450 SML Shootout In-Depth | 2021 Yamaha YZ450F
Rider Rankings: 3-1-4-2-2-1
Last year, the Yamaha YZ450F earned Bike of the Year honors with high praise from each and every test rider. For 2021 the bike returns with new graphics and all-blue plastics but is technically unchanged. The Yamaha actually tied for first place in this year’s final points tally, but with fewer first-place votes, the tie was broken out of the YZ450F’s favor.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: thanks to Yamaha’s exclusive Power Tuner app, fine-tuning the blue bike’s powerband is as easy as sending a text and there is really no reason to search for more out of the YZF engine for 95% of those who buy one. So versatile is the Yamaha’s powerband, in fact, that it is tough to write about its engine character since it all depends on the settings. With the stock map installed, the Yamaha produces ample power everywhere, with an exciting delivery that is so linear that it feels electric. Throttle response is instant and the engine revs quickly and freely, giving the bike a much lighter feel on the track than one might assume when sitting on it in the pits. Transmission gear spacing is ideal, and the clutch – the only cable-actuated system in our five-bike comparison – has a light pull with great feel and modulation.
Earlier we alluded to the bike’s big feel in the pits. Shorter riders will be more affected than taller ones by the YZ450F’s larger feel between your legs, mandated by the rearward-facing cylinder head and subsequent airbox location. This sensation is easy to adapt to when riding a Yamaha exclusively, but when jumping from bike to bike it does require some adjustment. The wider radiator and airbox area are what makes getting your weight up and over the bars in corners tough for some riders, resulting in challenging cornering characteristics.
The Yamaha has the best suspension in class, period. The KYB fork, especially, is the ultimate when it comes to comfort in small bumps, great control in the middle of the stroke, and excellent bottoming resistance. The KYB shock is well-matched to the fork, and the bike is balanced and predictable in all situations.
“The engine is full of bark and the power hits hard initially and keeps on pulling. The different maps that you can program with the phone app can make the engine hit even harder or mellow it out. Whatever you want!” – Ericsson
“The Yamaha is the most stable and predictable bike I have ever ridden. It does exactly what I want it to.” – Ericsson
“Before you even consider the versatility offered by the phone app, the Yamaha offers the most effective blend of raw power and managed delivery in the class.” – Foster
“The YZF is good in the corners – no better, no worse – middle of the road. That’s the bike’s biggest weak point. Every other aspect of the handling is class-leading.” – Foster
“The Yamaha’s high-speed stability is its strong point, but it lacks in the cornering department. It is definitely the widest bike in the class and the hardest to maneuver for me.” – Garcia
“The engine is a monster and pulls throughout the powerband. I like the adjustability, but you have to own a smartphone.” – Garcia
“The Yamaha motor is without flaws and it is infinitely adjustable.” – Maeda
“The bike has a big feeling, especially at the radiator shrouds. Thank goodness that sensation vanishes when you are on the track.” – Maeda
“This is the fastest and most powerful of all the bikes. Map one was almost too much for me, but the latest Preston map was just right. The power is clean throughout the rpm range.” – Puerner
“Yamaha has a great package that’s blessed with an amazing motor, great suspension and handling, and good cornering abilities. It is durable and well made.” – Puerner
“The YZ450F has my favorite power plant by far. It’s smooth, quick, and fun to ride and there’s lots of power from bottom to top.” – Sleeter
“The comfort and stability are the bike’s strong point, but the shock moves around a little too much for my tastes. A revalve is in order.” – Sleeter