Racer X Tested: 2008 450 Shootout

January 14, 2008 12:59pm

We finally got all of the 2008 450cc motocross bikes together at the same place at the same time! It took a little longer than usual, but it was worth it. Do you realize how good we have it? A new 450 motocross bike retails for around $7,000. At first that seems astronomical, but when you think about how much R&D goes into developing these bikes and consider the fact that you could show up at a national and be competitive on a stock bike (if you were RC or Bubba), it comes back into perspective. Name another motorsport where you can get this much technology for the price. If you went out and bought a new mountain bike, you could easily spend $7,000. With that mindset, we collected a group of test riders to find out how the 2008 450 offerings stack up back-to-back.

We started at Glen Helen Raceway with our test riders and the 2008 450s. Rather than rate the bikes first through fifth and tally up points like we have in the past, we decided to let each rider talk about what he liked and didn’t like about each bike. If there were issues, we found out what they did to address them. Then we asked each rider which bike he would take home with him if he had his choice. After all, if you weren’t sure about which brand to buy, wouldn’t you want to ride all of them back-to-back? That is the opportunity we provided for our testers and we hope that their answers and perspectives give you some insight before you decide which flavor to choose.

I always try to preface our shootouts with this: All of these bikes are good. In the past decade, the chasm between the bike that wins a shootout and the one that gets fifth has gone from the size of the Grand Canyon to a crack in a sidewalk. The following opinions should be considered but certainly not more than what each of these manufacturers offer in support with the purchase of their bike. Click on the links and do some research on track support, sales incentives, good scholar programs, riding schools, and other bonuses that each of them offer and find the one that fits for you.

Manufacturer Setting Recommendations
*Sag and Jetting

Yamaha YZ450F

Yamaha - 105mm and standard jetting
Spec and Detail link


- 110mm to112mm and standard jetting with adjustable fuel screw added. Fuel screw set to 1 ½ to 2 turns out. 
Spec and Detail link

Kawasaki KX450F

Kawasaki - 100mm and standard jetting
Spec and Detail link

Suzuki RM-Z450

- 100mm and standard jetting
Spec and Detail link

Honda CRF450R

- 95mm to 100mm and standard jetting
Spec and Detail link

Phil Lawrence
6’3” 190 lbs., Pro

Factory Phil Lawrence

I started on the KTM and was blown away with the motor. The engine is super strong and revs out really far. The cornering was awesome, especially in the ruts. I could change lines easily on this bike. I always like the way the components feel on the KTM too. The clutch, brakes, bars and grips are the best of the group. The suspension seemed like it was okay, but it didn’t stand out either. The one thing I didn’t like was that it feels like it is a bigger bike. I don’t know if it’s the weight or the width or something else. It just feels like it is a bigger, heavier bike than some of the others.

Next I rode the Kawasaki. This bike was kind of plain for me. By that I mean that it did everything pretty well but it didn’t do anything amazingly. The engine hits really hard but then goes flat a little bit on top. The suspension was good, especially on the small chop and braking bumps; it had a very plush feel to it. The seat was too soft for me, though. I also felt like this bike tracked into ruts very well.

The Yamaha is an excellent package. The motor never really has a hit to it, but it is very usable. It seems like it would be a good bike for a beginning rider or someone that likes a smooth power delivery. The suspension was really impressive. I think the YZ might have the best all-around suspension of the group. It was stable and tracked well in bumps and it carved around corners with no issues. The suspension was the bright spot for this bike. For me, the engine just seemed a little bit too mellow.

The Honda is a perfect bike for a faster rider. The engine is strong through a really wide range, it has the most stable and predictable chassis characteristics and is light- and responsive-feeling. Sometimes the suspension seems a little harsh, especially in the small, choppy bumps. I would adjust clickers to fix that or, ideally, get it revalved. With the suspension, the harder you ride it, the better it works. Slower or lighter riders might really notice the harsh feeling in the suspension settings. Other than that flaw, the Honda is just about perfect. I was comfortable right away on the Honda.

