2011 250cc MX Comparison - Dirt Rider Magazine

Shame on you. Here we are, offering you the most comprehensive 250F shootout in the industry with an in-depth comparison of all the bikes, and you just flipped to the last page to see which bike wins. We're disappointed. It's not that we're attempting to keep our audience riveted or trying to keep a secret from you, but if you only look to this test for the declared winner, you're truly cheating yourself. Determining your next bike based on which machine we dub the "best" is like buying a house after only seeing the garage; plenty of riders do it and chances are that you'll be happy with your final purchase, but had you done more homework you might have discovered something else that was a much better fit.For those who haven't jumped to the end of the test, we applaud your patience. You realize that picking through the following mountain of information and properly digesting the entirety of our data is the next best thing to buying one of each bike and personally selecting your favorite. Choosing which 250F to buy next is a critical and tough decision, but Dirt Rider has already done 80 percent of the work for you. Now it's your job to simply put the pieces together before pulling the trigger on your next ride.For years, Dirt Rider has enjoyed a reputation as the premier testing authority, and we take this responsibility to our readers seriously. Our 250F comparison is the result of hundreds of hours of scientific testing, careful evaluation and well-informed decision making sprinkled with late-night tire changing, endless pressure washing, several 19-plus hour days at the track and one heck of a big binder full of notes, eval forms, setup sheets, lap charts and rider opinions. But in the end, it all comes down to one simple equation: All of these bikes are great, but at least one of them is truly amazing for you.

How We Tested

Once again, our 250F MX shootout was held in conjunction with our 450cc comparison, and while the test riders and lap times differed between ranks the testing protocol for the two classes was essentially identical. After receiving each motorcycle we wrote an initial review for the magazine and/or on www.dirtrider.com, determined our best settings and then parked the bike at close to 10 hours of run time. Once we had all the machines set up and properly broken in, we installed fresh Dunlop MX71 hard-terrain tires and Factory Effex graphics, then ran the group through our gauntlet of photo shoots, more setup sessions, radar runs, timed motos and follow-up evaluations. It should be noted here that, unlike other publications, we tested each bike in completely stock form with the exception of the tires, with no aftermarket parts or mods of any kind. Our test rider roster was a mishmash of fast young kids, solid intermediates, Vet A, B and C racers, non-crashing novices and all-around enthusiasts, resulting in a spectrum of opinions that represent riders of all sizes, speeds and preferences.Last year, the 2010 250F shootout featured only one fuel-injected machine, whereas there is only one 250F in the 2011 comparison that doesn't come equipped with EFI. The 2010 Suzuki RM-Z250 and 2010 Honda CRF250R were the first to bring the new technology to the midsize class over a year ago, with the Honda crowned our 2010 250F Shootout winner (the newly injected Suzuki was not yet available at the time of our test). For the 2011 comparison, EFI is the norm, except for the Yamaha YZ250F. What a difference a year makes, right?

The Crew

Honda CRF250R

Honda's CRF250R enjoys a solid reputation as a durable, hard-charging workhorse, and the performance of this popular machine only seems to be getting better with each year. In 2009, the well-rounded Honda nearly topped our 250F comparison, falling just short of the Kawasaki in a few key areas. When the 2010 shootout rolled around, the freshly fuel-injected CRF pulled away from the pack in both lap times and rider opinions, effectively ending a two-year Kawasaki shootout winning streak. For 2011, the defending Dirt Rider 250F shootout winner comes to the table with $7,199 worth of pure performance to which our test riders responded quite well. Revised engine tuning, new suspension valving, a slightly redesigned Honda Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD) and a 94-decibel muffler all grace the red machine, yet the core characteristics that made this bike a favorite last year are still present. But is it enough for a repeat in a class that is now much more in tune with current technology?

Engine

  • The CRF250R is extremely sensitive to how you ride it, meaning you have to be proactive about shifting and attentive to rpm. The 10 percent of our riders who simply popped the bike in gear and rode felt that the power was great down low and mild everywhere else because the bottom is enhanced. The other 90 percent who shifted enough to stay in the broad peak of power thought the delivery was soft down low and excellent in the mid and top. Fast intermediates and pros were especially complimentary of the top-end pull.

  • Honda's new 94-decibel exhaust has a pleasant, throaty tone. There's not a hint of rasp, and the power doesn't seem to have suffered from being hushed a few notes.

  • The entire power spread is so incredibly smooth that it can often be perceived as being slower than it is, meaning that the CRF is usually putting out more power than you think. Our most aggressive riders craved a harder hit on the bottom.

  • You haven't felt good shifting until you've ridden the CRF250R. The class-leading transmission simply glides into gear, no matter if you're on the gas, slowing down, coming into a turn or charging through a long straight. There's no such thing as a mis-shift or a false neutral on this bike.

