MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2023 GASGAS MC450F

The 2023 GasGas MC450F has all the important parts of its Husky and KTM stablemates—and is $700 cheaper. The Gear: Jersey: FXR Racing Podium Pro, Pants: FXR Racing Podium Pro, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: Viral Brand Works series, Boots: Gaerne SG-12.

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2023 GASGAS MC450F BETTER THAN THE 2022 MC450F?

A: No. It is identical. In fact, the 2023 GasGas MC450F got very few changes since it was introduced as a 2021 model. That may seem like a mistake on the part of GasGas, but it turns out to be one of the positive features of  the GasGas. We’ll get to that a little later. 

Q: HOW DOES KTM’S MANUFACTURING PROCESS MAKE NEW BRANDS POSSIBLE?

A: If you’ve paid attention to KTM’s manufacturing process, you know that they have relied on “platform sharing” to achieve three things:

(1) Speed-up production. When KTM bought Husqvarna from BMW in 2013, they knew that a new model typically takes four years to go from proposed project to showroom, but if the Austrians manufactured the 2014 Husqvarnas using KTM technology—frames, wheels, engines, suspension and components. The only parts that would be dedicated Husqvarna parts would be the plastic parts (fender, gas tanks, side panels, air boxes) and parts sourced from outside suppliers—like rims, handlebars, graphics and color choices. 

(2) Lower production costs. Stefan Pierer believed that KTM could emulate the platform sharing methods of the automobile industry. For example, Volkswagen uses the same underpinnings on its VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda brands. Stefan Pierer did the same thing with KTM and Husqvarna. In short, KTM didn’t have to tool-up for new engines, frames or suspension components. They just used existing structures. And that is how the term “white KTM” was coined.

(3) Product pricing. Platform sharing doesn’t save any money on the major parts of a Husqvarna or a KTM, because the individual components still cost what they cost regardless of brand they go on; however, there are some savings by virtue of economy of scale and lack of R&D expenses. If you double the number of handlebars, brakes, rims, tires and associated parts you buy from outside sources, a big buyer can beat the supplier down to get a lower per-unit price.

Q: WHERE DOES GASGAS FIT INTO KTM’S PLATFORM-SHARING PHILOSOPHY?

A: Prior to 2021, GasGas was a Spanish brand that had fallen on hard times. Stefan Pierer felt that it would fit nicely into his concept of three brands rolling down the Austrian assembly line. KTM would be the high-end race model, Husqvarna would be the well-respected heritage brand and GasGas would be the stripped-down economy version of the KTM.

The GasGas purchase enabled Stefan Pierer to compete head-to-head against the Japanese brands. The GasGas wasn’t designed to be a KTM beater or Husky competitor; it was designed to roll off the assembly line at the same retail price as a Honda, Yamaha or Kawasaki. GasGas opened up a new market demographic for the KTM group—the budget racer, who had been priced out of the market for a KTM 405SXF or Husqvarna FC450. It was a cheaper bike, but it still shared the accurate chassis, class-leading diaphragm clutch, Pankl transmission, and a broad, easy-to-use powerband with KTM and Husqvarna.

The 2023 GasGas MC450F is the lightest 450cc race bike on the track at 222 pounds. That’s lighter than most 250s.

Q: HOW DID GASGAS MATCH THE RETAIL PRICE OF THE 2022 HONDA CRF450, KAWASAKI KX450 AND YAMAHA YZ450F?

A: They cut corners wherever possible. Here is the list:

Tires. The GasGas is spec’ed with Maxxis MaxxCross MX-ST tires instead of KTM’s and Husqvarna’s Dunlop MX33s.

Triple clamps. Instead of the CNC-machined, billet-aluminum triple clamps from the KTM or Husky, the GasGas MC450F comes with forged aluminum triple clamps from an existing KTM off-road model.

Rims. Although they are unbranded, they are basically the same Takasago Excel rims as on the KTM 450SXF, but money is saved by not having them anodized black. 

Exhaust system. At first glance, you might not notice that the GasGas MC450F exhaust pipe does not come with the two-stroke-looking resonance chamber. 

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.

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.

Brakes. Although early 2023 GasGas models came with Brembo brake calipers, master cylinders, levers and clutch slave units, later models got Braktec hydraulic components because of supply line shortages. Braktec components are used on some Husqvarna, KTM and GasGas off-road model

Airbox cover. Unlike KTM and Husqvarna, GasGas does not make an optional vented airbox cover.

