Finally, for 2014, the development team got to change
the bike in a big way. They not only were allowed to
address the bike’s problems, but they pushed the centralization concept even further. The new YZ has a new motor
and a new frame. At first glance, you wouldn’t notice either
one; you might just think it’s the same old Yamaha with
new bodywork; however, everything is new (see “The Tech
Story”). Everything, that is, except the basic idea.
MORE OF THE SAME
When you ride the new YZ, the one thing that’s clear is
that the engineers, test riders and company as a whole
liked the original bike. They knew it was flawed, and they
concentrated on most of those flaws without tossing out
any of the basic ideas.
For the most part, we feel the same way. Getting the
mass to migrate from the front and rear to the center of
the bike is a good idea. But, if you had to distill that to its
most important element, getting the mass farther forward
is an even better idea. If Yamaha engineers couldn’t do
that, they did the next best thing: they brought the front of
the bike closer to the rider, which had the same basic
result on weight distribution. There’s more weight on the
front wheel now, and you can feel it. On the older version,
it was up to you to weight the front end. That meant the
bike was demanding. You had to ride aggressively, and it
was often said that you had to turn the YZ with the throttle. Now the bike is more forgiving. You don’t have to
climb as far over the front. You don’t have to initiate every
turn with a handful of throttle. Did the 10mm frame
change suddenly transform the bike into a Suzuki? No.
The Yamaha still feels very Yamaha-like. It still demands
that you put out most of the effort in the partnership, and
it still turns best when you use the throttle. But instead of
being the harsh mistress that the 2010 model was, it’s a
happier, more agreeable partner.
The change in bodywork up front is another contributor
to this new mood. It’s narrower and lower around the radiator shrouds. It makes us wonder what the problem was
before, when things were crowded up front and still bulky.
Now there’s more room for the rider, and the airbox is much
larger, too, containing an almost-normal-sized air-filter element. Bonus: the weird sucking sound is gone.
One change that we would have welcomed even more is
an honest weight reduction. All the mass centralization in
the world can’t disguise greasy, ugly fat. The Yamaha 450
still weighs 241.5 pounds without fuel. Most of the
Japanese 450s gained weight when fuel injection hit the
scene. Honda is the exception, proving that 450s don’t
have to be heavy. KTM also drives the point home by carrying around a battery and an electric starter. The 450SXF
is about the same weight as the Yamaha, but earns your
forgiveness by starting itself.
STRENGTH AND PROMISE
Yamaha continues to show everyone else the way in
the suspension department. Both ends are excellent
when it comes to job one: making rough tracks smoother.
The stiffer spring rates this year will be welcomed by
some, particularly bigger, faster guys; lighter, slower
might not feel as strongly. But overall, when suspension
action is good, you have a lot more latitude when it
comes to spring rates. As much as we respect the
springless and single-spring technology coming from
Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda, we suspect the main motivation is cost. Yamaha seems more interested in good
As always, setup is important. With the YZ450, you can
spend a lot of time adjusting clickers and preload settings,
despite having no issues with suspension action. It’s more
about being comfortable in turns and getting the bike’s
attitude right. Yamaha recommends 100mm of sag in the
rear. Mark Tilley, with his 190 pounds of sexy pro muscle,
was never that happy with the way the front wheel connected to the earth. With the new front-end geometry, he
liked a little less preload and a lower rear end. Other riders
said that there was a slight headshake with the stock settings, and about 105mm of sag made everyone happier.
Likewise, more rebound damping in the rear end kept the
attitude of the bike in a good place.
In the front, we made a few other changes to move
toward the same goal. Faster rebound damping or a 10cc
increase in oil level made the bike sit higher in the front,
which all test riders liked.
SEPTEMBER 2013 / DIRT BIKE 33
In most ways, the
new YZ feels like
the old YZ, but is
more forgiving of
The airbox is now much easier to
access (three bolts instead of six), and
it has enough room for a real air-filter
How fast is the YZ? Fast enough. How
quiet is the YZ. More than quiet enough.