As always, let dealer support and cost help you in your decision making process. Those are things that we as a staff are not looking at here. This is simply a performance-based look at each bike side-by-side.
I haven't ridden a 250F all year. I've had a 450 and a 125 in my garage so it was a blast getting back on these bikes again. I really believe that the bikes that do well in this or any other shootout are simply the most comfortable bike for each specific test rider. I believe that from a performance standpoint the bikes are all so close that riding one or the other isn't going to be the difference between you winning and getting second in a race. But your choice of one over the other may determine if you are comfortable and having fun on your bike this year or if you spend the season feeling just a little bit off. Here's my take on the bikes:
Kawasaki- This bike wins the best engine award for 2012. I don't know if it is simply the dual injectors or a combination of changes, but this motor is as good as you can get right now. Throttle response is immediate and the power pulls way into the RPM's. My guess is you'll see more manufacturers adding a second injector in the near future. The suspension on the KXF comes a little stiff. I tip the scales at 165lbs (I swear) and I had to open up the compression adjusters on both ends four or five clicks. Depending on the track I think I could have gone six to eight more clicks. I also took some of the preload out of the fork. This is something that you really need to play with if you own this bike. The preload changes the ride height and the compression characteristics of the fork and can be the difference between hating the way your bike handles and loving it. Seriously. Once I got this sorted out the bike handled well. Kawasaki definitely made a change in the feel of the bike. The seat to footpeg height feels shorter than usual and the bike itself feels smaller. Of course I liked that, but I imagine taller guys won't. Brakes, clutch and shifting were all good on the Kawasaki. I felt at home on this bike after making some suspension changes.
"This bike wins the best engine award for 2012." - Ping
Photo: Simon Cudby
KTM- I spent more time on the KTM than any other bike. It always feels a little different when you first jump on it, but if you give it a chance it grows on you. But for me it just wasn't happening. The bike had a distracting vibration compared to all the other bikes and the over-the-front-wheel feel of the chassis gave me a nervous feeling in turns that I struggled to get used to. The engine used to be the big plus for this bike but it seems like the other manufacturers have made such big improvements that the KTM seems very average in the engine department. The suspension works well. Long gone is the dead feeling in the rear and the soft fork that plagued bikes in the past. Brakes are amazing, as per normal, and the attention to detail are class leading. And the electric start is awesome.
Honda- You know that old pair of shoes or tee shirt that you have that your wife keeps trying to throw away but you won't let her because they are so comfortable? That is what the Honda is like to me. I haven't ridden a Honda 250F in over a year but as soon as I jumped on it I felt right at home. You don't have to reach for any of the controls. Nothing feels out of place and the bike feels like it will do whatever you want it to. The Honda has the best handling in the group, hands down. There is not another bike that will let you bomb into a turn or a rough section with as much sheer confidence that it will stay in line. That confidence into turns translates into faster smoother cornering because of the bike’s compliance when you select a line. The motor on the Honda has a very under whelming hit to it. That is to say, it doesn't hit. But that is deceiving because while the motor doesn't feel amazing it is still getting power to the ground. As soft as it felt in areas, I wasn't having any difficulty getting over jumps out of turns or at higher speeds. The front brake on the Honda could also stand to be a little stronger, but that is getting pretty nit-picky. Most riders won't notice it.
Suzuki- The Suzuki is a great all-around bike. It has a very comfortable feel, much like the Honda, and it has a motor package that is slightly stronger. While it isn't the quickest in the class, it is very close. Turning is one of the Suzuki's strong points and it always has been. The suspension is good but not quite as good as the Honda. Maybe you could get there with some tweaking and adjusting, but it seems just a little off in that department. I went softer on compression in the front and back and that helped significantly. The forks are just a little more harsh feeling than the Honda and the shock, while good, dances around a little more. That said, it handles better than the rest of the bikes. Brakes, clutch, shifting and finish on the RM-Z are excellent.
