MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2022 GASGAS MC 450F

THE GEAR: Jersey: Fly Racing Lite, Pants: Fly Racing Lite, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: Scott Prospect, Boots: Sidi Atojo.

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2022 GASGAS MC 450F BETTER THAN THE 2021 MC 450F?

A: No; however, the reason that the 2022 GasGas got very few changes since the 2021 model is that the basic platform of the 2022 GasGas MC 450F is only in its second year of production. It would have made very little financial sense for GasGas to make major revisions to a bike that was only one year old. 

Q: HOW DIFFERENT IS THE 2022 GASGAS MC 450F FROM THE 2022 KTM 450SXF OR HUSQVARNA FC450?

A: It is no secret that platform sharing is what makes the 2021–2022 GasGas MC 450F feasible. All three Austrian brands (KTM, Husky and GasGas) share components. In GasGas’ case, that means they save R&D dollars because of the benefits of economy of scale. Instead of having to build completely new rolling stock for each of its vehicles, a costly enterprise to say the least, KTM, Husky and GasGas can share engines, brakes, suspension, wheels and frames among themselves; however, the Austrian corporation still wants each bike to have its own unique personality, and platform sharing makes that difficult. To manage the in-house competition to make each brand the best, the three in-house engineering groups are asked to focus on different demographic groups that the marketing department thinks are best served by each bike’s DNA.

That requires each R&D group to define the personality and characteristics that meet the needs of each brand’s distinct demographics. How does this work? 

(1) Take the KTM 450SXF as an example. The 450SXF is designed as a premium race bike, built without limits for serious motocross racers. It is firmer, harder hitting and a little less forgiving. It is all race bike with no compromises, sort of like a Ford GT40. 

(2) The Husqvarna FC450 has a long-standing tradition as a heritage brand. Thus, the Husky engineers make choices best suited for well-to-do gentleman racers who are looking for ease of use, broad powerbands, plush suspension, low seat heights and a taste of luxury. Sort of like James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. 

(3) And, not surprisingly, the GasGas MC 450F is a sleeper—a stripped-down economy version of the KTM 450SXF. The GasGas doesn’t have its sights set on stealing the thunder from its higher-on-the-totem-pole Austrian brothers; instead, it is built to steal customers from Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki—with a price that matches them dollar for dollar. Sort of like a Shelby versus a Ferrari.

The GasGas MC 450F shares its powerful brakes, incredible diaphragm clutch, Pankl transmission and a broad, easy-to-use powerband with KTM and Husqvarna.

Q: HOW DOES THE GASGAS MC 450F DIFFER FROM A KTM 450SXF?

A: GasGas’ Balance of Performance allows them to strip some high-end features from the KTM 450SXF without damaging the overall performance of the GasGas MC 450F in comparison to what the “Big Four” offer.

(1) Plastic. The GasGas’ fenders, side panels, front number plate, airbox cover and gas tank are uniquely GasGas. The all-red plastic is a big selling feature of the GasGas MC 450F. As with Ferraris, red has a magnetic pull on the psyche of performance enthusiasts.

(2) Triple clamps. Instead of the CNC-machined, billet-aluminum triple clamps from the KTM or Husky, the GasGas MC 450F comes with forged aluminum triple clamps, much like the forged triple clamps on the Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki. 

(3) Tires. The GasGas comes with Jeremy McGrath-model Maxxis MaxxCross MX-ST tires instead of KTM’s and Husqvarna’s Dunlop MX33s. These are decent tires, and if they don’t work in your terrain, you can mount whatever you want when they wear out.

(4) Rims. Although they are unbranded, they are basically the same Takasago Excel rims as on the KTM 450SXF but without the black anodizing. 

(5) Handlebars. The silver-coated handlebars are the exact same Neken bars as on the KTM 450SXF. Only the color has been changed.

(6) Exhaust system. At first glance, you will notice that the GasGas MC 450F exhaust pipe does not come with the two-stroke-looking resonance chamber. 

(7) Muffler. The 2021–2022 GasGas MC 450F is not the first Austrian bike to be spec’ed with the “ice-cream-cone” restrictors inside the muffler, but it is the only one to use them in 2022. The ice-cream-cone restrictors made their debut on the 2013 KTM 450SXF. They were quieter, but they killed throttle response. KTM dropped the ice cream cones in 2014, but they reappeared on the 2014 Husqvarna FC450, only to be dropped in 2021. Voila! They resurfaced on the 2021–2022 GasGas MC 450F. Talk about a bad penny.

