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2019 Yamaha YZ450F First Ride Review

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The Yamaha YZ450F was all-new last year and for 2019, Yamaha understandably took the all-new package from 2018 and refined a few key areas. The changes made to the 2019 YZ450F include stiffer compression damping on the fork and shock while retaining the same spring rates as last year, new front and rear axle wheel collars both with increased rigidity, new seat foam that is 16-percent stiffer than last year, a one-tooth-larger rear sprocket (going from 48-tooth to 49-tooth), and a retention tab added to the right-side number plate. We conducted our first impression of the 2019 YZ450F at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California, known to be the roughest track in Southern California, and utilized the testing feedback of three test riders varying in ability from novice to AMA pro for this first ride review.

The Yamaha YZ450F engine was well liked by nearly every test rider in our 2018 450 MX Shootout, and being that it’s the same for this year, it retains the same great qualities. The 49-tooth sprocket for 2019 was just enough to turn the 2018 grunt feeling of the engine into a harder-hitting type of power with more bottom-end and midrange pull. This allows the bike to get to third gear quicker and it also makes third gear more usable as well. The 2018 bike’s ability to be lugged was one of the most impressive qualities of the engine, and for 2019, the one-tooth-larger rear sprocket makes it even easier to run a gear high and ride the bike lower in the rpm. The YZ450F doesn’t necessarily need more power, as it’s already got plenty of it, but the one-tooth-larger sprocket made it more user friendly overall.

The tunability of the YZ450F engine is another attribute that is pretty incredible, and something you can do for free with the use of your iOS or Android device via the Power Tuner app that Yamaha released last year with the all-new bike. One of our test riders wanted to smooth out the YZ450F’s power, so he enlisted the help of one of our techs for the day, 2002 Western Regional 125 Supercross Champion Travis Preston, who uploaded a new fuel and ignition map. The map increased torque in the midrange while smoothing the hit, which made the bike feel even faster with more of an electric feel and less tire speed. This enabled the test rider to go faster while using less energy. The characteristic had the right amount of torque with a reasonable amount of over-rev as well.

Yamaha improved the shifting on the YZ450F engine a few years ago and it now shifts very well. The ratios are good, and as a result of the gearing and the bike’s excellent torque, we were able to easily ride the entire track in third gear if we preferred. But second still worked best in the tighter turns. The cable-actuated clutch is buttery smooth and we didn’t experience any lever fade even when we used it more when riding a gear high in tight sections of the track.

The 2018 YZ450F had the plushest suspension in the class, but the front and rear KYB units were both a touch on the soft side. The 2019 settings are noticeably stiffer without getting harsh in any part of the stroke. The firmer settings resulted in better rider feedback about what the bike is doing beneath you while still remaining plush enough to offer plenty of comfort. Each of our test riders liked the 2019 setup better than last year’s setting. The spring rates feel just about perfect for the target weight range of 175 pounds, and none of our test riders felt the need to make any clicker changes on the rough Glen Helen track either.  

Occasional headshake for some was an issue on last year’s model, but we didn’t experience anything of the sort during our first day of testing on the relatively higher-speed Glen Helen track, and the YZ450F’s high-speed stability is confidence inspiring. In fact, the YZ450F is probably the most stable 450 on the market, but we’ll be able to confirm that in our 2019 450 MX Shootout.

We had the opportunity to ride the 2018 and 2019 YZ450F back to back on our test day, and one of the main differences between the two was increased front end traction on the 2019 bike due to the more rigid front axle collar combined with the stiffer fork setting. In the past, front wheel traction, especially while cornering, has been an area we desired more from the YZ450F, and the 2019 model is certainly improved in this area. One minor complaint we had on the 2018 model was the seat. It was way too soft and gave the rider a false reading of where to sit, and it also made it a challenge to get forward on the bike. The 16-percent stiffer foam on the 2019 model is significantly better as it’s much easier to find the sweet spot to sit, especially for steep uphills. This also made the taller bar mounts that were first installed on last year’s bike feel much more normal this year as well.

The brakes are unchanged and work great. The front brake has a very progressive feel, which was easily noticeable when descending Glen Helen’s steep hills that make for excellent braking zones to max out the front brake as well as load the fork. Under heavy downhill braking, the fork held up very well while still moving enough to make it comfortable. The shock tracked well under braking and even with little to no load, there was only minor kicking. The gas tank and shroud area is still a little wide, especially in comparison to other bikes in the class. In higher-speed corners, we noticed that as long as we kept our head forward, we were able to steer with the front and let the rear drift around without much oversteer.

The 2018 Yamaha YZ450F was one of our favorite 450 motocross bikes last year and we only had a few complaints about it including a slight lack of front end traction as well as the soft suspension and seat. We must not have been the only ones because Yamaha addressed these constructive criticisms on the 2019 model. With a powerful tractor-like engine, even better suspension settings, and better cornering ability combined with excellent straight-line stability, the 2019 YZ450F is certainly a better version of the already-good 2018 model.