HONDA CRF450R VS. HUSQVARNA FC450 VS. KAWASAKI KX450F VS. KTM 450SX-F VS. SUZUKI RM-Z450 VS. YAMAHA YZ450F

Across the board in the 2016 model year, each and every one of the 450cc motocross bikes from Honda, Husqvarna, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha are amazing machines that are all capable of winning races and fulfilling your wildest moto dreams. That said, declaring a winner in this year’s annual TransWorld Motocross 450 Shootout was more difficult than ever, and crowning the Bike Of The Year came down to splitting hairs. Make no mistake, in stock condition there are some clear-cut standouts, but with a few key modifications, all of the machines can be brought up to their peak performance. So what good is a bike shootout? At TransWorld Motocross, our goal is to offer some insight as to how each bike stacks up against the rest in stock condition and to offer our opinions about where each bike shines and struggles. Education and information are the two most important components when deciding which new bike to buy, so read on.

We’ve been logging countless hours on all of the machines over the past few months, but our initial two days of comparison testing were held at Central California’s Zaca Station MX with the assistance of technicians from each manufacturer. Additional days of follow-up testing were held at Milestone MX, Perris Raceway, Glen Helen Raceway, and Competitive Edge MX—all in SoCal. We outfitted each of the six bikes with Dunlop MX32 tires to provide consistent traction across the board and eliminate tire performance from swaying our test riders for or against any of the machines.

Husqvarna F C 450

To the uninformed, it will make no sense why the Husqvarna FC 450 could rank so differently from its brother, the KTM 450 SX-F. Here’s why: Although the Husky is based on the same excellent platform as the KTM with an identical engine, chassis, and suspension components, the FC 450 is designated a “World” model, which means that it is sold around the globe with the same settings. While KTM produces a “US” version that is equipped with suspension and engine settings developed by Stateside test riders, Husqvarna does not follow the same protocol. What are the biggest differences between the machines? The Husky is equipped with a Euro-spec muffler that keeps the exhaust note low, but it sadly also has the same effect on the powerband. Furthermore, the suspension settings are soft, wallowy, and impossible to firm up with clicker adjustments alone, because doing so produces a harsh, spiky ride.

Rider Impressions

Foster: “This bike is almost the same as the KTM, but unfortunately a couple minor differences results in significant performance reductions. It’s the coolest looking bike, but it’s a choked-down, softer version of the SX-F.”

LaFountaine: “The Husky is a huge improvement over last year’s. It’s easy to ride fast because of the mellow power, but the suspension is far too soft. It’s surprising how different it feels from the KTM.”

Livingston: “With some additional work this bike would really rip. The bones of the Husqvarna are great; it’s just going to take some tweaks to get it to the top. Once I got it sorted out, I really enjoyed the ride.”

Maeda: “The Husqvarna is a true diamond in the rough. It’s far from perfect in stock condition, but everyone adds an aftermarket exhaust and gets their suspension done anyway, right? I’d buy this bike for its looks alone.”

Puerner: “Knowing that the Husqvarna is based on the amazing KTM platform would still sway me into purchasing one. Soft suspension and a choked-up muffler are easy fixes, and the bike has all of the other great attributes of its brother.”

Taylor: “The Husky has a light feel and turns well, but I need more power and I need a bit more control with the suspension. It’s too soft and too loose-feeling in the bumps. We tried a different muffler on the bike and it instantly made it a rocket ship.”

    Hits
  • Light and nimble feel
  • Great cornering abilities
  • Best-looking bike
    Misses
  • Restrictive muffler softens powerband
  • Suspension is soft and lacks control
    Misses
  • An aftermarket exhaust (or the unrestrictive FC 250 muffler) uncorks the massive power that lurks within the FC 450 engine
  • A firmer setting with more mid-speed dampening improves the bike tenfold

Honda CRF450R

Better suspension balance—thanks to a longer fork and lower shock linkage— yield big gains in the handling department for the Honda CRF450F, but many testers felt that the bike still suffered from too large of a front-to-rear weight transfer under braking and entering corners.

No changes were made to the red bike’s engine for 2016. Although the CRF has a very mellow, linear powerband with virtually no hit, it’s very easy to make good use of the Honda’s engine output with minimal fatigue. Still, the Honda engine left testers longing for more power, and abusing the clutch to get things going only resulted in a faded clutch. The CRF clutch is easily the worst of the bunch with its firm feel at the lever and soft performance under abuse. Every tester liked the CRF and praised it for being a well-rounded package, but no one loved the bike or any of its attributes.

Rider Impressions

Foster: “The Honda is an excellent-handling, light, and agile bike that’s held back by soft suspension and a soft engine. It corners amazingly well, which will help make up for some of the time it loses on the straightaways.”

