Most often, we see one manufacturer take forward steps in a segment of motorcycling, and then watch as the others slowly play catch-up.
On the street side, we saw this with Yamaha releasing the FZ-09, only to be followed by the Suzuki GSX-S750 and next year by the coming Kawasaki Z800.
Things are different in the motocross and off-road racing world, however. There are thousands of amateur motocross racers out there just looking for a split-second advantage so they can beat their buddies (or rivals). One manufacturer's advance is soon matched. We saw that phenomenon this week when Kawasaki announced news of a new KX450F just two days before Yamaha released news of an updated YZ450F, YZ250F, and all-new YZ250X.
The 2016 Kawasaki KX450F
Kawasaki didn't rest on the laurels Ryan Villopoto won for them in recent years and instead gave the KX450F a complete overhaul for 2016.
The new bike is 7.5 pounds lighter than the previous iteration. The bulk of the weight savings comes from its new, more powerful engine. The bridged-box bottom piston has been revised to more closely mirror the race bikes the pros ride and revisions to the intake ports and intake valves increase air volume and improve mid-to-high range revs.
There is plenty on the 2016 model that Kawasaki took back to the drawing board. The intake camshaft is new and lighter, the airbox is new, the header is new, the exhaust system is new, the frame and swingarm are new, and even the seat is new — all of which was re-evaluated to with the aim of saving weight, improving throttle response, and increasing strength and comfort.
Electronics are playing an increasingly important role in all forms of performance motorcycles, and Kawasaki was early to the game in motocross with its launch control system. If you don't think it's important, just count how many times Supercross racers refer to "getting a good start" in pre-race interviews. The new KX comes with a revised launch control system based on that of the AMA race bikes, and also includes latest-gen tech like a Showa SFF-Air TAC fork and a Uni-Trak rear shock.
The 2016 Kawasaki KX450F will have an MSRP of $8,799 and there's no word yet on when it will hit dealer floors.
While Kawi claims to have the most powerful competition four-stroke MX bike, Yamaha claims the YZ450F is the best-selling 450-class MX bike and that the YZ250F is the best-selling four-stroke MX bike, period.
The 2016 Yamaha YZ450F and YZ250F
The YZ450F has gotten a host of updates to keep it competitive, as well. Yamaha has added launch control and updated the fuel maps. The YZFs also get revised intake and exhaust valves, with the aim of improving low- and mid-range controllability.
Yamaha went a little further with chassis adjustments, changing the rebound and compression settings front and rear on the suspension, adjusting the frame shape, moving the footpegs 5 mm lower, and improving the front brake disc diameter to 270 mm. They've also strengthened the fork-clamp mounts, revised the engine mounts, and refined the mechanism in the clutch.
The YZ250F gets a new piston, aimed at creating less friction and improving combustion, as well as a new crankshaft, which is designed to provide less vibration and a feeling of more linear torque. It also gets a larger, 270 mm front brake rotor and revised internals and settings for the front and rear suspension.
Both the 2016 YZ450F and YZ250F will be offered in special, 60th anniversary liveries, which I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit would push me onto a Yamaha if I were buying this year. The 450 will have an MSRP of $8,690 and the 250 $7,690 (the same as the previous generation) and will be available this August.
The 2016 Yamaha YZ250X
For you throwback cross-country and woods racers who still haven't bought into all this four-stroke nonsense and think there's nothing sexier than the graceful curve of an expansion chamber, the YZ250X is Yamaha's answer to your unmet yearnings. This all-new 249 cc two-stroke powers a bike that resembles the YZF250F but is optimized for cross-country and woods riding.
It comes with a wide-ratio five-speed gear box and different compression ratio, ignition and exhaust port timing to provide power delivery more fitting for the kind of riding you do, but still has modern-sized features, like the Excel rims, with an 18-incher on the rear fitted with Dunlop AT81 tires. That exhaust chamber is svelte, too, intentionally made narrow to help keep it from catching in ruts.
The 250X also comes with a petcock with reserve tank, side stand, and a sealed o-ring chain.