The only EFI-equipped machine in this shootout, the CRF250R enjoys flawless throttle response and instant, crisp delivery.
"Broad" and "smooth" were two of the most commonly used words by our test riders to describe the CRF250R's powerband. The entire range is exceptionally useable for both novices and pros.
The CRF's power pulls well into the mid-range and beyond to the hugely powerful, extremely healthy top end. Throughout all of our testing, not one rider complained about this bike flattening out!
A few of our heavier test riders commented that they wouldn't mind if the Honda had a bit more low end pull, though they also pointed out that they wouldn't want to sacrifice the bike's stellar mid-range and top end, nor did they want to alter the engine's smooth behavior down low.
As far as gearing is concerned, the Honda has the highly coveted ability to either be short-shifted and pull a gear high or be revved-out in a lower gear. Only one rider-not long out of the 85cc class-felt as though he had to shift it a lot to stay in the power.
The Honda has great clutch pull and shifts very well. This tranny rarely fights going into gear under a load.Chassis
The CRF250R's chassis is comfortable for riders of all sizes, and the handlebar has a good stock bend to it.
On the track, the Honda has a maneuverable, fairly lightweight feel compared to some of the other machines in its class. From carving up jump faces to switching lines, this CRF is certainly compliant.
With minimal vibration and just enough flex, the all-new 2010 frame has made the bike, in the words of one tester, "easy to ride."
Of all the 250Fs, the Honda is one of the easiest to lean over in corners. It tracks well upon entry and does a solid job of putting power to the ground, even when the tire is leaned over on the shoulder knobs.
For some, the CRF250R has a slightly tall feeling, meaning that the center of gravity feels a bit higher than some of the other bikes. It does not have the stinkbug feeling that some felt on the 2009 CRF450R.
The adjustable steering damper is a great touch. We hovered right around the stock settings, and found that tuning it makes a difference in front fork feel as well as the expected stability.
Not everyone is a fan of the CRF's plastic. The side panels don't offer a ton of room for numbers, and some think that the shroud and front fender make the entire bike look "stinkbuggy". Also, it's possible to catch your boots on the radiator shrouds.Suspension
All together, the Honda's "shorty" rear shock makes for a very stable ride in bumps and chop. You can typically plow the bike into some of the bigger bumps on the track without having to worry about any kicking or swapping.
Both the fork and the shock have a compliant initial portion of the stroke that lets the machine settle into ruts and turns without blowing through or bouncing out of the line.
Slower or lighter riders may find that the front Showa fork feels a little stiff with the stock settings. At higher speeds and through really rough sections, this can translate into a busy feeling in the front end. Stiffening the steering damper helped to diminish this feeling. On the other hand, fast pros may find that the front end dives on abrupt deceleration.
Only our heaviest (and, coincidentally, fastest) test riders wanted to stiffen up the shock on the CRF205R. In stock form, they simply described the suspension as "plush".
Bottoming resistance is great on both ends of the Honda. Mistimed jumps aren't an issue, and the bike soaked up some pretty hard hits with fantastic results.Why The Honda CRF250R Should Win
This bike is lightweight and maneuverable without being unstable.
The smooth, strong power is a favorite among riders of all sizes and abilities.
Fuel injection. Need we say more?
A great stock suspension platform complements the well-balanced frame.
Did we mention how great the top-end power is?
You can now share parts with the CRF450R!Why It Shouldn't Win
Heavier riders wanted more hit off the bottom.
This is the most expensive bike in our shootout at $7,199.
Front fork can seem stiff for lightweight or slower riders and slightly soft for high-level pros.
You either love the plastic or you don't.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
If you're thoroughly afraid of FI tuning or have an unnatural fondness for jetting.
Remember, the 2010 frame gets rid of the '09's nervousness.
Are two mufflers better than one?
At sea level, the stock jetting on the Kawasaki is outstanding. This bike doesn't have fuel injection, but some say that it doesn't need it. We changed our jetting a bit for 3000 ft.
The bottom to mid-range power is awesome and allows the bike to accelerate hard out of sharp turns and right off the line.
Most like the hard initial hit of the KX250F, it is class leading.