(8) Swingarm. The GasGas swingarm is different from the KTM 450SXF unit, but that’s because it is borrowed from the Husqvarna FC450. The engineers insist that apart from cosmetic changes, all three swingarms (KTM, Husky and GasGas) have the same flex and rigidity characteristics.

(9) Hour meter. KTMs and Husqvarnas come with hour meters on the top triple clamp. The GasGas does not, largely because the forged triple clamps don’t have any extra room for it.

(10) Map switch. The GasGas doesn’t have the handlebar-mounted map switch that is found on the FC450 and 450SXF. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the two maps, traction control and launch control functions in its ECU—only that you can’t access them without purchasing the map switch from your friendly local dealer for $170. Without the switch, the GasGas is always in KTM’s Map 1.

(11) Airbox cover. Unlike KTM and Husqvarna, GasGas does not make an optional vented airbox cover. In fact, its non-vented cover is actually more restrictive than the non-vented KTM airbox cover. MXA test riders cut off the over-size winglet inside the airbox cover to allow more air in or run a KTM airbox cover (it’s the wrong color but can be made to fit).

Q: HOW GOOD IS THE GASGAS MC 450F SUSPENSION?

A: You might think that the GasGas marketeers would cheap out on the MC 450F suspension, but they didn’t. The fork and shock on the 2022 GasGas MC 450F are the same components as on the KTM and Husky units (although they are not shortened like the Husky forks and shock; we wish they were, because we love that Husky stuff). The GasGas XACT air forks got 2021’s new oil bypass notches, air seal, trampoline valve, larger negative chamber, rubber bump stop, extended crossover slot and easy-to-use rebound clicker. What they didn’t get is the Pro-level KTM 450SXF valving or the Vet-friendly plushness of the Husqvarna’s 10mm-shorter XACT forks. 

If you think that we are insinuating that the GasGas XACT forks aren’t as good as the KTM or Husqvarna versions, we aren’t. They are valved and configured for a different demographic from their brothers. They are set up softer with a much more pleasant feel through chatter bumps, rolling whoops and big jumps. The compression and rebound damping are lighter than the KTM 450SXF setup, but they are stiff enough at full stroke to resist bottoming.

If you are a Pro, you will find them too soft, but if you’re a real Pro, you will have your own personal suspension tuner on speed dial and wouldn’t be caught dead on stock forks. These forks aren’t for really, really fast guys. They are for regular folk—and for the vast majority of motocross racers, they work exceptionally well.

The shock reminds us of the 2019 Husqvarna shock, right down to GasGas’ 42 N/mm shock spring (the 2022 KTM and Husky run 45 N/mm springs). The shock feels very fluid. We didn’t vary far from the stock settings; however, if you are over 185 pounds or fast, you will probably want the 45 N/mm spring.

One note of caution: If you roll your GasGas MC450 straight from the showroom to the track, the forks and shock are going to feel horrid. They are set up at the WP factory with tight tolerances, which means they require a break-in period to allow the seals, bushings and shims to begin to flow. The MXA test riders hated the GasGas suspension for the first three hours, but then they came around to the point where we could reset the clickers and air pressure back to the stock positions.

The 2023 GasGas MC 450F (shown above) will not be significantly changed for 2023. Plus, it should still cost the same as a Yamaha, Honda or Kawasaki.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2022 GASGAS MC 450F HANDLE?

A: For a reasonable number of MXA test riders, the GasGas MC 450F’s forged triple clamps affected the bike’s cornering prowess. On the flip side, the forged clamps are more forgiving and flexible than KTM and Husqvarna’s CNC-machined billet clamps. It is a conundrum. On rough, fast straights and in choppy braking bumps, the GasGas forged clamps increased the rider’s comfort level. In back-to-back tests on the MC 450F with the stock forged clamps and with KTM’s billet clamps, every MXA test rider recognized the improved absorption of the stock GasGas clamps. KTM’s billet clamps delivered a harsher feel.

