In 2004, Yamaha took the sport ATV world by storm with the release of the YFZ450. This was the first true sport-performance ATV in its class that featured technology straight from the popular YZ-F dirt bike. Soon after the debut, many other manufacturers joined the bandwagon with their own versions of high-performance 450cc-based machines and tried to compete for this extremely popular market share. Not only did this machine attract many of the top ATV racers in the nation, but it also drew a huge customer base that wanted a high-performance machine. Since its release, it has been the hottest-selling sport-performance ATV on the market.
Trying to one-up the YFZ450, other manufacturers have produced performance sport ATVs with more racing-inspired design by increasing the width to 50 inches and adding race-specific 18-inch-tall rear tires. Sure, these machines were great for the track, but for those riders who didn't want a motocross-specific quad, they were left longing for more. This is where the engineers at Yamaha have significantly stepped things up with once again another new groundbreaking machine for 2009. After extensive market research, they learned that the average YFZ customer wanted race technology but very few of them actually raced their machines. The customers wanted an aggressive trail machine with all the performance of a pro-level racer while still remaining affordable. Yamaha took all of this feedback back to the drawing board, and what it came up with is the all-new 2009 YFZ450R.
Typically when a company comes out with a new-and-improved unit, there are subtle changes in suspension, engine and "bold new graphics." Such is not the case with the YFZ450R. The first and most noticeable differences to the eye are the engine and frame. The new frame is made from cast aluminum that is 15 percent lighter than the old steel frame and, with its zero weld design, is extremely strong. To keep a low center of gravity by having the engine mounted as low as possible, the only parts of the frame that remained steel were the lower frame rails. This resulted in a crank position that was 6.4mm lower than the competition's engine placement with similar frame design. The three-piece sectional frame and removable subframe are very similar to the Raptor 700 design, which has already proven itself very durable in any conditions.
Stuffed into the aluminum frame sits the technical masterpiece that is the YFZ450R's new fuel-injected engine. With the old and new engines side by side, it is easy to see that the YFZ450Rs powerplant is new from the ground up. The process of making power starts at the 42mm Mikuni throttle body which houses a 12-hole Denso fuel injector. Here both air and fuel are mixed and sent to the newly designed cylinder head which has a new intake port shape for better unrestricted fuel delivery into the cylinder. Also inside the head are the camshafts, which have new profiles for increased overall performance and power.
The lower end of the engine has cases that are stronger than the previous model and house a new crankshaft that has been beefed up as well for increased durability. The connecting rod features a lower end bearing that has a 2mm larger ID and 3mm larger OD and is 2mm thicker in that area as well. In conjunction with the crankshaft, the engine counterbalancer has been improved for reduced engine vibration and reliability. The finishing touches in the bottom end are the new gear ratios throughout the transmission and an internal oil tank, which makes for a simplified design and more compact centralized engine mass that helps improve the overall handling of the machine.
"Customers wanted an aggressive...
"Customers wanted an aggressive trail machine with all the performance of a pro-level racer."
In the suspension department, there is no mistaking that the engineers at Yamaha spent countless hours figuring out what worked the best. The end result is a front and rear end that is nearly 50 inches wide and provides 9.8 inches of travel in the front and 11 inches in the rear. The front A-arms are a total of 17.29 inches long each, which is an increase of 2.65 inches over the old YFZ, and the new frame features a narrower upper and lower rail so the pivot mounts are closer together for increased travel. The wide arc design of the arms also increases ground clearance for when you travel through treacherous terrain.
The front shocks are brand-new KYB units that are fully adjustable, and when put next to the old YFZ shocks makes them look like miniatures. The new shocks are 63.5mm longer and have an 18mm longer stroke, 8mm larger diameter body, a 1.5mm larger shaft and hold 157cc more shock oil than the previous YFZ. What all of these numbers mean is that these are some insane shocks compared to anything else on the market. Additional features of the new shocks are the Kashima coating for smoother action and the full adjustability, which include high- and low-speed compression damping.
At the rear end of the quad, there have been some upgrades as well. Like the front shocks, the rear is a KYB unit that has all of the same features as the fronts and offers great handling to match. The rear swingarm is cast aluminum like previous years but has been lengthened by 15mm for improved handling and acceleration characteristics. All of these numbers equal a very tunable suspension for every type of rider from moto to trail. To help put the power to the ground, 21-inch front and 20-inch rear Dunlop tires were mounted and give adequate ground clearance for trail riders. These features make for a very versatile machine.
