KTM’s Concept to Rally-ity!

KTM re-enter the light-middle weight adventure category with a stunning example of things to come.

790 Adventure

KTM pulled the covers off its all-new, KTM 790 ADVENTURE R prototype at the world famous EICMA show in Milan today, along with a hinting how the Austrian firm’s model line-up will further expand, thanks to a completely new engine generation with its 799cc LC8c parallel twin powerplant.

KTM CSO Mr. Hubert Trunkenpolz (the T in KTM) updated the assembled media and guests on the status of the company, scheduled for another record year of growth and profit in 2017 – underlining its position as the largest European motorcycle manufacturer. Not surprising as they have a habit of buying other manufactures. With a completely new engine platform, an expanding R&D facility, increased staff globally and now more than 280 World Championships in its trophy cupboard, KTM refuses to shut the throttle on progress.

Is this what the ADVENTURE community has been eagerly awaiting? A lightweight, compact midrange travel enduro with outstanding cross-country ability.

The KTM 790 ADVENTURE R prototype fully embraces the Austrian company’s READY TO RACE philosophy. With its high dashboard tower, single seat, tiny LED lights and low-slung fuel tanks, the KTM 790 ADVENTURE R is clearly inspired by the KTM Rally machines that dominate competition the world over. The LC8c punches hard from inside its lightweight and extremely rugged chassis, complete with top-quality WP Suspension components front and rear. Naturally, a production version of this would come with the very best electronic rider assistance package too.

While it’s currently just a “prototype”, it looks damn near to production as it gets!

RALLY 450

As a clear example KTM’s consistent forward progression, KTM also presented an entirely new generation KTM 450 RALLY in a bid to claim a seventeenth consecutive Rally Dakar victory. 

Representing two years of intense development and debuted at the OiLibya Rallye Maroc in October, the bike is faster and lighter while being more agile and stable. Wrapped in new bodywork and housed in a bespoke, freshly developed chassis is a new 450cc single cylinder engine. Controlled by a new engine management system and a revised throttle body, the result is better peak performance and improved throttle response. And in the true KTM style and for non-factory pilots, a customer version KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA will become available during 2018.

This is the bike that will take on the Dakar in the impressive hands of Sam Sunderland and Toby Price!

2018 KAWASAKI KX250F

In 2017, we saw an all-new KX250F hit the floors. It was lighter; more nimble, faster revving. After a big year, you could expect Kawasaki to rest on that one for a while, but it seems the Green Team weren’t done yet.

Words: Broxy Pics: Paul

There was no mistaking the Kawasaki as it was rolled out of the Dr. D van, as its plastics are certainly unique, and not just for their colour. The solid strip of plastic running from the fuel cap to the side plates stands out visually, even though it is completely unnoticeable when you hop on the bike. As well, the green 250F has to be the narrowest 250 of them all – something the engineers worked hard to achieve last year.

There was hardly a single component from the 2016 bike that would fit on the 2017 model. When asked, ‘what did they change?’ the answer is ‘well, basically everything’. With a new frame, engine, intake, air box, swing-arm, radiators, seat, tank, linkage, shock spring, fork spring, and many smaller changes, there really isn’t much of the original left.

The most noticeable change is in the radiator department, where Kawasaki has shaved over three centimetres in the shrouds area between your knees, despite having increased the fuel tank size. It was the closest thing to sitting on a two-stroke that you will get from any of the Japanese manufacturers, aside from rival Yamaha’s YZ.

Kawasaki’s 2018 KX also handles more like a two-stroke. While it may have lost some of its stability, no one was complaining, because it is so much easier to throw around than the previous model. Even the power had become more revvy, to the point where your left foot had to remember how to tap dance again. All of this was well and good, but Kawasaki decided it wanted more traditional four-stroke power for 2018. I was amping to discover the end result.

Less is More

You have to understand the language that manufacturers give you in a bike release. ‘Bold new graphics’ has become a euphemism for ‘Basically the same as last year’, while ‘Optimised settings’ could mean anything. Kawasaki likes the word ‘Revised’, which is how they describe almost everything on the KX from the air intake boot, to the injector angles and cylinder head.

What amuses me is how they used ‘revised’ to describe a change to the compression ratio. Why? Because this year, it is slightly lower than it was in 2017 and in the meantime, everyone else is wanting to increase their compression for more power. What was the company thinking? Reliability over performance? Well, while I don’t know about any reliability problems, obviously, Kawasaki knew what it was doing with the power, because this engine actually has more grunt than it did last year.

