TECHNICAL K.O. – 2005 250 Four Stroke Shootout

In a Class Full of Champions, There Still Must Be a Winner

Can you believe that it was only four years ago that the 2001 Yamaha YZ250F four-stroke made its debut? A lot has changed since then, and the 125cc class is now dominated by thundering 250cc four-strokes from four of the five major manufacturers. After enjoying three fruitful years as the only manufacturer to offer a small-bore thumper, Yamaha was joined last model year by Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki, and these days seeing a 125cc two-stroke is becoming less and less common, even on the local racing level.

For 2005, all of the same players return to the track with revised machinery. None of the bikes have been completely redesigned, as refinements and updates head the lists of all four bikes. Having spent the past three months riding, racing and-yes, crashing-all four of the new thumpers from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, we know the strong and weak points of each machine intimately. Still, we were anxious to see what results a head-to-head comparison in a controlled environment would produce. For our shootout we enlisted four test riders of varying ability, as well as technical assistance for each of the machines, and headed to the legendary Castillo Ranch private motocross facility in central California. After a full day of testing, we solicited the opinions of our test crew and found that the overall results were just as we expected. Read on to discover our findings!

POWER

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

Without a doubt, power is everything in the 125cc class, even in the case of 250cc four-strokes. First of all, let’s make one thing very clear: all four of the 250cc thumpers enjoy a distinct power advantage over 125cc two-strokes, and none of our test riders would realistically consider returning to a premix-burning bike after our day at the ranch.

All three of the powerplants (we say three, as the Kawasaki and Suzuki are identical) possess distinctly different personalities. The KXF/RM-Z engine packs the most low-end punch; much more than last year’s bike, even. Power hits the moment you crack the throttle, and when it comes to clearing jumps that are positioned at the exit of tight corners, the KXF/RM-Z is the bike best suited to the task. While the super-impressive low-end punch pulls into a meaty mid-range surge, power tends to fall flat as the rpms reach the upper echelons of the powerband. The Kawasaki and Suzuki are most effective when short-shifted, as their torquey motors are happier under the load of a high gear than they are being screamed out in a low one.

The Yamaha, surprisingly, does not pack as big a punch as it has in the past. In fact, the YZ250F is somewhat weak down low, but has a superb hit right in the middle. Our test bike got faster as it broke in, but in comparison to the rest, it had perhaps the least low end of them all. Mid-range is definitely the YZ’s greatest asset, and it is most effective when ridden right in the meat of the powerband. Short-shifting will work, but a fast rider will keep the bike purring in each gear without over-revving it, either.

Though it’s not the shining star in any one particular point in the powerband, the CRF250R engine does it all. With a much-improved low-end punch over last year’s bike, the CRF boasts very good low-end, great mid-range, and more top-end overrev than any of the other bikes. All of our testers commented that it was not the most exciting motor to ride with, but it was the easiest and most versatile.

SUSPENSION

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

The Kayaba suspension on the Kawasaki and Suzuki was well liked by most of our testers, but when it came time to pick things that stood out about each motorcycle, no one mentioned the Kawasaki or Suzuki’s fork and shock. In stock condition, the suspension is less compliant than the Yamaha’s Kayaba or Honda’s Showa components. Sie the Yamaha’s Kayaba fork is of the new twin chamber design, the now-outdated forks on the KXF and RM-Z were a point of contention for most of our testers. In small chop, the fork tended to ride low in the stroke, thus delivering a harsh feel. At the same time, however, larger hits would force the front end to blow through the stroke and bottom in some instances that none of the other bikes did. The shock, meanwhile, does a great job of absorbing most everything thrown its way, but it is hampered by the front end that does not hold up its end of the deal. Having ridden on modified KXF/RM-Z suspension last season, however, we can report with confidence that a revalve and springs are all that this bike needs to enjoy a complete facelift.

The Yamaha’s new Air/Oil Separate System Kayaba fork is worlds better than last year’s. While it’s a ton better in bottoming situations, the fork still tends to dive too much under hard braking, resulting in a harsh ride in choppy braking bumps. Low-speed impacts, too, cause the front end to blow through its stroke. Most of our riders would opt for stiffer springs and a fork revalve on the YZ. The back end, meanwhile, was splendid. The shock outperforms the fork by gobbling up all imperfections in the track’s surface in a calm and predictable manner. The back end of the Yamaha stays planted and clawing for traction, even in the most severe acceleration chop.

