Keefer Tested: 2018 450 MX Shootout
By:
Kris Keefer

Unless you have been living under a rock you know that the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC 2018 450 MX Shootout podcast presented by Fly Racing has wrapped up and we crowned a winner.If you want to go back and listen to all four shows you can stay right here to pulpmx.com and find each day’s podcast at your fingertips. However, for you non podcast humans out there I wanted to go over briefly each bike’s ranking and what some positives and negatives were about each of those machines. We had nearly 20 testers over the course of three days at three separate tracks to really dig into what each machine has to offer. What I do want to stress is that each one of these bikes are a very capable machine. One rider’s top picks can be someone else’s bottom pick. This is the testament of how close these bikes are and how each can be a great choice for any rider.

In our overage of the 2018 450 Shootout we used a Motocross Of Nations type of score to get the overall results. Each day test riders will write down notes and rank each machine at the end of the test. After the final day the scores were tallied, the lowest scores being the best and an overall winner was crowned. The Honda CRF450R won the first day at Sunrise Cycle Park in Adelanto, California and KTM 450 SX-F won the second day at the famous Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino. The third and final day was held at Competitive Edge MX Park in Hesperia, California and the Honda would come out on top once again to take the win in the inaugural Keefer Inc.Testing/Pulp MX Shootout!

After going over almost 20 riders notes, below is a compiled brief description of each machine and three positives and three negatives that stood out over the course of the shootout. We also put together what type of rider each bike could be good for. Again this is just an overview of some key things we dove into on each day’s podcast. So…… If you haven't experienced a shootout in a podcast format do yourself a favor and listen to all the info that is available for you to hear. Sometimes its tough to really decipher a rider’s opinion through text without hearing their tone while they speak about it. That can’t be translated fully here on your computer screen or phone and can only be translated through hearing what they have to say. This is why I think this form of testing information is important to get out to you in a more organic, tailgate talk type of way. If you’re in the market for a new 450 MX machine here are the rankings, some stand out qualities and some things that each bike need help with.         
 

Suzuki has a new chassis and it's better, but the yellow zook needs a little more engine power to compete with the top three.


Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z450

Suzuki was one of the most anticipated bikes to ride in the 2018 shootout. When asking each tester what bike he was excited the most to ride, almost all said the Suzuki. However, after getting off the RM-Z450 most would be scratching their head wondering which direction to go to improve the machine. On the track the Suzuki still corners very well even though it feels like a tank when taking it off the stand. The frame feel of the RM-Z450 is improved from the 2017 version and is more compliant on fast rough straights. The new Showa spring fork was well perceived and while a little soft for most testers is still tons better than the TAC Showa fork that graced the Suzuki last year. The BFRC shock was noticeably comfortable on acceleration bumps and had tons of traction coming out of choppy ruts once we dropped the sag to 108mm. What hurt the Suzuki was the lack of excitement in the engine delivery and the hinged feeling between the front end and rear end of the Suzuki on long sweeping corners. When the track is tilled deep you are able to feel the weight more because the lack of bottom end response. When the track was firmed up and hard packed the Suzuki’s engine delivery was easier to handle and was in the top three of novice testers.

Positives:

Shock has good comfort on acceleration bumps
Easy to ride engine character for novice riders (Roll On Throttle Delivery)
Slim Ergos


Negatives:

Soft overall power feel
Fork soft and makes bike feel unbalanced
No electric start
 

The Kawasaki KX450F is a sleeper folks. If it only had a spring fork the shootout results could be much different.



Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX450F

The Kawasaki is unchanged for 2018, but that doesn't mean it’s not a great bike. The KX450F’s frame has one of the best bump absorption characters in the group. When the track gets rough and hacked out, the frame of the Kawasaki flexes and gives the rider superb feel. The bad news is that the Showa TAC air fork masks that great feeling with its harsh feel for most riders. Heavier riders didn't notice it as much, but Kawasaki needs to get back on the spring fork program to improve this machine. The engine has a snappy throttle response with a free feeling on de-cel without much engine braking. Once rolling on the throttle, the power is not as strong as the Honda or Yamaha, but still creates a lightweight feeling on the track. The Kawasaki still feels long, but not heavy by any means. Most riders thought the green machine is a more neutral turning bike and not the rear wheel biased machine it was a couple years ago. If it wasn't for the harsh feeling fork this bike could be in the top three very easily. We are going to try a spring fork on our 2018 test bike to see what this bike can really do!  


Positives:

Frame bump absorption
Snappy throttle response
Shock has tons of comfort on braking bumps/acceleration bumps

Negatives:

Fork is tough to dial in and harsh through mid-stroke
No electric start
Long feeling for less skilled riders through corners

 

The Yamaha YZ450F ties for third place, but wins the best suspension category.



Tie/Third Place: Yamaha YZ450F

Yes, thats right we had a tie for third place after all the scores were tallied up. The Yamaha YZ450F is all new and hopes were high for the bLU cRU. The Yamaha won the engine category of our shootout on almost everyday as the powerful, yet smooth bottom end delivery, along with a wide mid to top end pull was the favorite with most testers. The Yamaha engine pulls second and third gear very far and makes it easy for any type of rider to take advantage of its spread on the track. The KYB suspension was also the best of the bunch with its very comfortable feeling when the track gets rough. Riders from 165 pounds to over 200 pounds agreed that this suspension was superb on the big bumps of Glen Helen. One of the things that held it back from winning was cornering character. Most riders agreed that on tip in the Yamaha was better, but on corner exits it wanted to stand up too early. Some riders complained of a slight twitchy feeling “on throttle” with the front end. Once “off throttle” the YZ450F felt planted and didn't have the wiggle it once did. A couple riders complained that they still felt the Yamaha was wide feeling, but we think that it is more of a visual thing than a feeling on the track. I rated the Yamaha first at Competitive Edge because of my ability to push on a track that gets rough. Shocking that I rated a Yamaha first, but with a couple adjustments the YZ450F becomes a very good weapon for my style of riding.