As testament to this, Pirini Motorbike Park is a good test of horsepower because of its open layout, and the sandy sections will punish a lack of torque. We also had plenty of slippery sections from recent rain, giving us a very good gauge on performance. What stood out to me from the start, was how linear the power had become. An increase in torque was the most likely answer to why that would be, giving it a feeling of safety. The bike is obviously still only a 250, but the torque almost guarantees that a slip of the clutch is enough to get the motor humming without dropping off the boil.

The trade-off to this extra torque is that I felt the bike struggling to rev out as cleanly as last year. A quick change to the white (aggressive) coupler would probably help, but I didn’t mind. As mentioned earlier, last year’s bike felt more like a two-stroke in how it revved, meaning you rode higher in the rpm range. This seemed to leave the rider dancing on the gears more, whereas this bike is closer to your traditional four-stroke power. Objective achieved Kawasaki, but how exactly did you achieve the change?

For 2018’s KX, we have seen a fatter header pipe, which I assume, helps extract the exhaust gases out faster. By itself, that would make the bike louder, except that the header pipe is now 30mm longer. The result is a bike which is actually quieter than the previous year’s model, something I really appreciate because Kawasaki’s bikes are typically on the louder side. Now the KX plays a more enjoyable melody and the neighbours shouldn’t get quite as annoyed, either.

Other changes include a ‘revised’ intake duct and a shorter intake funnel, along with many ‘new’ things. In this category, is a new intake camshaft, new fuel pump and new cylinder head design. There is also a new throttle body with a less vertical injector mounting angle. This works in tandem with the other injector closer to the air box, which has set this bike apart since 2012.

The normal injector is tasked with giving low to mid-range power, but the higher the rpm and harder you turn the throttle, the more it switches to the second injector, which gives the fuel time to break into smaller drops and cool down more. This technology is fine tuned to the point where how it behaves, depends on whether you are in a low gear like first or second, or in one of the higher gears. This is not new, but very cool nonetheless.

On the Pro Circuit

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the weight of all these changes. The list of changes to the 2018 KX250F’s powerplant is almost like Kawasaki giving your new motor to Mitch Payton for an overhaul even before you receive it and not charging you any extra for the privilege. Changes to the head no doubt help the flow, while increased pressure is the result of the new fuel pump. Even the intake valve timing has been advanced. This is all in addition to new ECU settings which still work with the couplers to allow for a quick and easy change of maps.

Something we didn’t mention about the exhaust is the resonating chamber, which was only available on aftermarket pipes in years gone by. Kawasaki seems to be doing all it can to help its riders, and while the KX250F still won’t top the horsepower charts in its class, it will make you accelerate quicker with less effort. What’s not to like?

The other major area that Kawasaki wanted to fine-tune after last year’s mammoth effort, is the suspension. One of the few bikes that avoided the air fork craze, the KX250F has stuck to Showa 48mm Separate Function Front Forks, a name referring to having a spring in one fork and all the shims for rebound and compression dampening in the other. For 2017, the spring weight was increased, but for 2018 it was dialled back down again. The lighter spring seems to work better because it enables an increase in preload, an adjustment rarely seen on a fork. From there, the compression and rebound shims have been changed in the other fork. It sounds like there was a focus on suspension under load, especially through braking bumps. I found the forks very friendly under braking, and I was giving them a hard time. This bike comes standard with a massive 270mm front disc, meaning you can load the front as much as you like with just one finger.

As is usual for Kawasaki, there is a ‘bling’ coating on the fork tubes, obviously in black to match the fork guards and wheel rims. What is less obvious is the ‘self-lubricating Kashima coating’ on the inner shock body. It apparently improves wear resistance and shock action, which Kawasaki aimed to improve with more valving changes. Interpreting the technical language, it sounds like they sped up the rebound dampening.

Kawasaki claim that the new shims improve the ride feel, traction and rear wheel feedback. Personally, I prefer to avoid those traits for the sake of a more forgiving ride. A few laps on this bike proved to me that the KXF250 really did need those changes, because it was now very settled, even over some nasty acceleration bumps. This bike feels like it has embraced the fact that it is not a 450 and seems to get the most out of its lighter weight – which leads on to the biggest thing I noticed about this wonderful machine.

Float Like A Butterfly

The craziest thing about this bike is its manoeuvrability. I really don’t think you can ride this bike without appreciating how easy it is to move around. For years, Kawasaki’s bikes have felt narrow between the legs and easy to move in the air. Since the big changes last year, that feeling has jumped another notch. A flat seat probably contributes, making it easy to move forward and back. Having that narrow feel through the radiator shrouds totally invites you to sit forward for the turns, yet it is a feeling akin to it having a short wheel-base which really stands out.

