2016 Yamaha YZ250X Off-Road Two-Stroke - First Test

The YZ250X is proof that good motocross bikes make good off-road bikes. With a few smart mods, Yamaha has effectively transformed the YZ250 MXer into a solid, closed-course off-road platform while still retaining the performance of the stocker.Photo by Justin Kosman

It’s been 18 years since Yamaha has offered an off-road specific two-stroke (the 1998 Yamaha WR250 was the last), and nine years since any Japanese manufacturer has sold one in the U.S. (that would be the 2006 Kawasaki KDX 220). If you go to any off-road race in America you will notice a sea of orange with just a sprinkling of other colors, but Yamaha intends to wash away the orange with a wave of blue. Coming in at 229 pounds (tank full), Yamaha’s new 2016 YZ250X isn’t just a YZ with a kickstand; in fact, the 13 changes made to the motocrosser make it perfect for off-road closed course competition.

When compared to the YZ250, 3rd gear on the X is lower than the MX model—the equivalent of adding one tooth to the rear sprocket—while 4th gear is like removing two teeth, and 5th gear is the equivalent of removing five teeth from the rear sprocket.Photo by Justin Kosman

The changes start in the engine, where Yamaha reduced the compression ratio from 8.9 to 7.9. They also altered the exhaust port timing and revised the Yamaha Power Valve System (YPVS) to have broader opening timing and smoother power. The 250X’s CDI timing has also been adjusted to help produce a more “cross-country-style” power curve, while a new exhaust has been made to match the engine changes and is now narrower (both vertically and horizontally) to help stay out of harm’s way. All the changes made to the engine are designed to make the power more user-friendly and to improve the power and traction at the rear wheel by way of a smoother transition into the meat of the range.

Yamaha decided that the transmission needed to be made off-road specific as well. While they didn’t add a 6th gear, they did change 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears. When compared to the YZ250, 3rd gear on the X is lower than the MX model—the equivalent of adding one tooth to the rear sprocket—while 4th gear is like removing two teeth, and 5th gear is the equivalent of removing five teeth from the rear sprocket. Also in the transmission, Yamaha reduced the clutch spring rate by 10%, which smooths out clutch engagement, and makes for a lighter pull at the lever. They also changed the shape of the shift stopper lever, making it more ridged, resulting in more positive shifting.

Thanks to competent suspension (an no air fork!), the YZ250X is easy to tune, and well versed in both off-road terrain and more moto-inspired sections. She can carve, but she can also jump!Photo by Justin Kosman
We’ve always liked the YZ250 two-stroke’s power, and the YZ250X didn’t lose that excitement—although it is a bit more manageable.Photo by Justin Kosman

In the suspension and chassis department, changes were made to the internal shim stacks to improve comfort on the trail and improve sudden impact absorption. The spring rates are the same as the YZ250, with clicker changes being made to accommodate the new shim stacks. The 250X comes equipped with an 18” rear wheel, which provides more “cushion” when impacting logs and rocks. The front and rear wheels are wrapped in Dunlop AT 81 off-road tires and the rear is driven by an O-ring chain. The other two cool features that the YZ 250X comes equipped with are an aluminum kickstand that folds up high and secure, and a fuel petcock with a reserve position so you have a warning when the fuel is getting low.

Now that you have the facts about the new YZ250X, we'll tell you how it works out on the trail: The first thing we noticed was how easily the X starts. No, it doesn't have an electric start, but the fact that it fired up on the first kick every time tells us that it doesn't really need one. Would it be nice? Yes. Is it a necessity? Not at all! (In fact, check out Dirt Rider's Facebook page for a video of us starting this bike by hand). At idle the bike is nice and crisp and has less vibration than other, oranger off-road two-strokes. If the YZ-X was lugged for an extended period of time we did notice that it had a tendency to slightly load up and need to be revved and cleaned out, but we didn't need to do that very often because we were having too much fun screaming around. The power off idle is softer than the motocross bike which, in turn, almost makes it feel stronger because it's more usable. Since this bike is shifted lower in the rpm, it almost feels as if a flywheel weight has been added because it pulls so smoothly into the midrange. As the power valve starts to open the bike begins to pull harder, but not with as much snap as the moto version. The X maintains a lot of traction as the power rolls on over a long rpm range, but it's still not four-stroke-like traction—sorry, folks, but some things never change. The real meat of the power is in the mid to mid/top of the rpm range; the power starts to fall at the very top of the rpm. Although this is a closed course-racing machine, we are a little disappointed that it wasn't equipped with a spark arrestor, which will be one of our first modifications so we can take it out to public riding areas.