  • We can't stress enough how seamless this power spread is, as there are no major steps or hits; the ponies just seem to pour out of the engine. Even in the highest rpm ranges, the Honda doesn't sign off immediately and lets you know well in advance that you need to shift.

Chassis

  • Balance is the name of the game when it comes to the CRF's chassis. Many testers labeled it the best-handling bike of the test, as both ends of the motorcycle work in sync with each other and the center of gravity is well placed for maximum traction and stability. A couple of medium-sized riders felt it was top-heavy, but that was not a common complaint.

  • The CRF is extremely maneuverable, especially in the air. The bike flicks, turns and carves with ease on jumps, and on the ground it switches between lines gracefully and with minimal effort, all the while remaining planted enough to ride aggressively.

  • This front brake has excellent stopping power, though it's not the sharpest binder in the bunch. Our pickiest riders could be seen back-bleeding the front brake between motos in an attempt to get more bite, but overall the bike stops quite well.

  • On a scale of "poor" to "excellent," we'd label the CRF250R "moderately great" in turns. The tires track well enough, and both ends settle just fine into ruts of all sizes, as well as flatter corners. Slower riders commented that they had trouble setting up for corners, but we suspect this had more to do with the MX71 tires not wanting to be turned too sharply in softer dirt. If you carry your speed and initiate a turn early, you should have no issues making the Honda do exactly what you want it to do in corners.

Some testers noted the Honda could be busy on higher speed sections, but many of them failed to remember that the bike has a built-in steering damper. The shake was almost universally remedied by going three clicks tighter on the HPSD.

  • The ergonomics of the Honda are fairly well liked, though the seat was described as being too flat in the front. The stock bar bend was praised by all and is the kind of thing that you can leave on the motorcycle until you bend it. The radiator shrouds and sidepanels are of uniform width, making moving around on the bike a snap.

  • Many of our test riders wanted to play around with a different rear sprocket on the CRF, with requests to go both up and down in size. This was largely a function of preference, as riders who wanted to corner a gear high felt that the sprocket could benefit from one tooth larger in the back, while revvers declared they wanted a smaller sprocket for more overall speed.

Suspension

  • All around, the Honda's suspension has a somewhat plush personality initially with increasingly more resistance further down in the stroke. This translates into great absorption on smaller bumps that still keeps both tires in solid contact with the ground. Only our fastest and heaviest riders wanted to stiffen up the shock, while two of our 120-pounders found the whole setup too stiff for them. But for the average rider, Honda's setting is on target, and much of the CRF250R's balanced feel can be attributed to the suspension.

  • Despite a softer feel in the top of the stroke, both the Honda's fork and shock have good bottoming resistance. When pushed on ultra-flat landings, the shock will show signs of weakness before the fork does, but at that point your primary concern is likely your wrists and ankles!

  • The CRF250R is great on acceleration bumps, and it rides equally well coming into corners as it does exiting them. The bike works well on smaller bumps and when power, but thanks to the bottoming resistance it still can be jammed across larger square-edged hits without many complaints.

Why The Honda CRF250R Should Win

  • The smooth, strong power spread is perfectly suited toward a variety of riders.

  • Nothing shifts as well as this Honda. It's magical, with a great clutch pull, too!

  • You'd be hard-pressed to find a rider who isn't comfortable with Honda ergonomics.

  • The suspension maintains a plush feel with great bottoming resistance. That's not an easy balance to strike, but Honda does it well.

  • Quiet exhaust. A steering damper. What more could you ask for?

  • We know from experience that the durability of this bike is as good as they come.

Why It Shouldn't Win

  • The CRF250R isn't a low-end monster compared to the RM-Z and KX-F, and you'll be disappointed if you measure a bike's performance in initial snap.

  • You have to shift this bike to make it work, and riders just coming off a 450 may not be used to that.

  • Bigger and faster riders may need more resistance out of the already-plush suspension.

Mods We'd Like To Try

  • Gearing changes in both directions could move the power around a bit, making it more agreeable for certain riding styles.

  • Be it through mapping changes or aftermarket exhaust, we know there's a way to get more low-end grunt/snap out of the red rider.

  • A stronger aftermarket front brake isn't a necessity, but it probably wouldn't hurt.

Pete Peterson

5'10"/155 lb/Vet Novice

The Honda is my pick, not by doing nothing wrong but by doing everything incredibly well. It feels the lightest, is the most controllable in the air, has no surprises to the suspension reaction and never disagrees with what I'm trying to do in the turns. The low-end feels soft compared to some other 250Fs, but that's an observation and not a complaint.Andrew Silverstein

5'3"/120 lb/Intermediate

The CRF has really smooth throttle delivery, with great power all the way through the top-end. The suspension was a little stiff for me, but it still worked OK, with no hard bottoming and great absorption on all the big landings. The ergonomics feel slim, which allow you to get over the front of the bike and be able to get up on the gas tank in corners. All together, it's a really strong package.