A quick turning bike is not usually the most stable, which is where the faster sections at Pirini really work as a test. Sure, it may be less stable than some bikes at high speed, but not so much as to make it a liability – not even close. Then you get back to the tight stuff where it shines once again. This is the balance I think Kawasaki has always been looking for. With a bike that is easy to move, you quickly become friends. It is easier to spot a line and go for it. I must admit to full confidence at hitting some lines that I probably shouldn’t have. Then if the line I was in became difficult, I didn’t have trouble changing to something different.

In the same sense, the way the bike feels in the air is distinct enough that I can’t just pass it off as being in my head. Turn the handlebars and the gyroscopic effect of the front wheel is enough to move the rest of the bike into the same plane. Turn the front wheel back in line with the track and the bike will soon follow. This is what I noticed most aboard this bike, and while I can’t explain exactly why, it is a lot of fun. But, there is one last thing which absolutely needs a solid mention, and that is how this bike will get on down the start straight.

I wanted to give it a solid test because of how much the power of this bike has changed. After all, from reading the promotional material on the KX, you would be disappointed if it didn’t give you a better run down the start line. So, you are sitting on the line in neutral. With the bike idling, find the big red button just to the left of the handlebar pad. By pushing and holding that button for a second or two, you have engaged what they call ‘Launch Control’. If your heart rate doesn’t bump up just a notch when you see the flashing orange light firing like a machine gun, then you are just not in the moment enough.

Boosting off the line in second gear, I found it hard to break loose and spin the rear tyre, quite like I would like when the launch control is engaged. But then, I often can’t spin the rear wheel as I would like to with launch control off, either! Without loads of practice on lots of different soil types and conditions, getting the perfect start without the launch control is something of a lottery. What I can tell you is, that a slightly messed up start WITHOUT the launch control engaged, is almost always worse than if you were using it.

So how does the 2018 hold up off the start? Like I said, I struggled to get it spinning, but I could definitely feel the torque in action. Using the launch control somehow amplified that feeling of torque, even though it probably shouldn’t have. There is a big difference between the bike just sounding like it is going good, and actually pulling. Fortunately for Kawasaki, this was definitely the latter – it pulled hard!

Looking back over the changes for 2018, it is as if Kawasaki felt it had gone too far in some areas last year and not enough in others, so they just got stuck into it. I can’t imagine how many hours of testing this kind of development would take, but it is certainly not in vain. This bike is an improvement, enough to keep the Kawasaki faithful happy for at least another year or two.

2018 Kawasaki KX250F Specifications

Price: $12,695 + ORC

Type                                            Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve

Engine Displacement              249cc

Bore x Stroke                            77.0 x 53.6mm

Compression Ratio                 13.4:1

Carburation                              Fuel injection: 43mm x 1 with dual injection

Fuel Tank Capacity                 6.4 litres

Transmission Type                 5 speed return

Final Drive                               Chain

Frame Type                             Aluminium, perimeter

Dimensions (LxWxH)           2172 x 825 x 1270mm

Wheelbase                               1478mm

Trail                                         123mm

Seat Height                            945mm

Kerb Weight                          104.7kg

Suspension Front                 48mm upside down telescopic Separate Function Fork (SFF)

Suspension Rear                   New Uni-Trak

Tyres Front                            80/100-21 51M

Tyres Rear                              100/90-19 57m

Brakes Front                          Single semi-floating 270mm petal disc, dual piston caliper

Brakes Rear                           Single 240mm petal disc

C’s Garage 1986 Honda CR500 Flat Tracker

 

While at the 2016 Earnest Clay Classic, we took a closer look at one of the coolest bikes in attendance, which was the Honda CR500 flat tracker built by Adam Hedges…

Words: Paul | Photos: Joel Hedges – Earnestco.com

Adam bought the 1985 CR500 as a completely stock bike, freshly imported from Southern California. Being it was immaculate, it took a lot of courage to start tearing it down, but he knew what he wanted to achieve with the classic Honda. “This was my first bike build after owning regular dirt bikes in the past. I’ve always had a passion for two-stroke Hondas and, naturally, the 500 has been a dream,” explained Adam. “Basically, the build was based around the idea of, ‘what if Honda produced a factory flat track bike in 1985?’ So, I tried to keep things looking like they would have out of the factory.”

