Comparison test four-stroke crosser

Four-stroke test comparison crosser

Cleverly threaded

With elaborate engine technology and consistent lightweight construction, the new Honda CRF 450 R wants to make its opponents skid. Whether it works?

With a displacement of 700 cm3 at the start, atomize all opponents, that’s what the four-stroke driver dreams of. Immediately after the first corner, the monster bike would have to shrink by 200 cm3 as if by magic in order to keep the competition in check with crisp lap times. And at the end of the race, when the arms are long and the holes are deep, the displacement and horsepower should be gradually reduced again. A nice idea, but for now we have to be content with real compromises.
In terms of displacement, the development is going in two directions: on the one hand, the classic four-stroke engine in the open category, represented in this comparison by the KTM 520 SX and the Husaberg FC 550, both with a lot of pressure from the speed range and thus ideal starting machines. On the other hand, the smaller, agile four-stroke engines of the new generation, good for fast laps. The Yamaha YZ 426 F was trend-setting, originally presented as a 400 and two years ago enlarged by 26 cm3 to strengthen it for the duel with the Europeans. A further increase to 450 cm3 is planned for the coming year, then the new 250-two-stroke / 450-four-stroke class will start in the racing circuit. The brand new Honda CRF 450 R, the Red’s debut in the cross four-stroke segment, is already targeting this.
Until 2003, the four-stroke engines of this comparison are still fighting together for trophies. For some Husaberg drivers, the race could be over before the start. The FC is often reluctant to start operating, the stiff, high-mounted kick starter indicates a lot of friction in the engine. KTM and Yamaha do it much better, unfortunately the latter lacks the practical automatic decompression. The Honda has it. All you need to do is step on the smooth kick starter without looking for a dead center. The CRF starts even when a gear is engaged.
Attempts to start on the sandy track in Hagenau / France give first impressions of the different engine characteristics. As expected, the KTM shows its strengths here: explosive, powerful, with plenty of torque. Whoever brings the power to the ground is ahead. The Husaberg has even more pressure from the paper form, a fuller performance curve, but acts more slowly in practice. The usable speed range is narrow, the Swede does not like turning down at all, she wants to shift up early. The same applies to her: if you have the hang of it, you can have a say on the starting straight. Despite the cubic capacity disadvantage, the Honda is already at the bottom of the punk. Caught wrong gear? No problem, the third party usually does it at the start. At the top, the CRF turns more freely than the Husaberg or KTM, and only starts to feel strained above 10,000 rpm. Five-digit speeds are the sovereignty of the Yamaha, they can be mercilessly turned over if necessary. Even if you don’t necessarily do a good meter, you can save a shift every now and then. When sprinting out of the starting gate, on the other hand, YZ simply lacks power, especially on deep terrain. The fact that she can still get involved is thanks to her good traction, the wheelie tendency is low.
The deep sand stretch in Hagenau gives little information about the driving behavior and the suspension. Therefore, the entourage moves to Frankenthal, on a harder, grippy slope with a series of tables and jumps. There the Honda surprises with extremely fine manners. Although the engine develops enormous thrust, it also sets new standards in terms of liveliness and responsiveness. In no other four-stroke engine is the relationship between throttle position and power output so direct, so spontaneous. Honda’s efforts to minimize the moving masses and, above all, internal friction are paying off. So that no wrong impression arises: The powerful engine does require concentration and strength. When accelerating hard out of tight turns, the rear wheel occasionally wedges, which requires sensitivity and self-control on the throttle. Tea Honda also wants to be kept on course with a firm hand. The neutral balance of the four-stroke newcomer is outstanding when jumping or riding over well-traveled slopes. The 450 never looks head-heavy or tail-heavy, the pilot hardly needs to take corrective action when jumping or in the air. The Honda four-stroke engine, weighing just 106 kilograms, also sets new standards in handling.
The KTM requires a lot more effort, moving a 520 SX to the limit means hard work. Sensitivity is required when handling the throttle, the driver constantly fights against the rising front wheel and the wedging rear wheel. Both can only be prevented halfway with a lot of weight shift and effort on the handlebars. No wonder that World Championship pilots with longer swing arms put more weight on the front wheel to help the SX achieve better traction. On the brakes, the driver has to slide far back to stabilize. A peculiarity of the PDS suspension, which relieves the lack of fine responsiveness. The leverless rear suspension works progressively under load, however, and the rear wheel has good traction when accelerating.
Husaberg conveys little trust. The engine grabs vehemently, but simply not spontaneously enough. Lifting the front wheel for a moment is hardly possible with the Husaberg. The sluggish impression is reinforced by the sluggish throttle grip. In terms of handling, the Swedes have caught up, but the whole bike still looks a bit sluggish. There is never a feeling of lightness and spontaneity. The expansive tank-seat combination certainly contributes to this. The wonderfully smooth hydraulic coupling is exemplary.
Those who have used up their power reserves on the other three test machines can still take the Yamaha. It drives very quickly even with little effort, always remains predictable and is easy to direct. With the YZ, all of the test drivers managed to shoot fast laps straight away. Since the engine starts softly, the pilot can safely flip the throttle at the apex of the curve without the rear wheel breaking out. Even the deep grooves hardly impress the Yamaha, the front wheel seems to stick to the ground, no trace of nervousness. That is the positive side of the front-oriented chassis design. The somewhat clumsy behavior when jumping or accelerating the negative, and the handling could sometimes be a bit more playful. In addition, the suspension is designed to be soft, and the fork can sometimes drop through when you ride hard.
In the end, the newcomer wins. Maybe because 450 cm3 is a good compromise. Tea VS.RF 450 R manages the balancing act between powerful thrust and agile maneuverability and can keep the competition at bay.

