2005 250cc TWO-STROKE SHOOTOUT ELITIST

Even In a Class Full of Superiority, a Winner Must Be Chosen

POWER

1| KTM250SX

2| Suzuki RM250

3| Yamaha YZ250

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| Honda CR250R

As with all of the categories that we asked our test riders to evaluate, in the power department it was very difficult to single out a clear-cut winner, as each of these motors are great. There’s truly not a bad motor in the bunch. A couple of the motors have distinct features that separate them from the others, but this doesn’t necessarily make them bad, rather better able to facilitate a specific riding style. So no matter what your specific motor needs, we’re sure you’ll find a winner in ’05.

The CR250R boasts a brand-new motor for 2005 that, according to our dyno, places it almost neck and neck with the KTM as the overall horsepower king in the class. Why does it rank fifth, then, you ask? Of all five of the motors in the class, the Honda’s is without a doubt the most difficult to handle for the “average” rider. Off of the bottom the power is mellow and smooth, but as soon as it approaches the mid-range, it will rip your arms off if you’re not holding on tight. All the way through the top, the CR boasts a ton of power, but you’ve got to be able to use it. Aggressive riders will surely enjoy the extra ponies, but to all others-beware!

Kawasaki also delivered a very respectable, much-improved powerplant for 2005. The bottom-end hit is among the very best in the class, and it carries very well through the mid-range, but the majority of our test riders felt that it still signs off a little too early up top. Keep in mind, however, that this is based on head-to-head comparisons against four other elite motors. The KX is still a very competitive motor and is among the easiest and most fun of all to ride.

Deciding on second and third place in the power category was tough. The Yamaha and Suzuki both come equipped with amazingly strong motors. Both motors hit hard, but not too abruptly, off of the bottom, and both carry smooth, useable power all the way through the rpms. These motors are great from bottom to top and have no soft spots anywhere. A number of our testers, however, complimented the RM as having a smoother, more linear feel that made it slightly easier to ride. Hence, the RM was awarded second place honors.

As has come to be expected by the Austrian brand, the KTM 250SX motor is once again astonishing. On the track and on the dyno, the 250SX motor flat-out rips. It has a very useable bottom-end hit and pulls smoother and harder than all others through the top. The only flaw with the KTM powerband is that it’s not always easy to use because of the bike’s handling woes, but with handling taken out of the equation, the 250SX motor is our favorite.

SUSPENSION

1| Suzuki RM250

2| Honda CR250

3| Yamaha YZ250

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

KTM is continually criticized for the handling issues associated with their lack of link. There are actually a couple advantages to having a linkless setup, like ease of maintenance and weight savings, but we’ve yet to have success getting the progressively sprung rear shock to work well in all conditions. With some updates to the shock for ’05 it is definitely better, but still a far cry from competing with the Japanese equipment when the going gets rough. Although the bike has a pretty balanced feel front to back, the forks are soft and ride in a harsh part of the stroke, which in turn limits the rear end even more.

The updated Kayaba suspension on the new KX is better than ever; however, a couple testers commented that it required a little bit more work to get it balanced than some of the other bikes. The good news is that it is possible to accomplish a good setup through some simple damping changes. The general consensus is that the front end may be sprung just a little too lightly, causing the bike to ride too deep in the stroke. By doing so, the action can feel a little harsh on larger brang bumps. With a few simple turns of the compression, however, the problem is quickly remedied and balance is restored for most riders. The new twin-chambered forks have great potential, but larger and/or faster riders will definitely enjoy stiffer springs.

The biggest complaint regarding the YZ250’s suspension in the past has been with the rear end. Often described as having a harsh, somewhat lazy feel in certain terrain, Yamaha went with a stiffer spring rate on the rear in ’05 to accompany the brand-new aluminum chassis. All of our testers agree that the suspension action of the new YZ, particularly in the rear end, is much improved. Well-balanced and very compliant, the Yamaha’s Kayaba suspension is solid, front and rear. Now the only concern raised with the YZ is that it may be sprung a little bit too stiffly for lighter riders.

The action of the Honda’s Showa suspension has been one of its finest qualities for years now, and the 2005 model is no exception. Instantly instilling confidence in just about everybody who throws a leg over it, the number one comment heard about the CR is “trust.” It’s easy to trust a bike with great suspension, and as we all know, with trust comes speed. Soaking up just about anything you can throw at it, the CR250R can make you a better rider.

