2009 Yamaha YFZ450R: High Performance Test Changing history

For decades, we quad riders have been living in the shadow of our dirt bike brothers. We got their hand-me-down engines, used up graphics and yesterday’s technology. Thankfully, those days are quickly fading away.
Most of the ATV manufacturers are offering high performance 450s with some of the same technologies given to their dirt bike brethren. The Kawasaki 450 has a fuel-injected engine and an aluminum frame; the Suzuki 450 also has fuel injection but with a steel frame and race ready suspension. KTM also offers race ready suspension and their current DOHC dirt bike engine in their race models.
Can-Am and now Yamaha have offerings with all of the latest technologies available. We took a look at the Can-Am DS450XMX in the September 2008 issue. This month we were able to throw a leg over Yamaha’s new four-wheeled racer, the $8000 YFZ450R.

Back in 2003 when Yamaha introduced the first YFZ450, it turned the sport ATV world upside down. This year, the YFZ450R should have a similar affect. Instead of revamping the old YFZ, Yamaha decided to build an all-new machine with an aluminum frame, race ready suspension and a completely new fuel-injected engine.
In fact, this ATV engine, in our minds, is actually better than the one Yamaha puts into their current 450cc dirt bike. This new motor has electric starting and fuel injection; two features not even found on Yamaha’s top of the line MX bikes yet.
That engine is a five-valve, dual overhead cam design with a compact wet sump oiling system. Wet sump is when all of the engine oil stays in the engine cases and does not get pumped in from an oil tank. A system with a separate oil tank is called dry sump and usually adds weight.
Yamaha tells us that this engine is very similar to the dirt bike engine with the addition of the E-start and EFI. In fact, the aftermarket GYTR head that Yamaha sells can be used on the dirt bike or the quad. And that is the exact same head that James “Bubba” Stewart has been using this year to dominate the early Supercross season.
For $2246, you can buy that head, and it comes complete with valves, springs, cams and a 13.2:1 compression ratio (stock is 11.4:1). Other GYTR products for the new YFZ450R include a full exhaust system ($574), slip-on muffler ($349) racing lanyard ($37), bumpers, pegs, nerf bars and graphics are also offered.
For XC riders, Yamaha is working directly with multi-time GNCC champion Bill Ballance on the development of a front A-arm kit that narrows up the quad from 48.8 inches to tree splitting width of 46.25 inches. To narrow up the rear end, the correct offset wheels and use of the standard YFZ450 hubs will do the trick; meaning you can still use the stock axle.

Speaking of suspension, Yamaha is not the first to come out with a wide track width quad (Suzuki has that honor), but they are the first to introduce a wide vehicle with standard 20-inch tires instead of 18-inch tires. The taller tires are perfect for weekend warrior who still wants good ground clearance for trail riding with the added width and stability for the occasional track day. Most racers will change tire size depending on the track anyway and a set of tires is much cheaper than narrower or wider suspension.
Up front, the dual A-arms are made of steel and offer 9.8 inches of travel. The shocks are all new as well with features like high/low speed compression damping, rebound and preload adjustments. Out back, a cast aluminum swingarm offers 11 inches of movement. Again, high-/low speed compression, rebound and preload adjustments are found in the rear shock.
The new shocks are 44mm in the front and 46mm in the rear and the shafts have a special Kashima coating that Yamaha claims will allow for a smoother operation over the standard YFZ450, which were very good, by the way.
That suspension system is connected to an all-new frame, which is mostly aluminum. The only part of the frame that is steel are the supports under the engine and the bottom A-arm mounts. The rear sub frame is completely made of aluminum.
Sitting on that frame is an ultra comfortable T-shaped seat. Suzuki made this seat popular on the Quad Racer models and Yamaha made it even better. That’s a good thing, because the seat wasn’t perfect on the old YFZ450 or on any of the Raptor models.
Forward of the seat, the new YFZ450R features a four position adjustable steering stem and Pro Taper oversize handlebars. A lightweight thumb throttle is a welcomed addition thanks to the new EFI system.

Covering the vital engine and suspension components, Yamaha designed a bodywork system that is one of the easiest to remove in the class. Only a few bolts hold the front and rear fenders in place. To make things simple for cleaning and maintenance, the battery, the key, and the instrument panel stays in place when the body is removed.
To install the GYTR Ignition Tether, all you have to do connect a ground wire to the frame and install an inline plug into the wiring loom.
To make the new YFZ completely track ready you can install a set of your own nerf bars or the set Yamaha offers through their GYTR division. Those nerfs and foot pegs have two adjustment positions for peg height. Both positions are lower than the stock peg height.

