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Racer X Tested: 2006 250F Shootout

The 2006 Honda CRF250R
The best-selling motocross bikes out right now might just be 250cc four-strokes. As a result, for 2006 the competition is fierce. In fact, the 2006 250F Shootout is the closest one that Racer X has ever done. Our test riders (myself included) had to ride each bike several times back-to-back in order to declare a winner. It was truly up for grabs!

Day one of our shootout was a wet affair. The night before, it poured rain. Our test track, Cahuilla Creek Motocross Park, was underwater and closed down for the day. We tried a friend’s private track, but it was one giant mud puddle as well. So we shot some stock photos and hoped that it would dry out enough by the end of the day .. but it never did. Our test was rescheduled, but several of our original riders, including Chris Gosselaar, Bob Moore, and Chad Pederson had other business to attend to and could not return. As soon as it was dry, I grabbed Ritchie Owens and Casey Johnson and headed back to Cahuilla Creek to finish what we had started. After a long day and a million laps, the riders scored the bikes first through fifth (with a reverse 5 points for first down to 1 point) and the highest score was declared the winner. And like I said, this was a close one!

The Test Riders:


The 2006 Suzuki RM-Z250
Richie Owens
is a young rider who has spent his first few seasons with the WBR race team. Owens has seen some good finishes but has lacked the consistency he needs to excel. Look for him to improve and impress in 2006.

Casey Johnson had a lock on a 125 supercross title in 1999 until another rider landed on him at Anaheim Stadium, breaking his upper arm. The injuries just kept coming after that for Casey. Blazing fast and tougher than a leather work boot, Johnson has been up at the factory level and down in the privateer ranks as well. He’s seen and done it all and he is a great test rider.

As for me, I am a four-time 125 AMA Supercross winner, a lifelong rider, and now an editor for Racer X Illustrated.
 
The Spot:

The 2006 Kawasaki KX250F
Cahuilla Creek is a perfect motocross test track. It has uphills, downhills, loam, hard-pack, ruts, jumps and sandy berms. When it’s prepped right, it is the ideal race track. The day of our test it was 75 degrees with very dry air. The altitude at CCMP is approximately 4,000 feet.

Setup:


(changes made from stock)

Honda: NHGT needle in 4th position. 48 pilot. We tried a 50 pilot and it did work better in cold conditions. Fuel screw at 1 and ¾ out. Sag recommended at 105mm.

Kawasaki: Sag recommended at 102mm to 105mm. No other changes made.

The 2006 KTM 250 SXF
KTM:
Sag recommended at 105mm. No other changes made.

Suzuki: Sag recommended at 102mm to 105mm. No other changes made.

Yamaha: Added 1 tooth to rear sprocket (48 to 49). Sag recommended at 95mm.


David Pingree (5’7” 160 lbs.)

1st: Honda 5
2nd: Kawasaki 4
3rd: KTM 3
4th: Yamaha 2
5th: Suzuki 1

The 2006 Yamaha YZ250F
This was a difficult shootout because the top four bikes were all very close, but I picked the Honda as the best bike. The motor throws a lot of people off because it is so smooth and linear. The new exhaust also gives it a very quiet note when you ride it, so it doesn’t necessarily sound like you’re going that fast. The engine gets the job done, though. Even if it makes less power on a dyno, the Honda powerplant is the most tractable and easiest power to use.

What also sold me on the Honda is that as soon as I hopped on it, I was instantly confident in the bike. To me, the suspension and chassis are the best. I could point the CRF anywhere I wanted to go and it would cut a line perfectly straight every time. I never have to worry about being kicked coming into corners or swapping on fast, rough sweepers. The Honda also feels more nimble than any other bike. The KTM is close, but the Honda turns and maneuvers in the air better than the rest. The Honda also fits me better than some of the others, and that is worth noting; it has a smaller feel than the others, and the closer you get to being six feet tall, I imagine the less comfortable you might feel on the CRF without making some chassis and seat-foam changes.

Ritchie Owens blasts off on the CRF
The Kawasaki is second for me—and I almost put it down for first because the motor is so strong. It hits hard as soon as you crack the throttle, and it keeps pulling. This engine will pull even the heaviest rider out of a deep turn without any trouble. The new chassis is very comfortable and has a solid feel on the track. The suspension worked well as long as I was riding it hard. If I slowed down and cruised around, I would get a lot of the small chop transferring to the handlebars.

When I started pushing the KXF, it really started to shine. I did get a slightly less stable feeling on the Kawasaki than the Honda, so even though it did make more power, it finished a very close second.

I have the KTM in third. The motor on the orange bike is very smooth and very potent. It rolls on in a very controlled way and then keeps pulling harder as the RPMs climb. It didn’t even matter if you missed a shift because the SXF would keep making power. The engine is great.

Casey Johnson flies the RM-Z
The KTM chassis has a smaller feel to it, which I liked. As always, the brakes, clutch, bars, grips, pegs, and finishing details are class-leading. The KTM has a different feel to it on the track. The forks are very quick-feeling. If you get too much weight over them, they will start to shake around a little. This makes setup very critical. The shock works awesome in some places but has a lazy, dead feeling in others. This can be cured by opening up the rebound as much as possible and using a lower ride height to cure kicking in braking bumps. The KTM can work well, but it takes a little more work to get it set up properly.