The suspension action of the RM250 was one of our favorite characteristics last year, and for 2005 it’s even better. Well balanced on both ends, the RM’s suspension can be adjusted to facilitate a wide variety of riders. The fork action is very plush in the beginning of the stroke, and it has great bottoming resistance if you reach the end. Even with a great set of forks, however, it’s the rear end that the majority of our testers were most impressed with. Gobbling up everything in sight, the rear wheel stays on the ground so well over acceleration chop that it makes the RM motor feel even more impressive.

HANDLING

1| Suzuki RM250

2| Honda CR250R

3| Kawasaki KX250

4| Yamaha YZ250

5| KTM250SX

Overall handling remains the KTM’s biggest problem. Whether it’s the lack of link, the chassis geometry, the suspension components, or a combination of them all, the fact is that it’s difficult to spin fast laps on the KTM250SX, especially when the track gets rough. Setting up for corners is made more difficult when the suspension is “jack hammering” over the braking bumps, and accelerating out of corners is a handful when the rear end is skating out from under you. The erratic rear end doesn’t allow all of the 250SX’s power to transfer to the ground, which in our opinion is a real shame.

The folks at Yamaha delivered a brand spankin’ new aluminum chassis to the motocross world for 2005. Lighter and nimbler, the new YZ was praised by exactly half of our testers. Those who have issues with the YZ, however, have found them somewhat difficult to overcome. The biggest flag raised is with the Yamaha’s turning ability. It wants to push up front in high-speed sweepers, and it requires more effort than most bikes to lay it into tight rutted corners. The general consensus is that the YZ suits only specific riding styles, and thus its stock in the handling department has been reduced. We’re certain that the YZ’s woes can be tamed, but out of the box, the blue bike has been relegated to fourth.

The Kawasaki engineers made some great improvements to the KX250 chassis for ’05 that have helped rank it as one of the best-tracking bikes in the group. Where the Kawasaki really shines, however, is in its amazing cornering ability. Whether blowing through high-speed sweepers or charging tight inside ruts, the KX excels! “I was able to carry more speed into the corners and get back on the power earlier on the KX than any other bike,” said one tester. The only real issue found with the Kawi’s overall handling is with suspension balance. Faster and/or heavier riders will need to spring up to achieve their goals.

The handling characteristics of the Honda and the Suzuki are actually quite similar, and for most can be summed up in just two words-Confidence-inspiring. Despite having drastically different chassis, just about everybody who’s ridden these two bikes has commented on how much confidence they each instill. Both bikes are brilliant in the corners, and both bikes feel stable and well balanced. What really sets the RM apart, however, is the action of its rear shock and linkage. Particularly noticeable on fast acceleration chop, the Suzuki’s rear end truly shines. Stable, smooth, and straight as an arrow, the RM hooks up and gives the sensation that more power is being transferred to the ground. Once again, the RM250 sits on top of the handling throne.

FIT AND FINISH

1| Honda CR250R

2| Yamaha YZ250

3| Suzuki RM250

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

At first glance of the group of five bikes that make up our 2005 250cc two-stroke shootout, most are quick to praise the big five manufacturers for installing high-quality aluminum handlebars on their bikes. Oops! Hang on a second… Correct that. It seems that the folks at Kawasaki forgot about the aluminum bars this year, so if you go green in 2005, we recommend changing the bars ASAP. In addition to improving the look, aluminum handlebars will absolutely improve the overall feel of the bike.

The KTM feels light and nimble and is equipped with a number of bitchin’ components in stock form. From the hydraulic clutch to the adjustable triple clamps, KTM does offer some great features. Unfortunately, there are just as many weird, quirky characteristics that limit the Katoom. Example: 13mm sprocket bolts? Who owns a 13mm wrench? Many feel that the seat foam on the KTM is still way too firm, and the wider-than-normal radiator shrouds pry your knees apart when sliding up on the seat during aggressive cornering.

