Yamaha invited TransWorld Motocross to take its debut ride aboard the highly anticipated 2003 Yamaha YZ450F at Lake Whitney, Texas, earlier this week and we spent a full day thrashing the new thumper in the Lone Star State’s hot and humid conditions.

Ever since Yamaha announced the all-new YZ450F, consumers everywhere have been drooling and anxiously awaiting the first reports of the machine’s performance. Before we even returned to California, our voice mail boxes were filled with questions from our friends, industry insiders and even dedicated TWMX readers. That said, we’ll cut to the chase: yes, the YZ450F is awesome.

Though it’s hard to draw solid conclusions over just a single day of testing – and at an unfamiliar track – it is safe to say that the new YZ450F is a hundred times better than the YZ426F. Lighter, more compact and boasting a friendlier, broader powerband, the YZ450F is not only faster, but easier to ride, as well. In the loamy conditions at Lake Whitney, the engine felt responsive and snappy, yet easy to control. In comparison to the YZ426F, which had a hard-hitting two-stroke style powerband, the new 450F feels more like a traditional four-stroke if ridden in such a manner. Charge hard, however, and the 450F can still be revved out and hammered like a two-stroke. Overall, the powerband is much broader and easier to control, while at the same time much more powerful than its predecessor.


The new four-speed transmission performed well in most conditions, though we felt that the motor revved through the powerband rather quickly in second gear. The solution? Ride the bike in third instead! Yes, boys and girls, the big thumper can pull a tall gear with aplomb. Our resident hammerhead Josh “The Hatchet” Stice could ride the entire Whitney course in mostly third gear. This was especially surprising, considering the engine’s light flywheel and its occassional tendency to stall if the rider becomes careless. Thankfully, the bike is a breeze to restart – just pull the hot start lever and go. And speaking of starting, the new auto decompression system works flawlessly, and no “secret routine” is required to fire up the beast.

The YZ450F feels well-balanced and suspended well, though it still has a slower, heavier feel in tight, rough stuff than it’s main competitor – the Honda CRF450R. (Oops – we were going to try to avoid any comparisons, but it’s hard not to compare the two…) In the loose corners at Whitney, the YZ had a tendency to tuck the front end and we were caught off guard on several occassions by the bike’s manners. A couple clicks out on the fork rebound adjuster seemed to help, but we would have really preferred to slap on a better suited front tire for optimum performance.

TWMX is scheduled to take delivery of its test bike in California early next week, and it will be then that the true testing will begin. Like we said earlier, it’s hard to accurately evaluate a bike on a track that you’re not completely familiar with. Once we get the new Yamaha out onto the SoCal tracks we’re accustomed to, we’ll be able to more accurately report on its performance.

For now, we’ll attempt to answer the question that is burning inside your eager little minds: Is the 2003 Yamaha YZ450F better than the 2003 Honda CRF450R?

For now, we’ll have to say no. But that’s not a bad thing – we can’t say for sure that the Honda is better, either. The new Yamaha and Honda seem to be quite evenly matched, and trying to rate one over the other without riding them back to back is all but impossible. The YZ450F definitely smokes the YZ426F, but in the Honda CRF450R, it has an even match.

For now…

Stay tuned for a full test and comparison in the next issue of TransWorld Motocross.