TM MX 450 Fi: Dirt | First Ride

Works Bike for Sale

By Karel Kramer, Photography by Karel Kramer

Top-tier factory racebikes are often referred to as "works," even though the machines in AMA professional motocross and supercross are in fact based on production models. Prior to a 1986 rule change, however, works bikes were in fact hand-built prototypes of the highest caliber and greatest rarity. The reality is that even in the elite Motocross Grands Prix, true works bikes are few and far between. Yet TM production bikes fit the definition of a works bike to a tee.

Hand-built in Italy since 1976, TM motorcycles have always been exotic and exclusive; rare and unusual even in Europe. Recently the marque reunited with Pete Vetrano and Motoman-the most successful of TM's U.S. importers- to reinvigorate the brand. There are several reasons for the return of TM, and renewed interest in the machines. One reason is the bikes themselves and their raw, elemental, bristling-billet look. The second is that TM's MX 450 Fi is a fun and competitive motocross machine.

Mechanics who wrenched on true "works" machines joke that they were called that because they needed so much work! Some examples came with the parts to build the wheels and cones for the mechanic to weld into a pipe. Early TMs were something like that: expensive, cool-looking "kit bikes" with some R&D required. But the new MX 450 Fi is the most dialed-in and polished TM ever, and at a price only a few hundred dollars higher than more pedestrian, mass-produced machines. No doubt the fact that the factory is currently competing in the MX1 World Championship has helped bolster its reputation.

Once we'd spent time admiring the 450, it was time to ride it. In the past, that first ride could be the beginning of the end of "TM Envy," but no longer. This bike has a shockingly normal feel with a nice saddle and a riding position that makes it effortless to move around on. It feels slim without being too much so. TM has never been anxious to reinvent the wheel, thus the company's machines often bear a striking resemblance to Japanese models, or parts thereof. To our way of thinking, using proven ideas pays off big for a small company. The MX 450 Fi is plenty unique in its level of finish, and the resemblance to mainstream brands simply means it feels familiar.

Subtle facets of performance that small companies can miss are a hit with the TM. The seat is firm but comfy, and control feel is excellent. The bike kick-starts easily when cold or warm and throttle response is smooth and crisp. One area where the TM feels very European is power delivery: While the flywheel is light and revs build instantly when you snap open the throttle, delivery is smooth and power builds steadily throughout the rev range. Riders who find the new generation of fuel-injected Japanese 450s too "snappy" will find the TM a joy, especially on wide-open tracks. If you love your Yamaha YZ450F, the MX 450 Fi will feel too docile down low and lacking in significant "hit" for tight and jumpy tracks. But where there's room to let the revs build, the TM is a monster with a top-end pull that makes big-hitters like KTM's 450 SX-F feel sleepy.

Shifting is clean, clutch engagement is linear and gear spacing is appropriate as well. The other area that doesn't feel like a current 450 is engine braking. It isn't severe, but is more noticeable than on other bikes in this class. You soon learn to ease the throttle off approaching turns or over jumps. At times we even delayed downshifts, but this was more a trait to get used to rather than an annoyance.

Elsewhere in the world TMs come standard with German Sachs shocks, with Swedish Ohlins available as an option. But Vetrano feels U.S. buyers will want the premium damper, so all of the bike's he's importing will be Ohlins-equipped. Up front is a Marzocchi 50mm fork-which is where the work in this "works" bike fits in. The shock is quite good on all sorts of tracks and terrain, but the fork isn't as plush. We know the Marzocchi fork can be made to work exceptionally well, but as delivered it is merely functional. That truly is our biggest complaint, and it didn't prevent us from enjoying the bike on two drastically different tracks: fast, rough and sandy Glen Helen and hard-packed, jumpy Piru.

If you've got a hankering for a truly unique, "works" motocross machine, the TM is tailor-made for you.

EVOLUTION
A refined 450cc motocrosser featuring EFI and a generous helping of Italian style.

RIVALS
Aprilia MXV450, Husqvarna TC450, KTM 450 SX-F.

Tech

Price: $9436
Engine type: DOHC, 4v
Displacement: 449cc
Bore x stroke: 95.0 x 63.4mm
Compression: 13.0:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 5-speed
Claimed horsepower: na
Claimed torque: na
Frame: Aluminum perimeter
Front suspension: 50mm Marzocchi fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Ohlins shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 270mm disc
Rear brake: Nissin single-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front tire: 80/100-21 Michelin MS3 Starcross
Rear tire: 110/90-19 Michelin MS3 Starcross
Rake/trail: na
Seat height: 38.2 in.
Wheelbase: 59.4 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.4 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 245 lbs.
Colors: Blue/white
Available: Now
Warranty: None
Contact: Motoman Distributing
8468 Loma Pl.
Upland, CA 91786
909.608.0082
www.tmmotorcyclesusa.com

VERDICT 4.5 out of 5 stars

A works bike that doesn't require extra work.

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