In the past, we’ve always used current or former pros as our test riders. Our contention has always been that riders of that caliber can more accurately describe what a bike is doing than a novice rider. Still, there were some who wanted the opinion of a rider their age or weight or ability in the Shootout, to get their perspective. Well, this year we covered the gamut in the test-rider department. We’ve got former test riders, former factory riders, a world champion skier, a vet novice rider, a pro surfer (who is also a competitive B-class rider), and a Jet Ski world champion who rides in the Vet B class. We also rode at two very different tracks to make sure we were reading each bike correctly.
Each rider rated the bikes first through fifth, with first getting five points, second getting four points, and so on. The scores are added at the bottom to determine this year’s winner. Let’s meet the riders and see what they had to say.
5’9” 175 lbs.
It's not easy picking out a standout in this class. I came off the track with a huge smile after riding every bike. The first three bikes are a little better in one category or another. But overall, here are my ratings.
The Honda was a popular choice among the test riders.
Overall, this bike felt the best in all categories. It rode smooth and handled the chop nicely. It had the best usable power and pulled through all the gears. I had an easier time coming out of the sandy turns in the power band and it revved out nicely with crisp throttle response. It's a comfy ride and everything feels to be in the right place. It also has a good feeling in the air. I preferred the steering dampener in the stock setting (7). I tried at four clicks (stiffer), but it slowed the turning reaction down in the tight sandy berms and I ended up standing up and riding higher in the berm. It comes into the turn well, but didn't stick as well as the KXF. I had problems with the rear tire tracking in a clean arc; it washed out on me a few times.
The Honda was a popular choice among the test riders.
This bike has the best feeling in the corners. I was the most confident on this bike in the turns, and I could lay it over and it always stayed hooked up in the rear and tracked awesome. The strong and smooth power down low helped to keep the rear tire on a clean line and keep the bike moving forward. The power was solid, but lacked the Honda grunt out of the turns. The front brake lever is thin and close for the index finger to grab. I really like that feel because I can reach over the top of the lever and get good braking control.
The Suzuki's suspension felt soft but didn't bottom out on me, and felt really plush. The power was good and it pulled a tall gear. It hits hard in the middle of the power band, bringing the front end up and moving through the chop with a nice rear shock. Overall, I'd put the engine in between the Honda and the Kawasaki. It felt comfortable and was smooth over the accelerating chop. It also has good brakes.
2008 Kawasaki KX250F
This bike has good all-around power, feel and suspension, but didn't stand out anywhere like the top three. Off the gas it coasts faster with less engine compression, so you have to be ready for the brakes.
2008 Kawasaki KX250F
The setup felt awkward with a tall seat, low bars and an overall cramped feel. The rear brake lever is super close to the case and I missed it a few times. The clutch lever was really smooth to pull in, but it didn't engage in gear till the last bit of travel out. It took some getting used to. The motor felt good but didn't pull like the Honda. The front suspension felt good after softening it up two clicks from stock. It tracked straighter in the downhill braking bumps at this softer setting.
6’3” 190 lbs.
The biggest reason this is the best bike is because of the motor. It is so much stronger than any other bike. It hit harder, had more torque and the over-rev was as good as any other bike. The suspension lagged a little bit on this bike. It went down into the stroke a bit and packed. It was also a little harsh initially. The combination of those two characteristics made it just an average-handling bike. Still, this is the best overall package.
I think this had the best suspension of any bike. I could charge into the corners through the roughest line and it would track straight for me. It never kicked or swapped or did anything unexpected. The reason it finished second is because although it does everything well, it doesn’t quite have the motor of the Honda. Motor is really important in this class because you are wide open a lot.
This is an awesome bike. It has a motor similar to the KTM. The best way to describe it is that it’s very flat-feeling. It doesn’t hit hard or have a spot in the rpm range where it takes off. It feels kind of slow because there is never a spot where it just yanks super-hard. But it has a really broad, usable power. The brakes are great on this bike and the chassis works well. This bike turns great, too. I think the suspension was a little soft for me but stiffer springs would probably take care of it.
