Comparo – YAMAHA WR450 vs KTM EXC450

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Words: Andrew Boss   Photos: Richard Seck

Overlooking Rice Lake on a perfect Fall day.

Sometimes things seem like they are going to turn out just right. In this case, we found ourselves on a perfect Fall day in Ontario’s Ganaraska Forest, with a brand new ’04 KTM 450EXC and our ’03 Yamaha WR450F long-termer.

In addition, a man we can only identify, for legal reasons, as Mr. X, rounded out our crew. Mr. X came equipped with a ’00 Yamaha YZ426F and—more importantly—a truck and trailer. Readers, please note: CMG has always had a soft spot for anyone who buys us drinks and/or provides us transportation (preferably both). We hold no prejudice, even if like Mr. X, you are in a witness protection program. We just want free stuff, regardless of any previous ‘indiscretions’.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

KTM’s slick gauge.

When we picked up the KTM from Off-Road Cycle in Port Hope, Ontario, it was apparent that the last two years had seen many changes applied to KTM’s current Enduro contender. Besides the 50cc displacement increase there’s a slick new Enduro-ready speedo/odometer gauge pack, its orange LCD display starting up with a mere roll forward of the bike – very cool. In contrast, the WR is equipped with a simple analog odometer.

However, despite its coolness, I confess I never actually looked down on it once while riding, as I was preoccupied with all those trees jumping out at me.

The 450EXC felt light, even when pushing it onto Mr. X’s trailer. This was strange as KTM specs have it weighing in at 257 lbs.—without fuel—but all other fluids present. Yamaha’s WR450F comes in at 247.5 lbs. dry. So while it was slightly heavier, it felt lighter. Odd, but it may be attributable to the KTM having a seat height of 36.4”—or three inches lower then the WR’s 39.3”—allowing it to carry some of its weight lower down. Interestingly, the three inch height difference was not noticeable when swapping between the WR and KTM.

BRA-LESS ANTICIPATION

This IS fun.

As we unloaded the trailer and prepared to ride, I was bouncing around like a bra-less Electric Circus dancer in anticipation of this comparison. The introduction to our long-term Yamaha WR450F proved the bike to be a capable and fun ride. If you read our test of the ’02 KTM 400EXC, you’ll know we enjoyed it immensely too. This should be fun.

The first time I sat on the EXC, the Magura tapered bars felt foreign due to the long reach required. This set-up comes in very handy on the trail where standing—not sitting—is paramount, allowing for a very comfortable posture and—combined good with overall ergonomics—allow for incredible ease of movement from the rear fender to the gas cap. They are also easily adjusted via the triple clamp.

I had left the WR’s standard bars in my motard race setup—slightly pulled back from stock position—so this may have been the reason that mobility and standing comfort on the WR was slightly less pleasing. The difference is interesting as, side by side, the bikes cut such similar shapes. We will experiment a little more with the WR and report back in our final wrap-up article.

THE MEAT AND POTATOES

Mr. X loses it while trying to race Mr. Boss.

Both bikes make loads of entertaining power with enough torque to let you be in too high a gear and get away with it. Power delivery on the KTM is slightly smoother then the WR though, and less vibration is felt through the bars at higher rpm. Despite the well-matched prodigious motors in each, the WR proved easier to wheelie on demand then the EXC.  If you subscribe to the ‘Less sound, more ground’ theory—as you should—you’ll know that early ‘modern’ four strokes could be a little on the loud side, well illustrated by Mr. X’s YZ426.

Some unofficial research on exhaust noise testing (stolen from the ODSC tests posted on their web-site) had the YZ measuring an alienating 100dB! The EXC and WR—on the other hand—have recorded exhaust noise levels of 94dB, with stock cans. Much friendlier, but to my ear, the KTM—which idles mildly—displays a substantial exhaust bark when on the boil. It was also prone to minor backfiring when the throttle was close to being fully closed. The WR remained quiet throughout. Both acceptable, but for Yamaha, a substantial leap over its predecessors.

Punishing the bikes (KTM top, Yamaha bottom .. ed out!).

Both the five speed WR and six speed EXC gearboxes took punishment without complaint and I always found neutral with ease. I did experience some difficulty with full throttle shifting between second and third on the WR, despite blipping the gas and unloading the lever with my boot.

In the suspension department the KTM has the advantage thanks to highly functional WP components front and back. A linkless rear shock and USD fork up front allow it to maintain a greater degree of composure, particularly when the terrain gets nasty. No slouch itself, the Kayaba equipped WR displays good stability too, but the premium price of the KTM warrants nothing less then its superior race-ready suspension.

