By Andy White
Photos by Nicole MacDonald
It’s been eighteen years since Yamaha has offered an off-road specific two-stroke (the 1998 Yamaha WR250 was the last), and nine years since any Japanese manufacturer has sold one in North America (that would be the 2006 Kawasaki KDX 220). If you go to any off-road race you will notice a sea of orange with just a sprinkling of other colours, but Yamaha intends to wash away the orange with a wave of blue. Coming in at 229 pounds (with a full tank of gas), Yamaha’s new 2016 YZ250X isn’t just a YZ with a kickstand, in fact, the thirteen changes made to the motocrosser make it perfect for off-road closed course competition.
The changes start in the engine where Yamaha reduced the compression ratio from 8.9 to 7.9. They also altered the exhaust port timing and revised the Yamaha Power Valve System (YPVS) to have broader opening timing and smoother power. The 250X’s CDI timing has also been adjusted to help produce a more “cross-country-style” power curve, while a new exhaust has been made to match the engine changes and is now narrower (both vertically and horizontally) to help stay out of harm’s way. All the changes made to the engine are designed to make the power more user-friendly and to improve the power and traction at the rear wheel by way of a smoother transition into the meat of the range.
Yamaha decided that the transmission needed to be made off-road specific as well. While they didn’t add a sixth gear, they did change third, fourth and fifth gears. When compared to the YZ250, third gear on the X is lower than the MX model—the equivalent of adding one tooth to the rear sprocket—while fourth gear is like removing two teeth, and fifth gear is the equivalent of removing five teeth from the rear sprocket. Also in the transmission, Yamaha reduced the clutch spring rate by 10%, which smooths out clutch engagement and makes for a lighter pull at the lever. They also changed the shape of the shift stopper lever, making it more ridged, resulting in more positive shifting.
In the suspension and chassis department, changes were made to the internal shim stacks to improve comfort on the trail and improve sudden impact absorption. The spring rates are the same as the YZ250, with clicker changes being made to accommodate the new shim stacks. The 250X comes equipped with an 18” rear wheel, which provides more “cushion” when impacting logs and rocks. The front and rear wheels are wrapped in Dunlop AT 81 off-road tires and the rear is driven by an O-ring chain. The other two cool features that the YZ 250X comes equipped with are an aluminum kickstand that folds up high and secure, and a fuel petcock with a reserve position so you are warned when the fuel is getting low.
The first thing I noticed was how easily the X starts. No, it doesn’t have an electric start, but the fact that it fired up on the first kick every time tells me that it doesn’t really need one. Would it be nice? Of course it would! At idle the bike is nice and crisp and has less vibration than other off-road two-strokes. If the YZ-X was lugged for an extended period of time, I did notice that it had a tendency to load up slightly and a need to be revved and cleaned out, but I didn’t need to do that very often because I was having too much fun screaming it around. The power off idle is softer than the motocross bike which, in turn, almost makes it feel stronger because it hooks up better. Since this bike is shifted when the revs are lower, it almost feels as if a flywheel weight has been added because it pulls so smoothly into the midrange. As the power valve starts to open the bike begins to pull harder, but not with as much snap as the moto version. The X maintains a lot of traction as the power rolls on over a long rpm range, but it’s still not four-stroke-like traction—sorry but some things never change. The real meat of the power is in the mid to mid/top of the rpm range; the power starts to fall at the very top. Although this is a closed course racing machine, I am a little disappointed that it wasn’t equipped with a spark arrestor, which would be one of my first modifications so I could take it out to public riding areas.
In recent years, Yamaha has had, in my opinion, some of the best stock suspension components in the industry, and they didn’t skimp on the 250X. The fork’s initial stroke is plush and very compliant in the rocks and small chop, holding itself up nicely in the stroke. The mid-stroke moves freely, almost like it blows through the stroke, but not through to the bottom. The bottoming resistance is excellent when pushed and ridden aggressively. The shock keeps the rear wheel in contact with the ground very well and is very progressive and comfortable at any pace, although it exhibits some busyness at really low speeds in repeated chop. Yamaha seems to have come up with the perfect mixture of rider comfort when being trail ridden and performance when ridden aggressively.
Out on the trail the YZ250X feels extremely light, in fact it feels lighter than the scale says. It changes direction with minimal input from the rider, and turns very well in all types of turns. On flat corners it’s stable and instills confidence in the rider, and in rutted turns it takes little to no effort on initial lean-in to get the bike to settle in the corner. While riding through the trees and rock gardens, I came across one of my main complaints about the off-road race machine; it doesn’t come with a skid plate or hand guards. At the very least, the bike should come with some protection from the elements that Mother Nature will throw at it.
The changes that Yamaha made to the third, fourth and fifth gears were noticeable, which was about the best thing that Yamaha could have done without adding a sixth gear. First and second gears are low enough to crawl through rock gardens and lug over tree roots, but when riding on flowing trails, third gear is where the 250X loves to be, right in the meat of the power. Fourth gear is tall enough for most fast GP style courses and fifth gear would be great for a wide-open desert-style of riding. The addition of an O-Ring chain is a must for an off-road bike; it may create a little more drag than a non O-Ring chain, but will last much longer. One thing I did find interesting about the chain is that it doesn’t have a traditional master link; instead, it has a riveted master link that cannot be removed without a chain breaker, which could be a bummer in certain trailside repair situations.
Yamaha set out to provide their customers with a competitive, closed course race bike, and if you ask me, they did just that, and then added the 250X to their bLU cRU contingency program. I have heard people harp on the YZ250X for not having this or that, but I feel that people should be as excited as I am about the mere fact that a Japanese manufacturer has finally noticed that there is still a market for an off-road specific two-stroke.
Seat height: 38.2”
Ground clearance: 14.2”
Fuel capacity: 2.1 gal.
Claimed Weight (tank full): 229 lb