I absolutely love my 2019 Yamaha YZ450F. Anyone that listens to the podcasts I do can tell that I think it’s a great machine. Lately, I’ve ridden a 2018 Suzuki RMZ450, a 2018 Honda CRF450R, and a 2019 Rockstar Edition Husqvarna FC 450 and although I thought they had some strong points I don’t think any of them can compare to the motor and suspension package on the Yamaha (suspension that’s been modified for me by the folks at Race Tech for my weight and speed…yeah that’s right, I put speed in there), the Yamaha is a great bike and it took first spot in four out of the six shootouts done last year.
So it’s with that knowledge that I headed down to Milestone MX Park to ride the 2020 Yamaha YZ450F and hopefully, in the words of Ryan Villopoto at the Anaheim 1 live podcast show, they didn’t “f*** it up.”
I was surprised when I got down there that Yamaha had sent former 125SX champion (beating James Stewart) Travis Preston and legendary mechanic and head of the R&D department Steve Butler there for mine and Kris Keefer’s intro. I mean, I was flattered that such motocross royalty would come out for me. Also there was Yamaha marketing man Mike Ulrich and R&D’s Stevie Tokarski also there to help out. Yamaha busted out the big guns for this intro, no doubt about that.
As I said, the 2019 Yamaha 450 was pretty good but Yamaha made more than a few changes to it. In fact, it’s the most changed 2020 450 this year! They have a completely redesigned cylinder head that’s lower, smaller, and lighter. This made them have to change the valve angle and distance between the cams as well. There are piston changes to go along with this.
I find it interesting that the Yamaha guys told us they initially made these head changes to help with weight but noticed the changes to the cams and valve angles added up to improved performance as well.
The front brake piston is bigger, there’s more surface area for the pads to grab, the caliper is stiffer all in the name of improved performance up front. The rear disc actually became smaller as well as a redesigned caliper.
They changed the bar mounts and moved them forward and made the frame stiffer in some places and softer in others to give it a better, more compliant handling feel.
The 450F gets the bar-mounted two-stage ignition switch that the 250F had last year, which is a cool deal as well as it keeps the Yamaha Wi-Fi tuner app dealio they introduced last year, which lets you use your smartphone to keep track of hours, maintenance logs, and also allows you to custom tune your ECU. This is really sweet and don’t worry, Yamaha made it so you cannot blow your bike up! You can experiment rich and lean mixtures across the RPM range to your heart's content and you’ll be fine.
On our bike, Yamaha had the stock ECU settings loaded in and then with one push of a button, Preston’s “TP3” map was now being used. Probably the same one he used to beat Stew, so you know it was amazing.
My buddy Ryan “The Newf” Lockhart came down with me to ride the new bike (we brought Ryan Gauld with us also but he couldn’t ride because he hit a hay bale on his YZ125 and jacked his shoulder up. Just couldn’t handle the power of the 125, I guess?) and we both took turns on my 2019 YZ450F and then on the new one also.
First up, I have to say that the 2020 Yamaha’s suspension settings were a “tad” soft for my weight and speed so there’s that. Get your bike's suspension set up to fit your needs people, okay? You’ll really enjoy riding the bike more.
With that said, I noticed the new riding position definitely felt weird and strange but I quickly got used to it. Keefer changed his bike back to the 2019 position but for me, I got used to it and when I heard why they changed it and how Preston thinks it’ll help me, I was all in and just got used to it. Hey man, I’m a vet rider these days so I’ll listen to anyone out there to help me.
Later on, “The Newf” adjusted the bars forward to suit him (even though he’s the same height as me, he’s a much better rider) and that I didn’t like. The bike really felt stretched out to me so there is a limit, for me, to the bar mount change Yamaha made.
The motor definitely has better bottom end than 2019 but not enough to pull your arms out or make it hard to ride. They just boosted it up enough to help you a bit out of turns but again, I felt like the 2019 was fine and didn’t have any complaints. The ECU settings were really close, way closer than the 2019 settings but I did prefer the TP3 map over the stock one. Check Pulpmx.com for those settings and again, they’re so easy to change and load with your phone, it’s ridiculous. Yamaha’s really onto something with this app, I used it a lot to check on my oil change intervals with the 2019.
The front brake is for sure better, it’s pretty powerful really. I almost ate poop on the vet track after it was watered and I decided to charge in a bit too hard. Usually I wouldn’t have an issue with this on the 2019, but the 2020 is for sure stronger.
One thing I’m thankful for is the stiffer seat foam. I hit the rails a bit too many times with my fat butt on the 2019 so I’m happy to see they did that. Preston got me to try a GYTR taller seat but it was no bueno for me—although Keefer liked it.
Look, I need to get the suspension done to truly feel comfortable on the bike but the motor’s better, the cockpit changes are good but there are four possible adjustments to make everyone happy so that’s a good thing. I think that the addition of some bottom end is a good thing, I didn’t notice the improved freewheeling effect Yamaha got with this bike, but Keefer did, so there’s that.
The bike was really, really good in 2019 and although they changed a lot for 2020, they didn’t “f*** it up.” It’s a slightly better bike in my opinion, and that’s a good thing.