2004 TransWorld Motocross 250cc Shootout: Master of Refinement

By The Testing Staff of TransWorld Motocross

Photos By Maeda and Milan

Coming in to this year’s 250cc shootout, the TransWorld Motocross testing staff knew that they were in for the most competitive shootout ever. After having already ridden each of the five 250cc two-strokes during our First Impression bike tests, we had a great feel for the advantages and disadvantages of each bike, and knew that this crop of steeds was the healthiest ever! In order to declare a clear favorite, however, a head-to-head, no holds barred shootout is the only way to put each bike through its paces, dissecting and comparing every aspect of what makes up the most well-rounded machine available.

For 2004, there were no major changes made to any of the quarter-liter machines. The name of the game was refinement when the big five manufacturer’s engineers set out to produce their 250cc two-strokes, and that was fine by us. Reason being…? Last year’s fleet of bikes was one of the greatest batches that we’ve ever thrown our legs over. And with refinement generally comes perfection, so we couldn’t wait to see how things would unfold when we took a well-rounded group of test riders out for a couple days of non-stop pounding on the 250cc entries from Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha. Keeping in mind critical bike characteristics such as motor performance, suspension action, cornering, jumping, and ergonomics, our testers pushed body and machine to the limit in order to declare a favorite.

Here’s how it shook down…

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FIFTH PLACE

2004 KTM 250SX

Last year’s 250SX profiled the gnarliest motor in the class. In fact, it was so potent that many of our test riders didn’t agree with it in certain terrain. This just goes to show that overall horsepower and massive hit don’t necessarily make the most dominant motor package. In conditions that were soft and loamy, the 250SX was a rocket ship that the power-robbing soil mellowed to perfection. On hard-packed conditions where throttle control and finesse played a factor, the 250SX treated many a rider like a wild bull at a rodeo.

For 2004, the boys at KTM did a great job of taming the monstrous hit of the 250SX, and the new and refined powerband put a smile on the face of every test rider in the shootout. The orange machine now features a motor that still packs a mean punch, but does so in a more controlled, linear fashion. The KTM has power everywhere, and throttle response is crisp and clean. Coupled with the outstanding feel of the hydraulic clutch, the Katoom shifts smooth and with little effort. 2004 250SX pilots can race this motor in stock form and have plenty of confidence rolling up to the line at any race. This motor is without a doubt near the head of the class!

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Holding the KTM back in last year’s shootout was its inability to pump confidence into our test riders when track conditions got rough. Although some stiffening to the frame helped to cure some of the handling woes in the rear end, the 250SX still lacked the balanced, controlled feel that some of the other bikes posses. In smooth, loamy conditions, the KTM 250SX works as well or better than any bike in its class. Unfortunately for KTM, courses that stay smooth and loamy all day are hard to come by. On hard-packed, jump-oriented tracks like Lake Elsinore that do tend to stay relatively smooth, the 250SX worked well. Jumping felt balanced and smooth, and overall handling wasn’t an issue. On choppier circuits like Cahuilla Creek, however, the KTM in stock-handling form still feels a bit too harsh to move up a spot in our shootout.

There is some good news, however. Those that recall the suspension test done on our ’03 model know full well that the KTM 250SX has plenty of potential. With some refinement done in the handling department, the 250SX can compete with anybody.

FOURTH ACE

2004 Kawasaki KX250

As soon as you twist the throttle on the KX250, the explosive hit on the bottom is enough to please even the pickiest of power whores. Yep, the Kawi has a great bottom end and the power pulls smooth and hard through the middle of the powerband. Much like last year’s bike, however, the power signs off on its way up top. While the flatness in the top end may be seen as a weakness for the more advanced, aggressive rider, it also makes the motor a lot easier to ride, which may favor the lazier rider. So if you’re looking for a 250cc MXer with a powerful, yet easy to manage powerband, you may have just found your new ride. For those looking to stay true to the green machine but don’t want a compromised top end, we’re quite sure there are ways around that! The quickest fix is simply to grab an extra gear when possible. For a powerband-altering approach, an aftermarket pipe and silencer will likely do the trick.

