MXA RIDES CYCRA RACING’S PROBLEM SOLVING 2018 YAMAHA YZ450F

It is no secret that the MXA wrecking crew has a love/hate relationship with the 2018 Yamaha YZ450F. We like it, but we think it has some issues that need to be addressed. However, every hardcore Yamaha racer loved the updates that the Yamaha engineers made to the 2018 YZ450F. It is the bees knees to a guy who bleeds blue. The orange, white, green, yellow and red riders may agree that the 2018 YZ450F is the best iteration yet, but none of these riders think it is good enough to make them jump their color bandwagon.

“WE HAD TRIED TO FIX THE YZ450F’S CHASSIS FLAWS WITH DIFFERENT SAG, MOVING THE FORKS UP AND DOWN IN THE CLAMPS, LONGER PULL RODS, AND SOFTER AND STIFFER SPRING RATES.”

The 2018 Yamaha YZ450F has top-rated features that no other bike in its class can compete with. The Kayaba SSS forks are the best on the market. The ability to change the mapping from your Smartphone is ahead of its time. The new engine offers a smooth yet powerful delivery across the entire powerband. The durability and longevity of the YZ450F engine are unmatched.

There are things to dislike, though. So when Cycra Racing told us that they had built a YZ450F with all of the problems solved, MXA test riders Dennis Stapleton and Daryl Ecklund hopped a flight to North Carolina to meet up with the boys at Cycra. From there, they drove down to South Carolina to test the YZ450F at ClubMX. Here is what they did, how it worked and what they solved.

THE GEAR: Jersey: Alpinestars Racer Supermatic, Pants: Alpinestars Racer Supermatic, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: Viral Brand Factory Series, Boots: Gaerne SG-12.

The 2018 Yamaha YZ450F is one of the tallest bikes in its class. We feel it is too tall for riders 5-foot-9 or shorter. We also feel that its poor cornering performance could be due to its high center of gravity or the disproportionate fore and aft balance. We tried to fix the YZ450F’s chassis flaws with different sag, by moving the forks up and down in the clamps, longer pull rods and softer and stiffer spring rates. We always made headway in one direction, but if one setting was going in the right direction, something else was headed in the wrong direction. It was a riddle that we couldn’t solve. We eventually left well enough alone, accepting that it was the best we could do without taking a torch to the frame.

A Wiseco high-compression piston and Rekluse Manual Torque Drive clutch were used to beef up the pony power.

“WE LIKE THE 2018 YZ450F ENGINE IN STOCK TRIM. YAMAHA FILLED IN THE POWER DIPS WITH THE 57.55-HORSE 2018 ENGINE THAT MADE THE
BIKE EASIER TO RIDE. OUR ONLY COMPLAINT IS THAT THE POWER
AND THE GEARBOX WORK AGAINST EACH OTHER.”

Glen and Ken Laivins from Cycra Racing decided to take the 2018 YZ450F one step further. They consulted with Cal Northrop from FTI Suspension to see what he could do to fix the Yamaha’s handling flaws and its tall feel. This was Glen’s personal YZ450F, and let’s just say that he is shorter than 5-foot-9. Cal told the Cycra boys he had the fix.

Cal’s goal was to kill two birds with one stone. He wanted to fix the high center of gravity and the vague front end feel with one creative move. Cal’s goal was to lower the front and rear of the YZ450F. He did this by installing a 9mm damper rod limiter in the forks. This shortened the forks by 9mm. On the shock, he built a 0.110-inch limiter that lowered the rear 9mm as well. He then installed a JGR adjustable pull rod that he used on the shortest setting at 143mm (stock is 142mm). This dropped the rear another 4mm. In total, the shock limiter and JGR link lowered the rear a total of 13mm. Cal left everything else stock, as he felt the stock valving was a good start for the average rider.

“OVERALL POWER WAS MORE LIVELY FROM BOTTOM TO MID, WHICH MADE THE SHIFT TO THIRD COME INTO PLAY AT EXACTLY THE RIGHT MOMENT. MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT, SUCCESS IN SETTING
UP A MOTOCROSS BIKE COMES WITH GETTING TO
THIRD GEAR SOONER AND MORE OFTEN.” 

