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Can a newbie rider start off on a 450 off-road bike?

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Why would we gather up three beginner riders to test a 2017 Suzuki RMX450Z? Shouldn’t we keep the new riders to the TTRs and CRF-Fs and let them happily flat foot and whisky-throttle without consequence? We could, but where’s the fun in that? After the first test of the reintroduction of the RMX450Z (click here to read) the general consensus was that, though a capable trail bike, it is definitely on the mellower side of 450cc machines. And that got us wondering, instead of pro level riders and off-road experts saying it’s too tame, what would true beginners think of the bike?

We set up a day of mellow to moderate off-road trails and had both a Honda CRF250X and an RMX450Z for our three testers to ride. We’ll be straight up with you and say that at the end of the day none of the three riders would choose the 450 over the 250 if given the choice to take one of the bikes home with them. But it’s the reasons they didn’t choose the 450 that makes this test interesting.

Yep, that’s right. All of our beginner riders were intimidated by the RMX’s power. Enough so that they had a hard time getting rolling from a stop since they were so hesitant to twist the throttle too much. But once they did get going, two of the testers started to come to terms with the 450’s motor character. So where does that leave the RMX450Z when pro level riders say it is mellow and beginners say that it is too much? Well, right in the middle and that’s just where the vast majority of trial-riders are – not pros but not beginners, either.

Suzuki won’t like to hear it, but at 269 pounds with a tank full of gas, our beginner testers weren’t really off the mark in saying that the RMX feels heavy. For faster, race-oriented riders extra weight is unwanted because it just slows everything down. But for new riders, riding a relatively heavy bike means that it is harder to control and when they start to loose balance, the bike’s girth makes it harder to regain it. Plus a 450cc motor has much more reciprocating mass so, even if a 250 and 450 were exactly the same weight on the scale, a 450 will still feel heavier because it would have more of a resistance to change direction and come to a stop.

This is where the beginner testers were wrong. The two testers who actually rode the bike (one rider just sat on it, but didn’t ride it because it was too much out of her comfort zone) both said that the RMX450Z was bigger and taller than the CRF250X when in fact, the seat heights are nearly identical at about 37 inches. And while we haven’t measured the width of either machines, they have the same feel between the knees to our experienced testers. Our guess is that this “too big” feeling comes from the preconceived notion that a 450cc bike is bigger than a 250 and that little extra weight as well. A small factor could also be that the suspension isn’t as cushy and soft as the Honda’s and therefore stayed higher in the stroke and made the bike feel taller.

The short answer is maybe. Even though this set of newbie riders said they would rather take home the 250, they did have some positive things to say. One, the power, once they got used to it, wasn’t really that uncontrollable and two, the suspension was way more capable than (though not as comfy as) the 250X’s. For those riders in the unique position of returning to riding after a long time off of a bike, have street skills, or perhaps is a mountain bike enthusiast, a 450, in particular this RMX450Z, can be just the right beginner bike.

“I was incredibly intimidated by the 450 but after getting on it was pretty comparable, it was just a matter of having control. After a little more time on the 450 I felt pretty comfortable. The biggest difference between the two was weight because the Suzuki was way heavier, and it’s a bit higher as well so it was tough for me to touch and as I started to lose my balance it was hard to regain control. This was a good opportunity because I probably wouldn’t have even considered a 450.”

Mary Hannah 5’5”, 135 lbs., 24 years old
Ridden a CRF230. Is actively in the market to buy a dirt bike. Needed her goggle strap moved up. Rode the 450 like it was nobody’s business.

“I was expecting the 450 to challenge me a bit, like not way over my head but a little over my head. As far as the 450 is concerned I was fairly accurate with my expectations. The 450 definitely felt taller, definitely heavier as expected. It handled pretty well once you got some steam into it. It tracked pretty well, it didn’t like to fall into rain ruts. It felt like a bigger bike but it wasn’t overwhelmingly heavy. As large as I am I was able to flatfoot. I was happy with the 450.”

Will Steenrod 6'4", 200 lbs, 30 years old
Lifelong street guy. Ridden dirt bikes a half a dozen times. Doesn’t get the need to tuck in his jersey or why his visor should be so high.

“The 450 was a little more finicky and intimidating being that it has more power for a beginner. Just sitting on the bikes they actually felt about the same size to me. If you blind folded me and told me that I was on a 250 when I was on the 450 I would have believed you.”

Serena Bleeker 5’11”, 155 lbs, 24 years old
Went to the Honda Riding School. Ridden a CRF150F, CRF230F, and CRF250X prior to this test. Clipped a tree, flipped off the trail, never stopped smiling and took it like a boss.