Kawasaki KX250F

Narrowly missing the shootout win last year was the KX250F, a bike that is no stranger to the top of the Dirt Rider comparison podium. With over 30 total revisions for 2011, the Kawasaki is now a leaner, meaner version of its former self, and it comes with a Digital Fuel Injection system (DFI) to boot. The other major change to the $7,299 KX-F is the introduction of Showa's Separate Function Fork (SFF), which has the fork legs handling springing and damping duties independently, with a spring on the right and a damper on the left. Our test riders loved this bike during the first test and couldn't wait to get it on the track with the rest of the pack, but with an unproven suspension setup and all-new delivery, the Kawasaki's final result was anyone's guess.

Engine

  • The KX250F feels more like a modified race bike than a stock 250F. The power has an aggressive attitude, with plenty of punch off idle and strong, usable low-end torque. The midrange is similarly impressive, with a long yet smooth pull throughout.

  • In its first year with DFI, the Kawasaki maintains the same snappy throttle response the well-tuned 2010 featured. The crisp off-idle snap allows the Kawasaki to really get up and go.

  • About the only major beef our testers had with the stock power spread was a tendency for the bike to rev out a bit too quickly up top. Although greatly improved over the 2010 and much less abrupt, the top-end falls off a little in comparison to the rest of the powerband. Revisions to the ECU mapping after the stock testing was completed allowed the bike to pull better up high for a few riders compared to Kawi's stock '11 settings.

  • According to our test crew (and the two-meter sound test), the stock Kawasaki exhaust produces the most noise on the track compared to any bike in the test. Although a touch quieter for 2011, it still has a raspy note.

  • Kawasaki has found an amazing gearing setup for the KX250F. The bike has an especially excellent transition between second and third gear, both of which see plenty of use on most MX tracks. Also, the robust bottom-end delivery allows the rider to short-shift the Kawi with no ill effects.

Chassis

  • Mimicking its race-ready engine, the KX250F's chassis is similarly suited toward charging and attacking the track. The bike felt comfortable right away for a variety of test riders, resulting in minimal acclimatization and immediately quick laps. It doesn't take long for a rider to feel at home on this machine.

  • The Kawasaki shines in the turns. It has an uncanny ability to find traction at even the most extreme lean angles, and it tracks flawlessly when entering corners. Our riders also noted they could switch lines with ease at a moment's notice, giving the KX-F impressively high marks in the maneuverability category.

  • Straight-line traction on the Kawi is solid, though a few testers weren't stoked by the bike's inability to completely hook up and drive up hills and jump faces. The Dunlop MX71 tires may be partially to blame for this, as some slippage can be felt on hard-to-soft terrain transitions.

  • Most of our test riders were pumped on the Kawasaki's ergonomics, as you can really just jump on the bike and ride it. On the downside, a few riders mentioned the sidepanel can be somewhat of a boot-grabber at times, and many components (clutch cover, frame, airbox and plastic) look completely hammered after just a few short rides.

  • The KX250F has awesome brakes that will slow the bike in a hurry without being overly grabby. Everyone loved 'em.

  • An extension of its cornering prowess, the Kawasaki maintains great stability on rough tracks. Faster riders felt the bike has a loose-feeling front end at high speeds, but other than that the machine stays balanced and calm everywhere.

  • The reduction in fork offset for 2011 has proven to be a great choice as far as handling goes.

Suspension

  • From the novices to the pros, the majority of our test riders had very few complaints about the KX250F's suspension. The bike reacts well to being pushed hard, meaning the faster and harder you ride it, the better it works.

  • The shock is amazing. It stays up in the stroke and remains totally stable coming into corners, and it handles fast and rough sections of the track with ease. We can't remember a 250F shock that was more universally liked than the '11 Kawi's.

  • In its first year, the new Separate Function Fork gets two thumbs up from us, but not without a few asides: The fork has a generally soft character and will blow through the stroke and slap down on hard landings, and it also invites a bit of headshake on deceleration bumps as a result of the previously mentioned loose-feeling front end.

  • The Kawasaki is forgiving on big hits, but the real joy in the bottom of the stroke comes when slamming into large chop at higher speeds. Here, the Kawi doesn't have any surprises or unnatural bucking, making it an easy machine to twist the throttle on.

  • It's neat that you can adjust the KX250F's fork preload with only a wrench, but we liked the stock setting enough to keep it where it was. Lowering the front end (by adjusting the preload, not the fork height in the clamp) 1mm gave the bike an overly harsh feel coming into corners, while raising the fork just 1mm above stock produced more deflection-induced headshake than we cared for. Kawi did all the testing for a reason!

Why The Kawasaki KX250F Should Win

  • Depending on whom you ask, this could be the best engine in the bunch. The Kawasaki has killer snap, strong acceleration and a solid top-end that are all super usable for most riders.

  • Stability and consistency in handling help make this machine easy and fun to rail on.

