I thought that it was difficult to pick a winner at last year’s shootout because all of the bikes were good, but 2007 is even more difficult. Every single bike could be a winner with a few minor changes. This year, the Racer X Tested crew was more diverse than ever, we rode at two tracks that were completely different from one another, and the results were more mixed than ever before.
The 2007 450s
We started by assembling a group of riders who know how to test bikes. Ron Lechien, Phil Lawrence, and Randy Valade have all ridden for factory race teams and spent many hours testing race bikes. We also threw Simon Cudby, our photographer, in the mix to give the opinion of the everyman rider. Simon rides as much as he can, which usually means on the weekends. We also had David Langran, our art director, ride all the bikes and give us his opinion. Langers, as we call him, is an intermediate rider whose only goal in the sport is to win a Loretta Lynn’s title before he dies. So we have different skill levels, heights ranging from 5’6” to well over 6’, and weight ranging from 140-270 lbs.
The next step was picking quality tracks to test on. We started at Cahuilla Creek Raceway. Cahuilla has a looser soil with a very fast layout. The track tends to get very rough, but not necessarily rutted. Day two was spent at Perris Raceway. Perris is a much tighter track with jumps, ruts, and very tacky soil. The two tracks couldn’t be more different, and that is exactly what we wanted. We threw some numbers on the bikes (which are all a nod to each race team’s factory riders: Langston, Millsaps, Tedesco, Ferry, and Stefan Everts) and hit the track. Here’s what each rider thought and where they ranked the bikes, first through fifth. First place is given five points, second place gets four, and so on. The points were tallied at the end of the two days to determine the winner.
Here are each rider’s impressions, in their own words.
Ron Lechien: Pro
Ron Lechien on the Kawasaki KX450F
I didn’t realize how close all the bikes would be. It’s been a long time since I rode a lot of the different brands, so it was a real surprise. I liked the Honda the best. The power on that bike is just awesome. It’s so strong right off the bottom and pulls hard through the middle. It flattens off just a little, but an exhaust system would fix that for me. The handling on the Honda is very good. It’s predictable and the action is very good. I was getting a harsh bottoming with the forks, and the rear is under-sprung for me. But I’m a big boy, and these things are set up for a guy lighter than me. It cornered good too. The front end would stick in any line I wanted, whether it was a tight line or a fast sweeper. The brakes are awesome on the Honda, and the rider compartment felt comfortable to me. The Honda was just the easiest for me to ride. I hopped on it and felt comfortable right away.
I picked the Kawasaki a close second. The power is great, especially down low. This bike has a lot of grunt. It was under-sprung for me, but it was still one of the best-feeling bikes for me. There is a lot of room on this bike for a bigger rider. It turns comfortably and doesn’t do anything weird at high speed. There wasn’t much to complain about on this bike. The best thing about this bike for me was the extra room in the rider compartment. Some of the other bikes feel a little cramped. The Kawasaki gives you plenty of room.
I put the Yamaha in third, but all of these bikes are very close. It wasn’t like any one of them stood out and was a clear-cut winner. The Yamaha has a great engine. It’s really mellow-feeling, but it’s deceiving. It doesn’t feel or sound like it’s going that fast, but it is. As usual, the rear shock was under-sprung, but the forks were actually all right. The Yamaha likes faster corners with a berm. I had to work a little harder to make it cut a tight line if there wasn’t a berm to pivot on. The brakes are great also. The rear is good, but the front is awesome. I thought it felt a little top-heavy to me. Still, it was stable at high speeds. The biggest impression I was left with the Yamaha is that is easy to ride.
I put the KTM in fourth. The engine is unbelievably strong and smooth. This bike revs forever. The suspension worked pretty good for me. The bike felt a little nervous when I would try to turn it tight. The front end reacts really quick and it seemed sketchy. The brakes were the best in the class. The power on the front is awesome. The chassis on this bike is really comfortable too—it has lots of room to move around. I was impressed with the engine and the comfort on the KTM.
I felt bad putting the Suzuki in fifth, but it was so under-sprung for me that I could hardly ride it. The engine is strong and smooth. It wasn’t lacking there. The suspension was just way too soft for me, and the rider compartment was much more cramped than any other bike. Maybe it’s made to fit a guy Ricky’s size, but it doesn’t work for me. I also thought the brakes were a little mushy, especially the front. The height from the pegs to the bars felt really short. Overall, I liked the motor but I couldn’t get comfortable enough to really figure anything else out.
