Jeff Allen

2018 Yamaha YZ450F VS. 2018 Honda CRF450R

A showdown between two four-stroke motocross bikes, one all-new and the other updated

The 2018 Yamaha YZ450F is an all-new bike that has gotten a more nimble chassis. Also, Yamaha made the low end response more usable, and the bike got slimmer than the previous model and also got an electric starter. Yamaha suspension is universally praised, and that is still the case on the new machine – its plush ride is one of its great strengths.

The 2018 Honda CRF450R was an all-new model last year, and in 2018 it got stiffer springs front and rear, new engine hangers, and also a more manageable power delivery down low in the RPM. It also got electric start standard (it was available as a kit last year).

We rode these two bikes at Milestone and Pala. Here’s what those test riders had to say at Milestone, a tighter, jumpier track:

Yamaha vs Honda
The Yamaha is all-new while the Honda saw small revisions.Jeff Allen

Each of these bikes seems to appeal to opposing riding styles. The Honda CRF450R feels more like an SX race bike while the Yamaha YZ450F seems to be more suited to MX and possibly off-road. Initially, it’s noticeable that the Honda has a lighter feel and likes to turn with its rigid and responsive chassis. Hitting an inside line is no problem and requires very little input. On the Honda you feel as though you are sitting on top of the bike versus the Yamaha, where as you feel like you are sitting in the bike. The Yamaha seems to prefer open corners and outside lines, however it is not as stable as it should be. Both bikes can be a little twitchy when they are unloaded or during light braking.

Suspension settings are very sensitive to ride height (sag) on the rear shock, especially the Honda. The Honda suspension feels more firm and responsive to input from the rider while the Yamaha is more plush and forgiving. Both have a reasonable amount of bottoming resistance but the Yamaha feels like it rides a little lower in the stroke, giving it a more planted feel around the track.

Engine characteristics are also quite different. The Honda has a lighter, quick revving feel with less torque while the Yamaha likes to run a gear high with plenty of torque to pull you out of a corner or over an obstacle. The Honda likes to be revved and the Yamaha accepts short shifting well.

Braking seemed comparable on both bikes. The feel of the levers and throttle were equally comfortable, although the stock Honda grips do feel a tad thick. The single biggest negative component that both bikes share is that they feel much wider between your legs when standing compared to some of the competitors’ 450s.

Overall the Honda feels lighter, turns quicker and is more responsive. Its drawbacks are its rigid and twitchy feel. The Yamaha feels more planted, plusher and the engine is a little easier to use. Its drawbacks are a heaver feel and maybe it's a little too soft for racing. I preferred the Yamaha engine over the Honda and I feel it's better to start with a plush chassis and firm it up, rather than trying to make a rigid chassis plush. If I were to choose one based on this short one day test, I would lean towards the Yamaha. - Allan Brown, 47, 5'10", Vet MXer

I felt that the Honda was an all-around better bike than the Yamaha. I feel that chassis wise, the Honda felt a lot more balanced where at the Yamaha felt a little heavy at each end of the bike and light in the middle. Suspension - the Yamaha had good absorption of bumps but it had a twitch on about the third bump. The Honda felt soft and plush, almost fun to play with the bumps! Power - Honda had a smooth, long power which was faster than previous models and if you wanted to ride it hard it had that hard hit. The Yamaha felt like all or nothing with the power. As soon as you opened it up it was a beast under you. Also I felt first gear was very short.

The Honda is a bike you could make calculated moves with and you can ride tight, flat corners and not wash out; the power was smooth. The Yamaha kind of felt like you had to ride the edges of the track and find something to bank off of. - Bradley Lionnet, 20 years old, 5'11", 160 lb., Pro

Honda CRF450R
The Honda CRF450R turned well for some testers yet was seemed twitchy to some as well.Jeff Allen

First off, I really like both of these bikes. I think either one is a solid platform that pretty much anyone could ride really fast, with minor personal tweaks. Starting with the motors, I liked the YZ's motor better than the Honda, but just slightly. The Yamaha still has the powerhouse it had from last year but with just the edge taken off, which translates into better traction, not a loss in excitement. I was wheelying out of inside corners when I opened up the throttle rather than lighting up the rear and just spinning. There is power everywhere, but I also know that I can modify it quite a bit with the Power Tuner app. The Honda is for a more aggressive rider than me, at least in the "standard" map. The hit is much more abrupt but it caught me off-guard a few times – I would give the throttle what I felt was the appropriate twist for a jump and at the last second it would turn out to be too much and result in a bit of panic and an OJ. Then, in map two, the "mellower" map, it was just sort of boring. The power was easier to control, but not as fun.

