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Racer X Tested: 2009 250 Shootout

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It’s that time of year once again where we find a qualified crew, get all the manufacturers together and pick out a clear-cut winner in the 250cc motocross bike category. Woo-hoo, right!? If only it were that easy. In fact, singling out a machine to call the “bike of the year” is a ridiculous concept. And unless you are being paid off by a manufacturer, you have to agree with that statement.

It has simply gotten to a point where all the bikes are good. Riders will like and choose a bike based more on their personal preferences because there is so little separating all the brands. By looking through each rider’s comments it seems like taller riders didn’t like the Honda as well but fit on the Kawasaki and Yamaha better. And our shorter test riders liked the Honda, KTM and Suzuki. If you like a bike that revs, the KTM and Yamaha will suit your style. If you want a bike that carves a tight line in the turns, the KTM and Suzuki will make you happy. Each of the bikes have their own personality and each test rider liked and disliked different things about each of them. As I do every year, I think it’s important to remind those in the market for a new motorcycle to consider heavily the dealer support options you have. For the average rider/racer this is the most critical factor in determining what brand you purchase. Your dealer will be the guy selling you the bike, parts and gear as well as answering technical questions and providing any necessary service. This is far more important in your buying process than which bike makes the most peak horsepower on a dyno.

Our test riders included five-time arenacross champion Buddy Antunez, Canadian national champion Randy Valade, Jet Ski world champion Victor Sheldon, Chad Pederson, Tyler Keefe, and our own designer David “Langers” Langran. This group has years of testing experience and varies significantly in speed, ability, height, weight and style. We asked all of them to tell us what they liked and disliked about each of the machines, what positive changes they made (if any) and which bike they would go buy if they were spending their own money. The following are direct quotes from each of our test riders.

  • 2009 Honda CRF250
  • 2009 Yamaha YZ250F
  • Simon Cudby
  • Simon Cudby
  • 2009 Kawasaki KX250F
Buddy Antunez:

“I rode the Honda first. I loved the bike; it had tons of torque, which made it a very easy 250F to ride. It seemed to be a bike you could get on and be comfortable on right away. The chassis is super-stable and it goes straight as an arrow. I was completely confident on it going through bumps or ruts or whatever. The biggest thing for me was the grunt that it had coming out of turns. I could bury the bike into a rut or a berm and be confident that it would pull me out. The only issue I had with it was with the front end. I thought that it moved around a little bit too much. That is probably just a valving issue for me but I noticed it. You could also adjust the steering damper on it but even turned all the way in I had a hard time noticing it.

I switched over to the Kawasaki next. The front end was better than on the Honda but it didn’t have the bottom end that the Honda did. It had good mid-range power but then it signed off on top a little bit. The Kawi felt a little tall and long to me. I didn’t feel like I had as much control of it as I did with the Honda. So, it had good power right in the middle of the powerband and if you could keep it there the motor worked well.

I went to the Yamaha after that and it actually felt pretty similar to the Kawasaki. The front end worked well but it also felt taller and longer than some of the other bikes. I also had a hard time getting the YZ to shift. The strong point on the Yamaha is the suspension. It sucks up the bumps really well whether you are coming into a turn or coming out. The motor was okay but it didn’t really impress me either. The Yamaha felt like a good package but I wasn’t that comfortable on it.

The KTM was the next bike I rode and it really surprised me. I haven’t ever ridden a KTM before and it had probably the best motor of the group. You could stick it in third gear and just run it around the whole track. Second gear revved out a little sooner than some of the other bikes but if you just used third gear a little more it actually worked awesome. And that thing revs to the moon. It has the most over-rev of any bike for sure. The suspension worked okay for me. I don’t have anything bad to say about it but it wasn’t overly impressive either. It just of was what it was.

The Suzuki I rode last and I was really comfortable on that bike right away. It is a well-rounded package. It doesn’t have the motor of the Honda or the KTM but it is a very usable power. The suspension is really plush and it was a little soft for me but for the average guy it is probably awesome. Suzuki’s have always turned really well and this bike is no different. It turned better than any of the other bikes out there. You could make it cut in to catch a rut or rail around a berm. Whatever you wanted to do in a corner you could do.