The motor just didn’t have enough over-rev for me. The suspension worked really well, but not quite as good as the Yamaha. I also thought the front brake on this bike was really weak. I had to squeeze the front brake lever super-hard to get it slowed down in turns. That was a big problem for me. This bike had great low end and mid-range power, but it needs to pull longer. It is a very comfortable bike to ride, though.
The suspension is what keeps this bike in fifth. The forks dove in the turns really bad and it felt like it rode “stinkbug” a lot. I hate to put this bike fifth, because it has a lot of great qualities too. It corners amazingly. You can pick and choose lines on this bike as accurately as the Honda, which is saying a lot. It has the best brakes, grips and clutch of all of them. But the suspension just keeps me from feeling comfortable on this bike. The motor has really good over-rev but, like the Suzuki, it doesn’t pull really hard anywhere so it feels slow.
5’10” 155 lbs.
The Kawasaki had the best feeling to me. The chassis feels super-comfortable and I feel like I can make it turn easily. The way I ride, this motor is great for me. I don’t carry a ton of corner speed; I point and shoot. The big grunt and pull through the middle that this bike has is perfect for me. I liked everything about this bike. The suspension is much better than last year as well. The one thing I didn’t like is that this bike is really loud. Even through your helmet, this thing seems really loud.
The RM-Z250 came in fourth.
This motor felt the strongest of all the bikes. The brakes are great and the suspension felt like it worked better the harder you rode it. It seems like it is set up for a faster rider. The bike is really neutral and comfortable to ride. You didn’t have to work hard to make it turn at all. I didn’t have any major complaints about the Honda.
The RM-Z250 came in fourth.
This bike was a whole lot better than last year. The motor felt as good as the Honda to me. It pulled strong all the way through and revved farther than any other bike. I could make the power work for me. The problem with this bike is the suspension. The front forks seemed too stiff and at the top of the stroke there was a harsh spot that didn’t let it get down in the travel. If I could hit a rut or a berm I was okay, but if it was a flat turn, the front wheel would push really bad. Sweeping turns with no berm and small chop were really hard for me. If I had a rut or berm, I was fine. The seat is really stiff too. I think I was going through and hitting the plastic part of the seat. Still, I rated this bike higher than I did last year. I really liked riding the KTM.
I had a tough time with this bike. It has a “chopper” feel to it, where the front end is too high. The motor also feels kind of weak; it’s like the pipe is choking it off. The seat was a little stiff for my liking. The suspension felt good but I didn’t enjoy riding it as much as I did last year.
2008 Suzuki RM-Z250
The Suzuki is probably the most comfortable bike to ride, but the motor was way slow. I ride point-to-point a lot instead of sweeping the turns and carrying momentum, so the engine was a big deal for me. If I rode with more corner speed I might not have noticed the engine so much. The seat was really soft too. Sometimes that good but it was a bit much. The suspension felt a little soft for me. This bike has a great feel to it and lots of good points but the motor just didn’t work for me at all.
2008 Suzuki RM-Z250
5’8” 165 lbs.
The Honda is the best bike, hands down. It felt like it was in a different class. It is light, stable and really fast. The new stabilizer is really cool. I messed with it quite a bit and found that I like it in different places depending on the track. It’s a cool feature. The one thing I didn’t like is that it kicked me a little bit. I could feel the seat hitting me in the ass in a few places. The ergonomics are great and it is a good-looking bike.
The motor had a little bit of vibration to it. The forks are slightly harsh in the mid-stroke. The chassis is great and the seat is really comfortable. I think it is the best looking bike right out of the crate. The black backgrounds for the 250F are something all the manufacturers should have been doing a long time ago. The black wheels are cool looking too. It is a close second to Honda. The suspension is nice and plush. The brakes are another thing; they are a little weak on this bike.
The seat is a little soft on this bike. The forks are a little busy too. I went in a few clicks on compression, and that helped. The shock was good; it had a good feel and good control. I thought it had a tall feel. The bars and rider position just fell high to me. This bike turned great, though. The tighter the corner, the better this thing worked. The fast, sweeping stuff wasn’t quite as good.
