MXA’S 2015 TM 250MX MOTOCROSS TEST: TWO-STROKE ITALIAN-STYLE

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Q: WHY IS MXA TESTING THE 2015 TM 250MX SO LATE IN THE 2015 SEASON?

A: If you enjoy vacation time, you would love working for TM. The Italians work hard at their craft and, not surprisingly, they play hard. The TM plant shuts down for three weeks in August, as well as two full weeks over Christmas. Late summer and fall are when new bikes should be hitting the showroom floors, but that can’t happen if there is no one at the factory to create the bikes and get them out the door.

Additionally, freight costs can be exorbitant, particularly for air shipment, so TM ships its bikes across the pond by boat, which they can ill afford if they want to be on American shores during the fall or winter selling seasons. The Japanese and Austrians annually aim for a September unveiling of their new bikes. As for TM, it’s a good year if the Italians have a bike in our hands by three months later.

TM is only being brought back to the USA by the good graces of new TM distributor, Gravity TM Racing. Gravity’s Ralf Schmidt has taken over the reins from former two-time TM importer Pete Vetrano and plans to improve TM’s connection to its American audience. Our test 2015 TM 250MX was the only one in the country at the time—and Ralf handed it over to us for more than a month of testing. For more information on Gravity TM Racing, go to www.tmracing-usa.com.

2015 TM 250MX: The small Italian company is the little train that could. TM bikes are hand-built in Pesaro, Italy. There are no robots grinding away on the cylinder.
TM 250MX: The small Italian company is the little train that could. TM bikes are hand-built in Pesaro, Italy. There are no robots grinding away on the cylinder.

Q: IS THE NEW 250MX BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS MODEL?

A: We don’t have a clue. Why not? The answer is simple: we did not test last year’s TM 250MX because TM chose not to import any motocross bikes to the U.S. last year. Why? The poor euro-to-dollar exchange rate, combined with the high base price of TM’s bikes, made it financial suicide to ship bikes to America that would have had price tags at least $2000 higher than the competition.

However, we can say with certainty that the new TM 250MX is better than the 2013 model. Why? That was the last time MXA tested the TM 250MX.

Q: WHAT IS THE PRICE OF THE 2015 TM 250MX?

A: $8500. To compare, the 2015 Yamaha YZ250 retails for $7290, the KTM 250SX for $7299, and the Husqvarna TC250 for $7349. That makes the TM well over $1000 more dear.

Overhauled: For 2015, only the front wheel, forks, brakes and clutch would even fit on the now prehistoric 2014 model.
Overhauled: For 2015, only the front wheel, forks, brakes and clutch would even fit on the now prehistoric 2014 model.

Q: WHAT CHANGES WERE MADE TO THE 2015 TM 250MX?

A: The more applicable question would be: what changes weren’t made to the 2015 TM 250MX? The only parts off last year’s model that fit on the 2015 250MX are the front wheel, forks, brakes and clutch. Below is a laundry list of upgrades for 2015:

(1) Cylinder and head. Not only is the engine new, but TM now features a TMEES electronic exhaust valve system for improved control.

(2) Crankshaft. The all-new crankshaft has high-tech bearings and a new crank seal to aid the crankshaft’s stability and duration.

(3) Covers. The transmission, clutch and water-pump covers were created using a new casting process that reduces weight and has crisper quality.

(4) Gear-position sensor. The gear-position sensor reports to the TMEES electronic exhaust valve to select settings based on rpm, throttle position and what gear the bike is in.

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(5) Exhaust. The HGS pipe and silencer had to be redesigned to fit the new engine characteristics.

(6) Shock. The TM in-house rear shock has been lengthened by 8mm. It is matched to the new linkage and has new valving.

(7) Rear axle. The rear-axle diameter has been increased 2.5mm for less deflection of the swingarm.

(8) Fuel tank. The new tank features a “fresh airflow system” that channels cool air via ducting on top of the tank to the airbox.

(9) Tires. Czech-made Mitas tires, which now come on the front and rear, resemble Pirelli MT32s. Mitas is best known for taking over Trelleborg.

(10) Styling. The 2015 TM 250MX has a completely different look from the 2014 model.

Simply fast: When it comes to the engine it’s what’s inside that matters. The 250MX engine punches out serious power.
Simply fast: When it comes to the engine it’s what’s inside that matters. The 250MX engine punches out serious power.