But, that’s not the whole story. Yes, the MXA test riders liked the comfort level of the forged triple clamps, but at the same time they complained about vagueness at turn-in. The flex in the forged triple clamp caused a classic oversteer/understeer condition. At tip-in, when the rider made his initial motion to turn into the corner, the GasGas would oversteer. In short, it turned in too much and too quickly, which was immediately followed by an understeer push in the center of the corner. It wasn’t the end of the world, but when six test riders, without talking to each other, mention the feeling of vagueness at turn-in, it sends up red flares.

Our first fix was to slide the forks down in the clamps to lessen the oversteer. That shade-tree fix was an improvement, and if you can feel the front end wandering on your GasGas, try this first. Next, we upped the torque specs on the triple clamp pinch bolts to 20 N/mm on the top and 15 N/mm on the bottom (KTM and Husky run 17 N/mm on top and 12 N/mm on the bottom). This seemed to help. We decided to discard the GasGas and KTM clamps to test four aftermarket clamps. In the process, we found that most split triple clamps (Xtrig, Ride Engineering, Luxon and PowerParts) delivered the plushness of the stock GasGas clamps with the accuracy of the stock KTM billet triple clamps.

But, aftermarket clamps are expensive, while sliding the forks up and down in the clamps and testing different torque settings are free. We also recommend canvassing your KTM and Husqvarna friends to see which ones have purchased aftermarket triple clamps for their bikes and borrowing the stock clamps they took off. This lend/lease triple clamp will make the front of your GasGas handle identically to a KTM or Husky with the trade-off of not being as cushy as the stock GasGas clamps.   

Apart from nitpicking the triple clamps to death, the GasGas MC 450F is a handling dream. From its resilient chromoly frame to its totally neutral geometry to its sleek bodywork to its supremely manageable powerband, the GasGas MC 450F makes you a better rider.

Q: HOW DOES THE GASGAS MC 450F ENGINE RUN ON THE DYNO & TRACK?

A: The GasGas MC450 holds its own on the dyno, making 57.3 horsepower and peaking at 9100 rpm. Torque is 36.1 pound-feet, which is the second highest of the seven readily available 450 four-strokes. As you would expect, GasGas shares its dyno curve with KTM and Husqvarna in that all three have crescendo-style engines that build power steadily as they rev. Where they differ is in throttle response, with the KTM being the most responsive, the Husky second most and the GasGas third. The GasGas does not feel as lively as the KTM 450SXF or as velvety smooth as the Husqvarna on the track. It feels weaker off the bottom, but that is an illusion because the MC 450F makes more horsepower than the RM-Z450 and KX450 from 7000 rpm to 9000 rpm. MXA never expected the GasGas to run as well as its Austrian stablemates. Why not? Three reasons.

Q: WHY ISN’T THE GASGAS AS RESPONSIVE AS THE KTM 450SXF?

A: First and foremost, the GasGas MC 450F could easily be made as quick, responsive and powerful as the KTM 450SXF if the Austrian brain trust had wanted it to be. But, they didn’t want that. In their defense, the GasGas MC 450F was configured to be a kinder, gentler 450cc motocross bike that sold at an affordable price. As a package, the GasGas MC 450F is the “anti-KTM.” It is cheaper, softer, mellower, lighter, narrower and, to many eyes, more attractive than its orange brother. That is all done for marketing—and the GasGas is marketed to people who want what KTM has to offer without looking like they are following the herd.

We can buy that kind of reasoning, but it doesn’t mean that we have to live with it. All it takes is a little remedial R&D to bring the GasGas MC 450F up to snuff. Here are the three areas that hold the GasGas MC450 back and how to fix them.

The KTM vented airbox cover fits on the GasGas, but it looks out of place.

(1) Airbox cover. Unlike KTM and Husqvarna, GasGas does not make an optional vented airbox cover. Our first experiment with the GasGas airbox was to remove the restrictive GasGas cover and replace it with a vented KTM cover. The color was wrong and the fit wasn’t perfect, but every test rider came back raving about how much better the power felt off the bottom and through the middle once the engine could breathe.


UFO Plastic makes vented GasGas airbox covers in red, white or black

When we put the GasGas airbox cover back on the MC 450F, we noticed that the winglet in the inside of the red airbox cover, which is designed to deflect dirt, also stopped any air from making it into the airbox. We compared it to KTM’s airbox cover, and KTM’s winglet was less restrictive than the GasGas winglet. So, we cut off the GasGas winglet and sent the MXA test riders back out again. The test riders felt that it made the MC 450F power much better—not as good as with the vented KTM airbox cover, but good for a free mod.

