A Wise Take On Yamaha’s Off-Road Two-Stroke
Photos/Video By Scott Hoffman
Yamaha has been a holdout in the Japanese brands with two-strokes. And they have also been on the forefront of competition off-road race bikes, a niche that is popular with customers who use to be forced to modify the motocross machine. Now different manufacturers have adopted this segment and created bikes so the customer does not have to. The YZ250X is Yamaha’s answer to a GP or Cross-Country race bike, from the dealer.
In our book Yamaha does a really good job of doing the right things for the intended use. Specifically the wide-ratio five-speed transmission and the altering of the power delivery with ECU mapping, cylinder head alterations and the slightly altered way the powervalve opens. These would be tough for a customer to duplicate properly. Then you have the expected features like the 18” rear wheel, O-ring chain, sidestand and suspesnion settings with an off-road focus. Small details like tucking in the expansion chamber show Yamaha looked at everything.
Since this bike has not changed a lot since its transformation in 2016 from a standard YZ250, you can see what we thought of it here. https://dirtbiketest.com/bike-tests/2016-yamaha-yz250x/#2L2jvsIl78QkPpzY.97 But Yamaha wanted us to see it in the East Coast conditions where a good portion of these bikes are used in GNCC and Sprint Enduro races.
The first thing we noticed was having to kick-start the YZ. Yes, petty of us but in a push-button world, this was a noticeable point. But at $7499.00, how much is kick-starting worth? A comparable E-Start KTM runs roughly $9500.00. That aside, the bike fires easily and usually on the first kick.
What the Yamaha YZ250 powerplant has been famous for is great bottom-end power and snap with very sharp and crisp throttle response. Nothing has changed. The X still has those characters and riding in the woods changes little. This power is exciting and there is always plenty of it on tap. We found in the hotter and humid conditions that going one clip position leaner on the needle took some of the richness out and with slight fuel screw adjustment we could get the initial throttle opening to be even smoother. The stock jetting is fun and has more hit, our setting cut wheel spin and allowed bigger throttle openings and better use of the awesome torque the bike puts out. Most of this tuning is happening before the powervalve starts to open. When that happens the engine comes to life and yes, it will be spinning. On top the YZ does not rev as far or as hard as some of its competition, yet especially in the woods, this isn’t a concern. Just shift and keep the motor in its meat. Of note is the ECU setting in combination with the way the powervalve opens, it is smoother than the motocross only YZ and lets the rider use the power instead of blowing through it.
The wider-ratio transmission is perfect for tighter trails especially the lower first gear for the tight conditions. With a clutch pull that is lighter and takes a little longer to fully engage, it makes for a smoother feeling for most riders and allows better control when in extreme conditions. You don’t feel the gaps but there is definitely a more specific gear for every condition as opposed to having a choice between two in the tighter box. Fifth has plenty of speed for most forms of racing.
On to the suspension and here the YZ has a very middle of the road feeling for off-road. It is a difficult task to make a bike that works everywhere. Yamaha is definitely on a hot streak in the settings on their MX bikes and we can’t really complain on the off-road side either. The settings are stiff for the conditions we were riding in South Carolina for most riders, but faster or heavier riders found them to be spot on with just a few clicks here and there for personal preferences. Letting the bike get low in the back causes some issues with the fork feeling stiff and the bike’s turning getting sluggish. The ride height was pretty critical. We know from testing on MX tracks and out West, they can feel a little on the soft side where the bike uses a little too much of the stroke. In the trees that use of the stroke keeps the bike going in a straight line and cuts down on the deflecting off of rocks and roots.
Handling wise, the theme stays the same. The 250X does not feel heavy nor does it stand out as light. It isn’t the thinnest but it isn’t thick either. The turning is pretty universal, meaning it will track on the front and slide at will, a neutral platform. The steering feel in the handlebar isn’t too light nor is it heavy. When the YZ line went to aluminum frames, the two-stroke took (and still have) a single backbone design which was more traditional and also less rigid than then twin-spar so common in the four-stroke world. This seems to have helped keep the YZ more supple in the rigidity department while still giving the bike a level of precision that is necessary these days. It is still a stiffer ride than riders coming off of trail bikes might expect, but this is a racing-style setup. For a two-stroke in these times, where everything is getting lighter, the 250X has a more planted to the ground feel and does not “dance” like some two-strokes when compared in a four-stroke world.
Yamaha is known for solid durability and the YZ has been around for ever with plenty of riders getting way too many years out of their rides. Also the bike has a tight feel and stuff just lasts in our testing experience and we have plenty, just search the site to see some of our long-term bikes. The bits and pieces do not disappoint and having great brakes, tight shifting, a connected suspension feel with a good looking package all point to value when stacking it all up. For us, Yamaha added Cycra handguards so our pretty little keyboard pecking fingers survived the introduction.
So who is the Yamaha for? Well with a carb, no battery and simple two-stroke principles, the dinasours of us out there that need a new bike should be very interested. Yes, the lack of current technology and more familiar parts is filling a niche in the market. All this without giving up the most important part, the performance when you are on the throttle.
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