Yamaha’s 2009 YZ250 and YZ125 bike intro was not really to show off the bikes’ minimal changes, but to remind us how fun these bikes are. They gassed up their ’09 two-strokes and sent us out on a ‘Field of Dreams’-like private track to twist throttles and stretch smiles. This has to go down in history as the most successful bike intro ever based on a manufacturer reaching its goals. These pingers are loads of fun, and if you’ve been on a straight-gas diet for too long, you probably forgot the incredible response of the YZ250 (you don’t need a fuel injection system to spike your adrenalin) or the magical handling of the YZ125.The changes are hardly worth mentioning: a switch from the Dunlop 739 front tire to the Dunlop 742FA (actually, that’s worth a mention), a switch on the YZ125 to the 200-gram lighter Dunlop 756G rear tire (from the 756), an aluminum front brake hose holder 2008 model was steel), a DID gold chain, and a new seat cover. What is significant is that the bikes are here at all. Yamaha is the lone Japanese manufacturer who still believes in their two-strokes. They should, they seemed to have hit their development process perfectly, getting the bikes to a level of performance that leaves little room for improvement… seemingly. Who knows where these bikes could go if they got some R&D dollars. But right now the smokers are just fighting to stay alive. Yamaha wants to keep producing and importing these bikes, but business usually comes before passion in a big corporation, so the future of these amazing bikes is in your hands more than in the hands of the brass at Yamaha.The competition these bikes face on the tracks is from the equivalent displacement (and cheater 150) KTM models, but the competition they face on the showroom is from all the shiny new 250cc and 450cc four-strokes that are getting all the development as well as marketing attention. The modern four-stroke race bikes are incredible, and likely offer better lap times than these pingers, but there are lot the mixed-gas racers still do better.Dropping in: A two-stroke’s lower center of gravity (and no high-CG gyroscopic effect of cams and a cam chain) makes them feathery to lay over into a rut compared to their four-stroke counterparts.Laying over under power: The same reasons they lay over easier gives them less tendency to want to stand up once on the gas in a turn.Throttle response: EFI 450s are getting there, but the direct connection your right wrist has to an arsenal of ready-to-charge horsepower on the two-stroke is still unmatched.Weight feel: The bikes weigh less than their four-stroke competitors, but not significantly so. The feeling once on the track, however, makes the difference dramatic. Two-strokes are light on their feet. The YZ125, specifically, feels lighter than you can imagine a full race bike ever could. And the low-weight feel makes these bikes a blast to ride as well as less tiring – so you’re having more fun, for longer. How’s that for squeezing the most out of your track entry fee?More powerful power: The power is fast and abrupt on these bikes. The YZ250 is no bike for a beginner rider. You need to have good throttle control and a good dose of humility before you climb on the YZ250, because there is no hesitation when you throw the corral gate open and let the horses out.Flickability / flight time: The smokers’ light feeling translates into more bike control when airborne. If you’re ever going to whip a bike, it’ll be one of these.Mud: Two-strokes seem to repel mud packing onto the bikes better to better keep their light feeling when the four-strokes are packing on mud mass to their already-heavier feel.Rev without guilt: Hitting the rev limiter on a two-stroke just means reaching the rpm where the power tapers off (sometimes pretty rapidly). There’s no catastrophic engine failure in your future if you like to scream your bike around the track. 250F’s won’t last too long at the rev limiter, and with 450 four-strokes, the rider probably won’t last too long with those powerful engines at full steam.Starting: No starting drill, no need to find neutral when the bike’s hot – just kick it and go.Maintenance: The YZ are reliable bikes, but all bikes require routine maintenance. Four-strokes are more intimidating than they are complicated, and there’s no reason to fear them, but a simple two-stroke motor makes the learning curve much more gradual for new riders, and makes work much quicker for experienced wrenches. It’s a topic of debate, but generally two-strokes are cheaper to maintain than four-strokes.Drive train wear: You chain and sprockets will last longer without the pull of four-stroke torque.Teacher: Two-strokes require more precise gear selection. You will be shifting these YZs much more frequently than their four-stroke competition. This is good for developing riding skill, and also a lot of fun. Some people love the ‘one gear for the whole track’ of the 450s. Those people won’t appreciate grabbing gears as fast as your left foot and left hand can manage on the YZ. It’s a thrill. Riding a slower bike close to its potential is more rewarding than riding a more powerful bike at a fraction of its.Hey! What’s with the love letter to the YZs? If two-strokes are so superior, why are the four-strokes taking over?
