Racer X Tested:  2013 250 Shootout

Racer X Tested: 2013 250 Shootout

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How do you decide what brand of bike you are going to buy? Do you listen to advice from other riders? Do you read every piece of literature about every brand every year? Do you wait for this shootout and buy the brand that wins without exception? I’m sure the process is a difficult one for many people because letting go of that much hard-earned cash isn’t easy. The Racer X Tested staff does our best each year to give you some honest, unbiased feedback about each of the new bikes so you can make a more informed decision when you take your checkbook to the dealership.

This year our 250 shootout panel included staff members Pete Martini, David Langran, Matt Francis and myself. We also invited young pro riders Cody Young and Austin Howell to help shake things down. For those who like to see a diversified test panel ours consisted of two intermediates, a vet novice, a vet pro and a couple of current pros. That list is more well rounded than Kim Kardashian’s rear end.

The 2013 models are all very capable motorcycles. The simple truth is that you could get on any one of them and go the same exact speed. One isn’t going to make you go faster than another. But there are qualities about each that may better suit it to you and what you are looking for in a bike. For me it’s all about comfort. I can go my pace on all of them but which one do I feel the most comfortable on doing it?

Since I’m the one sitting down and typing this out I’ll go first:


David Pingree
30-plus expert- 5’7” 162 lbs.


Honda
Honda wins this shootout for me. Even though the changes from last year’s bike are subtle the CRF250 is about as close as you can get to a perfect 250F. As soon as you climb on the Honda it just feels right. Everything is in a very neutral position and it seems like it requires less effort to make the bike do what you want it to. The suspension is amazing right out of the box. After setting the sag I typically went out and did two laps and then returned to adjust clicker settings or ride height. There was no need on the CRF. The Honda is the best handling bike in this group. The engine is deceiving. It can feel a little soft but it actually is putting power to the ground. I initially thought it was down on power compared to the rest of the bikes but I never had any issues getting over jumps. The power is very linear and smooth and that translates to a powerplant that is easy to ride and still very potent. The brakes, clutch, pegs, tires and detail on the CRF are great. In fact, I couldn’t come up with something I didn’t like on this motorcycle other than the stock grips, which are a little fatter than I like.

Suzuki
A close second is the Suzuki. Again, I felt right at home on this bike and it seems like the peg to seat to bar measurements are very close to the Honda. The RM-Z is the best turning bike in the business. It can carve inside or sweep around a turn and it does it effortlessly. The engine is strong, though I wanted it to rev out a little further before it hit the limiter. The one reason that this bike didn’t beat the Honda for me is the suspension. There is a harsh feeling in the forks and even going softer on the compression didn’t get rid of it for me. The shock works well and never gave me any issues with tracking straight or kicking but the forks were harsh. Aside from that this is an incredible bike that fits like a glove.

Kawasaki
Third was a close one for me. I gave it to the Kawasaki though and the thing I liked most about this bike was the engine. The KX-F makes boatloads of power and it does it over a broad range of RPM. In my opinion this is the best motor in the class. There were some things I didn’t like though. First of all, it’s too loud. The other manufacturers have done a great job of keeping the Db down but this thing makes noise. I also had to work a little harder to get the Kawasaki to turn. It wasn’t a major issue and it could probably get worked out with clamps or fork settings but in stock trim it doesn’t turn as well as the Honda and Suzuki. This bike is definitely oversprung in the front so be sure to back the preload all the way out and then go in, like, four clicks to start with. If you leave it in the standard position you probably won’t like the feel of the fork. The suspension works great once you dial in the fork preload and the sag. The Kawasaki used to feel big and heavy but they have done a great job in recent years to change that. The 2013 KXF is a great bike with some awesome qualities. I don’t think they sell this bike with a holeshot guarantee but unless you have the reflexes of Snoop Dogg after a big meal and a bottle of Nyquil you will get good starts.

