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Y2K 250 Motocross Shootout

The Main Event!

story by Staff , Photograph by Mark Kariya, Created Friday, Feb 04, 2000

LOS ANGELES, February 4, 2000 -- We're not your girlfriend, so we'll stop teasing you. By now you've read our 250 Motocross Teazer, got yourself a Wu-Name and decided that the dirtier side of life is a side you'd like to explore further. And why not?

The MX 250s are among the best-selling bikes that each manufacturer offers and, while bred for moto-domination, they also make good play bikes and race-bikes in dirt events other than motocross. Ever heard of Enduros, GNCCs or Hare-Scrambles? At these events 250s are right at home with nothing more than a few aftermarket bolt-ons from your favorite supplier. Very few bikes offer this range of fun.

Here it is, then: Motorcycle Online's 250 Motocross Shootout. We gathered the Honda CR250, Yamaha YZ250, Kawasaki KX250 and Suzuki RM250 together with five test riders ranging in skill from local pros right down to a 125-class intermediate rider who had never spent any significant time on a 250 before this test. We visited a number of tracks in Southern California and even managed to race a few times; results notwithstanding, everything came up roses.

Only one bike will lead the pack into the first turn -- and the new millennium.

As one tester put it, "picking a winner is easy, the rest is @*!# hard!"

It's rare that a multi-bike comparison comes out with a unanimous winner. The rest of the bikes are all so close they could tie for second-place honors, but that wouldn't be any fun, so we assigned points for each category of handling and motor qualities and, in the end, came up with a place for every bike.

This looks like fun, doesn't it? It is fun...and then some.We averaged each evaluator's score for each bike in each category. All categories were weighted evenly with the winner receiving a bonus point.

Thus, the winner in each category received five points, with three points to second place, two for third and one for fourth place.

The overall winner is the bike with the most points. Simple? You bet, so let's get on with it.

 

Fit and Finish

Every part of the Honda said 'quality'.

Honda came out on top due to what was generally regarded as the best designed bike. The CR looked great and the fit and finish of every piece worked without flaw. There were very few complaints about a protrusion or nuisance anywhere. The engineers spent a lot of time on this bike and it shows.

Yamaha and Suzuki delivered packages that aren't far behind the Honda, though not quite as polished overall. On the Kawasaki, some riders complained about the side-panels and shrouds that grabbed boots, and that hurt its overall ratings in this category.

Finishing Order: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki

 

Motor

The Riders

Tim Telford: Height: 6' 5" Weight: 185 lbs Ability: Vet Pro

Trevor Vines: Height: 5' 10" Weight: 155 lbs Ability: Pro

Jason Webb: Height: 5'8" Weight: 160 lbs Ability: Intermediate

Chris Tocco: Height: 5' 7" Weight: 150 lbs Ability: Pro

Todd Gosselaar: Height: 5' 7" Weight: 142 lbs Ability: Intermediate

The Honda barely edged out the Yamaha in this category. In addition to winning every impromptu drag race, the scorecards regarded the CR's motor as completely usable throughout the powerband, always able to put its abundant power to the ground. While some testers picked other motors as tops, the CR never finished outside of second-place. From novices to experts, everyone was delighted with the Honda's motor. The Yamaha offered up a usable powerband as well, receiving good marks for its power, though most evaluators wished for more midrange hit. The Kawasaki had monster motor in the basement but it hit hard and could be tricky to manage in slick situations. It revved through a decent midrange but then signed off abruptly, forcing the rider to shortshift. The Suzuki received one vote for best motor, but everyone except one intermediate
class tester asked for more power. They were never completely
satisfied by the yellow machine's output.

Finishing Order: Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki

 

Transmission

The Yamaha scored high points for a slick-shifting tranny and its adjustable perch. Only the Suzuki drew complaints, and even in the RM's case it was only to missed shifts and what felt like a clutch that didn't always operate as smoothly as it could. There were also a few mentions of missed shifts on the Kawasaki,but everything worked well and the shifting was never a significant point of concern. Neither the Honda nor the Yamaha drew anything but praise for their slick shifting. The edge here goes to the Yamaha, though, for it's adjustable lever and a smooth and easy pull.