LaFountaine: “The Honda is a good bike, but not a great bike. It’s not very fast, but everything else about it is very good. The three map settings seem unnecessary because you would never run it in anything but the most aggressive setting due to it being so slow.”

Livingston: “The fact that I’m a beginner and had to go to the third map setting to get power was strange. The Honda is very predictable, which could sound like not much fun, but it was just an easy bike for me to hop on and have a good time.”

Maeda: “Although the changes are small, this year’s CRF450R is much more impressive, and I could see myself racing this bike with some engine work. It does everything very well and is easy to trust.”

Puerner: “I always appreciate the Honda’s top-notch fit and finish. This year’s bike is improved with no more stinkbug feel, but the engine is still too mellow for my liking. I struggled with a fading clutch because I was always trying to get more out of the engine.”

Taylor: “The engine needs a lot more power, and the bike needs a new clutch design. The bike has a pitchy feel and requires more suspension control, but I do like its light feel and quick handling, though. The Honda needs the most work.”

    Hits
  • Light and nimble feel
  • Great cornering abilities
  • Excellent ergonomics
    Misses
  • Flat powerband
  • Clutch fades easily
  • Soft suspension lacks control
    Misses
  • Aftermarket exhausts breathe more freely than the restrictive stockers and yield good power gains, but the Honda is still no power king
  • A Hinson Racing six-spring billet clutch basket and pressure plate improves feel and durability
  • Firmer suspension settings front and rear calm the CRF down

Yamaha YZ450F

Better suspension balance—thanks to a longer fork and lower shock linkage— yield big gains in the handling department for the Honda CRF450F, but many testers felt that the bike still suffered from too large of a front-to-rear weight transfer under braking and entering corners.

No changes were made to the red bike’s engine for 2016. Although the CRF has a very mellow, linear powerband with virtually no hit, it’s very easy to make good use of the Honda’s engine output with minimal fatigue. Still, the Honda engine left testers longing for more power, and abusing the clutch to get things going only resulted in a faded clutch. The CRF clutch is easily the worst of the bunch with its firm feel at the lever and soft performance under abuse. Every tester liked the CRF and praised it for being a well-rounded package, but no one loved the bike or any of its attributes.

Rider Impressions

Foster: “If Yamaha had not gone to a 25-mm offset clamp and a softer shock spring, the bike would have won the shootout again. They wasted a great motor and suspension on geometry that just doesn’t work.”

LaFountaine: “The YZ450F is a great package with a solid engine and an awesome front fork. The front-end pushes in the corners, though, and I wish the overall bike was a bit narrower because it feels so fat between your legs.”

Livingston: “It was hard for me to make the Yamaha do what I wanted it to, especially in the corners. I loved the front suspension and felt the power was strong, but I just didn’t always trust what the front-end would do in the turns.”

Maeda: “I love everything about the Yamaha YZ450F, except for the way it feels untrustworthy in the corners. Fortunately there’s an easy fix—install last year’s clamp— but we are judging these bikes in stock condition.”

Puerner: “The Yamaha has the best suspension, period, and it’s also right up there for the best power with the KTM. I like the way last year’s bike cornered much better, though. The new ’16 pushes in and out of the corners.”

Taylor: “The engine is very broad and strong, and the suspension is also excellent. It’s easy to feel the ground through your tires. It’s a bummer this bike is so hard to get into the turns; it would win the shootout if it steered better.”

    Hits
  • Flawless powerband with great low-end, strong midrange, and very good top-end
  • Best front fork in the class—mechanical springs provide superior feel and control
  • Excellent brakes
  • Great high-speed stability
    Misses
  • Vague front-end feel in corners
    Misses
  • Installing a 22-mm offset triple clamp restores last year’s cornering prowess

Suzuki RM-Z450

Left virtually unchanged for 2016, the Suzuki RM-Z450 remains a solid performer that doesn’t do anything best in class, but instead draws very good reviews across the board. Although the RM-Z450 is the heaviest bike, it has a light, nimble feel on the track with a quick-handling character and excellent cornering abilities. The engine isn’t the most powerful by any means, but it has strong power throughout the RPM range with no holes.

Opinions about the Suzuki’s Showa TAC air fork varied widely from busy and hard to dial in to the best amongst the air forks. Bottom line is that the Suzuki’s rear-end works exceptionally well, but the fork requires the rider to put in the time testing to get it completely dialed in. While the settings were left unchanged from 2015, the fork on our ’16 test bike seemed to work better. As a package, the Suzuki RM-Z450 is a very good bike.