Q: IS IT POSSIBLE TO CUSTOMIZE THE 2015 TM 250MX?

A: Yes, but you will need deep pockets. It’s not that the Italian customization will cost you more, but more so that the cost of air freighting parts is high. The U.S. TM importer offers several parts options that TM owners might be interested in.

(1) Tank. You can order your bike with a black or translucent fuel tank. The black looks better, but you can’t see a thing when filling it up with gasoline. At least with the clear tank you always know how much gas is left.

(2) Bar mounts. You have the choice between rubber-mounted and solid bar mounts. We preferred the rubber-mounted bars because they absorbed a fair amount of vibration caused by the engine.

(3) Rear wheel. Strangely enough, you can choose between an 18- and 19-inch rear wheel. If you’re racing motocross, stick with the larger-diameter wheel.

(4) Rear shock. It’s possible to have an Ohlins TTX rear shock installed instead of the TM shock, but this upgrade will cost you $1250.

Q: HOW FAST IS THE 2015 TM 250MX?

A: It is attention-grabbing fast. Kick-in-the pants fast. The second-coming-of-the-Pony-Express fast. However, the 250MX didn’t start out that way. It took some fine-tuning to get the 250MX dialed in for our sunny SoCal, sea-level tracks. After a few jetting changes, a shorter silencer and different gearing, we had the 250MX singing sweet music to our ears. The powerband went from short and flat to broad and strong.

The TM engine is stronger than our 250 shootout winner, the 2015 Yamaha YZ250. The TM had enough oomph off the bottom to keep test riders off the clutch. The midrange hit was almost too explosive for our Vet riders, but going a tooth down on the rear sprocket fixed the issue. We had nothing to complain about on top.

Simple touch: We love the TM 270mm front brake. Why? With just a simple touch of the front brake it will stop on a dime.
Simple touch: We love the TM 270mm front brake. Why? With just a simple touch of the front brake it will stop on a dime.

Q: WILL EVERY 2015 TM 250MX BE THE SAME FROM THE FACTORY?

A: Yes, with the caveat that the MXA wrecking crew laid the groundwork. Truth be told, the 2015 TM 250MX that we tested was different from what consumers will see. To help TM get a head start on the bikes they will import to the USA, we tested silencers of various lengths, played the gearing game and tinkered with the jetting to help find the best settings.

We learned quite a lot about the 250MX during our test session and, as a result, U.S. importer Ralf Schmidt has promised that he will make running changes to the bikes coming to American soil. When we handed the bike back to Ralf, we think it was well-tuned in terms of gearing, jetting and improved bottom-end power.

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Q: WHAT DID WE THINK OF THE SUSPENSION?

A: We quickly developed a love/hate relationship with the Kayaba 48mm forks and in-house TM shock. Depending on the test rider, the relationship could sour or bloom in a few laps. It was difficult to find common ground among our faster and slower test riders. The Kayaba forks are based on the 2011 Yamaha YZ450F forks. Many test riders felt that the fork settings were too Eurocentric, with soft spring rates and a tendency to blow through the stroke. At the bottom of the stroke the forks were harsh and uncomfortable feeling. We added oil to improve bottoming resistance, but it was more of a band-aid fix than a be-all, end-all solution. Given our druthers, we would work with a competent Yamaha suspension tuner to get the forks dialed in properly.

As for the TM-built shock, it was a work of art. There were over 40 clicks of adjustment on compression and rebound. We found good shock settings for every test rider, but no two settings were alike. The 250MX suspension is geared toward a slower rider or someone who rides on smooth tracks. If this isn’t you, then be prepared to spend money on getting the bike dialed in.

Custom: TM is the only manufacturer that will tailor a bike just the way you like it straight from the factory.
Custom: TM is the only manufacturer that will tailor a bike just the way you like it straight from the factory.

Q: HOW GOOD WERE THE BRAKES?

A: We are always pleased with an oversized 270mm cauliflower rotor. TM’s brake combination is unique in that it uses Brembo calipers mated to Nissin master cylinders. The stopping power is worthy of a factory bike. The faster the test rider, the more he appreciated the brakes.

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Q: HOW WAS THE GEARING?