Each and every tester agreed that the best suspension package, bar-none, is found on the Honda CRF250R. The Showa components are well-balanced and tunable for the widest range of rider sizes and abilities. Plush in the little stuff, controllable through the stroke and great in bottoming situations, the CRF drew nothing but praise from every test rider. As is the case with all of the bikes, heavier and/or faster riders will desire stiffer springs, front and rear. Still, the CRF is about as good as it gets for a wide range of riders, right off the dealership floor.

HANDLING

1> Honda CRF250F

2> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

3> Yamaha YZ250F

When it comes to handling, there is not a poor performer in the bunch; however, the Yamaha YZ250F garnered the least praise when it came to this category, mostly due to its taller feel and higher-feeling center of gravity. The Yamaha feels like the biggest bike in the comparison test and requires the most rider input to settle into a nice rut or get leaned over in a loamy corner. The YZF is happier in wide, sweeping corners than it is in tight, technical turns, but it is perhaps the most comfortable at speed of all the bikes. Ironically, before the arrival of its yellow, green, and red competition last year, the Yamaha YZ250F was praised as a marvelously-handling machine.

The Kawasaki and Suzuki enjoy a low-feeling center of gravity that makes it very easy to control the bikes with your legs. The KXF and RM-Z corner well in tight conditions and are equally adept in flat, outside lines that encourage sliding. Due to the harsh forks action it is sometimes difficult to get the bike to settle into a tricky rut, but once in, the bike corners like a slot car. The green and yellow bikes have a light, flickable feel in the air and both inspired confidence in our test riders within only a few corners.

Each and every one of our testers, meanwhile, praised the Honda CRF250R as the best-handling bike in the bunch, if not the best-handling bike, period. The CRF feels narrow, light, and nimble, and it’s almost as if the bike can read your mind. Getting the bike to do what you want requires minimal input, as the machine is perfectly balanced and a great choice for riders of all abilities, sizes and skill levels. The CRF is the best-cornering machine-hands down-as it will dive to the inside, slide through the middle or rail the high line with equal precision. At speed, the bike is plenty stable and trustworthy, and the red bike is easily the best jumper of the bunch with its neutral feel in the air.

FIT AND FINISH

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

Big praise goes to Honda and Yamaha for outfitting their bikes with high-quality Renthal aluminum handlebars, which improve the overall ride and appearance of the bikes tremendously. While the rest of the RM lineup comes equipped with equally great Suzuki-branded aluminum bars, the RM-Z250, however, is outfitted with the same steel bars as its identical twin, the Kawasaki KX250F. Add in the fact that the steel KXF/RM-Z bars are shaped like the top half of a steering wheel, and you have a pretty sorry set of handlebars.

When it comes to the overall construction, including the quality of the controls and fasteners, plus ease of accessibility when working on the bikes, the Honda comes out on top. When working on the CRF, it quickly becomes obvious that Honda engineers put a lot of thought into every aspect of the bike.

The Yamaha is also very well made, but our big beef with the blue bike is that it looks like an old beater after only a couple of rides. The blue plastic loses its luster quickly, especially in the tank and radiator shroud areas that see lots of contact with the rider’s legs and knees. The blue frame, meanwhile, looks terrible once the paint begins to wear. On the other hand, though, the YZ250F is built like a tank and is as dependable as they come.

It’s no secret that the KX250F and RM-Z250 suffered from some reliability issues last year, especially in the hands of fast, hard-riding pros. For the record, neither of our green or yellow test bikes suffered any mechanical woes last year; likely because we stayed on top of their regular maintenance intervals like a hawk. For 2005, the twins have larger radiators to help the machines run cooler, as well as shot-peened third and fourth gears in the transmission to address the gear failures that Supercross pros experienced in the stadium whoops.THE VERDICT

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

While we could all easily see ourselves spending a race season with any of the machines in the shootout and all of them can be dialed in to suit one’s personal preference, the Honda CRF250R emerges as the hands-down winner when the bikes are evaluated in bone-stock condition. Right off the dealership showroom floor, the CRF250R is a lethal race weapon that can satisfy the desires of beginners and pros alike. Compared to its predecessor, the 2005 model is more powerful and better suspended; what more could you ask for?

