Every year’s bike shootout story begins the same way. First, the authors hype up the competition in the class (in this case, 250F machines). Then they discuss at length how there’s never before been a class so competitive, never before have bikes been so great and never before have they, those poor bike-testing souls, had such a hard time determining a winner. They have it so hard and we remember it during every fun-filled lap on these 2008 machines, don’t pity the testers. Finally, they admit that after the votes were tallied, one brand snuck out front by just a hair. I guarantee you’ll read stories following this exact pattern this year. Likely, you’ll find it right inside the pages of Dirt Rider at some point because, really, all of it is the absolute truth. Bikes are awesome. And the chances of your picking a terrible bike for 2008 are slim to none. The worst thing you could do is pick the wrong one for you. But, honestly, we’re bored with those kinds of stories. So we’re going to cut the fat and get right to it.Dirt Rider’s best 250F motocross bike for 2008 is the Kawasaki KX250F. The bike had more first-place votes than any machine in our fleet. And after our testing, it pleased the majority of testers more of the time, visible through their comments and evaluation statements. That makes it DR’s MX 250F of the year. How it made its way to the No. 1 spot is easy. As a strong contender last year, the Kawi took surprisingly small steps in improving its ride, power delivery and overall manners, and that’s what pumped it to the top of the charts. Other bikes out there took huge steps this year with major changes to their motors, suspension and handling. But none pleased as much as the KX-F. To get inside all the ’08 250F race bikes, keep on reading. And always remember, only when bringing the bikes together do a lot of these traits and characteristics even start to get noticed. Riding only one bike, you wouldn’t notice that the fork was a bit harsh or the motor slightly underpowered unless you had something better to compare it to. Or the power being a little bit better on one part of the spread or not when compared to the others. So look at this article as a virtual test ride to distinguish the characteristics you’re looking for (or not) in your next ride.Motor
A 250F bike lives and dies by the motor. Power delivery, as much as sheer output, is very important. It’s no secret top factory bikes make huge amounts of power. But what might surprise you is that many top racers spend most of the time finding a happy balance with the horses they have and the way they can use them. It plays to the bike as a whole affecting handling and suspension. Too much juice at the wrong time can have a bike standing up in corners or acting jittery on jump faces. Not enough pull can have you between gears in rhythm sections and other precisely timed obstacles. It’s a game manufacturers have tried to master with the stock bikes as well as making them fit a wide range of riders with differing skill levels, all the while knowing these same bikes have to compete at the highest level using the production-based machine as a starting point.Kawasaki had its game way off for 2007 according to almost all of our testers. The bike produced more noise than power down low and hit so abruptly that the chassis became whacked out of balance and performed well below its potential. To cure this, we smoothed the power with a quiet exhaust and the bike jumped up three spots in our rankings. For ’08, the green machine has cured itself. We know the bike has huge power potential (Pro Circuit race team, anyone?), but this year it comes in a smooth package that is pleasant and amazingly strong. Gone is the mid-hit that bothered a lot of our testers last year. In its place is a strong linear pull to the top. Bottom-end isn’t as perfectly torquey as we’d like. But you can’t have it all in a motor, yet the KX-F is green turned gold. It’s so good it’s silly, mimicking some of the full-on race 250F motors we’ve ridden in character and delivery, just off in outright power. Fast pros, lazy vets and reluctant amateurs can grab a handful at any rpm above idle and feel like a champ.
