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2018 450 MX Shootout

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Dirt Rider’s 2018 450 MX Shootout pitted six manufacturers’ flagship motocross machines against each other in an all-out battle for the top spot. Two machines in particular, the Yamaha YZ450F and Suzuki RM-Z450, brought an extra level of anticipation and excitement leading into this year’s shootout as each had undergone major overhauls. Would it be enough to keep the YZ-F on top or move the RM-Z up some spots?

Leading up to the shootout, we put time on the bikes that were available to us (the KTM and Husqvarna test units were in short supply and showed up at the shootout days but we didn’t have prior rides on the 2018 units) and prepped each bike by putting on DeCal Works preprinted numbers and mounting Dunlop MX3S tires, keeping the stock sizing of each tire. For example, the Suzuki RM-Z450 runs a 110 rear tire as opposed to a 120. We also offered each manufacturer the opportunity to perform any routine maintenance—such as changing the oil and oil filter, air filter, and swapping chains, sprockets, and clutch, if necessary—before each test day. Yamaha elected to bring a prepped unit, like the Austrian brands, though we did have rides on (and already had) a 2018 YZ450F.

The two-day shootout took place in Southern California at Pala Raceway on day one and Cahuilla Creek Motocross on day two. On the first day we had eight riders and on the second nine, ranging in skill levels from vet to pro. A few select riders were chosen to wear LitPro devices to see if lap times revealed any discrepancies or surprises. Due to changing track conditions and rider order we elected not to use the lap times for scoring in this test. Also, each manufacturer was present on each day to make adjustments to their bike if needed.

In the past, we reserved the shootout results for the print issue, but this year we decided to give them to you as soon as the final results were tallied. Read on for our in-depth analysis of each bike and to see where it stood among the rest.

Manufacturer Seat Height (Inches) Fuel Capacity (Gallons) Weight (Pounds) MSRP Overall Wins
Honda 37.25 1.7 248 $9,149 4
KTM 37.25 1.85 234 $9,599 1
Yamaha 37.25 1.6 248.5 $9,199 2
Kawasaki 37 1.66 240.5 $8,849 2
Suzuki 37 1.6 248 $8,899 0
Husqvarna 37 1.85 236 $9,699 0

Best Overall

The new Suzuki RM-Z450 looks amazing. I love the yellow and blue combo and couldn’t wait to throw a leg over it. I felt good sitting on it while setting my sag and levers. My first few laps at low speed were okay, but as soon as I started pushing and attacking the track, I couldn’t get a good feeling with the bike. It felt stiff and like I was sitting high from the ground. The front end was busy both at low and high speeds. The engine felt good, but I wasn’t able to use its full potential. Unfortunately, lacking the electric start, this is a deal breaker for me if I decide to buy a new 450 this year.

I was thinking the Husqvarna was going to be closer to the KTM, but I found it to be a different bike. The suspension was noticeably stiffer. It was too stiff for me, especially the shock. The engine felt like it wasn’t as racy as the KTM. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the two bikes, but I cannot help it. It didn’t feel terrible while riding it, but it was not as good as the other bikes. Also, I really had a hard time with the seat cover. I honestly couldn’t ride more than few laps with it. It is way too grippy and it feels like it was ruining both my pants and my bottom.

The Kawasaki was the neutral bike—but in a good way. It does nothing better than other bikes, but nothing worse either. The chassis feels like it lacks flexibility compared to the others and some riders may like that. I felt like the fork could use more comfort for me. The engine is good from bottom to top, and beside the grips being too old school for me (and hurting my hands), I felt good on it right away. Unfortunately, like the Suzuki, it lacks an electric starter, which is a deal breaker for me if I buy a new 450 this year.

The KTM engine is very powerful and responsive. It reminds me of a race engine. I felt like the bike was a tad bit more demanding because of the power, but maybe I needed to ride it smoother. The fork could be more comfortable at high speed and I am sure a shock spring suited to my weight would have added some comfort, but the rest of the bike is race ready. I think the footpegs look cheap compared to the rest of the bike, but I wouldn’t change anything to go racing.

