In our quick motos we kept track of lap times, and they were really surprising, mostly because the bike picked by each rider as his favorite was rarely the one on which he was going the fastest. Nor was the bike on which each rider felt the fastest the one on which he was actually turning the quickest laps. The difference was rarely more than a couple of seconds a lap from fastest to slowest time for a particular rider on all of the bikes, but consistently the KTM SX came up the quickest.
Recording lap times is not an exact science, as the track changes and riders crash over the course of the day, in this case during 15 motos. But it is easy to spot the trends that lap-time averages indicate. Competitive Edge is a power-gobbling, high-speed track with its fair share of technical sections, including off-camber turns and rhythm jumps. We felt it was a fair mix of terrain but clearly a bigger-bike track.
All of the riders did a warm-up lap or two on each bike. The novice group did two-lap races, while the intermediate and pro groups competed in three-lap races. None of the bikes stood out as having the ability to catapult a rider to a higher finish in a moto. Sure, some riders preferred a specific bike, ones on which they felt more comfortable, but that didn’t seem to relate directly to lap times. The Honda suffered a little with the novice group, as did the RM and YZ, compared with the KTM and KX. But as the rider’s ability level increased, the Honda’s lap times dropped. The KTM was consistently fast across the board. But the big surprise was that the YZ and KX, the bikes riders clearly picked as favorites, were just a tick slower when times were averaged.
The 250cc two-strokes have fewer suspension faults
The 250cc two-strokes have fewer suspension faults than any other class of 2005 bikes we’ve tested. Even when issues arose, the irritations were small. The suspensions’ high scores and the relatively tight spread between them illustrate their overall excellence. None earned lower than the equivalent of a B+. Remember that Honda has owned the suspension category for the last few years, but the new Air/Oil Separate System fork from KYB has truly stepped up to a higher level for the brand. Of the two KYB units in the test, the one on the KX earned a slight margin of respect over the one employed by Yamaha and the Honda’s Showa. No doubt the difference has as much to do with the overall calm and stable feel of the KX chassis as it does with any internal or external setting. The fork has to be good, since its steel handlebar would amplify any bad traits enough so that the rider would clearly feel them. The bottoming feel, or what some companies call the “finish” of the travel, is outstanding on all three bikes. All are well-behaved when landing in the G-outs between stadium whoops, too. Braking chop isn’t really a problem, but the KYB bikes pass on a little less of the track to the rider. The Honda feels just a bit firm or resistant to movement. This is not bad, but it cost the bike the top spot.Suzuki also prides itself on suspension prowess, and the RM is the plushest of all the bikes on small, sharp, choppy bumps. Heavy riders felt a little initial vagueness, or dive, though, and aggressive riders found the bike used the fork travel too rapidly and was a bit behind on bottoming resistance. The KTM’s WP fork is vastly improved for ’05, and even though the category is tougher, the orange bike still hangs in. The action is much smoother, and bottoming resistance is better than ever. In this group, however, a small amount of what some riders called a “jittery feel” on fast chop notched the bike down; but it still earned a very fine mark.ShockAs with the fork, the same three bikes clustered at the top of the class; but here, the YZ has an edge. The Yamaha’s strength is its ability to accelerate out of turns. The rear end soaks up bumps and chop as well as any of the other bikes, but with the added dimensions of excellent traction feel and a resistance to kicking side to side. For sure, the power cooperates in the traction feel, but the YZ totally gets power to the ground. It handles stadium whoops and bigger hits well and has good bottoming control.Kawasaki is the only company that chose to omit external high-speed compression damping on its shock. In spite of that, the KX’s Kayaba unit was plenty adjustable. The rear end has a firm feel that motivated test riders to run a little more sag than the normal-for-Kawasaki 100mm. It excelled on fast straights with big, rolling bumps and G-outs; and it is still fine on small bumps and doesn’t bottom easily or harshly.Honda hasn’t made a lot of suspension changes to the CR250R; then again, big red started with a great 2004 shock. The CR’s shock is a shade more hoppy and crisp-feeling on acceleration chop than the top two bikes, but it still works very well. The Honda is strong in medium and large bumps and whoops and offers excellent bottoming resistance.As with its fork, the RM has a shock that is amazingly supple on small bumps and chop. It also handles rollers fine, but it got dinged for blowing through the stroke on big landings and G-loads. The lighter a rider is, the better the Suzuki should work.Several riders gave the KTM high marks for pounding stadium whoops. This is the plushest shock KTM has made to date. Oddly, the KTM handles big jump landings just fine, but G-outs are its downfall. You can dial up the high-speed compression adjuster to control the trait, but you don’t need to on the linkage bikes. Still, as the lap times prove, the suspension does let the bike crank on the track.