The Suzuki was the best-cornering bike. It’s funny how a brand can keep that same trait for so many years, because it seems like they always corner well. The throttle response was another bright spot for this bike. It feels like the rear wheel and the throttle are connected to each other. There is no hesitation at all when you turn the throttle. The motor had an electric feel to it, though. It was like all the power was in one place. It made decent power but it wasn’t as broad as the Honda or the KTM. The suspension also felt a little unstable to me. It wanted to dart out from under me a few times and I couldn’t figure out why. It was a little soft for me, and that was the only thing I tried adjusting. Still, even with the compression clickers out a few clicks, I had the same feeling.

Conclusion: After riding all the bikes, I would pick the Honda as the best this year. It stands out in several categories, including the engine, the handling, and ergonomics. It also doesn’t have any major flaws. I do think this bike is better suited to a faster intermediate or pro-level rider. The truth is, I could go just as fast on any of the bikes if we did lap times on them. I just felt like I was most comfortable and most confident on the Honda.

Eric Sandstrom
5’10” 170 lbs., Vet Expert

Eric Sandstrom

I rode the Yamaha first today. The first thing that struck me was how well it handled; the suspension was flawless! It stuck to the ground, allowing me to set up for corners easily, and tracked great coming out of turns as well. This was by far the best-handing bike. The suspension gave it a very balanced feel on the track. The motor was really smooth and easy to ride. It seemed like it would be great for a beginner/novice rider or an off-road guy that wanted mellow, tractable power. For me, I would put an exhaust system or something simple on it to give it a little more power. The one thing I didn’t like was that it had a bigger feel to it. It didn’t want to move around quickly in the air or in tight turns.

The Kawasaki was the next bike I rode. The KX has a big hit right off the bottom, but then it goes flat. The suspension was pretty good but the bike felt a little bigger and “boaty” to me. It was like the Yamaha in that it wouldn’t turn tight or maneuver in the air as easily as some of the others. The seat was also way too soft for me. It was like sinking into a couch when you sat down. There weren’t a lot of negatives about the Kawasaki, but it didn’t shine anywhere for me, either.

The Suzuki cornered really well but it was slightly heavy-feeling. The suspension worked average, but there was a little bit of unpredictability there. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but I didn’t trust it completely. The motor was pretty good, but it had a very usable, electric feel to it. It wasn’t as dynamic as some of the others. I wanted it to rev more than it did.

The KTM was the next bike I got on. The motor is really something else on that thing; it rivaled the Honda motor. The clutch has excellent feel and response and the brakes are phenomenal. It took me a while to get used to how strong the front brake was. The suspension felt solid to me in the high-speed stuff. It never stepped out on me or kicked up in the bumps. It also has a narrow, light feel to it that lets you throw it into a corner easily. I thought the motor and the cornering capabilities of this bike were the best qualities. Also, the brakes and the electric start were great. I was surprised by how good the KTM was.

I rode the Honda last. The power on the CRF is amazing. It signs off a little bit on the top end, but the KTM is the only bike that revved further. The suspension felt stiffer but I actually liked it. It gave the bike a solid, predictable feel. It was easy to set up for corners and the chassis and ergonomics make this bike feel light and narrow. I could put the bike where I wanted to with the least amount of effort of any of the bikes. I didn’t have one complaint about this bike.

Conclusion: For me, the best bike is clearly the Honda. It simply doesn’t have any weaknesses where all the others had something that was either lacking or just not as good. I was impressed with the Yamaha suspension, the KTM engine, the Suzuki throttle response and the Kawasaki’s hit, but the Honda is the best overall package.

Nate Hawley
5’7” 145 lbs., Intermediate

Nate Hawley

I got started on the Kawasaki. The motor is very responsive and hits hard and then it mellows out a little. This bike likes to be ridden in a taller gear so that the torque and low end are utilized. If I got caught in a gear that was too low, I would make more mistakes and struggle through the turns. The suspension felt great on this bike also. The seat was nice and soft, and between that and the plush suspension settings, this thing felt like it was set up just for me. I am a little lighter, though. I also thought the Kawasaki had the best brakes of the group.

The Suzuki was the next bike I rode and I was really pumped to try the EFI out. It had incredible throttle response, just like I thought it would. The instant power made it a really easy bike to corner because there was never any hesitation to throw you off. You don’t realize the hesitation in other bikes until you ride this thing; the power is instantaneous. The motor did feel a little flat, though. It didn’t have any over-rev. The suspension was a little twitchy for me. I tried going a couple clicks stiffer on the compression clickers on the forks, and that really helped. The forks dive with the stock settings, so I would recommend stiffening up the compression. The Suzuki also corners great. It goes through ruts and around corners, especially tighter ones, better than all the rest.