The only parts left from the original bike are the frame and the motor. Adam runs C’s Garage (www.csgarage.com), which specialises in building racecars and fabricating components, so he had the knowledge and equipment to turn his dream into a reality. “I started by building a custom tubular swingarm that is 1-1.5” shorter than the stock item, mated up with a shock off a Ducati sports bike. Next up, I fabricated a chromoly rear subframe to suit the fibreglass Harley XR750 style tail section/seat. The tank is a fibreglass Champion style tank from the UK.”

For the exhaust system, Adam kept the FMF expansion chamber that came with the bike from the States and fabricated a new ‘mid pipe’ that joins up to a FMF muffler that’s mounted central under the tail section. Up front, there’s a set of ’04 Yamaha YZF-R6 forks combined with a Brembo caliper off a KTM. The rear Brembo is off a Ducati Monster. “The bike was originally drum brake on the rear, so I fabricated a mount for a CRF master cylinder and made up a new lower mounted rear brake pedal,” explained Adam. “The front CRF450 hub is laced to a 19×2.15 Excel rim and the rear YZ250F hub has a slightly wider 2.5” Excel rim. This was my first time lacing wheels, which was a bit of an experience. For the radiator, I cut the tanks off two CR250 radiators, welded them together and made up some new tanks to suit.”

Adam painted the frame, tank and seat in a Honda colour scheme that he felt would look right and, finally, fabricated up some number boards and cut some vinyl to finish it all off.

The only bit of work that wasn’t carried out by Adam was the seat, as he explained, “I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near confident with a sewing machine.”

At the recent Clay Classic at Sam Smith’s farm in Pukekohe, the CR500 was by far the star attraction, with racers and spectators crowding around the bike when it wasn’t doing laps of the specially built clay oval. The attention to detail is remarkable and Adam should be proud of what he has achieved with this classic machine.

 

 C’s Garage

Adam has been fabricating race cars for over 10 years and is also involved in many aspects of high level motorsport. His fabrication workshop C’s Garage (www.csgarage.com) was born from a passion for metal work and drift cars and has become known throughout the global drifting scene. Since its inception in 2007, the shop has become renowned for putting out the highest level of race/drift car work in New Zealand, too.

Of course, Adam also has a strong involvement in the Earnest company (www.earnestco.com), building bikes, fabricating and being heavily involved in the product development process, as bikes have take a strong hold on Adam over the past few years. Since the CR500 was completed, you can now also find two CR250s and a CRF250R flat track build sitting in the workshop.

THIS AND THAT – THE SPECSHEET

Honda 1985 CR500 engine and frame

Maxxis DTR-1 tyres 27x7x19 front and 27.5×7.5×19 rear

Excel rims F/2.15×19 R/2.5×19

2004 Yamaha R6 forks

Ducati rear shock

Brembo front caliper (from a KTM)

Brembo rear caliper (from a Ducati)

Custom tubular chromoly swingarm

Custom chromoly rear subframe

FMF Gnarly expansion chamber

Custom stainless mid pipe

FMF turbocore muffler

XR750 style tail section

Champion-style tank

CRF rear master cylinder

Custom rear brake pedal

Custom blue vinyl seat

High bend wide flat track style handlebar

Custom aluminium radiator

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

After developing a minor obsession with rally raid bikes following this year’s Dakar, to say Mat was fizzing at the chance to ride Honda’s cool new CRF250 Rally is a bit of an understatement

Words: Mat Pics: Paul and Kerry

It’s pretty hard to get excited about a 250 with a number plate these days, but when I laid eyes on the Honda CRF250 Rally, I knew I had to give it a go! With its Rally Raid inspired design, which takes cues from the HRC-campaigned, CRF450 Rally, that would have broken KTM’s Dakar winning streak this year, if not for an unfortunate team-wide penalty, the CRF250 Rally is one of – if not the – best-looking, road-going traillies out there.

It’s not just a cool-looking machine, but a frugal one as well. With its 250cc, single-cylinder engine, Honda claims the Rally can get a meagre 3.3L/100km which, when combined with the 10.2-litre fuel tank, means a usable range of 200km or more. Then there is the sheer potential of this little machine, which is so far, the most adventurous of the 2017 contingent of small capacity adventure machines to land on our shores.

Skin Deep

Despite its rally raid looks, you won’t be taking to the moto track or beach races with the 250 Rally. As Paul put it, the Rally is “more mountain goat than motocrosser.” When you strip away the rally replica plastics and 10.2-litre fuel tank, its essentially a CRF250L wearing high heels. But the aforementioned accoutrements have undeniably given the Rally much more appeal than the standard 250L.

