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MXA’S 2013 250 FOUR-STROKE SHOOTOUT: WE AREN’T TELLING YOU WHAT TO BUY ? JUST WHAT WE WOULD BUY (PLUS VIDEO)

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It has been a long and winding road, fraught with peril and surprises around every corner. But, the MXA wrecking crew managed to get through testing the 2013 250 four-strokes with nary a scratch. As for our six bikes, they took the brunt of our countless hours on tracks around the United States. It was all in the name of finding out the good, the bad and the ugly of each bike.

What’s so unique about our 2013 shootout? You might have noticed that Husqvarna has joined the party. We welcome the Italians and are pleased to spend time with their special “Red Head” engine, but they must understand that in this deep field of talent and experience, it will be challenging to unseat the “Big Five” from their familiar places in the pecking order.

It is important to note that there isn’t a perfect bike in this shootout. Every bike has its bright spots as well as its dark side. Carefully read every bike synopsis before determining the best motorcycle for you, with the caveat that what the MXA wrecking crew thinks is the best bike may not suit your needs, style, tracks or temperament. Plus, if you click on the headline of each bike, you will be able to read in-depth complete test of that bike with everything you need to know…and stuff that no one else will ever tell you.

We’ve ranked and filed each bike based on several key factors, but we’ve also included dyno numbers and the retail price of each machine. Be wise in your choice and good luck! 

SIXTH PLACE: HUSQVARNA TC250

In a word: slow. Finishing last place is never fun, but some brand had to be slapped with the negative distinction. In a way, we feel a tinge of sadness for calling out the Husqvarna TC250. Finishing sixth out of a possible six places doesn’t tell the entire story. We credit the Italians for their forward-thinking ideas and road-race-inspired concepts. Their flair for developing a miniscule engine with enough power output to challenge the competition is impressive. The steel frame harks back to a time when chromoly was the go-to material for its mixture of balance and rigidity (we still love steel frames). The TC250, much like Husqvarna itself, is a melting pot of tried-and-true technology and futuristic ideas.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to overlook the numerous shortcomings of the 2013 Husqvarna TC250. It’s a tall and heavy bike with funky gearing, a mild powerband and forks that are harsh. The TC250 can be dialed in, but not without a serious strain on your wallet.
  
Engine:
The “Red Head” engine, named after the red cylinder head, is small and short on power. Don’t get us wrong, the TC250 is competitive in the right hands, but it takes an extra tooth on the rear sprocket and an aftermarket exhaust to really open up the powerband. It’s a challenge for any skill level rider to maximize the engine’s ability, because there’s not much of a powerband to speak of. At least Husky can stick a feather in its cap for making more power on the dyno than the 2013 Yamaha YZ250F.

Suspension: The Kayaba forks are set up for fast and/or heavy riders. The stiff 0.47 kg/mm fork springs do a good job handling whatever comes their way, but there is too much oil in the chambers. We drained 20cc of oil out of each fork leg and found comfort. As for the Kayaba shock, we couldn’t come to terms with the feel. After attempting to dial in the rebound and settle the shock, we still couldn’t find a remedy. Instead, we chalked it up to a chassis-related issue.

Handling: The front end has difficulty staying glued in corners, which caused test riders to stomp their inside foot and pivot to make the turn. The tall chassis is also uncomfortable for most riders. Fixing the forks will aid in the overall handling of the TC250, but it’s still a far cry from the other bikes in its class.

The word: We commend the Italians for stepping up to the plate and challenging the Big Five. The TC250 is unique in design and unusual in performance. That’s not always a good thing, but they’re on the right track.


   HUSKY STATS & FACTS                                             
   Horsepower: 37.86 (at 11,000 rpm)
   Weight:
229 pounds
   Price:
$7199
   Powerband:
Sixth
   Suspension:
Sixth
   Handling:
Sixth
   Brakes:
Second
   Clutch:
Third
   Durability:
Sixth

FIFTH PLACE: YAMAHA YZ250F

In a word: antiquated. We cannot tell a lie. When we saw the first press images of the 2013 Yamaha YZ250F, we couldn’t help but scratch our heads. What was Yamaha thinking? Sure, they have a venerable machine with a decent engine and supple suspension, and if we were comparing the YZ250F to a Monet painting, we’d be pleased that “Big Blue” hasn’t changed their package ? there is nothing worse than a Monet that Jackson Pollack updated. Yet, the YZ250F and classic artwork shouldn’t have anything in common aside from Yamaha’s blank canvas of a rear fender. Long in the tooth doesn’t begin to describe a bike that hasn’t seen any significant changes since Lincoln was in office.

