Dirt bike racers seeking the best bang for the buck will be hard pressed to find a better style of racing than a grand prix. This genre is defined by a long, flowing course that features both motocross and off-road terrain and obstacles which offers something different as compared to a conventional moto track. Recently, we visited Glen Helen Raceway to take part in an SRA Grand Prix race at the controls of Yamaha’s YZ125 and YZ250 two-strokes. We’ll be splitting this review into two individual tests by model. Read about the big YZ in the 2011 Yamaha YZ250 SRA Grand Prix Race Test.
2011 YAMAHA YZ125
The modern day four-stroke revolution has made two-stroke motorcycles like Yamaha’s YZ125 seem irrelevant. While they don’t appear as flashy or as high-tech as four-strokers they still offer a whole lot of grin factor for a very reasonable price ($6250 MSRP). Other bonuses include how easy they are to start and wrench on when it comes time for routine maintenance.
One of the best features of the eighth-liter YZ is how light and compact it is. Tipping the scales at just 208 pounds all gassed up and ready to ride, it weighs between 20 and 40 pounds less than a new 250 or 450F. Out on track the YZ feels the closest thing to riding a mountain bike… one with a foot of suspension travel and a peppy engine.
This makes it easy to manhandle and get pointed in the right direction. Looking to hit that tight inside rut? No problem for the skinny YZ with it instinctively gravitating into a turn making momentum and lean your best allies. Since the engine pumps out a modest spread of power, the rear tire hooks up well out of corners plus the powerband won’t wear out the rider like it can on a comparable four-stroke. This allows the rider more time to work on race craft, including line selection throughout the duration of a 20-plus minute moto.
The YZ has a very short powerband that necessitates constant shift and clutch lever attention in order to keep the engine zinging in the sweet spot. If you haven’t ridden one in a while, it takes some time to re-acclimate to its intrinsic demands… but when you get it just right it feels like nothing else in the motorcycle world.
(Left) You won’t find a more agile dirt bike than Yamaha’s YZ125. (Right) As long as you keep your momentum and keep the engine singing on the pipe the YZ125 has no problem tackling Glen Helen’s steep inclines.
As long as you keep your speed up and have the engine zinging on the pipe it actually handles Glen Helen’s steep hills without issue. Though there isn’t much margin for error if you let off the throttle or upshift too early. Since the bike is so light and doesn’t offer excessive chain torque you’ll be surprised by how well the rear suspension tracks through whoops or high-speed bumps. It’s one of the few bikes that a novice rider can keep the throttle pinned through rough stuff. Another strange sensation is the lack of engine braking under deceleration which in turn helps the rider to carry more roll speed through corners—another important fundamental of riding dirt bikes.
Although the suspension is calibrated for lighter riders it’s still versatile enough for a 180-pounder, and since the bike’s engine has such little reciprocating mass the chassis can blast through obstacles with less effort than on a heavier bike.
If you’re looking for an affordable and stone-axe reliable machine to learn the ins and outs of racing, then an YZ125 should be atop the list. Its friendly and charismatic engine package stuffed in a nimble and featherweight chassis is the perfect recipe for huge smiles for weekend warriors looking to experience the thrill of riding and racing off-road.