We already grilled the guys at Kawi for the lack of aluminum bars, but in addition to that, the outdated Ricky Johnson bend has got to go, too. The only other negative comments heard about the green machine were with its braking power. Not every rider complained, but the ones who did felt that the KX’s rear brake was not on par. On a positive note, the ergonomics are outstanding, the new gripper seat works well, and all of the hardware on the bike is top-quality.

The ergonomics on the new RM are as comfortable as ever. Braking action is top-notch, and thanks to their high-quality yellow plastic, the Zook looks fresh and new well into a season. The only real beef we have with the Suzuki engineers is with their choice of fasteners. Quality of the RM’s nuts and bolts simply don’t stack up to the likes of the Honda.

Like past Yamahas, the 2005 YZ250 is as bulletproof as a motocross bike can possibly come. With high-quality components and hardware, Yamaha engineers most definitely had durability in mind. The only thing that holds the Yamaha back in our book is that it wasn’t ergonomically agreeable with our larger test riders. Some guys felt a little cramped on the new YZ, but an adjustable bar clamp would easily solve the problem.

The fit and finish of the CR is second to none, and truly sets the bar that all other manufacturers should strive for. When it comes to the overall construction, including the quality of the controls and fasteners, the Honda comes out on top. Ergonomically, the CR is very rider friendly and helps to instill confidence through comfort.

THE VERDICT

1| Suzuki RM250

2| Yamaha YZ250

3|Honda CR250R

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

After countless laps, hundreds of clicker adjustments, a handful of jetting changes, gallons of sweat, and hours of sifting through rider feedback forms, the time came to crown a king. In smoother conditions, it would have been very difficult to choose a winner, as all five of these bikes have great motors in their own right. Add to the mix suspension, handling, fit and finish, and the personal opinions of our trusty test riders, and the Suzuki are actually quite similar, and for most can be summed up in just two words-Confidence-inspiring. Despite having drastically different chassis, just about everybody who’s ridden these two bikes has commented on how much confidence they each instill. Both bikes are brilliant in the corners, and both bikes feel stable and well balanced. What really sets the RM apart, however, is the action of its rear shock and linkage. Particularly noticeable on fast acceleration chop, the Suzuki’s rear end truly shines. Stable, smooth, and straight as an arrow, the RM hooks up and gives the sensation that more power is being transferred to the ground. Once again, the RM250 sits on top of the handling throne.

FIT AND FINISH

1| Honda CR250R

2| Yamaha YZ250

3| Suzuki RM250

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

At first glance of the group of five bikes that make up our 2005 250cc two-stroke shootout, most are quick to praise the big five manufacturers for installing high-quality aluminum handlebars on their bikes. Oops! Hang on a second… Correct that. It seems that the folks at Kawasaki forgot about the aluminum bars this year, so if you go green in 2005, we recommend changing the bars ASAP. In addition to improving the look, aluminum handlebars will absolutely improve the overall feel of the bike.

The KTM feels light and nimble and is equipped with a number of bitchin’ components in stock form. From the hydraulic clutch to the adjustable triple clamps, KTM does offer some great features. Unfortunately, there are just as many weird, quirky characteristics that limit the Katoom. Example: 13mm sprocket bolts? Who owns a 13mm wrench? Many feel that the seat foam on the KTM is still way too firm, and the wider-than-normal radiator shrouds pry your knees apart when sliding up on the seat during aggressive cornering.

We already grilled the guys at Kawi for the lack of aluminum bars, but in addition to that, the outdated Ricky Johnson bend has got to go, too. The only other negative comments heard about the green machine were with its braking power. Not every rider complained, but the ones who did felt that the KX’s rear brake was not on par. On a positive note, the ergonomics are outstanding, the new gripper seat works well, and all of the hardware on the bike is top-quality.

The ergonomics on the new RM are as comfortable as ever. Braking action is top-notch, and thanks to their high-quality yellow plastic, the Zook looks fresh and new well into a season. The only real beef we have with the Suzuki engineers is with their choice of fasteners. Quality of the RM’s nuts and bolts simply don’t stack up to the likes of the Honda.

Like past Yamahas, the 2005 YZ250 is as bulletproof as a motocross bike can possibly come. With high-quality components and hardware, Yamaha engineers most definitely had durability in mind. The only thing that holds the Yamaha back in our book is that it wasn’t ergonomically agreeable with our larger test riders. Some guys felt a little cramped on the new YZ, but an adjustable bar clamp would easily solve the problem.