The KTM motor is scary fast. It seems like there is a hit of power all over the place. I liked the power, but it takes a little getting used to. It honestly freaked me out a little bit when I first got on it. The suspension was okay but the forks seemed too soft for me. We stiffened them up but I was still getting some diving coming into turns. I was also getting a little bit of headshake and a twitchy feel up front. The shock was pretty good for me, and I didn’t make any changes to that. There are a lot of good things about this bike. The brakes are really powerful, the foot pegs are wide and comfortable, the grips are awesome, and the handlebars are a good bend. But the best thing about the KTM is the electric start. I loved it. Every bike should have one of these things. If you haven’t ridden one, you wouldn’t believe how nice it is to just push a button and have it fire up again. All the bikes need to switch to electric start.

I rode the Honda last, and I honestly think this is the best 450 ever built. The engine made smooth and rideable power from the bottom to the top. The KTM is faster but the Honda motor seems more usable. The suspension was smooth through fast and slow bumps and it never did anything unexpected. It never got headshake or swapped on me through rough sections. I guess the best thing about this bike is that it gives you confidence the more you ride it. I was comfortable on it by the end of the first lap, and the more I rode it, the faster I felt like I could go. The only complaint I had about it is that it doesn’t have an electric start.

Conclusion: I would pick the Honda as the best bike this year.

Phil Urkov
5’11” 180 lbs., Novice

Phil Urkov

The Suzuki was my first bike of the day. The power was great and the throttle response was immediate. The EFI is definitely noticeable. The power seemed very rider-friendly throughout the rest of the range, too. I like the Suzuki motor because there wasn’t any hesitation and it didn’t jerk out of my arms at any time. The forks were a little stiff in stock trim. We opened them up two clicks and that helped me out a lot. The overall feel of the bike is very comfortable. The clutch was surprisingly easy to pull, and the handling was good after the clicker change. The bike did feel a little wider to me than some of the other bikes.

The KTM surprises you with its power as soon as you pull on to the track and gas it---the motor is great. The stock suspension settings seemed a little bit soft in the front and stiff in the rear for me. That was an easy fix, though. The shock has a very relaxed feel to it, like it isn’t going to do anything quickly. It is a good feeling for choppy, high-speed sections or rough downhills like they have at Glen Helen. The forks deflected off some of the bumps despite the clicker changes. I thought the clutch was harder to pull than some of the others, and the action took some getting used to because of the hydraulic system. The overall ergonomics of the KTM were great. It is a very comfortable bike to ride. The electric start is a life saver when you crash.

The Honda was the next bike I rode. The engine was strong everywhere and made consistent power. It was very predictable. The suspension seems like it is balanced better than any of the other bikes. The forks and shock work perfectly together. I seemed to notice the steering damper also. It was like a third shock for me. The Honda does everything well and doesn’t have a major flaw. It’s hard to pick on anything with the CRF.

I really like the Kawasaki. It had great power for the way I ride. I don’t rev the bike very high, and the KXF would lug me out of turns no matter what gear I was in. I liked the way this motor worked for me. The suspension was nice and plush and sucked up all the chop and big hits. It also had a nice “pop” off the jumps that made it easier to get over obstacles for me. The seat was a little bit soft, and that was the biggest complaint I had.

The Yamaha is another really good all-around bike. The power felt different, or maybe it was just the sound of it. It seemed like it needed an aftermarket exhaust or different gearing. It felt or sounded like it was being choked. The power was all right, but it wasn’t the best engine. The suspension was right up there with the best of them, though. I think this bike stayed in better contact with the ground than any other bike. The fork and shock felt perfectly balanced. The feel and comfort of the Yamaha is the best of all the bikes.

Conclusion: I was really surprised by how close all the bikes were, performance-wise. I’ve never had a chance to ride all the brands back-to-back like this. I would be stoked to have any one of them. I guess if I had to pick, I would choose the Honda. Every bike had one little thing that I would want to change or work on except the Honda. It is comfortable right away, and it is easy to ride on the track.