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The overall handling of the KX250 is good. The rear suspension, in particular, does a great job of soaking up just about anything thrown its way. Cornering on the Kawi is also right on. One of the best cornering bikes in the group, the KX250 rails fast loamy corners with smooth and predictable authority. Switching lines mid-corner is also effortless on the KX. Overall tracking is fairly predictable, although a couple of testers commented that the bike had the tendency to wander in rough conditions. We’re certain that with proper suspension set up, however, the KX250 has all of the tools to overcome any handling woes.

Like last year, one of the few noticeable downsides of the bike is its balancing in the air. All of our testers agreed that the KX still tends to jump front-end high thanks to a weight bias toward the rear wheel. Riders with more experience and confidence were able to compensate by simply adjusting body position on jump take-off.

Although completely confident that a few simple changes would have this bike in the hunt for shootout glory, with competition this tight, the KX250 was relegated to a fourth place ranking. Don’t let this deceive you, however. The KX250 is very solid! Only a couple of minor flaws kept the ’04 Kawi from moving up toward the top of our shootout.

THIRD PLACE

2004 Honda CR250

Most of our testers agreed that the motor in the 2004 Honda CR250 is much improved over last year’s machine, which it is. When compared to the other four bikes in the class, however, the low-end torque and throttle response of the CR250 simply doesn’t match up. As a whole the engine produces a ton of power, it just doesn’t deliver it as proportioned as we’d like to see it. There’s very little hit off the bottom giving the motor a very smooth feeling down low, but it’s not producing the torque that most riders desire. Once it moves into the middle rpm range, however, the motor explodes and continues to pull like a champ through the top. Because of its gradual power build the motor is actually easy to ride for less aggressive riders. Where it becomes a real issue is before obstacles such as double jumps coming out of corners, in which case extra clutch work is mandatory.

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Many people agree that a bike can always be made to go faster, but handling is something that is dependent upon chassis design. If you subscribe to that theory, then the Honda may be the bike for you. Simply put, the CR250 handles awesome! Still utilizing their third-generation aluminum chassis, Honda has once again delivered a machine that tracks and soaks its way through anything it encounters. Suspension action was nearly perfect for every tester in the shootout. Whether soaking up the landings on the more jump-oriented tracks, or charging through the chop on the rougher natural outdoor circuits, the CR250 excels in it all. In fact, the harder you ride it, the better it gets.

The ergonomics of the CR250 are very inviting as well. It’s extremely easy to move around on which inspired instant confidence in most of our riders. Cornering is also one of the CR’s strong points. Its effortless turning ability is due largely to the fact that it tracks so straight and predictably upon entrance and exit of any corner type. With a little bit of motor work, the CR250 can easily compete with the premier bikes in the class.

SECOND PLACE

2004 Yamaha YZ250

Our reigning 250cc MX Bike of the Year has come back strong for 2004, and the new model bike is even better then last year’s. Yamaha engineers kept the changes to the YZ250 to a minimum, and who could blame them? As the hands down best 250cc two-stroke in 2003, there was really no reason to vastly alter perfection.

The biggest reason the ’03 YZ250 won last year’s shootout was because of its flawless motor. So what’s new for 2004 in the motor department? Absolutely nothing! That’s right, the 2004 motor is identical to the ’03 and our testers couldn’t have been happier. The power delivery of the YZ is crisp and without hesitation. The motor pulls strong through the entire rpm range and doesn’t let up until you’ve hit the moon. At the same time, the smoothness and predictability of the power makes it a blast to ride for riders of all levels.

Handling on the 2004 YZ250 has been improved thanks to a set of 48mm front Kayabas. The new forks are even plusher than last year’s, and the YZ’s outstanding bottoming resistance has gotten even better with a new hydraulic bottoming system. The only handling concern that was consistent among every tester’s evaluations was with the rear end. And even then there was only one situation that caught our attention… rough chop under acceleration. On big landings and high speed G-outs, the rear suspension works great. In deep chop, however, particularly under acceleration, the YZ250’s rear end has a harsh, almost lazy feeling to it. We know from experience that this can be improved with suspension mods, but unfortunately we didn’t have that luxury during shootouts.

The YZ still tracks amazingly well and turns as well as any bike in the class. Whether you’re in a tight inside rut or a high-speed loamy sweeper, the Yamaha handles corners with no hesitation. In the air the bike feels balanced, light, and leaves the flight in the rider’s control. Ergos on the YZ also feel good. Our testers ranged vastly in size and weight and the Yamaha had no problem facilitating everybody. To wrap up the YZ’s kick-ass package are a set of brakes that are strong, progressive, and controllable.

