Easily half of the correspondence arriving at the palatial Dirt Rider offices asks some variation of "What bike should I buy?" The underlying theme of this flood of paper and e-mail is this: There must be one ultimate motocross machine, and if anyone knows what this Holy Grail is, it should be Dirt Rider. And since we must know, why are we keeping it a secret?Truthfully, there's no conspiracy here. Even though we were 98 percent sure we knew the answer to this question, we thoroughly tested the theory before typing it out. We gathered a cross-section of bikes and riders that we felt would be representative, then dive-bombed three completely different tracks, backing that with the months we've spent on the machines leading up to our comparison. We tallied lap times, subjected the machines to the unwavering eye of the radar gun and the ruthless judgment of our incredibly accurate scales. Finally, showing no mercy for clutches, we flogged the bikes through 50 or 60 full-on motocross starts with pro and intermediate riders aboard.For bikes we chose a Honda CRF250R, a big-bore KX250F fitted out with an Athena 290cc kit, a KTM 250 SX and a Yamaha YZ450F. We selected the bikes more as a rainbow-colored collection than for any other reason-a well set up rainbow at that-yet made it clear to our riders that we weren't testing the specific bike but rather the type of bike. All were set up for a 170-185 pound intermediate rider with some tweaks our staff has come to like. The KTM 250 SX with a pricey set of hlins suspension components could be considered the most modified, and the 450 with just an Akrapovic exhaust and some Cycra plastic as the least modified. For riders, we gathered novices to pros with ages ranging from 19 to over 50, though most of the riders were 20-somethings.We visited Milestone Ranch MX Park for a twisty mix of loam and firm dirt and a varied layout on a couple of its multitude of tracks. Next we hit Racetown 395 on an open practice day for fast and rough with high-speed jumps. Finally we tackled the tight and twisty elevation-enhanced clay of Piru MX. All told, we had plenty of variety to reach a decision. To keep the answers real-world, the riders noted whether a given bike was a competitive race mount, one they would choose for fun and whether owning/racing it would be cost-effective.The 250F
There's no question that a 250F has the fun factor once reserved for 125cc two-strokes but in a package that has more boost and far less fussy power delivery. A 250F is unbelievably light for what it is. Just a few years ago 125cc two-strokes were within five pounds of current 250Fs. The power doesn't get out of hand easily, despite horsepower numbers reserved for 250cc two-strokes in the 1990s. That may seem like ancient history, but those 250s had power output and delivery that essentially killed off the 500cc two-stroke.Riders in Vet age classes wonder if a 250F would be competitive despite most of the class being on 450s. For young riders moving up from minicycles, they are the logical stepping stone. But now when 250Fs and 250cc two-strokes race together, it can be confusing. After you reach 165 pounds, though, the choice is even muddier. For most the decision came down to rider weight and whether they compete in age classes. In answering the question, "Would you be competitive racing this bike at your riding level?" we used our CRF250R slightly modified from our April '08 "Fine-Tuning" story, but turned it back to red with UFO plastic and Factory Effex graphics and earned these remarks:"I could race it if there were other fat old guys on 250Fs. Against kids or light old dudes, no." "If I rolled up to the line on a stock 250F, I guarantee that I'd be outpowered by a couple of rich kids.""Since a Honda CRF250R is my current practice and race bike, I'm really happy with the bike. The only downer is on fast courses where I wish the bike had another gear.""I'd be less competitive in the beginning of motos and more competitive at the end. This bike allows me to ride longer at a faster pace without wearing myself out, but you can't get a good start in the Vet class."Surprisingly, when asked about the bike they would ride for fun if they didn't race, Vet intermediate Jesse Ziegler and pro Ryan Orr were the only ones to vote 250F. Jesse was persuasive in his arguments. "These bikes (250Fs) are my favorite moto toy. They require me to be on my game enough to keep it interesting but allow me to be off my game and still keep me smiling when I'm lazy. I don't have to be a technique master to make the motor work, and if I get a little out of shape with the throttle hand, they don't leave me with stained shorts. I love 250Fs. I just wish they'd go down the start straight as fast as a 450. On a lap-time test, I'll always be able to throw down a few fast ones with a 250F. But for racing, when you incorporate the start, the little guy isn't quite there."Here are the key points if you're considering a 250F. No matter what the skill level, weight or even age of the rider, the lap times for the 250F were always close. During our practice starts the 250F was usually at the rear of the pack, but not as far back as you'd expect. For classes where displacements are mixed, you need to ask yourself some tough questions. Do you love a challenge? Are you riding for fun or to win? Do your normal tracks have deep sand or loam that offers maximum traction? If so, you'd better be a light rider. Are you racing/riding where there are multiple lines in the corners? 250Fs prefer a flowing line around a track. Riding a 250F will bump the corner entrance speed of most riders, but that's useless if bigger bikes are clogging a one-lined track.In the hands of a light, aggressive rider, a 250F is a weapon against any size bike in the right conditions. If you do everything perfect on the start, you can get to the first turn at least in the same neighborhood as 450s, but you won't be there first. Is the 250F the blanket "best bike"? No. Not because it isn't good or fun, but because it has limits.