KTM
The KTM almost got third. Honestly, I’m splitting hairs between all these bikes because they are all good. The SX-F got the most changes of any bike this year and they are noticeable. The motor screams but you have to rev this thing to make it go. If you like to rev a bike this is the machine for you. If I had one of these I would either drop a tooth or add a tooth to the rear sprocket to put me in the right gear. The suspension is right on par with the Kawasaki and it doesn’t have the fork issues that the Suzuki does. This is a great handling bike. It also turns well and has a comfortable rider compartment. As usual, the brakes are class leading and the electric start and hydraulic clutch are very nice touches. One thing that KTM needs to do is rubber mount their handlebars. They are the only manufacturer who has a solid mount and the vibration is annoying. Particularly when you are revving this thing to the moon, the added dampening would be nice. This is the best KTM 250 ever built by quite a long ways.

Yamaha
The Yamaha brings up the rear but that isn’t to say it’s a lost cause. The YZF is still a competitive machine despite not being fuel injected. You can definitely feel the slight hesitation when you go from an injected bike to the Yamaha but it doesn’t hinder you on a common motocross track. The Yamaha turns on a dime and handles well, walking the fine line of being nimble and agile while still being stable at speed. The Yamaha chassis is great and the powerplant, though unchanged from last year, is still competitive. Again, I could turn the same lap times on the Honda as I could this bike but it’s all about how much effort I had to put in to do it.

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BrownDogWilson photos


Cody Young
Pro 5”8” 155 lbs.

Honda

The CRF was my favorite handling bike. It handled really well and was really plush and not rigid at all. The suspension worked really well and was perfect stock. I really liked the power from the bottom all the way to the top; it was solid all the way through. It was comfortable and felt really balanced and the bar height felt perfect.

Kawasaki
The Kawi was my second favorite. The handling was good and plush but the Honda was a little better. It was almost a tie between the two, though. The suspension was really good. It was a little stiffer than the Honda but it worked well. The power was good from the bottom all the way to the top but gets a little flat at the top. It doesn't rev out as far as I like. The bike was comfortable but the bar height was a little high for me.

Suzuki
The RM-Z was really comfortable and fun to ride. The suspension was a little stiff and rigid but was good. I liked the power from mid to top but it was a little sluggish on the bottom. I liked the Suzuki a lot…no complaints

KTM
The handling was okay, a little rigid though. The suspension was good. It was a little too stiff down the straights but it was good in the loamy corners. The power was nice and pulled all the way through the top and revs out really well and pulls a long way. The set up was really comfortable

Yamaha
The YZ-F handled really well and was fun and plush. The suspension worked really well everywhere. It was fast from mid to the top but was really sluggish on the bottom. It felt good but the bar height was a little high for my liking. 



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Austin Howell
Pro 5’11” 185 lbs.

Suzuki

I've ridden Suzukis my whole life but something about the changes they did to the motor made it light up. The motor was good all the way through. The suspension was really smooth and it turned good and jumped good. It was just a well-rounded bike and I was very impressed.

Honda
The power was really good and I really liked it. Motor was really fluid bottom through top. The suspension was really smooth; you could go through anything with traction still to the ground. I loved it. It handled really well and cornered well, but on some of the high-speed corners it felt like the front end wanted to tuck under a little. Other than that it was solid, really well rounded bike.

Kawasaki
The motor was strong and had good bottom and good top but I wish the top would rev a little longer. The bike cornered really well. It felt like the front end was a little light but not too bad. The suspension was really solid. The front end felt a little spongy but the rear was really good. I love how the whole bike was a lot narrower.

Yamaha
The top end power was great; it seemed like it pulled really well. The bottom end had a really bad bog and hesitation but if that was to improve it would be a really well-rounded motor.  It cornered well. Bike control in the air was really good and it handled really well. The suspension was very smooth and you could put it where you needed to go. The top three were really close there were just little things that I liked better and was more comfortable with.

KTM
The KTM didn't have too much pull off the bottom but the top end pulled really well, probably the best out of all the bikes. I wasn’t a big fan of the way it handled. It didn't corner that well and the front end was really touchy and all over the place. I loved the electric start.