This machine signs off immediately when it hits the rev limiter, which almost every one of our test riders complained of being too low in the power spread. However, this is more noticeable on wide-open tracks than on tighter courses, and the engine will easily pull taller gears.
As was the case last year, the 2010 Kawasaki is fairly loud. We might be able to handle it if the exhaust note was more pleasant, but the tone is raspy and borderline obnoxious.
The Kawi can be very hard to shift under power. Although it isn't as prone to mis-shifting and popping out of gear as it was last year, the tranny issues haven't been completed cured.Chassis
It can be difficult to strike a decent balance between stability and low weight feel, but Kawasaki has done a great job of finding both with this machine.
If you want to learn how to whip, this is a great bike. It truly flicks over jumps.
The KX250F corners consistently but not without a slight push in the front end. Even with the sag set properly, this was one of those things that you just have to get used to when compared to the other bikes.
The overall ergonomics of the KX-F make it an easy machine to adapt to. One rider who had never been on a Kawi before commented that he felt like he was on his own bike after just a few laps.
Be it front to back or side-to-side, the balance of this machine is excellent.
Some would say that the Kawasaki's grip compound is too tough and feels a bit cheap.
This seat is pretty soft and the plastic seat base can be felt. If you ride a lot and sit down a lot, that can be a bad thing.
It doesn't take long for the Kawasaki plastics and components to look beat. Try as you might, you just can't keep the "new" look on this machine for long.Suspension
The KX250F fork isn't necessarily soft, but the shock is a tad too plush for most riders' liking. Only our 130 lb test rider felt it was too stiff.
It's safe to say that you'll actively use the stroke on this bike, which we consider to be a good thing. The rougher the track gets, the more the fork and shock like to ride in the mid and keep you out of trouble.
The front fork on the KX250F is particularly forgiving on hard hits. If you slam a square-edged bump, your biggest worry will be in the rear end kicking-don't sweat the fork blowing through.
We felt that the shock had a good feel all-around, though it can be described as "loose" in some spots (as if the oil is starting to get old) and it tends to ride low in the back on acceleration.
The stock rebound setting in the rear end really gives the Kawasaki a feeling of grabbing maximum traction. The rear tire hooks up and goes!Why The Kawasaki KX250F Should Win
Talk about snap right out of the gate!
Balanced, stable, nimble and lightweight-check, check, check and check.
The comfortable ergos are easy to get used to.
Great traction plus a strong mid-range equals maximum acceleration.Why It Shouldn't Win
It doesn't take long for this muffler to go from loud to worse. What is up with Kawasaki MX bikes and sound these days?
When this bike hits the rev limiter, you might as well be grabbing the brakes.
Not the easiest machine to shift under a load.
Visually, the Kawasaki ages in dog years.
Kawasaki addressed many of the 2009's long-term transmission issues with this year's revisions. Be cautious of a well-used '09.
You could essentially modify a 2009 to match the new model, but it would take many, many little revisions to do.
The money you save could equal a pretty nice exhaust system!
There's a strong combination in the Yamaha of decent bottom, strong mid-range and good top end power. Better acceleration in low RPMs wouldn't hurt, but compared to last year's bike, the powerband is reversed and there is much more downstairs.
The Yamaha's motor doesn't make it feel like a race bike, but it is super smooth and easy to ride. There is potential here for some useable race mods.
The YZ250F has decent overrev, but some test riders who really opened the bike up and rode it on top wanted more meat up top. Still, it doesn't fall flat as hard as the Kawasaki.
Immediately off idle and during quicker throttle openings, several of our test riders noticed a hesitation in delivery. Similarly, the carburetor can be spotty in higher gears, requiring extra clutch use to get the power to pick up. An adjustable leak jet really helps tune this but the carburetion is far from perfect.
No matter if the engine is hot or cold, the YZ-F starts easily. Racers rejoice.
For most, this bike feels like it's in between gears, requiring a shift up for more speed where other bikes don't. More than one rider wished for a faster third and fourth when rolling through sweeping turns.Chassis
The Yamaha was generally regarded as having the most well rounded handling traits of any bike in the shootout. Balance and stability lead to confident, consistent lean angles, and only one rider (a fast pro with an "out the back" riding style) complained of difficulty turning. In tight, rutted corners, the Yamaha is king.