Honda and Yamaha both took a serious look at power output this year and dropped in new, higher-compression pistons to pump up the numbers. In Honda’s case, the results were met with a lot of positive comments. The CRF250R put many of our testers in heaven with its newfound grunt and pull. The delivery is quick and aggressive, with a fast-revving feel that makes a rider feel like a hero. As attractive as the new power is, the quick delivery alienated some of the smooth-power faithful. Not so much in its usability or the traction it promotes, but more so in the way it begs to be in the right gear to work at its peak. If you’re hooked up and hauling, it’s great. But lose traction or try to squeeze a few extra revs out of the top-end and the power surge is over (rev-limiter) and leaves you wanting to find that great pull again. It spins up really fast with an ultralight flywheel or crank effect on the motor. It’s not a torque monster but has a pretty good tugging power all the time. But on the track it’s apparent the CRF is more of a crack-of-the-throttle-screamer that likes to be ridden aggressively. The bog is gone for 95 percent of riders and, along with it, the over carbureted feeling. Great news for a lot of riders out there.Yamaha’s gain is in a similar spot to Honda’s. It’s mostly in the mid. And while Yamaha earns huge points for making smooth power and picking up where last year’s bike left off, the most complained about aspect of its delivery was a flattening on top. There’s a decent bottom, strong mid and then the bike runs into a wall and the power feels unenthusiastic. After the boosted midrange you’re just dying for more, but the Yammie fails to deliver. This happens way below the rev-limiter and much before you feel like you need to shift. Keeping the bike in the meat is important for a good ride. The mid-strong delivery and weaker bottom and top seem to be affecting the handling of the bike as well. When the power comes on, the surge stands the bike up at times and that kept a few of our riders guessing.Suzuki’s motor was a standout last year. True, it didn’t have a top-end pull like the KTM, but the sheer torque and grunt up to the top was so damn good that nobody cared about the comparatively early sign-off. For ’08, the bike is actually a bit better. The new cylinder head porting and carb mods have the bike just as torquey downstairs with a bit more surge in the mid and legs that carry decently into the top. It’s not a high-revving beast, but it’s a blast to ride. It’s not often you get a power delivery this smooth and strong out of a 250F from the very bottom. It’s easy to get used to and easy to use. The motor has no funny business and perfection is just a little more top-end power away.The KTM is a powerful beast. If you shop only on motor, pick the SX-F. The unique blend of smooth, strong pull is the best in the class and it just keeps getting better. A larger-diameter header and a new cam puts a little more down low for ’08, but the top-end is really where the KTM shines. For the first time, there’s no dip in the delivery. And the orange bike outpulls everything in the world from mid-rpm to the moon. There are some dislikes in the testing gallery, though. Mainly this comes from a weak bottom or specifically an unimpressive outright snap. And if you’re an aggressive rider who likes snap, hit, punch and yank, then you’re going to be frustrated when you crank the slide up on the KTM. This is the perfect motor for the patient, momentum-carrying riders out there (no wonder it’s so popular in Europe). If you want it to bark, get used to using the clutch, thankfully it’s amazing, too. The Suzuki will out-torque the KTM initially and the Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda will give you that snapping sensation into the mid, but the KTM will be making more power all along the way and will never, seemingly ever, stop. The Kawasaki and Honda are the only bikes close to the KTM’s power feel. In the end, all of them bow down to the orange bike.
Handling and Suspension
Starting with our winner, the Kawaski KX250F is a great handling machine. Since the current version debuted in 2006, the KX-F’s aluminum frame and Showa suspension have been renowned for generating huge traction and having a great turning character. This is more true than ever. With only the smallest changes in engine mounts and suspension coatings, the ’08 KX-F is better than ever. From low speed to all out, the Kawi is stable, happy and predictable. It has a low, planted feel that instills confidence, actually feeling a bit wider and slightly heavier than the competition. Probably the most-noticeable change affecting the bike’s performance is the power delivery. The old bike would get out of shape quickly with the tide and flow of the aggressive hit. This made it feel unbalanced in a hurry. This isn’t the case with the ’08. Suspension performance is top-notch. With only heavier riders feeling its stock settings being a bit too soft on big landings. Initial complaints of fork harshness