It’s crazy to think that, not so long ago, the 450cc enduros were at the top of the food chain in the enduro world.
WORDS // GEOFF BRAICO
PHOTOS // MITCH LEES
This feature was first published in ADB issue #466 – July 2018.
We had just five 450s on hand for this year’s shootout, compared with nine in 2012. Back then we also had Husaberg, Kawasaki, Odes and TM and, believe me, that was a massive two days. It is a shame that the 450 pack has shrunk that much but times are tough.
What it means is that we are left with five great bikes so it isn’t all doom and gloom. KTM, Husqvarna, Yamaha, Sherco and Beta brought their latest offerings out for this shootout so we were all keen to get out and cut some laps.
If you are after an easy ride, then the KTM is right up your alley. As soon as you hop on the bike, it feels light and nimble with plenty of room to move. It has a comfortable riding position and whether you like to sit or stand, the transition between the two is pretty effortless.
The handlebar has a good bend to it and the Odi Lock-On ’grips are a nice touch and feel good too. As far as changes for 2018, they are minimal, more like refinements from the 2017. The Kato is claimed to be the lightest bike of the five here at 106kg dry.
Out on the track, it is solid. The engine is strong just about everywhere in the rev range yet it won’t scare you or catapult you off the trail if you grab a handful of throttle. It is super smooth and very confidence-inspiring.
The bottom-end is very torquey and is capable of lugging you over anything technical at a slow pace with ease.
The mid-range is probably where the KTM shines though as you can ride just about any trail in third gear and it will gladly oblige.
And for all you fireroad bandits, there is plenty up top as well so don’t stress too much about that. The one thing that has been a problem with the 2018 Kato enduros has been the soft WP forks, and the 450EXC-F is no exception. It did receive some updates to stiffen it up and reduce bottoming but still needs to be firmer for racers.
The XPlor 48s are crazy plush and soak up every little rock and root there is, but the issue of diving through the stroke at pace still rears its ugly head. It’s as if every model in the range is under-sprung and it really takes away from just how good this bike is. It’s a shame because when riding slow, technical trails, the fork is brilliant.
The XPlor shock is by far the best PDS damper WP has designed. It tracks awesome out of corners and doesn’t pack down like the older versions did. It remains progressive and predictable out on the track as well and you can feel it trying to work with the soft front-end, but it’s a struggle. You can go heavier in spring rates on the front but the geometry of the bike would be different.
One thing the KTM has never had an issue with is the brakes. The Brembo units have great feel and are crazy strong. The airbox/air filter design is also the best of the bunch with its idiot-proof filter mounting system. It is great knowing that you can mount a filter without a shred of doubt that it’s sealed.
Likes: Super-smooth power right through the range.
PDS shock tracks well out of corners. Strong brakes.
Dislikes: Fork is way too soft. Bit pricey.
Likes: Smooth, useable power
Dislikes: Fork is too soft
Balance is off due to soft fork.
Likes: Strong motor. Put it in a higher gear and let the torque do the work. Well balanced, suspension is forgiving. Lots of room to move.
Dislikes: Fork is soft, packed down a little under braking.
Sherco has stepped up its 450 development and the 2018 version is a huge improvement. The French manufacturer has tweaked a bunch of stuff inside the motor to make it more reliable and has updated the lubrication system to keep it all running like clockwork. It all seems to be working. The bike no longer has a huge amount of engine braking and the balance issues that were there in the past have been eradicated.
Motor-wise, the SEF-R is surprisingly responsive off the bottom. Sherco made the silencer a tad shorter and lighter to give it more punch and they weren’t mucking around. It revs quite quickly and you find yourself riding along looking for things to jump or hop just because it has a little more snap off the bottom than the other bikes. It’s not intimidating though, it’s predictable and, surprisingly, still easy to manage.
If you don’t like the snap that the race map gives the bike, simply flick the bar-mounted switch to mud mode and that mellows the engine off nicely. Our testers preferred the race map as it gave a stronger feel and having that bit of extra response is nice on flowy trails. It’s got plenty of torque and is a very nice, linear motor which makes the ride out on the trail very easy.