The YZ250F feels super planted and, as a result, stays put. Some interpreted the stability as extra weight, but it's still nowhere near as heavy feeling as any 450. Straight-line stability is awesome.
The semi-odd new design of the Yamaha's plastic gives this bike a wide, awkward feel. Shorter riders in particular complained about the width of the shrouds.
The shape of the Yamaha's seat gives the rider a forward-sitting feeling, which lends itself to the solid cornering.Suspension
Much of the YZ-F's planted feel is a direct result of strong suspension performance all across the board. Both high and low-speed bumps are strong points for the Yamaha.
The superior performance of the Yamaha's fork leads to great corner entry stability, as well as a straight-tracking feel through ruts.
The suspension on both ends was borderline soft for our 180 lb testers, and two of our pros requested stiffer springs for the YZ-F. For them, on high-speed sweepers, the bike can wallow.
Despite its semi-soft character, big hit absorption was never a problem with the Yamaha's shock.Why The Yamaha YZ250F Should Win
This motorcycle corners like an MX bike should.
High and low-speed stability are both up to par with the best in the class.
Good power and easier starting are a nice combination.
Prior experience has led us to trust Yamaha's dependability.Why It Shouldn't Win
The carburetion isn't perfect, and can be a hindrance when really working the throttle.
In stock form, the YZ-F can feel as though it's in between gears.
The Yamaha's power is strong, but the motor could use some more power and better acceleration before you race it.
Husqvarna called. They want their plastic back. Should I take a deal on a 2009?
This bike is much different than the 2009 Yamaha, and not a lot of parts carry over.
We're substantially more impressed with the way the 2010 turns.
The '09 stood up in turns where the new machine does not.
The TC250 feels vaguely underpowered on the track in the low and mid-range, though the bike is distinctly torquey. This leads to a perceived lack of momentum coming out of turns.
The power spread has great overrev that doesn't fall off up top. Like Cab Calloway, the TC250 loves to sing.
In the bottom-end power department, the Husqvarna seems like it could use more snap. In stock form, it simply feels less powerful than some of the other 250Fs.
Second and third gear seemed oddly spaced and required excessive clutch use. The engine's character doesn't build RPM as fast as we are used too with other 250Fs.
An extremely smooth pull characterizes this hydraulic clutch.
This motorcycle is very difficult to start, hot or cold. Be sure to pack extra patience in your toolbox.Chassis
The overall lightweight feel of the Husky is a nice surprise. Especially in a bike that feels so stable. Additionally, the frame provides plenty of flex, which isn't always a bad thing depending on ability and riding style.
Our test riders complimented the TC250's bar bend, but grumbled that vibration is transmitted straight to the rider's hands.
Given the shape of the radiator shrouds, it's not too difficult to get your knee braces caught near the tank.
The seat is flat and wide and allows the rider to really move around on the bike.
Traction on the Husqvarna, both in the front and the rear, is incredible. It sticks to the track well and allows for acceleration where the other machines just won't hook up.
The front end feels tucked in and offers precise control with zero vagueness.
Strong brakes seem to be a trend among non-Japanese machines. We like that.Suspension
We found this suspension to be stiff, yet that's exactly what several of our test riders have been asking for from the other 250Fs.
The fork on this machine is a little suppler than the shock, which can cause the bike to buck if you charge into huge bumps with your weight forward. This reboundy feel is amplified at higher speeds, causing the whole bike to feel unbalanced. Slowing the rebound caused the kick to go away, but we were never able to find the balance we wanted.
In terms of compliance, the fork is surprisingly good. It's soft initially but has great control through the mid, but when the Husky blows through it has almost zero control at the bottom of the stroke.
On hard acceleration, the Husky's shock feels extremely planted. It's also fairly stable and calm for faster riders who really plow into rollers and square-edged bumps.Why The Husqvarna TC250 Should Win
The $6,899 price tag is the lowest in this class.