  • We're impressed with the first-year SFF fork, and the excellent shock performance only elevates the suspension's sterling reputation.

  • The Kawi corners like a 250F should.

  • Friendly ergos were collectively well-liked.

Why It Shouldn't Win

  • Runs out on top, though not everyone noticed.

  • The stock fork setting is just too darn soft for fast pilots.

  • Strong hit may be too much for tentative riders.

  • The Kawi sees dirt and looks beat!

  • *Raspy exhaust is still...well, raspy .

Mods We'd Like To Try

  • Stiffer valving in front could help fine-tune the fork issues.

  • We know from experience that mapping changes produce better top-end. We'd love to play with this more.

  • An aftermarket exhaust could help achieve a more pleasing tone. Myles Richmond

5'11"/150 lb/Intermediate

The best bike, in my opinion, is the Kawasaki 250F. It just felt good as soon as I got on. I felt like I didn't need to change anything, and if I did, it would be minor. The suspension and the feel of the bike are great, and the motor is awesome! All in all, this is a very well-rounded bike.

Blake Savage

5'8"/132 lb/Intermediate

Between the motor and the suspension, the Kawasaki is a great package. I really have no complaints about the suspension, and it was easy shifting and had awesome throttle response. The saddle was also very comfortable, and it brakes really well coming into corners. I think this is the best bike in the class.

KTM 250 SX-F

Linkage. According to various test riders, racers, customers, self-proclaimed KTM experts and about 75 percent of the Internet, this was the only thing standing between the KTM 250 SX-F and complete midsize domination in 2010. With the addition of a new WP rear shock and linkage, the 2011 SX-F has taken another step up in performance while simultaneously removing the most repeated accusation among ill-informed KTM-haters. In addition to the suspension revisions and reworked chassis, this $7,699 KTM now features a host of other revisions, the most exciting of which is electronic fuel injection. Given the bike's success in the MX2 class on the World MX circuit as well as the positive initial impressions of our test riders, 2011 could potentially be the year that the KTM 250 SX-F takes America by storm.

Engine

  • We have to applaud KTM for its ability to equip the 250 SX-F with good EFI settings on the very first try, and on an engine that was tough on carburetor settings. Aside from slightly tricky starting, the tuning is as clean as a whistle and provides the rider with crisp, smooth delivery from bottom to top.

  • All-around, the KTM's engine is quite potent, with most testers noticing a strong bottom-end and incredibly healthy midrange pull. It hardly takes any effort to stay in the meaty portion of the power and get it to the ground.

  • The top-end on the 250 SX-F turned out to be very polar for our test riders, based mostly on their riding style. Most riders who tended to leave the KTM in gear and rev out the bike felt good top-end power, while several of our pros and those who were more active with shifting wanted more juice upstairs. All together, the consensus was the KTM gained better bottom and mid over last year but lost a bit up top, with the majority of our testers calling for more top-end and less flattening high in the rpm range.

  • Some riders felt that the KTM had an excessive amount of engine-braking, and more than a few complained of stalling issues in low-speed sections. Despite the strong bottom-end, it seems the engine will chug to a stop if you aren't careful to keep the power on and the rear brake off in tighter turns and slow, rough ruts.

  • Many of our test riders commented on the smooth shifting action of the 250 SX-F. KTM gets another high-five for the great (hydraulic) clutch feel to go along with it.

Chassis

  • The KTM is decent in corners, but it wasn't the most universally loved turner of the bunch. Some riders felt that the front end rides too high and rigidly to really drop into turns, and this caused perceived stability issues when trying to lean the bike, particularly on off-cambers. This issue had no set pattern and affected riders of various skill levels and riding styles. Testers who didn't take issue with the stance of the KTM's front end felt that the bike turns tightly at all speeds and settles well in corners, both flat and rutted.

  • Interestingly enough, our three slowest test riders raved about the KTM's balance and overall feel, as well as the bike's ability to turn. We noticed the higher the ability level of the tester, the more complaints there were regarding handling, be it instability or vibration. This led some to believe the 250 SX-F just does not like going fast, but our lap-time charts clearly showed the bike is plenty competitive.

The orange machine feels long in relation to the other 250Fs, but it still maintains a nimble character both on the ground and in the air, and we were able to make it switch lines with ease.

  • Being the only European-made bike in the bunch, the KTM's ergonomics are simply different than the other machines. The stock bar bend is low and somewhat flat, drawing complaints from roughly half of our test riders. Similarly, the seat is flat and has fairly stiff foam, making it loved by some and hated by others.

  • This bike just looks cool. Nuff said.

Suspension

  • Considering how many of our testers thought the 2010 KTM 250 SX-F needed linkage, we're surprised that more didn't comment on its inclusion for 2011. Once again, the KTM has a strong shock with great bottoming resistance, but there is still a hint of initial harshness that doesn't sit well with the racers in the bunch. We admit that some of this may be a misconception in feel caused by the stiff seat.

