2005 450cc FOUR-STROKE SHOOTOUT

Four Bikes Times 450ccs Yields The Most Powerful Shootout Ever

By the Testing Staff of TransWorld Motocross

2005 is a triumphant year if you’re a jumbo-sized thumper fan, as your favorite fleet of bikes has grown by 25%. That’s right, folks, the boys from Suzuki were proudly on hand for our 2005 450cc Shootout, and their potent new RM-Z450 left a serious impression, to say the least…

Suzuki chose a tough year to leap headfirst into the class, however, as also on hand was an even better defending shootout champ Honda CRF450R, an improved KTM450SX and an always solid, and newley-enhanced Yamaha YZ450F. To help us tame the wild fleet and provide the feedback needed to crown a champ, we assembled a motley testing crew consisting of five test riders of varying abilities, as well as a seasoned wrench from each of the four manufacturers, and headed to Competitive Edge MX for a full day of head-to-head testing. In the pages that follow, you’ll find rankings for each of the major categories of interest, as well as the personal rankings determined by our five test riders. Now, this is the part where we give you the infamous disclaimer stating “to each his own,” and therefore one man’s opinions may not be indicative of every man’s preferences. In other words, study wisely before laying down your hard-earned cash, as your personal ranking may not coincide with ours. Either way, the one thing we are absolutely certain of is that you cannot go wrong in 2005…

POWER

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. KTM450SX

4. Yamaha YZ450F

The YZ450F boasts a really smooth delivery down low with an extremely broad powerband throughout. A departure from past YZ450s, a number of test riders proclaimed it the easiest to ride of the four machines. The power is much more controllable than it’s been in years past, making exiting corners a blast, as it is great at putting power to the ground without ripping the riders’ arms out. The Yamaha can also be revved higher in each gear, allowing the rider to be a little lazy with shifts without getting into too much trouble. So why was the Yamaha rated fourth in the motor department if it exuded textbook four-stroke characteristics? Most of our testers feel that the power band is almost too linear, and desired a bit more hit somewhere to liven it up. If all of your time is spent riding fast, open, outdoor tracks that don’t require any quick, low end zap, the Yamaha excels.

The KTM has a great all-around motor from the bottom all the way through the top, and is as fast as any bike in the class. Some riders commented that it required a bit more clutching in certain cornering situations to ensure that the ponies were where they needed to be, but once into the mid range of the powerband, the Katoom is smooth and stout. The only real beef with the KTM is how difficult it can be to start, especially when it’s hot, but other than that, the power itself is very inviting and fun to ride. Similar to the Yamaha, however, it didn’t really stand out or blow anybody away, either.

Our testing staff was truly torn choosing a winner in the motor department between the Honda and the new Suzuki. While both are extremely strong motors, they produce very different characteristics. The Suzuki was voted most fun to ride, as the power hits hard right off the bottom and pulls well through the mid and top. At a time when all the manufacturers are trying to mellow out the power delivery for a smooth, roll-on feel, the Suzuki’s bark and hard hit out of corners is refreshing. Don’t get us wrong, the power is plenty manageable, but it does require a little more of an aggressive, “stay over the front fender” type of riding style. The only problem with the Suzuki’s quickness off the bottom is that it tends to hit the rev limiter occasionally if you don’t catch the shift from second to third fast enough. A little wider gear ratio between second and third would make this motor nearly perfect.

The only issueaised with the Honda motor came from our slower, less-aggressive testers who stated that there were times when it almost felt too fast. That said, these same critics still proclaimed it to be the best motor in the group. It’s that good! The power starts off strong and doesn’t stop pulling until…well…it doesn’t stop pulling. And although super beefy everywhere, the CRF450R produces very manageable and predictable power. One tester commented by saying “This motor is so damn powerful that it’s amazing how friendly it is. There are absolutely no surprises with this thing, just clean, smooth, useable power.”

SUSPENSION & HANDLING

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. Yamaha YZ450F

4. KTM450SX

KTM has made huge improvements in the handling of the 450SX, with its more ridged oval frame tubing and larger triple clamps. We were pleasantly surprised at how well it handled in the mildly choppy conditions, and how at home it is in corners. Unfortunately, as conditions get rougher, the linkless rear-end starts getting harsh and begins overpowering the front end, ultimately hampering both ends of the bike. The KTM still corners well when it gets rough, but the entrances and exits get a little more difficult to navigate. Balance may be the Katoom’s biggest problem, though. Once compression and rebound changes are made to reduce headshake and add high-speed stability, compromises have been made to the suspension’s ability to handle harsh landings and larger, G-out style hits.