Q: HOW MUCH CHEAPER IS THE 2023 GASGAS MC450F?

A: You knew there was going to be a catch, and this it is. Back in 2021 and 2022, the GasGas MC450F’s retail price was $9599, exactly the same as a Honda CRF450 or Yamaha YZ450F and $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). 

Blame the pandemic, supply line shortages and higher commodity prices, but the 2023 GasGas MC450F now retails for $10,199 while the CRF450 and KX450 prices remained the same (the 2023 YZ450F went up to $9899).

The previously stripped-down GasGas MC450F now costs $600 more than a Honda CRF450 or Kawasaki KX450; however, the GasGas MC450F is $700 less than the 2023 KTM 450SXF, because they both had price hikes for 2023.

Q: THE UNDENIABLE FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT 2023 GASGAS PRICING?

A: MXA always assumed that GasGas would cheap-out on the GasGas spec sheet—with cheaper rims, lower cost OEM tires and less expensive suspension components—to keep from having to raise the retail price. We were wrong! By raising the price $600 in one model year, GasGas  comes off looking like a price gouger. Think about it! Yamaha built an all-new YZ450F engine, chassis, plastic and WiFi tuner, plus they knocked off 4-1/2 pounds, borrowed KTM’s Belleville washer-equipped steel diaphragm clutch and finger adjusted fork clickers, and only raised the retail price by $300.

You might be able to justify the fact that GasGas raised its 2023 price by double that of the Yamaha YZ450F’s price increase if GasGas had made an equal number of updates to the MC450F, but they didn’t. The 2023 GasGas MC450F is the 2022 GasGas MC450F. What do you get for the extra $600? The radiator wing graphics have a drop shadow under the GasGas logo. Whoopee! 

Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST ATTRIBUTE OF THE 2023 GASGAS MC450F?

A: For the first time since the Spanish brand moved to the KTM production facility, the GasGas MC450F is not “platform shared” with the 2023 KTM 450SXF. The GasGas shares only a handful of parts with the 2023 KTM 450SXF—and those parts don’t include the engine, frame, rear shock, rising-rate linkage, airbox, subframe, 3mm-lower countershaft sprocket, footpegs, swingarm, rear axle, triple clamps or electronics.

That might make you think that the GasGas MC450F is not a good motorcycle, but the opposite is true. There are a lot of racers who prefer the GasGas package. It doesn’t suffer in comparison to the 2023 Huskys and KTMs. While the KTM and Husky do have a new frame and engine, they aren’t necessarily better than the 2022 GasGas combo—which is lighter, more resilient and parts are readily available. 

There are a lot of racers and test riders who are thankful that GasGas didn’t update the 2022 model for 2023. It is a proven package that not only makes usable power but doesn’t have the long break-in time for the frame or the added 6 pounds that the 2023 KTM and Husky have. The 2023 GasGas is the lightest 450cc motocross bike—at 222 pounds (11 pounds less than the 2022 Honda CRF450).

For riders who don’t want to mess with first-year-model glitches, the GasGas MC450F is a known quantity.

Q: HOW GOOD ARE THE GASGAS MC450F FORKS?

A: GasGas XACT forks are every bit as good as the KTM or Husqvarna versions; however, they are valved and configured for a different demographic from their Austrian 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. 

For Pro riders and fast Intermediates, they will be too soft, but real Pros don’t run stock forks on any brand of bike—and that includes the highly rated Kayaba SSS forks. GasGas forks are set up for regular riders—the kind of people who buy their own bikes, don’t race Supercross, and have seen a lot of doubles that they have no intention of jumping; in other words, the vast majority of motocross racers.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE GASGAS MC450F SHOCK?

A: The shock reminds us of the 2019 Husqvarna shock, right down to GasGas’ 42 N/mm shock spring (the 2023 KTM and Husky have 45 N/mm springs). The shock feels very fluid. We didn’t stray 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 MC450F 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 couple hours of riding before the seals, bushings and shims begin to flow. MXA test riders don’t waste time trying to find the perfect clicker settings until the three-hour mark, because the shock and forks change with each hour of riding time. After three hours, you can safely set the clickers and air pressure to your chosen settings.

The GasGas MC450F is a stripper; it’s got all the hot-rod parts. You just have to connect a few dots to make it fly.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2023 GASGAS MC450F HANDLE?

