it isn’t in competition with KTM and Husqvarna; it is built to steal customers away from the “Big Four,” with a price that matches them dollar for dollar.

WHY SHOULD THE MC 450F LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? Because KTM’s management did not want the GasGas MC 450F to beat the KTM or Husky. How do we know? Because they detuned the powerplant in three ways: (1) The airbox is almost completely closed off, and they do not offer a vented airbox cover. We cut the winglet off the inside of the airbox cover to let air in, while some test rider put the vented KTM airbox cover on the MC 450. (2) The muffler has the infamous ice-cream-cone-shaped restrictors in it—not one but two. These enduro-focused restrictors don’t come on the 2021 KTM or Husqvarna. They hurt throttle response and lessen over-rev. (3) The ECU has two maps, launch control and traction control wired into it, but the MC 450F doesn’t have a map switch to access anything more than Map 1. (4) Plus, the 42 N/mm shock spring is too soft for riders over 180 pounds, unlike the KTM’s and Husqvarna’s 45 N/mm spring.


2021 HONDA CRF450

WHY SHOULD THE CRF450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? Honda threw everything about the 2020 CRF450 out and started over. The 2021 CRF450 has a single-sided exhaust, center-port cylinder head, upside-down air filter, eight-plate clutch and narrower plastic bodywork. The layout of the seat, bars and pegs is the best in the class (save for the tall seat height), and the dry weight was reduced by 5 pounds to 233 pounds. The frame is 20 percent less rigid laterally. Best of all, Honda stepped away from the last few years of overly aggressive 60-horse powerbands for broader and mellower power. What the CRF450 gives up in peak power it makes up in breadth. It pumps out 58.15 horsepower, and the power is spread out more effectively throughout the powerband. The engine alone is worth the price of admission. 

WHY SHOULD THE CRF450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? The powerband may be a big improvement, but there are eight flaws on the 2021 CRF450: (1) Because of a virtually untested ECU, the mapping can be ratty at low rpm (although not for every riding style) Worse yet, it took Honda over four months to get a new updated map in the dealer network. (2) The forks are way too soft and lack adequate compression damping. (3) The shock is sprung for a 150-pound rider, but most 450 riders are in the 180-pound range. (4) It overheats in long, hard motos and sometimes on the starting line. (5) It has 11 different maps, launch control and traction control options. It makes you dizzy trying to remember them. Even the starter button has to be used to changelaunch control settings. (6) The handling is very Honda-like, meaning that it headshakes at speed and turns-in great but oversteers on corner exit. (7) Finding the proper fore/aft balance on the 2021 CRF450 is a full-time job. (8) Honda has a bad track record with first-year models, and we don’t think that R&D on the 2021 CRF450 was finished before they pushed it out the door and, most likely a contributing factor for why they are releasing the 2022 CRF450 so soon.


2021 HUSQVARNA FC450

WHY SHOULD THE FC450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? Husqvarna deserves kudos for three award-winning changes to the 2021 FC450. First, motocross bikes are too tall and getting taller every year. For 2021, Husqvarna stopped the insanity by lowering the chassis by almost 1 inch. The reward was a true-to-life lower center of gravity, not that often-confusing “centralization of mass” mumbo jumbo. The result was incredible handling. Second, tired of the bad rap against its air forks, Husky implemented massive internal modifications to the 2021 Husqvarna XACT forks that made the stroke more fluid, reduced pressure spikes, bled off excess oil pressure and reduced the effects of the air fork’s hyper-progressive spring rate at the end of the stroke. Great forks. Third, the power delivery on the 2021 FC450 is a “no-drama mama.” Husqvarna’s engineers were able to build a kinder, gentler powerband that was so well-modulated that there are no burps, surges or abrupt hits anywhere on the curve. Best of all, they didn’t give up any peak horsepower to make it happen. It ranks second in most peak power at 58.49 ponies. When you combine these three big pluses with its amazing clutch, brakes, 224-pound weight, Pankl transmission, optional throttle cams, no-tools airbox and braided steel hoses, you have an unbeatable combination. 

WHY SHOULD THE FC450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? Apart from the run-of-the-mill gripes about tightening the spokes, checking the bolts and venting the airbox, there is little to complain about on the 2021 Husqvarna and a lot to crow about, not the least of which is that our feet could touch the ground. It goes very fast without any drama, and it turns better than any bike on the track.