(2) Map switch. The GasGas doesn’t have the KTM multi-switch that lets you switch between two different ECU maps, traction control and launch control; however, all of those features are embedded into the GasGas ECU; all you have to do is access them. Luckily, you can get the multi-switch from your friendly local KTM dealer. It retails for around $170 and plugs into a fitting behind the front number plate. Without the switch, the GasGas is always in KTM’s Map 1. We wanted the opportunity to switch maps, use traction control and have the option of launch control. The trio of electronic aids are a plus to any rider who races at a variety of tracks or in all-weather situations. The ability to mate the maps with traction control gives the GasGas MC 450F the ability to drive out of corners when traction is plentiful while still modulating wheelspin when there is no traction.

(3) Muffler. You may not remember the 2013 KTM 450SXF, but it was the first of the Austrian bikes to be spec’ed with an “ice cream cone” restrictor, so-called because it looks like a rolled-up waffle ice cream cone made out of perf core inside the muffler. The ice cream cones made the 2013 KTM 450SXF quieter, but it also killed throttle response. In 2014, KTM dropped the one-year-old idea.  We were very happy. Unfortunately, while KTM may have dropped the ice cream cones, they reappeared on the 2014 Husqvarna FC450. The ice cream cones were like a bad penny. They just kept resurfacing. Husky finally dropped the ice cream cone restrictors in 2021, but guess what? That’s right, the ice cream cones have reappeared on the 2021–2022 GasGas MC 450F.

The restrictors aren’t necessary on a motocross bike, proven by the fact that when they are taken out, the muffler still passes the AMA and FIM sound tests. The only reason to put them in is to mute the power and throttle response, which isn’t a desirable effect on a motocross bike. We swapped our GasGas muffler for an ice cream cone-less Husqvarna FC450 muffler and could feel the difference. You can just add a slip-on muffler from your favorite exhaust supplier for anywhere from $395 (DR.D) to $488 (Pro Circuit) to $549 (FMF).

The GasGas MC 450F weighs 222 pounds. By comparison, the CRF450 weighs 233, the KX450 234, the YZ450F 238 and the RM-Z450 241.

 Q: HOW MUCH CHEAPER IS THE GASGAS MC 450F?

A: The term “cheaper” is relative. At $9599, the MC 450F costs exactly the same as a Honda CRF450 or Yamaha YZ450F, $200 less than a Kawasaki KX450, $700 less than a KTM 450SXF, $800 less than a Husky FC450 and $600 more than a Suzuki RM-Z450 (if the Suzuki dealer charged the MSRP). But, be forewarned: you can erase savings quickly by making changes. Take that $700 you saved by buying the GasGas instead of the KTM 450SXF—just the map switch and an FMF slip-on muffler will eat most of that.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Airbox. Cut off the winglet on the airbox cover or order a vented GasGas airbox cover from UFO Plastic.

(2) Mapping. The maps are there, but you can’t get to them without spending extra money.

(3) Bleed screws. WP, please change the fork’s bleed screws from Torxs back to the Phillips screws of a few years ago.

(4) Preload ring. The plastic preload ring needs to be beefed up; it gets chewed up easily.

(5) Fork adjuster. The thin, short fork clicker adjuster hurts your fingers after a few clicks.

(6) Sprocket bolts. Watch them for as long as you own the bike.

(7) Spokes. Always check the spoke next to the rear rim lock. If it is loose—and 5 times out of 10 it will be—tighten all the spokes.

(8) Neutral. We love how well the Pankl gearbox shifts from gear to gear but hate how hard it is to get it into neutral when standing still.

(9) Bike stand. When the bike is sitting on a bike stand, the front wheel is on the ground. This is a hassle when checking the spokes or working on the front end.

(10) Front brake hose. Be very careful when hooking tie-downs onto your handlebars that they don’t crimp the L-bend tube coming out of the front brake’s master cylinder. Always use soft straps.

(11) Bar pad. The GasGas bar pad looks like it was made for the GasGas MC 50 mini. It’s stylishly small but minimally protective.

(12) Front tire. We think the Maxxis rear is a good tire, while the Jeremy McGrath-approved front still needs more testing.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Brembo hydraulic clutch. The strongest clutch on the track.