If I had to go buy a bike with my own money it would be the Honda.”

  • Langers goes green for a few laps
  • Buddy fit the Honda best
  • Chad Pederson flies the new Yamaha
Tyler Keefe:

“The Suzuki felt comfortable to me right away. The suspension was a little soft so we went in four or five clicks right away to take care of that. Once I did that it felt great. The only downfall was the motor, which felt a little weak.

The next bike I rode was the Honda and for some reason I just couldn’t get along with it. I had problems trusting it and I couldn’t keep it in the same line. It wanted to drift around on me. I just couldn’t get going on it. The motor felt strong but it did have a bog that I didn’t like.

I rode the KTM next and it had a strong motor. All the other bikes would run out in second and I didn’t have time to shift to third. I was always in-between gears on the other bikes but the KTM would pull just long enough to get me to a better spot to shift. The suspension was pretty good but the forks felt like they sat too far down in the travel. That could be adjusted with preload to make it better. The brakes and clutch are the best of all the bikes.

The Yamaha was the next one I hopped on and it has a really good feel to it. The forks and suspension work awesome. When you sit on it you feel like you are sitting into the bike and I really like that. The downfall for the Yamaha was the motor. It is just really linear and kind of weak feeling. I think some of that might be the exhaust because this is probably the most quiet bike out there.

The Kawasaki was the last one I rode and I was really comfortable on it. The motor and chassis were really good. The jetting was spot-on and I felt like it just fit me. The forks were not the best but they still worked okay. I didn’t have much to complain about and I felt better on this bike than any other for some reason.

For me, the Kawasaki was definitely the best bike and that’s what I would buy if I was spending my own cash.”

  • Buddy sported the cool new AXO line
  • Tyler stretches it out over a Perris triple
  • Langers or Dungey? Too close to call
Victor Sheldon:

“Well, I liked all of the bikes a lot. Honestly, there wasn’t one of them that I wouldn’t be stoked to own. They are all so much fun. I started out on the Suzuki and I probably spent the most time on this bike. The motor is on the slower side and it felt like it just wouldn’t rev. It almost seemed like there was a sock stuffed in the muffler. It was a really comfortable bike to ride and the shifting was great. I’m really picky about shifting and especially on a 250F you shift a lot. Another great thing about this bike is how well it turns. The Suzuki turns on a dime, man. I was really having fun throwing this bike into corners. The main complaint I have is that the motor is a little slow.

The Kawasaki had a great motor. I think that motor is so important on these little bikes so that was a big thing I was looking for. The KXF also turned really well and that made it a good package for me. I was comfortable on it right away and I felt like the front end was really stable and predictable, which I liked. The downsides to this bike are the shock and brakes. The brakes could be a little stronger and the shock could use a valving change for me. Still, it was a great bike.

I rode the Honda next and it was awesome. I was just as comfortable on this bike as the Kawi and it did everything just as well, if not better, but I was having problems with it bogging. If I landed hard or tried to short shift the bike it was bogging on me. That is a scary feeling and I had a hard time relaxing on the bike because of it. The motor didn’t rev as far but it still made good power. The brakes and shifting on the Honda were great. My dislikes were the bog and also the front end felt like it wanted to push more than the Kawasaki.

The KTM was so fast. It was easily the fastest bike of them all throughout the whole powerband. It felt way better than the bike I rode last year. The motor would get me out of trouble if I needed some extra power and I loved that. The suspension is okay but I would really like to see this thing with a linkage. I think it might just be the best bike if it had more of a positive feel with the shock. I did have troubles with stiff shifting and the clutch, which is more of an off/on feel than a typical clutch feel. I have a hard time getting used to the hydraulic clutch.

The Yamaha is a good all around bike. I kind of don’t have much to say about it. It does everything pretty well but it didn’t do anything awesome. I had some trouble with the shifting on this bike, too. The suspension was a little too soft for me, but I could fix that up by turning the compression in a few clicks.