Phil Lawrence: Pro
Phil Lawrence on the Suzuki RM-Z450
Man, I don’t even want to rate these bikes. Honestly, they are all awesome. I would race any one of these bikes, no problem, but Ping says I have to pick them first through fifth, so I’ll try. I picked the KTM as the winner because it has so many things that are the best in the class. First of all, the electric start is so good. I love being able to just hit a button and go. Also, the motor is by far the best 450 engine. It comes on really smooth and then pulls so hard for so long, it’s unreal. I couldn’t believe how far it revved. The suspension was good on the KTM too. In the past, the KTM never felt like it worked together. The forks and shock kind of did their own thing, and the bike never felt stable. This year, after a few adjustments for my weight and riding position, the thing was working awesome. The brakes are ridiculous too. The front brake feels like a brake on a factory race bike. It is so powerful. I could also turn the KTM easier than any other bike. It carves as tight as you want to turn. I loved being able to cut inside of ruts and adjust my line in any turn. It is the best KTM I’ve ever ridden, and I felt like it was the best all-around package of all the 450s this year.
I rated the Yamaha second. This bike doesn’t do anything the best, but it doesn’t do anything bad, either. The motor is really smooth, broad, and strong. The suspension is very stable and consistent, and the bike feels very solid. I did feel like the Yamaha would climb out of ruts a little bit. It isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t corner like the KTM. The brakes and chassis are great on the Yamaha. Overall, this bike is incredible. I think if the KTM didn’t have the electric start, I would have put the Yamaha in first.
I can’t believe I put the Honda in third. It is such a great bike. The reason it didn’t win is that the motor is a little too abrupt for the average rider. It was a handful for me to ride, so a guy that just rides for fun on the weekends would have a hard time hanging onto it. It is a great intermediate- and pro-level bike, but the engine is a handful for beginning riders. Also, the forks had a harsh feeling to them. Other than those two things, it is hard to find fault with the CRF. It feels more nimble in the air than any of the bikes. It has a very light feel to it on the track. The Honda is very comfortable too. The brakes are good, and Hondas always have quality components. This bike could’ve easily been the winner.
The Suzuki is fourth. It has a great motor, like all of the bikes. The suspension worked well, but it needs to be tuned for each rider specifically. I loved the way the Suzuki cornered. The RM-Z is one of the best-turning bikes in the class. It is a very solid package, but it didn’t do anything to stand out from the others. The biggest complaint I have is the four-speed gearbox. I kept feeling like I was in the wrong gear on the track. It seems like the ratio is too wide between gears.
The Kawasaki is fifth, but it sure isn’t a fifth-place bike. Honestly, my lap times on all of the bikes were probably in the same second. So, like I said earlier, I could race any one of these bikes and be totally happy on it. The motor on the Kawasaki is good. It has a strong, smooth power. I felt like the suspension rides a little too low in the stroke. I’m sure it’s something that could be cured with different springs or different valving. The cornering and braking were great on the Kawasaki. I felt like the chassis was a little unstable. The back end kind of moved around more than the KTM, Yamaha, and Honda. That was one thing that I didn’t like. If I spent a little time dialing in the suspension with springs and valving, this could be the best bike in the class. Basically, the bikes are all so close, I had to just pick the one that felt the most comfortable with the least changes. You can’t go wrong with any of these bikes, though.
David “Langers” Langran: Intermediate
Pingree on the Yamaha YZ450F
As soon as I pulled onto the track, I noticed how much bottom end the new Honda has. For a rider of my level, it was almost too much at times, and I felt like the bike was getting away from me a bit while exiting some of the turns. The shifting on the Honda is flawless, and the throttle response is spot-on. The suspension felt a little too stiff for me, but I usually have lighter springs than stock, so that could be easily remedied. You can also stop on a dime with the Honda brakes—they are awesome. Honda has a great bike in the 450, and with some minor modifications (such as a pipe to broaden the power range), this is a bike that most riders would feel comfortable on.
Next up for me was the Yamaha. I felt good on the blue bike straight away and jumped everything on the track on the second lap. The suspension felt plush and the bike handled great in the turns and over choppy bumps. I did feel like I had to stand on the back brake a little to make it work, but I had just come off of the Honda, which is known for having good brakes. In years past, the Yamaha 450 has had a reputation for having a very hard-hitting engine that is hard to control. They have obviously taken this feedback and put it too good use, as the 2007 YZ450F now has plenty of useable power. I did notice that the engine sounded a little weird at times, which was slightly off-putting. At times the bike sounded like maybe there was something wrong, but I think this is just a Yamaha characteristic that you would get used to over time. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the Yamaha. It is definitely a good choice for anyone from novice to pro who is in the market for a 450.
