The 450 sport shootout, part 2
In the June issue we really whacked a hornet's nest with our formula for testing. We only spent one day trying out the '06 450s on the motocross track before heading out to the trails and dunes to see where the three would shine. As I explained in the opening of that story, deciding how to fully sample the new machines and truly uncover their personalities was an arduous task. Again, we tested the three on the motocross track (this time I-5MX, 818/700-3559; www.I5MX.com), in sand of the Imperial Sand Dunes in Glamis, California, and on the trails of Hungry Valley SVRA. However, the machines would be in a modified form to see how much minor engine mods, different tires and wider chassis dimensions would matter to the overall outcome of the test.
As tough as Part 1 was, the new variables we threw into the formula wreaked havoc on schedules and made Part 2 even harder. We mounted identical tires and wheels on all three ATVs for each location: ITP Holeshot SXs on ITP wheels for the track, Kenda K298 Dune Runner fronts and K534 Gecko Plus tires on the rears, again using ITP wheels. For the trail we used Maxxis iRazrs on Douglas wheels. We also widened the Honda and Yamaha via HydroDynamics's iShock front end kit ($1849.95) and a DuraBlue Eliminator 2+2 axle ($425.92). Performance enhancements were limited to pipe or related boost that we left up to the OEM's choice. Honda wanted us to use an HRC kit in the TRX, Suzuki opted for simply adding the Yoshimura Cherry Bomb, removing the airbox lid and removing the "cork" for the MX day while Yamaha chose to mount a GYT-R pipe with the airbox lid off and the associated jetting changes.
With all of the mods installed and the tires delivered, it was time to discover how well the money spent stacked up in performance gains. With the Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha on semi-equal footing, the task at hand turned out to be like trying to choose the class valedictorian from a group of straight-A students. In fact, it became clear very early in this round that there would be no losers among these three. They were all proving to be winners in their own fashion. So without further ado...
A True Thoroughbred: Suzuki LT-R450Make no mistake about it, this ATV kicks ass on the track, and it still turns on a dime better than anything available. Off track, with a tire change, it performs way better in the dunes and on the trail than it did in pure stock form. Naturally, with larger-diameter off-road and sand tires mounted, that same MX gearing was even taller now, so it required a bit of coaxing to get this racing pony into its stride. This translates into a deft left hand working the clutch to keep the yellow machine focused in tight terrain, but power remained an issue for us. Even with the Yoshimura Cherry Bomb installed and the cork out of the silencer, the LT-R never wowed the testers with its power delivery. Part of the problem is that the midrange-happy R450 motor is deceptively smooth without any major wallop normally associated with a motor designed for motocross employment. A pipe change may be the cure, so we'll be seeking exhaust medicine in a few months.
The radar gun revealed a slightly different version of the story and showed the Suzuki hanging with the red and blue machinery and passing them on the final drive when all three had MX wheels mounted. Sure, the gearing differences were the most noticeable on the trail and in the sand, but it was nothing a sprocket change or two couldn't cure. This is perhaps the best part of the Suzuki: It is good out of the crate and just needs some minor refinements to adapt it to the particular environment. That means more money in your pocket for stuff like gas. Regardless of where it's ridden, the way-too-stiff shocks need a revalve job and maybe even lighter springs. Surprisingly, the suspension that was the Achilles' heel for the R450 wasn't such a handicap in the big whoops and braking bumps, floating over these pretty well. It was the square-edged obstacles that still jammed us and hurt. Basically, the faster we pushed, the better the machine worked and felt-just like any top-level race machine normally does. The suspension work and sprockets needed are also vastly cheaper than high-end shocks, wider A-arms and axles and wheels required to match the Suzuki, especially in the moto arena.
Most-Improved Performer: Honda TRX450R
This was, without a doubt, an entirely new machine after its makeover. Gone is the meek librarian personality; in its place is a full-raging party girl! This is the ATV that Honda should be building. The HRC kit ($360) is like a shot of adrenaline to the 449cc engine, making the stocker look lethargic. The motor just yanks and screams all the way to big power on top now. The wide stance of the iShock front end and the DuraBlue axle cure the most notorious Honda trait: no more Ms. Tippy. It stays planted and even makes turning pleasant now. With just these two areas altered, the TRX is an entirely different animal.
All this new performance allowed the testers to notice and enjoy the quality Honda ergos and finish. This is still no MX machine, and its off-road gearing slows it down some with little tires. But put on the bigger meats, and the off-road-friendly TRX is back in its arena. It's no wonder so many off-road racers are mounted on a red machine now-the quad simply hauls butt yet stays comfortable for those long stints in the saddle. However, all this excitement came at a cost of about $2700-what just a front end can set you back for most systems. That price tag makes the Suzuki a lot more appealing because it only needs some minor work to polish off its stunning chassis (read: a few $100 only). However, if you can stomach the big cost of improving the TRX450, then the Honda will reward your spending habits with serious performance. The good news-for Honda, at least-is the plethora of aftermarket enhancements available and the large group willing to spend major dough bringing the trail quad up to race standard. Yeah, the TRX is a trail machine and simply a dog in stock form. But nearly $3000 later, it's a different story, and the red 450 is an ATV worthy of a double take. Want trail performance without another loan? Then keep reading.
Best Can-Do Spirit: Yamaha YFZ450
The YFZ is the generalist of the bunch. It does nothing the best, but it's the most solid all-around performer. As we revealed last issue, the core of the Yamaha's versatility is its motor. It has the best stock power and with just a GYT-R silencer, the airbox lid off and rejetted accordingly, it kept the buffed-out Honda in check and kicked sand at the Suzuki. It still has the same hang-up that has plagued YFZs since birth: too stiff of a throttle. That was its biggest handicap; well, that and maybe a little jetting sensitivity (we're talking a minor, nitpicking snivel here). Fortunate for the Yamaha, the pilot doesn't have to keep the thumb throttle mashed all the way forward to make this thing boogie. It comes on strong and healthy from the get-go and simply builds as the revs climb. It signs off just before the Honda begins to surge, but the result is about the same. Yet all this power on tap is manageable, which is another plus for the blue machine-it is equally adept in tight or wide terrain. Ride until the thumb cramps become too severe.