Maybe we’re being too harsh. The YZ250F is a solid racing machine. It has a balanced and refined aluminum chassis, as well as award-winning Kayaba SSS suspension. The lightest bike in the class, the Yamaha has a carburetor to thank for that distinction. Test riders loved the organic feel of the Keihin FCR carburetor, although it was a hassle when riding at different elevations and in different climates.   

Engine:
For years we’ve begged Yamaha’s brass to pump R&D money into their YZ250F engine program, but we have yet to see any change. The YZ250F has a solid and reliable engine that does its best work from the bottom end up to the midrange. It cannot, however, hang with many of its competitors. Based on our ranking system, the YZ250F finishes next to last in the engine department and makes the least amount of peak horsepower. Will Yamaha unveil an all-new engine in 2014? We hope so.

Suspension: The Kayaba SSS components are the cat’s meow. Coupled with a lightweight chassis, the suspension works almost flawlessly in a variety of situations. You won’t need to do much more than check sag and drain a bit of oil out of the fork legs if you’re on the skinny side.

Handling:
Because Kayaba SSS is the baby bear’s porridge of the suspension game, the YZ250F handles very well. We like the chassis setup and commend Yamaha for not going overboard with a wacky head tube angle or awkward geometry. This bike is the second-best-handling bike in its class.

The word: Placing the 2013 Yamaha YZ250F fifth in our shootout brings a tear to our eyes. We remember the days when the YZ250F ruled the roost. It was the best of everything. Then, evolution came along and bypassed the Yamaha. Still, it’s a solid, durable machine that will work best in the hands of riders stepping up to the 250 class.


   YAMMIE STATS & FACTS                                        
   Horsepower: 37.13 (at 11,600 rpm)
   Weight:
218 pounds
   Price:
$7290
   Powerband:
Fifth
   Suspension:
First
   Handling:
Second
   Brakes:
Third
   Clutch:
Second
   Durability:
First

FOURTH PLACE: KTM 250SXF

In a word: engine. That statement won’t make sense until you understand the KTM 250SXF powerplant. It makes an unbelievable 42.89 horsepower! To put that into perspective, last year the 250SXF made a measly 35.52 ponies. Never have we seen such a spike in horsepower in a single year. On our dyno charts, the 2013 engine averages roughly five ponies more than the 2012 engine?from 8000 rpm on up. Most of the power was from the middle to the top, but with a few mods, the power can be redistributed.

With such a strong engine, how could the 2013 KTM 250SXF possibly finish fourth? In stock trim, the bike is out of sorts. The forks are harsh, the gearing is set up for the drag strip, the exhaust chokes up the engine, and the mapping is spotty. Every test rider proclaimed that the 250SXF had the most potential in the shootout, but in stock form, which is how we evaluated every bike, the KTM was a confused machine.

Engine:
Let us reiterate?42.89 horsepower. Wow, that’s a lot of power from a 250 four-stroke. Still, we had to add a tooth to the rear sprocket to help jump the gap between second and third gear. The powerband takes a long time to get its work done…we don’t want to wait until the engine gets to 14,000 rpm. You will have to Invest in an aftermarket exhaust to let the engine breathe. Then hold on, because aside from the Kawasaki KX250F, the KTM has no competition. We only wish that the 250SXF had better throttle response and better forks.

Suspension: When we see WP forks on a KTM 250SXF, we immediately know what to do?remove oil. Every year the 250SXF forks are harsh. The reason? There’s so much oil in the chambers that the forks get extremely harsh in the midstroke because they can’t move up and down. Start by removing 10cc of oil out of each fork leg to improve the suspension?and don’t be afraid to remove 20cc.

Handling: Once the suspension is dialed in, the 250SXF corners like a slot car. It’s especially good on hard-packed dirt where traction is at a premium. The chromoly steel frame is a big reason why the 250SXF is one of the better-handling bikes in the bunch. The frame responds to minimal rider input and stays planted in turns.