There were mixed emotions regarding the Yamaha’s suspension and handling prowess. Our faster test riders felt that the Yamaha is extremely confidence-inspiring on the fast, choppy straights, as it is really stable and tracked straight as an arrow. Less aggressive riders, however, indicated the exact opposite, and complained that stability was difficult to achieve. “The harder I rode it, the better it got,” one tester commented. “But that doesn’t really fit my riding style.” The only other flag raised with the YZ was because of its cornering ability. The YZ doesn’t corner poorly, per se; it’s just that the Honda and Suzuki corner really, really well. It has a slightly longer, heavier and less agile feel in the tighter sections of the track, and it feels a little top-heavy in flat corners. All in all, the general consensus is that the Yamaha handles well, but not great like the top two.

First place in the suspension and handling department is truly a toss-up. The Honda is as solid as ever, and does just about everything right on. The Showa forks and rear shock are as good as it gets without laying down the coin for works kit suspension, and it comes perfectly balanced for most riders, right out of the box. It’s extremely predictable, corners great, and instills a ton of rider confidence in any condition, which may be the most valuable characteristic of them all. We feel that the majority of the four-stroke faithful out there would rate the Honda number one in this category.

On the flip side of the suspension and handling coin, however, is the new kid on the block, the RM-Z450. Two of our five testers actually ranked the Zook ahead of the reigning shootout champ, and for very specific reasons. The Suzuki turns better than any of the other bikes in the test, especially in rutted corners. In fact, one tester proclaimed the RM-Z450 to be the best-turning bike he’d ever ridden-two-strokes included. It feels light and nimble in the corners, on the straights and in the air. Like the Honda, it’s sprung with outstanding Showa suspension, and facilitates most riders with ease. Our pro test rider Pat Foster may have summed up the handling characteristic of the new Suzuki the best when he said that “the new Suzuki is agile, and it handles and corners just like a 250.” Nuff said!

FIT AND FINISH

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. Yamaha YZ450F

4. KTM450SX

Honda owns this category. Everything about the Honda’s fit and finish is top-notch. Renthal Bars, adjustable clutch, gripper seat cover, aluminum frame, clutch-mounted hot start, awesome brakes, great ergonomics, narrow feel, comfortable rider compartment, the best fasteners in the business, and the list goes on…

The new Suzuki has the best fit and finish of any Suzuki ever, in our opinion. The Renthal Fat Bar is a tasty treat and features a great bend to boot, and the aluminum frame not only offers great looks, but also a narrow yet sturdy feel. The brakes work well, the adjustable clutch is a must-have and overall the bike just looks killer. Some of the fasteners aren’t quite on par with the Honda, in our opinion, but you can tell a lot of time was spent designing a bike with the right finishing touches.

As always, the Yamaha is a very well-made machine. In fact, Yamaha may build the most durable bikes out there. And after cooking up a new recipe for the infamous dark blue plastic, Yamaha engineers made great improvements to the look and durability of the YZ’s outer shell, but the fact remains that dark blue simply shows more abuse than the competitors’ plastics. Speaking of dark blue, the Yami’s painted steel frame shows wear and aging much more than the aluminum frames of the CRF and RM-Z. Of course these are just general wear and aesthetic concerns, and if you’re in the market for an otherwise bulletproof bike and not too concerned with appearance, the YZ is a top-quality machine.

The KTM450SX comes stock with a number of really great parts, including the incomparable hydraulic clutch that every bike should be forced to have by law, Renthal Fat Bars, a multi-adjustable bar clamp and a tool-less air box, just to name a few. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of cheap 13mm nuts and bolts, sheet metal screws holding the shrouds on and a park bench for a seat. Ergonomically, the KTM has a nice, narrow feel right up to the point that you slide up to the junction between the narrow tank and the wide radiator shrouds. A number of our testers complained of being easily distracted by their knees getting pried apart by the shrouds.