The KTM also comes equipped with Brembo calipers with slick wave type rotors and braided brake lines to enhance performance and feedback – nice. As a result, I could brake incredibly late and even grab a handful of front, while still cornering on soft berms. Very functional.

With zero maintenance—and lots of wear and abuse—the WR’s front brake retained its excellent performance and feel. However, the grabby nature of the rear brake still persists, although other WR owners I have spoken with haven’t had similar experiences, so I may be special. My Mom says I am.

CRASH TESTING

Getting hellacious.

It may have been the confidence-inspiring brakes, or possibly the euphoria of the day, but at a hellacious rate of speed I almost piled into the back of Mr. Seck on the WR. Mashing both brakes, I plowed the front in a minor rut and augured hard and fast onto my left-hand side. Hard enough to pop off the air box cover, pull the starter relay from its quick connector, and leave me stunned like a sparrow that just hit a living room window.

One thing I did discover from this crash—besides learning to let the front brake go sooner next time—is that the EXC is equipped with items designed to cope with such minor ‘incidents’.

The quick release air box uses snap-in fasteners for easy access and, er, reattachment. A second crash—lowsiding the headlight into a tree—pointed out the thoughtful rubber mounting system KTM utilizes on the assembly to reduce damage and speed-up in-trail repair. Even though, sadly, the bulb didn’t survive.

Fortunately, I didn’t crash the WR enough to offer a comparison.

THE BETTER BIKE?

Not much separating the two bikes here.

Fit and finish on both bikes is first rate. A plus for the KTM is the tiny, sexy clutch reservoir. A negative is the spindly side-stand. The angle of operation is so vertical it seems culled from a ten-speed bicycle, seemingly ready to have your precious pumpkin flop over at any time.

While exact numbers weren’t possible in the woods, the KTM ate substantially more gas then the Yamaha. Both were ridden as fast as we possibly could – and probably shouldn’t have considering our skill level. Since the KTM was straight out of the box, I expect fuel economy would be better once it’s fully broken in.

The differences in the two bikes are few. The WR is a great bike, fun to ride and can be competitive. The EXC has the same qualities but the level of refinement exceeds the WR in the important suspension and braking departments.

Refinement comes at a price however. In this case an increase of approximately 20%, the KTM coming in at $9,848.00 and the Yamaha at $8,299.00.

If you are on top of your game and want a race-ready bike out of the box to compete on, the KTM is the choice for you, although you’ll have to pony up the extra $1,549.00 too. The WR fills the other void. Have fun in the woods or race it … and still be able to afford to barbecue meat once a week.

ONE LAST SAD NOTE

At the conclusion of the comparison test day, we all agreed it was one of the best rides of our collective lives. Limping, wincing and even losing the ability to load the bikes due to exhaustion, replaced the bouncing giddiness at the start of the day. We are getting—nope, we are—old. And out of shape too.

A traditional post-ride milkshake found us in Port Hope, Ontario, where we spied a mint Yamaha R1 in the parking lot. We staggered inside and found an old man—in dried blue leathers with “Dave” printed on them—drinking coffee.

Stumbling back outside, we again checked out his mint R1 – Black and Silver with and aftermarket can and the key still in it! More disturbingly, the Dunlop’s were shredded – sidewall to sidewall! This oldster was out using up the whole tire on his R1 and here we were – 40 years younger and needing help guiding the straw from our milkshakes to our mouths!

I started to hurt even more after that!

THANKS TO…

… Jen and Julian at Off Road Cycle in Port Hope for helping to make this comparison a reality. In case you haven’t heard, they now stock Yamahas, along with KTMs and Husabergs. Check them out at: www.offroadcycle.on.ca


Some additional detailed shots …

EXC starter and mini-clutch master cylinder.
EXC wave type rotor.
EXC WP linkless shock.

 

Bike

KTM 450 EXC Yamaha WR450F

MSRP

$9,848.00 $8,299.00

Displacement

448 cc 449 cc

Engine type

Four stroke single, sohc, liquid cooled Four stroke single, dohc, liquid cooled

Carburetion

39 mm Keihin MX FCR 39 mm Keihin FCR flat-slide w/throttle position

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive Five speed, chain drive

Tires, front

90/90 – 21 80/100 – 21

Tires, rear

140/80 – 18 110/100 -18

Brakes, front

Single 260 mm disc with two piston caliper Single 250 mm disc with two piston caliper

Brakes, rear

Single 220 mm disc with single piston caliper Single 245 mm disc with single piston caliper

Seat height

925 mm (36.4″) 998 mm (39.2″)

Wheelbase

1481 +-10 mm (58.3 +- 0.4″) 1485 mm (58.4″)

Dry weight

117 Kgs (257.5 lbs) (no fuel) 111 Kg (245 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Orange/Black Team Yamaha Blue/White

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