A: It came with a 13-tooth front and 49-tooth rear sprocket, which wasn’t a good combination. Shift points had to be made in awkward places, such as going off the face of a jump. The stock gearing made the engine rev out too fast, which transferred weight from the rear to the front of the bike. We made big changes by going to a 14-tooth countershaft sprocket, which is the equivalent of going 3.5 teeth smaller on the rear sprocket. That change broadened the power range and eradicated the unusual shift points. It also gave us more gearing leeway by making the rear sprocket usable with small tooth changes in either direction.

Q: HOW WAS THE CLUTCH?

A: The TM, just like the KTM and Husqvarna, comes standard with a self-adjusting hydraulic clutch. We expected it to be a Brembo clutch, but it used an in-house, TM-designed slave cylinder. We loved it.

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Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Bolts. The Allen bolts fill with mud and have to be cleaned out before you can remove them. TM uses Allen bolts on the plastic parts, clutch cover, seat, engine cases and ignition cover.

(2) Rear sprocket bolts. There are nine bolts holding the rear sprocket to the hub. We like the peace of mind of knowing that the rear sprocket is not going to come off, but there is such a thing as too much peace of mind.

(3) Handlebars. The TM 250MX comes with ape hangers for handlebars. If you are a tall rider, they will suit you; otherwise, round-file them for something better.

Simplicity: The TM 250MX Keihin carburetor might be old-school, but there’s no need to change a good thing.
Simplicity: The TM 250MX Keihin carburetor might be old-school, but there’s no need to change a good thing.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Hydraulic clutch. The self-adjusting hydraulic clutch is a nice touch. TM joins Husky and KTM in the future—or are Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki in the past?

(2) Brakes. The 270mm Brembo front brake has superb braking power.

(3) Parts. There are multiple hand-made billet parts on the TM. Some parts look like jewelry. Plus, there are lots of high-dollar aftermarket parts, such as Excel rims, a Moto Tassinari V-Force reed cage and an HGS exhaust system.

(4) Map switches. It was a nice option to have the dual map switch. Map 1 was an aggressive setting and Map 2 was the mellow setting. We only chose Map 2 if we wanted to get beat.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: The TM 250MX is a handmade exotic bike from a small production plant in Italy. TM does not mass-produce these bikes. They are offering riders something special and unique. No matter how small TM may be, we feel that the TM 250MX can compete with major brands. It has an engine that is strong from bottom to top. The TM is equipped with high-quality suspension that just needs a high-quality suspension tuner to dial it in. And, most important, it is an exotic works bike that won’t be showing up in droves at your local track. For more information on Gravity TM Racing, go to www.tmracing-usa.com.

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MXA TM 250MX SETUP SPECS

Are you looking to get the 2015 TM 250MX suspension set up? Use these specs as a basis and adjust accordingly.

KAYABA FORK SETTINGS
The TM 250MX forks are the exact forks that came off the 2011 Yamaha YZ450F with only a few tweaks to the valving. We have raved about the Kayaba SSS fork setup for years on the Yamaha, so it should be the same on the TM, right? No, we were not satisfied with the changes made to the 250MX. If you are serious about getting the perfect setup, TM will custom-valve your Kayaba forks for an extra price, or call your trusted suspension tuner. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup on the 2015 TM 250MX (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 4.3 Nm
Compression: 20 clicks out (12 clicks out)
Rebound: 14 click out (12 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: Flush with clamps
Oil quantity: 360cc (350cc)
Notes: Every one of our testers found a decent setting, but none of them found common ground. They all had a different setting that worked for them. Use this setting as a start. It is a balanced setup, and we suggest adjusting the compression. We added 10cc because it was riding too low in the stroke in a harsh spot for our faster riders. The extra oil increased the plushness and kept it from bottoming.

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IN-HOUSE-BUILT TM SHOCK
This shock is a work of art and crafted in the small TM factory in Italy. The rebound adjuster has 45 clicks of  tuneability and the low-speed compression has 22. The high-speed compression actually has clicks but can still be counted as turns. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup on the 2015 TM 250MX:
Spring rate: 5.0 Nm
Race Sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 10 clicks out (11 clicks out)
Lo-compression: 6 clicks out (11) clicks out)
Rebound: 19 clicks out (22 clicks out)
Notes: The shock made it hard to find an agreement among riders. Again, each rider found a setting they could live with, but no two riders liked the same setting. Though the TM shock is not much different from a typical Showa or Kayaba shock, it will still be hard to find a suspension tuner that is familiar with the TM in-house custom shock.

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