The bottom line… The YZ250 remains a force to be reckoned with, and if not for one delightfully solid entry, would’ve once again nabbed our bike of the year honors.

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TRANSWORLD MOTOCROSS 250cc MX BIKE OF THE YEAR

2004 Suzuki RM250

The battle for shootout glory this year was closer than any of our staff members can recall. We knew that the Suzuki RM250 was a special bike from the second we pulled it onto the track during our first impression bike test back in August. Heading into that test we had already had the pleasure of riding the ’04 YZ250 and knew that it would once again be the bike to beat. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait until our shootouts and the chance to ride these bikes head-to-head.

The RM250’s power plant felt very much like the YZ’s in the sense that it too kicks serious ass. The awesome ride starts with the crack of the throttle and ends way up top with a much-improved overrev. In between is a meaty, linear powerband that’s just as satisfying and just as easy to ride as the Yamaha. Although we haven’t seen them on a dyno, the differences between these two powerbands feels minimal and requires gr it gets.

The ergonomics of the CR250 are very inviting as well. It’s extremely easy to move around on which inspired instant confidence in most of our riders. Cornering is also one of the CR’s strong points. Its effortless turning ability is due largely to the fact that it tracks so straight and predictably upon entrance and exit of any corner type. With a little bit of motor work, the CR250 can easily compete with the premier bikes in the class.

SECOND PLACE

2004 Yamaha YZ250

Our reigning 250cc MX Bike of the Year has come back strong for 2004, and the new model bike is even better then last year’s. Yamaha engineers kept the changes to the YZ250 to a minimum, and who could blame them? As the hands down best 250cc two-stroke in 2003, there was really no reason to vastly alter perfection.

The biggest reason the ’03 YZ250 won last year’s shootout was because of its flawless motor. So what’s new for 2004 in the motor department? Absolutely nothing! That’s right, the 2004 motor is identical to the ’03 and our testers couldn’t have been happier. The power delivery of the YZ is crisp and without hesitation. The motor pulls strong through the entire rpm range and doesn’t let up until you’ve hit the moon. At the same time, the smoothness and predictability of the power makes it a blast to ride for riders of all levels.

Handling on the 2004 YZ250 has been improved thanks to a set of 48mm front Kayabas. The new forks are even plusher than last year’s, and the YZ’s outstanding bottoming resistance has gotten even better with a new hydraulic bottoming system. The only handling concern that was consistent among every tester’s evaluations was with the rear end. And even then there was only one situation that caught our attention… rough chop under acceleration. On big landings and high speed G-outs, the rear suspension works great. In deep chop, however, particularly under acceleration, the YZ250’s rear end has a harsh, almost lazy feeling to it. We know from experience that this can be improved with suspension mods, but unfortunately we didn’t have that luxury during shootouts.

The YZ still tracks amazingly well and turns as well as any bike in the class. Whether you’re in a tight inside rut or a high-speed loamy sweeper, the Yamaha handles corners with no hesitation. In the air the bike feels balanced, light, and leaves the flight in the rider’s control. Ergos on the YZ also feel good. Our testers ranged vastly in size and weight and the Yamaha had no problem facilitating everybody. To wrap up the YZ’s kick-ass package are a set of brakes that are strong, progressive, and controllable.

The bottom line… The YZ250 remains a force to be reckoned with, and if not for one delightfully solid entry, would’ve once again nabbed our bike of the year honors.

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TRANSWORLD MOTOCROSS 250cc MX BIKE OF THE YEAR

2004 Suzuki RM250

The battle for shootout glory this year was closer than any of our staff members can recall. We knew that the Suzuki RM250 was a special bike from the second we pulled it onto the track during our first impression bike test back in August. Heading into that test we had already had the pleasure of riding the ’04 YZ250 and knew that it would once again be the bike to beat. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait until our shootouts and the chance to ride these bikes head-to-head.