Suspension wise, I like the Yamaha better. It was more stable, consistent, and predictable. In a mellow whoop section the shock worked fantastic – it didn’t drop too low in the stroke, had the right amount of rebound to keep the bike level, and I could go much faster on the Yamaha through that section than the Honda. Even with the sag set for me, the Honda was low in the back and felt too soft for the whoops. I went a half turn stiffer on the high speed which helped but didn’t make it feel like the Yamaha. With more time, I would change more, like speed up the rebound and play with different sag settings. The forks, on the other hand, I think I liked the Honda’s better than YZ’s, which I would attribute to my riding-just-for-fun pace rather than trying-to-win-a-national pace. On the Yamaha, I went three clicks softer on the compression and two clicks stiffer on rebound. I wanted the front to stick better in turns and just overall have a little more of a calm, comfortable ride. The next thing I would like to try is raising the fork in the clamp. I didn’t change anything on the CRF’s fork. It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t at the top of my must-fix list.

For me there isn’t a night and day difference in handling but I could definitely tell a difference, yet I feel like I could make both work for me. The CRF has an overall smaller, lighter, tighter feel that makes it easier to change directions on and be more precise with. The Yamaha feels just a little bit bigger and it takes more input to get it to turn. But, like I said, I liked both handling characteristics, I would just give a slight edge to the Honda. I’m a front-end steering guy and the front of the Honda was more predictable when hitting ruts or berms. Like I said, though, I think sliding the fork up on the YZ could sway my decision.

If I had to choose which bike I would take racing this weekend, it would be the Yamaha. The motor is truly both powerful and controllable, the suspension is predictable, comfortable, and allows me to ride faster, and with a little more work I think I could make it turn better for me for sure. But I wouldn't be bummed to race the Honda either, I would just have to man up to ride it, rather than it ride me. - Sean Klinger, 31 years old, 5'8", 215 lb., Vet Novice

The YZ450F’s suspension is universally praised.Jeff Allen

We took both bikes to Pala right after that, where the main track is a little more open and with some very big jumps. Here’s what the testers had to say there:

The time I spent on the 2018 Honda CRF450R and the Yamaha YZ450F was definitely an amazing experience, both having some big changes this year. The Honda 450 was a very powerful machine, with insane bottom end power, something I personally have criticized Honda about the past couple years. They have released probably the fastest 450 I have ridden to date, but it does have some refinements to make for it to be an "all around" great bike for racers and the average rider. From my experience, the power should be more balanced and more focused on the top end and not so abrupt on the bottom, especially on a 450. The sudden burst of power made it difficult to set up for jumps, as it tended to wheelie before I even was able to get to the lip of a jump. If the power was more on the top end, giving you a chance to be able to build momentum comfortably, I feel this bike would be easily one of the best, as far as power goes that is, and easier to ride for someone just starting to ride. Also the braking on the Honda needs to be a little more powerful, without making them too touchy; it was a little weak to me.

The Yamaha 450 was excellent on its overall power, it gave me a chance to really build momentum quickly, as well as have just the right burst of power to get me over jumps that were right out of the corners. The past Yamaha 450s I have ridden (2016/2017) were a little harsh on the bottom end, but this year's model definitely feels more balanced and gives me more of a chance to prepare for jumps and the exiting of corners. Yamaha has definitely listened to the consumers' opinions over the years and made the refinements needed to make this bike incredibly competitive to its rivals.

The overall feel of the 2018 Honda 450 was very comfortable, slim and agile. This bike is very comfortable to ride loose, its nimbleness makes it easy to put that bike in any rut or line you want, making cornering very smooth and comfortable. The throttle pull is lighter than the past Hondas I have ridden, something I really like in a bike. The clutch pull was also incredibly light for me, helping reduce some of the stress in my arms. I also loved the pegs, they didn't stick up after dragging in a rut, and my feet did not come off once, another improvement from past models. The Yamaha 450 was a little wide, mainly in the front where the shrouds are. I ride up front in the corners, so that is something I believe Yamaha should pursue to fix in their future models. They have slimmed this model down from the past models, but I think they still could go more on that part. The cornering was smooth on the Yamaha, it's very stable and comfortable as well.