2021 KAWASAKI KX450

WHY SHOULD THE KX450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? Overall, the 2021 KX450F is the most pleasant of the four “built-in-Japan” machines. The power delivery is brisk, clean and quick-revving. Even though it ranks sixth out of seven on peak horsepower, the 2021 KX450 has a very lively feel. The chassis delivers a light touch at turn-in and is stable in a straight line. A new upsized Belleville washer clutch and a switch to oversized FatBars solved two of the most common complaints about the late-model KX450s. It is also the second lightest Japanese-made 450 at 234 pounds (4 pounds lighter than the Yamaha YZ450F and Honda CRF450, but 11 pounds heavier than the KTM 450SXF). It is a nice, enjoyable and fun bike to race, but maybe Kawasaki should start thinking about fixing a few obvious flaws.

WHY SHOULD THE KX450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? The MXA test riders like racing the 2021 KX450, but we had to chase issues every race. Here is a quick list: (1) This is the same KX450 from 2019, save for the new clutch and handlebars. It wasn’t wining shootouts in 2019 or 2020, and the bars and clutch basket don’t change its ranking. (2) The brake pedal can be adjusted up but not down. (3) The fork springs are too soft, or the rear suspension is too stiff—one or the other. (4) It’s not the slowest 450 on the track, but it’s the second slowest. (5) The jumbo-sized 250mm rear rotor is overly touchy. (6) The engine overheated easily. (7) The fork guards, front number plate and radiator shrouds cracked. (8) The airbox cover requires two different size wrenches and the air volume teenie-weenie. (9) The chain roller/guide wears out fast. (10) The clutch and brake levers feel like they came off different bikes. (10) The green plastic loses more of its sheen in one day, than the other six bikes lose in a month.


2021 KTM 450SXF

WHY SHOULD THE 450SXF WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? The 2021 KTM 450SXF is the standard by which the other six bikes measure themselves. It has won eight MXA 450 shootouts in the last 10 years. How has it achieved such a record? Easily. It is the most technologically advanced motocross bike ever made. Need proof? KTM pioneered the modern trend of broad, linear powerbands. It has the strongest brakes, most robust hydraulic clutch (with a CNC-machined steel basket) and best shifting. KTM’s chromoly steel frame delivers a forgiving and agile feel compared to the Big Four’s rigid aluminum frames. The air filter requires no tools. It has an optional quick-turn throttle cam, braided steel clutch/brake hoses and quick-release fuel lines. It is 10 pounds lighter than the lightest Japanese 450, and every MXA test rider loved the new WP air forks. It is a 58.32 horsepower thing of beauty.

WHY SHOULD THE 450SXF LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? Two reasons: (1) Previous iterations of the controversial WP air fork hurt its reputation. It will take time for the vastly improved 2021 XACT forks to overcome public perception. (2) The KTM faces tough competition, not from Japan but from its brothers in arms (Husky and GasGas). It still maintains superiority over the white and red Austrian mounts in power delivery, snappy throttle response and acceleration, but the restraints of corporate platform sharing mean that it has to hand over all of its technological advantages to its stablemates. When advancing the breed, it is an all-Austrian show because the YZ450F is unchanged from 2019, the RM-Z450 is unchanged from 2018, the KX450 is barely changed from 2019, and the CRF450 is not ready for prime time yet.


2021 SUZUKI RM-Z450

WHY SHOULD THE RM-Z450 WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? The 2021 RM-Z450 isn’t going to win any shootouts, but that doesn’t disqualify it as a viable race bike for riders and tracks that suit it. For the average racer, the existing RM-Z450’s power is in the perfect place to get the job done. The power profile follows a bell-shaped curve. It starts soft off the bottom, builds quickly to its 8800-rpm peak and then falls off quickly. There is no reason to rev the engine out; it will just go slower after 88 hundred. The power is at its best from 5000 rpm to its 54.39-horsepower peak. The RM-Z450 isn’t about speed; it’s about agility. The handling is focused on tight turns, short straights and Supercross-style jumps. Instead of a new frame and suspension back in 2018, MXA wishes that Suzuki had kept the old frame and suspension and put a new engine in it.

