By the testing staff of TransWorld Motocross

What an amazing time to be a motocross rider. Modern technology has made the current crop of dirt bikes more powerful, easier to operate, and more adjustable than ever before. Innovations like electric start, hydraulic clutches, air suspension, traction control, and even smartphone engine-tuning apps make this year's crop of 450s more technical than we could have ever imagined only a few short years ago.

For 2018, the Kawasaki KX450F returns completely unchanged, while the Husqvarna FC 450, KTM 450 SX-F, and Honda CRF450R enjoy mild revisions. The Suzuki RM-Z450 and Yamaha YZ450F, meanwhile, are redesigned from the ground up.

For this year's shootout, we assembled a test rider panel of six TransWorld Motocross testing veterans and gathered for the initial day of comparison at Cahuilla Creek MX, with technical setup support from all six manufacturers. Additional days of testing were held at Zaca Station MX, Milestone MX Park, Perris Raceway, and Competitive Edge Raceway. To eliminate traction variances between each machine from the comparison, we outfitted every bike with Bridgestone's excellent X30 intermediate-to-soft terrain tires.

It's almost cliché to say that every bike available can be a winner in the right hands, but it is absolutely true. This year's Shootout was the toughest ever, as evidenced by a three-way tie for the win! Tiebreakers, of course, determined an overall winner, but  in 2018 the slogan truly is, "Choose a color."

2018 SUZUKI RM-Z450
$8899 MSRP


New lighter frame and swingarm with revised geometry All-new bodywork Mikuni throttle body Revised cylinder head New intake camshaft Larger airbox with straighter intake Revised holeshot assist ignition settings Showa 49 mm mechanical spring fork Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion (BRFC) shock

Bridgestone X30 tires


For the first time in a decade, the Suzuki RM-Z450 was completely revamped with an all-new chassis, bodywork, and suspension. The engine, although the same basic power plant, also received some updates that helped liven up its power delivery. A great cornering machine that feels lighter on the track than the scale says, the Suzuki is held back by an average powerband and the quirky performance of the new Showa BFRC shock. Testers had to run a surprising amount of shock sag (up to 112 mm) to give the RM-Z a more balanced feel. Every tester agreed that with some modifications, the Suzuki could be an excellent machine, but Shootout results are based on off-the-showroom conditions.


Emery — "Best-looking bike! The overall feel of the bike is amazing with the standard Suzuki cornering prowess that everyone loves."

Foster — "Suzuki has maintained its quick handling and excellent cornering foundation, and it easily corners inside any other bikes."

LaFountaine — "This bike turns exceptionally well and goes exactly where you want it to. You can cut in and out of corners with confidence."

Maeda — "As usual, the Suzuki enters corners like a hot knife through butter. You can put the RM-Z anywhere. It feels light, too!"

Puerner — "Engine is mellow and easy to ride. The lean coupler livens it up a bit. It’s not slow, but I was hoping for a little more out of the motor."

Taylor — "The bike is heavy, but it feels light on the track. The engine has big power, but the powerband is a little short."


Emery — "The engine is lacking down low, and I would like some more roll-on power. This bike needs electric start badly."

Foster — "The rear-end is inclined to ride high in the stroke, forcing too much weight toward the front-end and overpowering the fork."

LaFountaine — "This is the least powerful bike and it flattens out on top. You have to short shift it as the rpms rise. Also, the rear suspension never feels settled."

Maeda — "The rear of the bike overpowers the front. I had to run 112 mm of sag to get a balanced feeling. A revalve is a must."

Puerner — "The rear-end moves around too much, which upsets the overall balance of the bike and causes the bike to stand up in turns."

Taylor — "The rear-end is much too high and the shock overpowers the fork, making the front-end feel too soft. No electric start?"

TEST RIDER SCORES | 5-6-6-6-6-3

$8849 MSRP


Narrow overall profile for comfort and control Handlebar-mounted, push-button activated launch control Multi-position handlebar and footpeg mounts Three DFI couplers for easy motor adjustment Brighter, green graphics for 2018

270 mm oversized front brake for improved stopping power


As the only bike that returns in 2018 completely unchanged, the Kawasaki slips two positions in this year's ranking not because it is not a great bike, but simply because the others improved. Blessed with a stable chassis and very good cornering abilities, the KX450F has a very strong engine, which pumps out plenty of usable power. Excellent ergonomics make the Kawasaki one of the most comfortable machines, and its longer-feeling wheelbase inspires confidence in rough conditions. The bike's major downfall is the Showa TAC fork. Although we have learned a lot about setting up the air fork through the years, it remains the green machine's Achilles' heel with its harsh performance in medium-sized bumps and dead feeling in small chatter.


