X Marks The Spot – YZ250FX First Ride Impression
Story by Ryan Nitzen, Photos by Trevor Hunter
How can you make one bike that fits the needs of every motorcycle rider in the US? The answer is plain and simple, you can’t. However, manufacturers as of late are working overtime to offer more bikes that fit the needs of more riders. How do they do it? They tune and tweak existing models to be more versatile in different riding conditions. Enter the all-new 2020 YZ250FX.
Based off the popular YZ250F motocrosser, the YZ250FX has been engineered specifically for the woods and Grand Prix style racers. For this year, the bike receives all the changes that the popular YZ250F got in 2019 and boasts a familiar race-ready look in the off-road world. A wolf in sheep’s clothing per say. Yamaha has also updated the bike with specific mapping in hopes of making it smoother and more usable in off-road conditions. Compared to the motocrosser, the FX offers an overall softer suspension package, a bigger tank, an 18” rear wheel, and a kickstand which are welcomed features for desert and woods riders alike.
With all of the changes in place, Yamaha flew us out to South Carolina to test the YZ250FX at Randy Hawkins’ property just a few miles down the road from the Big Buck GNCC for an east coast woods riding experience. New bike, new terrain; we were in for a treat.
The Blue Crew laid out three different loops for us, each with varying difficulties. One was a super-tight, first and second gear only loop with about enough room for only a set of handlebars. The “B” level loop was a faster, wider course that meandered through the trees and even offered a few third gear sections where we could really open up the FX. Finally, the “A” level loop was as close to a GNCC course as could be, in fact Ricky Russell and past AmPro Yamaha riders practice on this loop and similar loops regularly. A mix of wooded singletrack, sections of a moto track, paired with steep up and down hills made a challenge for the riders and bikes alike. Thankfully Yamaha blessed our delicate hands with a set of handguards to save us from the trees and the sub 40 degree temperatures. We bundled up and were ready to hit the trails.
The 2020 Yamaha YZ250F is one of our favorite moto bikes in its class and we had high expectations for its fraternal off-road twin. The power plant on the FX features a strong yet smoothed out power character that is damn near perfect for woods riding. It offers a torquey grunt down low, and carries through the mid to top without yanking your arms off. Yamaha also paired this updated engine package with a taller 51 tooth rear sprocket to really emphasize that low end torque. Hills? No problem. If I second guessed my ability to make it up one of the steep chutes, the FX encouraged me, saying “we got this”. The FX conquers the steepest terrain for breakfast. In some cases I felt like the bike had more skill than the rider. And the ability to lug a 250F through the tight stuff makes single track lunch, dinner, and dessert. Heck, click the bar-mounted map switch for the “mellow” mode and the bike practically rode itself through the tightest trees with ease. More on that below.
Like the 250F MXer, this bike has also seen drastic improvements in the mid-top range and if we felt like revving the bike out, it pulled further than we ever needed it to. And if we felt like short shifting the bike, it had plenty of low end torque to get us to point B as quick as ever. This motor has improved even more into a really good all-around platform.
The transmission and clutch pull were noticeably smooth, making it easier to ride harder longer. Having a sixth gear on this bike would be helpful for our usual west coast racing, but we didn’t get a chance to reach sixth in South Carolina, or fifth, and barely fourth for that matter. This was a true east coast woods riding test where speeds were low, and clutch use was high. Hopefully we can get our hands on one back home and take the FX to top speed. See if the newfound RPM and power can compensate for ratios in the transmission.
In playing with the new handlebar mounted map switch, Map 2 is pre-programmed to always be mellower, including with the stock map that Yamaha programs from the factory. We tried our luck with it and found it to be quite useful on the “B” loop where we seemingly scraped both ends of the grips off on trees for a solid couple miles. The super tight terrain was tricky to handle, and with all of the torque the potent motor offers, we found ourselves looking for an even smoother ride. Alas, Map 2 came into play. When running on the second map, the overall power curve was mellowed out and slower revving. The strong hit went missing and was replaced with a smooth, albeit sluggish feel. This continued on through the RPM range where the RPM built slower than in the stock map. In fast, grass track sections, we would simply change the map on the fly (a positive with Yamaha’s bar-mounted map selection), then simply switch back once we got back into tight or slick terrain. Similarly, with Map 2, we lost a bit of the feeling of our throttle hand being connected to the rear wheel. However, Yamaha’s Power Tuner App will give us the ability to fine tune the map to our liking and give us the desired power curve we’re looking for.
The Yamaha FX suspension shares the same SSS base as the mx model, but specific off-road tuning separates it enough to notice even from the first time we sat on the bike. It’s pillow-like plushness up top rolls over roots and braking bumps with ease and progressively stiffens over bigger hits like the infamous creek jump. It suffered a bit on the moto track, but that was almost expected, especially when the track is tilled deep like an outdoor national and rain soaks it to make for a soft and rutted mess. The softer setup gave the bike a nimble but planted feel and allowed us to easily change lines on the fly or set up for the next set of turns. In some ways, the softer springs actually gave the bike a more planted feeling and made it stick to the corners better than anticipated. Additionally, hopping logs or pre-jumping roots was a breeze on the FX. This goes to show that when the bike is ridden in the correct terrain that it is designed to be in, it works pretty dang good. We set the sag at a standard 105mm and never touched a clicker all day long.
With this trip being full of brand new and unfamiliar testing terrain, we needed all the help we could get in the handling department. The new body work is 18mm slimmer than last years bike and really aids in cockpit comfort. This is very noticeable and widely accepted over the previous generation bike as it now feels very close to any other bike. When switching between the tidler 125X and the 250FX, the transition was seamless as the width and cockpit was much more gracious than before. The new larger fuel tank (2.16 Gal) and electric start system have been centrally located and give the bike a lightweight feeling even with the off-road add ons. With the gas all being stored under the seat/subframe area rather than up top towards the seat like most bikes, the added weight of 0.6 Gal has minimal effects in the handling department.
The softer woods settings on the suspension, compared to the standard F motocrosser, and 55mm pegs made it easier to stand up, weight one side, and set up early for an upcoming section. Although, when switching between this machine and the 125, the added weight was quite noticeable in trying to split trees (side-to-side motion) as we often found ourselves brushing the handguards on the FX and not on the X. At one point, we could’ve sworn the FX handlebars were wider, but it was just the minute agility differences in the bikes handling characteristics. However, the weight helped the bike always feel planted, even in slippery roots and wet logs.
It was hard to stop smiling after riding the new Yamaha YZ250FX. All of our favorite things from the YZ250F motocrosser have now found their way to the YZ250FX off-road model. Strong, usable power, a slimmer and more comfortable rider cockpit, are now paired with super-plush suspension to make this bike a real off-road weapon. The keyboard warrior might wonder why not just buy a YZ250F and make adjust it for off-road racing. Plain and simple, Yamaha is making it easier than ever to go riding or racing on a machine that’s more than capable of anything the trail throws its way. It’s an all-in-one package that’s ready for the desert, woods, and everything in between.
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