MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ250F

2020 YAMAHA YZ250F COMPLETE RACE TEST 

THE GEAR: Jersey: Alpinestars Techstar, Pants: Alpinestars Techstar, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: EKS Brand Gox Flat-out, Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10.

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ250F BETTER THAN THE 2019 YZ250F?

A: Yes and no. Yamaha’s website claims that the 2020 YZ250F was unchanged over the 2019 YZ250F. That is not exactly true. There is one change, apart from BNG, that Yamaha glossed over. While Yamaha’s marketing department doesn’t think that its slight air filter mod is important enough to garner any mention, we think it is important info, especially since MXA complained about the YZ’s air filter design way back in 2018 (when it first appeared on the 2018 YZ450). We pressed Yamaha about the air filter issue, then showed the R&D department the fix that the Yamaha Grand Prix team had developed with Twin Air, and expected the 2019 YZ450F and the then-new YZ250F to be updated. They weren’t. Thus, the addition of the new air filter mod means that the 2020 YZ250F is better than the 2019 (which accounts for the yes), but, mechanically, the 2020 is the 2019 model (which accounts for the no).

The 2020 Yamaha YZ250F was our 2019 shootout winner. For the new year Yamaha didn’t make any major changes.

Q: WHAT ARE THE CHANGES TO THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ250F YOU ASK? 

A: Visually, all you can see are the updated graphics for 2020. In 2019, Yamaha built an all-new YZ250F from the ground up, with the exception of sticking to its roots by staying true to the eccentric reverse-engine philosophy and tried-and-true Kayaba SSS components, both of which have worked well for the YZ250F over the years. 

It wasn’t until we received the 2020 YZ250F that we were informed about the long-awaited air filter update. In 2018, our YZ450F sucked dirt through the “slice of toast” air filter. Yamaha blamed us, saying that we hadn’t changed the filter often enough, but we had a KX450, CRF450, FC450, KTM 450SXF and the RM-Z450 on the same filter service schedule—and none of the other four sucked dirt. We noticed that the center of the “slice of toast” air filter had a white circle directly over the intake tract. That white circle was where the banging of the filter against the backfire screen and suction of the intact tract had pulled the oil out of the filter. That was when we called Twin Air, who supplied filters to the Yamaha GP team, and they sent us a box of special GP air filters. The difference was the Twin Air GP filter had a grommet in the center and a plastic top-hat washer that lifted the foam away from the backfire screen. That solved our problem.

Okay, enough with the jibber-jabber. The 2020 Yamaha air filter update consists of adding a small rubber grommet to the filter to  keep the foam from tearing, as it did on on the previous filtersn. It is an improvement, but we vastly prefer the Twin Air solution. We suggest the Twin Air Power Flow kit, which allows the aluminum cage to go inside the filter for more breathing room. At a bare minimum, YZ250F/YZ450F owners should upgrade to the Twin Air top-hat air filter.

Q: HOW FAST IS THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ250F?

A: Not as fast as last year. That might not make a lot of sense, given that the engine is identical to the 2019 powerplant, but look at it this way: Back in 1974, the Honda Elsinore CR125 blew the doors off the competition with its 22 ponies. Is it still fast today? Of course not. At least not by today’s 44-horsepower standards. In 2020, the KX250, FC250, 250SXF and CRF250 upped the ante on their engines. With four out of the six major 250 four-stroke brands bringing more power to the table, the unchanged YZ250F isn’t as fast. Make sense? Paradoxically, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best engine, just that it faces stiffer challenges in 2020.

On the dyno, it produced 41.76 peak horsepower at 12,900 rpm and 19.90 pound-feet of torque. It ranks fifth in both peak horsepower and peak torque. Sounds like a subpar engine, right? This proves that you don’t have to be the fastest to be the best. So, how did it win MXA’s 2019 250 four-stroke shootout? It offered the best all-around package. It had better low-to-mid power than the high-horsepower KX250, FC250, 250SXF and CRF250, and had better mid-to-top power than the RM-Z250. This made the YZ250F a great engine—not only for fast guys but slow riders as well. A bike that produces something for everyone is a rare commodity. 