The Yamaha is a really close fourth. I didn’t like the motor noise. There was a really loud engine noise the higher you revved it. It made me nervous when I was riding because I kept thinking it was going to blow up. It never did, so I think it’s just the sound it makes. The power is actually decent. I think this bike is probably the most balanced of all the of the bikes in the suspension department. The problem with this bike is that it just didn’t have a fun factor. It’s so quiet that I felt like I was going slow. Then I realized I was turning good lap times and it was just the sound of the bike. It just kind of bored me after a while.
I couldn’t even ride the KTM. I struggled with it really bad. The forks felt super-long and super-tall and I just couldn’t get comfortable. I thought the motor was boring, the seat was too thin, and I didn’t enjoy riding it at all. It did have a great clutch and great brakes, though.
6”0” 155 lbs.
The Honda is the best bike. It is fast and had the best handling. It corners really well. The suspension is a little stiff for a slower rider, but it is perfect for an intermediate or pro rider. With a little suspension work it would be fine for anyone. The stabilizer wasn’t that noticeable. The engine worked well, though. I was comfortable with the power in all the gear around the track. It was the easiest to ride.
This was really close between the Yamaha and the Kawasaki. I gave it to the YZ because I like the motor better and I thought it handled really well. It cornered good and handled awesome through the bumps. There wasn’t a major complaint about this bike; the engine just wasn’t good enough.
The Yamaha finished third.
This bike was fast and comfortable. It had great bottom end, it just went flat up top a little bit. If it had more on top it would be a contender for the #1 spot. The handling was just as good as the Yamaha and Honda. The seat is a little soft so you sink into it and it gives it kind of a chopper feel. The suspension is a little soft. I think this is more of a novice/intermediate bike. I like that when I came out of turns, the front end wouldn’t come up on me. It would track straight and pull good. I had never ridden a KX until today, and I got comfortable on it right away.
The Yamaha finished third.
I didn’t like this bike at Cahuilla Creek. The fast, sandy track made it feel really nervous. It definitely felt better at Perris, where it was a little slower and tighter. The motor is pretty good but it doesn’t have as much power as some of the others. The power is really smooth. The suspension was soft but it actually worked well for me because I’m lighter. It corners great and tracks straight. It just wasn’t as comfortable to me, like it was cramped and the seat was too soft. I also didn’t like the bars; they had too much sweep to them.
I thought it worked great at Cahuilla Creek. The motor was okay, but it cornered really well. But at Perris I just couldn’t get it to handle. The back end kept kicking me in the butt and I almost crashed a few times. The way the bumps are sticky and choppy here just doesn’t agree with this bike. With some suspension work, it could be competitive, but it’s a little off the mark in stock form.
5”10” 175 lbs.
I think it’s important to note that any one of these bikes alone is awesome. The Kawasaki felt the most comfortable to me right away. I didn’t have to adapt to the bike, it adapted to me. The motor was strong right off the bottom, it cornered well, the suspension was good, and it worked for me.
This bike did everything well. The motor was strong, and after working with the clickers, I got the suspension working well. The clickers were very sensitive. The Honda forced me to change my body position more than the Kawasaki. The Honda just wasn’t quite as comfortable.
The motor on this bike felt like it was stronger on top. That didn’t suit my style as well. A faster rider might be able to use it better. This bike seems like more of a race bike than a versatile weekend-warrior bike. I had to adjust to ride this bike as well. It didn’t do anything poorly I just wasn’t as comfortable.
The Suzuki was really comfortable to ride. The suspension worked great and the chassis was super-comfortable. The motor just wasn’t as strong as the Kawasaki. The Suzuki didn’t have as much pull off the bottom to get me out of turns. And I did find the suspension to be a little soft for me as well.
I loved the motor on this bike. The rider compartment felt awkward to me, though. The peg, seat and handlebar orientation felt really long to me, like it was stretched out. It didn’t feel tall, per se, but it felt unnatural. The seat gave me a read that the suspension was stiff but softening the shock didn’t help. I think it was just the seat. It seems like the stock springs weren’t going to work for me.
1) Honda – 28
2) Kawasaki – 23
3) Yamaha – 17
4) Suzuki – 14
5) KTM – 8