But first, the YZ-F must prove its worth against the bike that has dominated the class for the better part of a decade. For eight consecutive years, Honda's CRF450R has been voted Best Motocrosser in Cycle World's annual Ten Best awards. The big CRF received a wholesale redesign just last year and got a few key refinements for 2010. So the question we need to answer here is obvious: Can the Innovator unseat the Dominator?

Let's start with...starting. I have to praise Honda for improving the CRF's kick-starting capabilities: one or two kicks and it fires, no problem. But if you forget to first find top dead center on the YZ-F before kicking it through, you could stomp on the lever for a while before making fire.

Once these two fuel-injected engines are running, there's also a lot of difference in their character. The YZ has a very strong bottom-end punch and pulls hard through the midrange, but the power falls off fast on top. The CRF, on the other hand, is softer off the bottom but progressively gets stronger, pulling hard through the middle revs with a good punch on top. The instant snap that the Yamaha delivers is fun and helps the bike drive off corners, but the drop-off occurs so soon that it requires more frequent gearshifts.

One reason for this difference is the bikes' Keihin throttle bodies. The Yamaha's is a 44mm unit, a smaller size that benefits lower-rpm performance at the expense of top-end power; the Honda breathes through a 50mm throttle body that helps the top end but at a slight cost of bottom-end grunt.

A cool thing about these two is that both offer a fuel tool that allows the rider to change the injection system's mapping. This is so, so great for motocross, because riders can now tune the power to better suit track conditions and their personal rid-1

GYTR tool is more of a plug-and-play unit, whereas the Honda's HRC tuner must be used in conjunction with a computer. Both get the job done, but the truth is that the stock settings on both bikes are very good.

Although Japanese MXers usually have a similar feel in fit and handling, these two have their own distinct personalities and like to be ridden a bit differently. The Yamaha has the rider sitting more on top of the bike, but you sit more down in the Honda. The CRF has a remarkably low 227-pound dry weight, besting the YZ-F by 10 pounds. But on the track, the Yamaha feels just as light, if not lighter, than the Honda. It corners more sharply and has slightly quicker response to rider input. Evidently, Yamaha's engineers are on to something with their reversed top-end design that provides better mass centralization.

Perhaps that's why the Yamaha responds to a slightly different riding technique than the Honda. The YZ can be ridden more comfortably by riders of varying skill levels; the Honda is more of an all-out racebike that wants to be ridden hard to deliver its benefits.

Front-wheel traction between the two gives similar feedback, thanks to good chassis balance and both bikes' use of the same excellent Dunlop front tire. During comer exits, the Yamaha prefers to be stood up before whacking the throttle open and getting full drive; the Honda can accelerate harder while still cranked over with a good amount of lean angle. And exit bumps do not unsettle the Honda as much as they do the Yamaha.

Braking bumps cause the exact opposite reaction, even though both bikes use KYB suspension all around and their front-to-rear balance is better than average. But the CRF behaves more like a jackhammer coming into bumpy corners, while the YZ absorbs the harshness as though floating over them. Both





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