On the track, the 2020 still offers its superlatives in comparison to the competition. Now that the KX250 traded in its powerful low-end for top-end, the YZ250F reigns as the king of low-end grunt. The YZ250F has an instant throttle response that is loved by every rider; however, now that the 2020 KTM 250SXF got rid of its 2019 250SXF bronchitis, courtesy of its vented air box cover, the KTM doesn’t fall too far behind. 

In conclusion, on the dyno, the 2020 YZ250F is subpar; on the track, it is good where it counts—although we would like to see more top-end overrun to keep the engine from running out of steam.

The map button holds two maps that can be changed on the fly.

Q: COULD THE POWERBAND BE IRONED OUT TO REV OUT FURTHER?

A: The YZ250F powerband can be adjusted to your liking from your smartphone. Yamaha’s on-board Wi-Fi system is connected to the YZ250F’s ECU. The free GYTR Power Tuner app connects to your smartphone via its Wi-Fi signal. From there, you can download one of the three preprogrammed maps and optional maps at www.yamahamotosports.com/motocross/pages/yamaha-power-tuner-smart-phone-app.com or make custom maps. Understand that Yamaha designed its Power Tuner’s parameters to be dummy-proof. In other words, you can’t make it so lean that the bike will blow up. We encourage every Yamaha owner to experiment with the app. If you want to understand the application better, the link we provided has many informative videos about using, sending, receiving, editing and sharing maps. 

So, what map did we end up with? The same one we did last year—the 2019 YZ250F Travis Preston map. It is downloadable on the Yamaha site under 2018/’19 YZ250F “TP Map/ Low-to-Mid.” This allowed the power to go far enough into the rpm range to pull the next gear in the meat of the powerband. It allowed MXA test riders to clear jumps better and use the clutch less, which ultimately made the bike easier to ride. 

The dual-mode engine map switch, located on the left side of the handlebar, allows two maps to be programmed in. Out of the box, the stock map, which is all zeros, is programmed in both maps. Know that Map 1 is indicated when the blue light is off, while Map 2 is operational when the blue light is on. Yamaha made it so you can also switch between the two maps on the fly. You don’t have to pull over to switch.

The YZ250F engine is not the most powerful in its class; however, it is the most usable for the average rider.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2020 YZ250F HANDLE COMPARED TO THE KTM 250SXF?

A: The front wheel of the 2020 YZ250F feels glued to the ground when coming into corners. The front wheel’s tractive pressure allows riders to point and shoot; however, the YZ250F isn’t as agile as the 250SXF coming into corners, although it is more consistent. The 250SXF will turn sharper and move where you want to go faster, although the handling is very sensitive. Most riders liked the soft handling feel of the YZ250F better. 

The chassis of the YZ250F was balanced without any adjustment and tracked straight as an arrow. When riding the YZ250F and 250SXF back to back, you did notice the blue machines added 9 pounds on jumps and laying it into corners. 

Q: ARE THE YZ250F KAYABA COMPONENTS STILL LEADING THE CHARGE?

A: Yes. The Kayaba shock and SSS forks are as good as it gets out of the box. The base setting is great for just about any rider who jumps on the bike. Not having to chase settings makes life much easier for the average joe. This Kayaba setup is so good that many other manufacturers have tried to replicate it. For 2020, Kawasaki switched to Kayaba components for its KX250, which is the spitting image of the YZ250F suspension setting. 

Q: WHAT CAN YOU DO TO MAKE THE YZ250F BETTER?

A: There are two things you can do that can make the 2020 YZ250F a better bike for you. 

(1) Gearing. Stock gearing is 13/50. If you like the Travis Preston map that we suggest to lengthen out the powerband, you might want to also try going up one tooth on the rear to a 51. This made the power feel more aggressive. 

(2) Airbox. We drilled two 1-1/4-inch holes on the top of the airbox cover with a spade drill bit. This extra air to the intake gave the engine a stronger top and more over-rev. Every rider liked the extra oomph of added power. Since the airbox is located above the gas tank, the air filter still stays pretty clean.

