It was only a few years ago that it seemed almost certain that my 1988 Honda 250R would have to endure many more seasons if I planned to continue on the high-performance path. Utility machines dominated the showrooms, while the sport side of the industry appeared to be hopelessly lying dormant. High-revving four-strokes were causing quite a stir in the two-wheeled market, so I knew it would only be a matter of time before this technology began to trickle onto the ATV scene. 2004 would be the debut of the 450 when Yamaha released the much-anticipated YFZ450, which was quickly followed by the Honda TRX450R. Today, it's been five years since these first factory-built 450s stormed the sport market, and the marketplace has since flourished with an astonishing seven different 450s to be included in the 2008 lineup.
The thought of having to choose a single unit from the 2008 lineup could be quite overwhelming to a consumer who's unfamiliar with the major manufacturers and their equipment. Factors, such as rider size, skill level, intended use and budget all play a significant role when matching rider to machine. To aid in this difficult decision we've enlisted the help of numerous test riders with skill levels ranging from basic trail riders to GNC and GNCC racers, all giving input to rank these seven sport-class monsters.
Over the course of four action-packed days these machines were subjected to rigorous testing in real-world situations. Days one and two were spent banging through the pine and hardwood forests of Durhamtown Plantation in Union Point, Georgia. Durhamtown is situated on 7000 acres containing high-speed fire roads, a challenging single-track, hillclimbs, miles of mud, a drag strip and mild motocross tracks. This facility was specifically chosen because it offers much of the terrain that's encountered by the average to extreme trail rider who makes up a vast majority of sport ATV sales. While Durhamtown gave our testers the opportunity to unleash these high-revving beasts and to see what they were really made of, we also felt the need to incorporate a national high-flying motocross course in which any racer could relate.
Days three and four of testing began after a road trip to Macon, Georgia, home of the ever-popular Echeconnee Motocross Park. Echeconnee is a favorite among national racers and has become a hot off-season training site for some of the nation's top pros. To obtain the best possible feedback from this location we enlisted the help of national MX team, Media Allstars, under the watchful eye of team owner Jorge Cuartas. These guys and gals turned on the heat and had these 450s ripping up the track in a fashion unlike anything I've ever witnessed on stock machines. When all was said and done we were left with a plethora of information, which was combined with that of the previous days spent at Durhamtown to assist in determining a pecking order for the extraordinary 2008 450-sport class of ATVs.
Before I continue I must first say that there are no losers in this shootout, only a preferred order. Each and every machine performed well throughout our testing and I would have no problem throwing a leg over any of these beasts with confidence at the next competition I attend. There are specific features, creature comforts and performance characteristics that separate these units, therefore some may be better suited to a particular rider's needs. To label one machine king of the hill was a difficult task, but by averaging the varying results of 14 riders we have placed the jewel-laden crown.