WHY SHOULD THE RM-Z450 LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? The 2021 Suzuki RM-Z450 is a four-year-old design built around a new chassis with the old engine. We would have preferred the older chassis with a new engine. The chassis is out of balance. The stinkbug layout transfers too much weight to the front wheel, which creates oversteer. Oversteer wasn’t a problem on the old frame, but the new aluminum frame is too stiff, too tall and too steep. We think the 2021 Suzuki forks are better than the same units found on the CRF450 and KX450. Unfortunately, they can’t do their best work in conjunction with the Showa BFRC rear shock. Did we mention that the 2021 RM-Z450 weighs 241 pounds (without gas)? With Suzuki’s permission, we used a 2020 RM-Z450 to get a head start while waiting for our 2021 RM-Z450 to arrive.


2021 YAMAHA YZ450F 

WHY SHOULD THE YZ450F WIN THIS SHOOTOUT? Yamaha’s powerband strategy was the road less taken by the other brands. It hits hard momentarily off idle and then goes soft in the low-to-mid transition. How soft? It makes almost 4 horses less than the CRF450 at 7000 rpm, but from 9000 rpm on up it builds beaucoup power. It peaks at 58.56 horsepower, the most in the 450 class. The muted low-to-mid power, followed very late by romping stomping horsepower on top, is quite unique. The engine is especially good on fast straights and long starts. We credit the engine’s soft bottom, expanding midrange and ultra-strong top-end for why the YZ450F handles so much better. The best things about the 2021 YZ450F are its Kayaba SSS suspension, incredible dependability and smooth 58.56-horsepower engine that peaks at a very high 9700 rpm.

WHY SHOULD THE YZ450F LOSE THIS SHOOTOUT? We love the suspension, admire the top-end powerband and bless the reliability of the YZ450F, but we can’t help but wonder how great it could be if it weren’t so big, bulky, wide, tall, loud and heavy. The ergonomics are an acquired taste, not helped by a seat that feels like you are sitting in a bucket. Without a doubt, the YZ450F has the worst airbox and filter combination on the track, but it is an unfortunate byproduct of Yamaha’s 11-year-old backwards engine concept. The combination of the exhaust pipe wrapping almost 360 degrees around the cylinder and the forward-mounted airbox makes the YZ450F assault your hearing. This is not a new bike. The 2021 YZ450F is an unchanged version of the 2020 bike. 



THE THINGS MXA TEST RIDERS SAY ABOUT THE 2021 450 MOTOCROSS BIKES

2021 YAMAHA YZ450F

“The 2021 YZ450F powerband is less than stellar from low to mid, but in motion that mellower transition makes the YZ450F easier to ride, allows the rider to push a little harder out of corners, and isn’t half as scary as the previous hard-hitting YZ450F engines of the last decade. History proves that the Yamaha YZ450F chassis does not respond well to ‘too much, too soon.’”

“We don’t expect riders who have been turned off by previous YZ450Fs to jump right on the 2021 chassis and fall in love‚ because the chassis isn’t as lovable as the powerband.”

“It’s no secret that YZ450F handling has been controversial over the years‚ not aided by criticism from the factory superstars hired to race them.”

“For 2021, Yamaha’s engineers can check off the ‘didn’t turn accurately’ criticism. As for ‘big, bulky, wide, tall and heavy,’ they have stuck their heads in the sand.”

“Trying to move the weight closer to the center of gravity is a fool’s errand if you have too much mass to begin with.”

“Yamaha YZ450F riders defend the extra lard by saying, ‘It feels light in motion.’ We suppose that somewhere around 140 mph, it would feel lighter.”

“Ergonomically, the Yamaha YZ450F doesn’t seem to have been designed for the human body, more likely for an orangutan.”

2021 KAWASAKI KX450

“The 2021 KX450 needs stiffer fork springs (or valving), a rear brake pedal with more adjustment, a smaller rear brake rotor, plastic that doesn’t crack, chain roller/guides that don’t wear out in two hours, and more than  horsepower (if it wants to run with its 58-plus-horsepower competition).”

“We were surprised that they didn’t replace the oversized 250mm rear rotor with a smaller 240mm rotor. We say “surprised” because they had all the parts to make this swap on the production line. How do we know? The 2021 Kawasaki KX250 got the smaller 240mm rear rotor, as well as the 2021 Kawasaki KX450X off-road bike.”

“The lower chain roller will self-destruct in an amazingly short amount of time. When you buy a chain roller for your KX450, order the complete TM Designworks chain guide at the same time.”