While it would have made sense to have based the 250 Rally on the CRF250R (or even the 450) to match the looks with some brawn, the highly strung powerplants of the real dirt bikes just don’t have what it takes in the real world, where we have to get to the trail as well as handle what’s on it. Sure, Honda now does a 300cc engine (which features in their learner road bike, the CBR300R) that they could have used instead, but the 250 variant is a reliable little motor, which has been proven on trails worldwide.

With 24hp and 22Nm on tap you’re not going to be winning any races with it (unless it’s a slow race), but it’ll go forever while sipping gas at a constant 110km/h, and has enough beans to keep you entertained on the loose stuff.  It only needs servicing every 12,000km too, which you definitely can’t get out of an MX bike!

Let’s Party

As an entry-level adventure machine, sophisticated electronics such as those found on the hero of the family – the Africa Twin – are a bit much to ask for. But that doesn’t mean the Rally doesn’t have its own party piece.

With ABS now being a requirement for all bikes over 125cc to attain Euro4 compliance, Honda has given the Rally a switch to deactivate the rear ABS just like the Africa Twin. ABS is great on the road, but off-road, it’s another story. Simply by holding down the ABS off switch for three seconds, you can lock the rear brake up and skid to a stop, just like you did as a kid on your BMX!

It soon became clear that – despite the 249cc engine’s low power output – when the road gets rough, the little Honda comes alive. With eyes peeled for every opportunity to take the Rally onto the road less travelled, every ride felt like an adventure, and each time the knobbly IRS tyres hit gravel, I felt like a hero thanks to the easy-going nature that filtered through to the Rally from the CRF250L.

Due to the low 157kg kerb weight, the lack of power isn’t so much of an issue on the highway. This 250 will hold 100km/h all day long, and I even found myself overtaking the slower country traffic on my adventures with the Rally. It is no speed demon though, and runs out of momentum when the digital display reads 130km/h, which is still plenty of speed to annoy the local constabulary.

Like any bike built to a price, there are a few niggles and the Rally does show its modest Thai-built origins in places. The suspension is VERY soft and heavier riders will notice the mono-shock running out of stroke with the factory settings, so turning up the preload will be a must for many riders.

The other niggle of note was the durability of the plastics and cool HRC graphics, which were showing wear after a handful of rides. Not ideal when you’ll be hitting the dirt as much as possible on the Rally. But with that all said, the Rally is a fantastic, budget adventure bike for the money, and at only $8,695, you can’t really ask for much more from this little Dakar hero wannabe.

 

17YM CRF250 Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally  Specifications

Price: $8,690 + ORC

Engine Type                             Liquid-cooled, Single, DOHC

Engine Displacement            249.6cc

Bore x Stroke                           76 x 55mm

Compression Ratio                10.7:1

Max. Power Output               24 HP (18.2kW) @ 8500rpm

Max. Torque                           22.6Nm @ 6750rpm

Carburation                            PGM-FI

Fuel Tank Capacity                10.2-Litres

Fuel Consumption                 3.3L/100km

Clutch Type                             Wet multi-plate hydraulic

Transmission Type                6-speed

Final Drive                              Chain

Frame Type                             Steel Twin Tube

Dimensions (LxWxH)          2210 x 900 x 1425mm

Wheelbase                              1455mm

Caster Angle                           28.1 degrees

Trail                                         114mm

Seat Height                             894mm

Ground Clearance                 269mm

Kerb Weight                           157kg

Type Front                              43mm Telescopic Upside down Fork

Type Rear                               Prolink

Rim Size Front                      21-inch

Rim Size Rear                        18-inch

Tyres Front                            3.00-21 51P

Tyres Rear                              120/80-18M/C 62P

Brakes Front                          Single 296mm disc with twin-piston Nissin caliper

Brakes Rear                            Single 220mm disc with single-piston Nissin caliper

ABS System Type                  2 channel

Instruments                           Digital

Headlight                                LED

Taillight                                  Bulb

Honda CRF450RX vs Yamaha YZ450FX

When two of the biggest Japanese players entered into the big bore cross country arena, it produced arguably two of the best machines in the class. But which tops the list? We headed to the tracks and trails of Pirini to see if we could find out…

Words: Paul Pics: Paul

It’s not rocket science. Take your MX1 four-stroke machine, swap the rear wheel out for an 18-incher, add an electric leg, soften the suspension and don’t worry too much about lights or any other electric gubbins. You’d think it would be a no brainer, especially as the Euros have been doing so well with their XC varieties. But no, it’s taken years for the Japanese to come up with the same solution, although when they finally added 450 XCs to their ranges, the bikes they produced proved to be stunning examples of the sorts of machines we love here in Godzone.