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Matt Francis
Intermediate 6’1” 170 lbs.

Kawasaki

Last year I felt this bike was strong, but I had some trouble shifting, and the bike felt short and stocky for me as a taller rider (6'1"). The 2013 feels narrower and taller, giving me more room on the bike, and a better feel from the bars down to the pegs. The transmission was smooth as butter, with no mis-shifts. I feel that the 2013 KX250F has the strongest motor overall, which made this bike a blast to ride. After setting sag, I didn't make any adjustments to the suspension, which worked well for me with the stock clicker settings. My only complaint, which isn't that big of a deal, is that the exhaust is the loudest by far. When you're riding this bike, you can definitely hear it underneath you!

Suzuki
I rode the Suzuki last, so after a long day of riding the other bikes, my body was beat. I wish I could have ridden this bike right before or after the Kawasaki, as I would have been a bit fresher. The 2012 RMZ250 was a great bike to ride last year, and the 2013 was no different. The Suzuki was easy to get comfortable on right away. Everything from the motor, transmission, suspension and brakes worked great. I tried out the different EFI couplers, but I honestly couldn't tell a huge difference. The weather was quite cool for us during the shootout, so I was told that I would notice a bigger difference with the couplers when the temperature gets above 90 degrees. Suzuki has definitely improved their line of bikes drastically, and I'm sure we'll see a lot of yellow bikes winning races next year.

Honda
I rode the Honda first, and obviously felt really comfortable right away. I have ridden this bike for the past two years and it has been a solid bike every time I ride it. There aren't too many changes to the bike for 2013, which isn't a bad thing. Honda had a great bike prior, and didn't need to do much to it. The 2013 handled great, and has good low end. After riding the other four bikes, however, I felt that the Honda had one of the weaker overall motor packages, especially in the mid to top end.

KTM
The KTM was drastically improved from last year. The 2013's motor was insane! It had a strong mid-range motor, and it kept pulling and pulling through the top end. It honestly felt like it was never going to top out. The bike felt heavier than all the others when taking it off the stand, but it felt light and nimble while riding. One of my only complaints was the skinny, hard compound grips that come stock. I have pretty big hands, and it felt like I was holding onto a straw, which didn't give me much confidence when turning the throttle. Overall this bike is leaps and bounds better than the 2012 model.

Yamaha
This is basically the same bike as last year. Although it's still carbureted, I didn't have any issue with bogs. While this bike is good on it's own, when compared to the other models, the motor is not very strong. In some cases I needed to grab another gear to hit some jumps I was hitting in a lower gear on other bikes. The ergonomics were okay, but the seat felt really wide and fat for my liking.

Verdict: I feel that the Kawasaki and Suzuki were my top 2 bikes this year. Like I mentioned, I wish I could have ridden the Kawasaki and Suzuki during my 2nd and 3rd motos while I was fresh, because I'm curious if it would have changed my mind on the verdict of the Kawasaki. While the Suzuki is a great bike, for me on this day, I feel that the Kawasaki was my favorite all-around bike for 2013.

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Pete Martini
Vet Novice 5’ 10” 175 lbs.

Suzuki
I rode this bike first. After setting the sag, levers and bars I left the suspension settings stock and kept the stock coupler. I immediately loved the new transmission, shifting is way better then the 2012. The power is noticeably stronger as well. I felt I could rev the bike longer into the power band and the power stayed on and didn’t flatten out as quickly as last year’s model. After four laps I came in and adjusted the forks one click softer and a 1/4 turn stiffer on the rear shock. This seemed to help the bike settle down for me going into the bumpy stuff and really helped the bike layover. The bike cornered really well for me and it was easy to keep the bike in the meaty spot of the motor.

What I didn’t like: I don’t have anything to add here.