disappeared as the hours racked up and the components broke in. The Kawasaki shined in braking and acceleration bumps as it remained stable and controlled into and out of corners. It’s a bike that will turn on the front or slide the rear and will wheelie at ease. But most of all it is so good at being an all-around handling performer that it scored high.The Honda CRF250R has the most radically changed chassis of all the ’08 250Fs. With its high-tech steering stabilizer and new less-offset triple clamps, the new CRF is a different animal from any previous Honda machine, yet very similar at the same time. Our camp is split on the ’08 Honda, with a few of the testers enjoying the stabilizer feeling and new turning and handling character while another group never really loved the setup. The Honda feels light for sure and is the easiest bike to flick around and manipulate with your body. However, we found the CRF was busier in the turns where the steering damper and its adjustability will play a large role in how the bike works. We never settled on a “standard” setup for the damper as some riders were perfectly happy cranking it up tight to its stiffer settings to settle the bike through the turns or gain some stability going into turns. Others were put off by the feeling they got in the bar, especially scrubbing jumps or in the air, and preferred the stock setting or less. The turning issues were more evident on the tighter tracks with more turns and less high-speed sweepers. The bike’s steering geometry is more aggressive and lighter feeling for the most part (like you’d expect a 22mm-offset clamp to feel) but still retains a lot of the stability and laziness of the old 24mm clamp. It’s sort of like having a 23mm clamp that’s tunable with the damper to suit rider preference. You’ll have to play with it to see where you like it. The suspension action on the CRF is great. The front and rear have the best progressive feel out of the group on all terrain and never failed to gain high marks. They seemed to span the largest gap of rider weights and ability levels with only minor adjustments.Yamaha’s handling has been consistent in the last few years. High-speed stability is king on the blue bike and its suspension action seems to follow the frame’s preference for speed. The faster the bike is going, the happier it is. It’s stable and goes straight. The YZ-F has taken some flak for mediocre turning in the past and those complaints follow the bike into 2008. This year we’re convinced the power delivery is keeping the chassis from settling in the turns. Also, the aluminum frame on the YZ, even with its improvements over last year, doesn’t give our riders the sensation of flexing as much as the twin-spar designs of the other players. It has a heavy feeling up front and resists falling off its center when you initiate turns just a bit more than the other bikes. On jumps and bumps the YZ-F works fine, if not excellently. It doesn’t kick to the side on braking bumps and reacts to the gamut of obstacles predictably. On acceleration chop it has a planted or dead plushness that lets you feel the bike hitting the bumps, but also absorbs them, too. All in all, the Yamaha is simply happiest at speed and more reluctant to make the transition to the tight twisties than the others.
The Suzuki RM-Z has been a fine-handling machine since its overhaul in 2007. The bike turns easily and predictably and only suffers on big hits with a soft-suspension feel. This mushed-out feel is definitely more noticeable as the components break in. We felt ours going to the soft side after a little more than 15 hours of run time. The shock is less problematic with the fork taking the biggest hit from our testers. In the handling department the RM-Z takes a very middle-of-the-road approach to everything. It isn’t overly stable but never too twitchy, either. It falls in the middle in weight feel on the ground and in the air. It’s happy going inside or outside in the turns and the only thing holding it back on really high-speed tracks is its short overall gearing. It’s a setup like this, right down the middle, that scores high with a lot of riders in shootouts. Still, even when it softened up a bit, the RM-Z250 made almost every tester completely happy. The bike is easy to get along with and its handling and suspension performance follow suit.The KTM has a Jekyll and Hyde tale to tell. In the turns, on high-speed straights and for most of the conditions on a track the Austrian bike is magic. It’s one of the best turning machines ever made and will carve arcs in the track all day with amazing front-end traction. Somehow, it transforms into a very stable machine at speed. It seems the transition between the two is where the bike suffers. On acceleration, the KTM received complaints solely on the rear shock. The rear linkageless WP shock had our test riders feeling every little bit of acceleration chop. Combined with the base of the seat being easily felt through the minimal amount of foam, this left few riders eager to crank