MXA TEST! TM MX450FI MOTOCROSS TEST: A BIKE THAT RIVALS THE BIG FIVE IN PERFORMANCE AND QUALITY
You don’t see TM’s tooling around most local tracks. It is rare, exotic, jewel-like and as close to a works bike as any production bike can get.
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, WHAT IS A TM?
A: TM is an Italian boutique brand that was started back in 1977 when two friends, with disparate skill sets, joined forces to build a motocross bike. One of the two, Claudio Flenghi, was an engine expert who worked for Motobi and Benelli before becoming a power to be reckoned with in the karting circle. The other, Francesco Battistelli, was a racer who knew what he wanted from a frame and rolling chassis. In 1978, the two friends left their jobs and founded TM motorcycles. Their greatest success has come as an engine supplier for the World Karting Championships, but motorcycles are their passion, and they refused to let the four-stroke movement leave them behind. They sponsor a 450 Grand Prix motocross team featuring Tanel Leok.
Q: HOW COME NO ONE IN AMERICA HAS EVER HEARD OF TM?
A: For Americans, the who, what and why of TM are valid questions. TM is not a big brand. Most American racers have never seen one. At their height, they sold a couple hundred bikes a year in the USA. Five years ago, TM’s American importer, motorcycle industry insider Pete Vetrano, gave up the distribution rights to TM. After that, it passed through several different hands. The result? Sales decreased, as did exposure, and finally, the closest TM importer to American shores was in Canada.
TM didn’t want to see the American market wither away, so they bit the bullet and called Pete Vetrano to see if he could get them back on the map. Obviously, he has, because TMs are now available in the USA again.
There is a lot of Italian heritage in the TM MX450FI, but it is metered by lots of well-known parts from other suppliers.
Q: WHAT WAS TM’S MOST FAMOUS MOMENT IN AMERICAN MOTOCROSS?
A: In 1997, Pete Vetrano wanted to form an AMA National team, led by iconic racer Gordon Ward. Under then AMA rules, a manufacturer had to pay a $3000 fee and import at least 400 units to the USA to be legal. TM didn’t have enough time to do the paperwork, nor did they meet the required production numbers. What to do? In a show of bravado, the TM team signed up for the Glen Helen AMA National. The AMA didn’t ask for the homologation money or proof of production. Instead, the bikes passed through tech with flying colors, and the bikes raced the National. Only later did TM discover that the reason they were allowed to race was that the AMA officials thought that the TM team was a KTM team that had misspelled KTM on their entry forms.
Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE TM MX450FI?
A: Everything. Okay, we are lying. But since the number of TMs being imported into the USA over the last few years has dwindled to a handful, MXA hasn’t tested a TM since 2006 (during one of Pete Vetrano’s several reigns). Let’s just assume that for American consumers, these are blank sheets of paper.
Q: WHO IS THE MOST LIKELY TM BUYER?
A: Not everyone wants to follow the pack. Motocrossers, by the very nature of the sport, are rebels. Thus, the most likely TM buyer is a racer who wants to rebel against the stereotypical Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and KTM sheep. He doesn’t want what everyone else has, and he has the money to express himself through his rolling stock.
The TM’s powerband is broad and easy to use. It has the kind of powerband that the rider can use…instead of get used by.
Q: WHAT IS THE BORE AND STROKE OF THE TM MX450FI?
A: The bore and stroke is 95mm x 63.4mm. The rest of the Big Five have bigger bores and shorter strokes.
The ignition has a two-position switch on the handlebars that allows the rider to chose the powerband of his choice.
Q: HOW DOES THE POWER OF THE TM MX450FI COMPATE TO ITS COMPETITION?
A: Very favorably. Every MXA test rider came back from his maiden voyage on the TM with a positive report. Not only is it surprisingly fast, but it has a very linear feel to it, thanks to the long-stroke design. It’s not a copy of anything we have ridden before. It doesn’t have the brutal hit of a YZ450F, the chug of a CRF450, the quickness of the RM-Z450 or the breadth of the KTM 450SX, but it isn’t suffering by comparison. It has a smooth transition off the bottom, a healthy midrange rush, and reasonable top-end over-rev.
Additionally, it has a programmable ignition that can be changed by a two-position switch on the handlebars. Map 2 is considered the best setting. It delivers a long pull, lots of top-end rev and clean jetting. Map 1 ran with more gusto. but shortened the powerband. As you would expect, test riders were unanimous on which ignition setting they preferred, but that is a compliment to TM’s well-selected ignition programs.
You can rev it out, short shift it or slam from gear to gear. Most MXA test riders opted to short shift it and maximize the torque.
