Spy Photos! 2007 Prototypes Spotted in Japan

Swap is in the Land of the Rising Sun this weekend for the opening round of the All Japan National MX Championship Series, and was able to snap some shots during Thursday’s set up and tech inspection acitivities at Sugo Raceland, an hour north of Sendai, Japan.

Unlike the machines that are fielded in AMA competition, the bikes in Japan do not have to adhere to a production rule. As a result, Japanese manufacturers use the series to race-test radical prototypes; many of which often find their way into production in the years that follow.

The following is the e-mail that our editor included with the pictures…

Set up at Sugo today was definitely an all-day affair. I was super pumped to check out all the bikes right when I got to the track in the morning, but the teams worked at a leisurely pace; setting up their pit areas, race truck awnings and making last-minute adjustments to the bikes.

Some of the teams were anxious to get their race bikes in front of the press and actually wheeled the bikes out into the open for us to shoot, but naturally, the bikes that were the most trick were kept under wraps.

After spending all of last year in the United States, Akira Narita returns to the All Japan Nationals this year as a factory Yamaha rider and is the favorite to win the International A1 championship. His Yamaha YZ450F looks pretty standard, but is said to have works motor parts, works suspension and a larger, stiffer swingarm. The exhaust header looks much like a FMF Powerbomb, but his mechanic told me that it was an original Yamaha race team part that does not use the same principals as the FMF pipe.

Defending champ Takeshi Koikeda won last year’s title on a Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke and will defend his title on what is essentially the same machine. The only parts that have been changed for this year’s series are upgraded suspension components. Koikeda feels that because of the tighter Japanese circuits, the two-stroke is an advantage. He is the only factory rider racing a two-stroke.

Team Green is the Kawasaki support team, similar to that of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit team in the U.S. The KX250F looked pretty standard, save for the obvious magnesium carburetor and works suspension components, but I did notice that the main spar of the frame lacked the two thin grooves that are machined into the aluminum. I asked one of the Kawasaki mechanics and he related in broken English that the frame was indeed, different. Apparently,  there are some other revised dimensions that are not visible to the eye.

Suzuki had two radical bikes on hand: an all new RM-Z250 and a fleet of RMN-Z450s with all-new frames and electronic fuel injection. The RM-Z250 looks much like the 2006 RM-Z450 and Yohei Kojima–the bike’s pilot–told me that the bike is much, much better than the previous Kawasaki/Suzuki hybrid. The motor appears to maintain the same basic configuration, but again, Kojima reported that it is much improved.

The RM-Z450s, meanwhile, sat idle for the most part, as all of the team’s factory 450 riders are sidelined with injuries. Suzuki will allow one of the factory test riders to race the machine in this weekend’s race, so I will be sure to get video of him in action for next week’s Thursday Theater. The bike has an all-new frame, which was said to be designed with greater rigidity in mind. Check out the new frame rail behind the radiator shrouds, and you get the idea. All of the RM-Z450s were equipped with electronic fuel injection, and Suzuki did not attempt to cover the bikes or hide the system like Yamaha and Honda did. (More on that later.) Unlike the 2006 Suzuki LTR450 Quadracer, which comes with EFI right off the dealership floor, the RM-Zs do not rely on a battery and electric starter to get the system to fire the bike up. Two of the RM-Zs on hand used KYB works components, while the others used Showa.

One Yamaha YZ450F was kept inside a translucent plastiic tent. You could peer through, but getting a clear photograph through the walls was impossible. I will do my best to get a clear shot of the bike in the staging area tomorrow during the practice sessions. I did peek inside the back of the tent and managed to pop off one shot that revealed a new side case, as well as a far-away shot through a couple of the team tents. As best I can tell, there is some sort of black cover over the system. Again, I’ll try to get closer tomorrow! The mechanics worked on the bike all day long, fiddling with what I imagine was the EFI system. They repeatedly started it, revved it, and took it back apart. At one point, it didn’t sound so sano, but by the day’s end it did sound pretty tangy.

The most mysterious bike at the track is the fuel-injected Honda CRF450R, which was covered by a tarp all day long. The frame appeared to be standard, and after speaking with Yoshihide Fukodome who rides the bike, it seems that the bike is the same as the other factory CRF450Rs, save for the EFI system. Fukudome told me that the bike is incredibly responsive and has excellent traction control, though it is not faster overall.

That’s it for now. I’ll check in again after practice, should I be able to get some better shots. Enjoy!

Click the Related Links to the individual brand galleries on the upper right of the page to check out the photos. As always, there are thumbnails, medium-sized shots, and really big photos, so you can root out all the details, or just squint and speculate.