It was really close for me but if I had to buy a bike with my own money it would be the Kawasaki. I was most comfortable on that bike and it had the least number of things that I would want to change. But all of the bikes were really good.”

  • The Yamaha was one of Valade's favorites
  • turning the Suzuki was a blast for our test riders
  • Randy loved the KTM power
Chad Pederson:

“I started on the Kawasaki. The motor had good bottom and mid but the top flattened out more than I would like. The suspension was a little soft, no matter what I did with clickers. It also seemed to rebound too quick, so we slowed the rebound down and it helped a lot. The brakes were awesome on the Kawi. It turned alright but it seemed to be heavier feeling and not as nimble when I needed to move it around.

The Suzuki had a good motor. It wasn’t going to pull your arms out of the sockets but it was really easy to ride. The brakes were a little weak compared to some of the other bikes. You had to really grab them. The handling was a strong point for this bike. It turned so well I couldn’t believe it. Ruts that I was struggling to stay in on other bikes, I could just drop into and pin it. I loved that about the Suzuki. The suspension was good overall and it seemed very well-balanced.

The Yamaha felt a little flat. The motor doesn’t feel like you are going very fast but I didn’t have any trouble getting over the jumps or anything. It also over-revved just as far as most of the other bikes. I thought the brakes needed to be stronger too. The suspension was good; I don’t have any complaints there. The cornering was a little slower than I like. I wanted it to react a little quicker than it did. Shifting seemed tough and the forks felt a little twitchy on the small chatter coming into turns. It was a good all-around bike but there were some things that need to be improved and it doesn’t stand out anywhere.

The KTM has a great motor. The very bottom is a little soft, but then it starts pulling and you’d better hang on. It pulls hard and keeps on pulling. The brakes are the best of all the bikes. They actually have more power than you need at times. The suspension was a lot better than it has been in the past and I was impressed with the handling. They got rid of some of the issues they’ve had before with the forks and shock. The KTM also turns really well. The front end seems more weighted than some of the other bikes and you can really steer the thing easily.

The Honda had great bottom, mid and over-rev; it was the most useable motor of all the bikes. The brakes were perfect and the details on the bike are great. I loved the way the bike cornered and how easy it was to make the bike go where I wanted. The suspension was good on it too. It had a solid feel to it and it didn’t do anything unexpected. I still got a little bog when I landed hard and if I could get rid of that the bike would be perfect.

If I was spending my own money on a bike, it would be the Honda. They are all close though, and I would be happy to have any of them.”

  • Victor launches the KTM off a Perris kicker
  • The KTM blasts out of corners
David Langran:

“It had been about five months since I’d last ridden as the result of some injuries, so I knew going into the Racer X 250F test that although I wasn’t on top of my game, I would be able to gauge which bike is the most user friendly, if nothing else.

First up was the Yamaha. I immediately felt at home on this bike. Granted it was the start of the day, so I was fresh—not to mention excited to be back on the track again—but this bike definitely inspires confidence right off the bat. I noticed right away that the bike handles very well—corners, jumps, or choppy straightaways, there wasn’t any part of the track where I felt uncomfortable on the YZF. The stock suspension felt good (even for my scrawny frame), and the engine has power when you need it, but never feels like it’s getting away from you. I have no complaints about the YZF. This is a great all around bike whether you’re a novice or professional.

Next up was the Kawasaki. I had ridden an ‘08 Kawi 250F a lot this year and was very impressed with that bike, so I was keen to see how the ‘09 model compared. I was not disappointed at all. The KXF250 is a solid bike. Easy to ride, good ergonomics, good breaks and an impressive engine. The suspension did feel a little stiff for me, but I never judge a stock bike by that, as it’s something that can be easily fixed with minor adjustments or a re-valve and lighter springs. Like the Yamaha, I feel this bike is suited to riders of all levels.

