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By: Jason Giacchino
October 2009 - Off The Pegs

Yamaha Strikes Again



If there’s one pattern that can be found in my columns each month it would probably be optimism toward the entire state of the industry thanks to the rejuvenation of the 450cc class race ATV. I won’t deny the red-hot lust for side by sides of late either, but as an amateur racer since back in the 3-wheeler days, it’s the performance segment that gets me worked up with excitement.

To that end Yamaha has gone and upped the ante once more! After proving themselves with models like the Raptor 250 and 700R and two variations of the YFZ450 formula (the all new 450R as well as last year’s YFZ450), it comes as major news that the “boys in blue” have dropped another 450 on the scene!

This latest model, being called the YFZ450X appears to follow suit of brands like KTM and Can-Am who have realized that woods racers are looking for a slightly different setup than MX-track riders.

The technology of this new steed comes directly from the YFZ450R but don’t expect an identical spec sheet, as the 450X will feature a nimbler 46-inch width (down from 50), specifically tuned (and shortened) suspension, and changes to the steering geometry.

The end result of all of these factory mods is to create a model that trades width for maneuverability, and stability for nimbleness. Woods racers often find themselves in situations where the only feasible line requires that they “thread the needle” between trees or foliage. It is here that the additional width of a full MX machine works against the rider. Tight trails, double track, and GNCC-style racing is where this new model is expected to excel.

So exactly how did Yamaha take nearly four inches from the YFZ450R without sacrificing stability? The answer is they designed a new, narrower front end and slapped a 50mm-shorter rear axle out back.  Surprisingly, at 46.1 inches of width, the new YFZ450X mimics the width of the standard YFZ450.

Additional swaps include the front A-arm, which have been shortened 43.9mm (now 395.2 mm total) and the front KYB shocks come in at 426mm versus the 462mm length of the YFZ450R (a 36mm reduction). The goal here is to achieve a lower ride height to accompany the nimbler chassis.

While the engine is essentially the same titanium 5-valve DOHC liquid cooled single cylinder 449cc that powers the YFZ450R, changes have been made to the fuel map. The YFZ450X receives a new fuel injection setting specifically designed for situations unique to technical woods riding (think gradual traction over wild wheel spin). This coupled to camshafts designed specifically for the demands of an ATV, we expect the new X to hammer out superior low and midrange performance without sacrificing the high-revving top end. The system also includes idle speed control for easy, reliable startup.

Like with the engine, the frame is essentially identical to that of its new R cousin: The lightweight, no-weld cast aluminum unit with a high tension-steel bottom portion.

Despite the fact that many of the odds and ends remain the same to the R model, the X actually does manage to tip the scales a few pounds shy of the R. In addition to the reductions made with the smaller rear axle and front A-arm and shocks, the front and rear wheels have been updated to reduce weight while also increasing structural rigidity where you feel it most: down low. In all, five pounds have been dropped from the YFZ450R, which brings the YFZ450X overall weight in at an even 400 pounds.

Another nifty little move was to flip the seam of the wheel inward which not only makes the wheel more rigid; it also prevents debris from sticking that could otherwise build up in woods riding conditions.

Finally, and in addition to the standard Yamaha-blue scheme and red & white option, the YFZ450X will be available in a Bill Ballance Special Edition model which comes with a special color pattern, graphics, wheel color, shock color, badging, a GYTR front bumper and Bill Ballance-inspired #1 plate (keeping that # is your responsibility).

While I haven’t had a chance to spend time behind the X’s bars yet, the moral of the story remains: This is indeed a great sign amidst economic turmoil of the manufacturer’s optimism of the overall state of the ATV industry. While I realize that many riders out there couldn’t care less about the performance-segment of the quad industry, each and every innovation means great things for us all as increased ATV sales means continued R&D funds across the entire line. Best of all, each new 450 that hits the scene puts but another nail in the coffin to those dark days of yesteryear when factory-backed ATV racing had nearly deserted North America entirely.

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