Positives:  

Incredible, yet easy to ride engine
Best suspension in class
Tuneability with new Yamaha Power Tuner app  


Negatives:

Wants to stand up on corner exits
Dip (low feeling) in middle of seat leaves a funky pocket for rider triangle
Slight twitchy feeling on throttle

 

The Husqvarna FC450 has come a long way over the years. Yes, on paper it looks like the KTM, but feels very different on the track.



Tie/Third Place: Husqvarna FC450

The Husqvarna FC450 is basically a KTM 450 SX-F, but with a smaller composite airbox, different muffler, Pro Taper handlebars and slightly different (less rigid) swingarm. The delivery of the Husqvarna is smooth and there really is no exciting hit to it anywhere in its power delivery. The good news about this character is that the traction gets put to the ground and the FC450 and has tons of forward bite (AKA traction). It also has a top end pull that is best in class with an over-rev that is as god as its orange step brother. The WP AER fork feels the same as the KTM with a comfortable feel overall feel and this air fork actually moves at the top of its stroke unlike the Showa TAC air fork. The rear end of the bike felt different than the KTM as it is more compliant on fast choppy straights, but it feels like the Husqvarna has sightly less of a planted feel on flat corners. Testers loved the handlebar map switch and most liked the aggressive map (map two) on the tracks we tested at. The smooth power delivery is what hurt the FC450 the most in this shootout, but at the same time was one of the favorites, of some, at harder pack tracks. Again, its all preference and this is how close these ranking were.

Positives:

Mid to top end engine pulling power
Compliant, light feeling chassis on hard pack tracks
Best air fork in game        

Negatives:

Soft bottom end power
Flat corners has slightly less of a planted feel
Slightly more vibration on high rpm’s than other machines

 

The orange brigade KTM 450 SX-F is easy to ride, has a lightweight feel and has the best brakes of the bunch.



Second Place: KTM 450 SX-F

The orange brigade came damn close to wining this sucker! It is such an easy bike to ride and gives you confidence in its ability to give you maximum traction at any track. The KTM hits harder than the Husqvarna and has more rpm response, which makes it feel slightly lighter than the white version. Testers loved the engine and its buttery smooth, yet exciting pulling power out of corners. It’s almost deceiving because the Honda has more “crack” at initial throttle so you might think you are popping out of corners quicker. However, the KTM never wheelies and sticks to the ground and pushes you forward in a quicker manner than any other bike in the shootout. The KTM’s suspension is what held it back from winning. Although it is the best air fork in today's motocross realm, it still doesn't give the predictability over the course of the day as much as the spring fork. The spring fork also gives the rider slightly more front end traction and that seemed to be very important to most riders in this year’s shootout. The KTM is light, we all know this, but on the track the KTM corners excellent and the weight (or lack of) is really felt when you need to cut down early from a corner. This is where the KTM is superior from others. The KTM and Husqvarna have the best brakes in the shootout and the traction control button is no only a great feature, but it actually works… So try it!


Positives:

Easy to ride, smooth yet exciting engine character
Lightweight chassis feel
Rear wheel traction (connected to throttle hand)  


Negatives:

Harsh feeling on slap down landings through handlebars
Fluctuation of fork feeling throughout day at track
Spokes loosen up quickly so check them often
 

The winner! The Honda CRF450R was the favorite with a ton of testers and with only a few updates for 2018. These updates ere key in finding a comfortable feel on the track.



First Place: Honda CRF450R

The 2018 barely had any changes you say? Well I am not going to argue that, but I will argue that the changes Honda made were key to each riders feeling on the track. The heavier spring rates front and back, the softer engine mounts and mapping change made a better balanced, easier to ride CRF450R. In our shootout, I express my shock as I didn't think it could win, but every test rider I spoke with loved the exciting engine character that the Honda brings and how easy it was to get in and out of a corner. One tester noted that the fork settled into the perfect stroke height when coming into corners, so that he had just the right amount of front end traction. A hard hitting bottom end, torque feel and a mid to top end that had enough pulling power for less skilled riders to get over larger obstacles. Three maps are available on the handlebar and this allowed the rider to dial in how he wanted the engine to deliver the power. Even though the Honda hovers around 12 pounds on the plus side to the KTM, it feels just as light as the orange bike when cornering. It sticks to the ground and provides enough rear wheel traction to get on the gas early. The suspension is balanced, but most riders wanted to go slightly stiffer on both ends. The only real complaint we got was that the end stroke on the Honda was somewhat empty and soft. The chassis is on the stiff side compared to the other Japanese aluminum frames in the shootout, but only a couple riders felt that on the track. The red machine has a narrow feel along with a cockpit that can cater to larger sized riders now. The 2018 Honda CRF450R proved to be the most well rounded bike for a wide variety of riders. The only real negatives were clutch pull/life and a bar bend that is too tall for some riders.  


Positives:

Strong pulling power that creates an exciting feel
Balanced suspension
Ease of cornering


Negatives:

Slight stiffer chassis feel on hard pack, rough tracks.
Clutch pull and life
Shock had soft feeling on end stroke (high speed compression)