|Wet||220 lb||225 lb||220 lb||225 lb||219 lb|
|Claimed dry||213 lb||214 lb||215 lb||212 lb||211 lb|
HandlingA motorcycle’s handling is a very personal matter, and of course, it is inseparably connected to the suspension (and vice versa). Still, the KX revealed a clear lead here—a distinct improvement over the 2004 model! Kawasaki managed to keep the awesome turning that characterized the ’04 and added a welcome helping of stability. This is a bike that lets you get comfortable in a hurry and remains a helpmate on the track. The CR is the same basic chassis as in 2004, which means that it is still great, but after riding the KX, we agreed the Honda feels as if it wants to stand up in some ruts and just isn’t as relaxed as the KX. As with all of these bikes, if you didn’t ride the others on the same day, the CR would feel flawless. It has very neutral steering and likes berms as well as flat turns.The ’04 YZ might have tied with the CR, but the aluminum ’05 chassis pushes the front end sometimes on flat turns. That is really the only weakness we uncovered. The YZ feels solid and stable in a straight line with little tendency toward skipping side to side. That makes it great through stadium whoop sections. Natural whoops aren’t a problem, either. It rails ruts and berms with the best in the class.Suzuki’s RM is also a single-weakness handler. It is perfection in turns and feels lighter in the air than any of the other bikes. Plus, it jumps great and reacts instantly to rider input. That last one is a blessing to some but a problem to others. We aren’t all fully accurate in our input to a motocrosser, and the RM really demands precision. The ultraresponsive handling means most riders won’t feel like relaxing at speed. Being able to relax on the KX earned it a high rating, while not being able to relax on the RM is the only reason it rated lower. Riders who crave a responsive chassis loved the RM’s handling and rated it highly, while more-conservative riders didn’t.Four-fifths of the KTM chassis feels relaxed at speed, but at times the front end gets busy. This didn’t seem to slow the bike, but it bothered some riders and was enough to affect the rating in this category. Some felt the KTM steered exceptionally well, but others found it tucked under a little. It does feel a bit different, but if you spend time on it, you and the bike learn to work together. It suffers more than any of the Japanese bikes in a comparison in which riders have to switch from bike to bike fairly quickly.ErgonomicsErgonomics is a recent concern in some industries and
Ergonomics is a recent concern in some industries and workplaces, but “human engineering” has always been and remains crucial on a motocross bike. Your interface with the machine is extremely important. It affects your speed, comfort, energy and, in some cases, even safety. Some riders are pickier than others about the fit of the motorcycle. Others adapt to most anything with little thought or effort. One company appears to spend more time and effort on the comfort and feel of its machinery. It paid off for Honda here. The CR is a comfortable and easy place to spend time. The seat is awesome, we wish the entire group came with the same Renthal and all the controls feel perfectly placed. The clutch pull is a little firm, and the very tall may find the riding position a little compact; but otherwise, there were nearly no negative comments.Kawasaki has struggled in this category, since its 1999 to 2004 bikes have had limited appeal, but Team Green turned a big corner here. The 2005 fit average to tall riders just fine, thanks. None of our shorter riders had any issues, but Kawasaki mentioned it had heard of some vertically challenged pilots complaining. For years, KXs have had two-position handlebar clamps, but in recent times the bar has been in the forward position from the factory. For ’05, the bar is in the rear position, yet the riding compartment feels roomy. Tall riders can reverse the clamps and gain even more room. The seat is firm and deeply padded. Some riders felt it was too firm. Those rare comments, a near-universal distaste for the handlebar bend and the fact that it was the only bike in the test to come with a steel bar were the only negatives.The RM and the YZ averaged out to the same placing, but they feel very different to the rider. The Yamaha’s seat is thinly padded with firm, dense foam in the front and nearly no padding in the rear. The RM’s is better padded with cushier foam. Both have an aluminum handlebar stock, with Yamaha opting for Renthal. Whatever bend it specifies works fine for short riders but had too much sweep for a majority of our riders. The Suzuki’s bar simply wasn’t mentioned in any notes, so that means it’s fine in our book. As with the