By Tim Olson
We get misty-eyed sometimes thinking about past bikes we loved and those that should remain forgotten. We take you on a trip down memory lane with bike tests that got filed away and disregarded in the MXA archives. We reminisce on a piece of moto history that has been resurrected. Here are the tests we did in Italy on 10-time World Champion Stefan Everts’ Works 2003 YZ450F and YZ250F.
It all started at Glen Helen’s weekly REM race. The MXA wrecking crew was wringing out the YZ450F and YZ250F, and Yamaha had sent its tech crew along to help us. And since Steve Butler, Doug Dubach and Terry Beal were there helping, they decided to race as well. After practice, as we sat around discussing the track and telling old Ed Scheidler stories, Terry Beal, Yamaha’s public relations guru, said, “I know it is probably too late for you guys to do this, but it just came up yesterday. It turns out that Yamaha’s European GP team would like MXA to ride Stefan Everts’ Grand Prix bike. If you can’t do it, they will understand.”
“You gotta be kidding?” I said. “Of course we’ll do it. When and where?”
“Next Tuesday,” said Terry.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll meet you here at 9:00 a.m. like usual.”
“No. Not like usual. You are going to have to take a little plane ride to Italy,” said Beal.
Suddenly things got complicated. I had already slipped a tad behind on my heavy workload. I was scheduled to leave for the Motocross des Nations in 10 days and wasn’t sure that I could spend four days in Italy in the middle of deadline, no matter how great the opportunity.
“We’ll have to talk to Jody,” I told Beal. Terry and I walked across the pits to where Jody was working on the fuel screw of a YZ450F and told him all the details.
His response was, “Sounds great. Hand me that screwdriver.”
The next thing I knew, I was on a Lufthansa flight headed to Milan, Italy, via Frankfurt, Germany. Talk about a weird weekend.
UNDER THE MILANESE SUN
I’m not normally disturbed by flight delays, but this time I had someone waiting at the other end of the line. As I sat in the Frankfurt terminal watching a TV screen with 22 “delayed” flights scrolling by, I realized that if I missed the man that Yamaha was sending to the airport to pick me up, I’d be in a strange country, unable to speak the language and without a clue as to where I was supposed to be going.
I was an hour late to Milan. But, as luck would have it, the first person I spotted upon stepping on Italian soil was wearing a Team Yamaha shirt. He had waited for me and no harm was done, except for a massive parking ticket on the windshield of the Yamaha transporter.
What followed was an hour and a half car ride to a hotel in Salerno (Yamaha’s Grand Prix effort is based out of Michelle Rinaldi’s Salerno race facility.) My schedule was tight, so all I had time to do was drop my bags off, take a shower and jump back into the transporter for the 15-mile drive to the racetrack. I was a little jet-lagged, so I didn’t even ask the driver why I was going to the test track just as the sun was setting over the Milanese horizon.
The answer was obvious when we pulled up. I was there to eat. The Italians have mastered the art of catering food at racetracks. In fact, Yamaha has a complete rig set up just to serve food. I must say it was the best food I’ve ever had at a track, and probably some of the best food I’ve ever had in Europe. Once my stomach was full, I was loaded back into the transporter and deposited at my hotel. I nodded off with visions of Stefan Everts’ YZ450F dancing in my head.
THE DOUBLEHEADER OF ALL BIKE TESTS
When I got back to the test track the next morning, Yamaha had a surprise. It turned out I wasn’t only going to ride Stefan’s World Championship YZ450F but also his YZ250F. And, even better, Stefan was going to come down to oversee the test ride. Talk about pressure.
I didn’t know anything about the track. Terry Beal was short on details back at Glen Helen, and since I was on the plane only one working day later, I never asked any questions. The track is in Asti, Italy. It is nestled in a small valley and has a rich history of GP races. Unfortunately, when the GPs decided to go big time and hit only the super speedways, they left Asti behind. What a shame. Asti was a great motocross track with excellent dirt, plenty of obstacles and a good flow.
I must admit that my first good look at Everts’ YZ450F revealed some surprises. Gone was the aluminum frame and most of the exotic unobtainable parts that he used last year in the 500 class. Instead, I was looking at a heavily modified YZ450F with more than its fair share of parts you can’t buy off the shelf. Even more fascinating, Stefan told me that his stock-framed YZ450F handled light years better than the handmade aluminum works model he rode in the Open class the year before.
SPENDING TIME ON THE CHAMP’S YZ450F
As I climbed onto the saddle of Everts’ YZ450F, I could tell that we had something in common. His handlebar and lever positions were exactly like mine. The bike started on the first kick (I expected no less from a bike with 10 mechanics hovering around it).
