2023 SML 450 Shootout | In Depth
Photos by Twenty Three Media
What a time to be alive. Whether you are a motocross racer, a casual rider, or even an off-road trail rider; the current crop of 450-class machines is better than ever and there is surely a perfect fit for everyone among the red, blue, green, white, and orange sea of machines. Once again, our staff of SML test riders converged on Cahuilla Creek MX for one final day of comparison testing the 2023 Gas Gas MC 450, Honda CRF450R, Husqvarna FC 450, Kawasaki KX450, KTM 450 SX-F, and Yamaha YZ450F bikes. This year, we added a little twist by including the mid-sized KTM 350 SX-F, too. Though the 350 has no official home when it comes to racing – and no one fields it at the highest levels of competition – it remains one of KTM’s best-selling machines as it is hands-down one of the most fun bikes to ride.
This year, two machines remained unchanged: the Kawasaki KX450 which earned 2022 450 Bike of the Year honors, and the Gas Gas MC 450, which is purpose-built as the less expensive offing from the Austrian KTM Group. The Honda CRF450R was all-new in 2022 but received an impressive list of refinements for the new model year that included a more-rigid chassis, stiffer engine hangers, and a handful of engine upgrades highlighted by a smaller-diameter throttle body.
Though the 2023 Husqvarna FC 450 and KTM 450 SX-F are familiar to us as they are basically the same as the Rockstar Energy Edition and KTM Factory Edition bikes we’ve been riding for nearly a year now with new engines and chassis, they are worlds different than last year’s standard machines. The big news for 2023, of course, is the all-new Yamaha YZ450F, which we rode for the first time at the Star Racing Goat Farm last month. Boasting an all-new engine, chassis, and bodywork, the blue machine was impressive the first time we rode it and we couldn’t wait to compare it head-to-head with the rest of the 2023 bikes we’ve been riding for months now.
For our final day of testing, we converged on Cahuilla Creek MX; a track composed largely of decomposed granite and features plenty of elevation changes, some big jumps, and a variety of corners to test the versatility of each machine, We rented the track after a weekend of open riding and asked for only water so that it would provide a rough, real-world testing experience. To ensure consistent traction, we outfitted all of the bikes with Maxxis’ excellent ST (soft terrain) tires, which are perfect for Cahuilla’s course surface.
Our test rider panel ranges in age, speed, and ability; but all have been testing new machines for years and are certainly not lacking in experience or know-how. As always, our shootout results are. a collection of opinions from a select group of riders, and we do not proclaim our findings to be the end-all, be-all. It is our hope that you can find one.of our test riders to relate with, and thus gain some valuable insight about the machine(s) you may be considering as your next. That said, let’s get this party started!
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