First Ride: Yamaha’s 2014 YFZ 450R
Industry changing upgrades, more power and sleek looks for 2014
Are you one of those ATV enthusiasts that look forward to fall when most manufactures are releasing their new models for the upcoming year? How many times over the last few years have you been wondering if there was going to be anything groundbreaking in the Sport ATV market, only to be left somewhat disappointed? When the economy was booming around 2007, there were at least seven different quality Sport 450cc machines that you could easily pick up from your local dealer, but as the economy took a turn for the worse so did sales. Some OEMs either pulled out of the Sport ATV market or just continue to sell the same unit with a new manufacturing tag but no upgrades to their product, other than a change to color or graphics.
Yamaha is the only company where those statements will not apply to their business model. It seems that every year they continue to either release a new product or at least make significant changes in an effort to improve on what they already have, and for 2014 the YFZ 450R is raising the bar of the Sport ATV market. Many fans of this particular 450cc machine have felt that it’s hard to improve on what they consider to be one of, if not the best machine, on the market in its class. Its 48.8-inch wide stance provides nimble handling and stable performance for most recreational riders, but is well capable of exceeding the performance expectations for most novice and intermediate level racers.
The 449cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine provides ample power for almost every rider in its stock form, and has some of the most rider-friendly power delivery compared to anything else on the market. In the way of comfort, the YFZ 450 R has always feature a seat that is wide in the rear for rider comfort, but narrow in the front to make maneuvering from side to side easier, wide footpegs and oversized tapered aluminum handlebars on multi-adjustable mounts to ensure riders are the most comfortable. All of these features make the YFZ 450R one of the most desirable machines to ride, but there is always room for improvement and Yamaha figured out where to do it.
New for 2014
First off we need to dive into the meat and potatoes of any machine, and that is the engine. For the New Year, Yamaha has re-configured the engine settings (which includes camshaft profile), increased the compression ratio to 11.8:1 and made a new ECU to compliment the new settings to optimize the power output. The end result of these modifications is an overall increase in power with noticeable difference in the mid-range performance. A new throttle body assembly and redesigned muffler have also been thrown into the mix that will provide a snappier throttle response as well.
In the gearbox is where the real excitement lies with the new A&S clutch system that now replaces the traditional system found in most ATVs and even dirtbikes. This system reduces clutch pull by 25% by utilizing a 3-spring pressure plate setup and also reduces the engine braking effect by having a slipper design that in turn reduces the effect on rear suspension action and therefore improving braking bump performance.
How the system works is that under acceleration, the machined cams of the pressure plate and clutch basket slip into deeper engagement with more forward torque and acceleration of the engine. This is how they get away with running a 3-spring clutch setup without burning up clutch plates. Now during deceleration the back torque of the wheels will help to separate or relieve the pressure off of the pressure plate and clutch plates allowing them to slip but still maintain sufficient engagement force. To simplify the explanation this allows the rear wheels to continue forward movement instead of locking up when downshifting into a corner, which causes the rear compression to compress limiting the suspension performance. This is groundbreaking technology to be included as an OEM feature for any machine.
Overall suspension performance has been improved with upgrades to the 9.8” long travel front shocks that have been lengthened by 2mm and given new settings for optimal performance. To also improve the handling and performance of the 2014 YFZ 450R, new Maxxis tires have been mounted to the factory reinforced aluminum wheels. The new pattern compound, found only on this machine, improves steering and bump absorption up front while in the back improved forward traction with better sliding characteristics and better bump absorption make the new Maxxis rubber shine.
When you look at the YFZR from a distance, you can see a subtle change in the ergonomics when compared to the models of previous years. After consulting with the top racers who compete on this machine, they wanted their feedback on what could possibly make the YFZ 450R even better than what it already was and they got exactly what they were looking for. The front fenders have been moved forward 30mm and lowered by 10mm in addition to the foot well being moved back by 30mm.
This subtle change makes a huge difference for riders 5’10” and taller by making the riding area lightly more roomy and easier to maneuver when riding aggressively. Sure the average recreational rider might not see this as a huge deal, but take it for someone who’s 6’1”, this can make a world of difference in comfort. The front fender has also had a slight revision that makes it friendlier for those riders that like to run special graphics kits to represent sponsors or give their ATV a unique look. The tank sides have a much larger graphic area and more of a seamless look.
In the back of the ATV, the rear fender has been altered in a way that the fenders are flatter and more level with the rear of the seat making it easier for riders to transition their weight from side to side in corners. All in all, this machine continues to see great strides in improvement while other companies seem content to keep manufacturing the same product.
Putting It To The Test
To see just how well the upgrades to the 2014 YFZ 450R improved over the previous years, we had the opportunity to meet with Yamaha at The Ranch in Anza, CA where a pristine but challenging motocross track was just waiting to be hammered. Waiting for our group was a full fleet of 450R’s in Team Yamaha Blue and White colors or a slick looking Blaze Orange and White.
It didn’t take long to get suited up and take to the freshly manicured track to get a feel for both the machine and terrain. Since I’m a bigger guy, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the changes in the ergonomics of the new Yamaha. Sure 30mm doesn’t seem like much when you say it, but I felt that the additional room from the redesigning of the front fenders was a very noticeable and welcome difference, especially when transitioning my weight from side to side in cornering. The rear fender height made a great difference as well because I didn’t have to lift my weight off of the fenders and back onto the seat when transitioning from side to side.
The main feature of this machine that I wanted to evaluate was the A&S clutch system. I can tell you that right off the back, the lever pull is definitely lighter than any other sport 450 ATV than I’ve ever ridden. The true magic is when you come hard into corners that have been worked and are filled with huge breaking bumps and square edges. My style of riding has always been to come into a corner a gear high and then use the torque of the engine and a little clutch fanning to spool up the engine so it can pull me out with plenty of power. The operation of the A&S clutch setup allowed me to attack the corners harder and use a lower gear to stay in the optimum power range so the engine could pull me out with little to no clutch slippage.
As far as increases in engine power from the modifications that have been done internally, it was hard to feel anything that made a huge difference in my opinion. I will say that you must take into consideration that since they’ve added an Air Injection System to meet emissions standards, I am positive that has had an effect in the power.
I’m not saying that it’s lost power from the previous, since it seems very similar if not identical, but when you remove the AIS, which I’m sure someone will come out with a block off kit, you should see a difference in the power.As far as the suspension is concerned, I have always been happy with the performance of the YFZR over the last few years. Since Yamaha has made the fully adjustable front and rear shocks part of the stock package, it’s been a pleasure to ride and fairly simple to dial in for my weight and style. I’ve even setup an older machine to run in a 6-hour endurance race with minimal mods that came close to taking the overall win.
I will say that I have been impressed with the new Maxxis tires that are on this machine. Over the years, many OEMs have put a lot of R&D into the tires that come stock and what I’ve found is that they are becoming competitive with the tires from many aftermarket companies. The handling characteristics and puncture resistance is great and many people are finding that replacing them is not always the first thing on their lists.
After a full day on the track I’ve come to the conclusion that the 2014 YFZ 450R is the best of the best when compared to any other 450cc Sport ATV on the market. You truly get the best bang for your buck in a machine that can handle the needs for the advance level motocross rider and still be reliable and trail friendly for the recreational user. If you desire more performance than what it provides in its stock form, you can easily perform upgrades that make it a proven winner. All you need to do is look at Chad Wienen, who has won back-to-back National MX Championships.