The Contenders

Having a YZ450FX and a Honda CRF450RX at the same time meant there was no choice but to put the two head-to-head. It would have been great to have had a KTM along at the same time, but with the 450XC producing so much mumbo, it appears that everyone knows it’s too much and go for the 350XC instead. It’s a sensible choice as the 350 is a sweet machine. But we’re here to test 450s, so the FX and RX were going to be put head-to-head.

The FX has been around since 2016 when it was launched officially in Queenstown. We sent Chris to sample the fun and he came back saying The more hours I put into the 450FX, the more comfortable I felt on it”. Which makes it a real shame that we haven’t had the opportunity to sample the FX again since, so having one along for this test was going to be fun.

The Yamaha is based around the YZ450F motocrosser, a bike which breaks from the norm of the rest of the moto scene. A backwards facing engine allows a more direct route for the air to flow, the petrol tank is located under the seat, and the airbox is up where the tank used to be. It’s innovative, different and really seems to work, with the blue bike posting some of the bigger horsepower figures in the segment.

Meanwhile, the Honda is a bit more traditional, well, apart from the twin shooters out the back. Yep, the CRF450RX has retained the twin exhausts of the MX1 machine and it looks awesome for them. Powering the CRF is Honda’s trusty Unicam powerplant which, like the Yamaha, has gained an electric leg but unlike the Yamaha has also retained the manual version too. The FX relies on the button and having a healthy battery, which tends to make us a bit nervous entering the bush for a longer ride. It doesn’t take much cranking over for the small batteries fitted to these machines to get to the bottom of their reserves, and while having the back-up kick starter might add a fraction of weight but it’s a necessity in our books.

Even though the Honda might look racier to the casual observer due to the twin pipes, jumping on board swaps the tables. The Honda is a little old school in a CRF450X kind of way, and you can almost feel Honda’s stalwart off-road bike creeping in through many assets of the RX. The Renthal handlebars and the riding position are 450X through and through, as is the delivery from the powerplant which has been tuned for bottom-end torque rather than a screaming top-end. The RX feels comfortable and familiar, which couldn’t be farther from the truth with the Yamaha.

Sit aboard the blue machine and the first trait you recognise is the towering saddle. At 965mm from the floor, the FX is just another Yamaha to make your eyes water and you’ve got to think the Yamaha engineers have the longest instep of anyone in the world if they think a saddle almost a metre from the floor is okay. Thankfully, the FX is narrow – I mean seriously skinny! – with the middle of the bike almost disappearing between your legs when you’re standing on the grippy footpegs. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once there, you begin to realise the Yamaha is a supremely flickable machine with the low C of G and skinny ergos making it feel much less than a traditional 450, especially one wearing an electric leg…

Neither bike has got much of a dash to speak of, with the cross country theme keeping unnecessary gizmos to a minimum in order to save weight. Neither have got a headlight either, and the lack of unnecessary extras means they’ve both managed to keep the weight down on these bikes. Despite that, there’s still a price to pay for having an electric start, a sidestand and a slightly bigger tank with the RX tipping the scales at 118kg wet while the MX R-version is a claimed 110.6kg. The Yamaha shows the same sort of gains, with the FX slightly heavier at 119kg wet, while the MX version is 112kg. The only time you really feel the extra kilos is when you’re pulling them out of the trailer, lifting them off the sidestand or picking them up off the floor. Once you’re moving the extra weight disappears, which is especially true with the Yamaha thanks to that slim mid-section. Also helping the featherweight feeling is the lack of electronics mounted to the handlebars, with a clock and headlight seriously noticeable on more trail or enduro machines.

Ripping It Up

With two eagerly anticipated bikes to test, it didn’t take long before Mitch and Tarver were ripping up the tracks and trails trying to get a bead on which was their preferred machine. With the RX actually Mitch’s bike, we got him to revert all the settings back to base, but it was obvious he was still extremely comfortable on the Honda. “Everything is that good nowadays, they all just need fine tuning to get the best set-up. The Yamaha is a good all round bike and has got more than enough power, but it’s not spread enough I reckon. The Honda has torque all the way through the range, and even though it doesn’t do anything drastically better than anything else out there, it’s just consistent all the time and that’s why I like it.”

