Bike-urious does the Baja 1000 – Part 10

In Travel by AbhiLeave a Comment

My bike’s been in the shop for months now, but I finally had an excuse to get back out on the dirt! Pro Tip: If you’re invited to an event where the new 450s from Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, and Husqvarna are waiting for you to wail on, you find a way to free your schedule. That sage advice is why I found myself staring at this lineup on Saturday morning, wondering which bike I should commence with:

A good sight to wake up to!

A good sight to wake up to!

Note: This post was originally published on RideApart

First, a quick explanation on how this came about. Jim Downs over at RideApart had an idea to “create a real-life dirt bike riding experience — not the kind of straight-down-the-middle motorcycle review/shoot-out that you’d see in a magazine or specialist website.” So he got together a group of riders with varying skill levels and brought us together to try a bevy of the 2016 model dirt bikes from several manufacturers. Read more about the idea and what happened here on RideApart.

To be frank, I went in specifically wanted to ride just one bike – Husqvarna’s FE 350. The idea of 450-ish power with 250-ish size and weight sounded perfect for the riding Nathan and I have been trying! Long story short, the first day I ended up riding a bunch of 250s and 450s – the plan was to enjoy the FE 350 the next day (and I’d have a camera crew with me to create a video for y’all). Only problem was, a park ranger ended up shutting down the whole thing near the end of the first day, so you get no video and I didn’t even get to ride the 350! Still, here’s some quick thoughts from what the short time I got with the 450s:

You may notice a lack of Team Green – unfortunately Kawi’s KX450F motocrosser isn’t exactly trail-friendly, so it had to sit this round out. Still, three great 450s to play around with ain’t bad, so I hopped on the Husky and took it for a spin.
Husky FE450 - Front

I picked the Husky first because I’m the happy owner of a 2007 KTM 450XC, and subconsciously I was hoping I would like the FE450 the most. Plus, I thought it was the best looking of the three:
Huqvarna FE450

If you’ve been following this Baja story for a while you know I’m no dirt racing champion, but I now have a small bit of experience off-road. Just keep that in mind as you consume my opinions. The Husky was impressive right off the bat, with immediate power and comfortable ergos. It did everything just fine but when I hopped off this bike after my first ride, I wasn’t in love. Obviously, it’s not a bad motorcycle, and I was happier the next time I rode it, but I had more fun on the other bikes. Kudos to Husky for going with a larger fuel tank (2.5 gallons versus 2.0 and 1.9 for the other bikes) that somehow felt like it was the narrowest.

Next was the WR450F from Yamaha. If the Husky had immediate power delivery, then this bike was downright violent. I constantly found my self laughing inside my helmet each time I tested the rotational strength of my right wrist.
WR450F - Tank

Simply put, the power is addicting. I’ve never ridden a bike that made it this easy to loft the front wheel on command. Even better, the powerband is solid through the entire rev range. It feels like there’s plenty of torque down low so you can chug and lug to your heart’s content, but like I said before – give the throttle a good twist and you won’t be able to stop yourself from smiling. On the flip side, this is the only bike I ‘had an off’ with, and it was because it can get uncontrollably fast on single track very quickly! If I had to pick nits, I think the headlight/front fairing assembly is incredibly ugly, but a.) styling is subjective b.) that’s really my only gripe, and c.) you can’t see it when you’re riding:

Yamaha 450WR - Front

The more you can cover in dirt, the less ugly it looks!

Lastly, the Honda CRF450X. I’ve never ridden one of these before, yet it instantly felt like an old friend. It was the easiest to ride right off the bat, though I was annoyed by the lack of instrumentation with the CRF – all you’ll get from the factory is an odometer. With that said, Honda apparently took the money they saved from not installing digital instrumentation and put that towards including a steering damper from the factory, and I’d rather have the damper versus a speedo.
Honda CRF450X

This presented me with a difficult dilemma. Because the CRF was easiest to ride, I was fastest on it from point A to point B. But the WR was more entertaining, and it’s the bike I picture when I’m at my desk a week after Family Dirt Day, daydreaming of tackling trails and pretending like I’m as talented as Jonny Walker:

We only got a few miles on each bike before Ms. Non-Generous Park Ranger shut things down, but if I had to buy one of these tomorrow, I’d get the WR – it’s just too much fun. Well, if I’m really being honest – considering how few changes have been made to the CRF450X over the years, I’d probably save a couple grand and buy a 2-3 year old example of the CRF. That seems like the Bike-urious way, right? Simply put, I’m not good enough to get everything out of these motorcycles, but the Husky ended up being ‘middle of the road’ for me: more vibrant than the Honda but not as absurd as the Yamaha. If you have the cash and you’re good enough to take advantage of all the Yamaha has to offer, grab yourself a WR450F – it was the most exciting option there. I still need to try that FE 350, though!

On to Part 11 – this story takes a hiatus because Nathan can’t stop getting injured.

Missed Part 9? I realize my KTM needs a new top end, while Nathan makes me proud by completing the Los Ancianos Sprint Race in Tecate, Baja, Mexico.