out of rutted, bumpy turns. Approaching the corners had riders upset as well. The front of the bike on braking bumps was commented on by most, some thinking the fork was harsh. This complaint seemed to follow suit with more aggro riders feeling the negative affects while smoother, more patient riders had no issues at all. The KTM’s best setup is to be low in the rear, 114-118mm of rider sag. We think, when ridden with the other bikes, the KTM’s front tire is grabbing so much traction that it transmits a lot more track to the chassis. Combine that with a steel frame and a fork that was pushed farther into the stiffer mid-stroke than the other bikes and you get more negative feedback, especially when hopping off of four very similar bikes. It also has a light feel that is only matched by the Honda and lighter bikes often feel like they dance a bit more on their tires. The stability is light-years from where KTM has been. All those naysayers out there complaining about whoop swap from the linkageless rear shock are simply not setting it up right; we know, we watched it happen to our guys and then set it up correctly and the swap went away. There are still suspension issues with a fair amount of our testers. The KTM isn’t as bad as some riders would have you believe, typically because they haven’t given it the time for them to appreciate what it does while feeling a little different than they’re used to.Ergonomics
How a bike fits and feels is very important. And the Kawasaki KX250F has a great, middle-of-the road setup. The green machine lost some points for not updating to a full 111/48-inch bar yet, but even with the 71/48-inch setup, the bike accommodated all of our testers wonderfully. Being as thin as possible isn’t necessarily the game anymore as the KX-F brings a bit wider feeling as well as a bit heavier feel. But it seems it isn’t the width or the weight but how you carry it.The Honda has always felt great and no bike out there can beat the red machine in the showroom bounce or feel test. On the track, the bike is starting to feel cramped in the bar for some. This could be beginning to amplify with the tighter clamp and more aggressive front end. Not all bigger riders complained and a majority felt that Honda, like KTM builds the best bike for larger-framed riders.Yamaha has our favorite bar setup. Its own bend of ProTaper bar is the best of the bunch, and the updated footpeg position is a great platform which to work from. The Yamaha feels taller than all the other bikes while either sitting in the pits or ripping on the track, which could be hurting it in the turning as well. But that bar is so sweet we’ve even put it on other brands. Also, we had way less riders complain of hooking boots on the radiator shrouds, even though the shrouds haven’t changed.Suzuki took quite a few hits from our testers for its low bar bend and cramped compartment. Most of this has to do with the flat nature of the bar at the grips. Its stock setup helps the bike turn on a dime, but it still had almost every tester from 5 feet 8 inches and taller complaining.
The KTM has a longer, taller feel somewhat similar to the Yamaha. Its seat is nothing short of terrible, and we’re convinced if the bike came with some foam under your rear, the suspension could jump about 10 points on the scale. The bar is four-position adjustable so making the KTM fit anyone is generally possible. We typically run our bike in the second closest position to the rider. Plus, you can adjust the offset on the triple clamp as well, though we haven’t felt the need.Components, Fit, Finish and Durability
The KTM has the best components out of all the bikes. The hydraulic clutch is tops and the brakes, while some think can be too aggressive, are the strongest by far. It has an oversize bar stock, the adjustable triple clamp and a really quiet muffler that doesn’t just score well on a sound test though it keeps the bike quiet when it’s wide-open. Honda and Yamaha are pretty much tied for second here with the brakes on the Honda finally getting a wave-type rotor. The feel and control is equal on the red and blue bikes. Clutch plate durability on the Yamaha has tested less than other models but the feel, action and actuation is great. Kawasaki and Suzuki have adequate components, and their brakes aren’t far behind the other two Japanese brands. The clutch pull and feel gets cheaper with time on the Kawi and more so on the Suzuki. On those bikes it’s a combination of cable and lever quality and basket and inner hub wear. As for noise, the Kawasaki is a big loser here. It tests quiet, but on the track it’s noisy and raspy. The Honda and its dual mufflers and the Suzuki also have a little louder bark than we’d like to hear.The Honda is a hands-down winner in the shifting category. Suzuki rates the worst with some issues for a few of our riders who were outright missing shifts. The KTM can be notchy but responds well to clean oil. Kawasaki and Yamaha were about average with only a few reports of missed shifts. The spacing of the