The fit and finish of the CR is second to none, and truly sets the bar that all other manufacturers should strive for. When it comes to the overall construction, including the quality of the controls and fasteners, the Honda comes out on top. Ergonomically, the CR is very rider friendly and helps to instill confidence through comfort.

THE VERDICT

1| Suzuki RM250

2| Yamaha YZ250

3|Honda CR250R

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

After countless laps, hundreds of clicker adjustments, a handful of jetting changes, gallons of sweat, and hours of sifting through rider feedback forms, the time came to crown a king. In smoother conditions, it would have been very difficult to choose a winner, as all five of these bikes have great motors in their own right. Add to the mix suspension, handling, fit and finish, and the personal opinions of our trusty test riders, however, and the verdict becomes a bit clearer…

For the second year in a row, the Suzuki RM250 has proven to be the complete package right off the shelf. The power output is nearly flawless, its handling is plush and predictable, and it inspires great confidence to most who ride it. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the bikes in 2005, but when forced to choose, the RM rises to the top.

RIDER OPINIONS

1| Suzuki RM250

2| Yamaha YZ250

3| Honda CR250R

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

I chose the RM250 first because it’s the complete package. The motor, while beefy, is plenty controllable and a blast to ride. The stock suspension worked awesome for me, and the overall handling was great! I have no complaints with this bike.

The YZ came in a close second. The motor is really strong and has no weird quirks, the suspension works great, and it handles very well overall. When it came down to it, though, I was more confident on the RM.

Third on my list is the Honda. The CR handles really, really well, but the motor was a little more difficult for me to control. The power rolls on slow and steady, but then out of nowhere comes an abrupt hit that just about ripped my arms off at first.

I chose the KX250 fourth mainly because of the motor. It has a real strong pull right off the bottom, but through the middle and the top it just seemed to be flat. The handling’s not bad, but I just didn’t feel quite at home on the KX.

Last on my list is the KTM. It, too, has a really powerful motor, and at the speed I ride the handling isn’t that bad, but it’s not that good, either. I enjoy the narrow, light overall feel of this bike, but it was the hardest bike for me to control. – AJ

BRETT MOUNTAIN

Skill Level: NOVICE

Age: 17

Years Riding: 13

Height/Weight: 5’10″/145 lbs.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden:

’04 CRF250R, ’05 CRF450R

1| Yamaha YZ250

2| Suzuki RM250

3| Honda CR250R

4| Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

I picked the YZ as my favorite because it seemed to offer the best all-around package for my style. It is super fast all the way through the powerband, it has a light, nimble feel, and the overall handling seemed to flow really well with my riding speed.

The Honda and Suzuki were a close battle for second. I feel the Suzuki handles slightly better, but the Honda’s not far off. The Suzuki is superior in the motor and comfort departments in my book, though, so I gave second to the RM. With a little bit more low-end, the CR would’ve beaten it out.

As for the KX, it has a strong bottom-end hit, but it really flattens out up top. Overall it had a really stiff feel to me, and the brakes felt very weak. I just couldn’t find a good comfort level on this bike.

Last, but not least, came the KTM. It is very fast, but that’s about all that it has going for it in my book. I experienced really bad headshake on this bike, and as a result was never able to get comfortable on it. I think there’s potential here, but it was my least favorite in stock form. -BM

JOSH BROWN

Skill Level: INTERMEDIATE

Age: 19

Years Riding: 3

Height/Weight: 5’11″/185 lbs.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden:

’04 YZ250F, CR250R, CRF450R

1| Yamaha YZ250

2| Suzuki RM250

3| Honda CR250R

4|Kawasaki KX250

5| KTM250SX

I really like the new YZ. The motor pulls great through all of the gears, and the suspension feels balanced and controlled. I completely trusted this bike from the second I got on it, which made for a pretty easy decision.

The Suzuki’s motor is very evenly matched. It has great pull and didn’t seem to fall short anywhere. It handles great, turns well, and doesn’t have any major weaknesses that I can tell. I just felt better on the YZ.

The Honda is one of the best overall handlers in the group. I had great trust on this bike and could easily race it with stock suspension. My only real issue was with its quirky power characteristics.

The Kawi has a nice hit off of the bottom