2019 Factory Off-Road Bikes—Sharon Mowell’s Yamaha YZ250F

One bike does it all: hare scrambles, hare & hound, and trail riding.

2018 Yamaha YZ250F left profile in front of hills.
After campaigning KTMs for the past six years, switching to a Yamaha YZ250F has been a bit of an adjustment for Sharon Mowell, but carefully choosing a number of aftermarket modifications has shortened that learning curve.Mark Kariya

Like many, Sharon Mowell has one bike that must fill many roles. The Northern California native competes in several different series—primarily the Kenda/SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series and Kenda/SRT AMA West Hare Scrambles (WHS) Regional Championship Series—but she's been doing so this year with just one bike: a 2018 Yamaha YZ250F provided by sponsor J.S. Buchanan Trucking/Chidester Transport Racing. In other words, her racebike is also her practice bike. (She should be taking delivery of a 2019 model by the time you read this, with the subject of this story drafted solely into the role of practice bike.)

Making things even more complicated is the fact that she's coming off of a long six-year stint on KTM 250 XC-Fs. (Both she and her sister Heather started riding KTMs when their father got one.) That in itself was a big jump, of course, but it's something she adapted to relatively quickly.

Now, five months into the season, Mowell has a pretty good idea of the Yamaha’s strengths and how it needs to be tailored to suit her particular requirements and she shared that with us before round 5 of the WHS in Hagerman, Idaho, where she’s the two-time and reigning Women A champ as well as leading Pro Women points after four rounds.

2018 Yamaha YZ250F
Precision Concepts lowered Mowell’s suspension a bit since she’s on the short side and added a revalve at both ends as well to suit her preferences. She runs Kenda’s Washougal II tires front and rear for the majority of situations while the stock brake systems remain.Mark Kariya

Compared to her KTMs, Mowell’s first impression of the YZ is that it’s got more torque. “When you’re climbing hills, you have more power, which can kind of wear you out in different circumstances,” she observes. “It was hard at first to get used to not having a hydraulic clutch, and KTM seems to [feel] lighter than Yamaha so the weight difference is definitely a change, but I got pretty used to it quicker than I [expected].”

Why not get the YZ250FX? “That’s just what they gave me!” she laughs, adding, “The FXs are a little heavier so they figured I’d be more at home with [the F]. It’s a fun bike. The cornering’s [good] and the power’s right there. You definitely have to ride more up on the front of the bike compared to a KTM where you can just steer and go. It seems like it’ll stand up more [out of a corner] with all the torque, but it might be just because I’m smaller [at 5-foot-2].”

With Mowell being on the petite side, the crew at Precision Concepts revalved and resprung the KYB suspension based on what worked for other riders her size, weight, and speed, and Mowell is pleased with what they came up with. They also lowered the bike slightly. “I don’t know exactly what they did,” she admits. (It’s something that she had done to her KTMs as well in the past.) “It’s definitely way more plush even compared to the stuff I had on my KTM. When I take it to the track, maybe I’ll do some clicker stuff, but for the most part it works all around for what I do.”

Continuing in that theme, Mowell shaved a little off the seat foam, covering her work with a ribbed MotoSeat cover. That way, she says, it’s unnecessary to lower the suspension too much, compromising rough-terrain performance. “I try not to cut it down too much to make it feel super-tiny. I didn’t want that tiny feel,” she says. “I like to be able to at least touch the ground a little bit like on my tippy-toes just to be more comfortable.”

She adds, “I was never into the ribbed seats, but definitely being in a faster class [this year], I’ve learned that I’m more secure in the seat [with that extra grip]. I don’t think I’d go to another stock seat! It’s definitely grippy, but not too grippy.”

2018 Yamaha YZ250F FMF exhaust and engine.
Aside from the FMF exhaust, the engine remains stock. Being a 2018 model, she does concede missing the KTM’s electric start in certain situations. Despite the lowered suspension, the SXS skid plate helps minimize hanging up on obstacles.Mark Kariya

At the front end of the cockpit is a set of Fasst Company’s Flexx bars with a KTM-like bend over a GPR stabilizer, A’ME Lock-On grips at either end to better fit her smaller hands. “I have the yellow and red [compression and rebound elastomers],” she shares. “Some people run the blue [ones] which are softer, but this is kind of a happy medium. I can’t really feel it much, like too much, but it seems to help and soak [impacts] up. I think I’m going to start running the blue/yellow [combination] and make it a little bit softer because I might still be a little bit too light to make a difference on these [red/yellow ones].”