transmissions drew few complaints. The RM-Z is geared lower than any of the other bikes and will easily top out on long straights. KTM has the longest legs with a sixth gear.If we were to pick a bike solely on durability, the KTM would win easily. Every model of KTM racing four-stroke we’ve tested in long and short term has been bulletproof. We’ve done top ends after 50 hours and reinstalled the piston with just a new set of rings. We’ve rarely had to do valve adjustments, and when we do, they take a third of the time the Japanese bikes do. Plus, once you work on a KTM, you’ll curse Asian bike manufacturers forever. Short of having to buy a 13mm wrench and some torx sockets, the orange bikes are the best things to happen to motocross mechanically.Next up would be the Honda and Yamaha tied. Honda’s fit and finish is awesome. The red bikes’ construction quality is always high and the overall durability of components is great. Earning more points is the fact that, if and when the parts do wear out (pistons, valves, etc) they’re priced fairly in the parts department at your Honda dealer. You won’t go broke maintaining a Honda. The Yamaha’s durability is standing strong as well. The motors have traditionally held up better than any of the other Japanese bikes. With five valves, the adjustment stays put unless dirt gets inside or you like to test your rev-limiter. And YZ aluminum frames, like them all, keep a tight feeling longer than steel ones. Yamaha ought to ditch the black sidecovers, though, and the blue plastic still gets white streaks after a few spills.Kawasaki runs in third place. The overall quality of the Kawi has been great in this version of the 250F. The bolts and fasteners on the bike rarely strip out or give you that queasy feeling when snugging them down. The black plastic looks incredibly cheap after a couple of rides, though, and in general the green bikes take more care to maintain that showroom shine.Suzuki’s decision to use smaller fasteners in high-use areas (seat bolts, subframes, plastic, etc.) has most of us wondering how many times we can tighten them before they strip out. Other costly areas like cylinder heads, cams, valves and the like haven’t been overly durable in the last year on our Long Haul bike, either. We know the bikes will last as is evident by the same Long Haul tests, but the little things on the Suzuki keep us from giving it an extremely positive fit and finish rating.
A Word on How We Test
At Dirt Rider, each new bike model is given at least a solid two days of testing before it goes into lockdown for the shootout. We put five to seven running hours on the machines before the comparisons start. This year, we kicked things off early with a moto trip to the Glen Helen National amateur day races and crossover challenge. This real-world impression proved immensely valuable. Afterward, we had Decal Works spruce the bikes up with complete background and number kits (it even installed them on our plastic…yes!). Day one of heads-up testing was performed at Racetown 395 in the high desert of SoCal, with Kyle Redmond, Chris Dvoracek, Ricky Yorks, Morgan and Cameron Burger, Chris Denison, Kris Keefer, Timmy Weigand, Jesse Ziegler and Michael Willard completing evaluations. We kept the bikes completely stock with slightly used tires and similar hours when they went through our barrage of radar tests. Then the manufacturers gave them a quick oil change, wiped them down for an hour-long photo session and finally turned them over to our testers for an eight-hour beating. At the end of the day, the bikes received fresh oil and breathers. Day two was a week later at the famous Castillo Ranch MX track, where Chris Barrett, Matt Armstrong and Sean Friday joined us. We got to skip the photos, radar runs and maintenance that morning and hit the track at sunrise. The tires were beat so we had Dunlop outfit each ride with identical D756 rear and D745FA front meats. These proved perfect for the deep and heavenly Castillo Ranch course and eliminated any tire induced advantage or disadvantage across the brands. Each bike went through three complete oil changes (the hours clicking away on the motors required the service) and a few air filters depending on how many berms they exploded. Now, they’re sitting patiently in the DR headquarters waiting for a race!Honda CRF250R
MSRP: $6449; Black, $6649
Sound Test: 96.5 db
Seat Height: 37.3 in.
Footpeg Height: 16.5 in.
Weight (ready to ride; no gas): 219 lb
Test Day Weight, Tank Full: 231 lbKawasaki KX250F
Sound Test: 95.0 db
Seat Height: 36.9 in.
Footpeg Height: 16.3 in.
Weight (ready to ride; no gas): 220 lb
Test Day Weight, Tank Full: 234 lbKTM 250 SX-F
Sound Test: 94.0 db
Seat Height: 37.8 in
Footpeg Height: 17.3 in.
Weight (ready to ride; no gas): 216 lb
Test Day Weight, Tank Full: 228 lbSuzuki RM-Z250
Sound Test: 97.6 db
Seat Height: 37.4 in.
Footpeg Height: 16.7 in.
Weight (ready to ride; no gas): 218 lb
Test Day Weight, Tank Full: 230 lbYamaha YZ250F
MSRP: $6249, White $6349
Sound Test: 96.0 db
Seat height: 37.0 in.