Rider Impressions

Foster: “Despite a somewhat quirky air fork, the Suzuki felt comfortable to me immediately and did exactly what I expected it to do. The ergonomics are comfy, the engine is effective throughout the RPM range, and the cornering is exceptional.”

LaFountaine: “This is a solid bike with a controllable engine and good cornering abilities. Nothing about the Suzuki is too special; everything about it is pretty good, except for the fork. I’m not a fan of air forks, but I was able to find a good setting.”

Livingston: “The Suzuki is a fun bike to ride. The Showa air fork seems to be getting better every year, but all of the options to change on the suspension are way too confusing—for a newer rider.”

Maeda: “For me nothing stands out about the Suzuki RM-Z450, and that’s both a good and bad thing. Bad because nothing is exceptional about it, but good because it does everything well enough that I have no real complaints. I like the yellow bike!”

Puerner: “The Suzuki is an easy bike to ride, and it does everything nicely. The engine is strong and the bike corners very well, no matter the type of turn. The fork takes some time to figure out, but once you find a setting that works, they’re fine.”

Taylor: “This bike would win the shootout easily if it had the fork from 2011 on it! The RM-Z450 corners well, has a great overall feel, and the engine is strong and easy to control. Too bad the Showa TAC fork sucks.”

    Hits
  • Nice, broad powerband with very good power throughout the RPM range
  • Excellent handling characteristics with exceptional cornering abilities
    Misses
  • Showa TAC fork is acceptable, not exceptional
  • Heaviest bike in class
  • Looks outdated
    Misses
  • Now in its second year of production, the Showa TAC fork has been “figured out” by many suspension shops. We turned to shocktherapyracing.net and enjoyed great results.

Kawasaki K X450F

All new for 2016, the Kawasaki KX450F is a very impressive machine that shines bright in just about every category. Lighter and much thinner than its predecessor, the KX450F has a quick, flickable feel in corners and in the air. The Kawi still feels long and stable, but the new chassis allows the bike to lean over in corners for effortless directional changes. The Showa TAC fork is—as it is on the Suzuki—difficult to dial in completely, but it definitely works better on the new chassis than it did in 2015.

Power is smoothed out from previous years, and although it’s easier to control and less exciting, it still gets the job done quickly and effectively. Our test bike did suffer from some deceleration popping and low-RPM detonation, but we were able to tune it out with the Kawasaki FI Calibration Kit. As a package, the KX450F is very impressive.

Rider Impressions

Foster: “The new KX450F is a huge improvement across the board with the exception of the motor. The power isn’t as substantial as last year’s, but the geometry, weight, width, feel, suspension, and ergonomics are all substantially better.”

LaFountaine: “This year’s Kawasaki is narrower and easier to ride. The engine is solid and easy to ride, but it isn’t overly powerful or exciting. I’m not a fan of the Showa TAC fork, but they seem to work better on the new bike.”

Livingston: “The new Kawi is a huge improvement. I really like the narrower, lighter feel, and I felt more comfortable and fast on this KX450F than all previous years’. The bike corners great and is very confidence inspiring in turns.”

Maeda: “I was shocked at how much lighter the bike felt when I first got on the track, but I was able to feel right at home immediately because the bike still has that familiar KXF feel. The engine is mellower than in years past, but it’s easy to coax more hit out of.”

Puerner: “I was able to ride the Kawasaki without getting tired, thanks to its light feel and strong, usable powerband. The bike is well balanced and is easy to guide into any line on the track. I am very impressed.”

Taylor: “The KX450F feels light and has good low- and midrange hit, but the bars are too tall and make it difficult to steer the bike through the corners. The Showa TAC fork works better on the Kawasaki than on the Suzuki, but I still dislike them.”

    Hits
  • Light, flickable feel on the track
  • Excellent cornering abilities
  • Stable at speed yet swift in the corners
    Misses
  • Easy-to-ride powerband considered too mellow by some
  • Showa TAC fork is acceptable, not exceptional
  • High stock handlebar bend
  • Lightweight plastic can break easily
    Fixes
  • Adding one tooth to the rear sprocket livens things up a bit
  • We installed Pro Taper’s SX Race bend Fuzion bars, which are lower and flatter
  • Now in its second year of production, the Showa TAC fork has been “figured out” by many suspension shops. We turned to procircuit.com and enjoyed great results.

KTM 450 SX-F

When we took delivery of the last year’s KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition, we couldn’t help but wonder if it could have topped the shootout had it been the standard 450 SX-F. Well, that question was answered in 2016 when the standard 450 SX-F enjoyed all the huge improvements that last year’s Factory Edition received and more.

