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Tyler Bowers might be one of the most misunderstood riders in the sport. He made a name for himself on the tight tracks of the Arenacross circuit. Arenacross tracks are small, narrow, short, bullring-style layouts that are designed to fit inside the smaller arenas around the United States. The closed-in space makes for close racing, which sometimes gets rather aggressive. You can’t win an Arenacross race without being willing to bang bars. And, at 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Tyler Bowers loomed large over his competition in the local convention centers. He was a man on a mission and, if you were in his way, he would move you aside. On the track he was a warrior, but off the track, he is one of the friendliest riders in the pits. Tyler won four straight AMA Arenacross Championships. It was a lucrative gig, but Tyler wanted to move to the big time. So, in 2015, he gave up Arenacross to move to the Pro Circuit team on the AMA circuit.
Before Tyler turned to Arenacross, he had raced the 2008 AMA 250 East Supercross series for Yamaha of Troy and finished sixth overall but had lackluster results in the outdoor Nationals. For 2009, Tyler was without a ride and tried to do the full privateer thing on a 450cc in Supercross and the AMA Nationals. Tyler made ten 450 Supercross main events, but his best finish was 14th. In the 2009 AMA 450 Nationals, he made every race but only had one top-10 finish (at Red Bud). Looking for greener pastures, Tyler found his calling in Arenacross in 2010. From that point on he would only dabble in Supercross when his schedule allowed, winning the Las Vegas 250 East round in 2013 as a fill-in rider, but his focus was on Arenacross.
“WE ARE NO STRANGERS TO THE 51FIFTY YZ250F BIKES. WE HAVE TESTED ONE OF THEIR BIKES EACH YEAR. IT HAS BEEN AWESOME TO SEE HOW THE TEAM AND BIKE HAVE EVOLVED OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS. THIS SMALL BUT MIGHTY TEAM IS A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.”
In 2015 Tyler doubled down on the Supercross circuit. He signed a two-year deal with the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. He was in the running for the 2015 AMA 250 West crown, but two bad finishes ruined his title chances. Tyler switched to the 250 East in 2016 and finished fifth overall. Factory Kawasaki put him on a KX450F for the AMA 450 Nationals at the end of 2016, but he didn’t score significant points in the four Nationals he raced. For 2017 Pro Circuit let him go to make room for Austin Forkner. Tyler Bowers signed with the 51Fifty Energy team. Unfortunately, Tyler broke his femur at the Phoenix Supercross (it was his second femur break). With his 51Fifty bike collecting dust, the MXA wrecking crew swooped in to test Tyler’s unused 51Fifty 2017 Yamaha YZ250F.
We are no strangers to the 51Fifty YZ250F bikes. Since the team made the switch from Honda to Yamaha in 2015, we have tested one of their bikes each year. In 2015 we tested Austin Politelli’s YZ250F, and in 2016 we tested Hayden Mellross’ YZ250F. It has been awesome to see how the team and bikes have evolved over the past three years. This small but mighty team is a force to be reckoned with; they just need a little luck on their side.
Since our test of Hayden Mellross’ bike last year, the moving pieces within the team have remained the same. Jamie Ellis’ Twisted Development is still a big part of the engine program, and SDI Suspension still handles the team’s forks and shocks. “The biggest changes to the bike would have to be due to the rider,” said 51Fifty team manager Craig Monty. “Tyler is a big guy who rides over the front of the bike. We just keep on making the front end stiffer and more rigid to cater to his likings. We also moved the footpegs 5mm back. Other than that, Tyler is easy to please. He has won before and brings a newfound confidence to this team.”
“THE BIGGEST CHANGES TO THE BIKE WOULD HAVE TO BE DUE TO THE RIDER. TYLER IS A BIG GUY WHO RIDES OVER THE FRONT OF THE BIKE.”
To get the front end to feel the way Tyler wanted, stiffer billet fork lugs (with a different bolt pattern) were installed on the SDI-tuned forks. They also found that X-Trig ROCS triple clamps, equipped with solid bar-mount inserts, gave Tyler the stiffer feel he wanted.
With Tyler riding Kawasakis for almost 10 years, he was a bit nervous about having to adapt to the YZ250F. Tyler told us, “Right off the bat, I felt comfortable. The biggest plus I have noticed has been the improvement in turning ability over the KX250F.” As for his biggest weakness, Tyler said, “I am pretty bad at starts, so I needed something that a monkey could use.” So, the team took the electronics from a YZ450F and put its Launch Control system in Tyler’s YZ250F. A Vortex ignition was installed so that Twisted Development’s Jamie Ellis could pull the magical strings. Jamie tuned the borrowed Launch Control system so that whether Tyler was half or full throttle, the bike would not wheelie or spin—nothing but prime-time traction. Tyler’s Launch Control map reverts back to the race ignition map three seconds after initial launch.
Other changes to Tyler’s Yamaha YZ250F were a swap to a YZ450F throttle body. Both the YZ250F and YZ450F throttle bodies are identical, save for the bigger YZ450F injector nozzle. 51Fifty found that the YZ450F injector worked better with their mapping and engine package. A thinner tank, which is a factory part, made the bike feel narrower. With Crank Works balancing the crank, 51Fifty did away with the engine’s counterbalancer.
“SINCE IT WAS TYLER’S SUPERCROSS BIKE, WE ONLY INVITED OUR PRO TEST RIDERS TO RIDE IT ON A SUPERCROSS TRACK.”
On the track it was no surprise that this bike hauled the mail. Since it was Tyler’s Supercross bike, we only invited our Pro test riders to ride it on a Supercross track. We were impressed with last year’s engine, but this year’s bike had improved bottom-end response and revved out further. The powerband had been broadened considerably, and the broad style of power made the bike easy to ride. It also made it easy to recover from mistakes, as it could get back to full power without any hiccups. Our test riders could roll through the corners in second gear and just twist the throttle, using no clutch, to get over the triples. The aggressiveness of the midrange power that we complained about last year was smoothed out. This might sound like a bad thing for a small, 250cc, four-stroke engine, but on a Supercross track, it allowed the rear end to track the front better. It wasn’t less powerful—just more usable. It was less likely to break the rear tire loose. We were impressed with the transplanted Launch Control system. It took us a couple of tries to find the perfect position to get the traction we wanted, but once we found it, we could duplicate the same perfect start over and over again.
Tyler is a big boy, so we knew the chassis would feel stiff; however, the faster our test riders rode, the better the bike handled. The front end pushed if the bike wasn’t powered hard enough into the corner, but speed cures many ills. Make no doubt about it, the feedback from the rigid front forks was intense. We could feel every bump, rut and pebble. At first this made the forks feel horrible, but even though the front end was incredibly stiff, it was capable of absorbing the big jumps or big mistakes—you give to get.
Overall, the 51Fifty Yamaha YZ250F was what we thought it was going to be—after all, we have been with them every step of the way during their Yamaha journey. Tyler’s bike was, in the plainest terms, stiff and fast. This bike stands toe to toe with the factory-backed 250 four-strokes. As with all privateer teams, the difference between a factory team and the 51Fifty team is money and resources. They are running a part-time staff, living on a budget, outsourcing parts and relying on the largesse of team owner Carlos Viera. Now, imagine if these exact same guys got the backing of a factory team; they could reach the top of the food chain.