Ride Tested – The Time Machine

Ride Tested – The Time Machine

2014.yamaha.yfz450r.white_.front_.jumping.in-air.jpgAs much as we like climbing over obstacles, exploring trails, and swimming through mud on a utility ATV, nothing gets us back to the roots of why we began riding in the first place like spending time on a great sport ATV.  It’s riding just for the sport of it.  There is no hitch for hauling around work or racks for toting hunting gear, but it is riding for no other purpose than to enjoy the moment.  No company understands that better than Yamaha. 

The Complete Line Up

No manufacturer has ever had a more complete sport ATV lineup than Yamaha.  From top to bottom, all the Yamaha sport ATVs are purpose designed and technology developed for their top-of-the-line racers and this ingenuity makes its way into their trail machines as well.  They won’t give you a rebadged utility machine, and you’ve got to respect them for that.  

Yamaha calls their top sport ATV, the YFZ 450R, “The most technologically advanced sport ATV on the market today.”  That’s not completely accurate.  The 2014 YFZ 450R is the most technically advanced sport ATV ever.  A decade after the original YFZ 450 was introduced, forever changing the sport and setting a new standard for performance, Yamaha is still on the gas with new features and technology, and an all-new YFZ 450R. 2014.yamaha.yfz450r.white.front.riding.over-dirt.jpg

Generation Next

When I turned onto the track and hit the throttle on the 2014 YFZ 450R, I was instantly reminded of my first ride on the original YFZ 10 years earlier.  Back then it only took one lap to realize the YFZ was something special.  It seemingly floated around the track and it undoubtedly made me a better rider.  The 2014 YFZ 450R feels exactly the same way.  It’s a joy to ride and a big part of that is the ergonomics; it fits so many riders so well.  The relationship between seat, handlebars, and foot pegs is very good, with the rider sitting in a slightly charging position.  All the controls are exactly where they need to be.  Yamaha’s support of ATV racing and their own team have undoubtedly helped hone the YFZ 450R into the weapon it is today, and features like extra wide foot pegs, adjustable handlebar mounts, and even easy to remove bodywork complete the package.   Rider comfort and performance enhancing features on the 2014 model include:

  • The front fenders have been moved 30mm forward and 10mm lower for more knee room in aggressive cornering. 
  • Foot pegs are now an enormous 65mm wide, and foot baskets have been moved back an additional 30mm for extra foot room. 
  • The YFZ 450R is equipped with a unique, T-Bone seat that is sculpted to allow easy movement during aggressive riding.  The seat also comes with a textured, grippy surface that really helps hold you in place.  
  • A tapered (fat bar) handlebar bend design brings arms forward for leverage, but bend is also comfortable enough for all day trail rides. 
  • Handlebar clamps can be adjusted front to back for rider comfort. 
  • Levers, mounts, and components are all very high quality forged aluminum. 
  • Throttle housing and blade are comfortable, work smoothly, and don’t take up too much room on handlebar.  2014.yamaha.yfz450r.orange.front-left.riding.over-dirt.jpg

Top-of-the-Line Engine

Every modern, high performance four-stroke ATV and dirt bike on the track today can trace its origins back to a watershed moment in the sport when Yamaha released a four stroke engine in a racing world dominated by two-strokes.  It shocked the sport, especially when it began trouncing the two-strokers.  Today the YFZ 450R is a direct descendant of that original motor, but far better.   For 2014 Yamaha has again made significant upgrades to the YFZ 450R engine.  Highlights of the motor are:  

  • A new head design is used for 2014 and the engine is 449cc with five titanium valves.  
  • New camshaft design for 2014, along with a longer connecting rod, connecting rod bearings, and compression raised to 11.8:1.
  • New 12 hole injector in 42mm throttle body, and revised fuel mapping for maximum power and complete burn.  Meets all current emissions standards thanks to new air injection system as well.
  • Counter balancer has been redesigned to match new power characteristics, and for longer durability.  
  • Engine is a “centralized mass” design.  It’s compact, yet all components are optimized for strength and weight in the smallest possible package. 
  • Engine uses internal oil reservoir and carries all oil in crankcase rather than in external oil tank.
  • New side covers
  • Industry’s first factory “slipper” clutch