The Yamaha is fourth. The engine is solid on the YZF and always has been. It doesn’t make the most power, but it is in the hunt. The chassis is comfortable and roomy. The suspension works well but it isn’t a class standout. In fact, the Yamaha doesn’t do anything bad—but it doesn’t do anything great, either.

The Suzuki finishes fifth. Last year the RMZ was a good bike, but it wasn’t enough to compete with a class full of improved machines. The Suzuki feels slightly underpowered and chatters in fast chop. It’s still a good bike, but the rest got better.


Casey Johnson (5’11” 185 lbs.)

1st: Kawasaki 5
2nd: KTM 4
3rd: Yamaha 3
4th: Honda 2
5th: Suzuki 1

Ramsey on the KTM
The first time I went through all of the bikes, I knew right away that the Kawasaki was the best one. It took a while to figure out from second on down, but I knew I liked the Kawasaki the best. The motor is so strong right off the bottom. It has a hit to it, and it pulls hard everywhere. It is the best stock 250F engine I’ve ever ridden. The over-rev was good, but I could also short-shift it. The chassis was really comfortable. The only thing I might change to make it fit me better is lower bars.

The suspension was really good on the KXF. I could plow right through the rough stuff and it would stay straight every time. The shock tracked well and the forks did a pretty good job of absorbing bumps. I never bottomed either end out, and there are a few big jumps here. The Kawi is just a great bike all-around.

I picked the KTM second. The motor is awesome on it. The stock jetting is a little rich on the bottom, but it’s not really noticeable on the track. The mid- and top end on the KTM is unreal. It pulls forever. You can rev this bike so much farther than the others. The chassis felt good on the KTM, and the bars, brakes and clutch are the best. The details are really good, though the suspension felt a little soft for me. It had a mushy, slow feeling, but if I opened the rebound it would kick more than I wanted it to. It definitely takes a little time to set this bike up and get it dialed in and working right—it has a different feel to it.

As far as corners go, the KTM turns really quickly. I could stick tight inside ruts because the brakes work so well and it turns tight. The bottom line is that the KTM is better than I thought it would be.

Chris Gosselaar lays the Kawasaki flat
I put the Yamaha in third. The engine feels a little lazy off the bottom, but once it gets going, it makes good power in the mid and top. I changed the sprocket from a 48 to a 49 and that seemed to help. The suspension was decent: It moved around a little more than the KTM and Kawi, but it was better than the others. The Yamaha was really stable at high speed. In fast sweepers or coming into fast corners with braking bumps, the YZF stays straight as an arrow. I liked that. The bars that come on the bike are really low, though; I would definitely want a higher bar because they feel like they are right in your lap. The Yamaha is a good bike, but it doesn’t really shine or stand out in any area.

The Honda is fourth mostly because of the motor. It almost feels like it has an electric motor! It’s really quiet, and it doesn’t have any hit to it, in my opinion. I’m a little heavier, and I like my bikes to have a hit or a strong punch at some point, and the Honda is just really smooth. It handles good. I think the handling on this bike is as good as the Kawasaki, but I felt like I was going slower.

The Suzuki is fifth because they didn’t change. I didn’t realize how much the other bikes improved until I rode it. The Suzuki sort of fell behind this year.

Richie Owens ( 6’2” 180 lbs.)

1st: Kawasaki 5
2nd: KTM 4
3rd: Yamaha 3
4th: Honda 2
5th: Suzuki 1

Chad Pederson slices up a berm on the KTM
I liked the Kawasaki motor. It pulled hard off the bottom and kept pulling pretty far. It was the easiest bike to ride for me. I didn’t have to use a lot of clutch because it pulled so hard down low. It is also really stable in the turns. I could follow lines easily around sweepers or long berms. The KXF’s suspension worked well, but I did have a little harshness in the forks coming into turns.

The KTM was second, which surprised me. The power is insane! It revved way farther than the other bikes. It didn’t pull as hard down low, but if you stayed a gear lower it would move. I was really surprised at how well it handled. The back end was very predictable and stable. It was really good at absorbing acceleration bumps. The finishing touches on the KTM are the best out of the all the bikes.

The Yamaha was my third pick. I thought that it lacked a little low end. The mid and top was good, though. There’s plenty of power if you keep up your momentum. The Yamaha handles good down the straights. The ride is very plush and stable. I liked how light this bike felt. It felt like it weighed 10 pounds less than the other bikes. I also liked the way the Yamaha turned. I could snap it around really quickly or rail it through a long berm. It is a solid bike, but it doesn’t really shine anywhere in particular.

Bob Moore shows world championship form on the Yamaha
I didn’t feel comfortable on the Honda, so I picked it fourth. It has a super-small feel to it. I felt like I was way too tall for the bike—almost like I was riding an 80. If you ride it aggressively, the power works, but it definitely doesn’t have the grunt that the Kawasaki has. It is a very smooth power. It was hard to tell how the bike handled because I didn’t know if it was the bike or me, but I just couldn’t get comfortable on it. I would get chatter through the turns and it would twitch on the high-speed stuff. I think I was just too tall for it.

The Suzuki felt sluggish to me. The bike seemed heavier than the others and the suspension moved around a lot more. I would feel every bump in my arms. It’s not a bad bike, but it needs to be updated.

Final Score:

1st Kawasaki – 14 points
2nd KTM – 11
3rd Honda – 9
4th Yamaha – 8
5th Suzuki – 3


To see all of the photos from the Racer X 250F shootout, click here.

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