The Yamaha YZ450F curse: Fact or Fiction?
Is Blue really blue or is it just smoke N miorrs?
The Yamaha YZ450F curse: Fact or Fiction?
Photos: Scott Hoffman
It wasn’t that long ago that the masses were drooling over the newfangled Yamaha YZ450F with its rear-tilted reverse cylinder, cyclone exhaust, fuel injection, forward airbox, new frame, and all of the other glitter that came with the new machine. This bike was the cat’s meow, the next best thing, next-level sh#% that would change the ongoing development of motorcycles for the next decade.
If that was the case, then why has Yamaha been getting so much heat with regard to the latest gen YZ? Is there any merit to the trash talking and finger pointing going down on the chat boards, or are the faceless bloggers tossing out all sorts of bogus banter as to why the YZ450F is a flawed machine?
When the bike first came out it received a lot of praise. I rode the bike when it was fresh off the assembly line and I was impressed with the machine—it was fun to ride, had ample power, and there nothing totally off-kilter with the new stead. There were a few things to get used to, such as the intake sound in the front of the bike and most wanted to update the fuel/ignition mapping to smooth out off-idle performance. These are and were simple fixes to put the 2010-2013 YZ right there with the competition. Yes, exhaust and sometimes different clamps and a link can fine-tune the machine depending on rider preference, yet this is no different than any other 450.
So what went wrong—if anything? There is no way an OEM can please everyone all the time. They can’t build a bike in stock form that is perfect and forgiving for a beginner as well as be challenging enough for a national-caliber pro. However, in a sense, that is what every OEM has to achieve. They have to build the best possible motorcycle for the least amount of money to be affordable for the average rider. Imagine the next level of performance and technology if people were willing to purchase $20,000-$25,000 production motorcycles? Also imagine how few people could afford to ride at that point. This everyman’s motocrosser then has to be transformed so the top .05 percent can ride the bike faster than most humans can imagine and bend and twist the thing beyond comprehension. For some at that level it was possible, yet there were those who were not able to adapt. This is nothing new. Top racers like what they like and you can’t turn an orange into an apple no matter how hard you work at it.
Case in point, Jeremy McGrath pretty much rode a very similar version of his1993 Honda CR250R Factory bike for four years, cloaked to look like the newer year machines after ’93. In 1997, MC was not able to adapt to the new aluminum-framed CR and jumped ship at the eleventh hour to Suzuki for one season before landing on a Yamaha to reclaim his Supercross superiority the following year.
Back in the day news traveled slow (meaning it was the pre-internet era) and it took several seasons for some to realize MC was still riding a very similar bike for all those years. There was even a rumor that a Honda executive told the team to get rid of all of these old ’93 parts—even he had no idea their top rider was racing a version of a four-year-old motorcycle.
The internet blew up when Christophe Pourcel voiced his frustration with the Yamaha after a few races and said he could not race the newer YZ450F, quit the team and went to Europe to race a Kawasaki. Pourcel is a very complicated rider and has always been very outspoken. The YZ started to get a bad rap from that day on. Then James Stewart starting racing the bike and he too had troubles tailoring the bike exactly to his insanely fast speed and or adjusting his intensely aggressive riding style to the bike. JS would often win or crash trying to win. Then Stewart broke ties with L&M/JSE and went over to JGR. The Joe Gibbs Racing team feverishly went to work to create a bike just for Stewart. JS was fast, but was still having issues despite the crazy manpower at JGR. The YZ started to get blamed for Stewart’s performance and rumors started to fly that JS himself was also faulting the bike for his performance. Some blamed the bike, others blamed the tires and some said it was all Stewart. These were issues Stewart had at L&M and JSE and, at the time, some speculated JS had issues ever since he no longer had access to Works Bridgestone tires. At JGR, conspiracy theorists were blaming the Pirelli tires. In fact, Stewart was actually caught during a practice session with a Works Dunlop tire, even though the team had no ties. It was another controversial moment and Dunlop went over and confiscated their tire back. In the end, Stewart left the team and most rumors speculated the departure was directed toward the fact he never found that perfect setting that worked for his style.
From that point on Yamaha had a lot of bad press over their YZ450F. And when they announced they were offering the same bike for 2013, the crap storm hit even harder. Stewart went over to Suzuki. After only a few races, despite looking very good on the Suzuki, JS was again on the ground and looked to be having the same font-end issues he was having with the Yamaha. So the big question, was it the rider or the bike?
The YZ450F, even though it’s a few years old and unchanged, it’s still a very good motocrosser for the vast majority who ride. Yes, it’s possible that riders such as Pourcel and Stewart can ride past the threshold of the design, but how many people in the world have the speed or aggressive riding style as James Stewart? Zero— or maybe two or three if you push the criteria for the rating. He’s probably the only mortal man that can push a bike past its limits. Maybe if he could slow down he would win more?
Yes, Yamaha could have made minor updates to the bike over the years such as alter the stock ignition and fuel mapping, for example, and maybe make a few other minor revisions or updates. If there is one thing I would falter on the bike, it has to be the lack of updates—yet this is fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things. The YZ450F might not be a favorite for a select few, but that does not mean this bike should be cast into the realm of turds like the TM400, 1979 CR125R, 1981 YZ125, frame-breaking mid ’80s KXs, or a Cannondale.
Rumors of an early release 2014 YZ450F also cast a cloud over the ’13 before it was even released. According to Yamaha, unless they are pulling my leg, a possible new bike is on schedule and will be released around the same time as every other year, between May and early July. Some have alluded that the 2014 will run the same style updated engine with an all-new chassis.
So the bottom line is if anyone wants to sell their current YZ450F cheap, I would go buy it and ride the snot out of it because it’s still a really good motorcycle. Is the YZ450F cursed? Maybe on the chat boards via not racers, but if you ask a YZ450F owner, they will probably say they love the bike.
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