Track testing the new YFZ
The Sport ATV market has been largely ignored for the last few years. In fact, the only manufacturer to consistently offer up new and updated machines has been Yamaha. The 2014 model year has been no different.
While we all waited with baited breath for Yamaha’s next Side-by-Side, we were taken by surprise when Yamaha revealed it was making major updates to the YFZ450R. In hindsight, we should have seen it coming. After all, Yamaha shifted production of the YFZ450R from Japan to the United States and wanted to mark the occasion with some noteworthy changes to its race-bred machine.
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As most Sport ATV aficionados know by now, the marquee change for 2014 is the addition of a slipper clutch – the first ever on a stock Sport ATV. This is a technology long familiar to high performance motorcycles and has been a favorite aftermarket addition of ATV racers for years. Basically, the clutch lever effort gets reduced by a substantial margin (Yamaha claims 25 percent), clutch plate pressure is increased for positive engagement and engine braking effect is reduced for faster cornering when downshifting, allowing the suspension to better absorb bumps during braking. All of this results in less rider fatigue during grueling motos and long trail rides.
Not merely satisfied with offering the industry’s first stock slipper clutch, Yamaha also boosted the YFZ’s power – claiming it to be the most powerful 450R engine ever. This was accomplished by adding a new throttle valve, connecting rod, camshafts, cylinder head, revised fuel mapping and bumping the compression ratio to 11.8:1 (from 11.6:1).
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2012 YFZ450
Yamaha also tinkered with the front suspension, adding 2mm longer Kashima-coated KYB shocks. All told, the front end offers up 9.8 inches of travel and full adjustability (high/low speed compression, rebound, threaded pre-load).
Maxxis offered up new exclusive-to-Yamaha tires (21×7-10 front, 20×10-9 rear) for the 2014 YFZ450R, designed for lighter steering effort and improved bump absorption, forward traction and sliding.
To cap off the changes, Yamaha also updated the styling of the YFZ450R for 2014. The front fender was moved forward 30mm and lowered 10mm, the rear fender was made flatter, and the footwell was made slimmer and moved back 30mm.
Yamaha recently invited us out to test the 2014 YFZ450R at a motocross track in southern California and we enlisted the help of Anna Byrd. Anna has been racing ATVs in the cross country circuit and will soon be featured in a series of articles on ATV.com about the challenges facing a young racer. Here are her thoughts.
The 2014 YFZ450 is an impressive machine. The new features and adjustability make the quad comfortable and easy to ride. Within a few minutes the adjustment options allowed me to have the quad set up based on my personal riding preferences.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2011 Kawasaki KFX450R
During cross county races I am constantly changing gears. With the new assist and slipper clutch on the YFZ450R, changing gears was a breeze. The clutch was easy to pull and the wheels didn’t skip if I was in too high a gear when entering the corners. Being able to slightly pull the clutch would make a huge difference during a race. For a racer, shifting through the gears effortlessly can determine the outcome of a race. I would love to have this clutch on my race quad because I know it would make shifting much easier and faster and would help with arm pump and overall fatigue in my hand.
Something I’ve struggled with since I started racing is thumb fatigue throughout the race. On the YFZ450R the thumb throttle is much easier to push, and after riding the quad all day my thumb never fatigued. At several races this year, by the end of the race my thumb was so tired it was difficult to push the throttle. The lighter spring load on the YFZ450R reduces the amount of force needed to push down on the throttle, making it easier to ride for a longer period of time.
The YFZ450R has a tremendous amount of power. The machine pulled up the hills with ease and had no problem producing the right amount of power while cornering and maneuvering through choppy sections on the track. Power was consistent throughout, without too much or too little power while shifting through each gear.
After riding a few laps on the MX track, I felt the shocks were too stiff for me. With the quick turn of a wrench, I had them adjusted to a softer setting. After riding all day on the YFZ450R stock shocks I was amazed at how the shocks soaked up the impact from the rough terrain. I raced on TRX450R stock shocks for several races and my lap times and my body suffered. The YFZ450R shocks were much softer and absorbed the impact from the jumps well.
While racing cross county I don’t encounter many jumps, so I was nervous at the MX track about catching air – especially with stock shocks. The first time I jumped I braced myself for a hard impact, but when I landed it was extremely smooth.
As a racer I really appreciated the ergonomics of the YFZ450R. I have quickly realized how important it is to have your machine set up to reduce fatigue as much as possible. The YFZ450R is designed to do just that for any level rider. The wide seat and high fenders, which are even with the seat, allow the rider to slide from side to side without bending their knees. I know this is beneficial because after two-hours of racing even the slightest movements are difficult.
COMPARISON: Read our 2010 Sport ATV Shootout
Also the footpegs on the YFZ450R are wide and have extra grip, allowing the rider’s foot to stay secure on the pegs. I still have stock footpegs on my TRX450R, but after using the YFZ450R pegs, I will definitely be purchasing a new set.
After our one-day test session, the only thing I had a problem with was the handlebar grips. This is obviously a minor issue, but better padding on the grips would be nice, as I had blisters by the end of the day.