Mowell runs the GPR in a middle-of-the-road setting, saying, “I don’t like to feel like it’s stiff or super loose, so I try to keep it where I feel comfortable, especially going over whoops.”

Reflex Racing hand guards ably protect her hands as well as the ARC levers she favors. “I love [the Reflex guards]!”

Although Mowell really missed the KTM’s electric starter at first, she’s grown used to kicking the YZ and finds it reliably starts on the first or second kick and insists, “I still like kicking bikes!”

But, she admits, “The hard part’s since I’m shorter, on a hill or something if I fall over and have to [start] it, I have to find that happy balance [point], but for the most part it kicks right over [easily].”

2018 Yamaha YZ250F back wheel.
Mowell runs 13/50 gearing with an RK O-ring chain and DDC rear sprocket that amazes her with its durability. Also apparent here are the BRP chain guide and Tusk chain adjusters.Mark Kariya

The Rekluse auto clutch certainly comes in handy in those technical situations, but Mowell also notes, “It doesn’t seem to wear out as fast [as the stock manual clutch]. Again, since I’m shorter I use the clutch a lot more for balance and stuff so I can definitely rely on a Rekluse to not wear out like I have done in the past on KTMs when I didn’t have a Rekluse.”

To get the range necessary for hare & hound loops approaching 50 miles, Mowell’s YZ250F sports the 2.9-gallon fuel tank from IMS, complete with dry break. Remarkably, this is the first time one of her bikes has been fitted with both an IMS tank and a quick-fill system. “It takes no time to get me in and out of the pits. I love it! I don’t think I’d ever run a stock tank again,” she declares, laughing.

Maxima supplies the team’s lubricants, and even though it’s the first time Mowell has used them, she’s got no complaints and feels it’s contributed to her bike’s durability through the first part of the season, not needing a top-end or other major service. One Maxima product Mowell doesn’t use is the foam air filter oil since she uses No Toil’s air filter and requisite fluid. “I’ve been with them for three years,” she points out.

Bullet Proof Designs provides the radiator guards and rear rotor guard, and have proven their worth to Mowell’s satisfaction. In addition, she relies on an SXS skid plate/linkage guard. “It protects the linkage and if I go over something, it just glides right over—I don’t get stuck on the linkage, which you can do going over obstacles and rocks or logs and such,” she insists. “It just slides right over which is super nice for me, again because the whole [short-girl] balance issue.”

2018 Yamaha YZ250F with Fasst Company’s Flexx handlebar.
Fasst Company’s Flexx handlebar is another big item on Mowell’s list of mods. She also credits the GPR steering damper, A’ME Lock-On grips, ARC levers, and Reflex Racing hand guards to providing peace of mind as well as comfort. Amazingly, this is the first bike she’s had that features a quick-fill system on its IMS tank.Mark Kariya

Mowell runs 13/50 gearing with a DDC rear sprocket and RK’s O-ring chain, and IMS Core footpegs keep her boots secure while being durable against rock hits and remarkably good at shedding mud. “The races I do, [13/50] seems to work for everything,” she observes. Coincidentally, she also ran that gearing on her KTMs. Tusk provides the brake pedal with its replaceable tip and teeth.

Naturally, Mowell replaces the 19-inch rear wheel with an 18. Kenda tires with Nitro Mousse foam inserts see constant duty with Mowell preferring the Washougal II front and rear almost exclusively, though she’ll install the Parker for sandy conditions. “[The Washougals] turn better for me, they last longer—they’re more an all-around tire,” she says.

2018 Yamaha YZ250F IMS Core footpegs and Tusk brake pedal.
While the Rekluse auto clutch draws Mowell’s praise in technical situations, she also feels it provides longer clutch life. She also likes the IMS Core footpegs and Tusk brake pedal with its replaceable parts. Aside from the radiator guards, Bullet Proof Designs provides a guard for the rear brake rotor.Mark Kariya

Interestingly, this is the first year she’s run anything but inner tubes, saying, “I’ve never had tube problems!” But now that she’s used inserts, she’s a believer since they eliminate the potential for flats ruining those 14-hour one-way drives. (She changes them at her father’s auto tire shop on automotive equipment, lubing liberally with Murphy’s tire soap.)

Aside from the FMF Factory 4.1 exhaust with spark arrestor, there are no engine mods. “I haven’t messed with any [mapping choices] yet,” she admits. “I might experiment with it during the [summer break], but for me right now, it’s pretty good.”

Pretty good being capable enough to win the WHS at Hagerman, Idaho, carry her to the top of the points in the WHS midway through the season, and anticipate improving on her current fifth in H&H points.