Two-strokes are less planted: Four strokes may pay a penalty is some situations for their heavier feel, but they also are much more planted. This gives the four-stroke an advantage when seeking traction in the corners, or when trying to keep the bike straight through the bumps. The four-strokes don’t skip around as much.Power manageability: Four-strokes lack the rush of power, but they have smooth power that most two-strokes can’t match. This usually translates into better traction and an easier bike to ride.Launching: Four-strokes are easier to launch with their smoother power and less-responsive throttle. The face of a jump is no time to get a surprise from your bike’s power delivery.Shifting: Four-strokes require less shifting. Yes, this is not as much fun, but saves time and riders will less often find themselves in a gear the engine cannot pull.The old saying ‘different strokes for different folks’ is true. The trend over the last ten years has been toward the four-stroke. Professional motocross race teams use them exclusively, and they offer a lot of advantages to the amateur racer and recreational rider, as well. But not everyone will be, or should be, convinced. There is room for both two- and four-strokes on the tracks of America, and as of 2009 there is still that choice. Yamaha is the last Japanese brand with that choice still in the showroom. They want to keep it that way, but as a business they must respond to the actions of the customer. Customer – that’s you, dear reader. Keeping two-strokes around is entirely up to you and your vote – but in this decision you vote with your wallet. Spend a season mixing gas, especially on the amazingly fun YZ125. You’ll have a blast, and might be saving a dying species of bike at the same time.Thank you Yamaha for the reminder of what these bikes offer, and a special thank you to the track owner, Ed, for the excellent track and prep.OPINIONSI can not put into words how much fun I have riding a 125, any 125. But the 2009 YZ125 was so good I basically let the YZ250 sit unused all day long. And that on a horsepower track with a sixth gear straight up a hill. Sixth if you have a 125, that is. It all goes back to my most fun racing days where I was sort of a 125 specialist. I got pretty good at locking the throttle and looking for the fastest lines to keep the bike on the gas, never slowing, momentum was king. It helped make me the good rider I think I am today. I never had torque and a powerband that lasted more than 3000 RPM. Riding a 125 is all about the tap dance on the shift lever and the fondling of the clutch, dance moves that would make even those judges on that stupid TV show my wife watches stand up and take notice. The sound of keeping the bike on the pipe without a slip-up or a bog is a reward that, well, only you as a rider can appreciate. And all you are left with is such a light handling and flickable bike that truthfully out-handles just about every four-stroke out there that you have nothing to complain about. Just ride. Get better at riding. And have a lot of fun doing it even if the bike is a little slower than a 250F or anything else on the track. Because if there was ever a sport where it is all about the rider, motocross is it.Wait, was I telling you about the YZ125? Oh yeah, it got a new front tire, which is actually a big improvement on it and the 250. I was hard pressed to feel the new aluminum brake hose clamp, call me insensitive. But since these bikes are still here and still available, what Yamaha has done is kept the door open for all of the two-stroke riders out there. There is enough performance in these bikes to have them working every bit as good on a performance level as the latest offerings with valves, cams and loud exhaust notes. And we don’t see any radical changes coming in the next few years so it is actually a good time to get a new two-stroke. Yes, in case all of your buddies don’t see things like you do and Japanese built two-strokes happen to go away (which could happen.)And for most of you, you’d be more interested in the YZ250, since it is really the do-all size of bike that can really do it all. The 250 has found a place in off-road racing on the GNCC and Hare Scramble side of things where it is still a competitive threat to a four-stroke, talking nothing of the downright advantage it has in an endurocross section. The power is explosive and crisp with a light weight that four-strokes over 250cc just don’t have. And now most places you can line up and compete with 250cc four-strokes, holding a distinct power advantage without any of the short fused durability issues a lot of these hyper-built thumpers have to run to be competitive.Are two-strokes going anyplace? That is for you, the consumers to decide. Not the magazines, not the manufacturers and don’t blame me either. I was riding a KTM250SX and a YZ125 all last year!
Jimmy Lewis 5’10″/185 lb./Expert “The YZ250 is so powerful and responsive I’m convinced people choose 450s over it not because they need a faster bike, but because they need a more docile bike. This 250 does exactly what you tell it to do, and I mean right now. Want a factory 450 with its light weight and sharp engine? Here it is, dirt cheap and nearly maintenance free. The 250 is a thrill ride, but the 125 saddle was where I spent most of my day. The bike feels weightless and is just too much fun. I realized half way through the day that I could actually steer the bike with my eyes. If I looked somewhere, that’s where I went. Everyone says get a 125 to learn to ride, and I always assumed they meant for shifting and keeping momentum, but really this bike was teaching me to look ahead. If you ride for AMA points, then I’m sure your sponsors have the most say in what bike you ride, but if you’re buying your own bike (and maintaining it) you really should consider spending a year or two on a YZ125 while you still can.”
Pete Peterson 5’10″/160 lbs/Vet Novice