Last year I had an RMZ450 and I loved it. It was an awesome bike and I had one of my best years ever on it. I was excited to ride the RMZ250 as I was sure that it would be equally impressive. Although the ‘09 bike has the classic great handling that Suzukis are known for, I wasn’t so impressed with the engine. I felt that it lacked bottom end and there were parts of the track where I found myself needing to shift a gear higher than on some of the other bikes as it revved out too soon. The front brake also felt a little spongy, and I actually overshot a couple of corners when I first took to the track on this bike. All that being said though, this bike is still a lot of fun to ride and you really feel like you can throw it around and be aggressive. It’s very forgiving in the turns and felt great over the jumps, big and small. As a stock bike, I would recommend the RMZ250 to a beginner or novice, but obviously with the right modifications a pro would feel right at home on the yellow machine as well.

I was sporting the new O’Mara retro gear from Answer for the test, so as soon as I sat on the Honda I definitely looked the part! Honda’s mechanic told me that they had improved the bottom end on the 250F and that was very noticeable. This bike rips out of turns and I felt comfortable clearing some of the bigger jumps from the tighter inside lines as the Honda engine seems to have a little more grunt than the other machines. I also found that I didn’t have to shift as much on the Honda. The brakes and shifting—as always on a Honda—are flawless, no faults there in my opinion.

Although the ergonomics of the bike felt good, the stock seat is very hard and after a few laps became quite uncomfortable. I would imagine that over time the seat would break in and become softer, but if I was considering buying a CRF250, I would probably look into getting a softer aftermarket seat. Given the characteristics of the engine, I would say the Honda is more suited to the Intermediate or Pro level rider.

Last but not least was the KTM. When I sat on the bike, I definitely felt like I was sitting quite tall. I’m 5’11” and would say that this bike favors taller riders. I still can’t get my head around the whole no linkage thing, but once out on the track, I was actually surprised at how well the bike handled. Although the engine felt good overall, I did have some trouble shifting on occasion, which was slightly off putting. The brakes and suspension worked well and this is definitely a good overall bike. Of the five machines, this is the one that surprised me the most, as to be honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for the Katoom.

So, now to pick a winner! First of all, I have to say that riding a 250F is a blast and I had fun on all of the machines. I’ve been a 450 guy for the last six years or so, but that might change after today's test! After riding all five bikes, I went back and rode the Yamaha again, just to make sure, and I can definitely say that if I was going to go out and spend my hard earned money on a new 250F, it would without a doubt be the Yamaha. Picking a second through fifth on the other hand would be very, very tough. Picking a winner however, is not tough at all. It’s Yamaha all the way!

A big thanks to all the manufacturers for their hospitality. It was a great day of “work!”

  • Tyler Keefe: test rider and male model
  • Bud Man rails like its 1999
Randy Valade:

“The motor was strong on the KTM. It seemed to pull strong through all the gears and power was never an issue. Braking was good on this bike as well. Myself being a bit taller, I felt really big on this bike. It was really hard for me to turn. The handling felt a bit sketchy over the small chatter but was pretty good over the bigger jumps.

The Honda was the next bike I rode. I am normally really comfortable on the Honda, but for some reason this year’s 250f didn’t feel all that great to me. The bike did seem to handle well over the choppy conditions but I was having a hard time turning it. The motor was good off the bottom but seemed to sign off as it revved out. The bike did brake well though. Also, the seat was very hard.

The Yamaha was up next and I was really surprised how good this bike was this year. The motor was very strong all the way through the gears. It turned very well and the suspension was good coming in to and out of the choppy corners. The only concern I had was the braking. It seemed hard to stop the bike when landing off a jump right into a turn.

As always, the Suzuki handled very well. The brakes were very good on this bike. It was very easy to turn even with the chop in the corners and felt very plush over the jumps. It seemed like to me that the motor was a bit slow once you got off the bottom end. It pulled well out of the corners and then seemed to wind out very quickly, forcing me to shift a lot. The overall feel on the bike was very good.

The Kawasaki was a very fun bike to ride. The suspension handled very well even though it was bone stock. After only setting the sag, the bike felt good in all the conditions (chop, turning, jumps). The motor is very strong on the Kawi this year. It pulled very well out of the corners and kept pulling throughout the rest of the gears. It seemed to have a bit of a rattle when revved out, but it did not affect the power at all. The brakes were decent on the bike and the overall feel was pretty good.
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