Yamaha
I rode this bike next and just like last year I was surprised at the low and mid range power the bike puts out for a non-EFI machine, although it goes flat up top pretty quick. The bike cornered well, felt comfy and the suspension worked pretty well. The bike has a ton of engine braking, the first time I rolled off the throttle to set up for a corner, my feet came off the pegs, I ate the bars with my chest and kissed the front fender like Mad Mike Jones circa 1999. The bike also bogged down low coming out of corners and burped here and there. The track we tested on sits at about 3,000 feet so this may have played into that. If I rode tracks at higher altitude I probably wouldn’t buy this bike.

What I didn’t like: Engine braking, no EFI.

Kawasaki
I rode the Kawasaki third after setting the sag, and adjusting the levers. I kept the suspension at the stock setting and I also kept the stock coupler in. I immediately loved the power this bike puts out. The transmission worked efficiently and I liked the feel of the clutch. The bike felt harder to layover in corners. So I came in and made some setting changes. Two clicks softer on the fork and the rear shock seemed to help the last six laps I put on it. The bike cornered nicely and exited corners really well.

What I didn’t like: The new set up seems to favor a taller rider (I’m 5’10 with my hair pomped right) but after suspension changes the bike was a joy to ride.

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KTM
This was my fourth bike of the day, I made some bar and hand control changes and set the sag. I reached down to grab the kick start and realized (to Tom Moen’s delight) that there isn’t one there. Just push a button and go! (So sweet!) The power is better then last year and is back to being one of the stronger motors in the class. The bike handled well for me, although it took a few laps and some suspension changes to get comfy on her. (1/2 clicks softer to both front forks and rear shock) Front braking is the strongest in the class. I got used to the hydraulic clutch, but I still prefer the way a conventional clutch works and feels. Overall, the bike worked far better for me then the last few years I tested them.

What I didn’t like: Hydraulic clutch. Takes awhile to get comfy.

Honda
I rode this bike last and I felt the most comfortable right away on it. The triangle from bars to seat to pegs just feels right. The bike does everything well, and it stands out in the corning department. The bike seems to have more hit down low and I noticed an increase in throttle response right away over last year’s model. The new Geomax Dunlop tires hook up real well. I kept the settings stock, set the sag and levers for my first moto. The only changes I made were to the front forks. I went 1/4 click softer. Looking back I should have made adjustments to the rear shock as it had a some what dead feeling to it.

What I didn’t like: Lacks some top end power.

Conclusion: If I had to go out tomorrow and buy one these models it would be the Suzuki. It was very close between the Kawasaki for me. KTM moved up to third for me this year, with Honda right there and lastly the Yamaha.

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David Langran
Vet Intermediate 5’ 11” 145 lbs.


I'll start with a big thanks to the people at Chaney Ranch and the five OEM's for coming out and making this possible. What a great day of riding!

For me there is a pretty clear winner in this year’s 250F shootout. But there are two other manufacturers who really impressed me with their 2013 250F machines.

Suzuki
The winner for me this year is again the Suzuki. I rode an RM-Z in 2012 so immediately felt comfortable on the new model and noticed some of the improvements right away. Other than the suspension I kept my 2012 machine stock—no aftermarket pipe or anything. For 2013 Suzuki made some engine changes to improve the mid to top end power and that is definitely noticeable. These tweaks for 2013 have improved an already solid engine. The 2013 Suzuki also has a redesigned chassis but the biggest change is the all new Showa Separate Function fork. All I can say is, wow! Last year I struggled with the front end on the RM-Z. It was a shame because everything else about the bike was so good. That is no longer a problem with the 2013 model. The front end feels plush and you really feel the suspension working through the whole stroke. The harshness that was there before when landing from bigger jumps is completely gone. I also felt I could charge corners harder and skim over bumps with more confidence. I can honestly say that the stock fork on the 2013 RM-Z 250 (with just a couple of adjustments on the clickers) is comparable to my 2012 fork, which had been re-sprung and re-valved. It is that good. The new Showa fork has really pushed the RM-Z ahead of the pack even further in my opinion.

