A multibike test as involved as a Dirt Rider shootout not only declares a winner, but more importantly discovers the strengths, weaknesses and personalities of each machine. Empirical testing may uncover a single “best” choice, but a motocross bike is the link between rider and track, and the best bike is also dependent on those other two variables–the who and the where.We lined up test riders from national pro to vet novice and ran the shootout officially on three SoCal tracks: Racetown 395, a fast track in the high desert with big jumps and sandy dirt over a hard base; Piru MX, a tight, hard-packed track on a hillside; and Milestone MX, an intermediate track ripped deep to develop ruts. We also leaned on our impressions from intro days, and the days and tracks between then and the shootout. We ran stock tires up to and through day one, then we spooned fresh Dunlops onto all (745 front, 756 rear). Otherwise, the bikes were bone stock except for the DeCal Works preprinted number plate backgrounds and a few Dirt Rider and Texaco logos. Each motor started our test with approximately 15-20 hours of run time save for the Suzuki, which showed up on our first comparison day as the yellow 2009 models arrived late.We picked a winner, but don’t ignore the information on each bike. Choosing a best overall pick is like a manufacturer settling on the best overall suspension settings; they work well across the board, but what satisfies the majority of riders may not suit you. Put yourself into the conclusions and opinions and let our results tell you which bike is best overall and what each machine is like. Each can be the best pick for some riders and some conditions. Then, when someone tells you their ride is better because it won the shootout, just smile knowing that’s not what shootouts are about. That’s what we do.Kawasaki KX250F
Kawasaki completely redesigned its 2008 Dirt Rider shootout winner and came out with something more serious. Nearly everyone fell in love with the Kawi’s power in spite of its raspy, loud exhaust tone. The power picks up in the bottom and doesn’t just pull, it yanks from there like no quarter-liter thumper before it–all the way into a screaming fast top and an overrev that doesn’t fall too flat. Many riders commented it felt as if they were riding a heavily modified engine, not a stocker. The transmission only helps with each gear picking up the meaty pull. All that juice, yet it remains easy to manage for slower guys. The suspension is balanced and the overall handling was almost unanimously rated as excellent. The bike has a rear-end-low feeling but it turned precisely and handled the high-speed sections excellently. The bike seems aimed more at the faster, serious rider, and it really shined at Racetown.Engine
* Outstanding power–responsive and plenty of it.
* Feels like a modified engine right off the showroom.
* Popping on decelerating.
* Too loud.Chassis
* Balanced and stable.
* Excellent turning.
* Feels low in the rear.Suspension
* Good suspension balance.
* Trades plushness for a more aggressive setting.
* Generally stiffer than the other bikes, but often this was said in praise, not complaint.
* Some riders, fast and slow, found the settings a little skatey or loose.Why The KX250F Should Win
* Stable, balanced feel at speed.
* Power. No need to mod it, this thing rips bone stock!* The only all-new bike.
* Serious race bike with passing power and a matching package for fast lap times.Why The KX250F Shouldn’t Win
* Take a photo at the dealership, because this bike gets ugly and clapped-looking fast.
* Some riders felt a skatey feeling in the tires.
* Serious race bike, not as fun to ride as some other bikes.
* It’s not only loud, but the noise sounds bad.This Is Your Bike If…
* You ride aggressively and happily trade plushness for control.
* You want to grow your trophy collection.
* There’s a Kawasaki dealer within driving distance…or you like road trips.