handling, the RM’s ergonomics polarized people. Riders who got along with the RM found it the best seat in the house, but other riders marked the footpegs as too high and the bar position as too low. The Yamaha bar felt low to some and too swept, but the peg position worked. Both bikes are slim and easy to move around on.KTM also paid a lot of attention to ergonomics. The SX is the most adjustable in some ways, with the only tapered aluminum handlebar in the test and a top triple clamp/handlebar clamp combination that allows mounting that bar in four positions. The bike is the slimmest of this group, and if there were any complaints in that area, they claimed the bike was too narrow! The seat is the sore spot. KTM has made the seat foam much softer, but it is too thin. The seat base is dished underneath, which the orange engineers claim helps the power even though the factory bikes use a flat seat base. (No doubt you’ve noticed how slow that seat makes them.) A flat seat base would allow KTM to add nearly 2 inches of cushion to the seat without raising the seat height. But, hey, what do we know?EngineThese machines are as different in power character as they are in any aspect of performance, yet we came out with two ties. Obviously, the affection for the KX and YZ engines had to be virtually perfect, since some riders awarded no perfect scores—tough graders, like grumpy college professors.Yamaha didn’t change much in the engine, and it candidly admitted that was because it couldn’t make the motor any better. It has strong, tractable roll-on power from right above idle. That power continues to build strongly until the bike hits its rpm limit. Some riders felt the Yamaha was almost too snappy for low-traction situations, but all agreed that the YZ engine would rule on a tight supercross track. The only downside to the Yamaha’s mill, and in fact those of nearly all the Japanese bikes, was some pinging. All the Asian machines felt as though they really wanted a bit of race gas mixed with pump gas for them to be really happy. The KX has a softer, no-wheelspin roll-on that riders such as Jimmy Lewis preferred to the YZ’s snap, and it has an even bulkier midrange combined with good high-rpm pull. The Kawi’s power is always tractable without any violent jumps in the powerband.The KTM and the RM ended up with the same grade, but again, they are worlds apart in feel. The RM has a light-flywheel feel, snappy, instant power and a transmission that feels closely spaced, so the engine pulls hard and strong all the way through the gears. As with the YZ, it was rated as overly snappy for some riders, and the responsive engine could have amplified the quick-reacting chassis traits. Ever since KTM developed this 250 SX engine, it has been trying to domesticate it. Most of the brutality is gone now. It pulls smoothly from down low, and the throttle is almost a power dial in the lower-rpm ranges. There is still a noticeable jump in enthusiasm in the midrange, and the high-rpm pull is sick. One pro rider claimed the KTM was like a 500. It makes all that power yet acts content to digest pump gas. Only on our coldest day of testing did we note a lean feeling, which a small air-screw adjustment cured.Honda really upped the ante for 2005, and its engine finally runs with the others. The motor feels as though it revs more slowly than the other bikes. It is energetic but not an especially fun engine to ride. Throughout the shootout, riders complained of violent hitches in the power at small throttle openings. After the test, Honda came up with jetting that worked better at low rpm; but not all the riders got to try it, so that change is not reflected in these ratings. Riders also noted vibration from the CR. Still, at least two of the riders who rode in the motos for us picked the CR first, and nearly every rider considered the Honda a viable choice for ’05—and that is in a much tougher class than it was in 2004.
The Honda CR250R and Yamaha YZ250 are the only surprises from the dyno. The CR makes better power than expected from our on-track impressions, and the YZ looks a little tame compared with how it felt. The RM felt strong on the track and also looks impressive on paper. As usual, the KTM rips up on the dyno, just as it does on the track. It matched the peak power numbers of the 450s!
When you see curves rise steeply on the dyno chart, the bike feels as if it is ripping off your arms. The KX line is steep from mid to top, and then it holds steady for a while before signing off. The curves that peak then nose over with a narrow arc at the top are bikes that sign off on top. The Honda has the “feels-flat” look on the graph and the same feeling on the dirt. If you are deciding which bike to buy based on the dyno, get an orange one.