Finishing Order: Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki

 

Ergos

Again, the Honda was the bike of choice. The CR was roomy and everyone from our smallest five-foot-seven-inch tester to our tallest six-foot-five-inch tester had room to move. Still, nobody thought the bike felt too stretched out or large, either. Ergos that allowed testers to get weight over the front wheel helped the RM rail tight corners. Yamaha also came up with an excellent ergonomic package that was only held back by a few comments from the short riders about the handlebars being too tall. The Suzuki and Kawasaki fell closely behind with the most complaints being centered around the Kawi's "cluttered" feeling. Most riders felt the pegs were too high and, even with the bar-clamp in the forward-most position, our riders felt too cramped.

Finishing Order: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki

 

The Kawi's forks were regarded as the cushiest of the bunch.

Front Suspension

Comments in this category ranged from "the best stock fork I've ever ridden on," to "unstable and harsh." The evaluators worked hard at trying to set up the forks to match their ability and the changing track conditions. Some bikes responded better than others, and the Honda came out of the crate set up almost perfectly for every rider. Hardly any clicks or fork-height adjustments needed to be made for the CR to put a smile on every face. In second place was the Yamaha which after a couple of tweaks to suit each rider's preference, worked almost as well as the Honda.

We liked the Kawasaki's plush overall feel but, when we opened the throttle, the front end had a tendency to ride high and push in the corners. The Suzuki, while not equipped with a bad fork, seemed excessively harsh and prone to bottoming. We couldn't seem to click this problem away as we did on the Honda and the Yamaha.

Finishing Order: Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki

 

Rear Suspension

Again, comments about the Honda were few since most everyone regarded it as very "smooth and consistent," although our lightest (sub 150-pound) testers made comments about a stiff spring. The Yamaha was once again on the Honda's heels with two riders preferring it because it felt "a little bit more stable. Very little kicking or deflection." Still, the blue bike fell short by a few points since it drew a few more criticisms than the Honda for its inability to soak up choppy, pothole-infested straights.

The Honda's rear shock was never a target for complaints. The Suzuki never felt secure or planted and drew criticism for its desire to dance over braking bumps. The consensus was that it bottomed too frequently and, after we fiddled with compression and rebound adjustments, became even more prone to hopping with only a slight decrease in bottoming-resistance. The same was said of the Kawasaki. No tester ever felt they were able to dial it in to the point where it worked acceptably.

Finishing Order: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki

 

Cornering

MO Betta Bikes

Every bike in the test is good as delivered, but even the best bikes could stand to use a little polishing. We've given a few of each bike's strong points and made mention of the weakest part of each bike's performance as well.

Honda CR 250: Has Universally loved motor, Balanced suspension, Best ergos of the bunch. Needs more mid-range snap.

Yamaha YZ250: Has quick-adjust clutch lever, Best cornering bike around, Responsive motor. Needs more bottom-end power.

Suzuki RM 250: Has tight corner carver, Snappy motor, Balanced chassis. Needs Front Fork fix.

Kawasaki KX 250: Has super-plush suspension, Bottom-end monster, Reversible bar-clamps. Needs fix suspension.

While a few of the bikes were better in one type of corner, the Yamaha offered a better all-around package for getting quickly through the turns. The YZ will stick in the tightest rut or rail the fast outside berm with ease.

No changes other than raising the forks in the triple clamps by 3mm were made and all the evaluators were impressed with the YZ's cornering prowess.

The Honda came in a close second because some of the lighter testers felt that the front end pushed on fast, flat turns.

The Suzuki was excellent in the tighter turns, garnering comments like "sticks in and rails," but the testers generally regarded it unforgiving on the faster sweepers because the hard-hitting motor made it hard to control.