This particular machine has come a long way in just a few years.
The Husqvarna just feels "different" from everything else in this class.
Traction, traction, traction. Turning, turning, turning.
Novice riders are not intimidated by the power and can put in really solid laps.Why It Shouldn't Win
This engine could use easier starting and more snappy power.
Unfortunately, the reliability is unproven and somewhat questionable.
Like we said, the Husqvarna just feels "different" from everything else in this class.
No matter what your weight is, you'll need to do some tweaking to this suspension to really make it work.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
The new machine is wildly different than 2009, and we definitely see it being revised a few more times in the near future.
A supportive Husky dealer can make all the difference in owning a "rogue" brand.
The KTM has the largest spread of power of any bike in the 250F class. From the torquey bottom to the powerful overrev, this is one potent engine.
The punch and meat of the power down low makes this bike a charger out of turns. It doesn't hurt that the six-speed gearbox is a perfect match for the powerband.
You can rev the 250 SX-F to the moon and it still won't flatten out.
Though strong off the bottom and easy to control, the power goes slightly soft in the lower mid-range. This is a disadvantage when compared to other bikes in this category.
We found that the throttle response on the KTM wasn't perfect, and the bike would sometimes pop under deceleration. When stacked against FI, you feel this.
If you've never ridden with a hydraulic clutch, you're missing out. The KTM's clutch has great action and a consistent feel when hot, though riders more used to cable clutches might have a tough time adapting to the SX-F's friction point.
Several riders commented that the excessive amount of engine braking put out by the KTM's powerplant was hard to get used to. We found that this can be somewhat relieved by increasing the idle.Chassis
Riders who had not spent much time aboard a KTM commented that the 250 SX-F felt wide, but fairly easy to adapt to.
The 250 SX-F feels heavy in the air and isn't super maneuverable over jumps.
This bike's stock handlebar bend is too low. Compared to the seat, the relationship of the grips and the pegs put the rider in a cramped, forward leaning position that made even our most average-sized riders feel tall. Rotating the bars forward does not fix this feeling.
Most KTM's have great brakes, and this bike is no exception. We dig the new brake pads.
A strong point of the 250 SX-F's personality is definitely the bike's ability to stay straight and corner well in ruts. Tracking is spot on, and you can count on the rear tire to follow the front no matter where you put it.
On flat turns, the KTM has a tendency to lose traction in the front end, causing a "washy" feeling. This issue went away any time there was something to push the front end against.
The KTM can feel "twitchy" at higher speeds. This instability is amplified by speed.
This stock seat is much more comfortable than those found on previous KTM's; less of the harsh feeling is transmitted to the rider's behind. But it breaks down quickly.Suspension
By and large, the KTM suspension has a moderately harsh character in the front and a less rigid (yet still stout) shock in the rear. This can cause the bike to dance around in chop.
Despite higher-speed handling issues, the KTM was praised for its ability to soak up big low-speed bumps such as those coming into deep corners.
Part of the 250 SX-F's strength in ruts comes from the fact that the shock settles well when you have some weight on it. The bottoming resistance could be better in the rear when slamming big berms, but for most cornering applications the bike works well.
This fork is on the stiff side, but if you're a heavier or faster rider, you'll be pretty happy with it.Why The KTM 250 SX-F Should Win
The broad powerband is suitable for a wide range of ability levels and riding styles.
Our pro riders noted that the KTM is an overall great package for competition use. The solid motor, flawless transmission and great brakes are all race-ready.
This bike tracks like a dream and turns on a dime in ruts.
We dig the KTM's hydraulic clutch and Euro-styling.Why It Shouldn't Win
The riding position felt cramped, even for some of our average-sized test riders.
Basically, the KTM needs traction and a decent rut in order to turn properly.
Response on the 250 SX-F isn't flawless and the engine braking is rather excessive.
KTM's entire package can take time to get used to when compared to Japanese bikes.Should I take a deal on a 2009?
Although revised, the 2010 isn't hugely different from the '09. A lot of these mods-such as the new brake pads and triple clamp-could be made with a trip to the dealer.
These bikes seem to get better and better every year. Keep that in mind.