The word: We’ve said time and again that the powerband is the biggest factor in determining the 250 four-stroke pecking order. The KTM 250SXF has a potent engine, but it’s disguised by improper gearing, harsh forks and a muffled exhaust. After fixing these issues, the 250SXF would jump two spots up the leader board. As it sits, it’s a confused machine.  


   KATOOM STATS & FACTS                                          
   Horsepower:
42.89 (at 13,500 rpm)
   Weight:
231 pounds
   Price:
$7899
   Powerband:
Third
   Suspension:
Fifth
   Handling:
Third
   Brakes:
First
   Clutch:
First
   Durability:
Second

THIRD PLACE: HONDA CRF250

In a word: improved. On paper, the 2013 Honda CRF250 doesn’t look like it should finish third in our shootout. Last year it limped home in fourth place (the 2012 KTM 250SXF finished behind the CRF250 because the Austrians made several poor decisions). The 2013 CRF250 received stiffer fork springs, bigger fork sub-pistons, recalibrated EFI settings, minor shock updates and new tires. Comparatively speaking, five changes shouldn’t amount to much of anything. Guess what? The stiffer forks, along with the sub-pistons, helped reduce the bike’s stinkbug stance and quirky handling traits.

In our heart of hearts, we wish that the 2013 CRF250 was more like the 2009 model?which, by the way, was the only year that Honda won MXA’s 250 four-stroke shootout. Even so, the CRF250 is a competent race weapon. With pleasant ergonomics and an engine that does its best work in the midrange, it’s well suited to a broad range of riders.  

Engine:
The CRF250 Unicam powerplant isn’t anything to write home about. Sure, it’s easier to work on than a double-overhead-cam design, but the engine lacks personality. We got the most out of the 38.44-horsepower powerband by shifting often and keeping the engine pulling through the midrange. Find happiness in an aftermarket exhaust.

Suspension: We commend Honda for improving the feel and usability of their Showa suspension. The forks are in the ballpark for most riders. The 2013′s stiffer fork springs keep the front end from diving and knifing excessively (a big problem on the 2010?2012 models), and the bigger sub-pistons keep the forks up in their stroke. Last year we recommended that anyone over 165 pounds jump up a spring rate; we’re happy to report that the stiffer springs on the 2013 CRF250 do a solid job, particularly from braking to corner entrance.

Handling: Since the suspension was improved, the handling is also better. In the past, it took time before test riders could come to terms with the weird frame geometry. The 2013 CRF250 feels comfortable almost immediately. Yes, the front end still suffers from headshake at high speeds and oversteers into tight corners, but at least now those problems are masked, thanks to improved fork settings.

The word: Third place in our shootout should be considered a win for Honda. The new-generation CRF250 has long been loathed by many of our test riders?to the point where they would avoid riding it whenever possible. The tide is beginning to turn, thanks to better suspension settings, calmer handling and a powerband that is competitive (if you are a precise shifter).


   HONDA STATS & FACTS                                           
   Horsepower: 38.44 (at 11,000 rpm)
   Weight:
220 pounds
   Price:
$7420
   Powerband:
Fourth
   Suspension:
Second
   Handling:
Fifth  
   Brakes:
Sixth
   Clutch:
Fourth
   Durability:
Third

SECOND PLACE: SUZUKI RM-Z250

In a word: refined. We must give credit where credit is due. In 2012, Suzuki stuck with the same RM-Z250 that they had the year before. Quite honestly, Suzuki didn’t need to do much to their 2011 RM-Z250 four-stroke to keep it competitive. The engine roared and the handling was best-in-class. We wouldn’t have blamed the bean counters at Suzuki for regurgitating the same RM-Z250 for the third year in a row. Fortunately, they went against conventional wisdom in a tumultuous economy and invested in their 2013 RM-Z250 effort.

Suzuki improved the areas that needed attention (suspension and transmission), but didn’t mess too much with what worked (handling). The engine also received updates, with a lighter piston and optional plug-in couplers, but it isn’t really any faster than the 2012 engine. The overall result is that the 2013 RM-Z250 is better than the two previous models. Kudos to Suzuki.

