2010 Yamaha YFZ450X First Ride 0
Ladies and gentleman, feast your eyes on the latest offering from Yamaha Motor Corporation: This is the 2010 Yamaha YFZ450X and it has officially replaced the standard YFZ450 in Yamaha’s ATV line-up. Joining the motocross-specificYFZ450R, which was all-new in ‘09, the YFZ450X is aimed at the off-road market, the GNCC-style competitors and consumers looking to stick a bad blue ATV in the back of their truck or a couple trophies on their mantle.
The base platform of the X is the same as the R, only it employs the features necessary to make it stand out in the real world woods and trails, not the man-made confines of the closed circuit race track. It’s narrower in the front by 2.7 inches, the suspension is softer and the fuel-injected engine is mapped for off-road duty. The X features the same cast aluminum frame as the R, suspended by a pair of KYB piggy-back shocks up front and a single shock in the back. All feature high and low speed adjustments and tread-style preload adjusters. The fuel-injected 5-valve engine is the same too. The primary difference is the narrow width but it’s the similarities that make it such a good replacement for the venerable YFZ450. Yamaha has been a trendsetter in the 4-stroke revolution for both the ATV and off-road motorcycle markets. Yamaha has never been willing to sit back and be complacent with its designs, instead the company continues to innovate, pushing the envelope on all the powersport products. It’s usually Yamaha who blazes new trails that the rest of the OEMs are forced to follow.
There was a point in time as a young rider and burgeoning fabricator that all I could think about were 4-stroke ATVs. At the time, 2-strokes ruled the woods and the dunes but my buddy Scot and I found that stuffing 4-strokes into those light chassis were the hot ticket. It made climbs much easier, they were much more fuel efficient and they were less demanding on the rider. Fast forward a couple decades later and now 4-strokes are everywhere, so we must have been on to something there. Anyway, I digress. It’s time to climb on the latest off-road ATV from Big Blue and put it through the test in the gnarly terrain of South Carolina at the press introduction of the 2010 YFZ450X, held on the hallowed grounds of the private riding preserve know affectionately as Big Buck.
Out in the back-forty terrain of a GNCC course like Big Buck, it’s important to have an ATV that can navigate through tight quarters. It helps that it’s comfortable and rider-friendly when you are racking up a couple hundred miles at wrist-wrenching speeds too, so it’s safe to say we were going to ride in the exact environment the YFZ450X was intended for: The woods. Luckily this terrain is similar to what we ride in Oregon. It’s rocky, muddy, steep and filled with ruts, branches and brush so there were no excuses for me. It’s like riding at home, only 3,000-miles to the east, in a different time zone, on the opposite coast.
Yamaha had a ten-mile course that took about 30-45 minutes to complete if you rode steadily the entire time and didn’t stop to sight see along the way. It incorporated the best of the Big Buck GNCC layout including the knuckle-busting tree-lined trails and, of course, the infamous Creek Jump. According to the folks who designed it for us, this was as difficult or worse than what they use at the national race, only jam-packed into a smaller loop so there was truly no opportunity to rest. Right out of the gate we entered the forest and were greeted with lots of trees. Most of it was wide enough to get through without too much trouble. The trail wound back and forth, over downed trees and through dense undergrowth. It was first or second gear through here so it was a showcase for agility and maneuverability right at the start.
As we went deeper into the bush the varied terrain elevations started to come into play. Rocks and standing water were a factor too. As anyone will attest, sport ATVs don’t offer great protection from the mud and muck so the fresh new gear we were all sent out with just didn’t look that great after about 10 minutes of riding. Fortunately the riding position is quite neutral for my needs. At 5’8” the rider triangle was not bad. Whether sitting or standing it was not cramped and my knees and back were positioned well for absorbing bumps and giving body-English while sliding around in the big fields or muscling through the brush.
While tackling the bigger descents it was nice to have the 4-stroke compression to hold the bike back, but there is plenty of feel from both front and rear brakes to keep the wheels turning enough to maintain control while scrubbing speed off to keep it on track. The trees were getting more-dense every time a mile marker blurred past but the real challenge was simply maintaining speed on unfamiliar terrain. Second and third gear on the 450X are simply money in the woods thanks to the good bottom end hit offered up by the 449cc 4-stroke Single.
Although it slowed me down at first, I soon discovered that the off-camber, up-hill, rutted turns were best taken on the gas, leaned to the inside in second gear. First gear made the KYB suspension feel too taught and made the ride rough while second gear on the gas it seemed to soak it up much better. Too bad it took two laps to figure that out. Again, the X’s ability to chug through the woods wasn’t lost on me. Then again, when things opened up, wringing this beast out in third and fourth gear was pretty exciting too. It’s funny actually. The same phenomenon comes into play with the X as it does when riding a WR after riding an YZF dirt bike. The machines geared for MX are so explosive it wears us mortals out quicker than the more docile WR, or in this case, 450X. It doesn’t feel as dangerous to pin-it and row through a few gears because it’s not so aggressive. But be warned, you are still hauling serious ass if you’re pinned in any gear on his ATV. And when the terrain is tight, as it is at Big Buck, there is not much room for error so a good set of brakes is the difference between a clean lap and a painful one. The first few miles are a nice warm-up but about halfway through the course is when things really start to get fun.