Weight: 155 lb
When it comes to throwing down my hard-earned loot on one of these machines, it would be the Honda CRF250R. However, this isn’t my favorite ’09 250F; that honor goes to the Kawasaki. I found the KX-F to be the best overall package of engine performance, handling ability and overall potential, and with a little suspension setup and some time in the saddle I could really get into riding this bike. The Honda is a close second but was held back in my ranking by the soft side of the suspension, which felt like it was valved a bit squishy and was consequently hard to put full confidence into in the turns. However, I’d buy this machine over the KX-F simply because I have more confidence in Honda durability and parts/modification availability.I was expecting the KTM 250 SX-F to do well in the shootout but was still surprised at how darn good the bike felt; you truly could race this machine straight out of the box. The suspension and handling felt better to me than they ever have on an orange model, and if it weren’t for a few quirks (such as the somewhat-heavy feel, unfamiliar ergos and slightly far-out clutch friction point), this bike would likely be my top pick.For me, the RM-Z250 sits one spot ahead of the Yamaha because I simply feel more comfortable on the yellow machine. Balance and stability are two words that kept popping up in my Suzuki notes, and at the end of the day this is another one of those rides that, with a little tuning, could be super competitive with anything else on the racetrack.Although I like the Yamaha a lot and feel bad giving it “last,” I struggled to get comfortable on this machine. Be it the track conditions on our test days or just the alignment of the stars, I was never able to fully click with the YZ-F. However, I know that the blue bikes are solid in the long run, which would bump the YZ-F up over the Suzuki if it were my money on the line. But as far as overall ranking in terms of hands-down performance and personal preference, my list is green, red, orange, yellow and blue.
Weight: 180 lb
My biggest issue with most bikes comes down to suspension; if it does not work right, you’ll get tired or you just cannot use the bike to its full potential. Over every obstacle the Honda’s suspension worked great, always maintaining a smooth and confident feeling. Although the Honda did not have the best motor, the handling, feel and suspension made it able to use all its horsepower to its full potential.As soon as you snap the throttle on the KX250F it sounds like a monster; but with all that noise there is definitely power to match. This KX-F will pull harder than all of the other bikes. It is snappy, torquey and just flat out quick. This motor package is what really makes the Kawi shine. Coming off of each bike I would usually have some issue with one jump on each track, but as soon as I hoped on the KX-F I could sail over the jump with ease. Along with such a great motor, handling and suspension, everything else on this bike works awesomely.With such a close-ratio transmission, Suzuki’s RM-Z250 required a lot of shifting. The tranny made the bike shine on tight tracks, but it was just OK on other tracks. Handling seemed to be very easy and quick; you could switch up lines very fast and at the same time stay planted in fast long ruts. I think this bike would be ideal for arenacross or supercross.The Yamaha YZ250F had a bit of a heavy feeling, and the power is not all that aggressive. But after a few laps I settled into a pretty decent pace and wasn’t getting tired. A lot of this was due to a plush suspension setup, mellow powerband, and that heavy feeling then started to translate into a more stable feeling. With a very stable feel, great turning and very plush suspension I was beginning to appreciate what at first I didn’t like.This year was definitely an improvement with the KTM’s handling and suspension. This bike was by far the most stable bike that I have ever ridden. I gained so much confidence that I felt as if I could come into a turn wide open and just rail without worrying about staying in the rut; it was just effortless. After the first day I was convinced this bike was going to be my first choice. Unfortunately, after a few more tracks with different terrain I found that the 250 SX-F does not like small chop or square-edge bumps. Long rolling obstacles it eats up with ease, but get into those small little bumps and the bike starts to want to come out of your hands and grows very violent. This bike seems to be set up for heavy riders.
Weight: 180 lb
The Kawasaki is the best bike by far. The motor has so much torque coming out of corners (even with all 180 pounds of me on it), and on top of that it pulls very hard all the way through to the top. It also turned and handled amazingly. I tried finding something I didn’t like about this bike but couldn’t.I’ve always heard so many bad things about KTMs, but I had never ridden one up until this shootout. It probably surprised me more than any of the other bikes by how good it was, and it was my second favorite bike. The motor was super fast but very controllable for how much power it had. I think the KTM turns at least just as good as the Kawasaki, but the only thing I did not like about the SX-F is how wide it felt; the bar seemed six feet long. The back end chattered around in small braking bumps when you would not be on the gas and braking, but I think with a few adjustments to the bar and suspension the bike really would be almost perfect.Yamaha’s 250F is one of the most comfortable bikes, and it gets third place. The way you sit on it and the way it feels for a tall guy like myself are great. The motor seemed strong through the mid and top, but being as heavy as I am for a 250F, I need the bottom-end to pull me around. I still think some of my lap times might have been fastest on the Yamaha, but I would like to have a little more bottom. The way they turn is also another reason I put it in third in my rankings. It just does not get down in the corners. I feel like I’m fighting the bike in ruts, and corners are where races are won.I know Honda has had a great ranking for its 250F, but for me I did not like the bike too much and put it fourth. It felt very compact and small, like I was riding an 85. As far as the handling goes, it worked great through all the braking bumps and big chop. The motor was very smooth and easy to ride, but I didn’t think it was very fast compared to the KTM or Kawasaki. I think those motors are two steps ahead of the Honda.Suzuki’s bike was so slow. The thing wouldn’t get out of its own way. When we took off on the start I had a bike-length jump but immediately the other bikes blew right by me like I was sitting still. The suspension also felt very soft like I was riding a Cadillac. Maybe other people like that feeling, but it wasn’t good for me. The bike I rode just had a long way to go before it was at the same level as the others.