  • The fork on the KTM is somewhat harsh feeling and rides fairly high. This is a major negative when entering and exiting turns and hitting low-speed bumps, all of which cause the fork to transmit rather than absorb the hits and result in instability. This can be tuned out to some extent with the clickers, but it still took time to achieve a good balance.

  • Bottoming resistance on both ends of the KTM is stellar, but mostly in the rear. You can really drive this bike into the ground without fear of it blowing through the stroke.

  • Several test riders commented the rear end of the KTM just "felt low." The bike responds well to recommended ride height, but trying to put too little sag into the shock spring can amplify the unbalanced feeling.

  • The orange machine is sensitive to setup, and riders who lacked the patience to dial in the suspension typically had the lowest opinions of the bike. It can take some time to get the 250 SX-F working perfectly on certain tracks, but the effort pays off in terms of comfort and performance.

Why The KTM 250 SX-F Should Win

  • The potent powerband has a strong and usable low-to-midrange pull that's fun for the whole family.

  • Who doesn't love a good hydraulic clutch?

  • Many riders (especially novices) loved the balance, overall feel and turning characteristics.

  • Cool components and a sleek look give the KTM a Euro-factory edge.

  • OMG, linkage!

Why It Shouldn't Win

  • Harsh fork doesn't agree with everyone.

  • Not the easiest bike to set up and get used to.

  • Power could stand to be woken up in spots, depending on how you ride it.

  • Low-speed handling was suspect, and high-speed stability wasn't perfect.

  • This is the most expensive bike in the test. We're not saying it's not worth it, but that's something to consider.

Mods We'd Like To Try

  • We wouldn't mind toying with different gearing and exhaust setups in hopes of eliminating rogue stalls and yielding a more even top-end pull.

  • Aftermarket suspension work may be necessary to make the KTM more comfortable at race pace.

  • A new handlebar bend and rubber-mounted clamps could be just what Dr. Ergo ordered. Jason Bikowski

5'11"/160 lb/Vet Intermediate

The one thing that stands out to me of all the bikes was how easily the KTM would lay over into the turns, almost like it was reading my mind. I also liked the power and the high-end parts. My only complaint regarding the KTM was that the suspension was not set up to suit my riding style. Had the suspension not been as harsh on braking bumps I would have picked it second rather than last.Chris Plouffe

5'8"/145 lb/Pro

The KTM and Yamaha were close to each other, but the KTM was worse for me since it didn't handle well or have much power. I didn't feel comfortable sitting on the KTM or riding it. I didn't expect this because I liked the 2010 KTM and everyone was saying the new 2011 bike was a lot better. I don't agree with them after riding the new bike.

Suzuki RM-Z250

If you feel like you haven't seen the Suzuki RM-Z250 in the magazine for a while, you're not mistaken. Due to a super-late release in 2010, this bike was not included in last year's Dirt Rider shootout. Suzuki nearly missed the party again this year, but fortunately yellow came through with another solid-performing little thumper. Since we last featured this machine in a comparison, the RM-Z has undergone a number of revisions including-you guessed it-EFI. Numerous other changes grace the $7,299 Suzuki, but we're most excited about the lower sound output and updated transmission. Since it had been nearly 24 months since we'd had a yellow bike in our 250F shootout, our test riders were lined up to give the RM-Z250 a go on the track. Here's how the Zook shook out:

Engine

  • The biggest benefit of fuel injection on the Suzuki can be summed up in three words: Superb throttle response. Although the power isn't overly snappy, it is just extremely clean and strong off idle, translating into a strong bottom-end hit that pleased all of our testers.

  • Overall, novice and slower riders felt that the top-end power on the RM-Z was flat. Intermediates described an even pull from bottom to top, while experts and pros noticed a good pull on top but an overrev that cuts in a little early. All agreed the power spread was great down low and strong in the mid.

  • The buttery smooth nature of the power spread makes the Suzuki deceptively fast, like the Honda but with more character, yet it also allows the bike to be ridden aggressively. You don't come back from riding the RM-Z with your stomach in your throat, but the control that the usable power provides can equal significant speed gains around the track.

  • Compared to previous Suzuki models, the 2011's updated transmission was a huge improvement. The only major complaint regarding the tranny came from a shift-happy tester fresh off an 85cc two-stroke who claimed the shifting felt "notchy." Some said neutral was relatively large and easy to hit, but as far as shift action the Suzuki has come a very long way.

Chassis

  • When all was said and done, the Suzuki was clearly regarded as the best-turning bike in our shootout. It matches the Kawasaki in terms of cornering traction but excels in initial lean and tracking, turning on a dime and settling well in both flat turns and ruts. All in all, the RM-Z is confidence inspiring in virtually all cornering situations.

  • A few riders actually thought the RM-Z turned too well and would occasionally over-steer and knife the front end. Taking some weight off of the front end (typically via 5mm lower shock sag) and going a half-turn out on the high-speed compression on the shock were both successful remedies for this minor complaint.