We know what you’re thinking: where are the handguards, spark arrestor, and skid plate? While it would have been nice to have these items come stock, consider that the YZ250X has an MSRP of $7,390, which just so happens to be $1,309 less than its direct (orange) competition (and only $100 more than the moto version of the bike, which did not see a price increase in 2016).Photo by Justin Kosman

In recent years Yamaha has had, in our opinion, some of the best stock suspension components in the industry, and they didn’t skimp on the 250X. The fork’s initial stroke is plush and very compliant in the rocks and small chop, holding itself up nicely in the stroke. The mid-stroke moves freely; one of our testers summed it up by commenting that the mid stroke blows through, but not through to the bottom. The bottoming resistance is excellent when pushed and ridden aggressively. The shock keeps the rear wheel in contact with the ground very well and is very progressive and comfortable at any pace, although it exhibits some busyness at really low speeds in repeated chop (mainly felt by beginners who simply do not push the bike as hard as most riders). Yamaha seems to have come up with the perfect mixture of rider comfort when being trail ridden and performance when ridden aggressively.

Out on the trail the YZ250X feels extremely light; in fact, it feels lighter than the scale says. It changes direction with minimal input from the rider. Just one of our testers felt that the bike was a little too twitchy at speed. That being said, this bike turns very well in all types of turns—on flat corners it’s stable and instills confidence in the rider, and in rutted turns it takes little to no effort on initial lean-in to get the bike to settle in the corner. While riding through the trees and rock gardens, we came across one of our main complaints about the off-road race machine; it doesn’t come with a skid plate or hand guards. In our opinion, any bike marketed as an off-road bike should have at least a glide plate and flag handguards from the factory.

See that kickstand? It’s the easiest way to visually tell this bike apart from the MX variant.Photo by Justin Kosman

The changes that Yamaha made to 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears were noticeable, and about the best thing that Yamaha could have done without adding a 6th gear. 1st and 2nd gears are low enough to crawl through rock gardens and lug over tree roots, but when riding on flowing trails, 3rd gear is where the 250X loves to be, right in the meat of the power. Fourth gear is tall enough for most fast GP style races and 5th gear would be great for a wide open desert style courses. The addition of an O-Ring chain is a must for an off-road bike; it may create a little more drag than a non O-Ring chain, but will last much longer. One thing we did find interesting about the chain is that it doesn’t have a traditional master link; instead, it has a riveted master link that cannot be removed without a chain-breaker, which could be a bummer in certain trailside repair situations.

Yamaha’s new YZ250X exhaust has been made narrower (both vertically and horizontally) to help stay out of harm’s way.Photo by Justin Kosman

Yamaha set out to provide their customers with a competitive, closed course, race bike, and if you ask us, they did just that, and then added the 250X to their bLU cRU contingency program. We’ve heard people harp on the YZ250X for not having this or that, but we feel that people should to be as excited as we are about the mere fact that a Japanese manufacturer has finally noticed that there is still a market for an off-road specific two-stroke. To boot, there’s the fact that the YZ250X has an MSRP of $7,390, which just so happens to be $1,309 less than its direct (orange) competition (and only $100 more than the moto version of the bike, which did not see a price increase in 2016). We don’t know about you, but some people would rather use their leg than spend over a thousand dollars for a button!

This Yamaha does not have an electric starter, and it doesn’t really need one. The YZ250X fires up first kick almost every time, and the compression is low enough that you can literally start the bike by hand.Photo by Justin Kosman

Second opinion

Even after riding the YZ250X, I'm still a little shocked that a Japanese manufacturer produced an off-road-specific two-stroke model! While the changes to the YZ250X compared to the moto version aren't drastic on paper, Yamaha did enough to this bike to solidify it as a true cross-country-style machine with tons of competition potential. A light overall feel, great cornering, natural ergos, and a peppy, crisp, fun-to-ride engine all contribute to what is an amazing overall package. Later this year, we'll be comparing the YZ250X to the KTM 250 XC (a bike that is largely regarded as one of the best off-road two-strokes out there) and I feel like there's a good chance that the Yamaha could come out on top. —Chris Denison/5'10"/155/Off-Road Expert

We think the 18” rear wheel is a great stock component. Not only does it provide a bit more compliance off-road, but it also allows the rider to install a trials tire straight away if he or she chooses.Photo by Justin Kosman
2016 Yamaha YZ250X Specs
Seat height: 38.2”
Ground clearance: 14.2”
Fuel capacity: 2.1 gal.
Claimed Weight (tank full): 229 lb
MSRP: $7,390
Contact: www.yamahamotorsports.com