Tarver and myself were both also immediately enamoured with the red machine. The easy ergos, sit-in feeling, predictable power delivery and the way it just got on with the job in hand was going to be a tough act to follow. The RX is typical Honda, jumping into life as soon as you hit the starter and running faultlessly throughout the day despite some pretty tough riding through the powdery berms of Pirini and also while venturing out into the un-groomed trails where the water ruts were big enough to swallow the unwary. This is where the Honda excelled, with the bottom-end hit giving you the confidence to hit anything knowing the RX will just grunt its way to the top.

And then there’s the switchable mapping, which makes a massive difference between modes and lets you set the RX up how you’d like it for any situation. Okay, you aren’t really flicking modes on the fly as the button needs to be held down for a few seconds, but sitting at the foot of a tricky looking hillclimb that had plenty of ruts and jumps to negotiate, I dropped the Honda out of the aggressive mode in favour for the middle setting. It really works and becomes an invaluable tool when you’ve got it.

With 49mm Showas at the front and Honda’s legendary Pro-Link suspension at the rear, the RX steers sweetly, especially as the frame is borrowed from the MX’er. The RX oozes confidence and you can throw it into a turn, hit a berm or pick a rut with almost telepathic intuition – point the RX where you want to go and you’re there. Getting on the gas isn’t quite as easy, with the Honda still more about grunt than all-out horsepower even when you’ve got it in the aggressive mode, so if you’re the sort of rider who likes to punch off a berm, the Honda takes a little getting used to. Once you’ve got it dialled it’s no drama, it just doesn’t come automatically.

Scrubbing speed is good if not exceptional, with the 260mm front disc which is gripped by a twin-piston caliper needing a good tug to get the Dunlop Geomax AT81s to bite in. Using the rear at the same time gets the power up to acceptable levels, but they aren’t the sharpest stoppers out there. That’s a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it, with a seriously powerful set of brakes more likely to see you lose the front and crash, or head over the handlebars and crash. It takes serious skill to make the most of top shelf stoppers, so maybe having a set which aren’t razor sharp isn’t a bad idea.

And then there’s the Yamaha, which although not as instantly inspiring as the Honda, grew on the testers as the day went on, especially myself and Tarver. “I expected to like the Honda the most,” said Tarver when we’d finished the test. “But after a day of riding, the Yamaha really took my fancy. I felt safer and more comfortable on the Honda and for trail riding, I’d take the RX. But I really enjoyed the thrill of riding the Yamaha, with the suspension especially good at soaking up big impacts. I’m not a fan of the old school handlebars and cockpit of the red machine, with the Yamaha looking much more modern. And the Honda sounds better with the bark from the twin pipes where all you get from the FX is the sound of the airbox. But I imagine with a bit of set-up from someone like Paul Whibley, the FX would be incredible on rides like Desert Storm and Boundary Buster. I reckon it would be incredible!”

When you first get on the FX (and any of the new-breed Yamaha 450s), it feels distinctly different to anything else you’ve been used to. The engine configuration, lack of petrol tank up front and, once you’re going, the noise from the airbox that sounds like it wants to suck your crown jewels into the motor all add up to making a bike that’s different from the norm. Initially, that’s a bad thing and you can’t ride as quickly and confidently straight out of the box as you would with, say, the Honda or other equivalent machines. But then you start to gel with the Yamaha, and we all started to like it more and more.

There’s no denying, the FX is the more focused machine and therefore a better bet for the faster or more advanced rider. The engine is breath-taking, with an instant hit of power as you open the throttle which is completely different to the delivery from the Honda. Where the RX encourages you to hook another cog higher and use the torque to make progress, the FX wants you to grab it by the throat and wring its neck, with the best delivery coming in the mid-to-top of the rev range. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to bounce it off the limiter everywhere, and if you try this you’ll discover the Yamaha simply makes more noise but doesn’t really reward with more forward motion. No, the FX loves that upper-middle area of the rev range and feels ballistic when you’re there. That means the open trails of Pirini were a hooting, hollering laugh on the FX, with sand being roosted in every direction as the Yamaha blasted along encouraging you to try and keep up with the gears. It’s the most moto-focused out of the two, and you could easily enter a moto on the FX and keep up with the guys on standard Fs.

But that lead me to be a bit cautious in the technical sections, where I felt the Yamaha was more likely to bite should I get it slightly wrong when compared to the Honda. It’s true that the Honda excels in these conditions and the Yamaha requires a different level of skill and control, but keeping a finger on the clutch and an eye on the revs shows that the FX can bounce and leap through technical terrain just as good as the Honda, it just takes a little more concentration. And when you do need to scrub speed, the Yamaha has you covered with a great set of brakes, with the rear especially strong.