  • The Suzuki is a well-balanced motorcycle. For everyone from novices to pros, the RM-Z feels predictable and controllable on jumps, as well as maneuverable on the ground. Few complained of headshake aboard this bike.

  • The cockpit on the RM-Z is comfortable, though larger riders tended to feel cramped while sitting. The bike has a skinny and light feel to it, aided by the factory touch of the stock aluminum fuel tank.

  • We were pretty happy with Suzuki's choice of gearing on the RM-Z250, but some riders were curious to see if different rear sprocket sizes could move the power around to better suit their style.

  • Some felt that the RM-Z's brakes were touchy and they had to be careful not to grab too much. Others loved the sharp control.

Suspension

  • Suzuki landed a great all-around suspension setting for the RM-Z250, though it left those on the edges of average slightly unhappy with a few details. Lighter and slower riders found the fork to be too stiff and struggled under braking, while faster and more aggressive riders said the fork was slightly soft and produced a harsh feeling. All together, though, the majority of testers were pleased with the overall feel, and most of them dug the fork's action.

  • Generally, the RM-Z works better the rougher the track gets. The bike received high marks for its ability to negotiate chop, as riders could use the entirety of the suspension stroke without bottoming out. When either end does blow through, the bike still stays controllable and rarely feels like it's hitting metal-on-metal.

  • One of the strong points of the Suzuki's shock is its ability to squat coming out of corners. This makes for tremendous traction on acceleration, keeping the bike hooked up across bumps that would throw off any other bike.

  • The only major caveat concerning the Suzuki's bump absorption is that you have to maintain enough momentum to keep the bike working past the initial portions of the stroke. For slower riders who rarely pushed into the mid-stroke, getting through rough sections was a struggle as the RM-Z tended to feel stiff and would buck in bumps.

  • As with the KTM, patience won out when tuning the Suzuki's suspension. The bike is largely impervious to poor setup, but taking the time to dial it in was the difference between the RM-Z working good and working great for most riders.

Why The Suzuki RM-Z250 Should Win

  • Boy howdy, does this thing corner!

  • A good overall motor has usable power and great bottom-end.

  • Three cheers for clean throttle response and smooth delivery.

  • This is better shifting than we've ever seen on an RM-Z250.

  • The aluminum tank is neat-o.

  • Killer brakes, man.

Why It Shouldn't Win

  • Smooth power can be perceived as slow, and slow is typically bad for most MXers.

  • In stock trim, turns too quickly for some.

  • Slightly compact for bigger riders.

  • Durability is better than ever but still questionable in comparison to bikes like the Honda.

Mods We'd Like To Try

  • Adding spice to the power spread may win over more aggressive riders. What'll it be, exhaust or mapping?

  • Aftermarket linkage and suspension mods could fix the choppy-bump issue felt by some.

  • Gearing changes may be exactly what the RM-Z needs to please everyone. Steve Mills

5'10"/155 lb/Vet Novice

The best bike for me is the Suzuki RM-Z250, simply for its amazing suspension, especially the fork. Never have I been able to ride into a rutted, choppy turn and change lines with total control and no fear of losing the front end. I could steer right out of a rutted turn without it catching a ridge. The fork made braking and acceleration bumps nonexistent.
Dustin Miller

5'3"/145 lb/Pro

I currently ride an RM-Z450 and have ridden Suzukis for the past 10 years, but the RM-Z was my least favorite 250F. The things I didn't like could be adjusted to make it more suitable for me: I would drop the fork way down so I wouldn't over-steer the bike all the time, mess with the gearing to make it hit a bit harder down low and have the suspension revalved to hopefully take the harshness out of the fork.
Kevin Barda

5'11"/165 lb/Vet Pro

The RM-Z250 was the best bike for me. It has the best handling, best motor, jumps great and does nothing poorly. And in this class the two most important things are motor and turning. I felt the best on the Suzuki, and with a little more setup I feel the bike could be great. It felt the closest to race-ready out of the box.

Yamaha YZ250F

Of the five bikes in our 2011 250F MX Shootout, the Yamaha is the only one that remains completely unchanged from last year (and no, the graphics don't count). Maybe big blue is still recovering from the cost of developing an all-new 450 machine, or perhaps it is about to make another major push on the 250F front in 2012. Either way, rereleasing a model is a risky procedure in a class as competitive as this, but the $7,150 YZ250F will rely on its solid track record and race-tested performance to keep up with the pack. The question is, can the YZ250F pull ahead or will it get left in the dust?

Engine

  • In a year with no major improvements, the Yamaha's power in comparison to the competition slipped from strong in 2010 to below average in 2011. Various riders asked for increased power all over, but the majority of these requests focused on the mid to top-end. The YZ-F has decent overrev, though it's not an all-out screamer like some of the other 250Fs.

