Best Motocross Bike
Image by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

Best Motocross Bike

Adam Booth | November 24, 2015

Explosive hard-hitting power has long been the mantra for the 450 Motocross class. If the power stretched arms, white knuckled fingers and scared you, all the better. Roosting into 2016, manufactures know that producing big power remains the goal, but even more important is power delivery, which is the key to a great handling motorcycle and better rider experience.

Thanks to engine refinements and EFI tuning, today’s 450s are truly gentle giants. Some manufactures also managed to drop significant weight on their 2016 MX offerings. One way to shed a few pounds is to ditch conventional spring forks for air forks. Air vs. spring has become a heated topic amongst riders. It doesn’t create quite the debate as two-stroke vs. four-stroke, but opinions do run hot on the subject.

MotoUSA’s 2016 450 MX shootout features three machines with air forks and four with spring forks. The three air fork-equipped bikes include the all-new Kawasaki KX450F, revised Honda CRF450R and basically unchanged Suzuki RM-Z450. The bikes still supported by conventional springs are the KTM 450 SX-F and Husqvarna FC 450, which are both completely new, and the revised Yamaha YZ450F. The final spring fork bike is the all-new KTM 350 SX-F, which we tossed into the ring to battle it out amongst the 450 giants.

The 2016 KTM 450 SX-F ($9299) is virtually identical to the 2015.5 450 SX-F Factory Edition, which KTM released earlier this year prior to the release of the 2016 model to meet the AMA homologation requirements. This year’s 450 SX-F is 10 pounds lighter, with a more powerful engine, better suspension and is, in our estimation, simply the best KTM 450 SX-F ever produced.

We can’t say we were surprised that Husqvarna’s 2016 motocross line and was effectively a white KTM. It would be crazy for Husqvarna not to embrace what its parent company developed for 2016. The Husqvarna FC 450 (99) and 450 SX-F bikes are almost identical; they come from the same factory and use almost all the same parts, except the Husky uses a more restrictive FIM-compliant muffler, composite subframe, DID rims, GSK brake rotors, Dunlop MX52 tires, Magura hydraulic clutch, different body work and ProTaper handlebars. They have the same engines, identical ECU mapping, the same frame, exhaust, triple clamps and we are even told the WP suspension is spec’d the same. Which fraternal twin is better than the other, and is either one ready for the top spot?

Following the format of past MotoUSA MX shootouts, we included the 2016 KTM 350 SX-F. It’s all-new, lighter and faster than before, potentially giving the 450s a run for their money and appealing to riders who don’t want the power and weight of a 450 but need more boost than a 250F offers. Previously the 350 has been knocked for its lack of power and often compared to a big bore 250F. Not anymore! Our entire testing crew was blown away with how light and fast the 2016 KTM 350 SX-F felt on the track during our First Ride evaluation, with some riders even preferring it over all other 450s!

Honda’s 2016 CRF450R ($8699) has finished well in past MotoUSA MX shootouts and this year received revisions to the suspension aimed at improving stability and rear wheel traction. The easy to manage engine stays the same and the CRF450 is the only bike equipped with dual mufflers. As one of the air-fork bikes, the Honda sources the second generation KYB PSF2 air fork, featuring high- and low-speed compression adjustment. The proven reliability and easy to ride chassis is almost always a hit amongst test riders, and the CRF got high marks during its First Ride review.

In 2015 Suzuki’s RM-Z450 received an updated chassis and the addition of the KYB TAC air fork. Changes to the 2015 model addressed the complaints of a harsh chassis but didn’t remedy the issue fully. The 2016 Suzuki RM-Z450 (49) still has an incredibly user-friendly engine that appeals to a wide range of riders and holds top honors in the cornering world. We’ve heard rumors that the 2017 RM-Z450 is going to be all-new, which for Suzuki lovers is welcome news. The RM-Z450 looks as it did in 2008, but is still a perfect fit for some riders.

The Kawasaki KX450F has a marked history has one of the most potent motocross machines, dominating in the horsepower department and winning several past MotoUSA shootouts. It is also known for its confidence inspiring stability. Larger riders love the roomy layout and comfortable ergonomics. For 2016 the Kawasaki KX450F ($8799) underwent a major overall from top to bottom and is now 7.5 pounds lighter. Check out MotoUSA’s 2016 KX450F First Ride analysis from Steel City MX.

The unique engine and chassis configuration of the Yamaha YZ450F ($8590) seemed radical five years ago, but has proven a smashing success since its inception. Test riders enjoyed the 2016 YZ450F during our First Ride, as well as subsequent testing time leading into the shootout. Will its engine, suspension and chassis revisions give the Yamaha an advantage over its 450 rivals, especially the all-new models?

After outfitting each bike with a set of Factory Effex pre-printed backgrounds we spent a few weeks testing all the bikes (as they come in stock form) at various tracks around southern California. Riding and testing the bikes at different locations provided a great understanding of the strengths and weakness of each machine. We also enlisted the help of FMF, using slip on muffler systems with spark arrestors to do testing at state run tracks that require spark arrestors.

Back at MotoUSA headquarters the bike weights were recorded with a full tank of gas. The Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki hold about 1.5 gallons of gas, with the Yamaha, KTMs and Husqvarna carrying two gallons of fuel, so when looking at overall bike weights consider that extra half gallon equate to three extra pounds when full. We then ran each bike on our DynoJet dyno, measuring rear-wheel horsepower and torque.

Our riders over the duration of testing were pro-level Kai Mukai, Trevor Stewart and Adam Enticknap. Vet pros guys Lars Lindstrom and Matt Armstrong were joined by Pro Trials rider and novice motocrosser Eric Stroz, senior vet motocrosser Scot Gustafson and myself, MotoUSA Off-Road Editor and vet intermediate Adam Booth. Test riders scored each bike based on a number of performance categories like engine power, cornering, stability, suspension, handling and more. Points were assessed, giving us a final ranking. MotoUSA’s goal is to provide readers the most comprehensive shootout available. The winning bike might not be the best choice for your size and style, so use the info to help you decide what might be best for you. All the bikes in this shootout are awesome machines and with a little personalized set up can be made to work great. But in a shootout there can only be one winner, so let’s roost and see who got it right for 2016.




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