Handling too isn’t quite as natural as the RX, with that reverse engine combined with the towering seat height making the Yamaha require slightly more effort to get it to turn in. Once there and the FX will track superbly and the motor is just waiting to be unleashed in a burst of power while the airbox noise makes you feel like you’re riding fast. And if you’re riding the FX there’s no excuse not to be riding fast, as it’s got as much horsepower as you’ll ever need and the 48mm suspension will soak up anything you decide to throw at it. The rear shock wasn’t quite as composed as the Honda, again making the Yamaha feel a little ‘different’ than a ‘normal’ dirt bike, but get into the groove with the FX and there’s not much that’s going to be able to keep up.

Horses For Courses

Despite both bikes being aimed at the same market and both being a development of their brand’s motocross weapons, it’s quite amazing to experience just how different these two bikes are from one another. The fundamental differences in the powerplants are pretty much the reason, with the double overhead cam configuration of the Yamaha inherently more inclined to produce a peakier power delivery, while the Honda’s Unicam is the complete opposite. The fact the Yamaha’s engine is opposite in direction to the Honda is the explanation for the slightly more effort required to turn, but the fact there’s no fuel tank at the front and pretty much nothing between your legs makes for a riding experience that belies the fact you’re on a 450cc machine. The Honda is much more traditional, and the RX experience is almost like riding an X on steroids.

Deciding between the two is a tricky prospect, as it’s as much to do with what style of rider you are and the type of riding you’re doing as anything else. If you’re trail riding and are maybe on your second dirt bike and wanting something that’s going to develop with you as your fitness and skill levels increase, then I’d thoroughly recommend the Honda. It’s easy, comfortable and there are no surprises. The RX gets on with the job in hand and makes you look good in the process. But if you’re more experienced, faster, maybe do a bit of moto but want something with an electric start, especially when you hit the trails, then the Yamaha is a weapon that won’t disappoint. Once you’ve got it set-up for yourself, the FX is devastatingly quick in various terrains and situations, but that means you need to skill, fitness and ability to be able to hold on. You can adjust the power delivery with the optional Power Tuner, but it’s not as easy as the Honda’s system.

Take the engines out of the equation and both the bikes are very similar: aluminium perimeter beam frame, spring forks, no headlight, 18-inch rear wheel, sidestand etc. But it’s the way that both parties have come to the conclusion of making their powerplant which really distinguishes who the prospective rider is likely to be. I for one had a ball riding both as did Tarver and Mitch, and it’s safe to say that whichever you pick, chances are you’re not going to be disappointed.

 

Yamaha YZ450FX Specifications

Price: $14,499

Engine Type                Liquid-cooled, DOHC 4-stroke, 4 titanium valves

Displacement              449 cc

Bore x Stroke              97 x 60.8mm

Compression Ratio     12.5:1

Ignition                        TCI

Starter System                        Electric/Kick

Fuel Tank Capacity      7.5-litres

Transmission              5-speed

L x W x H                     2165mm X 825mm X 1280mm

Seat Height                 965mm

Wheelbase                  1460mm

Ground Clearance       325mm

Wet Weight                119kg with 7.5-litres of fuel

Frame Type                 Bilateral Beam

Suspension Front        Telescopic fork, 310mm travel

Suspension Rear         Swingarm, link suspension, 317mm travel

Brakes Front               Single disc, 270mm

Brakes Rear                Single disc, 245mm

Tyres Front                  Dunlop Geomax AT81 90/90-21

Tyres Rear                   Dunlop Geomax AT81 120/90-18

 

Honda CRF450RX Specifications

 

Price: $14,495

Engine Type                liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke

Displacement              449cc

Bore and Stroke          96mm x 62.1mm

Ignition                        Full transistorised with electronic advance

Compression Ratio     13.5:1

Starter                         Kick and electric start

Transmission              Close-ratio 5-speed

Fuel Capacity              8.5-litres

Dimensions                 2175mm x 827mm x 1274mm

Seat Height                 960mm

Wheelbase                  1477mm

Ground Clearance       328mm

Kerb Weight                118kg

Suspension Front        49mm fully adjustable leading-axle inverted telescopic Showa coil-spring fork; 305mm travel

Suspension Rear         Pro-Link system; fully adjustable Showa single shock; 313mm travel

Brakes Front               Single 260mm disc with twin-piston caliper

Brakes Rear                Single 240mm disc

Tyres Front                  Dunlop Geomax AT81 90/90-21

Tyres Rear                   Dunlop Geomax AT81 120/90-18