“The KX450 air box requires an 8mm and 10mm wrench to get the convoluted air filter cage arrangement in and out of the unbelievably small KX450 air box.”

“This is an incredibly nice powerband. If that sounds like a description of a potential blind date, that’s because the KX450’s power won’t knock your socks off.”

2021 HUSQVARNA FC450

“A light bulb went off in Husqvarna’s R&D department when the 2020 fork mods were so well received‚ even though they were built from existing 2019 internals. It got them thinking, ‘If we could make such a big improvement with the old parts, what if we redesigned every part?’”

“We accept your skepticism that making the 2021 Husqvarna 10mm lower could make so much difference, but don’ forget that the shock, linkage and bell crank changes result in a 25mm-lower seat height. Motocross bikes are too tall, but finally one motorcycle manufacturer has done something about it.”

“The 2020 Husqvarna is 14 pounds lighter than the YZ450F. If you don’t think that 14 pounds makes a difference on a race bike, you need to take up tiddlywinks.”

“Last year’s Husqvarna seat cover had a grudge against the seat of your pants. The new seat cover is less abrasive.”

“The three best things about the 2021 Husky are: (1) Our feet can touch the ground on the starting line. (2) It goes very fast without the drama. (3) It turns so well that you will never use the words oversteer or understeer again.”

“If you are looking for a bike that hits hard, you will have to look elsewhere. The FC450 isn’t for hammerheads. It works best when allowed to run free by a rider who knows how to flow.”

2021 HONDA CRF450

“How these forks got out of Honda’s pre-pro testing program is a complete mystery. This is a black mark on any Honda test rider who rode these forks and didn’t immediately complain to the head of R&D.”

“The 2021 Honda CRF450’s handling is hampered by the undeniable fact that motorcycle design departments have an inherent genetic DNA strand that makes all of their new bikes have a striking similarity to their old bikes.”

“The old adage ‘Never buy a first-year model’ could well be Honda’s mantra.”

“Gee! Who would have guessed that a single-sided exhaust would be almost 3 pounds lighter and make more torque than the twin?”

2021 SUZUKI RM-Z450

“Is the 2021 Suzuki RM-Z450 better than the 2020 RM-Z450? You jest. The 2021 Suzuki RM-Z450 is the 2020 RM-Z450.”

“For some reason the Suzuki engineers tried to make it turn even better. This is not uncommon on brands that are trying to turn like a Suzuki, but it’s odd when you realize that Suzuki was chasing itself.”

“In short, the Suzuki RM-Z450 chassis is too stiff, too tall, too stinkbug and too steep. Yes, you can make it around your local track, and maybe even win your class on a 2021 Suzuki, but you’ll be working a lot harder than the guys you beat.”

“How good is the Showa BFRC shock? It is awesome as long as it never sees a bump.”

“At 241 pounds, the RM-Z450 is the heaviest bike on the track. Invest in an electric bike stand or a gym membership, because you will need it.”

“The 2021 RM-Z450 has a well-placed powerband. It doesn’t make much in the way of peak horsepower, but the power it makes is incredibly usable.”

“The real-world value of a lower cost machine is in leaving it alone and racing it as is. If you have to modify the RM-Z450, it won’t be a bargain anymore.”

2021 GASGAS MC 450F

“Without platform sharing, there would not have been any new GasGas models until the 2022 model year—at the soonest.”

“Instead of the CNC-machined, billet-aluminum triple clamps from the KTM or Husky, the GasGas MC 450F comes with forged aluminum triple clamps. Don’t call them cast triple clamps; they are forged. If you consider this to be a downgrade, then you can say the same thing about Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki triple clamps, all of which are forged.”

“The GasGas is a stripped-down, economy version of the KTM 450SXF. But, under the glossy red paint job is a true-to-life KTM 450SXF engine, frame and accoutrements.”

“GasGas doesn’t have its sights set on competing with its Austrian brothers. It is built to steal customers from the Big Four with a price that matches them dollar for dollar.”

“The Gas gas MC 450F could easily run just like the KTM 450SXF if the GasGas engineers had wanted it to. We can only assume that they didn’t want it to. Perhaps they felt that a little less power would make the MC 450F a kinder, gentler motocrosser.”