Engine:
The RM-Z250 has the second-best engine in the class. If you’re a numbers person, then you’ll notice that at 38.01 ponies, the Suzuki makes the fourth-most horsepower. How could we rate the RM-Z250 so high? Peak horsepower on a dyno isn’t the be-all, end-all on engine performance; otherwise, the KTM’s long, drawn-out powerband would win. In truth, with the stock EFI coupler, we weren’t nearly as pleased with the powerband as when we plugged in the lean coupler. That really woke up the engine.

Suspension: As part of Showa’s SFF contingent, the 2013 RM-Z250 uses a single spring in one fork leg. We were pleased with the fork’s performance?although the stock settings might be too stiff for smaller riders. The chassis felt balanced front to rear, which isn’t as critical on the Suzuki as with other bikes (since the RM-Z250 already turns on a dime). This isn’t the best suspension in the class, but it’s quite good.   

Handling: If you can’t hit your lines on an RM-Z250, then you are doing something very wrong. This bike corners like a dream. Whereas other bikes in the class shine in certain conditions, the RM-Z250 is the complete handling package. We did notice that the front end suffered from headshake at speed, but we eradicated the issue by tightening the steering-stem nut and playing with the fork height.

The word: The adage “second place is first loser” doesn’t apply to the 2013 Suzuki RM-Z250. Several test riders picked it first in our shootout because they fell in love with the handling. With a slightly stronger engine and better clutch, this bike would be at the top of the heap. Even so, it’s still a great motorcycle.


   SUZIE STATS & FACTS                                           
   Horsepower: 38.01 (at 12,700 rpm)
   Weight:
224 pounds
   Price:
$7599
   Powerband:
Second
   Suspension:
Fourth
   Handling:
First
   Brakes:
Fifth
   Clutch:
Sixth
   Durability:
Fifth

FIRST PLACE: KAWASAKI KX250F

In a word: explosive. All 250 four-strokes live and die by their powerbands, and the 2013 Kawasaki KX250F is a screamer. It is far and away the best engine in the class. Kawasaki has a proven formula when it comes to the KX250F?surround a rocket ship engine with an adequate-handling chassis and good suspension.

Does the mighty Kawasaki shine in every area? Nope. There is still room for improvement, particularly in terms of cornering and braking. There isn’t a perfect bike in this shootout, but for the MXA wrecking crew, the KX250F has been the closest thing to perfection over the past eight years. Since 2006, the KX250F has won our illustrious 250 four-stroke shootout an unprecedented six times. Incredible!

Engine:
Although the KX250F doesn’t produce the most horsepower in the class (that honor belongs to the KTM 250SXF), it has the most usable power spread. Slower riders enjoyed the bottom-end hit. More experienced riders loved the midrange pull. This is a do-it-all engine that will allow you to rocket away with the holeshot and never look back. It’s that good.

Suspension: With Showa SFF forks and a Uni-Trak shock, the KX250F suspension is quite good. The spring rates are on target for most riders, as are the clickers. We suggest turning the low-speed compression in and using the high-speed compression to adjust the ride height at speed. Also, don’t be afraid to tinker with the fork preload, but be very careful with the shock’s race sag, which can wreak havoc on handling.

Handling: The 4mm-narrower frame feels a bit more agile than last year’s chassis, but there’s still a vague feeling at turn-in. Minor chassis changes reduced the wallowing sensation in the rear end, but the KX250F will benefit from an aftermarket link to ramp up the rising rate sooner.

The word: Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! How much do we love the 2013 KX250F? Let us count the ways.
     (1) The engine has the best 250 four-stroke powerband that we’ve ever tested.
     (2) Revised suspension improves the bike’s stability and aids in handling.
     (3) While the KX250F has shortcomings, they are very minor.
Take a bow, Kawasaki, because you deserve it.


   KAWIE STATS & FACTS                                           
   Horsepower: 41.15 (at 12,300 rpm)
   Weight:
227 pounds
   Price:
$7599
   Powerband:
First
   Suspension:
Third
   Handling:
Fourth
   Brakes:
Fourth
   Clutch:
Fifth
   Durability:
Fourth

2013 MXA 250 SHOOTOUT VIDEO

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