A lot's changed since our first 250F shootout. In fact, 2006 is a year featuring just that; lots of change. This group of small-bore thumpers is totally revised for the new year.
The 250cc 4-stroke revolution continues to evolve, now at a faster pace than ever, and the result is a 2006 crop of MX Lites that has something for everyone. Each bike has become so good that a complete nincompoop or a top pro could choose blindfolded and still come out with a machine that has the ability to give them what they want.
That being the case, MCUSA took four of the '06 250Fs along with a spread of experienced riders and played matchmaker to find out just which one of these thumping beauties really is the best thing out there.
Our last 250F shootout took place when we gathered up the Japanese 2004 models: the Honda CRF250R, Yamaha YZ250F and the jointly-produced Suzuki RM-Z250 and Kawasaki KX250F. Things in the class remained much the same in '05, with the Kawi and Suzuki still cooperating on their steel-framed bikes and Yamaha electing to wait another year before outfitting its 250F with an aluminum chassis like it did for its 2-strokes. Due to a number of limiting factors, we weren't even able to test all the 250Fs at the same time last year, but for 2006 we got it together - and found ourselves in the middle of a Lites-class war zone.
Big changes highlighted the 250cc Thumpers, with nearly every manufacturer pulling out the stops and offering a major renovation or new components on the 2006 bikes. As everyone knows by now, the Honda has twin exhaust pipes, Yamaha switched to aluminum, KTM is totally revamped and Kawasaki and Suzuki have split ways with the KX-F getting Showa suspension and an aluminum chassis while the RM-Z got hardly anything - it's virtually the same bike as in '05.
We had the opportunity to test the KX250F and YZ250F when they were released earlier in 2005. Knowing what those two have to offer had us on pins as I waited to get my hands on the rest of the group. Unfortunately we weren't able to get a hold of an RM-Z, but it would've been impossible for the old Suzuki to have come out of this on top. Instead, we pitted the four bikes that received major changes in a head-to-head battle on two very different style motocross tracks to see which 250F truly is the best machine.
We were able to spread the 250F love with the help of some additional test riders. The result was a wide spectrum of skill and experience on hand to sample the 2006 offerings.
In order to get the full scope of what these machines have to offer, we enlisted some speedy assistance. Heading the list is Two Brothers Racing's Steve Drew, a pro caliber MXer and current pro AMA Supermoto contender who has graciously assisted us in past motocross tests. Drew
brought along his cousin Bryan Minter
for an intermediate/pro perspective. Also helping out with big-air duties is another old MCUSA buddy, intermediate rider Mikey Mandahl
. A novice perspective is provided by yours truly
The quartet was tested in completely stock trim, including the meats that each come with straight off the showroom floor. Cahuilla Creek MX hosted our first day of riding, offering long, rough hills with equally choppy descents. The prepped track was loamy throughout the morning, but braking chop, ruts and rough straights were in full effect by the time we finished with lunch. Next, we took the bikes out to Lake Elsinore to see how the bikes hooked up on the slippery lakebed goo. Where Cahuilla had elevation change in abundance, Lake Elsinore sent our fleet of 250Fs skyward with its variety of technical, jump-filled SX-style tracks.
After riding the bikes back-to-back for two solid days we washed them up and trucked them out to White Brothers
in Yorba Linda, California, for a morning session on the dyno. So, with the preliminary stage set, let's get on with the fun stuff.