2021 KTM 450SXF

“For 2021, KTM wanted to build an air fork that delivered the feel of a coil-spring fork while maintaining the 3-pound weight advantage, infinite adjustability and tuneability of an air fork. WP had the advantage of learning from the mistakes that Showa, Kayaba and they themselves made over the last half-decade. These forks are very good.”

“KTM’s 2021 powerband, solely a product of revised mapping for 2021, gets to the meat of the powerband quicker. Best of all, KTM didn’t damage the metered, controlled and crescendo-style of power that the KTM is famous for. This is a different kind of power. It doesn’t blast power as much as it oozes it.”

“If you’ve never installed an air filter into a KTM or Husqvarna, you will be amazed at how foolproof it is compared to the normal gymnastics of other air filter/cage/airbox designs.”

“KTM has had electric starting on the 450SXF since 2007. You might be thinking, ‘So what? Almost every other 450 has electric starting also.’ Yes, they do, but KTM knows how to do it without adding 5 pounds of extra weight.”

BEST BARGAIN 450 OF 2021

Suzuki RM-Z450: We aren’t going to pull the wool over your eyes about the 2021 Suzuki RM-Z450. It is not the best bike in any category other than the bargain basket. It’s not fast, but it is pleasant. It’s not well-suspended, but if you’re in the market for the cheapest 2021 450, you probably don’t care about the difference anyway. It has a weak clutch, a dry weight that sends the needle off the scale, average brakes, doesn’t have electric starting and has a resale value that doesn’t leave enough money to buy a 10-year-old Craigslist two-stroke. If you buy a 2021 RM-Z450, don’t spend any money on aftermarket parts, exhaust pipes or fancy bling. Get the suspension dialed in and leave everything else alone. It’s a good bike for the price, but not a penny more.

Believe or not, most MXA test riders like the 2021 Suzuki RM-Z450 powerband because when short-shifted, kept in the meat of the powerband and used properly, it has a very effective 450cc power delivery. For anyone on a budget or looking to get into the sport without spending $10,000 on a race bike, the RM-Z450 is custom-made for you. It is the least expensive 2021 450cc motocross bike, and it’s no secret that Suzuki dealers are willing to wheel-and-deal down to a price that would be unimaginable for a KTM or Honda. For the average racer, the existing RM-Z450 power is in the perfect place to get the job done.  

BEST VET-CLASS 450 OF 2021

KTM 450SXF/GasGas MC 450F/Husqvarna FC450: MXA set up a special test for Vet racers only. We had seven test riders, from 30 to 65, race all seven 2021 450 motocross bikes over a two-month period. Once they had raced all of them, we asked each to choose the best Vet bike. They chose the KTM 450SXF, Husqvarna FC450 and GasGas MC 450F. That may sound like one or two of them chose the KTM and a couple chose the GasGas, and a handful chose the Husqvarna, but, in reality, all seven of them chose a different Austrian bike every time they raced. “The KTM 450SXF is the best Vet bike,” they said after racing it. A week later they said, “I take that back, the Husky FC450 is the best Vet bike.” When the GasGas arrived on the scene they said, “The GasGas MC 450F is the best Vet bike.” In truth, all three of the Austrian mounts have different personalities, but they offer vastly improved suspension, usable power delivery, weight within a pound of two of each other, indestructible clutches, pucker-power brakes and the best components of any bike in the field. 

We doubt that there is any tie in the motocross world that can’t be broken by one high-end feature, but these three bikes are perfect for a Vet racer, which one of the three is up to you.

BEST PRO-CLASS 450 OF 2021

Honda CRF450: The 2020 Honda CRF450 is perfect for Pro racers—and nobody else. Pros don’t care about the stock suspension because they would re-valve Eli Tomac’s works Kawasaki based on the belief that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. They don’t care about the stock mapping; they are going to put a Vortex ignition and Twisted Development map in it. Pros don’t care about the exhaust system or horsepower, because they know a guy, who knows a guy, who can get 67 horsepower out of a CRF450. They don’t care about the unbalanced CRF450 handling, because Pros believe they could race a wheelbarrow with a Chevy small-block in it faster than 95 percent of the population. Pros don’t worry about the stock air filter, top-end, spring rates or transmission ratios because they don’t work on their bikes; they have mechanics. They think they would be the champ if someone gave them free airline tickets to the races.