In the ergonomics department, Yamaha engineers wanted riders to feel comfortable as well. This starts at the steering stem where the rider has the option of four bar positions. Along with the adjustability of the bar, the levers feature adjustability in the way of an on-the-fly adjustable clutch perch and adjustable front brake lever. The footpegs on the new machine are 65mm wide and feature a kick-up at the ends for improved traction and increased maneuverability. And last but not least for the final creature comforts, the seat has a new design that's narrow in the front for the rider to comfortably move around while possessing a wide back for cushion in rough corners. The seat combined with padded sidepanels decreases the amount of abuse riders go through when aggressively riding.
All of these numbers sound impressive and truly do mean a lot when talking about the technical aspects of the quad, but nothing really expresses how well this machine works without a little time in the saddle. Yamaha shuttled us to two areas to discover just how well the YFZ450R performed on both trails and the track. Our first day consisted of the fast fire roads, sand washes and twisty hardpack trails of the Hungry Valley OHV area in Gorman, California. Day two would have us making the trek to Los Angeles County Raceway's motocross complex where we had a beautifully groomed MX track that consisted of whoops, huge ski jumps, elevation changes and fast sweeping turns. Every element you could want to test a machine in was at our disposal, and we took full advantage of it.
You've Got Options! If you're...
You've Got Options!
If you're wanting your quad to have a little different style than your buddies', Yamaha is releasing the YFZ450R in a white and red color scheme. This option features a red frame and seat along with white plastics.
Before I talk about the performance on the trails, let me say that just sitting on the machine for the first time, any rider will be able to feel a difference from the old to the new. I opted to move the bar to a position that was farther forward so that I would be more comfortable. All of the controls were very comfortable, and the seat was one of the plushest saddles I've ever thrown a leg over. A quick push of the start button brings the engine to life, and even at an elevation of 4000 feet the Yamaha idle speed control system self-adjusted and let the engine purr until I gave the thumb throttle a quick jolt forward. That led to a quick revving of the engine and a subtle rumble from the exhaust. This machine was begging to hit the trails, and I was ready to let it.
As I left the staging area, I hit the first trail instantly and began on a hard-packed tight twisty section that really made me use body English to get through quickly. The machine went exactly where I pointed the bar, and my 6-foot-2 body easily made the transition from one side of the quad to the other. As for the acceleration of the machine, it was missing something from the previous model. The YFZ of old had a harsh hit when you stabbed the throttle and gave a two-stroke-like feel because of the FCR carburetor. With the new fuel-injection system, the powerband was very linear and didn't make the machine feel as if it were trying to take off from underneath you. It was definitely more ridable and didn't sacrifice any power to be so.
Further out on the trails, I was able to grab more throttle and see how it handled in some high-speed whooped-out sections and was pleasantly surprised. Simply lean back, get a good grasp on the bar and keep a steady throttle as you skipped across the whoops as if you were racing Baja on a fully modified machine. Not once did I feel the YFZ start to swap from side to side like on many machines. This bike definitely instilled confidence in me like I've never felt riding a stock machine.
The next part of this trail headed into some sandy washes where I could really find out what kind of power this engine had and how the wide suspension dealt with fast sweeping turns. At no time did this engine bog down when I didn't want it to, and I simply leaned off the quad a little to the inside to blast every sandy corner that I came across. At the end of one straightaway was a high-speed kicker that had me staying on the throttle. The suspension compressed on the face of the hit and just lofted me in the air, and as I came down it soaked up the landing so smoothly, it was almost as if the tires never left the ground. I ended the day with a huge grin on my face with anticipation for a full day at the motocross track.
Day two of our test was at a perfectly groomed motocross track that featured plenty of doubles, step-up and step-down jumps, fast sweeping corners and elevation changes that made riders use the full potential of the engine. Again I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the new machine. The same quad I rode the day before was just as capable on the track with no changes whatsoever. Even with the 20-inch rear tires, the quad handled very well and never felt excessively top-heavy, and I'm sure the wide stance had plenty to do with this. Subtle changes to the shock adjustment made the YFZ450R even better after a few laps on the track and I got more comfortable.