On the track, the most notable feature of Everts’ YZ450F was third gear. It pulled forever. I could use third to lug around corners. I could use third to rocket down straights. I could use third on fast sweepers. True, I did use second and fourth occasionally, but this bike was all about making the most of third.
On the starting line, I reached down and hooked Everts’ holeshot device. It pulled the forks down to stop the YZ450F from wheeling off the line. But, that wasn’t Everts’ only starting trick. His YZ450F also has a longer swingarm that makes wheeling even less likely. I used second gear to get off the line and shifted to third in about 20 feet. I left it in third all the way to the first turn.
Besides Everts’ controls being in the right spot, I was totally impressed by his clutch setup. Everts uses a little Euro-American collaboration to get such a sweet feel. His bike sports a complete Hinson clutch (basket, pressure plate and inner hub) for a better overall feel. But, what makes Everts’ clutch so effortless is his Brembo hydraulic actuation unit. The Brembo unit makes the pull both silky smooth and touchy-feely.
Surprisingly, Everts’ brakes are also Brembo components mated to the weirdest Braking rotors I’ve ever seen. Overall performance of the brakes, both front and rear, was impressive.
The only place where Everts and I differ is our views on suspension. Everts’ suspension is soft, which I like, but it was a little on the loose side. He runs 50mm Kayaba works forks and a works Kayaba shock. Additionally, Everts elects to run less offset in his triple clamps (22.5mm instead of 24mm). Turning didn’t feel any better than stock, so it is most likely that the decreased offset was used as a compensation for the longer swingarm.
RIDING THE YZ250F THAT SCARED THE TIDDLERS
Under this year’s FIM rules, a rider could race as many GP classes as he wanted. Several riders took advantage of the one-moto format and relatively short motos to double up; in fact, Stefan Everts tripled up at the final GP of the year to win the 125 class on his YZ250F, 250 class on his YZ450F and 500 class on his old, aluminum-framed YZ500F. Although Stefan didn’t win the 125 World Championship to go along with his 250 crown, he did win almost every 125 GP he raced. And now, I was going to ride his trusty YZ250F.
Besides the 48mm Kayaba works forks and shock, there isn’t a part on Everts’ YZ250F that you can’t buy (as long as you live in Europe). I fell in love with Everts’ YZ250F on the first lap. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I was impressed by his YZ450F, but I worshiped his YZ250F.
A showroom stock YZ250F has an almost perfect powerband, except that it hits the 13,500-rpm rev limiter just when you think it is invincible. Stefan Everts doesn’t have this problem because of his special YZ250F engine kit.
The kit, sold by Rinaldi Racing, includes three pistons, a crankshaft, ignition black box, valves, high-pressure radiator cap, camshaft, gaskets, wet-sump kit, ignition cover, head pipe, S-bends and two mufflers. The result of all these bolt-ons is beaucoup horsepower. Peak numbers are up, but what’s more impressive is the breadth of power. And what about that rev limiter? Everts’ bike just keeps pulling. The Rinaldi kit adds a couple hundred extra revs on top—and those revs really pay off at the end of a straight. Best of all, they allowed me to stay in one gear through switchbacks, tight turns and short chutes. In places where I might have had to shift up on a stocker because of running out of revs, I could wring out Everts’ YZ250F close to 14,000 rpm.
On the suspension front, Everts’ YZ250F was almost identical to his YZ450F. The suspension was soft and plush. The “almost” part refers to the loose feeling. Instead of being light on rebound, the YZ250F tracked the ground much better.
THE LONG FLIGHT HOME
My schedule was tight. It had taken me a full day to fly to Italy, and it would take me the better part of another day to get home. But while I was at Asti, I intended to make the most of my time with Stefan and his quiver of Yamaha four-strokes. I guess I was so enamored that I lost track of time. As the sun began to set, I realized that I was the last person at the track. I was alone, a stranger in a strange land, and worst of all, my friendly Team Yamaha driver was long gone (probably at home with the wife and bambinos).
As I stood in the middle of the Asti track, looking at my watch and wondering how I was going to get to the airport, a taxicab drove up. It turns out that my driver hadn’t forgotten me; he had just pawned me off on someone else. I hopped in the back and yelled, “To the airport please, and step on it.”
Everything went well. We blasted through the Italian traffic and pulled up to the Lufthansa terminal with plenty of time for me to catch my flight. Except for one glitch, it was a great trip. What was the glitch? The cab ride through the Italian countryside cost me $256.