Weight: 160 lb
The Honda is the best overall package with its predictable chassis and smooth power that has a “gear higher” feel. I was riding better and standing up in more places because I felt so sure of the CRF under me. The front end can get a little skatey in the rough, but it’s a fair trade-off to have the ’09′s light-steering feel. The front wheel felt most like a two-stroke’s in its ability to surf over the track without digging in or venturing off on its own line. Other bikes are better in areas, but around a full lap Honda has the advantage this year.The Yamaha ranks second for me. Yamaha’s small changes to the rear end have made this a completely different bike from `08. The bike flows through ruts with ease, the rear stays straight and doesn’t kick, and the thing lays over and turns like it was built to do only that. I gained confidence on this bike, and it had me riding better. Gripping it is instinctive, and the bike coaxes you to get your face over the bar and charge harder. The the throttle has a very connected feel to it, and the YZ-F never seemed to throw me forward into turns when I chopped the throttle. The suspension was the best of the bunch, and the clickers on this bike make the ride softer or harder without affecting the handling like can be the case with…every other bike.Whereas last year’s KX-F felt small and nimble, this new green meanie is more serious. The bike feels long and low. The motor has strong power everywhere from cracked open to wide open. It has a more substantial feel (heavier) that plants it to the track for quicker lap times. I felt some compression-braking and a less natural feel through the ruts than on the other bikes. I always felt like I wanted to play and it wanted to work.KTM got its suspension harshness figured out, and it was finally perfect… Then we rode at multiple tracks, and the bike was hot and cold. It has a short-wheelbase feel that had it porpoising through rough spots. It really leaned over into ruts magically and the throttle response was the best of the bunch. The bike was light and fun and likely a suspension fix (maybe just a spring swap) away from being my favorite.I hate to put the Suzuki last because I felt instantly comfortable on it. The RM-Z is maneuverable and easy to manipulate, but the suspension is a bit too soft. I liked the engine with its consistent power, but it was weak as the revs climbed.
Weight: 175 lb
The Honda’s over-carbureted feel is still there, but you can avoid it by riding in the meat of the power. The motor is a lot of fun and has enough bottom that you don’t have to abuse the clutch. Ergonomics and suspension compliance are money out of the box. It feels solid in hold-up on deceleration and settles into corners easily. The front end holds up to aggressive meetings with jump faces and can resist bottoming like the best. It’s tied with the best suspension to the Yamaha, and its lightweight feel makes it a bit more desirable.The Kawasaki will accelerate in an instant, and it’ll clear out-of-corner obstacles easier than most 250Fs. The motor is durable as well. The low in the back feeling is a bit odd in that the front end feels like it wants to move free but the back end is planted. It works; but it feels different than the more knife-edged bikes in the class (Honda, KTM). The only negative here is the external quality. The clutch and engine covers look roached after a weekend, graphics peel off in minutes and the black plastic scratches when you load it in the truck. For a rider who wants snap, stability and very strong turning performance in a package that will mechanically last, this KX-F is perfect.The 250 SX-F has a cool, easy power delivery that loves to rock on top. The suspension is better than completely revalved stuff from a year ago and is the plushest in the class. The KTM is perfect for a rider who wants one bike to last more than two years, rides a lot of tracks and GP events but doesn’t race every weekend during the season.Somehow the Yamaha learned how to turn for 2009. Until you catch your boot on the shroud. Then you’ll hate turning the Yamaha. You have to clutch this bike more than all the others, but once you get off the floor this bike’s power comes alive sooner than in ’08. It’s the easiest bike to ride. The suspension on YZ-Fs has been solid for years, and this year is no different.Suzuki’s RM-Z is virtually unchanged since it won our shootout in 2006. This bike still has one of my favorite motors and is so torquey in the mid that other bikes feel sloppy and disconnected in comparison. This bike is perfect for arenacross or shorter tracks but falls short on longer circuits. The suspension on this bike will likely never feel as good as it does in the first 20 hours. The bike loosens up, and that’s all there is to it. The RM-Z has a comfortable riding position and solid brakes.Winner!