THE VERDICT

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. Yamaha YZ450

4. KTM450SX

Now more than ever, bike choice really comes down to personal preference. We honestly believe that with some slight modifications (and arm pump surgery for some of us) we could be competitive on any one of these bikes. There truly is not a bad bike in the bunch, rather four bikes that with the proper adjustments and setup changes can work well for even the pickiest of riders. With that said, however, we were forced to assign a final verdict order. After hours of sifting through rider feedback forms, the time came to crown a winner, and that honor went once again to the Honda CRF450R. The new offering from the fellas at Suzuki made this year’s shootout a bit more interesting and prevented another landslide victory, but in the end, when all was tallied up, the mighty Honda prevailed.

RIDER OPINIONS

Pat Hodgins

Skill Level: Beginner

Age: 24

Years Riding: 6

Height/Weight: 6’3″/185 lb.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2004 CRF450R, 2005 KTM450SX

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. KTM450SX

4. Yamaha YZ450F

For me, the deciding factor between the CRF and the RM-Z was the fact that I felt I could ride the Honda all day long. The new frame handles much better, and the lighter feel made the bike less tiring than my 2004 version. It has an amazing motor, and handles as well as you could possibly ask. The RM-Z is damn close, however, and I would gladly own either bike. The Suzuki has great suspension and a killer motor, but a few little detail things that led to overall less confidence on the bike are what put it in second. Luckily, as with all four of these bikes, the little things are easily fixable.

The KTM has a great motor. It may not be quite as strong as the Honda, but for my riding ability it works awesome! Suspension and handling, on the other hand, while not nthal Bars, adjustable clutch, gripper seat cover, aluminum frame, clutch-mounted hot start, awesome brakes, great ergonomics, narrow feel, comfortable rider compartment, the best fasteners in the business, and the list goes on…

The new Suzuki has the best fit and finish of any Suzuki ever, in our opinion. The Renthal Fat Bar is a tasty treat and features a great bend to boot, and the aluminum frame not only offers great looks, but also a narrow yet sturdy feel. The brakes work well, the adjustable clutch is a must-have and overall the bike just looks killer. Some of the fasteners aren’t quite on par with the Honda, in our opinion, but you can tell a lot of time was spent designing a bike with the right finishing touches.

As always, the Yamaha is a very well-made machine. In fact, Yamaha may build the most durable bikes out there. And after cooking up a new recipe for the infamous dark blue plastic, Yamaha engineers made great improvements to the look and durability of the YZ’s outer shell, but the fact remains that dark blue simply shows more abuse than the competitors’ plastics. Speaking of dark blue, the Yami’s painted steel frame shows wear and aging much more than the aluminum frames of the CRF and RM-Z. Of course these are just general wear and aesthetic concerns, and if you’re in the market for an otherwise bulletproof bike and not too concerned with appearance, the YZ is a top-quality machine.

The KTM450SX comes stock with a number of really great parts, including the incomparable hydraulic clutch that every bike should be forced to have by law, Renthal Fat Bars, a multi-adjustable bar clamp and a tool-less air box, just to name a few. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of cheap 13mm nuts and bolts, sheet metal screws holding the shrouds on and a park bench for a seat. Ergonomically, the KTM has a nice, narrow feel right up to the point that you slide up to the junction between the narrow tank and the wide radiator shrouds. A number of our testers complained of being easily distracted by their knees getting pried apart by the shrouds.

THE VERDICT

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. Yamaha YZ450

4. KTM450SX

Now more than ever, bike choice really comes down to personal preference. We honestly believe that with some slight modifications (and arm pump surgery for some of us) we could be competitive on any one of these bikes. There truly is not a bad bike in the bunch, rather four bikes that with the proper adjustments and setup changes can work well for even the pickiest of riders. With that said, however, we were forced to assign a final verdict order. After hours of sifting through rider feedback forms, the time came to crown a winner, and that honor went once again to the Honda CRF450R. The new offering from the fellas at Suzuki made this year’s shootout a bit more interesting and prevented another landslide victory, but in the end, when all was tallied up, the mighty Honda prevailed.