Once we pulled on to the ClubMX track, we had a few issues with the FTI settings. The shock was deflecting off square edges, which made us think that it was on the stiff side. We plugged in MXA’s suspension settings from the “Living With the 2018 Yamaha YZ450F” article in the July 2018 issue of MXA. They were spot-on. The bike felt nimbler and easier to maneuver from line to line. In the corners, the lowered YZ450F carved in one smooth and decisive line. There were no hiccups in the YZ450F handling (that’s something we have never said about a YZ450F in the last decade). We were pleasantly surprised with how much better the chassis felt after moving everything down 1/2 inch. With our new setup, we were no longer swimming against the current. Instead of taking one step forward and two steps back, we made instant strides forward. We liked Cal’s solution for the YZ450F riddle. Plus, lowering the bike allowed smaller riders to feel more at home.

FTI Suspension used lowering kits in the forks and shock to bring down the center of gravity of the tall bike.

We like the 2018 YZ450F engine in stock trim. For 2018, Yamaha filled-in the power dips with its 57.55-horsepower engine. That made the bike easier to ride as well as more powerful. We really have no complaints with the YZ450F engine, except that the power profile and gearbox work against each other. Second gear revved out too fast, and third gear didn’t pick up cleanly; it was sluggish. Cycra decided to pump up the power from low-to-mid so that the rider would catch third gear at full speed without having to alter the gearing (most YZ450F racers switch from 48 to 49 teeth on the rear sprocket—as did the Yamaha R&D department on the 2019 YZ450F). Cycra enlisted a Wiseco Racers Elite piston ($322.00) to pump the compression up from 12.8.1 to 14.0:1. Then they added Xceldyne X2 valves and a full FMF exhaust system.

An oversize Braking front rotor bumped up the stopping potential.

Cycra also installed a Rekluse Manual Torque drive clutch. While the stock Yamaha clutch is the most durable of the Japanese manufacturer’s offerings, it is light years off the Belleville washer, rubber-damped, steel basket, hydraulic clutches used in the KTM 450SXF and Husky FC450. Rekluse’s technology has been the talk of the pits, and we just had to try it—not just because it stopped clutch slippage; it also claimed to improve overall performance at the same time.

The first thing we noticed on the track was the Cycra YZ450F was jerky at the crack of the throttle. It was hard to hold a consistent throttle through ruts and corners. It made it tough to ride. After asking a few questions, we got to the bottom of the issue. The Cycra boys used a map that an online website had come up with. It was terrible. We broke out our smart phone and put in MXA’s go-to “Travis Preston map.” It was magic. The bike settled down in the corners once the power smoothed out.

Cycra Racing’s YZ450F was a better-performing machine.

The power delivery was instantaneous. There was no lag, no slip and no inadvertent lifting of the front wheel in the middle of the corners. Amazingly, the Rekluse clutch improved the power-to-ground relationship significantly. It took some time for our testers to get used to the feel of the high-compression engine, crisper map and hooked-up Rekluse drive line, but the Rekluse Manual Drive Torque clutch can be adjusted by using softer springs. The softer springs made for a softer pull at the lever, a larger operating window and a smoother transition at the crack of the throttle.

The combination of a shorter shock and adjustable JGR link lowered the rear of the YZ450F by 13mm.

What did we really think of the Cycra Racing Yamaha YZ450F? The FTI Suspension lowering kit helps the entire feel of the big Yamaha tremendously. It turns better, improves handling and gives the rider more confidence. For shorter riders, this is a must.

The engine package was easy to ride, and overall power was more lively from bottom to mid, which made the shift to third come into play at exactly the right moment. Make no mistake about it; success in setting up a motocross bike comes with getting to third gear sooner and more often. With the bump in horsepower down low, the stock gearing worked the way it should have worked out of the factory. The Rekluse clutch had a different feel and took a few laps to get used to, but there aren’t many aftermarket products that improve both power and durability like the Rekluse does. We were impressed to say the least.

We go one tooth larger on the stock 2018 YZ450F, but were happy with the OEM gearing with the improved bottom to mid power.

The bike as a whole was better in every way. Cycra built a bike that wasn’t loaded with unnecessary bling. It was a bike with useful products that resolved serious issues and made the Yamaha’s good traits even better.

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