It was time for a shootout; a 2016 Yamaha YZ450F versus a 2001 Kawasaki KX500. Modern technology versus old and proven technology.
I brought both bikes to the Pavilion MX track in Western NY for their Saturday practice from 11am-3pm. Conditions were perfect. The first practice the track was a little soft, but the track worked in nicely. I was rushed and didn’t have enough time to put the lap timer on my bike before the start of the first practice, but I had it on for the next three. It wouldn’t have meant much anyways as I was rolling a lot of the obstacles, getting a feel for the track, and the track needed to be worked in too.
Here are the details:
Rider: 50 years old, 215 pound amateur.
Bikes: A bone stock 2016 Yamaha YZ450 with about 6 hours on it. A stock Kawasaki KX500 with heavier springs, and a clutch actuation lever that is about 10mm longer than stock.
Engine: The KX500 is slightly faster, and hits harder, and is a little more violent. The YZ is smoother, more linear, and pulls absolutely forever. I would prefer the KX500 on the start; start in 2nd, shift to third, and it is like a rocket – you just find yourself way out front. The KX500 is a little harder to use around the rest of the track though. The YZ is so unbelievably responsive, and no matter what gear you are in, or what RPM you are at, it just pulls and pulls and pulls. I love the YZ motor.
Handling/Turning: Everyone always says the KX500 turns like a bus pulling a trailer, but I don’t see this on a fast motocross track. I have no problem turning this thing or going through ruts. It is a pretty stable chassis. The YZ is a very good handling bike too. I give the nod to the YZ.
Suspension: The Yamaha suspension is really good, and it soaks up all of the track junk really well. This is one of the main reasons I bought it. It inspires confidence and begs me to hit things harder and harder. The KX500 suspension actually felt better than I thought it would, but it still wasn’t close to the YZ450 suspension.
Brakes: The YZ brakes were a lot better than the KX500 brakes, but I was OK with the KX500 brakes once I got used to them. I am going to look into an oversize rotor for the KX500 though.
Ease of Riding: The YZ is so easy to ride, way easier to ride than the KX500. At the end of a practice, I felt like I could go more laps on the YZ4550. I never felt that way on the KX500, especially as the track got rougher. I was always tired at the end on the KX, and I felt like I could keep going on the YZ.
Coolness Factor: No question, the KX500 is way cooler. Nobody gives a YZ450 a second thought, while everybody turns their head when you start the KX500 and head to the line. I had many people check out the bike, asking me what year it was, and so forth.
Cost: I have about $2100 total into my KX500, and $6500 into my YZ450, which I bought with less than 2 hours on it. I could get a spare KX500, and a spare KX500 for my spare, for what I have into the YZ450. Expensive sigh.
Lap times: I was surprised at how close my lap times were. I did 4 practices total, and here are what the times were, along with some notes:
Practice 1: On the YZ450, no timer on bike. Conditions were slippery and the track was being worked in. I spent a couple laps rolling around getting a feel for the track.
Practice 2: On the KX500.
Lap 1-3: 7:44 – I forgot to hit the timer button one lap, and my 2nd lap there was a caution flag on the finish line, so I was distracted and didn’t hit the button. If I divide the time by three, I get ~2:35.
Lap 4: 2:31
Practice 3: On the YZ450
Lap 1: 2:30.4
Lap 2: 2:30
Lap 3: 2:23.3 – started doing a double-double section instead of rolling it
Lap 4: 2:29.5 – couple caution flags on track
Lap 5: 2:29.6 – couple caution flags on track
Practice 4: On the KX500
Lap 1: 2:30
Lap 2: 2:25
Lap 3: 2:28
Lap 4: 2:32 – starting to get real tired and sloppy
Conclusion: The YZ450 is easier to ride fast, and in a race my lap times would be slightly better and more consistent on the YZ450. I would also be stronger at the end of a moto. The KX500 is surprisingly effective though – if you are in shape, and you don’t try to ride it like a 250. Riding it like a 250 will make you feel like a rag doll a few minutes into a moto. And I just know I would get the holeshot on the KX500… but then I would have to put up with it for 4 1/2 more laps.
Winner: Me! Because I have both!