A stable ride with serious shortcomings

It’s been four years since Yamaha completely redesigned the YZ450F by incorporating a backwards engine design with a rearward-slanted cylinder. It was a completely unique approach to creating the ultimate motocross weapon, and in 2013 it is still the only machine with such a distinct departure from conventional dirt bike design principals. Every year, Team Blue has refined and tweaked the big YZ, but this year the engineers left well enough alone. Only a white rear fender and black handlebars are on the list of changes for 2013. But will the minor 2012 updates be enough for the YZ450F to compete in this year’s shootout?

With such an unconventional engine layout, the YZ450F’s rider compartment feels slightly more compressed than some of the other machines. The seat is flat and long, as the airbox is located where the gas tank would normally be, and the fuel is contained below the middle part of the rider’s compartment. Another consequence of the airbox location is the tank and shroud area is the widest of the bunch. The bars are low, giving the impression of sitting high on the bike rather than in it. Our testers ranked the Yamaha lowest in the Ergonomics scoring category due to the unique feel.

“The Yamaha felt a little wide, then when it got to the shroud it got drastically wider,” claims our X Games champ Vicki Golden. “I felt like I wasn’t able to put myself on the tank for the corners.”

The width combined with a weight of 249 pounds with 1.6 gallons of fuel filling the tank. There is no question the Yamaha feels the largest of bunch. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the YZ feels stable and composed in most situations thanks to the bigger-feeling chassis. Even though the straight-line handling is confidence inspiring, in the turns it just doesn’t stick like some of the other bikes in the test.

“The Yamaha is always a stable machine, and that is a feature I love; it never gets crazy and is always predicable, but it just has an issue with turning,” says our go-to pro Chris See. “It’s like I can’t get enough weight on the front end, and it wants to constantly push out in corners.”

Sirius Radio Host and the “Fastest Skateboarder on Two Wheels” Jason Ellis agrees with See. “The big tank area makes you want to sit back more, and that makes it stable. But it wants to push wide in the corner; it doesn’t hold in there.”

Most of our testing crew ranked the Yamaha’s suspension near the bottom because of soft spring rates. Once again the soft suspension aided in the chassis being predictable, but our team took issue with it on the jumps and whoops.

“The Yamaha does a great job of soaking up the small bumps, but unfortunately, the stock spring rates are simply too soft for me,” surmises Shoei Helmet’s Bret Milan. “Although the suspension action is very smooth, the harder I pushed, the less comfortable I felt with the soft springs.”

In the power department, the YZ450F is just a half step behind in our performance testing. On the MotoUSA DynoJet 250i, the blue and white bike pumped out a fifth best 48.28 horsepower and 29.61 lb-ft of torque. Our team felt that the YZ had a good spread of power, and the low-end power is snappy. On top, however, it just didn’t have the beans of most of the other bikes.

“Down low the Yamaha has an intense snap; it hits harder than most of the other bikes when you crack the throttle,” comments Associate Editor and intermediate rider Frankie Garcia. “It just signs off earlier.”

On the start line, the Yamaha hit the 150-foot mark of our holeshot test in a time of 4.259 seconds at a speed of 40.8 mph, besting only the Suzuki. In the third-gear roll-on test, the YZ accelerated from 15 mph to 40 mph in 3.161 seconds over a distance of 127.9 feet, putting it at the back of the pack.

During the super lap testing, our three pro-level testers averaged the slowest time on the Yamaha at 2:31.3. For both Nick and Vicki, they turned their slowest lap on the YZ; however, Chris was able to put the YZ ahead of the KTM 350 and just tenth of a second behind the Honda.

The brakes worked well on the Yamaha, but they just didn’t have the bite that all the others had.

“They aren’t terrible, but some of the others are great,” explains Milan. “They felt spongy and lacked power in comparison.”

The Yamaha scored low in the Transmission, Clutch and Gearing category as well. The gearing felt a tooth or two too tall for our crew even on the wide-open layout of Cahuilla. Our pros Nick Thiel and Chris See experienced some clutch fade as well as the motos wore on.

“The Yamaha had a bit of clutch fade as well as too tall of gearing for my liking,” says Thiel.

Chris See adds, “You almost always had to use the clutch to shift this bike; you had to pull in the clutch to get it to shift even if you rolled off the power. I’m not sure if because of that I was using the clutch more than normal, but it got a tremendous amount of clutch fade.”

In the end the Yamaha slipped to last place in our shootout, but even so there are riders that will thrive on the YZ450F. The Yamaha could be a perfect fit for riders looking for a super stable mount that will inspire confidence no matter the situation. Issues such as the soft suspension and gearing can easily be remedied with some aftermarket help, and with the second lowest price at $8,490, there should be some extra coin left in the bank to tune the Yamaha to suit the rider. Stock for stock, however, the 2013 Yamaha YZ450F is beginning to show its age and needs some more power and less weight to bring it back to the front of the 450 pack.