The Yamaha feels good just sitting on it. The seat feels nice and soft, almost like a couch. From the first second on the track, you can feel the comfort of the bike. I really like the way I feel while sitting and standing on it. The rider triangle (handlebar, seat, footpegs) feels smaller than other bikes and makes me feel tall and on top of the bike. The shock is amazing and has everything you could ask for. It’s comfortable both at low and high speeds and on big jumps. It’s very progressive. If they could match the fork to the shock, it would be an easy choice suspension-wise. The front end of the bike is not as good. The fork is a little stiff at high speeds on smaller hard bumps, and it tends to wander a bit out of the ruts in tighter corner. The engine is strong and has plenty of torque. It feels almost like a tractor in a good way.

The engine on the Honda is good. It’s strong everywhere, but not too much. It’s not as physically demanding as some other bikes tested. It allowed me to ride the bike harder and closer to its potential. The bike feels small when I ride it, which I really like. I feel in control most of the time. I like the front end feel both on flat corners and in ruts where I can follow and keep my front wheel in the rut without fighting the bike. The bike likes to be ridden hard at more of a race pace. The suspension could be more comfortable, but overall it gave me the most satisfaction. I would love to see a new Fatbar on the Honda to make it even more race ready.

I chose the Honda as my number-one pick because everything on the bike works well with each other. The engine is very powerful in the midrange and carries through to the top well, but it's a smooth power. The bike feels easily maneuverable—just point and shoot! The fork feels soft and plush, which makes it so you can really play with the bumps. The shock sticks to the ground and limits any kind of huck-a-buck.

The KTM is really living up to the light and nimble name. I felt that the bike was very easy to throw around. It has very smooth, long power with massive amounts of over-rev. The suspension feels very good on high-speed bumps. It sort of pushes through them and hits every other bump. You can definitely feel the rigidity of the frame, but it helps in certain areas. The shock felt soft, but it stuck to the ground very well, especially on rollers. The chassis was great. It settled into corners really well and let you stay up front, which helps you get through the turn.

The Kawasaki feels like a well-put-together bike. Nothing is awesome on it and nothing is terrible. It's all just sort of very good. The engine is powerful and the fork works well in the corner, but upon entry just before you sit, it twitches. The shock was a tad busy from side to side, which made it a little hard to get control of.

The Husqvarna had all the great attributes of the KTM, but where I felt it lacked was the roar of the engine. It was very quiet and the throttle was not responsive, which made the bike feel sluggish. The chassis felt great. It really let you sit forward and stay up there with your head over the bar.

The Yamaha has a very good engine that is very fast with a strong bottom-end. The gears are short and it feels like a tractor. On the seat, it felt there was a pocket in the middle where no matter how far forward you sat in the turn and tried to stay up there, you would just sink back into the pocket, making it hard to turn sharp. The suspension was great over bumps and really settled in the turns well, but it had a twitch upon braking that was a little unsettling. The bike felt heavy and hard to bring back under control once it stepped just the slightest bit out of line.

The Suzuki has all the great qualities to make the best bik—aside from the engine. The suspension was plush and it handled like a dream. The engine was all right up until it started to rev, and then it really drops off at the top. Once it revved, it just popped and sent me over the front of the bike, which occasionally gave me a little scare.

My first pick was the Yamaha. Overall, this bike is strong in all aspects, from the suspension and handling to its unbeatable power. The throttle and clutch pull were by far the lightest, and the braking was really strong and smooth. The turning radius on the bike has improved as well, which enabled me to ride it much more loose and comfortable. It is a little wide up front though. I feel if it was a little slimmer, the bike would be perfect.

In second place I went with the Honda. It was a major improvement to me from the past models. The power has increased tremendously and changing back to spring forks in 2017 was a huge step in the right direction, but I feel they need to be improved. As far as the handling goes, the bike is agile and nimble. I felt it was more suited for the aggressive rider due to its more abrupt bottom-end power delivery, and I feel the spring fork needs to be improved as well.

My third place pick was the KTM. The steel frame and hydraulic clutch are features I really loved on this bike. The power delivery suited my style too. The deciding factor was the WP AER 48 fork, which was not as plush or simple as I would have liked it to be.

In fourth place, I had the Suzuki. The new chassis felt good in the corners and the suspension was also really good. I feel the shape of the bike made it feel small and took away its nimbleness though.

Fifth place for me was the Kawasaki. The bike is slim and very comfortable to ride. The seat shape allowed me to position myself well for corners and jumps. I felt the Showa TAC fork was extremely complicated to set up and not as plush as the other bikes. The power was on the weaker side as well.

