Words, photos, and video by Brendan Lutes
After years of development, Yamaha introduced an all-new 2014 YZ450F, and after months of anticipation, we finally got our hands on the machine at the official press launch at Central California's picturesque Zaca Station track.
The changes done to the YZ450F are extensive, and while the motor may look the same aside from the wrap-around exhaust header, only the clutch cover, water pump cover, and cylinder are carried over from 2013. When creating the new motor, Yamaha's goal was to produce more power while still keeping the bike controllable. Up top, the bike received a new cylinder head complete with a new camshaft, new piston, and intake and exhaust valves. Complementing the new top-end is a new and innovative wrap-around exhaust system that helps to further move the mass of the motor to the center of the bike. Down low, the engine has new transmission ratios, new shift mechanism, a stronger clutch system, a new gear positioning sensor, and a new water pump impellor. Lastly, the motor is now a wet sump design, and comes without an external oil tank to save weight and improve maintenance.
Perhaps some of the most noticeable changes to the bike are cosmetic, though, and much like the motor the new bodywork, airbox, and chassis are all engineered to move the weight of the bike towards the center in order to improve handling. The airbox now houses a larger capacity air filter with more direct intake ducts that not only bring in more air, but also help to reduce intake noise. The gas tank is now moved further back and the gas cap itself is housed underneath a breakaway portion of the seat, creating a flat surface for the rider to move around on. All told, the shrouds are now 14mm thinner than the '13 model.
Returning for '14 are the Kayaba conventional spring forks. The forks, however, received a few refinements, as the rigidity of the outer tubes has been increased by three percent and a new polishing process is now done to the inner tubes. Holding the forks in place is a more rigid top triple clamp that comes with rubber-mounted bar mounts. The shock is new also, as the reservoir has been moved to the left side to accommodate the new exhaust and fuel tank.
On the track, while still weighing roughly the same as the '13 model, the mass centralization of the tank, motor, and exhaust equates to a much lighter feel both in the air and in corners. The slimmer shrouds and airbox/fuel tank area is also very noticeable. The forks and shock work well together, both over small rough chop and off big jumps. One complaint that we must note, however, is that while many of the updates to the bike were aimed at remedying the front-end nervousness that we experienced on the '13 model, we still felt at times as if the front end was disconnected from the track. When entering corners down fast straights, the front end wandered slightly. Throughout the day, we played with suspension settings, finalizing on a setting that stiffened the compression on the forks and slowed down the high-speed compression on the shock. After those changes were made, the bike felt more planted in corners, settled into ruts better, and tracked straighter than it did with the stock settings. Throughout the course of the next few weeks, though, we are going to play with settings further to see if we can get the bike working even better. We can't talk about the handling, though, without saying that the forks continue to be some of the best performing in the class. They are not only plush over small chop, but soak up hard hits very well. It's very refreshing that Yamaha hasn't gone to an Air Fork or SFF design just yet. When it was all said and done, the bike did handle better than the '13; it turned better, handled fast straights better, and was much more nimble in the air.
Perhaps the biggest attribute of the YZ450F is the motor. When ridden back-to-back with the '13 model, the '14 motor is noticeable faster. It comes on strong, hits hard in the middle, and continues to pull. Yamaha's goal with the bike was to produce a very powerful motor that is still controllable, and that is exactly what the YZ450F is—fast yet controllable. Even though the bike pumps out a whooping 55 horsepower, it is still manageable. You can also easily program the ignition with the Yamaha GYTR Power Tuner to fit any rider or track condition.
At the end of the day, Yamaha did improve their already competitive YZ450F. The changes made to the bike have addressed the issues that we have had with it in the past while not fully changing the characteristics of the machine for those riders that have become accustomed to it. One thing is for sure, though, the bike does feel lighter and it is faster. We have much more testing to do aboard this bike, including one more day at Zaca Station before taking it to some more familiar tracks in Southern California, so be sure to check out an upcoming issue of TransWorld Motocross for a full review.