The only change Yamaha made other than BNG is using a rubber grommet inside the air filter.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Rear fender. When putting the bike up on the stand holding it by the rear fender, it feels as if the fender is going to break off. It needs to be reinforced.
(2) Weight. The YZ250F gained 5 pounds when the electric start was introduced in 2019, making it 9 pounds heavier than the KTM 250SXF. Don’t think for a minute you won’t feel it.
(3) Width. The bike still feels wide. Yamaha still has plenty of room to narrow the shrouds, and we don’t understand why they don’t go to the max. We took the side shrouds off and peeled the 6mm-thick foam from both sides.
(4) Over-rev. We love that Yamaha added more top-end power and overrev in 2019–’20, but it is not enough. The power falls off too soon, which makes you have to shift. We don’t want to shift if we don’t have to.

(5) Front brake. Change the brake fluid after the first ride, as the brakes get mushy. It won’t fix the issue, but it will help. A more modern caliper is needed to stop a heavier bike.
(6) Filter. We thank Yamaha for putting the rubber grommet under the “slice of toast” air filter for 2020, but Twin Air does it much better. This airbox needs a redesign, or should we say, another redesign. The cover is hard to remove the filter vibrates against the wire screen and dirt collects at the back of the airbox.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Suspension. The Kayaba SSS components are great for a wide variety of riders out of the box.
(2) Engine. We love that the YZ250F has enough oomph out of corners that we don’t have to abuse the clutch. We can just roll on the throttle and power away.
(3) Wi-Fi. Being able to tune the power curve of the engine using the Yamaha Power Tuner app is awesome. Other manufacturers need to adopt this technology.
(4) Clutch. The clutch pull is so soft that it feels as though the plates would be fried mid-moto. The clutch lasts longer than that of any other Japanese models.
(5) Dual-mode switch. We like that we can switch maps on the fly.
(6) Durability. The YZ250F’s wheels, engine and chassis are built to last.  

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: Yamaha spent beaucoup bucks upgrading the 2019 YZ250F. Its reward was winning the vast majority of 2019 250 four-stroke shootouts. Winning shootouts translates into more money in the bank, which makes Yamaha’s pencil pushers happy. The rave reviews were just the nudge that many riders on the fence needed to decide to go blue. The downside of winning the “2019 MXA 250 Shootout” was that Yamaha took the calculated risk of not spending any money on the 2020 YZ250F—after all, it won easily in 2019. The danger of this was that when Yamaha’s marketing men made the decision to stand pat, they had no way of knowing that the green, orange, white and red bikes would be throwing cold-hard cash into their 2020 250 four-stroke projects. Make no mistake about it, the 2020 YZ250F is vulnerable because it needed more than just a rubber grommet. 

The YZ250F is a bike any rider can jump on and feel comfortable right away.

MXA’S 2020 YAMAHA YZ250F SETUP SPECS

This is how we set up our 2020 Yamaha YZ250F for the track. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

The Kayaba SSS forks are like riding on pillows.

KAYABA SSS FORK SETTINGS
These are awesome forks. If you are under 150 pounds, consider dropping the fork springs to 2018’s 4.6 N/m rate. You can also lower the oil height in 5cc increments until the desired performance is met. Most MXA test riders felt that the fork springs were sufficient for a wide range of rider weights and speeds. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for the 2020 Yamaha YZ250F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 4.7 N/m
Compression: 9 clicks out (11 clicks out)
Rebound: 9 clicks out
Fork-leg height: 5mm up
Notes: Faster riders went 5 to 7 clicks stiffer on the forks so they wouldn’t bottom.

The Kayaba shock balances well with the supple SSS forks.

KAYABA SSS SHOCK SETTINGS
We love this shock, although the rear wants to wallow. Turning the rebound in will help the feeling. Once we got the settings dialed, it worked for lightweights and heavyweights. Only the sag needed to be adjusted. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2020 Yamaha YZ250F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 55 N/m
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1 turn out
Lo-compression: 10 clicks out
Rebound: 8 clicks out (11 clicks out)
Notes: Lighter riders went out on hi-speed compression to absorb chop better.

CHECK OUT MXA’S 2020 YAMAHA YZ250F TEST VIDEO

2020 MXA’S 250 FOUR-STROKE SHOOTOUT IN-DEPTH VIDEO

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