The Yamaha YZ250F is the veteran of the class and although it is the biggest-feeling bike of the bunch, it’s hard to argue with the blue bike’s track record. Plenty fast, undeniably reliable, and a solid performer in all other categories to boot, the Yamaha is a great choice, as well.

Now in their second year, the new Kawasaki KX250F and Suzuki RM-Z250s are much improved over last year’s models. The green and yellow bikes produce the most low-end torque of the bunch and are brutally effective in the hands of riders who know how to make the most of their powerbands. Faster riders or serious racers will likely opt for an aftermarket exhaust for some added performance. Oh, and did we mention replacing those steel rodeo handlebars? à˜

RIDER OPINIONS

Aaron James

Skill Level: Beginner

Age: 18

Years Riding: 2

Height/Weight: 5’11″/160 lbs.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2002 Suzuki RM250,

2004 Honda CRF250R

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

3> Yamaha YZ250F

I picked the Honda as my favorite because it handled the best for me. I felt that it also had the strongest motor and the best suspension. Overall, I just felt the most comfortable on it. I think that for a beginner, the CRF is a great choice. In stock condition it is totally race ready right from the shop.

The Kawasaki and Suzuki were my second favorite. Both are super easy for a beginner to ride because they hair.

FIT AND FINISH

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

Big praise goes to Honda and Yamaha for outfitting their bikes with high-quality Renthal aluminum handlebars, which improve the overall ride and appearance of the bikes tremendously. While the rest of the RM lineup comes equipped with equally great Suzuki-branded aluminum bars, the RM-Z250, however, is outfitted with the same steel bars as its identical twin, the Kawasaki KX250F. Add in the fact that the steel KXF/RM-Z bars are shaped like the top half of a steering wheel, and you have a pretty sorry set of handlebars.

When it comes to the overall construction, including the quality of the controls and fasteners, plus ease of accessibility when working on the bikes, the Honda comes out on top. When working on the CRF, it quickly becomes obvious that Honda engineers put a lot of thought into every aspect of the bike.

The Yamaha is also very well made, but our big beef with the blue bike is that it looks like an old beater after only a couple of rides. The blue plastic loses its luster quickly, especially in the tank and radiator shroud areas that see lots of contact with the rider’s legs and knees. The blue frame, meanwhile, looks terrible once the paint begins to wear. On the other hand, though, the YZ250F is built like a tank and is as dependable as they come.

It’s no secret that the KX250F and RM-Z250 suffered from some reliability issues last year, especially in the hands of fast, hard-riding pros. For the record, neither of our green or yellow test bikes suffered any mechanical woes last year; likely because we stayed on top of their regular maintenance intervals like a hawk. For 2005, the twins have larger radiators to help the machines run cooler, as well as shot-peened third and fourth gears in the transmission to address the gear failures that Supercross pros experienced in the stadium whoops.THE VERDICT

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

While we could all easily see ourselves spending a race season with any of the machines in the shootout and all of them can be dialed in to suit one’s personal preference, the Honda CRF250R emerges as the hands-down winner when the bikes are evaluated in bone-stock condition. Right off the dealership showroom floor, the CRF250R is a lethal race weapon that can satisfy the desires of beginners and pros alike. Compared to its predecessor, the 2005 model is more powerful and better suspended; what more could you ask for?

The Yamaha YZ250F is the veteran of the class and although it is the biggest-feeling bike of the bunch, it’s hard to argue with the blue bike’s track record. Plenty fast, undeniably reliable, and a solid performer in all other categories to boot, the Yamaha is a great choice, as well.

