They might not be the number one choice for factory teams but the humble 250 two-stroke still has its place in modern motocross. We test the offerings from KTM, Husqvarna and Yamaha.
This feature was first published in ADB issue #464 – May 2018.
For 2018, Yamaha Australia gave its trusty YZ250 smoker a few tweaks and a much-needed facelift with a heap of bling, including a full GYTR HGS exhaust system. It’s a pretty smart idea from the bLU cRU really as the basic design of the YZ hasn’t changed since 2003 or 2004. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess, and the YZ250 has always been a solid package.
The first thing that catches your eye is the blue wheels which, at first, are kind of different looking but, as time goes by, they definitely grow on you. The raw finish of the HGS exhaust system looks so damn sexy and was a favourite among the disciples.
Make sure you take care of it, though, as the raw metal finish doesn’t repel dirt and mud as well as nickel-plated pipes and it will change colour pretty quickly. The YZ is also the only bike that you have to pull out tools for to get to the air filter and once the seat is off, it’s a bit of a squeeze to make sure the filter is seated properly. Not ideal compared to the other two bikes.
Out on the track, the YZ is an animal and is by far the most aggressive of the bunch. The bottom-end is punchy yet useable and it felt pretty awesome coming out of a corner and seat bouncing one of the many jumps.
The HGS exhaust gives the bike a new lease on life and really livens it up.
The bike was jetted to perfection and was as crisp as it could be. Plus, it sounded so damn good! It was louder than the other two because it’s muffler is shorter but the note it produced was about as good as it gets.
The YZ pulled very strongly through the mid-range as well and it would easily short shift and pull third out of turns but, the top-end didn’t seem quite as strong as the Euro bikes.
The YZ has the firmest suspension of the lot and that is fantastic when the track gets rough. The 48mm KYB spring-cartridge unit has been around for a long time and is a very solid package for an A-grade racer.
On the smaller bumps it knocks you around a bit but once the track starts getting rough, the YZ holds up nicely and makes short work of it. Over-jumping was never an issue as the bike just soaked it up like it was nothing.
For a dated motor and chassis package, the YZ250 still holds its own and the 2018 model is probably the best that Yamaha has released in a while. The added help of the race kit with the pipe, silencer, holeshot button and anodised 50-tooth rear sprocket really set the bike off. The motor is a happy as a pig in mud with the HGS system. Overall, the YZ250 is still very much a contender for a 250 two-stroke title.
FORK It did everything I wanted it to, didn’t give any surprises, good bottoming resistance.
EXHAUST The HGS GYTR system sounded epic under power.
LOOKS Yamaha sure knows how to make an 11-year-old bike look modern.
OUTPUT Power very snappy, hard to ride smooth.
EASE OF ACCESS Only bike that doesn’t have tool-less filter service.
CABLE CLUTCH Heavy compared to the hydraulic, my weak fingers struggled after 15 minutes.
POWER The YZ may be the slowest but the crisp jetting, which has been there since the ’05-’06 models, is still unbeatable.
FORK The KYB is still amazing. Plush as always and a little on the stiff side, so perfect for a fast rider.
PIPE The HGS pipe gives the YZ a lot more top-end and over rev. It sounds unbelievable.
HANDLEBAR Too high a bend for shorter guys like me.
WHEELS I don’t like blue rims.
VIBRATION More than the Euro bikes.
SEAT Feels dated
I tip my hat to the Austrian crew for continually developing their two-strokes. For MY2017 they introduced a completely new bike which went on to win its class in the MX Nats with Egan Mastin. This year they just did a bunch of tuning and refining to make the bike even better, so we were eager to throw a leg over it.
There were a few nerves as I hadn’t ridden a 250SX since 2015 and those bikes were monsters. As soon as we had the Kato out on the track, I could tell it was nothing like the ’15. I was expecting the ’bar to be ripped out of my hands but it was the complete opposite.
The motor is very smooth, maybe even too smooth for some diehard powerband junkies. It is still very strong but the YZ250 packs a lot more punch. Personally, I like that the KTM is smooth and powerful. It is easy to ride and the balance shaft means there is little or no vibration at all, which makes the ride a lot more forgiving on your hands.
If you want more punch out of the 250SX, there is plenty of easy adjustment in the way of power-valve springs. Undo the two 6mm bolts on the right-hand side of the motor, throw the red spring in and it will be a lot more of an animal. Quick and easy.
I was more than happy with the yellow (standard) power-valve spring. The bottom-end to mid-range transition was smooth and easy and it is plenty strong enough to short shift and pull third out of every corner. I am not sure if a motocrosser would ride the bike like that but I thought it was great.
