Getting it done in the sand!
My infatuation with Yamaha’s 2009 YFZ450R began in earnest late last year, when the media was invited to Valencia, Calif. for a couple of days of test riding, picture taking, and assorted other hard-working editor stuff. I say in earnest, because before that event, I had already had the opportunity to see and touch the YFZ450R at the Vegas dealer show in Sept of 2008, when it was first shown to the public. That first day in Vegas when I sat upon Yamaha’s newest sport machine was the day that I knew that the YFZR (as I affectionately call it) could someday have a place of its own in my garage.
Fast forward to February, 2009 when I get an e-mail from Lucas Cooney of ATV.com asking if I would be interested in attending Yamaha’s annual SE dune event, and write a “dune review” on the YFZ450R. Would I? Hmmmmm…of course I would! After all, there have been quite a few reviews published on the YFZ450R’s prowess on the MX track, and its excellent manners as a trail quad are becoming well known; but how would it perform in the deep sands of a place like Glamis, Calif.? Well, I was definitely game to find out!
First Things First
Before I talk about the performance of the 2009 YFZ450R, it’s always good to get some of the machine details and spec’s laid out, in case any of our readers haven’t had the opportunity to read up on this particular model. The ‘09 YFZ450R is Yamaha’s resounding answer to the challenge thrown down by Suzuki , Can Am and KTM, who have all produced sport quads that are “race ready” right out of the box.
At first glance, the YFZ450R may look similar to its close cousin, the YFZ450 – but don’t let those looks fool you. A closer inspection will make you stand up and take notice, as this new performance quad from Yamaha comes with just about everything you could need to be competitive right from the get-go. The biggest difference is in the suspension, which measures almost 50” wide and boasts a shock length of 9.8” in the front, and 11.0” in the rear. To complete the package, the front and rear, fully adjustable piggyback shocks come with a Kashima coating for reduced friction and better wear properties. For all of us who have been waiting for long-travel straight from the factory, here it is!
Another feature that completely distances the YFZ450R from the YFZ is it’s uniquely designed, modular aluminum/steel hybrid chassis. While most of the YFZ450R’s frame is aluminum to save weight (and it just looks cool!), the very bottom spar of the frame is actually made of tension-steel. This was done to add strength where the chassis would take the most abuse – just under the motor. It also allows the motor to sit as low as possible in the frame, to help give the YFZR its very low center of gravity.
The seat on the YFZR is much different than the YFZ seat, and is just one of the features that make it such a great dune quad – the newly redesigned seat is wider, softer and easier to move around on, which means more comfort for those longer jaunts throughout the dunes.
Also, you can’t look at the YFZR without noticing the aggressive, unique looking Dunlop tires that come stock with all new machines. The 20” fronts and 21” rear tires mounted on factory aluminum 9” rims looked like they would deliver all kinds of traction in the soft sand.
The test machine I had chosen for this review was a fully stock (and therefore somewhat corked up) machine, straight from the factory and even with the spark arrestor and airbox lid still in place. Of course, I was curious to see how it felt in the dunes compared to a stock YFZ or Raptor 700, and fortunately I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Heading out to some of the bigger dunes located just outside the campgrounds of Glamis, I took the YFZR for a test run to see how it would perform.
The first thing I noticed when I fired up my test unit was how quickly it came to life on such a cold morning. With its EFI, there was no need to choke it or even rejet it for any elevation changes, and this was a welcome feature! Once I headed out, I was immediately aware of the linear throttle response, along with the top end pull. While the YFZ has a more “punchy” feel to it when you hit the throttle, the YFZR brings the power on just as strong, but in a noticeably smoother action. This proved to be a bit deceptive at times, as I found myself cresting dunes and hitting transitions a little faster than I thought I was going! While I thought I would miss that arm-pulling hit of the YFZ, I discovered, throughout the day, that I could ride the YFZ450R longer and with less fatigue. It was also very easy to get the front end up any time I wanted to with a mere stab of the throttle and a tug on the front end. With my “girlie” arms, this has proven to be a challenge for me on some machines, but the YFZR was actually easy for me to manipulate, which made hopping around through the rough stuff much easier and a lot more fun.
Not only was it easy to get the front end up while on the ground, but I also began jumping nose-high at will for the first time while testing on this machine. There are certain situations on the motocross track and at the dunes where it’s much safer to land a jump with the front end up and allow your rear suspension to take the hit of the landing; I had just never been able to get the hang of it before. Once I figured out I could do this at will, I began looking for natural dune jumps to practice on until I felt comfortable with the technique. The YFZR feels so perfectly balanced that moving it around in the air is an easy feat to accomplish.
The next thing I noticed was how nice the suspension felt in the “chop”, as duners call it. On par with the cushy Raptor 700, and much more comfortable than the YFZ, the motocross- inspired suspension on the YFZR felt right at home in the dunes. Not only did its added wheel travel make all but the roughest areas feel tame, but its extra width and low center of gravity inspired tons of confidence while traversing steep dune slopes, side-hilling, and hopping from transition to transition. I used to love to take my fully setup race quad to the dunes because of its superior handling, and this is probably why I enjoyed the YFZR so much. You can’t go wrong with being low, wide, and having plenty of suspension in a place like Glamis!
With the stock pipe and airbox lid on, I had to get used to how stock power felt again, but this happened quickly, as I learned to keep the RPM’s up a bit higher than usual and got used to the slightly taller gearing than I was familiar with. Once I had spent only about 10 minutes on the YFZR, it felt like home and I was riding and shifting without even thinking about it.
Now, you can’t have a dune trip without the proverbial hill climb, so of course I had to take my test unit to the tallest and steepest dune in Glamis – Hill 5. Not only is Hill 5 very long and steep, but it gets whooped out at the bottom (which will test your suspension) and it gets extremely loose at the top (which will test your traction and power). This is the eventual destination of every test machine that comes to the dunes, and for good reason!
I headed up the hill and through the whoops without much of a run at it, and the suspension did a great job of soaking up the whoops while keeping me pointed straight ahead. Keeping my weight as far back as I could, I opened my machine up and kept it pinned – and was surprised at the way it pulled the hill without having to downshift once! The stock tires had plenty of traction to keep me climbing, even as I reached the loose, deep sand towards the top. Up and over the lip, I popped over the top of Hill 5, turned around and headed back down to do it all over again. Hill climbing is contagious, and no one can do it just once!
After several runs up and down the hill, I decided to take the YFZR through some of the whooped out straights to see how it would perform. Depending on where you ride, it makes trips much more fun if you have a machine that can handle these long whooped out sections without bucking like a wild mustang. I wasn’t surprised to find that the YFZR handles the whooped out straights like a pro, and even when things get a little out of hand, it still likes to track straight and true – very similar to Honda’s 450R. Bowling and duning in the tight small dunes was a real thrill, as the YFZR has excellent handling characteristics and turns on a dime. Steering was easy and precise, and the stock Pro Taper fatbars have a good feel to them. The extremely wide, serrated footpegs also added a feeling of confidence and kept my feet secure through the tight, twisty bowls and high speed rough stuff. Also, while the stock tires provided plenty of traction, they also allowed for some fun “sliding around” in the corners when prompted, which is harder to do when running paddle tires.
The Wrap Up
As an avid duner, I did my best to put the Yamaha YFZ450R through all of its dune paces and really get a feel for how this motocross racer performs in the sand. For many of us who live near the dunes and can only afford one quad, it’s important that whatever machine we choose can not only perform well for its main purpose, but can also hang in the sand when dune season rolls around! The very features that make the YFZR an amazing race machine also give it what is needed to be a fun and great handling dune machine as well.