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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 .
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.