Sherco has opted for the old-school, open-chamber WP fork on the 450SEF-R, as opposed to the XPlor 48 on its Six Days and Factory models, and it offers a nice ride. It is a tad soft at race pace and rides low in the stroke but if you are a trailrider who loves to go hammer and tong, the front will be more predicable and gives you good feedback over the little stuff. The WP shock works nicely with the fork and, like I said before, the balance of the bike has been improved a lot. It gets good drive out of corners and, particularly if you run the mud map, you can give the bike a fistful of throttle and the bike will hook in and steer as straight as an arrow.
Likes: Responsive engine, strong power. Good feel on the trail.
Dislikes: Bike was a little soft overall. Footpegs felt higher than the others.
Likes: Snappy motor, good bottom-end. Less engine braking.
Dislikes: Suspension felt a tad harsh. My boots got caught on the sidestand and radiator shroud.
Likes: Linear power
Map switch is great. Suspension feels predictable and steered well.
Despite sharing DNA with the KTM, when you sit on the Husky, it has a totally different feel. The seatcover is much grippier and that makes you feel more at one with the bike straight away. The new ProTaper handlebar has a nice bend to it as well and, unlike the KTM, the Husky comes with a bar-mounted engine map switch with two settings and traction control for gnarly hills.
Like the KTM, the Husky motor is smooth, torquey and very easy to handle. Low-, mid- and top-end power, it has it all and it never really gets out of hand. You can lug it, rev it or short shift and use the torque and it will happily go along for the ride. Surprisingly, the carbon composite airbox on the FE feels like it gives the bike a slight edge over its orange brother due to better airflow. It seems to have a tad more torque off the bottom.
Under the FE450 is the same WP XPlor 48 fork as on the KTM, but there is an external preload adjuster at the top of each leg which has three settings. There is standard, plus 3mm and plus 6mm. It’s a simple system.Chuck your bike on a pitstand so the front wheel is off the ground and turn the dial to the setting you’d like. Quick and easy.
The Husky shock runs a linkage, as opposed to the PDS that’s on the KTM, and the link gives the bike quite a planted rear-end. It drives well out of corners and drifting with the rear is a piece of cake, especially on flat turns.
The 2018 Husky enduros come with Magura brakes front and rear and they offer good bite and great feel. The FE450 was the most expensive bike in this test at $15,295rrp.
Likes: Very smooth and useable power. Fork had a good feel with +6mm preload
Monoshock has good,
Dislikes: XPlor 48 with preload adjusters is better than the KTM one but still needs to be firmer. It is also expensive.
Likes: Dual map switch, aggressive map allowed me to run third gear everywhere
Fork adjustment is good. I wound the preload up to +6mm.
Dislikes: Fork still needs some work. Felt a little bulky compared to other bikes.
Likes: Dual map switch is handy. I used the aggressive map. Third gear pulled everywhere. Best fork of the bunch for me. Rode with it at +3mm. Grippy seat helped me on the trail.
I get that the Beta 430RR should feel lighter to ride due to the reduced reciprocating mass which, in turn, makes for an easier ride and less fatigue but it’s kind of a bold move in my opinion because there will always be people out there doubting it against a 450.
Do you actually notice the 20cc less out on the track? Well, yes, but only when you’re running at pro’ pace. The Beta engineers did a ton of work to the 2018 bikes and they have made them faster and more reliable while also shaving weight.
It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction for the brand. At trail pace the 430 is every bit as torquey as the other bikes and it very easy to ride. The engine does tend to rev more quickly than the other 450s but it won’t intimidate you.
It’s only when you get up and go along a fireroad that you notice the smaller donk, as it signs off that little bit earlier than the other bikes. The map switch on the Beta is very noticeable, with the ‘race’ setting the preferred one among our riders.
LOTS OF LOVING
It wasn’t just the motor that the Beta folks gave some loving too, with the chassis receiving a bunch of upgrades. The firm has stuck with Sachs suspension front and rear but has thrown some new settings in there to go with the diet.
