Quick Test – We Ride Vance Earl’s KX450F

Text by Benjamin Segal photos by Brian Recko – click photos for larger versions

Riding bikes other than your own is always a good idea, as long as you ask permission. It gives you a chance to compare your bike’s setup to another one without the expense of making any large purchases. Plus it’s a great way for you to easily sort out where and why you set your controls, bar etc. Additionally, it can be especially helpful if you are trying to dial in your suspension. If you find a bike with a suspension setup you love, you can usually adjust yours to match, or at least come close. Sometimes it will be impossible to match the bike you are trying because the test bike will be so loaded with expensive goodies, you would have to sell everything you own to pay for them. All you can do in a case like this is sit back and enjoy the ride. We had one of these experiences earlier this week.

Vance Earl, 9 times Mid-East Hare Scrambles Champion, gave us a call and asked us if we wanted to come down  and take his race bike for a ride before he returns it, he is scheduled to give it back to Forsyth Motorsports in Winston Salem, NC at he end of this week. Let’s see here, I can either go for a ride on some really fun, private single track trails on a super pimped, plush KX450F or sit in the office staring at the rectangle box, flapping on the phone wishing I was out riding. Uh… I’ll take what’s behind door number one Monty. We had to say yes. What would you do when faced with this kind of offer?

It was sometime around 3 pm when Recko, our trusty photographer and I arrived at Vance’s place. We BS’d with Vance a bit, talked about his season and the bike, took a few photos and got to the fun part, hitting the trails. It was a beautiful fall day, not a cloud in the sky, with oddly warm weather for mid-November. After checking the sag and filling the tank with gas I was off with Brian in tow. The plan was to ride a bit and stop when we found a good place to shoot.

I have ridden several bikes with Rekluse clutch components installed so I knew what to expect from the system, but it still felt weird tapping the shifter without pulling the clutch lever in. A word to the wise, never blip the throttle on a bike with a Rekluse clutch unless you are certain, without a doubt, you are in neutral or you have the clutch lever pulled. You will be in for the ride of your life if you don’t! As I rode off I caught neutral when shifting between first and second, always a nice move in front of a crowd. After a really sweet rev and finally finding second I was on my way with my ego in check.

Having ridden these trails in the past I was somewhat familiar with them so I could go at a pretty good clip, nothing compared to the pace Vance rides at but pretty good for me. The trail consists of lots of rutted turns and rolling sections that become more technical as you get further in, with a couple creek crossing thrown in for giggles. It took me about 90 seconds to realize just how amazing Rekluse clutches are. I found myself wishing wish I had one for that GP I raced in last weekend… The clutch makes riding technical, stop and go sections so easy it’s almost unfair. Making a case for this was Brian. He was close behind me revving his 450 to the moon, slipping his clutch to keep the bike moving to get through the loose, rocky climb that I just moseyed through.

I was at the top of the climb watching him struggle and hadn’t even begun to sweat. I just put the bike in 1st and rolled on the throttle, the rear wheel stayed tenaciously planted. No wheel spin, no mad clutch slipping then hooking up into a crazy out of control wheelie. It was like driving a tractor. Was it the clutch, the tires, or the suspension? I don’t know but the combination of these led to the best traction I have ever experienced on a dirt bike… ever. I am not crazy about Rekluse for MX applications but if you ride anywhere where you are dealing with stop and go sections or are concerned about stalling, spend the money. You will be surprisingly glad you did.

After the clutch, the next thing buzzing around inside my helmet was how the suspension felt. Vance is fast, very fast. He wins pro races and he likes his suspension soft, super soft, and lively. How he can do this I have no idea. Coming from a MX background I prefer a bike that feels more settled with a complaint, yet firm suspension. He worked closely with the guys a FTI Racing to get his suspension to feel this way. It’s pretty amazing how plush it is without facing bottoming issues. I rode a few laps on the MX practice track and tried to get the fork to bottom. While I was able to bottom the suspension out, I really had to try. And it’s highly unlikely that a woods bike would be crashing into the up ramp of a landing for a double jump. I’m thinking a couple clicks in on rebound and the suspension would feel better for me. I might even go in a few on compression just to slow things down a bit. Which brings me to my original point. Make sure you ride other people’s bikes! There is no better way to develop your feeling for what you like and don’t like about bike set up. Vance’s suspension felt as if I was riding on a stick of soft butter. Not a single bump made its way to the bar, which by the way is a FLEXX bar by Fasst Racing.

FLEXX bars remove that last edge from making its way to the grips. The combination worked extremely well for serious trail riding and in Vance’s case GNCC racing. Ideally your suspension settings should reduce the amount of  fatigue you experience while riding, thus enabling you to ride longer, faster, farther.

In an effort to tame the 450’s power plant and broaden the hit to make a more useful Off-Road motor, Vance’s bike sports a Leo Vince exhaust system and the ignition mapping has been altered to utilize the “hard pack” setting. This setup creates a power curve that appears to start from what feels like a dead engine and extends all the way to the rev limiter. As I mentioned before I had the feeling I had tractor motor below me. I prefer smaller displacement bikes because of their more manageable power but I was surprised at how easy it was to ride the Kawi. But don’t let the smooth motor fool you… it produces gobs of power and a couple consecutive mistakes could easily find you on your ear wondering WTF just happened. At the end of the day the 450F is an amazing bike and the setup Vance uses feels really good. I found that once I got a bit tired,  any minor mistakes I made were magnified by the bike’s weight, helped out by the 2.9 gallon IMS tank (roughly 8 extra lbs.) and potent power. It would take some getting used to. Could I ride it hard for 2 hours in a race? I doubt it. But Vance does and stays out front to boot.


  • Motor: Bone stock
  • Clutch: Rekluse
  • Clutch lever: Works Connection
  • Exhaust: Leo Vince
  • Suspension: FTI
  • Rims: Pro Wheels
  • Handle Bar: Flexx Bars with Cycra bark busters
  • Gas Tank: IMS 2.9 gallon with dry break gas cap
  • Plastic: UFO
  • Graphics: Ride PG
  • Front brake rotor: Braking
  • Brake lines: Front and Rear Galfer
  • Sprockets: Sunstar
  • Grips: Progrip
  • Radiator guard: Devol Engineering
  • Skid Plate: Devol Engineering
  • Tires: Vee Rubber

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