Emery — "This bike is narrow and feels flickable on the track, and very stable at speed. The engine has a strong hit that's exciting."

Foster — "The Kawasaki feels pretty light and nimble on the track. The bodywork is sleek and narrow, which helps aid in its agile feel, as does the delivery of quick power."

LaFountaine — "The engine is very broad and manageable. The bike feels very balanced, and it is stable at speed and in the rough stuff."

Maeda — "I love the bike's big, stable feel. It's hard to crash a cruise ship, ya' know? The engine is exciting and strong, too."

Puerner — "This has to be the most stable bike of all, and it's very predictable. It corners well, but it still steers with a rear-wheel bias."

Taylor — "The Kawasaki has good, strong power that is aggressive! Under acceleration, the shock works well and tracks straight."


Emery — "The lack of electric start and the performance of the TAC fork are the bike's weaknesses. It's hard to find a setting that works well everywhere."

Foster — "The Showa TAC fork is okay but doesn't offer the most consistent feel in the high-speed chop, nor in initiating corners with the front-end."

LaFountaine — "The front-end wants to push when you drop into corners, and I suspect it has to do with the feel of the air fork."

Maeda — "They are hardly as offensive as they were in 2016 when they debuted, but I struggle with the feel of the TAC fork in small-to-medium bumps."

Puerner — "It's hard to find a fork setting that will do it all. Set it up to absorb small chop and the hard landings and big bump compression suffers, and vice versa."

Taylor — "The air forks are harsh and cause the front-end to push easily in corners. They ride high and lack comfort and compliance."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 6-3-4-3-4-6

2018 YAMAHA YZ450F
$9199 MSRP


Completely revised engine with more-upright cylinder, new camshaft profiles, new crankshaft, higher compression bridge-box piston, DLC-coated piston pin, and new 44 mm Mikuni throttle body Electric starter with lithium-ion battery Thicker transmission gears for greater durability Updated clutch plates with stiffer pressure plate for more precise action and feel at the lever Larger radiators that are angled for better airflow Power Tuner smartphone app that allows users to select and fine-tune EFI mapping instantly New bilateral beam chassis that is 16 mm narrower between the rider's legs Lower overall seat height All-new bodywork Revised KYB fork with larger damping cartridge

Shorter KYB shock (7 mm)


Without a doubt, the all-new Yamaha YZ450F is the most exciting bike of the year. Blessed with the best all-around engine we’ve ever encountered on a 450, the YZ450F powerplant is without weakness. The ability to tune the powerband with a smartphone app is revolutionary and mind-blowingly simple. The Yamaha’s Kayaba suspension packing is excellent, and the new AOSS spring fork is the best in class. The new bodywork is slim and wonderful to maneuver on in comparison to the past seven YZFs, but the machine is still haunted by a vague-feeling front-end on corner exits. Taller riders didn’t seem to be affected by this sensation, however, and it's obvious that with some aftermarket chassis parts, the bike can be made to perform equally well for riders of average height.


Emery — "I felt at home on the new YZ450F immediately. Amazing power and suspension, and I feel like the cornering performance of the bike has been improved."

Foster — "The entire powerband is impressive with a broad pull in each gear that really limits your number of shifts. The YZ450F is a monster!"

LaFountaine — "The engine is very broad and powerful with awesome adjustability. Best suspension in the class, hands down. Forks are amazing."

Maeda — "I honestly don't think the YZ450F's powerband can be improved upon. We've tried a couple aftermarket exhausts and taken them off."

Puerner — "The Yamaha is so powerful with a versatile powerband that can be tuned with the Power Tuner app. No holes whatsoever."

Taylor — "The Yamaha is super fast with big power! Electric start is a huge bonus, and the suspension package is very good but a little soft."


Emery — "Ergonomically, the Yamaha still feels big, but it is a huge improvement over years past. It doesn't corner as well as some, but I liked it."

Foster — "The front-end has a tendency to get light when the throttle is applied, which requires an extra focus on keeping the front-end planted."