A: Compared to the 2023 KTM 450SXF and Husqvarna FC450, the GasGas is a much more forgiving and comfortable bike to ride. Unlike the excessively stiff frames of the 2023 FC450 and 450SXF, the MC450F frame is more resilient. Overall, the GasGas MC450F is a handling dream. From its resilient chromoly frame to its totally neutral geometry to its sleek bodywork to its supremely manageable powerband to its softer shock spring and fork valving, the MC450F makes you a better rider.

If there is a gremlin in the handling picture, it is with the forged triple clamps. On one hand, the forged aluminum clamps are more forgiving and flexible than KTM’s and Husqvarna’s CNC-machined billet clamps. On rough, fast straights and in choppy braking bumps, the GasGas’s forged clamps increase rider comfort. Still, as much as test riders liked the comfort level of the forged triple clamps, they complained about vagueness at turn-in. The flex in the forged triple clamp caused a classic “oversteer in” and “understeer out” condition.

There is no doubt that billet-machined triple clamps, such as the Xtrig, Ride Engineering, Pro Circuit, Luxon, PowerParts and even the stock KTM Neken clamps, deliver much more accuracy with less wig, wag or wallow.

Q: HOW DOES THE GASGAS MC450F ENGINE RUN ON THE TRACK?

A: As you would expect, the GasGas shares its dyno curve with the KTM and Husqvarna in that all three have crescendo-style engines that build power steadily as they rev. The KTM is 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 MC450F makes excellent horsepower from 7000 rpm to 9000 rpm. MXA never expected the GasGas to run as well as its Austrian stablemates. Why not? Three reasons.

(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 stock GasGas airbox cover has a winglet in the inside of the airbox vent that is designed to deflect dirt, but it also stops 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. Better yet, we switched to a vented GasGas cover (available from UFO Plastic) to get KTM-style throttle response.

(2) Maps. The GasGas doesn’t have the KTM map switch that lets you switch between two different ECU maps, but that doesn’t mean the GasGas doesn’t have Map 1, Map 2, Traction Control or Launch Control; only that it doesn’t have the switch to access them. You can order the multi-switch from your friendly local KTM dealer for around $170. It pugs into a fitting behind the front number plate. Without the switch, the GasGas is always in KTM’s Map 1. 

(3) Muffler. Do you remember the 2013 KTM 450SXF? No? How about the 2014 Husqvarna FC450? No? Well, take our word for it, both models came with “ice-cream-cone” restrictors inside the perf core of the muffler. Unfortunately, the ice cream cones keep resurfacing. When Husky dropped the ice-cream-cone restrictors in 2021, they reappeared on the 2021–2023 GasGas MC450F.

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. We swapped our GasGas muffler for an ice-cream-cone-less 2022 Husqvarna FC450 muffler and could feel the difference.

The Maxxis tires are okay. We prefer the Dunlop MX33’s that come on its Austrian brothers.

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 Phillips screws.

(4) Preload ring. The plastic preload ring needs to be beefed up; it gets chewed up easily. The preload rings on the 2023 KTM and Husqvarns are mcuh better at their job.

(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) Price. One year ago the GasGas MC450F was a bargain, not so much now.

Some 2023 GasGas bikes come with Brembo brakes and some have Braktec brakes from the GasGas off-road models 

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. If your bike came with Braktec brakes, you will need to break them in thoroughly.

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

(4) Weight. At 222 pounds, the 2023 GasGas MC450F is the lightest 450 made.

(5) Ergonomics. The GasGas MC450F offers more flex and comfort than its Austrian brothers. Minimal changes are needed to feel comfortable.

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

(7) Silver rims. Black and blue rims get scratched by tire irons and peppered by roost. Silver rims don’t show the wear and tear.

(8) 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: If you have doubts about buying the totally new 2023 KTM 450SXF or Husqvarna FC450, you should consider the 2023 GasGas MC450F. Why? It has a proven engine, frame, brake, clutch and transmission package. Plus, parts and know-how are readily available from any KTM or Husky dealer. As a bonus, it’s red—and everybody feels faster when their bike is red.

This is the infamous ice-cream-cone muffler.

MXA’S 2023 GASGAS MC450F SETUP SPECS

This is how we set up our 2023 GasGas MC450F 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, you have to understand that the air spring does the same job as a coil spring. It holds the fork up on compression and extends it back to its starting point on rebound. Job one is to find the optimum air pressure for your weight and speed (easily done with a zip-tie on the fork leg). After that, all damping changes are done with the clickers. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2023 GasGas MC450F (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 and the sag at 105mm. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2023 GasGas MC450F (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. If you weigh more than 185 pounds, go to a 45 N/mm shock spring.

 

 

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