Our 450cc shootout is now in the books, and as always, it was a massive undertaking. (Be sure to check out that super awesome video, too. Created by yours truly!) The intro to every shootout includes some obligatory platitudes: these are all great bikes, closest shootout ever, our winner might not be the best bike for you, know your own strengths… Cliché as these might be after years of shootouts, they’re all true. On top of those, there is also a degree of context that should come with deciphering shootout results. There are aspects that might help a bike win a shootout, for instance, but these same features will mean little to nothing once you own the bike. But before we get into that, some quick notes on the platitudes.
They are all great bikes. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be testing them in this very prestigious category. They are all incredibly close, which is exactly why we, and nearly every other motocross publication, conduct shootouts at all. There are hardly any other classes of motorcycles that call for a test of this nature. Sure, we might throw some similar bikes into a makeshift category and compare them for fun, but those “comparisons” are not the same as a class shootout. The bikes in the 2021 450cc motocross class, for instance, are so close in performance that the only way to sort out their differences is to hop from one bike to the next in the same day on the same track. The strengths and weaknesses are so subtle, and so subjective, that it prompts us to enlist a half-dozen testers and tally up the results before these nuanced differences even begin to emerge. If it takes all that for us to find a winner in this group, then you can believe us when we say there are no losers here.
So why do we do it? Why even declare a winner? Or better yet, why do we rate them all the way down to last place? Well, many years ago we tried a shootout without declaring a top-down rating, and that went over the bars like a lead Shoei. Human beings, by nature, seek to categorize things; it helps us make sense of our surroundings. It’s also our nature to diametrically oppose things: This one is the winner, therefore it’s the best. That one is the loser, therefore it must suck. But ask yourself this, does the guy who finished fifth at a motocross national suck?
Platitudes aside, I’ve always felt that shootouts should come with a greater level of context as far as to what’s going on behind the scenes. Because again, what wins a shootout may not be what makes a bike great to have in your garage.
Testing each of these bikes in one day (we test multiple days, but testers ride all five bikes each day) means you set up the suspension settings until you’re comfortable—setting sag and dialing in fork and shock clickers. From there, you want to test out each available engine map and traction-control setting. Very often, the easier these steps are, the more favorably the bike is rated. The tidy little map switch on the KTM/Husky always gets high marks from our test crew because you don’t have to pull into the pits and have the Kawasaki tech swap out the coupler for you. But let’s think about this from the perspective of an owner for a moment. How often are you switching engine maps? Is this something you’re going to need to be able to do trackside? (I’m genuinely asking, because I’m curious to know if there are people out there who do this.)
I’ve owned a Suzuki and a Kawasaki in recent years, and on both bikes, I sampled each coupler the first day I rode it, picked my favorite one and never thought of it again. Never once did I lament not having a handlebar switch to toggle between engine maps. In wet conditions, dry, hardpack, trail riding, it didn’t matter. I want the power to remain the same, exactly where I know it’s going to be every time. I also don’t want anything on my handlebar that doesn’t need to be there. I want less bells and whistles in the cockpit, not more. Perhaps your needs are different, but I can’t say I know of any riding buddies who switch their engine maps on the fly, or at all, for that matter.
The same goes for suspension controls. The plastic knobs on the WP forks sure are handy on test day, but when you buy a bike, get your suspension dialed in, how often are you making adjustments? And how often do you need to make those adjustments on the fly? I set mine up just right and never touch it again, but that’s just me.
On the flip side, you have things like the Yamaha Power Tuner App. On test day, each rider is obviously not going to sync their smartphone to the bike and check out the tuning capability. But as an owner, this is a unique feature that will be (in my opinion) tremendously valuable over the life of the bike. Tool-less airbox entry is another useful feature that would be completely overlooked on shootout day, but is a great thing to have in your garage. Overall ease of maintenance for that matter (lock-on grips, anyone?), as well as racing contingency, aftermarket support… the list goes on.
Our shootouts exist to nitpick the performance differences on the track, and we accomplished exactly that through countless manhours (and womanhours). There is lots of great info in there, but clearly there are more elements to consider in making a purchase, and some elements you may choose not to consider at all.
So keep that in mind when you’re poring over the details of our 2021 450cc motocross shootout, and that very excellent video packed with even more test-rider opinions. Our conclusions point to on-track performance, but there is always more to consider when it comes to choosing a bike to live with. CN