One department of Yamaha that had a huge influence in the design of this machine was the GYTR performance division. In the past, this department has made aftermarket bumpers, nerf bars, filter kits and basic performance upgrades for Yamaha owners to install. On this new machine, it took it a step further by offering a five-way CNC-ported head with camshafts, high-compression piston and fuel-injection controller in addition to the basic accessories it normally sells.
The machine went exactly where...
The machine went exactly where I pointed the bar, and my 6-foot-2 body easily made the transition from one side of the quad to the other."
As we broke for lunch, the people at Yamaha threw us an unexpected curveball. They had assembled a few of the new YFZ450Rs with the GYTR head, exhaust system, fuel-injection controller, nerf bars and ITP MX tires and beadlock wheels from the GYTR catalog. These were assembled just for us to ride, and upon viewing it, I felt my thumb starting to twitch to get on it. Yamaha's factory test pilot Dustin Nelson assured us these parts made just as much power if not more than his Quadcross championship-winning '08 YFZ450.
As I fired up the engine on this machine, I was quick to notice the engine modifications because the exhaust had a deeper bark when you blipped the throttle. I jumped on the track and rolled on the throttle and quickly found myself accelerating much faster than the stock machine. The added power allowed me to exit the corners much harder and climb the uphill portions of the track with ease. This doesn't mean the stock motor is weak; rather, the modified motor is significantly stronger and expandable. The best thing is that all of these parts will be available through your Yamaha dealer.
After riding the modified machine, I was done for the day. My excitement meter had been pegged all day, and I was exhausted. I was also in disbelief that one machine could do so well on two completely different terrains. This quad has great versatility.
The Final Word
In an attempt to build a machine that will appeal to customers who want the latest in technology and superior power and handling all while being able to take it out on the trails, Yamaha has hit the nail on the head. It is clearly visible that the four years of R&D spent on the new YFZ450R has paid off and that should show as soon as this machine hits the floor of its dealers across the country.
Will you be impressed by everything this machine has to offer? I don't know, but all I can say is that it pleasantly met and exceeded my expectations of a new quad. Whether you are a recreational rider who visits your local trail system or a weekend warrior at the track, you will be wise to consider this as your next ATV of choice. And as usual, we can't wait to get one home and spend a bit more time on it. You'll be hearing from us soon.
|+ ||Excellent-handling suspension that soaks up everything, |
smooth power that won’t wear you out, and good ground
clearance for trail riding with MX-capable performance
|Stock grips really tore into my hands ||- |
|= ||A machine that offers the best of both worlds in perfor |
mance and handling for a decent price
|Yamaha YFZ450R |
|Retail price: ||$7999 |
|Type: ||Single-cylinder, titanium five-valve, four-stroke DOHC |
|Displacement: ||499cc |
|Bore x stroke: ||95x63.4mm |
|Cooling: ||Liquid-cooled with fan assist |
|Carburetion: ||Yamaha Fuel Injection (YFI) with 42mm Mikuni throttle body |
|Starting: ||Electric |
|Drive system: ||Sealed O-ring chain, 2x4 |
|Transmission: ||5-speed manual |
|SUSPENSION (TYPE/TRAVEL) |
|Front: ||Independent dual A-arms with Kashima-coated |
piggyback shocks, high/low-speed
compression, rebound and threaded preload
|Rear: ||Cast-aluminum swingarm with piggyback shock, |
high/low-speed compression, rebound and
threaded preload adjustment/11.0 in.
|Front tires: ||AT21x7-10 radial |
|Rear tires: ||AT20x10-9 radial |
|Front brakes: ||Dual ventilated hydraulic discs, twin piston |
|Rear brakes: ||Wave-style ventilated hydraulic disc,twin piston |
|Wheelbase: ||50.0 in. |
|Curb weight: ||405 lb |
|Ground clearance: ||4.5 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||70.7/48.8/41.9 in. |
|Seat height: ||31.9 in. |
|Fuel capacity: ||2.6 gal. |
|Headlight: ||Dual 30-watt Krypton multireflector |
|Instrumentation: ||Low fuel, high-temperature, neutral, check engine indicators |
|Colors: ||Team Yamaha blue/white, red/white |