I’d actually never ridden a KTM, so I was curious as to what I would think of the completely redesigned ‘07 450. After I looked for the kickstart for a few seconds, the KTM mechanic kindly pointed out the electric start button, and off I went. The power delivery of the KTM is perfect. It hits just hard enough—without pulling your arms out of their sockets—and will rev to the moon. The engine is surprisingly quiet, but I did notice some engine chatter when you’re off the gas. The suspension felt descent, but I did feel that the landings off some of the bigger jumps were a little hard. I have to say I didn’t really like the ergonomics. I felt like I was sitting very high on the bike, which made it hard for me to turn. I’m not super tall, but I did feel a little cramped on the KTM. With time, I’m sure I could get used to the orange bike, but with the limited time I had on it, I didn’t feel 100 percent comfortable.
Next up was the Suzuki. As soon as I sat on the bike, I knew I was going to like it. The ergonomics of the RM-Z suited me down to the ground. After just a couple of laps, I really felt like I could start riding the bike at my race pace. It felt like you sat in the bike rather than on top of it (if that makes any sense), which made cornering much easier. The seat is also very soft, which, for me, made it easier to be more aggressive in the turns. Corners are my Achilles’ heel, but on the Suzuki I felt comfortable in the ruts, the sweepers, and the banked turns. The RM-Z was also great in the air. It felt light and flickable—almost like a 250F—and the suspension soaked up the landings very well. The power delivery of the Suzuki also suited me. I rode the RMZ the longest of any of the bikes, as I just didn’t feel like I was getting tired—which is a good sign. Overall, it was the bike’s ergonomics that impressed me the most. The Suzuki suited my style perfectly, and although it definitely wasn’t the fastest bike, it is the one out of the bunch I would have chosen to race that day if I had to. I highly recommend the Suzuki.
Last but not least was the Kawasaki. Now, by this point in the day I was starting to suffer from the dreaded arm-pump, and I could feel that the blisters on my hands were ready to tear open the next time I had a hard landing. Because of this, the Kawasaki probably didn’t get as much of a fair deal as the other bikes.
Having said that, I did feel comfortable on the green machine, and I was jumping everything by the second lap. The power delivery was good, as were the brakes. The ergonomics were better than the KTM, but I did still feel like I was sitting quite high up on the bike. The clutch also felt quite stiff, but that could be due to the fact that my forearms now looked like Popeye’s. The suspension felt a little hard, but again, that’s nothing some lighter springs and a re-valve wouldn’t fix.
I would say there are no losers here. Obviously, each bike has its strong and weak points. But they are all so close right out of the crate that any one of these bikes could be awesome with the right personal modifications.
Simon Cudby: Novice
Cudby on the Honda CRF450R
This was a difficult decision. All of this year’s 450s would be a great bike to own—they are all very close in performance. As a consumer at my age and skill level, I would look at things like reliability and build quality as well as outright performance before making my purchase decision. I am not qualified to rate suspension and brakes, as I am just happy to try and get around the track. I can rate how the motors feel, cornering, and the overall feel of the chassis.
I chose the Honda first because of their great build quality and Honda’s reliability reputation. The motor pulled strong everywhere. It had a big hit right off the bottom and instant throttle response. The new Dunlop front tire for ‘07 gives the Honda a much better front-end feel than ‘06. The Honda feels like it’s the perfect size for me, not too big. Great build quality and Honda’s reliability reputation were definitely considered in my choice.
KTM has the biggest improvement over their 2006 model. The electric start is brilliant. The cornering on this bike is confidence-inspiring. It turns easily. The KTM is full of trick parts that come stock, and this is a big plus.
I put the Yamaha in third, but I could ride this bike all day. It has a smooth powerband with no big hit. It was slightly bigger-feeling than all the bikes except the Suzuki.
The Kawasaki is a great bike, but the three bikes above just made bigger improvements. The powerband felt like it was somewhere between the hit of the Honda and the smooth Yamaha powerband. The new forks felt great. This bike was a good fit for me. The front brake lever felt “sharp” on my fingers.
I thought the Suzuki felt too big. And with its big power, it would be easy for me to get in over my head. Again, somewhere between the Honda hit and the Yamaha’s easy-to-ride powerband.