In sixth place, I went with the Husqvarna. The power on this bike is really mellow and I felt I couldn't ride it as loosely as I could with the other bikes. I was also not a fan of the plastic subframe because to me, it took away some of the bike’s nimble feeling.

The Honda CRF450R was my top pick because it did everything very well. The engine is powerful and has an exciting powerband that makes you want to ride the bike aggressively. The engine maps aren’t incredibly different, but the stock map works great in nearly all conditions.

The suspension has a stiff, performance-based feel as a result of the stiffer spring rates compared to last year and the updated valving to match. When I first heard about this, I didn’t think I would like the stiffer setup due to how light I am, but the changes make the bike feel even lighter on the track and, similar to the engine, the suspension works best when you are charging and putting in hard laps.

The CRF’s chassis is incredible. It makes the bike feel super lightweight and nimble everywhere on the track; almost reminiscent of a 250F. It’s amazing what the seemingly minor changes did to the overall handling character of this bike in a great way. If this were my personal bike, I would install a Fatbar-style handlebar and some new grips and would be very happy with it. Honda did a great job on last year’s bike, and with the chassis changes and the addition of electric start, they really hit a home run with the 2018 model.

The all-new Yamaha YZ450F impressed me. Since the previous-generation model was released in 2014, I have been a huge fan of the Yamaha’s incredible engine and plush suspension. However, I struggled with cornering ability, the wide-feeling radiator shrouds, and the overall heavy feel of the bike. The new bike is unquestionably faster than the prior generation machine. The midrange and top-end are even more powerful than before, but the powerband is still very linear and controllable overall. Also, I love the new electric start!

The YZ-F’s suspension is as plush as ever and unquestionably the most comfortable in the class. The handling is noticeably improved, especially while cornering. The main thing that made me choose this bike in second place behind the Honda was the heavy-feeling chassis. Being a lighter guy, I love to ride a bike that is easy to throw around and has a lighter weight feel to it. Overall, the Yamaha is a great bike and I am very happy with the changes they made over the previous-generation model.

The KTM 450 SX-F finished super close behind the Yamaha for me. The orange machine has an incredible engine that is somewhat mellow on the bottom-end. The midrange, top-end, and over-rev are a different story with plenty of power for me personally. I especially appreciated the amazing over-rev as I felt I could stay in a gear longer and avoid a time-consuming shift. The suspension was comfortable for me overall. Adjusting the air pressure made a significant difference in allowing the fork to move more in the stroke. While the fork was certainly good, it didn’t offer quite as much plushness and comfort in the stroke as the spring forks on the two machines that finished in front of it for me. The shock worked well and felt like it really settled into corners well.

The KTM’s chassis feels lightweight and nimble like the Honda, but not as much. It’s unquestionably in second in this category behind the Honda. The bar bend was comfortable for me, but the levers feel somewhat fat and large. I wish they were slimmer and closer to a bend like some of the Japanese bikes. The KTM is an awesome bike that I could easily see myself racing right out of the box.

The new Suzuki RM-Z450 is unquestionably improved over the previous-generation model, which was certainly becoming long in the tooth. The engine has a fairly smooth and more mellow overall power in comparison to some of the other bikes in the shootout. It definitely felt more powerful on the top-end than the old bike, which I liked. I did notice a bit of clutch fade when revving the bike and slipping the clutch though.

I was very pleased with the new Showa 49mm fork and Showa BFRC shock. I felt it was essential for Suzuki to replace the harsh-feeling Showa TAC fork, and the new A-Kit-style fork does just that. It has a stiff overall feel to it but is very sensitive to clicker settings. A few clicks softer in the front and rear did the trick for me. The Showa BFRC shock feels like it moves a lot, which worked well on the tight sections of the track for me.

The new chassis makes the Suzuki not corner quite as well as the old model, but it is very close. What it lost in cornering ability, it gained in straight-line stability, so I feel like the bike is more balanced overall now in terms of these two. I love the flat handlebar Suzuki uses and the cockpit felt super comfortable. Overall, the Suzuki was easy to hop on and go fast for me. With a more powerful, electric start-equipped engine and a lighter weight overall feel, I could see this bike doing a lot better in the shootout results.