The RM250’s power plant felt very much like the YZ’s in the sense that it too kicks serious ass. The awesome ride starts with the crack of the throttle and ends way up top with a much-improved overrev. In between is a meaty, linear powerband that’s just as satisfying and just as easy to ride as the Yamaha. Although we haven’t seen them on a dyno, the differences between these two powerbands feels minimal and requires great attention to detail to differentiate between the two. The RM250’s jetting woes of the past are exactly that, in the past. Throttle response is crisp and smooth and inspired confidence in all who saddled up. Simply put, this motor rips! Expect to see a lot of yellow leading out of the first turn in ’04.

Maybe the most impressive change made to the ’04 RM is its ability to transfer that monster power to the ground. It didn’t matter what riding surface we threw its way, the Suzuki did the best job of creating usable power and turning it into rear wheel traction. Coupled with the extremely plush Showa suspension, the RM tracked smoother and straighter in and out of corners. And speaking of corners, the RM250 has been known for its cornering prowess the past few years, and this year’s bike is no exception. It turns tighter and more controlled than any other bike in the class. Whether looking to switch lines mid-corner or charge through high-speed off-chambered sweepers, the RM does it all with authority.

Every rider in our shootout agreed that the Suzuki’s ergonomics are as good as it gets. There are few things more inspiring and confidence-building than jumping on a bike and immediately feeling comfortable. Lightweight, nimble and controllable, the Suzuki RM250 was simply easier to ride faster than any other bike. Although all of the bikes in the 2004 250cc shootout had individual traits that separated them from the rest, the 2004 RM250 did so in every department, making it our favorite overall package for 2004.

DANNY HARBELL

5’11″, 180 lbs., 23-years-old, Novice

Bikes recently raced/ridden: 2003 YZ250F

Shootout Rankings:

1. Yamaha YZ250 2. Suzuki RM250 3. Kawasaki KX250 4. Honda CR250 5. KTM 250SX

SHANE LEYDEN

5’9″, 178 lbs., 35-years-old, Vet Intermediate

Bikes recently raced/ridden: 2003 YZ250F, RM250

Shootout Rankings:

1. Suzuki RM250 2. Kawasaki KX250 3. Yamaha YZ250 4. Honda CR250 5. KTM 250SX

RYAN COOLEY

6’1″, 185 lbs., 28-years-old, Intermediate

Bikes recently raced/ridden: 2003 KTM 250SX

Shootout Rankings:

1. Suzuki RM250 2. Yamaha YZ250 3. Honda CR250 4. Kawasaki KX250 5. KTM 250SX

MICHAEL YOUNG

5’7″, 155 lbs., 22-years-old, Professional

Bikes recently raced/ridden: 2003 RM125, RM250

Shootout Rankings:

1. Suzuki RM250 2. Yamaha YZ250 3. Honda CR250 4. Kawasaki KX250 5. KTM 250SX

RIDER IMPRESSIONS

DANNY HARBELL:

I chose the YZ250 first because of its motor. Simply put, the motor is awesome! It’s so easy to use the entire powerband and it has absolutely no dead spots. It just pulls and pulls. The front forks on the YZ work very well. The great handling allowed me to push deeper into corners and get on the gas earlier coming out. The way this thing handles made me instantly feel like a better rider.

The Suzuki was a pretty close second. The motor works extremely well and also has a ton of useable power. The ergos on this bike felt great and the overall handling was right in there. The only thing that kept the RM from overtaking the YZ was that I experienced a bit of a loose feeling when accelerating out of choppy corners. Overall though, the RM was a real confidence-builder and will definitely win races.

In third came the Kawasaki KX250. Although not the most powerful motor in the class, it was certainly easy to control and rider friendly. In fact, the predictability of the entire bike, motor and handling, is the Kawasaki’s greatest strength. It tracks straight and has a nice light feel to it. The only issue I encountered was during deceleration. The KX tended to give me the feeling that I was in jeopardy of washing out, whether I was braking or simply downshifting.

The Honda felt hot and cold to me. The motor works very well when you’re in the sweet spot of the powerband, but feels powerless when not. The overall handling of the CR250 was pretty good. It didn’t give me the same feeling of confidence as some of the other bikes, but it wasn’t bad either. One thing that the CR definitely does well is corner. It goes exactly where you point it and does so smoothly.

My fifth choice is the KTM 250SX, but it’s by no means a bad bike. The motor is really bitchin’. It has steady, explosive power that’s pretty easy to use. The front forks were a little soft for me, but overall the handling actual