With the launch of the 2020 Yamaha motocrossers taking place on the hard-pack GP track at Teutschenthal in Germany, we sent our Euro-tester Dave Willet along for a ride. He came back seriously impressed.
The YZ450F has been one of the best big-bore bikes for a few years, and the newer version takes it to a new level. Ten years of fine-tuning the reverse-engined YZ450F has made a huge difference and turned that original 2010 bike from being a technically advanced but flawed machine into a lighter, faster and more user-friendly bike that’s a proven winner at all levels.
Over the years there have been significant changes to the frame to tighten up the handling, while the DOHC slant-back motor and Kayaba SSS spring suspension has been regularly upgraded and altered so, in reality, the new bike shares nothing with that original machine.
The new 2020 YZ450F might look similar to its ancestors but has had a significant makeover and is lighter, has more power and the handling is more precise. The electric-start engine has been redesigned and is more compact and lighter, and the revised configuration enhances the bike’s mass centralised design. After all, it’s the angle of the motor in the chassis that uses the rotating forces to affect the handling and make the bike feel lighter than it actually is.
Lighter, sharper, smarter
One of the key engine improvements for 2020 is the cylinder that’s lighter and more compact, and is home to a new high-compression bridge-box design piston. There’s a handlebar-mounted mapping switch, and the bike retains built-in WiFi so you can tune the motor track-side with your smartphone. The Power Tuner app can also record race log information and monitor a range of data, including system diagnosis, engine run time and lots more.
The motor is held inside a new frame that features thinner main spars together with thicker down tubes and new engine mounts. There’s a more rigid front caliper with new brake pads, while a new lightweight rear caliper and new rear disc reduce unsprung weight. And, of course, the new cam covers sport the cool blue finish.
The 450 has definitely progressed a lot in the right direction over the years. Even though it may look similar to the 2019 model, believe me, it’s not. Yamaha needs to be applauded for the drive and passion in pushing forward the development of the YZF range. Yamaha has taken on board the feedback from the factory teams, privateer teams and even the motocross community in general to produce a bike which meets their needs. And the changes really shine through in the new bike.
The 2019 model was a fine machine, but was known to lose the front end a little, and not have a totally positive planted feeling in and through the turns. It also felt a little wide and the power was aggressive for the average rider. You could say the previous models had to be ridden from the rear wheel and that required a unique style and skill.
The modifications to the 2020 YZ450F make the machine a game-changer. Since 2018 when the 450 received a massive makeover, Yamaha has built very fast and competitive bikes, but the new bike is a truly awesome machine with a mega on-track feel. It’s the best YZ450F by far.
Yamaha’s plan was to make the YZ450F lighter with more controllable power and to improve the mass centralisation with a more compact engine. The new frame and revised suspension, complemented by the low centre of gravity, aids the manoeuvrability yet makes it more stable all around the track. Certainly, when entering and exiting corners, the difference can be felt. And more importantly, it now stays planted through the turn.
Riding the bike on the hard-pack GP track at Teutschenthal in Germany, I could place the bike wherever I wanted to and switch lines with ease. I never felt like the front end was going to break traction, and I never had to resort to a single foot dab to save a crash at any time.
The new frame definitely feels slimmer, and the extra flex provides a better feeling like you are more connected to the track. You don’t buy a 450 unless you like loads of grunt, and the power is just incredible. It’s strong and fast yet so ridable. It’s very much like Romain Febvre’s factory bike I tested when he won the world title which had such a usable, linear-feeling power curve. Like the factory machine, the new YZF pulls high gears yet loves to be revved if needed too.
With the standard settings, it’s quick but very useable and not too scary. I also tried a different, bespoke engine map which one of the engineers made for me on the day. I asked for the bike to be even stronger, so he retarded the ignition and gave the bike more fuel which transformed the motor into a beast, but one that was still manageable. The drive was insane, and the over-rev improved, meaning I could hold a gear longer into a turn and really get the bike to grunt out. There grip and drive was incredible, and it gave me bags of confidence.
Yamaha has never experimented with air suspension, which means total focus has been on continually developing the KYB spring forks and shock. The suspension is firmer than before, and the result is a more balanced bike as you don’t get that front end dip. Yamaha seems to have a real ability in delivering suspension settings that are pretty much ideal for so many different levels and abilities of rider.
To get it right for me, all I had to do was make a few adjustments. I made the front compression firmer and the rebound faster by two clicks and I set my rear sag at 100mm instead of the 95mm recommended by Yamaha. If there was one thing I’d improve on the bike, it would be the clutch action and feel. It works fine, but the bracket doesn’t feel quite right. I think it’s time to add a hydraulic clutch to finish off this modern new machine.
Ultra-compact new 450cc engine, increased power with total control Lighter and more compact rearward-slanted cylinder
Mass centralised design
Yamaha Power Tuner for instant track-side tuning via a smartphone Handlebar switch for easily adjustable mapping
Compact electric starter with ultra-light battery
Launch Control System (LCS) optimises engine output for quicker starts Advanced fuel injection system for optimum power
Angled radiators ensure effective engine cooling
Robust transmission and clutch for positive shifting
Compact mass-centralised wraparound exhaust
Forward mounted muffler
Lighter aluminium bilateral frame delivers sharper handling Slimline body and seat for ultimate ergonomics
Class-leading KYB® coil spring-type speed-sensitive front suspension Link-type rear suspension with specially-tuned KYB® shock Lightweight wheels with blue rims
270mm front disc with uprated caliper aggressive pad material New rear disc and more compact caliper
4-position adjustable rubber-mounted handlebar clamp
Embedded graphics give extended durability
Tapered aluminium handlebars with quick-adjust clutch perch Wider and lighter footrests
Words by Dave Willet