Now I can hear many people out there asking about the jetting. Yes, the Mikuni TMX38 carb is still on the bike. The switch from Keihin to Mikuni for 2017 caused quite a stir and that seemed to be the only issue with the 250SX, and all the 2Ts in the KTM range for that matter.
For 2018, Mattighofen has updated to a more well-rounded setting and rotated the carby seven degrees to reduce overflow. This has improved the jetting 100 per cent. There is still a slight inconsistency at low revs, especially when the bikes are tight but it’s night and day better.
Once you are up and running, it is all good and runs perfectly but, out of the crate, the bike needs a bit of a tune as its come fairly rich. Just make sure you have a chat to the dealer about the jetting before you load it up. The 250SX we rode was jetted spot on and ran perfectly.
The WP AER 48 fork and shock have updated settings and the 250SX feels surprisingly plush while still being progressive. It is not as firm as the YZ, so you have to be a tad more precise with the big jumps as it doesn’t have the same bottoming resistance. Entering corners is a breeze on the SX even when under brakes through some choppy braking bumps. I’ve heard people say that they give a bit of a pogo feel sometimes under brakes but I have never experienced that. I have been sceptic of air forks in the past, but I think the guys at WP have nailed it.
LOOK Orange frame/black wheel combo looks awesome.
AIR FORK Nice progressive feeling.
MOTOR Smooth and extremely fast. It can be aggressive but quite manageable.
PRICE $11,695 for a two-stroke seems a bit steep.
SHIFTER/BRAKE PEDAL I found myself missing shifts and the brake pedal quite a lot
JETTING Mikuni carby is better this year but jetting still could do with a bit of work
MOTOR Powerful engine that can pull longer without having to shift as much as the YZ.
FORK Not as plush as the YZ spring-cartridge fork but still a good one.
APPEARANCE I give the overall look of the bike 10/10.
COST Price seems expensive.
AIR Still not sold on air springs.
ERGOS Footpeg position on the frame.
EXHAUST Standard pipe was nothing amazing.
You would think that being so similar to the KTM SX, that the TC250 would be the same bike on the track but they handle things is their own ways. The engine of the Husky is smooth and powerful, like its orange brother, but as the TC has a different airbox, the output is slightly different and feels even smoother than the SX.
As the subframe on the Husky is a carbon-polyamide composite unit as opposed to the alloy one on the KTM, the rear-end of the Husky reacts differently as well. The shock is the same but it seems that the composite subframe has more flex and that seems to make the ride feel nicer. Again, it is minimal but the Husky just felt more forgiving, especially under hard braking.
Another thing that was noticeable on the TC was just how grippy the seat was compared to the other bikes. That stock cover is super grippy and while that is good most of the time, you might be a bit sore after a long day in the saddle like an event like Hattah.
Husqvarna has changed up its look a little for 2018 and added more white. It looks pretty neat but the white plastics don’t stay that way for long.
The bike we rode was new and after a few laps, the large sideplates that stretch all the way from the back to the front of the shrouds, looked a lot older than five minutes. The shiny white turned to a light brown and it’s hard to buff that out.
REAR END I felt more comfortable on this than the KTM.
POWER Easy-to-manage power through the rev range.
SEAT Super firm and very grippy. Felt planted on the bike.
PLASTICS The white scratches very easy and shows plenty of marks in a short space of time.
PRICE Same as the KTM, very pricey.
PIPE Could do with a pipe to match the sound of the YZ.
POWER Smoothest delivery out of all the bikes
rear-end Forgiving under brakes
SEAT It’s very flat and grips nice.
LINEAGE Not different enough to KTM
AIR Still not sold on air springs.
ERGOS Footpeg position.
It blows me away that there are not more two-stroke motocrossers racing against 250Fs in Australia. Our three test bikes were super-fast and, for a privateer, you would have to see that these are better bang for your buck. Sure, they are harder to ride but getting a good start in motocross is everything and I feel you could just nail it on a stroker and, if you could hold on for the entire moto, you would be doing just fine.
All three bikes have their strong points and there is most definitely not a bad bike among them. Sure, the Yamaha is over 10 years old but it still hauls arse with the strongest engine, handles damn well and the look is spot on. The 250SX and TC250 have changed how I feel about Lites bikes. They aren’t the fire breathers I remember, they’re smooth and linear. They are more rideable than ever and as a result their appeal to riders is wider than ever before.
I tip my hat to these three manufacturers for sticking with two-strokes through thick and thin. It’s never a bad day when you hear a 250T screaming out there amongst a track full of four-strokes.