The Kawasaki KX450F is a bike that does everything good but nothing great. The engine has a slightly mellow bottom-end with a good midrange and top-end hit. It’s not as powerful as the top three, but it’s more than enough for the average consumer. The engine and muffler sound a bit raspy, which I personally do not like.

The Showa SFF TAC fork is my biggest complaint about the KX-Fi. We were able to find a decent setting after softening the fork quite a bit on the stock air pressures, but it felt harsh, especially at the bottom of the stroke. If this bike had a different fork, I think it may have ranked higher for me. The shock, on the other hand, works well. Unlike the fork, the shock feels plush and is easy to dial in with a few clicker adjustments.

The handling of the Kawasaki is another area where the bike could improve. It doesn’t feel heavy, but it also doesn’t feel very nimble either. It doesn’t lean into corners nearly as intuitively as the other bikes. We were able to do a Band-Aid fix on this with some suspension adjustments, but I would like it to be better in this area. The ergonomics on the KX450F are super comfortable, and it’s very easy to hop on it and feel comfortable right away. The skinny radiator shrouds and number plates make it easy to move around on too. The Kawasaki is a good bike, but it could be a much better bike with a plush spring fork and a lighter-feeling, more nimble chassis.

Ranking the Husqvarna FC 450 in sixth place does not justify how good of a bike it is, but the engine just wasn’t as powerful as the other bikes. It had a very mellow bottom-end and midrange, which made it take a long time to get to the top-end where the meat of the powerband is. For a 450, I would definitely like to have more bottom-end and midrange. If the engine were the same as the KTM, this bike would have likely finished much higher in my personal rankings.

The suspension on the FC 450 was comfortable for me with the stock settings. We softened the fork only a few clicks, which made it even better. The shock felt plush and both ends settled well into corners.

The Husqvarna’s chassis helped make the bike easy to ride. It has a lightweight feel that makes putting it where you want it easy to do with minimal rider input. The same can be said for cornering, as the bike cornered very intuitively and was easy to maintain good posture throughout the entire corner.

The Husqvarna FC 450 is a good bike that feels a bit choked up in terms of power. The rest of the bike worked well for me and might even seem better with a more powerful engine. If Husqvarna can make the engine more like the KTM, I think it will finish much higher not only in my personal rankings, but in the overall shootout results too.

The Honda only received subtle changes for 2018, but the improvements are definitely noticeable on the track. It feels much more stable and balanced compared to the 2017 model. When the track conditions were good, this bike was very fun and exciting to ride. In the right hands, this can be a serious motocross racebike weapon.

The KTM has reached its fourth year with the current design and has pretty much worked most of the bugs out of it. It was also fun to ride with a good balance of power and handling. This bike also felt light while riding around the track. I would say this would also be a formidable racebike weapon.

The all-new Yamaha offers a plush, planted, and comfortable feel. The engine has so much torque anywhere and anytime—just twist the throttle and hang on. One drawback might be that it has so much power it may fatigue the rider. The bar felt high, which may take away a little of its ability to turn to the inside. With a few simple adjustments, this could be a very fun bike. I feel like this bike could be very versatile for the rider who wants to have both a racebike for motocross and a bike that can be raced off-road.

The Kawasaki has been the same for a couple of years now. I think the current design is good, but the competition has made refinements to their models that are putting them a little ahead of the Kawasaki. The engine on the KX-F is powerful, but the chassis is a little rigid. Some riders are quick to blame the Showa TAC fork, but I think it is okay. My opinion is it is more in the chassis’ frame and swingarm. If you want to eliminate this rigid feel and increase rider comfort, it might require some suspension modifications.

We know the Husky and KTM are similar as they share the same frame, engine, and suspension components, but they are surprisingly different on the track. The airbox, muffler, subframe, gas tank, bodywork, and swingarm are all different. I think these components may contribute to why they feel so much different on the track. While riding the Husky, my thought was that I could not get as comfortable on it as the KTM.

Suzuki has introduced an all-new 2018 RM-Z450, and they have certainly been pushing to regain their place in the market. While the bike has some very good new features such as the Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) shock and the new Showa 49mm A-Kit-style coil-spring fork, they seem to have forgotten the magic electric start button. Overall, I would say the chassis needs some refinements. It has a heavy feel on the track and just seems to lack excitement when you ride it.