LaFountaine — "I struggled with the bike in corners. Entering, the front-end would push, and exiting under power, the front-end would fade out."

Maeda — "I love the bike at a practice pace. At race pace, I find myself chasing the front-end while exiting corners. Must change riding style for the YZ450F."

Puerner — "Handling can be a mixed bag on this bike, as it is not the same from lap to lap. It corners better than last year's bike for sure, but still pushes on exits."

Taylor — "The seat is too low and the bars are too high, and the bike struggles in the corners. It feels like it has a hinge in the middle of the frame."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 1-1-5-4-5-4

2018 HONDA CRF450R
$9149 MSRP


Electric start with high-end lithium-ion battery Firmer suspension settings, front and rear New engine hanger for better flex characteristic

Softer, more-controllable map one (standard) settings


All new in 2017, the Honda CRF450R this year returns with a few key refinements: firmer suspension settings, thinner engine mounts, revised standard engine mapping, and the all-important electric start. Unlike last year’s bike that suffered from excessive front-to-rear weight transfer, the '18 bike enjoys great suspension balance with more control. Stability isn't its strong point, but that's because of its razor-sharp handling. Although the mapping has been tamed down, the bike has a snappier feel in the standard setting that all testers preferred. While other bikes in the shootout have glaring strengths and weaknesses, the Honda is a solid "B+" in every category. The CRF450R has a compact feel and is the smallest-feeling bike, but that didn’t stop our tallest test riders from feeling right at home on it.


Emery — "To me, the Honda has the most aggressive power of all the Japanese bikes. No lag on low-end and the power is immediate."

Foster — "Honda abandoned its smooth roll-on power and instead has gone back to a fun, quick hit down low. I love it!"

LaFountaine — "The engine is a big improvement. It's traditionally one of the slowest bikes, but now it's closer to the top."

Maeda — "The Honda does everything well, but nothing about it is overly exciting. It's fast, has good suspension, and handles well."

Puerner —"It has a much more balanced feel this year and it corners quite well. The bike responds quite well to rider input."

Taylor — "The Honda does everything pretty good. Electric start is a huge plus; no bike in 2018 should be without it."


Emery — "It is a little twitchy compared to the more stable bikes, but its cornering prowess makes up for that."

Foster — "It's awesome that it has an electric start, but it is the most finicky of the e-starts. Do grab the clutch, but don't twist the throttle!"

LaFountaine — "The bike is twitchy in high-speed chatter sections. It is also really loud and that bothers me a bit."

Maeda — "The clutch pull is atrocious—like an old CR500R—and to make things worse, it heats up quicker than all the other bikes."

Puerner — "Twitchy with headshake on deceleration, but that seems like a Honda trait forever. The bike is powerful, but not one of the most powerful."

Taylor — "The forks are too soft for me, and the clutch is soft and heats up with abuse. The bars feel a bit on the high side."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 2-2-3-5-3-1

2018 KTM 450 SX-F $9599 MSRP



Updated WP AER48 fork settings, including a new air seal, air piston, and rebound spring on the air leg; the damping fork leg also received a new piston Orange frame A new, more powerful Skyrich HJTZ58-FP replaces the Samsung battery of the past The shift shaft received a new bearing with more overlap for greater durability

Radiator louvers have been redesigned to flow more air and now double as radiator braces as they bolt directly to the frame


Revised suspension settings and a stronger battery for the electric start are the biggest changes made to this year's KTM 450 SX-F, while orange frame paint, stronger radiator louvers, and a beefier shift shaft round out the upgrades. But did the KTM really need more? No. Equipped with a massively powerful engine, the KTM has arguably the biggest powerband down low and in the middle, before it flattens out on top. As usual, the KTM carves a corner with authority, and the performance of the WP AER 48 air fork is superior to that of other air-spring equipped components. Suspension balance is excellent, and the flex characteristic of its steel frame gives the bike a forgiving feel in acceleration chop that cannot be matched by aluminum.


Emery — "This bike is an absolute powerhouse, with a nice variation between maps one and two. I prefer the forgiving feel of a steel frame."

Foster — "The KTM AER 48 is the best air fork with a reasonable level of comfort while still providing adequate bottoming resistance and good progression."

LaFountaine — "Power is electric and almost deceivingly responsive. The bike corners great and you can lean it into the turns with confidence."