The 450 SX-F powerband is without flaws, and it’s hands-down the most monstrous of them all. Throughout the RPM range, the KTM engine produces the most raw horsepower in a much more controllable manner than one might expect from reading a dyno sheet alone. And of course, the electric start and hydraulic clutch are like cherries on the top of the best engine package around. The 450 SX-F handles great in all situations and is forgiving in all situations, leaving one to wonder if aluminum frames were truly the wave of the future. Cornering is the SX-F’s forte, and it will cut a tighter line than any of the other bikes in its class. Sadly, while the KTM stands above the rest, it’s not without flaws. The WP 4CS fork blows through its stroke and bottoms with little control on large hits because it’s valved more for comfort than performance. As a package, however, the KTM 450 SX-F offers the best off the showroom floor, and it’s impressive to see how far the Austrian machine has come in the past few years.

Rider Impressions

Foster: “For me, the KTM is almost the perfect bike. Unfortunately the only piece missing is a good fork. The bike is lighter, more agile, and has a lot less vibration than in years past. It’s a huge improvement, and the KTM is a great bike.”

LaFountaine: “The KTM has a super-strong powerplant, a great chassis, and a comfortable feel. The bike corners great, is stable at speed, and is comfortable in the air. Its only downfall is the front fork, which is too soft and harsh.”

Livingston: “In my opinion this is the best bike! Everything works together in harmony. After a few adjustments, the suspension felt great. I honestly can’t complain about this year’s KTM 450 SX-F—it has no faults in my eyes.”

Maeda: “Perhaps it’s because I’ve been riding the 350 SX-F so much, but the 450 SX-F almost has too much power! Aside from the fork performance, everything else about this bike is amazing right out of the dealership showroom.”

Puerner: “This year’s KTM is the complete package because it has everything you could wish for in stock condition. The bike corners great whether you’re in a rut or flattracking a slippery turn. I could race the bike bone stock.”

Taylor: “The KTM has a very light feel, and the power is amazing. The suspension, especially the fork, needs a bit of work, but the bike handles very well in all situations. The overall balance of the machine is so much better than it’s ever been.”

    Hits
  • Massive power throughout the RPM range
  • Forgiving chassis that remains precise in corners
  • Light feel and quick handling
    Misses
  • Soft front fork that lacks control and becomes harsh when adjusted firmer
    Fixes
  • We turned to enzoracing.com in search of a firmer setting with better bottoming control and were pleased with the results.

