First Impression: 2022 Yamaha YZ85 & YZ85LW

To Be Young Again

The 2022 Yamaha YZ85 and YZ85LW models are here and all we can say is what a time to be a young motocrosser. Youth MX bikes are fairly regularly receiving updates, something that wasn’t so common a decade ago, and the manufacturers are seeing the payoff of investing in the youth and future of our sport.

 

The 2019 YZ85 saw a heavy overhaul, implementing a YPVS power valve into the engine, along with a few other key updates. However, to the naked eye, the bike looked largely the same and it’s tough to have a shiny new toy if it doesn’t look any different from a distance than the last one. For 2022, Yamaha updated the styling to match the new big bike two-strokes, along with some chassis updates to boot. A tweaked frame, new one-piece swingarm, rear axle, and aluminum subframe all make up the new chassis upgrades. Of course, Yamaha didn’t stop there. The rear brake master cylinder is now the same one-piece design found on the YZF models.

Yamaha now offers a big wheel model with mostly the same specs as the newly updated YZ85 small wheel, but with a few key differences to accommodate the larger wheels and riders. Of course, it comes equipped with larger 19”/16” wheels, a 26mm longer swingarm (and chain and brake line to accommodate), and stiffer suspension settings. 

We brought out multi-time NHHA 85cc champion and NGPC racer Jett Lessing and Kai Hunter, an intermediate level off-road rider, to test ride both bikes on Glen Helen’s REM track. 

Note: Jett is 15, 5’2, and 95lbs. Kai is 13, 5’0, and 98lbs and both ride KTM 85’s regularly.

Right off the bat, the first thing the kids noticed was the cable clutch, both good and bad. Since both are accustomed to hydraulic clutches, it felt a bit different than what they were used to. Jett didn’t particularly care for the “feel” and engagement of the cable clutch, whereas Kai immediately liked it and preferred it. KTM’s hydraulic clutch is sort of like a light switch – it’s either on or off. The cable clutch on the YZ is more progressive and has a wider engagement point. The pull itself was fairly light and neither had negative comments on that, moreso Jett not liking how it disengaged in comparison to his usual hydraulic setup. 

As far as power goes, both riders felt the YZ shined in the bottom to mid range. Of course, as with any two-stroke, you can’t be lazy with the power and ride tall gears or else it’ll bog. But, when ridden right, the power came on with force pulling out of the corners. From there, it continued to build through the mid, but didn’t quite rev out like some other 85’s. Both riders are fairly smooth riders and don’t like to over rev bikes in general, instead keeping it in the meat of the power more in the mid range. Because it was stronger in the lower RPM’s, both riders noted how often they were shifting to keep it in the sweet spot of the power. Throttle response was crisp and instant, another noted feature the advanced riders liked.

Like the big bikes, Yamaha has stuck with tried-and-true KYB coil spring components front and rear and both kids adapted well to it over their usual air forks and WP components. The track wasn’t overly rough by any means, but some bumps developed later in the day and some of the ruts got choppy enough to get a feel for the suspension. Overall, the suspension felt plush, but resisted hard bottoming. Funny because you could use these exact words for most any big bike Yamaha when talking about suspension performance. Both riders are about average for 85cc riding weight and height, but preferred the slightly stiffer 85LW suspension. Sag was set for 80mm for both riders and stability and cornering performance were up to par. 

 

The bike has a very light and agile feeling, especially when jumping. The riders were able to correct the bike in the air and maneuver the bike around in the corners effortlessly. With the few ruts we had on the REM track, the bike would slot into the rut and stay in it. 

One thing the kids noticed when switching between bikes is on the small wheel machine, they were having trouble keeping the front end down coming out of corners when hard on the gas. On the big wheel, it wasn’t as much of an issue, likely due to the longer wheelbase and not cornering quite as aggressively on the bigger wheels. 

 

Like the big bike Yamaha, the cockpit is up for debate. The peg to seat distance was on the smaller side. While sitting, this wasn’t great but the riders did like how it’d give them extra clearance between the seat when standing as tracks get rougher. When they can barely stand over the seat, they often get kicked in the rear end coming into big braking bumps, but the extra distance on the Yamaha gave them a little more confidence in having room to play with. The grippy seat cover was well received by both kids and helped hold them in place.

 

Also, the handlebars weren’t a favorite for our two riders. Admittedly, both of them run slightly taller and wider than average bars for kids, something a little more common off-road, but they both felt and looked like the handlebars were too narrow and a little low. Of course, bars are a personal preference and as kids grow, their needs change so picking a great stock bar bend for a mini bike is tough. One plus with the Yamaha is the triple clamp has two different mounting positions in the triple clamps so as kids grow, they can also grow into the bike a little bit. 

The brakes on the YZ are strong for a mini bike and were one of the highlights of the bikes to both kids. On some other mini bikes, going to aftermarket calipers and systems is a must to get much performance out of them, but the Yamaha comes equipped with good brakes front and rear.

The new styling updates made it really easy for the kids to move around and grip the bike. The flatter seat allowed them to get up front in the corners then move around as needed. Likewise, the bike felt thin and getting the legs up in corners wasn’t an issue. 

Overall, both kids really enjoyed their time on the Yamaha. In the past, the YZ85 has been a bit behind the times compared to the Austrian bikes, but the bLU cRU has made big strides in the past few years. The bikes are now very competitive right out of the gate and add another option for mini dads to geek out over and spend their life savings outfitting GYTR and aftermarket parts for their kid to be the next Ricky Carmichael…

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