1st square – Honda CRF 450 R

She came, saw and won. It would also be sad if Honda didn’t take the lead with its redesign after years of development. The CRF is the new reference. Not an outstanding individual rating, but the overall package makes it the winner: the powerful engine hanging directly on the gas, the rigid, neutral chassis, the almost perfect balance and ergonomics.

2nd place – KTM 520 SX

The opponents have to get past this projectile first. The 520 SX goes off like a rocket, but it demands full strength and concentration every second. The chassis looks a bit nervous at times, the PDS suspension works well, but it is a matter of taste and getting used to. The good equipment and workmanship are undoubtedly top.

4th place – Husaberg FC 550

It’s not for everyone, the angular blue-yellow from the Swedish forests. Either you like her sedate character and rough heart, or you don’t get along with her at all. Tea Enduro relationship can be seen most clearly on the Husaberg. A motorcycle for fast natural slopes, the Swede feels out of place on narrow stretches with a supercross character.

3rd place – Yamaha YZ 426 F

Bronze only? The YZ 426 F isn’t that easy to shake off. The Yamaha is still the first choice for many amateurs and hobby riders. No machine in this displacement category is so easy and safe to drive, and when it comes to revving power, the Yamaha is still unsurpassed. Top pilots miss power and dynamism, and the YZ has to gradually slim down a bit.


Honda CRF 450 R: The engine drives like a 500 two-stroke, only the power starts more gently and more evenly. The chassis is tight but comfortably tuned. The seating position and balance are very good as usual from Honda. Details such as steel handlebars, soft seat and the lack of quick adjustment of the clutch tarnish the positive impression somewhat, but otherwise the new benchmark in the large class. The powerful engine, however, needs a rider with stamina and power. Husaberg FC 550: This motorcycle is simply different from the competition. The engine pulls off beefy, that’s how I always imagined an old-school four-stroke engine. If you are a die-hard four-stroke fan and can ignore vibrations, sluggish gearshifts and problematic starting behavior, then the Husaberg is the right choice. KTM 520 SX: The front wheel can only be kept on the ground with great difficulty. Endless tunneling was switched on in good time. The hydraulic clutch and the handlebars from Magura are great. The narrow, hard bench is a negative. As a rider, the KTM often shows me limits. Not fully concentrated for a moment and the horse goes through. But that’s what gives this motorcycle its kick. Yamaha YZ 426 F: The power does not start explosively in any area, so you can accelerate early without hesitation. Anyone who has got used to the front-heavy driving behavior whizzes around the competitors. For me, the YZ is the easiest motorcycle to ride. Does it really need more power? In my opinion only at the start. But as the saying goes: the start is half the race.

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