BrakingWhen it comes to stopping, Honda has been a clear leader for more than a decade. Its approach results in brakes that are both powerful and effortlessly controllable, so those stoppers earned top marks here. The KTM has arguably more-powerful brakes than the Honda, but some riders find them too sudden. The KTM’s front brake rotor is the same size as aftermarket oversize rotors for the Japanese models. The Yamaha’s brakes are marginally less powerful than the Honda’s, but they have excellent feel and aren’t prone to lockup, so they ended up rating the same as the KTM’s. This also happened with the KX and RM. Their brakes are not prone to lockup and have good power, but they require a bit more effort at the lever/pedal to generate the same stopping power as with the other bikes.Fit, Finish and Standard EquipmentThis category is somewhat subjective, and the overall quality and reliability of all the bikes is up from a few years back. Actually, the Honda is as good as ever, but the other brands have stepped up the quality of their fasteners and the fit of various parts. We feel that is particularly true of the RM and the KX. None of the bikes has a chain that lasts. The KTMs usually do, but our test bike’s chain kinked up after only a couple of days of use.In addition to having that stout aluminum frame, the CR has a very comfortable seat, a Renthal bar, Dunlop tires and bodywork that stays looking fresh despite hard use. Accordingly, it rates highly here. The KTM comes with Bridgestone tires, Excel rims, a plated pipe, the oversize front brake rotor, a powdercoated frame, handlebar- and offset-adjustable billet triple clamps, an oversize aluminum handlebar and a hydraulic clutch. It came in a strong second and was probably removed from first place by only a chain and a seat. The Yamaha has looked used fairly early when the frame was painted, but now, with the aluminum frame, the bike appears and feels lighter and stays looking new longer. All the hardware is good, and the bike keeps its tight and new feel.At the end of the test the RM felt solid and looked good. It comes with an aluminum bar, not a Renthal as with the CR and YZ. Our crew rated it a hair behind the YZ. The Kawasaki felt very tight and strong at the end of our comparison, but the gray frame and pipe looked dull from roost at Competitive Edge; however, the main reason it rated down was the fact that it was the only bike to come with a steel bar.What Up?Sometimes we feel that life’s oldest and most pervasive question is: Which bike should I buy? After this shootout, more than ever the answer to that question depends on other questions you need to ask yourself. What type of power and handling do you like? How important is a roomy riding position? Would you prefer a more-compact bike? Trust us on this one, the traits you want and, perhaps more important, need are here. If this were a race, the KX and the YZ would require a photo finish to determine the winner. The undeniable trend was that our crew leaned toward both bikes. Six of eight riders rated the YZ and the KX either first or second. One rider rated the YZ third, and another ranked the KX third. The RM was the only other bike to earn a first-place vote, and the KTM was the only other bike with second-place votes.So the winner by a nose is the 2005 Kawasaki KX250, and what a step up that is for just one year! It truly is a great bike, as its ranking of never lower than third place shows. But the Yamaha is also a great bike, and one with a near-identical score and an appeal just as universal. Honestly, choose between the KX and the YZ based on a good dealer or a good deal, or simply sit on one to see where you are comfortable. Some riders admitted their choice between bikes came down to seat foam or handlebar bend. The RM finished a solid third, a victim of its polarizing effect. It garnered one first-place vote and one for last. We can tell from the riders in the moto-testing that a test crew with more pros might have rated the RM slightly higher. As it is, the RM, KTM and CR are in something of a pack. They are all unique, but their individual strengths and weaknesses add up to roughly the same ranking—much as Lewis and Sean Finley ranked them! The KTM suffers from a greater case of love/hate than the RM. It really doesn’t do well when riders switch right from Japanese bikes with which they are familiar to the KTM. Tall and heavy riders tended to rate the bike higher. It isn’t a case of no performance: The KTM rocked in our lap-time testing and was a star in front of the radar gun.As we mentioned, at least two riders from the moto-testing ranked the CR as their favorite. Both are normally Honda riders, so they felt at home on the bike and appreciated the newfound engine performance.You can thank competition—in this class and from four-strokes—for the great suspension and handling on all five machines. You really can’t lose with any of them. Riders who want a two-stroke were even more convinced after this test, and some four-stroke riders will consider a two-stroke now. Riders who stay with two-strokes or those who switch back most often point to the reduced maintenance and repair cost of two-strokes and their light weight. As for us, we’ll just say that it is great to have both choices.
|How They Voted|
|Nov.||Nov.||Int.||Int.||Int.||Vet Pro||Vet Pro||Pro|