The best bike for a Pro racer is the 2021 Honda CRF450. Why? It’s status-backed, has a wide range of hop-up tuners dialing it in, can easily crack 60 horsepower with a few mods and everybody looks good dressed in red. Non-Pros should wait for the second or third year of production of the all-new Honda CRF450. Why? History proves that Honda will fix most of the first-year model’s blunders in years two and three. It also proves that Pros don’t listen to history lessons.

BEST WORKING-CLASS 450 OF 2021 

Yamaha YZ450F: If you are looking for a race-ready motocross bike that will still be running 10 years from now, the Yamaha YZ450F is the only choice. Its reliability is legendary, and for MXA’s money, Yamaha builds an absolutely bulletproof product. We test all of our new motocross bikes for one calendar year by racing them every weekend, and we rarely break anything on a YZ450F. We also never have to adjust the valve train. It’s odd that a bike that makes the most horsepower would have the longest lifespan, but Yamaha’s test department has done its homework. The YZ450F is built like a tank. Unfortunately, it is also big, bulky and heavy like a tank.

Yamaha’s Kayaba SSS suspension is the best on the track and has been since 2006. Kudos to Yamaha’s in-house test department, who went against corporate wishes to stick with coil-spring forks when the red, green and yellow bikes were wasting time with Showa SFF-TAC and Kayaba PSF-2 air forks. That was four years lost for Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki, but time made up by Yamaha.

Yamaha has fought back against its competitors without breaking the bank. Thanks to superiority in suspension and reliability, Yamaha has built a more-than-competitive machine that will save the budget-conscience working class stiffs money in the long run. 

2021 450 MOTOCROSS  BIKE OF THE YEAR

Surprised that the Husqvaran FC450 won, aren’t you? The only people who aren’t surprised are racers who have spent time racing the 2021 Husky FC450. This really wasn’t a hard choice. It was the only logical winner. Here is a quick breakdown of the MXA wrecking crew’s thought processes. 

First, the 2021 Yamaha YZ450F and Suzuki RM-Z450 aren’t even warmed-over versions of last year’s bikes. They are, in fact, last year’s bikes with new decals. 

Second, the 2021 Kawasaki KX450 is a three-year old design, whose only change in those three years was to borrow the clutch design from KTM for 2021. 

Third, the 2021 Honda CRF450 is, quite obviously, an unfinished pre-pro that got shoved out of the factory door before the R&D department had completed it. 

Fourth, each of the made-in-Japan machines has its charms and faux pas. The RM-Z has a low price to go with its low horsepower; the KX450 is fun to ride but down on power; the YZ450F is up on power but not fun to ride; the Honda CRF450 will be a great bike, just not in its first year of production. Four brands down, three to go.

THE AUSTRIAN TRIO

The MXA wrecking crew loved the GasGas MC 450F’s handling, sleek bodywork, $800 price reduction and do-it-yourself vibe, but it was obvious that the Austrian management sabotaged it so that it wouldn’t beat the KTM 450SXF or Husky FC450. Yes, it is easy to turn the GasGas MC 450F into a KTM 450SXF by adding aftermarket parts, but you couldn’t do it for $800, which means you might as well have bought the KTM 450SXF in the first place.

Every MXA test rider was adamant that the KTM 450SXF was faster, more responsive and hit harder than its white and red stablemates. And, that is true! Additionally, its forks rode higher in their stroke, and the suspension feel was firmer (more of a byproduct of chassis setup than valving). There was no doubt that the KTM 450SXF had the upper hand, especially for faster riders. When push came to shove, MXA seemed deadlocked on the KTM 450SXF versus the Husqvarna FC450 for “2021 Motocross Bike of the Year.”

So, how did Husky win the “Bike of the Year” crown? The Husqvarna engineers took big chances that could have come back to bite them in the lederhosen. First, they eschewed KTM’s brisker, harder-hitting and more aggressive power delivery for a kinder and gentler powerband that enabled racers to ride harder, get on the gas sooner and be more aggressive in the tight stuff—and they did it while making the second most horsepower in the class (and only in second place by .07 horsepower). Second, Husqvarna gambled that lowering the center of gravity by shortening the forks, changing the rising-rate linkage and limiting the shock’s stroke would pay big dividends. Amazingly, the FC450 handles like it has ground effects sucking it to the track. Nothing handles as well as the 2021 Husqvarna FC450. It proves that chasing improvement is better than sitting on your laurels. Kudos to Husky.

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