"The bike had a distracting vibration compared to all the other bikes and the over-the-front-wheel feel of the chassis gave me a nervous feeling in turns that I struggled to get used to." - Ping
Photo: Simon Cudby
Yamaha- The Yamaha was a bummer last year. We did our shootout at Cahuilla Creek, which is at elevation, and the jetting was an issue. It also felt underpowered and, frankly, a little uncomfortable. Even though the 2012 YZ250F looks the same, it is a completely different motorcycle. First of all, the engine changes [lighter piston and crank, among other things] combined with a new carburetor make the powerplant a competitive one regardless of the lack of EFI. At Perris the bike never hiccupped, and throttle response is as good as any other bike. The suspension is as good as the Honda but the overall handling of the bike isn't quite up to the CRF. That may sound strange, but although the Yamaha soaks up jump landings and bumps amazingly, it is a little less predictable than the Honda and a little more active. Brakes, clutch and shifting were all excellent. The Yamaha was the biggest surprise of the day for me.
Conclusion: I’m torn over whether to choose the Honda or the Suzuki as the winner here. For me, both bikes were comfortable right away. Honestly, flip a coin. The Honda handles a little better and the Suzuki has a little more motor in stock trim. The Kawasaki and the Yamaha are close behind with the KTM rounding out the field. All of the bikes were great though and each one had qualities that I loved.
Yamaha- I rode this bike first because in last year’s shootout I put it last on my list and I had heard Yamaha didn’t go with EFI again this year so my expectations were very low. To my delight I really liked this bike a lot this year, I felt comfortable right away and the suspension soaked everything up, it cornered well and had plenty of power throughout all gears. It didn’t seem to feel at all like last year’s model. It was a pleasure to ride.
What I didn't like: No EFI.
Suzuki- I rode this bike next and just like last year it is a great bike to ride. I spent a few months on the 2011 version last year before stepping up to the 450 RM-Z . Like last year, the 250F has great power throughout each gear and excellent corning ability, it is as nimble as they come in this class. The only adjustments I made before my moto and during were sag, hand control and bar adjustments.
What I didn’t like: A little stiff in the front fork.
"To my delight I really liked this bike a lot this year." - Pete Martini
Photo: Simon Cudby
KTM- I rode the KTM third after setting the sag, and pulling the bars back and adjusting the levers. I was pumped to push a button to start the thumper! No kick needed. After dumping the Suzuki over in a left hander due lack of concentration and a misjudged inside rut line and having to kickstart it on the track, it was good to know I could push a button to start it if I suffered the same fate again. Electric start is a huge bonus to keep you from looking like a donkey if you take a soil sample. No other bike in its class offers this. The changes to the chassis seemed to help the handling over last year’s model. The motor pulled very strong just like last years bike. And the brakes stop on a dime.
What I didn’t like: Would need more time on this bike to get really comfortable.
Honda- This was my fourth bike of the day, but and I had just come off a solid rest and some lunch. I love the Honda, it just feels good. The hand controls and bar position are just plain comfortable, the seat position just seems made for my body type. Power is solid, but may lack a bit on the tall end of the gears. Front braking could be improved for more stopping power. But still, this bike feels great right away and seems to do everything really well. An all-around great bike.
What I didn’t like: Less power and front brakes.
Kawasaki: I rode this bike last and I felt the most comfortable on it. It has great snap off the bottom and you can rev it far into the tallest part of each gear. Maybe it was because I came off the last moto on the Honda without any incidents and my confidence was higher, but the bike just did everything well for me. I set the sag and the levers and that was all the changes made. I loved the way the bike exited corners, and entry into deeper ruts was very precise. The bike delivers the power to the ground very well and the suspension was solid, albeit maybe a little stiff for me, but to be fair I didn’t even touch the clickers at all.
What I didn’t like: I don’t have anything to add here.