Randy Valade: Pro
Randy Valade on the Honda CRF450R
Rating these bikes is the hardest decision I’ve had to make in a long time. It seems like a few of them deserve to win and none of them deserve to be fourth or fifth. I ended up rating the Suzuki first because it was the most comfortable to me. The motor was great and had a long pull in each of the gears. It has great bottom end, too. The suspension was a little soft at first, but after I made a few adjustments to the clickers, it worked great for me. It tracked well through the rough stuff, and I never felt like it was getting loose on me. It settled into ruts well and turned as good as any of them. The brakes were good and the bike felt like it was very solid. It was the easiest for me to ride.
I don’t really have anything bad to say about the Honda, but I just felt like the Suzuki fit my riding style better. The Honda has an awesome motor, probably one of the strongest. The handling is great, and it is really stable through bumps. The brakes were great and the bike is comfortable. The Honda is really close to the Suzuki.
The Yamaha is third, but again, it is a great bike. The motor is really easy to ride, and that is one of its strong points. I had trouble getting this bike to turn. It wanted to climb out of ruts, and it pushed a little on the flat stuff. Besides that, it is a great bike. It handles well and it is very easy to ride.
The KTM is fourth. The electric start on this bike is great. It makes it so easy when you fall or when you stall the bike to get going again. It took me a long time to get used to pushing a button to start it. I kept looking for the kickstarter. The motor is a little soft off the bottom, but once it gets going, it is great. The suspension was a little stiff for me. It felt choppy coming into the turns. The brakes were great, and it is a very comfortable bike to ride. It does have a different feel on the track than the Japanese bikes. I had a hard time getting confident to push hard.
The Kawasaki finished fifth, but it is an awesome bike. It could have been third, easily. The motor felt a little sluggish to me right off the bottom. I also felt like I had to shift it more than I wanted to. The suspension was just okay for me. It had a stiff feeling that I couldn’t get away from. The brakes were good, and this bike felt very stable, even at high speeds. This bike isn’t bad at all; it just had a few things that didn’t fit me that well. It doesn’t deserve to be fifth, but none of them do.
David Pingree: Pro
Ping on the KTM 450 SX-F
There should really only be two positions in this shootout. The Yamaha and the Honda should both be first, and the KTM, Suzuki, and Kawasaki should be in a tie for second. However, we can’t score them that way, so I had to break it down.
The Yamaha wins because it is the easiest bike to ride. The only bad characteristic it has is a slight tendency to push in turns. This is something that some riders might not even feel, and it can be remedied with different offset triple-clamps. The motor is super ride-able and allows the pilot to ride longer because of its friendly nature. The chassis is stable and predictable, never swapping or reacting on bumps and chatter. The brakes are great and the bike starts easily. It is an all-around great bike.
The Honda would win if this shootout were aimed at advanced riders only. The Honda motor is just a little too much for the average rider. It has an explosive hit that can catch you off-guard if you aren’t ready for it. The suspension, handling, ergonomics, and controls on the Honda are top-notch. The motor was the only downside to this bike, and it is only a downside to novice and beginning riders.
The KTM made huge strides this year. The electric start is so nice. Once you learn the procedure (with the hot-start lever), the bike will start in gear even when it’s hot. The motor is also the best 450 motor in the class. The power rolls on smooth but absolutely rips all the way up to 13,000 rpm! It’s a face-melter when you get this thing wide open in a tall gear. The suspension still has a different feel to it. The shock has a “dead” feel that can be nice sometimes (it never swaps or kicks), but in certain sections that are choppy, the rear tire can feel like it loses touch with the ground. The forks were a little soft at first, but a few clicker changes fixed that. The brakes are the best in the class, and the Renthal grips are more comfortable than any of the OEM grips, which are fat and uncomfortable.
The Suzuki deserves to be third. The KTM only got the nod because of its engine and the electric start. The Suzuki doesn’t do anything badly. The motor is good, but a five-speed tranny with a closer gear ratio would help it. The handling is good. It corners well and the brakes, bars, and ergos are fine. It just wasn’t quite as good as the Yamaha and Honda for me.
The Kawasaki deserves to be third too. My only complaint about this bike is that it feels a little too big for me. It has a longer, taller feel that makes me feel shorter than I already am. That isn’t a good thing. The motor has heaps of low-end and mid-range pull, and the bike handles predictably.
All of these bikes are incredible. I could jump on any one of them and go racing. In my opinion, the biggest decision a consumer can make when buying a bike is which dealer will offer the best support. Some dealers have programs for free riding schools or parts allowances or other incentives. That, to me, is much more important than which brand you ride, because all of them are competitive. If you are trying to decide which brand to buy, all I can say is, good luck. I haven’t scratched my head trying to figure something out this much since my high-school trigonometry exam.