Yamaha went full”New wheel” in 2010 with the first reverse engine design to enter the motocross scene. At first it looked like it would suffer the same fate as the ill-conceived cola, as critics saw it as a heavy rocket of a motorcycle, with stiff power and an unfamiliar handling nature that decided to send unsuspecting riders into a sharp turn. However, a few years later, the mass-centralized design found its front wheel, as well as the podium.
You just can’t win for the sake of losing
A look at the redesigned 2010 YZ450F with a reverse engine and tornado style exhaust.
Going back to 2012 The YZ450F has fallen on hard times. Since this model’s debut in 2010, riders have been shaking their heads and ringing in their ears with the rearward-leaning powerplant, wide chassis and loud barking throttle. In an interview with ESPN in 2012Motocross prodigy-turned-pro James Stewart has openly admitted that he left Yamaha mid-year because “…on a bike I was on that I couldn’t win on.For those unfamiliar with professional motocross, such candid admissions do not exist, at least not until a rider retires from the sport. Stewart’s public rejection of Yamaha’s innovative motocross model seemed to cement the perception of the black sheep in blue plastic throughout the motorcycle community for years to come.
Large ships turn slowly
The 2010 YZ450F makes a left turn on the motocross track.
The mid-2010s were not a friendly time for the big motocross manufacturers. Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki experimented with air front suspension it was unnecessarily tedious for weekend warriors and difficult to set up for low- and medium-budget race teams that lacked deep experience with the pneumatic concept. Until 2018, only Kawasaki sold dirt bikes with Schrader valve suspension. Yamaha was the only major brand to stick with its historically popular Kayaba spring fork during this era, and might have dominated magazine comparisons if superior damping was the only factor. Apart from the springy suspension, the Yamaha couldn’t shake its reputation as a wide, powerful bike. This quick criticism of the blue car, while deserved in 2012, has perhaps been increasingly unfair over the years. Yamaha continuously improved the YZ450F with new models introduced in 2014 and 2018. These iterations were progressively narrower, lighter and easier to adjust in terms of power. They didn’t fare much better in the media, however, still reeling from a public rift with Stewart and staunchly loyal reverse-engine layouts.
A big blue car
Dylan Ferrandis and his YZ450F after winning the 2021 Motocross Championship.
Fast forward to 2022 and the YZ450F (and no less a brother to the YZ250F) rose from the very bottom of scoundrels’ wish lists. Once the bike that got James Stewart to switch to Suzuki (yes, Suzuki) in 2012, the YZ450F has become the go-to bike for many pros in 2022. While the reality of the YZ-F’s improvements can be most fairly and accurately analyzed on the spec sheet with each year’s updates, its status in the moto zeitgeist has been officially elevated thanks to the efforts of the Star Racing Team. After more than a decade of success outfitting Yamaha’s factory 250 class, team owner Bobby Reagan has taken over the factory 450 starting in 2021. Finally freed from Yamaha’s strict management, the Star mechanics set up the big Yammer just right to follow the success of the 250 team. To the surprise of many, Dylan Ferrandis won the 450 Outdoor Motocross Championship in the first year. Talk about a comeback. Eli Tomac, the sport’s most prolific driver in recent years, said his move to BluCru in 2022 in recent years of racing has been “exclusively the performance of the solution» in an interview with RacerX.
Designing a faster cycle on a faster cycle
Yamaha’s test team is passionate about their development of the 2023 YZ450F.
Having had its last major update in 2018, the YZ450F was overdue for an overhaul until the 2023 model year. The extra time seems to have been well spent. The team reported using a new, lighter and faster development process between the US and Japan. Limits on travel and delivery are what they are, the team decided to communicate digitally very often and send parts only when needed, versus the old model of sending teams of engineers, motorcycles and boxes of parts for fewer, longer cycles. The kinks usually associated with “first year” bikes may have been ironed out if the development model is what they claim it is.
As for the bike itself, the updates have been substantial. It is 50mm narrower at the front of the rider compartment and 6mm narrower between the legs. The saddle is flatter in the longitudinal direction and much more rounded from side to side, which helps the rider to adjust. While many new models will see virtually no change in powertrain, The 2023 YZ450F engine is indeed completely new. The driveshafts have been reconfigured for a more compact package that, along with a smaller but stronger clutch, helps shed three pounds over last year’s engine. Not ounces – pounds. A redesigned airbox and enlarged titanium intake valves help the Big Blue breathe better than the 2022 iteration. Finally, Yamaha has found the definitive answer to the cable vs. hydraulic clutch debate: sell it with the cable and offer a hydraulic option from GYTR, its own performance brand.
There is a Power Tuner program for that
The rider configures the performance maps of the 2023 YZ450F engine in the Power Tuner application.
For those of us who love screen time but also some seat time, the Yamaha Power Tuner app lets you have your cake and eat it too. Yamaha has been allowing YZ450F customers to tune the ignition and fuel maps since 2013, initially through the GYTR Power Tuner Module ($299 device that resembles an OBD scanner). Starting in 2018, this feature found a new home in the Power Tuner mobile app, which uses Wi-Fi to communicate with the ECU. Users can track oil changes, monitor real-time mileage data, and create or upload new performance maps. By 2023, YZ450F buyers have even more functionality with the app, including new features like a lap timer and an even easier-to-use map-building interface. Anyone can tune the engine parameters on a bona fide race car at no extra cost. This is a bargain in any motorsport.
Let’s Go Blue
Right view of the 2023 YZ450F on the motocross track.
The YZ450F’s reverse-engine platform, with incredible power, suspension and quality, seemed to settle for the eternal title of “the best bike for anyone who can accept weird geometry and doesn’t mind earplugs.” Not anymore. After two seasons of dominating motocross and supercross in the USA, The 2023 YZ450F is poised to continue occupying the top step on the podium as Yamaha’s flagship rider manufacturer. Seemingly not limited by physics, Yamaha’s engineers continue to find ways to make the bike narrower, more breathable and more capable of putting its staggering power to the ground. With a new horse in the stable and returning champion Eli Tomac signed to jockey the Star Racing Yamaha YZ450F for the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross Championship season, the future is bright for team blue. If early reports of the new bike from riders and motocross media are any indication, Yamaha dealers also have an ace up their sleeve for next sales season.