With a unique (tall and wide) machine like this, our initial ride review had to take place both on the trail and on an MX track.
To get a feel of how the new YFZ450R worked on the trails, we headed to our local ride area. On the weekends, this place is full of city folks from Los Angeles riding from sun-up to sundown just to blow off some aggression built up during a week of traffic and work. The ride area has lots of sand washes, whooped-out trails, fast dirt roads and even a tight blue grooved ridge line.
The YFZ450R handled the varied terrain perfectly. The height and width of this machine is exactly how we set up most of the WORCS or ATVA Grand Prix race quads we build. It’s light, with lots of ground clearance, and very fast.
This new quad is balanced very well. When you stab the throttle, the front end doesn’t automatically climb for the sky. It stays planted and goes where you point it. However, if you are into riding wheelies, a small jerk on the Pro Taper handlebars will get the front end up. And it’s easy to keep up thanks to the fuel-injected engine. You can lug it in low rpm if needed and the machine will never run out of gas like a carbureted machine does during a long wheelie.
Speaking of stabbing the throttle, gone is the old small blubber in the throttle that the old YFZ had. Also, the new thumb throttle is about 20-percent lighter than the carbureted model.
With all four tires on the ground, the YFZ450R rockets down the trail. Our first impression leaves us feeling like it’s one of the quickest in the class even with the stock muffler installed. It will get from corner to corner quickly, with minimal shifting and great traction. On top end, the YFZ450R is probably not the fastest, with a top speed at this ride area of just under 70mph.
In the rough sections of our ride area, the YFZ450R had great ground clearance and awesome suspension. Neither are as good as a fully built desert racer, but better than most other stock 450s we have ridden. We never felt the suspension wanting to pack up, dive or buck the rider off, even in the deepest whoop sections.
On the tighter, choppy trails, the good results were again found. We did soften the slow speed compression three clicks and slow the rebound two clicks to find the most comfortable ride possible. Even more comfort was found in the T-shaped seat. You could jockey from side to side with ease and never find a hard spot on the seat. The area between the rider’s knees is also perfectly formed. Even without kneepads our riders commented on how narrow and comfortable the saddle is in all conditions. That feeling includes the footpegs and handlebar height.

The other half of our test took us to our local MX track. This layout had a good variety of packed and loose sand, hills, huge jumps and tight turns.
Again, the YFZ450R exceeded our expectations. Even with tall 20-inch rear tires we could corner better than you can on some built race quads. Going around the track, you don’t even feel like you are on a taller quad, except that square edge bumps are smoothed out somewhat.
The quad is very controllable in the air and feels lighter than the standard YFZ450, although it is about 20 pounds heavier. Landings, whether smooth, flat or even off-camber, are taken with ease thanks to the newly designed shocks at both ends.
Since the track was fairly smooth all day and the one whoop section was short, we left the rebound clickers two turns in and returned the low speed adjusters to their stock position. This adjustment tightened up the body roll and made the corners on the track very controllable.
If we did have to race the YFZ450R in stock trim, we would ask for a rear tire with a hint more side bite on this track. While the front tires felt like they were on rails, the rear slid just a tad too much on flat corners.
For the most part, Dunlop did a good job matching a set of tires to this all-purpose performance machine. Racers out there may want to know that Yamaha did not change the bolt pattern on this machine to Honda specs. Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda all use the same bolt pattern on their 450’s, which makes finding spare wheels easier. We wish Yamaha would do the same.


When Yamaha first showed us this machine, we were impressed, but surprised with the tire selection. As it turns out, for an all around quad the selection is perfect. The fact is that more people trail ride, ride in the sand or play race with their buddies than actually enter a MX race, so lower-profile tires are not that much of a selling point.
Actually, for most novice riders, the taller tires will work better for them on the track. They get off of the starting line faster, go over most bumps better and won’t hold them back in the corners.
As for the rest of the quad, it’s the most comfortable Yamaha sport quad we have ridden. It handles the best, has the most power and is easier to work on than almost any other high performance sport ATV.
At $8000, the Yamaha is $300 more than the Suzuki LT-R450, $800 less than the Can-Am DS450XMX and over $3000 less than the KTM 450SX. Although a track-only shootout between those machines will be interesting, the 2009 Yamaha YFZ450R can also compete against the other trail oriented 450’s. Stay tuned for that. If you can’t wait that long and you ride in all types of terrain or just a specific one, you won’t waste your money buying the 2009 YFZ450R.


Comments are closed.