Honda CRF450R
The Honda feels small for a 450, in a good way.Jeff Allen

The suspension for the Honda is a huge step in the right direction, especially by getting away from the air fork design [in 2017]. Air forks have always been more difficult for me to figure out and set up. When I heard the 450 Honda was going back to spring forks, I got really excited to try it out, and it for sure was more simple to set up and more plush for racers and normal riders. As for the Yamaha 450, the KYB spring forks are very nice and plush. It's great on the rougher terrain and smooth off of jumps, and excellent for racers and the average rider. It's probably the only bike I could comfortably race with stock suspension, and it is simple to set up. Yamaha is definitely hard to beat when it comes to suspension.

Overall the Honda 450 is leaned more towards the more aggressive type of rider, the power and suspension being the main reasons. The stiffer springs are suited for heavier riders or those who are blitzing through chop at a high rate of speed and who are a lot more aggressive. The bike is also very powerful and can be overwhelming to some, especially those just starting out [in this class]. This bike is perfect for tighter and more technical tracks and it's a bike that’s perfect for those who ride loose. The Yamaha 450 is suited for pretty much every type of rider and skill level, except maybe not those who like to scrub and be loose on the bike. The whole body of the bike and especially the turning radius of the front end makes scrubbing on the Yamaha a little more uncomfortable than the Honda. Aside from that the Yamaha has a good overall feel on the other parts of the track, especially the corners and jumps.

To sum it up, if I were to decide which one I would own, I would probably lean more towards the Yamaha. It was quicker and simpler to set the suspension to where I liked it. It was nice and plush and suited my style quite nicely, and the cornering is almost unbeatable on the Yamaha. The new chassis is very comfortable and the overall design is great for all types of riders. The engine has improved tremendously on the Yamaha, its more relaxed, but still giving you very competitive power. The throttle and clutch pull was much lighter on the Yamaha, making shifting a dream and helping reduce the stress in my arms. Slimming the bike down and working on making the bike more suited for looser riders would make this bike easily the best 450 around.

The Honda I definitely preferred the nimbleness and slimness more, but I feel the Yamaha is better where, I feel, it counts. Both brands are showing huge improvements and I feel both bikes are strong this year, stronger than they've ever been before. – Michael Wicker, 5'9", 140 lbs. B class motocrosser

YZ450F motor
The YZ450F’s motor is one the best examples of what a motocross motor should be.Jeff Allen

The new 2018 Yamaha 450 and Honda 450 are two completely different bikes. The main power difference is the Yamaha had more of a crazy burst of power in the bottom end, while the Honda seemed to be the opposite with a crazy amount of power in the top end. The handling and suspension were very different also, considering one uses KYB and the other uses Showa. I always liked the stock Yamaha's suspension for a rider [like me] around 130 pounds. I always find it very smooth on the braking bumps and in the ruts. I found the Honda's suspension to be very smooth as well on landing jumps and railing outside or flat turns. The Honda really hooks up nice coming into corners while the Yamaha can knife the front end and take away your confidence.

I found both bikes very maneuverable in the air. I really like Yamaha's new chassis on the 450. It made it very easy for me to get my leg up on the shrouds in the corners. If I had to choose a track to ride each bike on, I would probably choose the Honda for a wide open track like Glen Helen or Cahuilla and the Yamaha for a track like Pala or Perris with tight corners with jumps right out of the turns. Both bikes where very fun to ride and that's what riding motorcycles is all about! – Austin Miller, 5'6", 130 lbs. Intermediate and Schoolboy motocrosser

It’s surprising how different both bikes feel. The Honda is so nimble and fun to ride. For 250F guys looking to move up, it’s the smaller feeling bike of these two. The Yamaha feels more substantial and like there’s more bike to maneuver, which is a strike against the Yamaha for me in terms of handling; but I must say the Yamaha felt much more nimble and fun to ride than the YZ450F has since Yamaha reversed its engine. In terms of suspension, the Yamaha gives a magically smooth ride, like a tractor went out ahead of you and packed and smoothed down your lines; more than in years past its surprising how nice and plush this bike is. The Honda didn’t have that plushness, but I think that’s also why it had a more “immediate” handling personality.

For power, both have plenty, and where I ride down low in the rpm the Honda had sharper throttle response, which is good when you're on your game, but the Yamaha had a more forgiving power delivery, something they improved on with the 2018 bike. If I had my choice I'd want a meld of both of these machines, and put the Yamaha's great suspension feel with the Honda's more maneuverable handling. If I had to pick I'd take the Honda just because for me its nimble and responsive personality is more fun out there on the vet tracks where I ride. – Pete Peterson, 49, 5'10", 175 lb., Vet Novice