Maeda — "The KTM engine scares me because it is so powerful, but I know that I am the minority. Big, big power down low and in the middle."

Puerner — "Amazing motor, great handling, and plush suspension with a very balanced feel. Traction control and map switch on the fly is very cool."

Taylor — "I like the engine. Roll-on power is strong and it revs pretty far. The bike turns very well and is pretty stable, too."


Emery — "I dislike how fat the bike feels between my boots. At times, the bike feels slow to react to changes in my body English."

Foster — "Although the KTM is the lightest bike on the scale, it doesn't feel that way on the track. The slow-revving engine makes the bike feel like the heaviest."

LaFountaine — "Fork is good for air, but a mechanical spring fork would be better. Too much feedback from the front-end, but that also has to do with the handlebar."

Maeda — "The KTM has a big, heavy feel on the track that intimidates me. I can ride it fast, but I have to exercise extra self-control and concentrate on being smooth."

Puerner — "The WP AER 48 air fork is the best air fork, hands down, but it still lacks the feel and control of a mechanical spring fork."

Taylor — "The air fork loses some front-end traction in choppy, fast corners. The shock also has a step feel on square edges."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 4-5-2-2-1-2

2018 HUSQVARNA FC 450 $9699 MSRP



More powerful lithium-ion battery Firmer suspension settings, front and rear

Magura braking components on some bikes


The Husqvarna FC 450 repeats at the 2018 450 Shootout winner in spite of some very tough competition. The Husqvarna has a significantly different feel than its orange brother, and more important than all of the components and settings it shares with the 450 SX-F are the significant differences: the composite subframe and airbox, the less-rigid swingarm, and the Pro Taper Contour handlebar. Thanks to the more-restrictive airbox design, the Husky has a slightly softer powerband that is less intimidating than the KTM's down low, but pulls further up top. The Pro Taper handlebar does a better job of absorbing both engine vibration and track feedback, and combined with the softer swingarm out back, the entire bike has a higher level of comfort while remaining precise.


Emery — "Comfort and confidence is high in all areas of the track on this bike; it isn't scary to let the back-end slide because you know exactly what it will do."

Foster — "The Husky stays extremely planted and consistently claws for traction in most conditions, and predictability and stability are its strong points."

LaFountaine — "I love how this bike does the same thing every lap. It gets into the tight corners well, stays there, and accelerates effectively."

Maeda — "It is shocking how different the Husky feels from the KTM to me and how it feels just like a Japanese machine. I love it."

Puerner — "The Husky enters corners very well, and I like the way the bike stands up exiting corners to get back on the gas. Comfort level is high."

Taylor — "This is an easy bike to go fast on because it is so easy to control. It feels mellow, but it is actually making good power that's deceiving."


Emery — "The ergonomics for me are the bike's only weak point: It feels wide between my boots and the side panels are fat when you lean back."

Foster — "The heavy feel from the slow-revving engine inertia is the weak point for me, as it makes the bike feel heavier than it is."

LaFountaine — "The Husqvarna's bodywork is a little wider everywhere, it seems, and that makes it a little tougher to maneuver on until you get used to it."

Maeda — "In fast, rough sections of the track, the flex of the steel frame can be unnerving if you're used to the precise feel of an aluminum chassis."

Puerner — "The fork can feel a little harsh on slap-down landings, but that's about the only complaint I have about the bike."

Taylor — "I think this bike feels too mellow. I like the aggressive map, but I'd still prefer a snappier feel at the throttle."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 3-4-1-1-2-5


Mike Emery | 33 yrs./5'10"/175 lbs./Intermediate

1. Yamaha YZ450F
2. Honda CRF450R
3. Husqvarna FC 450
4. KTM 450 SX-F
5. Suzuki RM-Z450
6. Kawasaki KX450F

The Yamaha is massively improved, both functionally on the track and technologically with the new Power Tuner app. The classic Yamaha power is even better, and the suspension is best in class. I really like the Honda and it fit me like a glove—best throttle response with plenty of power, and it handles predictably in all areas. The Husky is the most stable, predictable bike, and is very easy to ride, while the KTM is a faster, more aggressive version. The Suzuki corners like a razor and I like the bike a lot, but it lacks power and suspension balance. I like the Kawasaki a lot, but it's the only completely unchanged bike and all it really needed was new forks to be at the top.