Kawasaki
Second this year is the Kawi. The green bike has seen some big changes for 2013 all of which are very positive. As soon as I got on the track, I could feel the difference in power from the 2012 model. The 2013 KX250F is a ripper. The power comes on instantly and the sound of the engine is music to any rider’s ears (partly due to a shorter muffler and wider outlet). It took me a couple of laps to get used to the power and stop over-jumping things on the track (I had ridden the Honda prior to the Kawi), but once I had adjusted I was having a blast. The 2013 Kawi features an all new frame that is narrower to improve the way the bike turns and that has definitely made a big difference to the handling. Big improvements over the 2012 model and I could definitely see myself racing one of these machines.

KTM
KTM really impressed me with their latest offering. The new orange machine is definitely now knocking on the door of its Japanese competitors in my eyes. Something I've always struggled with on the KTM is the ergonomics. For 2013 KTM changed all the plastic on the 250 SX-F, which has greatly improved this area. I no longer feel as cramped on the bike as I have in years past. The new body work combined with improvements to the frame and a completely new engine (featuring a two-millimeter larger bore and shorter stroke among other changes) make this the best KTM I have ridden to date. A nice detail ergonomically is the new front fender, which now features no ribbing on the inside, which helps to prevent the build up of mud. I feel that by having the suspension re-sprung and re-valved I could really make this bike my own and be happy to ride and race it all year. Something I haven't really felt in the past on the orange bike. And of course you have the standard KTM benefits of an electric start and hydraulic clutch, which are always a nice bonus. Kudos to KTM for really stepping up this year and making the biggest strides in improving their machine.

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Honda
Honda is always just an all-round solid bike and although the 2013 machine only sees minor changes, it is still a very close fourth in this year’s shootout for me. Changes to the fuel injection settings, stiffer fork springs, and new Dunlop Geomax MX51 tires are the extent of the 2013 modifications. The stiffer fork springs don't really help me personally as I always have lighter springs put in any bike I have, but the Honda still has that great handling and broad power that it has been known for the last few years. Although it may not have the raw power of the RM-Z or KXF, the Honda's power delivery is smooth and precise, which, coupled with the great handling, makes it a very fun bike to ride. The brakes are always one of Honda's strong points and the overall craftsmanship of the machine is second to none. With the big changes Honda made to their 450 for 2013, I would imagine we will see similar changes coming for its little brother in 2014.

Yamaha
This is the first year that I really felt the Yamaha is starting to fall farther behind the other brands. With no changes to the 2013 model other than some slight aesthetic tweaks, and with most of the other OEM's making big improvements to their 2013 models, it's hard to put the blue machine higher than fifth place in this years shootout. The lack of EFI is the main problem for me. The engine braking, sound, and hesitation in power delivery all had me feeling like I was riding an outdated bike. The great handling, great brakes, plush suspension, and good ergonomics are still there making this a fun bike to ride. But, if I were choosing a bike that I wanted to go out and race, unfortunately it wouldn't be the Yamaha.

Conclusion
The yellow machine would be my top choice of bike again from the new models. But the 2013 Kawi and KTM are not far behind. The green and orange companies have done their homework and it has paid off. The Honda is still a solid choice and I feel like they have something big up their sleeves for 2014. If Yamaha introduce EFI to their 250F, they will also have a player in this game.

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And the Winner is…
If you made it this far down I’m proud of you. That’s a pretty heavy read and a lot of information to digest. So, at the end of the day the Suzuki was picked by three test riders, the Honda by two and the Kawasaki by one. I noticed that the tallest rider in the group picked the Kawasaki, which has become a common theme over the years. The KXF seems top have more legroom for taller riders. As each rider mentioned there are great qualities about each motorcycle and you really can’t make a bad decision this year. As always, I like to encourage people to look into each manufacturer’s contingency programs [if you are racing] and find a dealer who will offer you great support. We will have a video up shortly that will take you through some standard setup tips from each of the manufacturers based on their recommendations so keep an eye out for that.

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