(2) Brembo brakes. Brembo’s brakes are so well modulated that one-finger braking is a no-brainer.

(3) No tools. If you like KTM’s no-tools airbox (we do), the GasGas airbox is the same. It is easy to get to and easy to put back on once you get a hang of it.

(4) Weight. The 2022 GasGas MC 450F weighs 222 pounds. By comparison, the CRF450 weighs 233 pounds, the KX450 234 pounds, the YZ450F 238 pounds and the RM-Z450 241 pounds.

(5) Throttle cam. Your GasGas MC 450F comes with the stock, long-throw throttle cam installed. Put on the quick-turn black throttle cam that came with your bike.

(6) Airbox. We love how foolproof it is to put an air-filter cage into the KTM, Husky or GasGas airbox.

(7) Ergonomics.The GasGas MC 450F offers more flex and comfort than its Austrian brothers. Minimal changes are needed to feel comfortable.

(8) Suspension.The only riders who won’t love the suspension setup are fast guys.

(9) Lock-on grips.We have taken a liking to the standard ODI lock-on grips.

(10) Price.Anybody who says that a $700 to $800 price cut isn’t a big deal needs to take the silver spoon out of his helmet.

(11) Silver rims.Yeah, yeah, yeah, you want black rims, but MXA races its bikes every weekend, and we change tires every three races. Black and blue rims get scratched by tire irons and peppered by roost. Silver rims don’t show the wear and tear.

(12) Braided steel brake hose.The GasGas comes stock with a minimal expansion PTFE brake/clutch hose with a 64-strand braided steel overlay.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: When you buy a $9599 2022 GasGas MC 450F, you don’t get KTM’s map switch, free-flow muffler, hour meter or vented airbox cover, but you do get a Brembo hydraulic clutch, steel clutch basket, Pankl transmission, Brembo front/rear brakes, braided-steel brake hoses, 222-pound weight, quick-turn and long-throw throttle cams, ODI lock-on grips, quick-release fuel lines, an indestructible chain guide, a chromoly steel frame and KTM’s industry-leading engine technology. None of that comes on the Japanese 450s. 

It is true that the GasGas powerband was detuned at the factory, but that is reversible in your garage.

MXA’S 2022 GASGAS MC 450F SETUP SPECS
This is how we set up our 2022 Gasgas MC 450F suspension for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

WP XACT FORK SETTINGS
To get the most out of WP XACT air forks, the rider has to be smarter than his fork. You have to understand that the air spring, which does the same job as a coil spring, holds the fork up on compression and extends it back to its starting point on rebound. Once you find the optimum air pressure for your weight and speed (easily done with a zip-tie on the fork leg), all damping changes are done with the compression and rebound clickers (and we love the hand-operated rebound clickers under the bottom of the fork legs that allow us to change the rebound without lying down in the dirt). The 2022 WP XACT air forks have the potential to be great (although most MXA test riders feel that the 2021–2022 Husqvarna forks, which are 10mm shorter, feel better). For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2022 GasGas MC 450F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 155 psi (Pro), 152 psi (Intermediate), 145 psi (fast Novice), 140 psi (Vet and Novice).
Compression: 12 clicks out
Rebound: 15 clicks out (18 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: First line
Notes: We got our best feel when the orange rubber ring was within 1-1/2 inches of bottoming. With that air pressure, we could use the compression damping to fine-tune the travel. Depending on track conditions, we slid the forks up and down in the triple clamps to change the bike’s head angle to fine tune the handling.

WP SHOCK SETTINGS
Most MXA test riders liked the overall feel of the WP rear shock. We were concerned about the light 42 N/mm shock and lighter valving, but the combination delivered a more responsive feel for riders under 185 pounds. We run the low-speed compression on 15 clicks out, the high-speed compression 1-1/4 turns out, the rebound on 10 clicks out with the sag at 105mm. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2022 GasGas MC 450F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 42 N/mm
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/4 turns out (1-1/2 turns out)
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 10 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Notes: We were rightfully impressed by the shock; however, we turn the high-speed compression damping in a 1/4 turn to lessen G-outs and run more rebound than the recommended setting.

MXA’S FIRST RIDE VIDEO ON THE 2022 GASGAS MC 450F

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