Now in their second year, the new Kawasaki KX250F and Suzuki RM-Z250s are much improved over last year’s models. The green and yellow bikes produce the most low-end torque of the bunch and are brutally effective in the hands of riders who know how to make the most of their powerbands. Faster riders or serious racers will likely opt for an aftermarket exhaust for some added performance. Oh, and did we mention replacing those steel rodeo handlebars? à˜

RIDER OPINIONS

Aaron James

Skill Level: Beginner

Age: 18

Years Riding: 2

Height/Weight: 5’11″/160 lbs.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2002 Suzuki RM250,

2004 Honda CRF250R

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

3> Yamaha YZ250F

I picked the Honda as my favorite because it handled the best for me. I felt that it also had the strongest motor and the best suspension. Overall, I just felt the most comfortable on it. I think that for a beginner, the CRF is a great choice. In stock condition it is totally race ready right from the shop.

The Kawasaki and Suzuki were my second favorite. Both are super easy for a beginner to ride because they have so much low-end power. The suspension is pretty good, and the bikes handle really well, too. The Kawi and Suzuki have a low-feeling center of gravity that makes them really easy to turn. With some minor adjustments, these things are right in there.

The Yamaha can be a great bike, but in stock condition it was the hardest for me to ride. The motor is there, but you have to ride it a lot to get used to it and the way the power comes on. You have to take advantage of the motor’s mid-range power and be sure to shift at just the right time. This was also the hardest bike for me to corner on, because it was the tallest feeling and hardest to get leaned over.

Brett Mountain

Skill Level: Novice

Age: 17

Years Riding: 13

Height/Weight: 5’10″/145 lbs.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2004 Honda CRF250R

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Yamaha YZ250F

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

I chose the Honda CRF250R as the winner because it has the total package. The motor pulls all the way through the RPM range and the bike corners and handles like a dream. The rear end sticks to the ground and never kicks or swaps. Best of all, this bike virtually turns itself!

I liked the Yamaha second best, mainly because it didn’t handle or corner as well as the Honda. The Yamaha is not as light and nimble feeling, and it tired me out sooner than the CRF. The motor is good, but it didn’t feel as powerful as it has in years past. I have owned Yamahas in the past, and always disliked the way they look clapped-out so soon.

The Kawasaki and Suzuki are fun, average-feeling bikes. If you’re not too serious about racing, these are the bikes for you. They are fun to ride and do most everything well, but nothing about them really knocked my socks off. The bikes have great initial snap down low, but then the motors fall on their faces up top. The seat foam is really stiff, and these are probably the least comfortable bikes in the shootout, and they have the worst handlebars and the most uncomfortable grips.

Jed Herring

Skill Level: Intermediate

Age: 22

Years Riding: 7

Height/Weight: 6’1″/160 lbs.

Bikes Recently Raced/Ridden: 2004 Yamaha YZ250F

1> Yamaha YZ250F

2> Honda CRF250R

3> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

I felt the most at home on the Yamaha YZ250F. The suspension is good enough to race on in stock condition. The Yamaha wants to wander to the outside of the corners, so you have to be a little bit more cautious when finding the rut you want. Once you get it down, though, it’s comparable to the Honda. The YZ250F motor is hands-down the best, as it has more power everywhere than the rest.

The Honda motor is lacking when compared to the Yamaha, and that’s the only thing that’s holding it to second in my book. This year, the CRF has way more bottom-end power, but it could still use more top-end. The suspension is so smooth that even in the nasty parts of the track it would hold a perfectly straight line, all the time. The CRF stuck to the track and hooked up best. The Honda has the best overall handling, but I wish it were faster.

I liked the Kawasaki and Suzuki, but nothing about either bike really stood out as great. They are both fun to ride, and they both handle pretty well, but they lack the overall power to be competitive. The motors have great low-end, but they fall flat right in the upper mid-range. With some aftermarket help, these bikes could be great.

Rich Taylor

Skill Level: Professional

Age: 35

Years Riding: 19

Height/Weight: 5’10″/165 lbs.

Bike Currently Raced/Ridden: 2004 Suzuki RM250,

2004 Suzuki RM-Z250, 2004 Honda CRF450R

1> Honda CRF250R

2> Kawasaki KX250F/Suzuki RM-Z250

3> Yamaha YZ250F

The Honda handles great and it has a very rider-friendly motor. Due to the excellent suspension, I could run it hard into the roughest corners and the motor allowed me to really charge out of the turns. The CRF is a great overall package. I would like a bit more hit from the motor to