A New Slipper Clutch


Yamaha again broke new ground by giving the 2014 YFZ 450R the first factory installed slipper clutch.  The new unit is slightly smaller than the previous clutch but under the cover there are a few ramps that play a major role in performance of the entire vehicle.  During acceleration, rather than relying on only spring force for full clutch engagement, the new clutch gets an assist by biting on the ramps.  This allows a 25% reduction in spring pressure, and that means the lever is a lot easier to pull, but it makes a huge difference in deceleration as well.  When you’re not hard on the gas, the clutch will slightly back off-pressure and “slip” on the ramps, which reduces engine braking and the negative effect it often has on the rear suspension.  There’s no more rear end hopping as engine braking attempts to lock up the rear wheels, especially when coming into corners full of braking bumps.  

Of all the changes to the 2014 YFZ 450R, the performance of the new slipper clutch was the most noticeable.  During acceleration it hooked up great.  Time and time again, we practiced starts, rocketing up the starting straight and through the gears.  The 450R charged hard and clawed for traction the entire way and never once did it feel like it was slipping or lacking traction.  Coming into corners, the new clutch would back off enough that it didn’t try to kill the engine or bind the rear end.  It felt almost like a two-stroke in that respect, and it was both extremely easy to ride and almost intuitive.  It’s an enormous improvement, another first for Yamaha, and we loved it!  Yamaha has also worked wonders with the YFZ transmission through the years, and the 2014 tranny shifts excellent.  Lighter clutch pull is especially welcome, but the gearbox always gives positive engagement and responds easily to a flick of your toe.  Yamaha has got the engine, clutch, and tranny dialed!       2014.yamaha.yfz450r.white.front-left.riding.over-dirt.jpg

Chassis Changes

Yamaha gives the YFZ 450R a unique chassis designed for strength, durability, and ride ability.  Most chassis members are cast aluminum – other than the steel engine cradle tubes – and all components are bolted together rather than welded.  Overall weight is kept to a minimum in this way.  Although we’ve always really liked the high quality components on the YFZ suspension, for 2014 the shocks have been revised for increased performance and to match the motor’s power characteristics as well.  

The YFZ 450R front shocks have been lengthened 3mm which isn’t huge, but the almost infinite adjustability of the front and rear 450R shocks and component quality make them excellent.  All three shocks offer preload, high and low speed compression, and rebound adjustability.  There are only a handful of riders on the planet who could ever ride beyond the capability of these shocks, and if they’re good enough for Chad Wienen to win another AMA Pro Class championship with, they’re good enough for anybody.  Dial them in for your riding style and you can do no better.   2014.yamaha.yfz450r.close-up.front-shocks.jpg

On Track

Turning laps on the 2014 YFZ 450R was a blast.  It’s so easy to go fast on this machine!  Power delivery is strong and instant thanks to the potent motor and fuel injection system, but it’s also controllable.  We had riders of all skill and experience levels on the winding Anza, California track, yet everyone was turning some great laps.  I especially appreciated watching Dustin Nelson and Chad Wienen.  When they would pass me, it was fun to learn from them as I hung behind as long as I could, but it was pure magic to see what a competent pilot could do with a machine like the YFZ 450R.  It truly is a machine that rewards pro-class skill, but it’s also very forgiving and confidence inspiring for amateurs.  Put it anywhere on the track, and it will hold its line, partly due to precise handling and great suspension, but also because of the new Maxxis tires.  In the air it feels light and nimble and it doesn’t have any tendency to swap to either side off the face of jumps.  The new bodywork styling is a welcome feature as well, especially for riders over six feet tall.  

YFZ 450R Time Machine

The 2014 YFZ 450R again brings new technology to the sport, and again sets a new standard for performance.  Power delivery is phenomenal and it’s an absolute blast to ride.  In many ways, it reminded me of my first ride on the original YFZ 450 a decade ago.  Just like the 2004 YFZ, the 2014 YFZ 450R took me back to the pure thrill of riding just for the fun of it, and both machines made me a better rider.  What more can you ask than that?

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February 16, 2014

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