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Yamaha’s YZ400 Really Was Killer; Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki Have Yet to Challenge It

More than two years after Yamaha’s introduction of its revolutionary YZ400 four-stroke motocrosser, not one of the remaining Japanese manufacturers has been able to answer the challenge. The YZ400 has sold phenomenally. In fact, Yamaha is apparently holding the YZ426F (the revised YZ400 for model year 2000) – delivering it later than usual to dealers – in order to increase sales of its two-strokes, i.e., YZ125s and YZ250s. The bike sells so well that Yamaha is purposely holding it back – I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of this before.

Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki still do not have a competitive bike in their line-up. These companies have known for two years that the Yamaha is a smash hit, and that the four-stroke motocross market is huge and growing. Where are their four-stroke motocrossers?

Only KTM has answered the call, so far, and KTM’s 400SX and 520SX are still several months away from delivery to dealerships here in the United States. Suzuki and Honda have new off-road four-strokes (the Suzuki has the DR-Z400 and Honda the XR650R), but they are not hard-core motocross bikes. They are enduro/trail bikes. It’s almost as if Suzuki and Honda are afraid to take on the YZ400 straight up.

Kawasaki is currently content with its KLX300, an enduro/trail bike it has not changed significantly in several years. Kawasaki has been quiet, however, and perhaps Kawasaki has something up its sleeve we don’t know about.

The only conclusion one can draw from the failure of the other major Japanese manufactures to contest the YZ400 market is that the YZ400 is a superb design. The other manufacturers want a piece of this market – there is no doubt about that – but they are making sure their competitive bikes are better than the YZ400 before they introduce them and, apparently, it isn’t easy to develop a bike that’s better than the YZ400. It takes time – apparently more than two year’s time. The YZ400 is that good, and was that revolutionary two years ago.

The future of four-stroke motocrossers is still unfolding with surprises. The Cannondale entry has been delayed significantly, but it should be in dealers early next year. When will we see cutting-edge four-stroke motocrossers from the remaining Japanese manufacturers? Only time will tell, but our guess is soon – very soon.