Everyone felt that the Kawasaki wasn't very solid in the corners and that the only way to get the KX to turn well was to force it into a rut. If there wasn't something for the Kawi to rail against, the KX's chassis never felt settled.

Finishing Order: Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki

 

Brakes

You need good power and feel to do this. Ask Honda how.

We took into account each brake system's build quality, overall stopping power and resistance to fade. The Honda took top honors in this category because the Nissin brakes it has fitted proved to be unflappable in any situation, generating comments like, "industry standard for feel and control," and "stops on a dime." The Yamaha was a close second with excellent, precise feel. However, when the same amount of lever pressure was applied, the Yamaha's Nissins lacked the outright stopping power of the Hondas units.

The Suzuki had effective brakes but, despite the ample stopping power, some testers complained of a soft feel at the lever. The Kawasaki's rear brake was on par with that of the other machines, but the front brake was noted for its inconsistent feel. Two riders even encountered severe brake fade late in the test session at Glen Helen.

Finishing Order: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki

 

Overall

The KX's snappy motor makes it easy to launch into the sky.

Before we hand out awards for our Year 2000 250 Motocross Shootout, it needs to be said while even though we have a clear-cut winner, no matter which bike you chose every machine here will put a smile on your face. Each bike is extremely close in performance, and what we've essentially done is nit-pick and split hairs to come up with a single winner in a group of winners.

By this point you've already got a good idea that one bike stands taller than the rest. That machine is the Honda CR250, and every tester was unanimous in this respect. This is especially amazing considering that two years ago, once the aluminum-frame-hype died down, the CR was generally regarded as a mid-pack finisher at best, with the Kawasaki taking top honors.

The CR's fit and finish is top-notch and the only complaints about were from pros who'd like to feel a little bit more hit in the mid-range for clearing obstacles out of corners, as well as from flyweights who couldn't compress the spring on a 20-year old lounge chair let alone the springs in the CR's fork.

The ergos were the most comfortable and it was the easiest in which to accurately adjust the suspension. The entire machine is a well-balanced package -- everything worked in unison.

"Every bike here is a winner and, as one rider remarked, 'pick your favorite color and you'll be happy'."

The RM250 is perfectly at home in the air.

The Yamaha YZ-250 took second place and nearly matches the Honda in every category, even surpassing it in a few. It is an extremely potent overall package with many cool features and, with minimal effort, is able to go fast under almost every rider. There's no real flaw in the Yamaha's ointment and, with just a bolt-on or two to tailor the bike to your personal style, it's easy to win on any track. The RM250 Suzuki came in third and even though it's a bike that straight out of the crate can win races a few problem areas need to be addressed.

The easiest fix would be to add a bit more mid- to upper-range power and fix the suspension with minor tweaks to the valving. This is accomplished easily with aftermarket mods, but since this is a stock-bike comparison, the RM needs a little work in order to roll with this crowd.

It's a competent package right out of the box and it's only in this tough company that its minor flaws are noticed. At the top of the heap a few years ago, the Kawasaki KX25 now finds itself trailing, even if only by the slimmest of margins.

Trevor Vines playing Anti-Gravity-Games on the CR250.

Don't get us wrong; the KX is an excellent bike that offers more than what vast majority of riders will ever be able to handle, but in this company the stock KX failed to stand out.

The Kawi's main flaw is the suspension: Our evaluators never could quite dial it in. We spent a lot of time chasing the right suspension settings but we were never completely satisfied. Maybe our testers were too picky. Maybe the KX was already as good as it was going to get.

Still, every bike here is a winner and, as one rider remarked, "pick your favorite color and you'll be happy." You might also want to consider dealer support and contingency programs -- especially if you plan on competing.

Numerically speaking, the Honda wins here, but which bike wins under your bum is up to you. Hopefully we've given you the tools to make that decision easier.