This shootout was the hardest I’ve done, not because the bikes are so similar, but because they are all so different yet still good in their own way. First, I want to talk about the Suzuki because me ranking it in sixth doesn’t sit well with me. It’s a good, solid bike with a good motor and it handles pretty good. As you can tell, there is a lot of “good” in there, not “great.” It just doesn’t do anything better than any other bike in my mind, but I wouldn’t hate it if that was my bike this year.

Next, the Kawasaki’s powerplant really shined, and the slim, long bike feel made it easy to turn and stay stable for me. But the fork is a deal breaker. It’s harsh and makes me spend way more mental energy trying to find the smoothest possible line than to just ride and have fun. For me, the KTM and Husqvarna are very similar, but the Husky’s lack of power puts it down on my list because these are 450s and should scare me a little bit. The Yamaha has, hands down, the most impressive motor for me. Its responsiveness and free-revving power is eye-wateringly impressive. And for those who want less, just hop on your phone and dial it back. The Honda is right up there, but it is a little more of a lugger than screamer – still crazy fast, though.

In the handling department, the Husky and KTM stand out because they are very neutral turning and have a rapid response to rider input. You just think, “I want to cut to the left to avoid that hole” and before you move a muscle, you’re there. The Yamaha had a good mix of nimbleness and stability, yet it is interesting that it is the heaviest bike of the bunch. The Honda is almost too quick turning for me. It has a slightly overactive character that had me smiling in some turns and knifing in and oversteering in others. For me it is pretty much a tie between the KTM and Yamaha. Big blue’s motor is really something to behold while the KTM’s comfort makes we want to ride all day.

I would say it’s a good time to buy a new dirt bike. Every manufacturer has put out an amazing bike this year, and I think it really comes down to your favorite color. As a 240-pound rider, it’s hard to judge a bike’s suspension, because it’s not set up stock for a guy my size. That being said, all six bikes handled well. I felt that once the sag was set, I could push them as hard as I wanted without worry. The hardest thing about this shootout was ranking the bikes as each one had its pluses and minuses, but all were great in their own ways.

That being said, there must be a winner and loser, and my winner was the KTM. I haven’t been a KTM fan, but after this test it’s hard not to be. The orange bike is light on the scales and on the track. It’s nimble and the engine is amazing. The brakes are the best in class and the whole bike is put together in a slim, flat package with electric start.

The Honda was the easiest to feel comfortable on and immediately go fast. The minor revisions to the chassis from last year made a big improvement on the track. The added electric start and already great fork make this bike an excellent platform. I feel the KTM and Honda engines have similar over-rev that make them really have that free feel, especially at the top of the rpm range.

If you were buying a bike for the best corners, I still believe the Suzuki wins that battle. I felt I could stay planted in the rut or carve the berm and the front wheel would go anywhere I wanted it to go. I found the Suzuki engine lacked over-rev and had me wanting more pull at the top of each gear.

I found the Kawasaki did everything good and nothing bad. It is one of the more rigid bikes, but it’s stable and the engine is very enjoyable. The flat seat makes moving around comfortable and easy to do. The preprogrammed couplers make mapping changes for the non-tech-savvy people a breeze depending on preference or the track conditions.

For the horsepower enthusiast Yamaha answered that call. Combine that with an amazing suspension package and it’s hard to beat. I still struggled with the width of the Yamaha from the tank all the way to the shroud. If this was the only bike you rode, I don’t think it would be a problem, but if you hop around from bike to bike, it might be a concern. The mapping from your phone made engine tuning a breeze, and smoothing the power out really helped me in the middle of the corners.

I found the Husqvarna to be the smoothest and most plush bike of all. It was surprisingly different than the KTM. The mellow power and quiet exhaust are deceiving yet made it easy to be consistent and go fast.

My recommendation to someone in the market is to take advantage of ride days and friends’ bikes to experiment as much as possible. Whichever bike you choose, please understand that they are all great machines and all can be enjoyed and ridden to the top step of the podium.

Without a doubt, this was the most competitive 450cc MX Shootout I have done in more than 10 years of magazine testing. All of the bikes are extremely capable right off the showroom and all of them were a pleasure to ride. I had three bikes that all ranked up front for the win, and the lower three bikes could all be shootout winners with some very minimal changes. I hate to label any bike as a winner or loser, but I will describe what I felt and why I picked each bike in its ranking order.