Footpeg height: 16.4 in.
Weight (ready to ride; no gas): 217 lb
Test Day Weight, Tank Full: 229 lb
To me, 250Fs are like candy for three reasons: 1) I’m fond of every color; 2) Everyone always tells me to go easy when I’m enjoying them; and 3) I can’t ever seem to get enough. After riding the new lineup of 2008s back to back, the following reflects my taste test.For me, the Honda wins. At every track we rode the bikes, the CRF250R seemed to suit my style the best. The spot-on, nimble handling and usable power provide a stock setup that’s pretty tough to beat and even at race pace I never felt as though I was riding over my head. In addition to this, I really can’t emphasize how comfortably this bike jumps-it’s just begging to be backflipped! The stock jetting made me nervous-our updated setting was leaps and bounds better-fortunately that’s an easy fix. While I’m complaining, I think that the lightness of handling is noticeable to the point that riders used to more stability may crave more than just a steering stabilizer to keep them grounded. But for me, this red dragon is the bomb (in a good way), and I think that once the carb has been tuned, it sits at the head of the class.The runner-up machine to me is the Suzuki. I’ve been riding one all year as a Long Haul bike, so it follows that the ergos and handling of the new machine felt great to me. This motor is better, though, as seen in the tremendous pulling power when jamming through gears. In fact, it would have beaten the Honda in my ranking had it not been for some slight handling errors with the short-feeling rake, less-than-awesome bottoming resistance and still-slightly-haunted tranny. Don’t get me wrong, the RM-Z is a rocket and I would race one in a second.Third place is always a tough decision, but I have to give it to the Kawasaki. At one of the tracks where we tested, it was my personal favorite on the day-handling quirks and a noisy exhaust kept it just out of contention for the overall, though. If this were my personal bike, I have no doubt that I could get it working awesome with a little time, tuning and testing, and possibly some gearing and suspension changes to suit my riding style. My favorite point of the green bike was a toss up between the familiar-feeling ergos and the ever-ready snap of the motor.I gave the Yamaha fourth place, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t work well. Yet given the way I want a four-stroke to perform-usable mid with a tall ceiling on the revs-the YZ250F just wasn’t quite up to spec. Once the revs reach a certain point, the power just kind of diffuses and doesn’t really recover. I’m a huge fan of this frame, though, which is an excellent balance between stability and good, proper flex. An outstanding stock bar bend and great controls complement the setup, and the transmission may in fact be filled with I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter, judging by the smoothness of shifting.As much as I hate to say it, I rank the KTM 250 SX-F in fifth. It’s not for a lack of consonants, though-this bike has plenty of them. In all seriousness, I really do like a lot of things about the orange machine. Strong midrange, even stronger brakes, good traction and a fine attention to detail (I still love the black fork) make this bike a strong 250F. The suspension and handling, though, are just plain hard to get straight. My best settings varied based on the track, but I felt most comfortable running a lot of sag in the rear in order to make the bike turn properly. An awkward, somewhat rigid feel followed the front wheel through every corner, and a too-strong engine-braking made for a sense of drag on the back. I know that the Austrians are holding dearly to their linkageless technology, but maybe it’s time to start playing with some alternatives. Nevertheless, I’ve seen plenty of guys ride at a decent speed aboard the KTM, and with the right setup and some time to adapt, I’d like to think that I could be one of them. So there you have it: five bikes, five rankings and one heck of a sweet tooth. Now, who the heck stole my 5-pound bag of Gummi Bears?
