How close was Yamaha to winning our shootout last year (March '05)? As close as it could get without being picked as the winner. What lost it for the blue bike? A few small category defeats that ever so slightly held it from the top spot. So if you were Yamaha, how could you fix that?Simply put, as good as the fork was for '05 (our second favorite), it could have made the bike a clear winner, so the tuning-fork guys changed it. Going to what Yamaha calls the S3 (Speed Sensitive System; get a little more tech in the YZ125 test page 82), fork refinement has been the path the blue team's been going down for a while. We know the YZ loves a good front end and craves a perfect one. The shock got some attention as well, along with the larger shafts and titanium springs on all the YZs for '06. Boosting the suspension performance can work wonders for handling, comfort and even make the motor feel faster though there were minimal changes to the engine.Getting on it, you find the YZ feels just like last year's bike. You'll be hard pressed to notice the seat (unless you're Karel Kramer) or the slightly thicker front brake lever (unless you're Jimmy Lewis) You won't notice the improvements in the fork by doing the showroom bounce, and the bike doesn't really feel any lighter. It is in riding it that the '06 makes its statement. For the most part, this YZ250 feels very similar to last year's model. That is a good thing.The Yamaha has not been an outright power king, but it is a master of insane response, crisp jetting and a full spread of power that the other manufacturers are trying to match. The beauty of the YZ motor is how it hooks up so well for being so aggressive. It is the kind of motor that will get traction on the hardest of surfaces, laying down blue stripes on the baked turns and always controllable. Yet in deep loam or sandy conditions it has the snap, bark or boost to pull out of anything and get the front wheel light. Nothing has changed except now maybe the shock and fork are settling the bike on the ground better, getting even more precious hookup.One good square-edged bump and you feel the new fork doing its thing-especially going into turns where the bike is deeper in the stroke when you hit some more stuff. Last year the YZ was a little harsh compared with the Showa forks, and even compared with the Kawasaki KX's KYB fork. This year it doesn't seem to resist bottoming any better; it is just a whole lot more supple or active. That suppleness stays with the fork everywhere on the track: on slap-down landings, on jump takeoffs, on nose-down landings. The initial part of the stroke is plusher and seems to act as though there is less spring (the '06 250 has one step softer fork spring) or valving acting on the fork when it starts moving. Then it has a very progressive buildup of damping force. Yamaha showed us charts comparing the '05 fork to the '06. The '05 spiked in valving when the speed and damping force became higher, while the '06 built progressively. Plain and simple, this fork works better, especially the rougher the track gets. The width of the fork tubes (i.e., fork pitch) was increased 2mm though the mounting clamps on the lowers changed to keep the same axle spacing as last year. Whether this contributes to another area where the YZ sees some improvement is a mystery only chassis gurus know. The YZ turns across rough, hard ground better than its ancestor did, an area some riders dissed on the new-for-'05 aluminum frame. We'll credit the fork for most of this improvement.The shock was similarly enhanced and is now valved nicely to work with the S3 fork. Plusher initially, it seems to handle chop about as well as anything. It is very active in extreme braking bumps and likes to be ridden hard through them. Get a little lazy, and the bike will find time to kick around. We tried playing with the rebound, both faster and slower, but wound up back at stock-it being the best compromise when considering the rest of the track. We'll see how much attention this needs when we stack up the bikes in a shootout, but riding just the YZ, it was the only area we faulted. Our bike also tended to jump a little front end high for most of our riders, but no one was complaining about it. The YZ was able to get away with dropping the sag (recommended at 105mm) a bit for better stability in the rough. There wasn't a big penalty on the turning, something that wasn't the case last year. There isn't an overly light feel to the bike, especially through the bar; instead, it offers a nice, planted ride that makes the Yamie feel as connected to the ground as any two-stroke. In the air, the YZ gets more feathery but never too much. Don't mistake us, the YZ is flickable, just bordering on the safe side so as not to get as twitchy as some of the lightest-feeling bikes do.Our YZ's front brake was on the strong side, being more grabby and grippy than a Honda's but not as powerful as a KTM's. The rear was average but not as precise as some others. The clutch gets the job done well, but its performance doesn't need to come under such scrutiny because the motor is so good. It has a controlled feel and engagement and will hook solidly when snapped.Where does this leave the YZ? Heading straight off into shootout land with a head of steam ready to reclaim the crown, feeling confident in a field of improved players, especially the Suzuki RM and KTM SX. But if you judge from sales figures, the YZ is doing just fine, owning the dealer's floor in the 250cc two-stroke class. Even in the midst of the rise of the four-stroke, there are those who will always prefer the lightweight feel and aggressive power that exemplify a two-stroke. Still improving with its pre-mix burner, Yamaha wants even more of this class's market share.Opinions
The first thing I noticed about the 2006 YZ250 was the power. Much like the '05, the new YZ rips, and wheelying over obstacles is quick and easy. It's the kind of power that's a blast to ride, but if you're like me and don't always control momentum properly, it can tire you out in a hurry. The first few laps I turned were timid at best, as I adjusted to the bike and tried to navigate the punishing Glen Helen Raceway Park circuit. As expected, I was pooped after about four slow laps. The next time I rode I decided to see how fast I could go and was happily surprised at how well the bike responded. This bike, like a lot of two-strokes, is best ridden aggressively. It likes going into bumps with momentum, and Yamaha's suspension changes, from what I could tell during that initial ride, seemed to handle them well. Now I'm excited to pair the '06 YZ250 against the other new two-strokes in our 250 shootout and uncover which one shines. Jesse Ziegler5'1O"/175 lb/NoviceThe '06 YZ250 was the first 250cc two-stroke I've ever ridden. There was so much snap it was scary to ride at first. Without a doubt it is the quickest bike I have ever ridden, and I've ridden bigger bikes including 450 four-strokes and 500s. The power was there as soon as you cracked the throttle; there was no lag, just go, best from the bottom to the mid. Although the bike's light weight seemed to let it dance around a bit under me, I still felt confident. The only adjustments we made were tightening the head stem and pulling the handlebar back a little to where I liked it. The switch to a Dunlop D756 was a huge plus, especially with the varied dirt at Glen Helen and I-5MX. The only problem I had was my boot would catch on the right number plate; besides that everything felt awesome.Tyler Ruiz 5'8"/16O lb/125 NoviceYamaha YZ250
* S3 fork
* Rear shock with titanium spring
* Triple clamps with adjustable handlebar position
* Swingarm with improved rigidity
* Front fender and number plate
* Rear tire
* Quick-adjust clutch
* Front brake lever
* Rear brake pads and caliperWhat's Hot
* The YZ's motor is still a super-sweet package. It is as close to perfect two-stroke power as we've felt on a stock bike.
* Upgrading the suspension is just what this bike needed.
* The suspension pays dividends across the performance spectrum in handling and hookup.
* A small injection of styling in the new front fender and front number plate.
* Reversible top clamp makes for a bigger rider compartment.
* Durability on the YZs has been great; look for that to continue.
* Yamaha has lots of great buyer's programs, a parts fiche on the Internet and YamaBucks!What's Not
* Some people think the style police needs to issue the YZ250 a fix-it ticket.
* The handlebar bend is a little cramped for larger riders, even with the two-position bar clamp.
* Do I pour more oil in my gas than you drain out of your engine?Specifications
Claimed dry weight: 211 lb
Actual weight (ready to ride, no gas): 220 lb
Seat height: 37.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.1 gal.