And The Winner Is…
Declaring a winner came down to two bikes: the Kawasaki and the Honda. The KX-F holeshot day one and looked to be the repeat winner, but the versatile Honda made up ground with each track we tested at. The Kawi never really did anything wrong, it just wasn’t the clear “best bike.” Similarly, the Honda was also a constant favorite. But the Kawasaki’s power advantage can’t be ignored, and it is our Dirt Rider 2009 MX Shootout winner.Looking over the opinions here and the additional opinions and test rider notes at www.dirtrider.com, it could be argued that the Honda should get the win. But the CRF had a polarizing effect, with some riders ranking it very low, while the Kawasaki was considered a great package by near every tester who threw a leg over it.
Yamaha (blue)Suzuki (yellow)KTM (orange)Kawasaki (green)Honda (red)Human Impression Power
This chart displays how each motor’s power feels to the rider, so horsepower, delivery and a bike’s ability to find traction all play into this human dyno. While none of the 250F motors get much real estate in the violent category, the powerful KTM and Kawi get right to that edge quickly and stay there with impressive delivery. The CRF charges up there but doesn’t have the staying power. The RM-Z shows its strength early, then drops well below the others. And somebody wake up the Yamaha–you can see it sleep through the snooze alarm before making its charge in the midrange.Lap Times
Lap times were taken at Racetown with pro riders running four lap motos, switching bikes after each, and novice/intermediate riders sprinting for three laps on each bike. The fast guys made the most of the KX-F’s power and serious attitude, while the novice riders showed their best speed on the Honda and KTM–so our shootout podium is well represented here. The lap times are all very close, so no bike here is a bad choice.Top Speed
This information is more for Internet wars than any real-world usefulness. Power and gearing come together here to show how fast the bikes can go bone stock. The Suzuki comes out smelling like a rose here. If you love charts, you probably love that Suzuki.
More than anything this stationary sound test (SAE J1287) shows how a loud bike can test quiet and a quiet bike can test loud. The Kawasaki shines here, but it basically cheated on this test with a muffler tuned specifically to perform well at test rpm. In the real world, the Kawi is too loud. When buying aftermarket pipes, go off companies’ db rating as well as your real-world experiences with the brands.Human Impression Suspension
This is the “rider dyno” of how the boingers keep the bike handling well over track obstacles from small chatter to huge impacts. The KTM’s improvements over last year’s orange bike are obvious here with plushness through the small to medium track junk. The YZ-F shines on anything bigger than a pebble with its speed-sensitive Kayaba suspension. The Kawi never does anything wrong and has great control, but its aggressive setup doesn’t make huge fans when plushness is being evaluated. The CRF is classic Honda–reliable and very good, and the soft Suzuki improves as the obstacles and speed increase with good bottoming resistance.3rd-Gear Roll-On
The bikes were lugged into the radar trap barely pulling third gear then set free. The KTM outcharged them all, as would be expected, but look at the “friendly power” Suzuki doing so well. Traction is as much of a factor as power, and the Suzuki uses it to good effect here. The abrupt drop-off in this and the acceleration chart do not show an engine tapering off in power, just where the rider hit the rev-limiter and let off the throttle.Acceleration Test
This test started the bikes from a stop, hmmm, kinda like when you’re on the starting line, and ran the bikes wide open through the gears across a smooth stretch of dirt. This real-world radar test shows how horsepower numbers and power feel are only parts of the equation to speed on the dirt.