Pat Foster | 40 yrs./6'1"/185 lbs./Pro

1. Yamaha YZ450F 2. Honda CRF450R 3. Kawasaki KX450F 4. Husqvarna FC 450 5. KTM 450 SX-F

6. Suzuki RM-Z450

The new Yamaha is a hit, as it feels so much more aggressive than its predecessor. It feels lighter, narrower, and nimbler. The Honda is a somewhat surprising close second. The power delivery hits hard in the low to mid and has good top, similar to the Yamaha. If the Kawasaki had a plusher, more predictable front fork, it would be awesome. I know I am in the minority rating the Husky and KTM as low as I am, because they are both amazing bikes. The overarching trait that I dislike is the slow-revving nature of their engines, which makes them feel heavy. The Suzuki motor is improved and it corners better than anything else, but the new shock causes some serious balance issues.

Tallon LaFountaine | 20 yrs./5'11"/175 lbs./Pro

1. Husqvarna FC 450 2. KTM 450 SX-F 3. Honda CRF450R 4. Kawasaki KX450F 5. Yamaha YZ450F

6. Suzuki RM-Z450

For me, the Husky and KTM offer the best packages out of the showroom, as they corner very well, they have above-average suspension, super smooth and powerful engines, and great features like hydraulic clutches, electric start, and super strong brakes. I think one of the most important traits to look for is cornering prowess, and like the top two, the Honda turns very well. Although it may not have as strong an engine as the Yamaha—which I rated fifth—the CRF450R just felt really good between my legs. The Kawasaki does everything pretty well but nothing great, and I struggled to corner the Yamaha no matter what we did. Aside from its great turning abilities, the Suzuki did not amaze me at all.

Donn Maeda | 49 yrs./5'9"/175 lbs./Intermediate

1. Husqvarna FC 450 2. Kawasaki KX450F 3. KTM 450 SX-F 4. Yamaha YZ450F 5. Honda CRF450R

6. Suzuki RM-Z450

Aside from the softer feel of the Husqvarna's steel frame, it's hard to fault the FC 450, as it's powerful, well suspended, and easy to go fast on. I love the map switch and traction control! As similar as the KTM is, it has a different feel that's not as comfortable or controllable. The Kawasaki is fast and comfortable; if it had a spring fork, it'd be my first choice. I love the Yamaha engine and it's without weakness. Stock, the Yamaha doesn't corner predictably for me. The Honda does everything very well, but it just doesn't get me excited—it's just very good. The Suzuki can be made into a masterpiece, but the unbalanced suspension—the shock specifically—was its downfall.

Kyle Puerner | 49 yrs./6'1"/185 lbs./Intermediate

1. KTM 450 SX-F 2. Husqvarna FC 450 3. Honda CRF450R 4. Kawasaki KX450F 5. Yamaha YZ450F

6. Suzuki RM-Z450

The KTM gets top honors for many reasons. A great motor, exceptional handling, electric start, and variable ignition maps with traction control. The Husky has all the same attributes with a little less power. The Honda barely edged the Kawasaki, and it's the most improved bike. It feels less rigid than the '17 and is the best Honda I've ridden in years. The KX450F's TAC fork is the only thing holding it back from a higher rating. It's impossible to fault the Yamaha's engine, but the front-end is very unpredictable. The Suzuki was most disappointing, as it feels slower than the rest and has unbalanced suspension. The shock moves around too much in the corners and needs some work.

Rich Taylor | 49 yrs./5'11"/170 lbs./Pro

1. Honda CRF450R 2. KTM 450 SX-F 3. Suzuki RM-Z450 4. Yamaha YZ450F 5. Husqvarna FC 450

6. Kawasaki KX450F

The Honda fits me. It's stable and turns well, and I like the motor a lot. The suspension is a little soft for me, but the balance and character is great. The KTM does everything well. It has a great motor and it handles nicely. It's just a tick off the Honda. Also like the Honda, the Suzuki fits me just right. The ride position is comfortable and the engine is strong and the forks are among the best in class. Amazing is the only word to describe the Yamaha's engine, but I struggle to corner it. I just can't get over the mellow feel of the Husky, and even though it's so similar to the KTM, I just never felt comfortable on it. The Kawasaki has a great powerband and an excellent shock, but the air fork holds the whole bike back.

2018 KTM 450 SX-F | 57.78 PEAK HORSEPOWER AT 9400 RPM