Q: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO RIDE THE TM MX450FI?
A: Short shift. A savvy rider will take advantage of the Italian engine’s long, linear pull and shift early in the power. It’s best to use each gear to peak torque and then shift. If push comes to shove, you can wring out one gear to get to a corner without shifting, but it’s better to carry speed instead of making it. Faster test riders preferred to shift through the gear box, while slower test riders tried to milk the power in third gear as much as possible.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE CLUTCH?
A: We loved the clutch. It was a thing of beauty?easy to pull, no fade, and it self-adjusted when it got hot. The master cylinder is from Brembo, but the slave unit is designed and built by TM.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE BRAKES?
A: The TM MX450FI has a fearsome brake combo. It comes with a massive 270mm Braking front rotor that is grasped by a Brembo caliper powered by a Nissin master cylinder. If we had our druthers, we would have gone for a Brembo master cylinder activating a Nissin caliper, but we appreciate TM’s creative parts spec’ing. Even the rear brake is oversized, with a 245mm rotor (it gets the Nissin/Nissin parts from Yamaha). For riders who want to run their rear brake pedals low, we had to cut some threads off of the master cylinder rod. (This is the same thing we do on Kawasakis.)
The bar mounts aren’t adjustable, but the preload on the fork springs is.
Q: HOW DID THE FUEL INJECTION WORK?
A: The TM MX450FI presented no problems on the jetting front. It started easily, ran clean and idled like a kitten. The fuel-injection system is made up of a potpourri of parts: TM throttle body, Marelli injectors, Bitron fuel pump, Delphi sensor, Kokusan ACG generator and Microtec electronic control unit. The heart of the system, the 44mm throttle body, was of TM’s own design (it was a cast unit with CNC-machined parts).
Q: WHAT WAS OUR BEST FORK SETTING?
A: We had some doubts when we first saw the Marzocchi forks, but our fears were for naught. The 50mm Marzocchi “Shiver 50” forks worked decently?no worse than many forks available on other brands. Fast riders will need stiffer springs. Luckily, Marzocchi has an American office (not far from MXA‘s palatial headquarters) for parts and advice.
For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup on the TM MX450FI:
Spring rate: 0.43 kg/mm|
Oil height: 300cc
Compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 12 clicks out
Fork leg height: 5mm up
Notes: There is a tiny air bleed valve hidden underneath a rubber plug on the fork cap?just press and go.
Q: WHAT WAS OUR BEST SHOCK SETTING?
A: We love Ohlins shocks. These Swedish-built beauties have the power to turn almost any mediocre suspension system into a thing of beauty. The Ohlins is incredibly adjustable, and each click produces a noticeable change.
For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the TM MX450FI:
Spring rate: 5.2 kg/mm
Race sag: 100mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/2 turns out
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 17 clicks out
Notes: The rebound adjuster doesn’t use a screwdriver, but can be spun by hand.
The Ohlins shock is a plus (only America-bound bikes get the Ohlins as standard equipment).
Q: HOW DOES THE TM MX450FI HANDLE?
A: MXA used to dread testing Italian bikes. Why? Because the main characteristic of a typical European chassis is an undeniable tendency to understeer…really understeer. Thankfully, the TM MX450FI does not have the wicked push that defined past TMs we have tested (from 1997 to 2006). In fact, it has a very well set-up chassis with just a hint of understeer from the center out. The bike felt accurate at turn-in, and the minor understeer actually helped get the bike straight on exit.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Black gas tank. Add TM to the hit list of black gas tank bikes.
(2) Bolts. TM uses 5mm Allens to hold on the seat, side panels and radiator wings. They fill with mud.
(3) Rear sprocket bolts. We don’t hate the rear sprocket bolts, we are just amazed by how many there are. Nine bolts to hold on a sprocket seems like a tad too many.
Just for fun, count the number of sprocket bolts.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Saddle. The seat cover is 100-percent gripper material.
(2) Brakes. The 270mm Brembo front brake is powered by a Nissin master cylinder?awesome power and modulation. The 245mm rear brake is Nissin-powered also. The only downside is that some test riders wanted more pedal height adjustment.
(3) Wheels. Takasago Excel rims and very sleek polished spool hubs.
(4) Controls. The TM-branded Reikon handlebars and CNC-machined triple clamps are top quality.
(5) Tires. Michelin Starcross tires are a unique choice for an OEM tire.
(6) Forks. The Marzocchi Shiver 50 forks were the best Zokes we have ever used.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: To a man, the MXA test crew thinks that the TM MX450FI is as good most of the bikes of the Big Five?and better than several. For more info on TM Motorcycles go to www.tmmotorcyclesusa.com