2009 Yamaha YFZ450R First Ride 0
By Allen Knowles.
Yamaha’s been a leader in the ATV industry since back in the early ‘80s when ATVs didn’t have quite as many wheels. With models like the YFZ450 and Raptor 660, the Tuning Fork crew has built machines to fill market voids. Since releasing the original YFZ450 in 2004, Yamaha has only done a handful of tweaks to its platform, but for this year, Yamaha has an ace up its sleeve in the fashion of an all-new R-spec race oriented machine. 4WDirt had the opportunity to spend two back-to-back days on it to see what the new model is all about.
The YFZ450 lends a few concepts and parts to the 450R, and engineers definitely used the prior model as a backdrop. The previous generation engine had some durability issues when it was tuned for racing applications, so designers beefed up both the engine cases as well as crankshaft.
The cockpit also received attention and is significantly better than the previous generation and perhaps the most well-engineered quad in its class. The front plastic was moved forward, the rear back, to give more leg and boot room. The tank area has no protruding bumps or edges to dig your knees into. In the areas that your knees and boots normally touch, Yamaha has installed black plastic that wraps around the tank and lower section of the rear fender. The plastic has a rough finish so it doesn’t scratch and always looks like new.
The seat forms a semi-T, giving you a little extra room for hanging off the side when the tires are struggling for traction coming off the corners. It’s a very well executed layout, and is a significant upgrade over the standard 450.
Paired with the adjustable handlebar placement, effective footpeg location and more intuitively designed thumb throttle, this year’s YFZ-R is exceptionally roomy and easy to move around on.
We spent a day on the trails near Gorman, California getting to know the nuances of the bike and giving us a little time to work on personal settings. After a quick group trail ride we were given the green light to change any settings we liked. Two sets of holes in the mounting plate provide added room for larger riders. Simply unbolt the bar clamp system, move it to the forward hole and you’ve got a little more working room. It’s an excellent feature.
Considering that the YFZ-R is setup for motocross, in stock trim it delivers a pretty harsh ride on the trail. We compensated by going ten clicks out (from full stiff) on the front shock rebound, four clicks out on the low-speed compression, and four clicks out on rear low-speed compression. This made the suspension far more compliant. Later on, we added a few turns of spring preload on all four ends giving the machine a little extra ride height – always a good thing out on the trail.
As opposed to the standard YFZ, the R model has larger diameter shock shafts, displacing more oil in the shock. The more oil you move the more tuning control you have with adjusters. At the end of the day we never got a super plush ride out of it, but we suspect it was more due to lack of setup and riding time, as we didn’t run out of adjustment range.
Blasting through the hills of Gorman, the YFZ-R tracked straight, even through the rough stuff. At times, we did bottom the rear end in deep whoops, but it doesn’t feel like it hits hard and it always tracks straight regardless.
Fuel-injection graces the YFZ-R and makes the engine power feel more smooth and predicable. With the old YFZ utilizing the Keihin FCR carb, you needed to be very precise with the thumb throttle; if you stuffed too much throttle to it you would pick up a hesitation bog. We all learned to ride around the problem, or spent hundreds of dollars on float bowls, accelerator pumps, jetting, Power Now wings and all kinds of gadgets that sometimes worked and other times didn’t. The fuel injection ends all that and allows you to be much more aggressive with the throttle in the corners without worry.
Bottom-end is snappy, but not at all overwhelming. It feels like Yamaha may have added some rotating mass to help the bottom end compared to the last model. As the revs increase the engine provides the rider with a smooth steady stream of power, making it easy to negotiate just about anything you’ll find in front of you on the trail.
The Yamaha comes in at 48.5 inches wide which will make it a little too wide for the East Coast GNCC-type riding and racing. But the extra stability will be great for western applications like wide-open desert trails and expansive sand dunes.
On the Track
All of our complaints from the trail were gone once the 450R hit the MX track. The Yamaha, even in stock trim and with stock tires, navigates motocross tracks very well. We were able to make big leaps and pound whoops in ways you just can’t do on most other stock quads, certainly not last year’s YFZ.
It steers well but could benefit from a little more energy on the bars as it feels like it has a little more caster than the old quad. This is not bad, it just means it wants to track straight in the rough with less effort and will be even better in high speed runs. The low ride height lets it drift easily with much less tipping sensation than just about any other quad on the market except Suzuki’s LT-R450. This lets you be very aggressive sliding and carrying speed into corners; you can just float it in, hit the berm, add throttle and be gone. It actually leads you to hunting the berms a bit more, rather than run an inside line.
The front end acts a little heavier than the YFZ, Yamaha added 15mm to the swingarm, and with suspension changes you can tell the difference. You have to use more weight transfer along with throttle to float the front end over bumps. If you like the front end wafting a lot then you won’t like the change so much, but if you prefer it planted then you’ll love it.
We did get to put in some laps on a GYTR-equipped YFZ-R and that really confirmed our impressions. The GYTR bike had a CNC-ported head along with a pipe, high compression piston, and a Dynojet Power Commander – all available through Yamaha dealers. We’ll offer a full evaluation on the GYTR line when we get more time on it, but it showed us how good the YFZ-R can be with more power and alternate tires.
The YFZ450R will be a great race or recreation quad, and just the way the GYTR version showed up would be capable of winning races at the local level. Riding both machines confirmed that this will be the quad to beat for ‘09. Stacking it against the Suzuki LT-R, KTM MX and Can-Am DS-EFI in a 450 shootout will be a lot of fun.
Yamaha engineers created a thoughtful and well-executed design. Not a full blown racer, but easily changed into one for minimal cost compared with anything else on the market. It handles and jumps extremely well and may prove to be the best sport quad for some riders. You just need to look in the mirror and see if that’s you.