The first track we rode had lots of flat and hard-packed corners and only a few parts of the track developed ruts. The track was fairly smooth with the exception of a few square holes that came up toward the end of the day. The second day of testing was on a bigger track with lots of elevation changes, off-camber, high-speed sandy berms, and big braking bumps. Because of the different tracks, I actually had different bikes feel better or worse on the different track conditions.

Day one was a toss-up between the Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. The Honda and Suzuki worked especially well on the tight parts of the track and were the quickest steering bikes of the bunch. The Honda had a potent motor that wasn’t the fastest of the group but was the easiest to ride fast and throw around in the air off jumps. I was able to change lines on the Honda with the least amount of effort and it was honestly the most fun bike to ride. The Suzuki also had a great motor with tons of midrange power. The RM-Z turned really well also but just didn’t have the light feeling in the air like the Honda had. The Kawasaki was in the middle of the two. It didn’t turn as well as the Suzuki, but it felt much lighter around the track. With the lack of engine-braking, the bike would freewheel into corners and seemed to stay above the bumps instead of diving into them.

I watched all the bikes get weighed in the morning before the shootouts, and the KTM and Husky were both the lightest on the scale. They share many common parts like the motor, suspension, and frame, but on the track, they both felt surprisingly different. The KTM is a full-on racebike. The motor is really strong, while the Husky is more like its mild-mannered cousin. I preferred the more aggressive motor of the KTM, but I felt that the Husky had more flex and actually absorbed the smaller choppy bumps better than the KTM. Both KTM and Husky have come a long way over the last few years, and they both feel more “Japanese” than ever before. The ergonomics are comfortable on both bikes. They are also extremely stable on the high-speed parts of the track. I ranked them a little lower than the top three bikes, but only because nothing really stuck out in my mind as being exceptionally great out on the track.

My final pick of day one was the Yamaha. The blue bike has the most incredibly fast motor and in my opinion the best “stock” production suspension on the market. That being said, how can it be last? Like I said earlier, all of the bikes are so close this year that’s it’s hard to critique them! My main complaint on the Yamaha was that it felt top-heavy and the bar felt high. Yamaha slimmed down the seat, which I liked, but I noticed that the gas tank (under the seat) protruded out wider than the seat and subframe. Within a couple of laps, you hardly notice this, but at first it did feel a little awkward and bulky.

Day two was a little different because of the track, and my list of bikes changed around a little bit. The Kawasaki was my top pick. The bike was fast, nimble, and although it didn’t turn quite as quick as the Honda or Suzuki, the bike was more stable at high speeds and didn’t have the tendency to get headshake or feel twitchy on the fast downhills of the track. The Suzuki also had a good stability yet remained easy to turn and switch direction at any time on the track. I just felt that the Suzuki didn’t feel as light on the track as the Kawasaki and it had more engine-braking on deceleration compared to the Honda and Kawasaki too.

The Yamaha was once again the powerhouse bike of the test. The blue bike was the easiest bike to get over the bigger jumps that required the most power. Again, the Yamaha suspension impressed me as the track got rougher as it remained the most comfortable on the choppy bumps, yet smooth and controlled on the big hits. That being said, I still felt that the Yamaha took the most effort to turn in the sandy corners.

I started the day on the Husqvarna and felt the motor was the slowest of the group when the track was smooth. By the end of the day when the track was blown out, rough, and slippery, the slower-feeling Husky started to excel. I could actually ride more controlled on the slower bike and hit my lines easier. I also found it not wanting to rip my arms out as I fatigued. Moving on to the KTM, I must say the bike is really good. It has class-leading Brembo brakes and it’s the lightest weight bike in the test. It feels totally stable and on par with my top picks both days. On paper, it should be a top-two bike in the shootout. For me it just lacked excitement on the track. It has a good motor, good suspension, and a good chassis. I would gladly own and race one, I just didn’t have the same feel or comfort level on it that I felt instantly on the Honda, Suzuki or Kawasaki.

At the end of the two-day shootout, I ranked the Kawasaki first, the Honda in second, the Suzuki third, the Husqvarna in fourth, the KTM fifth, and the Yamaha in sixth.