RIDER OPINIONS

Pat Hodgins

Skill Level: Beginner

Age: 24

Years Riding: 6

Height/Weight: 6’3″/185 lb.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2004 CRF450R, 2005 KTM450SX

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. KTM450SX

4. Yamaha YZ450F

For me, the deciding factor between the CRF and the RM-Z was the fact that I felt I could ride the Honda all day long. The new frame handles much better, and the lighter feel made the bike less tiring than my 2004 version. It has an amazing motor, and handles as well as you could possibly ask. The RM-Z is damn close, however, and I would gladly own either bike. The Suzuki has great suspension and a killer motor, but a few little detail things that led to overall less confidence on the bike are what put it in second. Luckily, as with all four of these bikes, the little things are easily fixable.

The KTM has a great motor. It may not be quite as strong as the Honda, but for my riding ability it works awesome! Suspension and handling, on the other hand, while not bad, are not on par with the top two.

The Yamaha was a step below all the others in my book. It has a heavier, lazier feel to me, and I just wasn’t able to get comfortable. The best that I could tell is that it requires a faster, more aggressive rider to really get it to work at its potential. After a few minor suspension adjustments, we got it to track very well and it felt stable at speed, but it just didn’t spark any confidence in me. – PH

Kyle Puerner

Skill Level: Novice

Age: 36

Years Riding: 8

Height/Weight: 5’11″/190 lb.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2003 Honda CRF450R & 2005 CRF450R

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. KTM450SX

4. Yamaha YZ450F

My 2005 450 shootout winner is the Honda. It has a very smooth yet fast motor that fits my riding ability perfectly. The suspension is plush, has great high-speed stability in rough sections and handles hard landings with ease. It turns great and handles all types of track situations with less energy. It’s a very confidence-inspiring bike to ride.

The RMZ is a close second. For its first year out, Suzuki really nailed it! This bike corners so well that you feel you’re riding a 250. The motor pulls hard off the bottom, and the four-speed gearbox keeps you from having to shift a lot. The suspension is good in stock form, and the overall handling of the bike is great.

Next is the KTM. It has a very fast-revving motor, with good throttle response. It corners better than last year’s bike, and was a blast to ride. The suspension works well, but on high-speed rough sections it’s a bit harsh compared to the Honda and Suzuki. With some simple suspension mods, this bike could be a contender.

Yamaha was fourth, not because it’s a bad bike, but I think it caters to the likings of intermediates and pros. The motor is definitely mellower than last year’s, but it is still extremely fast. The suspension is the stiffest of the four bikes, and when we backed out the clickers, it compromised the overall handling and feel of the bike. The harder and faster you ride the Yamaha, the better it is. – KP

Donn Maeda

Skill Level: Vet Intermediate

Age: 36

Years Riding: 18

Height/Weight: 5’9″/190 lb.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2005 Honda CRF450R, RM250 and RM-Z450

1. Suzuki RM-Z450

2. Honda CRF450R

3. Yamaha YZ450F

4. KTM450SX

I was hands-down the most comfortable on the new Suzuki. In addition to having a super-friendly motor that is easy to ride, yet plenty fast, the RM-Z is easily the best-cornering bike I have ever ridden, two-stroke or four. This bike is the easiest-to-ride four-stroke available, and I had no doubts choosing it as my favorite.

The Honda was my second choice. Blessed with the best motor in the bunch, the only thing that held the CRF back in my book was its comparatively tall feel and lack of front-end traction when compared to the Zook. Even though it has the best motor, it is my opinion that even the worst 450 motor has more than enough power.

The Yamaha YZ450F is much easier for me to ride this year, thanks to its tamed-down engine, but I still have issues with the bike’s overall feel. When riding the YZ, I feel as if all of its weight is based behind me, rather than under me. I don’t like the way the rear end works in rough conditions, as it never does exactly what I think it is going to. When the going is smooth, though, the YZ is a champ.

I really felt good on this year’s KTM. In fact, I felt as if I might have been turning in my fastest lap times aboard the 450SX. Surprisingly, I was the slowest on the SX. For me, the biggest drawback of the KTM is its hard-starting personality. I spent several minutes gasping for air on the side of the track as I struggled to fire the beast up. – DM

Josh Brown

Skill Level: Intermediate

Age: 19

Years Riding: 5

Height/Weight: 5’11″/180 lb.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2005 CRF250R, CRF450R, KX250 & RM250

1. Honda CRF450R

2. Suzuki RM-Z450

3. KTM450SX

4. Yamah