Well, more like 375 words. Last week, GNCC Racing junior trail boss Jared Bolton and myself were invited to Travelers Rest, South Carolina, along with videographer Mason Rader, to check out Yamaha’s two new off-road offerings, the 2020 YZ250FX and the 2020 YZ125X. Yamaha had chosen that rural patch of South Carolina because that’s where longtime Yamaha partner Randy Hawkins, the multi-time AMA National Enduro Champion and woods racing icon, lives and runs his vaunted Am-Pro Yamaha off-road team. Hawkins spent years carving his tire marks into the seemingly endless trails on his properties in Travelers Rest and in nearby Union, South Carolina, forging the skills that carried him to so many wins on his way to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. So it made the perfect place for Yamaha to introduce 375cc of new off-road iron in the 250FX and the brand new 125X.
Bolton’s presence probably was no surprise to all of the off-toad journalists and test riders that were there, but me being there might have raised some question marks, especially for the younger guys. I spent the vast majority of my time and travel on the motocross and supercross circuits of the world, not off-road. What they probably didn’t realize is that I actually grew up woods racing, doing countless GNCC races, both as a competitor and a reporter for Cycle News, Dirt Rider, Dirt Bike, Dirt Wheels, and more. I actually have three GNCC class titles to my credit, though the only off-road success folks might remember coming from my family was my big brother Tim’s 1988 Blackwater 100 win, and my brother-in-law Jeff Russell’s 1991 AMA National Enduro title, or my nephew Kailub Russell’s recent run in the XC1 Pro class of GNCC and Team USA victory at the International Six Day Enduro (ISDE)… But Timmy got an ankle replacement, Jeff got a new hip, and Kailub is a factory rider for another brand, so I got the call from Andrew here at Racer X for my first off-road riding impression for a magazine since Joe Colombero and the Webb brothers invited me out to a Soboba Indian reservation more than a couple decades ago.
Needless to say I was a bit rusty, and there were some very impressive riders there, including some guy named Ryan Villopoto, as well as my old editor and mentor from Cycle News, Kit Palmer. I was a little bit intimidated, but everyone from the Yamaha guys to the magazine guys made me feel right at home. Besides, everyone was just happy to be there riding on Hawkins’ epic trails, and not the usual California test tracks (which one of the guys called “Hard-Pakistan”).
As for the bikes, I’ve long been a 125 fan, but I showed up when it was Racer X’s YZ250FX day, so off into the woods I thumped. The bike was incredibly easy and fun to ride, especially since I chose the easiest of the three trail loops that Hawkins and friends marked out for us. It didn’t take long before I was able to start channeling my inner-Ed Lojak, carving through the forest like a big cat… Or so I thought. Then Motocross Action’s Josh Mosiman came flying past me on another trail so quickly that I would have missed him if not for that signature orange MXA helmet. No matter, I still felt like a badass magazine test rider, even if for a magazine that really doesn’t do bike tests!
That night Yamaha treated everyone to a great meal in downtown Greenville, and then an all-time bench racing session broke out with everyone where we solved/launched every conceivable topic in the industry today. We also talk about the new bikes that Yamaha was introducing and the universal take was positive and impressed.
The next morning I couldn’t wait to ride that YZ125X. GNCC has recently brought on the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class and it’s gaining in popularity. Yamaha is tapping directly into that market with this purpose-built bike, which comes with an 18” rear wheel that makes it’s crisp torque feel even more nimble… Okay, “crisp” and “nimble” are bike-testing buzzwords I picked up from some actual test riders, but you get the point. I was soon venturing out onto the more technical trails, and then off the fixed trails altogether to just blaze some of my own tracks in Randy’s woods.
I ended the day, and my first off-road bike test since Yamahas were white, and it brought big smiles and two hands full of blisters. I am looking forward to riding both of these bikes more, and maybe even finally getting my butt back on the starting line for a GNCC in 2020. Thanks again to Yamaha for inviting Bolton and I to participate, as well as all of the guys who made us feel welcome, and of course Randy Hawkins and his family for their hospitality.
Here are some stock images from Yamaha of the 2020 Yamaha YZ250FX and the 2020 Yamaha YZ125X.