Conclusion: If I had to go out tomorrow and buy one these models it would be the Kawasaki. Not because I feel like it was that much better then the others, but because I felt at home on the bike right away and it had more power. Last year I made my decision based on resale, but for me it’s all about the fun factor, and if I am not having fun it’s not worth doing.
"If I had to go out tomorrow and buy one these models it would be the Kawasaki." - Pete Martini
Photo: Simon Cudby
Take away: Anyone of these bikes would work for me; pick a color as they say. But if I factor in the retail price into my decision, I might reconsider. The Yamaha might retail for less because it doesn’t have EFI and therefore might be less money.
Honda: I feel like the 2012 has a stronger motor than last year. There was quite a bit more snap on the bottom, and noticeably more top end in third and fourth gear than the 2011. This bike is always so comfortable and easy to ride. Ergonomically everything feels right, and it feels very solid underneath you.
Suzuki: 2012 produced another great model for Suzuki. This bike was literally strong everywhere: motor, handling, transmission, braking. I rode this bike last, so I was extremely tired from all the riding, but I feel like this bike had no flaws. It would be hard to pass up this bike if you are in the 2012 250F market.
Yamaha: Even though this bike is still carbureted, I never experienced any bogs. This 2012 was especially comfortable for me to ride, and was strong everywhere. I feel like the 2012 Yamaha made the biggest improvement from the 2011 model out of all the bikes.
"2012 produced another great model for Suzuki." - Matt Francis
Photo: Simon Cudby
Kawasaki: This year's Kawasaki 250F has an especially strong top end, but lacked a bit on the bottom. This bike felt like it would rev and pull forever, but I personally struggled a bit with this bike on the low end. I felt it hard to keep up the rpm's in tight corners as it almost stalled a couple times. Last year's bike I had a hard time with rough shifting, but the 2012's transmission is a lot smoother. For me, being a taller rider, I felt a bit cramped on this bike, too. With some adjusted bars and positioning, and different gearing, I think I would have felt more comfortable on this bike.
KTM: Electric start! This was a special treat to just push a button and off I went. The only bummer is that this was the only thing I liked about this bike. As much as I tried, I could never get comfortable on this bike. The suspension was really abrupt, especially when I over jumped something. I really wanted to like this bike, but it never happened.
Conclusion: If I were to purchase my own bike this year, I would say either the Honda or Suzuki. Both bikes were solid all-around, and were extremely easy and fun to ride. You can't go wrong with either 2012 model.
First of all, I'd like to thank all of the manufacturers for rolling out the red carpet for us for this test. It's no small feat to put these test days together.
Suzuki: First up for me was the Suzuki. I immediately liked the ergonomics of the bike, and the controls. Feels very much like you're sitting on a Honda to me. After a few warm up laps, the stand out feature was the engine. The thing just plain rips! All the way from the top to the bottom. It almost feels like you're riding a 300 as opposed to a 250F. It was the only bike that I could comfortably clear the back table top at Perris in third gear, and I never felt myself needing more power or having to shift a lot. Throttle response is crisp (the RM-Z of course has EFI), and the brakes feel strong. The last time I rode an RM-Z250 was in 2008 and it is amazing the difference a few years can make. I always felt the RM-Z's weak point was the engine, but that is certainly no longer the case. As far as handling, the rear of the bike was great, but I did feel the front end was a little harsh. I'm pretty light (143 lbs soaking wet) so I had the Suzuki guys soften up the front end, and found myself pulling off the track a couple of times to have it softened more. But, once I got the front end dialed in, this was the bike for me. Amazing engine, great overall handling, good suspension, and great controls.