  • Despite the obvious lack of fuel injection, the Yamaha has OK throttle response and good pickup, though it's not as clean as the FI machines. The major carb-related complaint is a hesitation on quick throttle openings and a less-than-clean midrange bog that manifests itself on hard G-outs and landings. This wasn't a common occurrence that every rider felt, but it does reveal the high level of scrutiny given to each of these bikes in this computer-tuned day and age.

  • There are times when the YZ-F will pull wheelies, but it requires a mix of good traction and the right gear. It takes some effort to stay in the power all the time, and the Yamaha has a slight tendency to feel in between gears in spots, particularly for pros on tighter tracks.

  • The Yamaha can still be considered a great starting machine among its cohorts. If this bike doesn't kick to life right away, you're doing it wrong.

  • Shifting action is smooth and deliberate on the YZ-F. It's not as effortless as the red machine, but it definitely gets the job done under power.

Chassis

  • Opinions regarding the YZ-F's handling were all over the map, but the most straightforward description is the Yamaha has middle-of-the-road handling with good straight-line and high-speed stability. Nobody raved about the bike's handling, but no tester condemned it either.

  • The Yamaha still crushes it in rutted corners, eating up tight turns when there is something for the tires to push up against. Cornering on flat turns wasn't an issue, but it took more effort and care on the part of the rider to keep the bike from standing up.

  • For the most part, the Yamaha stayed planted and balanced in turns and didn't object to being leaned over. Side-to-side balance is really good, though lighter riders commented the rear end of the bike feels heavy.

  • The YZ-F sports a comfortable standard riding position, and the ProTaper handlebar is an added bonus. The ergos feel a little too wide due to the shape of the plastic, but this is typically something that can be adapted to quickly, though a few lanky riders wanted more room to spread out.

  • Braking action is good on the YZ250F, yet the front skidder can feel spongy when pushed.

Suspension

  • The suspension on the YZ-F has a very balanced character. Both ends maintain good initial stability and great bottoming resistance, with even full-flat landings feeling relatively smooth.

  • Naturally, our most sensitive test riders had more issues with the Yamaha's suspension, claiming both ends felt dated and that the fork stroke wasn't progressive enough, resulting in a soft valving feel at faster speeds. Some riders interpreted this as the fork being "springy" and dealt with a busy feel in the front end at race pace.

  • Fork issues aside, the Yamaha's stock suspension settings make the bike better than good at entering rough, bump-filled turns. The plush nature of the fork allows the rider to stay straight through small bumps and go into virtually any rut in a corner, and acceleration bumps are likewise eaten up by the YZ-F. When the going gets rough, this bike can hold its own.

  • Light pilots complained the shock on the Yamaha was too kicky and a little stiff. However, the majority of our riders were happy enough with the shock's bottoming resistance and only complained if the sag was out of whack.

Why The Yamaha YZ250F Should Win

  • The easy-to-ride power spread isn't overly aggressive and won't scare away new or timid riders.

  • Good bottoming resistance and bump absorption go over well on the racetrack.

  • The Yamaha corners well, and it comes into corners even better.

  • We rode our identical 2010 hard for a year and didn't have any huge complaints or durability issues.

Why It Shouldn't Win

  • Come on, guys, ditch that carb already!

  • The entire package feels very average and borderline dated.

  • The fork isn't perfect and will take some work to get close.

  • Lighter riders tended to have a long list of complaints about this bike.

  • This bike hasn't been changed for over a year. Will it be obsolete in the same amount of time?

Mods We'd Like To Try

  • An adjustable leak jet and carb modifications can work wonders on the throttle response and overall tunning.

  • We know from experience how much an aftermarket exhaust system can help this bike.

  • Suspension mods will be necessary if the Yamaha wants to stay competitive.

Sean Foos

6'0"/140 lb/Novice

I felt that the Yamaha's engine had great pull throughout the rpm range but had a bog on the bottom when landing hard off of jumps. The suspension soaked up all of the braking bumps really well and was nice on hard landings, and the bike went through ruts well and stayed glued to the ground at all times.
Allan Cooke

5'9"/167 lb/Intermediate

The Yamaha was my least favorite bike of the test. It felt way underpowered and had a strange feel while standing, like the pegs were too high and the cockpit too small. The suspension was good at high speeds but a bit harsh in braking bumps; landing flat was often the smoothest thing to do, as the rear shock never slammed too hard.
Jake Lyon

5'10"/145 lb/Intermediate

The Yamaha felt a little awkward to me, much different than all of the other bikes. It was hard to get used to and didn't corner too well for me. At higher speeds, it was really stable, and the power was pretty solid all around with a decent hit off the bottom.

Human Impression

This chart shows bike feel in different power segments. The lines represent the stock power delivery with the stock ECU mapping on the FI-equipped bikes. Altering the fuel and ignition tuning could significantly change the way this map looks.