The rundown on the 2008 250F machines is pretty complicated for me. I’ll start with my personal choice for 250F of the year, the Kawasaki KX250F. To me, the Kawasaki is much better than last year’s bike. Its suspension is now balanced, the motor is more polite with the power and the chassis gives me a confident ride in the most conditions. It’s not perfect, though, and could use a quality muffler for sure as the stocker sounds blown out already. Overall, the green bike pleased me the most, most of the time.Sitting in second is the Suzuki RM-Z250. This bike has the motor with the most fun. It’s strong down low and is a blast to ride. Also, I can turn this bike like nobody’s business. It’s just easy to love yellow again. Why isn’t it my first-place bike? Well, the fork feels worn out after 15 hours, and I can’t, for the life of me, expect this bike to be as durable than the others. There are some shifting issues for me as well, and I really despise popping into neutral under acceleration.Honda finishes my podium. This bike always ends up in the middle for me but never gets up to the top step. Mainly this is because the bike is so middle-of-the-road that it doesn’t shine spectacularly in any one category. This year, the bike was radically different, too. The boost in power was nice, but its delivery faded too quickly for the wide-open tracks I normally ride. Also, the handling seems to be biased toward the shorter, tighter tracks. I’m not sold on the stabilizer yet. It’s cool and I like coolness, but do I need one more thing to dial in? I’m sure it will just take some acclimation and I can see myself claiming in a year or two that every bike should be so equipped.Yamaha and KTM are literally tied for the remaining spots. I still can’t get comfortable on the Yamaha in turns. The 2008 bike is better than ever, but when put up head-to-head against everything else out there, the supurb turning of the Suzuki, Kawasaki and KTM blow it away. Motor noise is another thing that I’m not too stoked about on the Yamaha. The power coming out is sweet in spots but spotty in the others. If I could tune in a more linear pull and dial in the suspension to settle in the turns, the blue bike would be a top-three contender easily. Straight-line stability is insane, exhaust note and tone are pleasant and durability and value are great on the YZ-F.The KTM took another hammering in the shootout this year. Not in overall comments, but more so in votes and straight up comparison. The thing about the KTM for me is this: If I take the time to tune the suspension to its happy spot, the machine works great. The problem is it needs much more tuning to get close to perfect. I would take the orange bike’s motor and the smooth power delivery over any other bike. Also, the traction front and rear is out of this world. I’ve never been so comfortable in off-cambers and I’ve never had as much confidence in a front end not washing out. If I could change anything on the bike, it wouldn’t be adding a linkage…not yet. I’d build more flex into the frame to take out the bump feeling or install an air-bottle system to fine-tune it. The shock is better than ever, the fork is, too, but the KTM is still a solid tuning day away from running with the more-similar bikes of the rainbow. Plus, its performance and settings don’t transfer as well from track-to-track. The best news is this is the best bike to work on and will last forever.Kris Keefer
The KX250F rated first for me because it had the best overall feeling and the motor was incredible. It wasn’t the fastest bike but it had broad usable power from bottom all the way to the top. I could short-shift or rev out, which I liked. The suspension was a little soft but worked effortlessly over smaller chop and acceleration bumps. The only things I would like to see are stronger brakes and maybe a more roomy bar bend.The second-place RM-Z250 had great top-end. It pulled my butt over some really big jumps in fourth gear which most other bikes did not like to do. I had a great, confident feeling on this bike, too. It felt light and it loved to corner. The suspension was decent, but I don’t expect any of these bikes to really be a super setup for my weight. I didn’t like the fork much on slap down landings and on decel, it was getting soft on me big time.