Participating Riders

  • Pat Foster
    Age: 37
    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 190 lbs.
    Ability: Pro
    Bikes Ridden: 2015 Kawasaki KX450F
    1. Suzuki RM-Z450
    2. KTM 450 SX-F
    3. Kawasaki KX450F
    4. Yamaha YZ450F
    5. Honda CRF450R
    6. Husqvarna FC 450
    Comments
    Hands down, the Suzuki is my favorite because it’s the most responsive, best cornering bike in the class with a solid engine and a sleek feel. The KTM is an extremely close second, really only hindered by a quirky front fork (yes, even worse than the Suzuki’s). The engine is best in class throughout the curve. The new Kawasaki is a huge improvement in every category with the exception of the engine. The KXF is lighter, quicker handling, and more prone to cornering with the front-end. Unfortunately, the engine was mellowed out and I want more. The Yamaha has the best fork and a great engine, but unfortunately it has too much stability and is difficult to initiate turns on. Everything about the Honda is soft: soft suspension and a soft powerband. It has potential, though! The slight differences between the KTM and Husky proved to be the FC 450’s downfall.
  • Tallon LaFountaine
    Age: 18
    Height/Weight: 5’11”, 160 lbs.
    Ability: Pro
    Bikes Ridden: 2015 KTM 250 SX-F, 350 SX-F
    1. KTM 450 SX-F
    2. Kawasaki KX450F
    3. Husqvarna FC 450
    4. Yamaha YZ450F
    5. Honda CRF450R
    6. Suzuki RM-Z450
    Comments
    This year’s KTM is amazing. It handles great, turns better or equal to the Honda and Suzuki, and has the best engine, hands down. The Kawasaki KX450F is really improved, and the bike is smaller and more nimble. It still makes good power even though it seems to have been tuned down for a friendlier powerband. To me, the Husqvarna felt just like the KTM, even though the suspension was a lot softer. It’s also the best-looking bike. The Yamaha was great last year, but I hate the way it turns now. It has the best suspension and a great powerband, but I’d lose races in the corners on it. The Honda and Suzuki are very rider-friendly bikes, and I could race either of them. Neither are the fastest, but they both handle and turn well. Both are in need of some updates, though.
  • Ted Livingston
    Age: 34
    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 165 lbs.
    Ability: Beginner
    Bikes Ridden: 2015 Husqvarna FC 450
    1. KTM 450 SX-F
    2. Kawasaki KX450F
    3. Suzuki RM-Z450
    4. Husqvarna FC 450
    5. Honda CRF450R
    6. Yamaha YZ450F
    Comments
    In my opinion, the KTM, Kawasaki, and Husqvarna are the three bikes moving into the future. All three of them feel lightweight, handle great, and are narrower than ever before. I’m six-foot but on the lighter side, so a light, narrow, and nimble bike is awesome. The KTM and Husqvarna are refined bikes with upgraded brakes, clutches, and electric starting. The Husqvarna dropped a few spots because it needs some tweaking out of the box. The Kawasaki is so much better than last year’s—it’s amazing.
    As for the rest of the machines, they are all impressive, but the Suzuki, Honda, and Yamaha seem less exciting because they are essentially the same as last year. The Suzuki and Honda are both solid machines that are fun to ride, but nothing about them stands out. The Yamaha was fantastic last year, but some small changes really made it difficult for me to ride.
  • Donn Maeda
    Age: 46
    Height/Weight: 5’9”, 185 lbs.
    Ability: Intermediate
    Bikes Ridden: 2015 Yamaha YZ450F
    1. Kawasaki KX450F
    2. KTM 450 SX-F
    3. Yamaha YZ450F
    4. Suzuki RM-Z450
    5. Honda CRF450R
    6. Husqvarna FC 450
    Comments
    It isn’t the most powerful bike in the bunch, but the Kawasaki KX450F is impressive because of its new lighter weight and nimble-handling character. It still feels like a Kawi, but it corners better than ever before. The fastest bike in the bunch, meanwhile, is the KTM 450 SX-F, which is amazing in every capacity except for the ill-performing WP 4CS fork. I absolutely loved the Yamaha last year, but the new front-end offset just doesn’t agree with me. Thankfully it’s an easy fix to install a different triple clamp. The Suzuki RM-Z450 and Honda CRF450R are both excellent bikes, but both lack any extra pizzazz to make them stand out from the rest. The most underrated bike of the year award goes to the Husqvarna FC 450. It has all the potential of the new Bike Of The Year but is being held back by Euro-spec suspension and exhaust. I can’t wait to hop ours up!
  • Kyle Puerner
    Age: 46
    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 175 lbs.
    Ability: Intermediate
    Bikes Ridden: 2015 Suzuki RM-Z450
    1. KTM 450 SX-F
    2. Kawasaki KX450F
    3. Yamaha YZ450F
    4. Suzuki RM-Z450
    5. Honda CRF450R
    6. Husqvarna FC 450
    Comments
    This year it’s harder than ever to pick a winner because all the bikes are so good right out of the box. The KTM takes the number one spot for me this year because it’s race-ready right off the showroom floor. The SX-F is super powerful, handles great, and has improved suspension over last year. Kawasaki takes a very close runner-up with its much narrower feel for 2016. It’s very light and so easy to ride, and I felt like I could put it anywhere on the track. While the Yamaha puts power to the ground like no other, I liked the 22-mm offset clamp on the ’15 bike better than the 25-mm that comes on the ’16. The Suzuki is basically unchanged, but I like it because it does everything very well. It’s time to cut some weight, though. The Honda has better suspension balance than last year and it’s a great bike, but the lackluster engine leaves plenty to be desired. The Husqvarna has a ton of potential, but it’s too soft and mellow as delivered.
  • Rich Taylor
    Age: 46
    Height/Weight: 5’11”, 170 lbs.
    Ability: Pro
    Bikes Ridden: 2015 Suzuki RM-Z450
    1. KTM 450 SX-F
    2. Suzuki RM-Z450
    3. Yamaha YZ450F
    4. Honda CRF450R
    5. Kawasaki KX450F
    6. Husqvarna FC 450
    Comments
    The KTM 450 SX-F did nothing the best, but it was very good in all categories, and that makes it the best bike in stock condition. I am very impressed! The Suzuki RM-Z450 has a horrible fork that held it back. If it had a decent front-end, it would be the best bike, hands down. The Yamaha engine and suspension cannot be denied because they’re both amazing, but the bike doesn’t corner at all this year, and that’s why it dropped from first. The Honda is good all around but feels very average to me—not great but not bad, just, well, good. Although the Kawasaki is lighter and better handling, it needs a lot of attention to get the suspension set up, and I also don’t like the high handlebar. The Husky feels light and should be every bit as great as the KTM, but the bike is held back by softer suspension settings and a choked-up muffler.
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