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2018 Yamaha YZ450F launch review
Faster, friendlier, lighter and with a wide variety of tuning applications thanks to a new smartphone-based App
History says that Yamaha relishes breaking new ground. It was the first Japanese company to race outside its home country, the first to introduce the monoshock rear end, the first to release a water-cooled motocrosser, and the first to unleash a 'big-bang' roadbike.
There's no sunset clause on its ingenuity though, with the tradition continuing into the 2018 model year with the updated YZ450F motocrosser – which in itself has had enjoyed a monumental path of development since its inception as the YZ400F back in 1998.
The last major shake-up for the YZ450F was back in 2014, but the 2018 model lifts technical firsts to a new level. The biggest advance has to be the new Wi-Fi tuning App, which can be downloaded for free and lets the rider adjust the bike's fuel and ignition settings from their own personal device rather than the setting tool previously sold by Yamaha. Those maps can be transferred or even emailed to your mates (well, the ones who you know won't beat you…), making the YZ450F one of the most tuneable bikes on the market.
The smartphone App, compatible with Apple or Android hardware, also allows riders to monitor a range of bike settings along with diagnostics, maintenance schedules and engine run time.
It’s not only the App that makes the 2018 YZ450F special though, as there have been a raft of major changes addressing the talking points surrounding the previous model. For one, the old engine was quite harsh and aggressive, so that's an area where Yamaha dedicated resources to produce a smoother powerplant – one it also says is more reliable.
The lighter engine has new cam profiles, a new crankshaft, a stronger high-compression box bridge piston design with a DLC (Diamond-like-Carbon) coated pin, and it now breathes through a new 44mm Mikuni throttle body instead of Keihin. The reverse-slant engine has had its angle decreased by two degrees to alter the centre of gravity.
The transmission and clutch have also been overhauled for a "more direct connection" and enhanced durability. Revised gears with a wider surface area, updated clutch plates and a stiffer outer pressure plate combine to boost durability. The transmission has been beefed-up, too, making the YZ450's box one of the strongest and fuss-free in the business.
Servicing the new YZ450F is even easier, thanks to a new quick-access airbox now secured by a single clip, instead of three. The filter cage is now clipped in, not bolted – so filter changes can be carried out completely tool free.
The frame has major changes to its bracing and mounting points, which have been altered to allow more flex and force. Those stresses are spread over a larger area, with the aim of softening the animal feel which the old bike had. The geometry has also been significantly altered, with an emphasis on producing a better steerer with more front-end feel.
Weight saving has been critical on the 2018 YZ-F, and it's 1kg lighter despite the addition of electric start. Electric 'legs' have been fitted to the WR range for years, so it was a natural progression to fit the system to the company's flagship motocrosser.
The weight savings have come from across the board: the tank, DID rims, handlebars, engine mounts, battery box, plastics, throttle body and swingarm (which is 5mm shorter).
The last YZ450F I rode was the then new 2014 model, and that bike was a sharp-edged weapon. In fact, I found it quite intimidating with its aggressive power and harshness that gave it a serious race bike feel. Don't get me wrong: it was fast, and in the right hands won over and over again.
Without a shadow of doubt, the 2018 YZ450F is a much friendlier proposition. I noticed that from the get-go, with the new chassis seemingly absorbing everything I could throw at it – or cannon into unexpectedly… It reminded me of the YZ250FX (here) I rode a while ago, which is one of the most forgiving bikes I’ve ever ridden.
On my first outing the bike was completely standard, including the mapping. The power is way more linear and easier to apply than the old model, but for the hardcore riders there is always the new App to add more aggression back into the equation.
I'm at a C-grade motocross skill level and, even though riding in the deep sand at Coolum was a challenge with my less than perfect body positioning, the bike still held its line on the deep rut-ridden track.
On my second outing, I decided to dull the power with one of the three predetermined Yamaha maps for a hard pack layout. There was definitely a big difference in the softness of the power delivery, which made it even easier for me to ride. The A-graders at Coolum were hardening the power delivery, and that’s what makes this new App so great. It really opens up the YZ-F to a wider audience.
Even though I was still finding my feet – it was my first time at the circuit – I was gaining confidence each and every lap, especially in the way the bike was pushing hard through ruts rather than being dictated to by them.
After some wise counsel from Mr. Motocross icon and now Yamaha ambassador Stephen Gall, I started to get a much better feel for the occasion. I opened the throttle a lot more in the sandy berms, and the bike simply found grip and steered through what looked to me like impossible terrain.
Even though the power was dulled down, it still had plenty of trench-digging muscle. However, it was just delivered in a way that was easier on my body than I was expecting, saving energy and allowing me to do more laps without losing strength.
The new KYB suspension is very supple, and the changes for 2018 make it a lot more compliant. There's an initial soaking feeling that wasn’t there with the previous Kayaba fork.
The revised ergonomics give the bike more of a 250 feel, with its narrowness and lower seat height letting me sit in the bike rather than just being a passenger on top of it. That feeling, combined with the revised weight distribution and smaller size, helped to lift my confidence – and more importantly gain more control. And that’s how you go fast on these animals: by staying in control.
Compared to the old model, the seat is 9mm narrower and nearly 20mm lower at the tail end, while the handlebars are 5mm higher.
Coolum’s sand-based track is always a difficult one to get the best out of if you don’t ride sand regularly. I struggled, but the bike pulled me through – which is amazing. The fact that this bike can work for a normal rider like me and yet perform for the Yamaha champions present at the launch is testament to the work done back in Japan.
Watching CDR Yamaha factory rider Dean Ferris on the new YZ450F was impressive. He was just so fast, and I found it hard to keep him in focus. Enduro gun Josh Green was also very blurry-looking. Green's getting a new YZ-F, too, but will be fitting an 18-inch rear wheel instead of the standard 19-incher.
And I guess that’s the crux of it all. The 2018 YZ450F is the most versatile 450cc Yamaha yet, and I reckon that all grades and sizes of Yamaha riders will not only be faster with the new tackle, but that will be doing it easier and for longer.