"I immediately liked the ergonomics of the bike, and the controls." - David Langran
Photo: Simon Cudby
Yamaha: I hate to have two bikes in a tie for second, but I feel it's only fair as the Honda and Yamaha were so close for me. I'll admit, I wasn't that excited about riding the Yamaha as it's the only 250F without EFI now. I had ridden the 2011 model and struggled to get comfortable on it. Not the case with the 2012 bike. Although the bike looks the same, it has had a complete overhaul with many new features including a new carb and better airflow from the air box. I felt good right away on the Yam and comfortable enough to jump everything on the first lap. The plush suspension soaks up the bumps and makes you feel like you are on rails in the turns. The engine doesn't give out the same power as the RM-Z, but there is plenty there and the lack of EFI really doesn't hurt the bike at all. Whatever they did to the new carb, it has worked! I always feel the Yamaha is better suited to smaller riders (I usually feel a little cramped on it at 5' 11") but moving the handlebars to the front setting on the triple clamp made a big difference. The Yamaha was the biggest surprise of the day for me. They have produced a great bike in the 2012 YZ250F.
Honda: So, tied for second is the Honda. I've always liked Hondas, the quality is second to none, and they are bullet proof. If I were to ever buy a used motocross bike, it would be a Honda. But, today we were riding a shiny new 2012 model and it didn't disappoint. In years’ past, I've felt Honda lacked in handling and had a strong motor. It seems like that scenario has now flip flopped and the bike handles amazingly, but lacks the power of the RM-Z. The CRF is now such an easy bike to ride, so I'm sure lap times would be consistent, but in flat out drag race (or start) I feel the RM-Z would have the edge. The ergonomics were great for me. As I mentioned the RMZ and CRF feel very similar: the brakes as always are flawless, and the suspension felt awesome right out of the crate. I didn't need to make any adjustments to the CRF. Just jumped on it and started spinning laps.
Kawasaki: Next up is the Kawi. A close fourth to the Yam and CRF. Nice ergonomics, good brakes, nice rear suspension. Front end felt harsh to begin with, but after some tweaks I was able to get it working for me. The engine felt good, not great, just good. It was getting later in the day by the time I rode the Kawi, so perhaps it was because my arm pump was causing me to only open the throttle a quarter of the way? But the engine felt a little flat at the top for me. Having said that, I really did feel very comfortable on the Kawi and actually went back and rode it a second time as I wanted to make sure I had given it a fair shake. The green machine is a solid all around bike and something I would be happy to have in my garage.
"But for me, a 34-year-old Intermediate guy who loves to ride, I just couldn't mesh with the orange machine." - David Langran
Photo: Simon Cudby
KTM: Last but not least is the KTM. I wanted the KTM to be further up the list, I really did! KTM have put so much effort into developing their motocross bikes over the last few years, and I feel that they will continue to improve (obviously they are doing something right as they swept up both GP titles over in Europe). But for me, a 34-year-old Intermediate guy who loves to ride, I just couldn't mesh with the orange machine. The electric start is awesome, the hydraulic clutch is a pleasure to use, but that wasn't enough. The ergonomics of the bike don't seem to suit me, which I think was the biggest obstacle. The engine seemed a little too mellow and I felt like I had to shift a lot more than the other bikes. The suspension didn't really allow me to feel that comfortable in the turns or on choppy straight-aways, but it felt fine on big landings. That's not to say the KTM isn't for everyone. The more laps I put in, the more at home I felt. But, for me to be able to ride and race this bike on a weekly basis, I would have to make a lot of changes. And ergonomically, there's only so much you can do on a motocross bike.
Conclusion: So in conclusion, if I was to part with my own hard earned cash, the bike I would buy is the Suzuki.
[Ed. Note] We also had staff member, Garth Milan, on hand to help with testing duties. Garth is an excellent test rider with years and years of racing experience. His input is quality and we love having his opinion. However, due to a slight timing miscue (Garth didn’t get to ride all the bikes before the track closed) we were unable to include his thoughts in this test. Garth was pacing himself since he hadn’t ridden much lately and before he knew it he looked over and the bulldozers were on the track grooming it for an evening session. We’ve included photos of him but concluded that it would be unfair to add his thoughts since he missed one of the brands. Garth, next year we’ll set a timer for you.
Due to a slight timing miscue we were unable to include Garth Milan's thoughts on the test.
Photo: Simon Cudby