For third place I chose the YZ250F. The blue bike is lacking bottom-to-midrange pull, but once you get through second gear the bike feels close to the RM-Z on top. It was just difficult in the tighter stuff to get it to move forward. The suspension is unbelievable on this bike. The fork has to be close to the best production fork I have used to date. It soaks up big hits yet is supple enough to be gentle on the braking bumps. Love the bar bend but lose the black sidecovers…ewww, they look beat in a hurry!In fourth place it’s the CRF250R. Again, the motor is great on this ride but signs off a little too early for me. The Honda loves to be short-shifted. If we were going to an arenacross or supercross track, this is the bike I would choose, but we test exclusively at outdoor tracks and it lacked on top. Overall, the feeling I get from this bike when I ride was that it’s the most comfortable and easiest to get used to machine of 2008. The suspension was a little harsh on both the fork and shock and I didn’t like the grip compound. Also, I had a little trouble dialing in the steering damper. It felt like it had heavy steering until we turned it way down. Then I didn’t feel like it was even necessary. Maybe that was Honda’s idea all along, make it so the rider doesn’t know its working.You know, I hate rating the KTM 250 SX-F last ’cause it isn’t a bad bike at all. It hauls the mail and will take you from corner to corner the quickest out of all the bikes. The problem for me is that the fork is so harsh on deceleration, then it blows through the stroke on big landings. I was puzzled. The shock is actually really good on most bumps, so the people blaming the linkageless suspension need to put that to bed. This bike feels different than others and twitches on long choppy straights. I like to feel comfortable on a bike to go fast.Jimmy Lewis
5’10″/185 lb/Vet Pro
It was a pretty split decision for me between the Suzuki RM-Z250 and the KTM 250 SX-F. I swung toward the KTM and here’s why: I look at every one of these decisions as if I were spending my own money on a bike in the class we’re testing. I figure I’d be living with this bike for at least a year, likely two. And I take it seriously. The KTM won out for a number of reasons. First is durability. These SX-F motors specifically-and the rest of the orange bike as well-have been bulletproof. Second is the outright power, which I think makes or breaks bikes in this class. And third, lately I’ve been riding a lot of KTMs, both moto and off-road so I was easily comfortable on the bike and didn’t have any of the same feelings about harshness in the suspension as the majority of our testers did. It worked fine for me, even at 185 pounds. And it turned the best and I like to carve my lines with my front tire!The Suzuki was a close second as it was easily the most comfortable ride in the class for me, the motor is still amazing even with all of its newfound competition. I picked the Kawasaki a slightly distant third as it, for me, was a bit vanilla. It has a race-ready motor and very neutral manners across the board but nothing that spoke to me. I take that back, the exhaust note did, in a bad way. The CRF is a tad on the aggressive side for me, from the handling to the motor. Its impressive mid-to-top power runs through the spread so quick I can’t enjoy or use it as well as I’d like. And I practically have to run the damper in its stiffest position to relax the in-turn manners; I think I like the 24mm clamps better than the 22mm ones even though Honda says I’ll get used to these. Then there was the Yamaha. My favorite bike last year went from an easy riding, great handling motocrosser to a handful. The suspension is still great, but I couldn’t get happy with the new midrange bias its motor had. I fought with it in the turns, especially in the ruts, then on the straights as it felt flat up top. This is surprising as I had none of these problems last year and I’m lusting over the 2008 YZ450F.As the only guy picking the KTM as a winner I’m sure to be branded the “token vote.” But I’ll stand by my decision knowing how close all these bikes truly are. Look at any of the charts, specifically the lap times chart, and tell me how far off any one of these bikes really is. Because even the haters were riding it around the track just as fast as the other bikes. And frankly, I had the most fun on the KTM. Isn’t that what really matters?
All of these five brands can be set up to suit any riding style. However, there are still some significant differences in the details, and straight out of the box, I prefer the Honda.The Honda has an excellent motor. It’s set up with plenty of bottom-end, which pulls through the midrange. This allows the rider to pull a higher gear through most turns. The suspension kept the tires on the ground and worked great in all situations. The new steering damper kept the bike stable even at high speeds and helped it corner excellently in all types of turns. Suzuki ran a close second. With an equally fast, capable motor and excellent handling, the only aspect separating the Suzuki from the Honda was ergonomics. I feel that the Honda setup was just better suited for my 6 feet and 1 inch frame.I ranked Yamaha behind Suzuki because the motor seemed to be lacking some bottom-end when compared to my top two brands. However, the Yamaha was still capable of pulling third in most turns, and also had excellent handling. The ergonomics of the Yamaha felt similar to those of the Suzuki.Kawasaki ran fourth because it, too, seemed to be lacking on the bottom. The motor was good mid through top-end, but the shifting felt notchy. The Kawasaki had decent handling and the ergonomics felt similar to the Honda, which was more comfortable for me. The suspension felt good, but it had some problems kicking on fast, sharp jump faces.The KTM had a fast motor and a smooth, consistent clutch feel. However, the gearing seemed short and the ergonomics felt spread out-even for me. These issues aside, my main complaint with the KTM was with the handling and suspension. I had to fight to keep the bike where I wanted it, making the bike unpredictable. KTM just needs some suspension work to help the shock and fork keep up with the fast motor.