The Sachs units feel plush and the bike remains planted over the smaller, choppy stuff. The fork is noticeably firmer than on Beta’s two-stroke range and holds up well even when you start to up the pace. At the rear, the shock is solid and gets great traction.
Likes: Motor feels light and revvy. Nice and plush suspension but still works at pace. Feels great to stand up and trailride.
Dislikes: Aggressive rear brake.
Likes: Smooth engine. Stiffer front-end that holds up well at speed.
Dislikes: Motor is a little
down on power due to being 430cc. Some things on the bike are outdated, like the front brake.
Likes: Despite being 20cc down, the power is very nice. Easy to get traction. Bike feels very agile in turns. Brakes have good feel.
Dislikes: Fork was a bit soft, I bottomed it out a couple of times but I am a heavy bloke. Handlebar is a tad flat for me.
The WR450F is a very popular bike. Last year, it was at the top of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries’ enduro bike chart with 1335 sales. So, what makes this bike so popular? Well, it is the cheapest 450 on the market at $13,199, and it’s known for its reliability.
The WR450F has undergone a huge transformation over the last few years, going from a mellow, almost electric motor, to a full-blown race engine based of the YZ motocrosser. This year, the WR has a new ECU to give the bike a smoother power delivery. The good news is that that has worked. The bike is super smooth and very responsive.
There seems to be an endless supply of grunt and, for some riders, that might get them into some strife. It is still ridiculously fast and when you twist that throttle, you are up and moving like a rocket.
Thankfully, the WR450F has a great suspension package to keep up with its fast motor. The KYB kit under the WR is the same fork and shock as its YZ brother but with enduro specs. It is firmer than the other bikes but still quite plush.
The WR is the heaviest bike of this lot at 115kg dry, despite losing its kickstarter, and still almost 7kg heavier than the KTM. On the tighter stuff, it is a bit tougher to throw around and it does have a heavy side-to-side feel. It feels really wide and just takes more effort to manoeuvre through singletrack. The Nissin brakes could do with a boost to keep up with the motor.
Likes: Very responsive motor with heaps of power
Solid suspension. Firm but not deflective. Price.
Dislikes: Power could be a bit much for trailriders. Heavy. Brakes are smooth but aren’t very powerful.
Likes: You forget how powerful the Yamaha is until you give it some throttle
Suspension is much firmer, no issues with bottoming out.
Dislikes: Bike feels heavy in singletrack, Low ground clearance, footpegs get caught in ruts. Brakes aren’t as good as the Euro bikes.
Likes: Very strong bottom-end. Suspension is firm. I had no issues with bottoming out
Dislikes: Too much engine braking for me. Bike feels big and heavy. Cramped cockpit.
At the end of our day’s testing, I spoke to the boys about what they thought of the five bikes. Amazingly, we all said the same thing. This shootout business is getting harder and harder every year and the bikes are all so good and so close that it’s down to the smallest little details to separate them all. Like every other shootout this year, the final scores were all within a few points.
But since our readers are so hungry for a crown to be put on a bike, the winner is the Husqvarna FE450, closely followed by the Yamaha WR450F and the Beta RR430. The Husqvarna is by far the most expensive bike of the lot but it comes with quality components and is the most versatile and easy to ride.
From the moment you hop on the Husky, you are comfortable and it has a brilliantly smooth motor that you can ride all day long and enjoy every second of it.
The Yamaha suited the faster track we used for testing and the faster testers. Sure, it’s heavy, big and not as luxurious, but it’s also the cheapest of the lot with a great engine.
The Beta was a very close third and proved the perfect trailbike. It felt comfortable across the board. That said you wouldn’t be disappointed with any of these five bikes.
Picking a winner?
The winner is crowned using ADB’s coveted shootout scorecard. For decades this scorecard has been the key for many shootout victories.
The scorecard is broken into three weighted sections: suspension and handling (50%), motor (40%) and ergos (10%). The bike with the highest weighted average score from all the testers is the winner.
The scorecard incluces price, ease of maintenance and performance. When scoring each bike, the tester is required to keep in mind the type of rider that fits the 450cc four-stroke class. The scoring is weighted so that the characteristics of a bike that are personal like ergos, do not account for much of the total score.