This chart shows suspension feel with the stock settings, but the character of each bike's suspension is pretty well represented even after we played with clickers on some of the machines.

Radar

3rd-Gear Roll-On

It's difficult to tell when on the bike, but the radar chart for third-gear roll-ons shows that several of these machines suffered from serious wheelspin on the Dunlop MX71 hard-terrain tires. Early on, the carbureted Yamaha put on an impressive display of delivery before being surpassed by the strong-bottomed KTM 250 SX-F. The super-aggressive KX250F stays at the bottom of the pack, most likely due to wheelspin caused by the explosive, race-like motor. The seamless Honda and Suzuki both put a fair amount of power to the ground, and all were able to surpass the KTM in the upper reaches of the revs where we felt that the orange bike lost some steam.

Radar

MX Start

A full-on acceleration run from first through fifth gear, the MX start chart shows just how close these bikes are when run in front of the radar gun. All remained incredibly even throughout the entirety of the run, but the deceptively fast Honda stayed near or at the top of the heap from start to finish. KTM has flashes of brilliance and cannot be counted out on any start. The Kawasaki held its own and even shined in top gear where we felt it fell off too quickly on the track. The mellow character of the Yamaha and Suzuki show when run at peak power.

Average Lap Times

Lap times have proven to be extremely telling in previous shootouts, and this year was no exception. The above data, recorded in five-moto format with three different shifts of five riders, reveals that riders may not always be going as quickly or as slowly as they think. For example, the deceptively smooth Suzuki posted competitive lap times between both our pro and intermediate groups, while the aggressive Kawasaki was bested by a full second in the intermediate ranks by the sometimes-soft Honda. The vets turned out to be incredibly consistent with their lap times but were unsurprisingly faster on their two favorite bikes. Our pro riders battled viciously in each moto, but in the end the KX250F cranked out the best average times of the day. Perhaps the most amazing thing is how close these bikes all are to each other!

Weight

Rolling the 250Fs onto our professional-grade scale revealed that it's not about how much these bikes weigh but rather how well they carry that weight. Surprisingly enough, the light-feeling KTM 250 SX-F enjoys a nimble character despite its relatively heavy overall weight. In contrast, the Yamaha was the lightest bike of the bunch, though several testers commented it had a heavy-feeling rear end. Everything else is well in the competitive range as far as pounds go.

Sound

Can you hear that? It's the sound of us applauding Honda for outfitting the CRF250R with such a functional, quiet muffler for 2011. The bike works and sounds awesome, besting the other machines in the race for the most audibly pleasing exhaust. As expected, the raspy Kawasaki was the loudest on the rev test, with the Yamaha checking in with the most noise on the 20-inch test. All bikes were sound tested by Chris Real, president of DPS Technical and super-advocate for responsible riding and noise reduction. Check out more at www.chemhelp.com.

Top Speed

Say what you want about carburetion, but the average-feeling Yamaha edged out the pack in terms of top overall speed. Not far behind was the KTM, with the Kawi holding its own in third place. The Honda and Suzuki continue to be identified by their mellow behavior, though they-and all of these bikes-are still capable of reaching an astonishing 70-plus mph with stock gearing!

Conclusion: 2011 250cc Shootout Winner

Handing out the 250F shootout crown is much more complicated than simply picking a favored color or averaging out lap times. The winning shootout bike is the one machine that frequently pulled ahead of the pack in rider opinions and track-to-track adaptability. Radar runs and lap times are considered as well, along with price, durability, modification potential, weight and the ever-important sound factor (big points for Honda there). We evaluate each bike's overall performance for lightweight and heavy riders, novices and pros, short-shifters and revvers, and then back up the opinions with even more track time. The end result is usually clear to us when picking through the massive stack of evaluation forms, but it's never a sure thing until all of the categories are discussed and considered.The 250F division differs from the 450cc ranks in that each bike has a more unique and distinctive engine personality. Whereas the big bikes are all regarded as powerhouses, the 250Fs can each be rightly labeled as aggressive, smooth, mellow, strong and usable, along with any additional combination of adjectives. But in the end, our midsized thumper of choice is the KX250F. Kawasaki put in an incredible amount of work on the 2011, and it paid off in the form of great delivery, well-rounded suspension and the most race-ready stock 250cc four-stroke package we've ever seen from a manufacturer. The KX-F is an incredible machine, and we can confidently say it is the 2011 Shootout winner. Does that mean the Kawi is the best bike for you? Not necessarily, but the odds are good that you'll be quite pleased with the KX250F if it's the motorcycle you determine to be the best fit for your style. Interestingly enough, this comparison win marks a clean sweep of our two major shootouts by Kawasaki this year. The boys in green have reason to be proud, but if there's one thing we've learned, it's that the tides of change can roll through the motocross ranks awfully fast from year to year. While 2011 may belong to Kawasaki, the future is definitely up for grabs!