Like you, I enjoy a challenging ride. Once the track passed the creek jump, various elevation changes and hill climbs started to become a factor, but the course still snaked through the trees so the rider maneuverability in the cockpit here is important. The X features an all new T-shaped seat design that helped keep the monkey off my butt and the grippy texture on the side of the bodywork helped me cling to the bike. Ducking puddles and carrying a wheel or two over rises at the top of the climbs is so much fun. Damn, I know I’m not Bill Ballance but for a few moments I felt like it. You can get a hold of Bill’s replica YFZ for another $300. I’m not a big mud or silt fan on a bike but on an ATV it’s easier to emerge unscathed than it is on a bike. Although it’s much dirtier thanks to the extra pair of wheels you have to account for.
Climbing rut-filled hills is no sweat for the 450X. Hitting it with speed shows the stock suspension, as the Yamaha technicians had it set up for us, was very good. It’s easy to tie ATVs in knots with all the different terrain that their width and length cover but the YFZ seems to have it covered. I never made any suspension adjustments because I was either not going fast enough to abuse the bike or it just worked great out of the box. With the front end light and the engine growling beneath me I looked forward to the gnarled, crusty climbs every lap. It’s so much fun to pin-it and hang on for the ride like this. Braaap…barks the relatively quiet but still entertaining sound from the EPA-friendly exhaust. I know one thing, a GYTR slip-on will give this dog a raspier bark and probably a wee-bit more punch too. Luckily Yamaha has a full array of parts already available already. In fact, the selection of GYTR accessories is impressive. It includes nerf-bars, grab bars, bumpers, skid plates, exhaust and the grand-daddy of the line-up, a fully-ported head that can be installed by your Yamaha dealer before you even pick the bike up.
Up and down, back and forth, through the briars and through brushes where the rabbits wouldn’t go. I did see an Egret in the woods though: Must’ve found a frog-bog buffet. Anyway, arm-pump dissipates after about 20 minutes, just in time for the truly technical stuff to come into play. About the time you get used to some wide-open ass hauling that turns a few bumps into little jumps and start feeling your oats, that’s when it gets tough. Without much notice the trail narrows down and the trees get dense. The track is barely big enough to get through the tree stands and the ruts got deeper every lap. Are bark busters a GYTR option on these things? About the time I was thinking to myself ‘man, I’ve done such a good job at avoiding the trees’ – voila, I tag one. To make decent time I presume the best bet is to attack this stuff in short bursts so that was my approach. Accelerate, shift, brake-hard. I was in a groove and felt good as I let off the throttle and looked at my next opening. That’s when the thought about making it one lap without smashing into anything crossed my mind. A second later I stuffed a tire into a tree. The bars wrenched back into my throttle hand, tweaking my thumb back. I hate thumb throttles because of that situation right there.
After hopping off the bike to pull it away from the tree I realized, the fact that this ATV has no reverse is probably the one thing I can really complain about. No doubt Yamaha justifies it as a cost and weight saving decision, but as far as I know, the majority of the competition in the sport-ATV class has reverse so it will be a bone of contention for some consumers. It’s just nice to have it. Like milk with Oreos: Not necessary but that’s the way I prefer it personally. The rest of the route is highlighted by more of these tunnels of trees. It is slimy in spots, dusty in others but always forces the rider to pay attention to the forest you’re dashing through with maybe inches between the bars, wheels and hands. With a width of 46.1 inches the X offers 2.7 inches of extra clearance than the moto-specific YFZ450R. And we put it to good use all day long. It’s challenging, fun and a little dangerous but when has that ever slowed any of us down?
That’s why so many people love to ride in the woods and that’s exactly why Yamaha built this ATV. It’s a woods weapon. Intended to conquer any off-road obstacle a rider can throw at it, as far as we can tell, they did a great job. The narrow width makes its capable in the tight trails, fuel-injection ensures that elevation changes don’t even phase it, tuned for torque and low-end power means it can handle sand, mud or steep hills without complaint. Add into the mix the fact that this is one very comfortable machine and the pieces are all in place for the X to blaze a trail of success on par with the machine it replaces. Whether you’re pushing for a spot on the podium or trying to humble your riding buddies out in the boonies, you really cannot go wrong with the YFZ450X.
Available in Team Yamaha Blue, White/Red with an MSRP of $8499 or the Bill Balance replica blue with red plates and bumper for $8799.