MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ250
MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ250
My name is Josh Mosiman. You might recognize my name from the AMA Supercross and National series, or maybe you confuse me with my brother Michael Mosiman, who is a factory Husqvarna racer, but now I am an MXA editor—or perhaps “editor in training” is more accurate. So, when I was assigned to run the test program on the 2020 Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke, I was both excited and confused. I was excited because I really enjoy the bike, but a little confused about why MXA was testing a bike that had stayed the same for almost 15 years. Why would people want to read MXA’s thoughts on it again? Jody Weisel and Daryl Ecklund reminded me that MXA’s mission—and my job as an editor and test rider—is to provide our readers with information so they can be better informed about how each bike performs. So, even though the YZ250 has not changed much since 2006, the riders have. Every year there are new people—new to the sport, new to two-strokes or new to Yamaha—who want to know more about the 2020 YZ250, regardless of whether a lot of riders are tired of reading tests of a bike that barely changes from year to year. Not only do the consumers change, the market changes. There was a time when two-strokes were persona non grata in the motocross world. You could not sell a used two-stroke during the early days of the four-stroke explosion. Today, used Yamaha YZ250s sell at a premium price. So, even if Yamaha has hit the repeat button for the last 14 years, there is still a story to be told about this legendary bike that is still considered competitive in many aspects to this day.
Luckily, at MXA, we have a vast pool of test riders we get information from. We might not give every one of them an orange helmet or print their opinions verbatim, but we listen to them, because we want as much input as possible. With a collection of opinions from other riders‚ we are able to assess each bike with a broader range of knowledge before we put the MXA stamp on it.
YOU CAN’T COME IN AFTER THREE LAPS; YOU HAVE TO PUT THE BIKE THROUGH ITS PACES. WHEN YOU RACE A RACE BIKE, YOU ARE USING IT FOR WHAT IT WAS MADE FOR.
Another important step in the testing process is racing. MXA takes pride in racing the bikes we test, because we believe the most accurate testing is done when the gate drops. When it’s race time, we don’t think about how much money went into building the bike, how different it feels from the year before or what color the rims are. In a race, you have to hit the bumps; you can’t swerve around them. You can’t come in after three laps; you have to put the bike through its paces. When you race a race bike, you are using it for what it was made for.
I was 10 years old in 2006 when the current iteration of the YZ250 was introduced. That’s when my parents began taking my brother Michael and me to all the big amateur motocross races. We raced at Loretta Lynn’s, World Mini, Lake Whitney, Oakhill, Mini O’s and more. Long days of driving in the motorhome meant we watched lots of motocross movies. My brother and I had the Bar to Bar Supercross movies on repeat. We watched Chad Reed, Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and more battle it out and, after multiple years of road trips and movies, we had the 2003–2010 seasons memorized.
It’s crazy to think that I’m testing the same basic bike that Chad Reed raced in those Supercross movies (it’s almost as crazy to think that Chad Reed is still racing). In 2004, when I was 8 years old and riding a KTM 50SX, Chad Reed won the Supercross Championship on the YZ250. That was the last year that the Yamaha had a steel frame. In 2005, Yamaha developed its creative plug-and-play aluminum frame. Now, 15 years later, that same frame is being used on the 2020 YZ250. With the new frame, Chad went on to finish second in the 2005 Supercross Championship. Ricky Carmichael won it, while Kevin Windham was third and David Vuillemin, who was also on the YZ250, placed fourth.
In 2006 the Kayaba SSS forks were added to the YZ250. For the last 14 years the SSS forks have been the number-one production fork in every shootout. Why do we like them so much? The Kayaba SSS forks were the first to focus on speed-sensitive damping instead of position-sensitive damping. The speed at which the fork’s piston moves through the cartridge rod makes for a linear damping curve that follows the ground like a dream and is extremely predictable.
Other changes for 2006 were a new rear brake caliper, an on-the-fly clutch adjuster, 2mm-wider triple-clamp spacing, and a titanium shock spring; however, the list of changes over the last 14 years has been minimal. The bike has gotten a new needle, updated triple clamps, new front brake caliper, a redesigned front brake hose clamp, a 270mm front rotor and both a 75mm shorter silencer and a 75mm longer silencer. Long story short, the YZ250 is almost the same as it was when I was a snot-nosed kid riding KTM 50s trying to qualify for the Loretta Lynn National Amateur Championship.
JODY TOLD ME THAT I DIDN’T HAVE TO WRITE A REGULAR MXA BIKE TEST.HE SAID THAT THERE ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH OLD YZ250 TESTS
ON MXA’S WEBSITE TO TELL PEOPLE
WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW.
Jody told me that I didn’t have to write a strictly formatted and controlled MXA bike test. He said that there are more than enough old YZ250 tests on MXA’s website to tell people what they need to know, especially given that the 2018, 2019 and 2020 YZ250s are all the same. Instead, he said that I should tell people about my experience on the 2020 YZ250. I felt relieved that one of my first-ever MXA bike tests would not have to live up to the past 14 years of YZ250 tests. But, what’s there to say? What more is there to tell interested buyers? What to focus on?
With the brand-new 2020 Yamaha YZ250 in my garage, I was eager to go racing. I loaded it up and headed to Cahuilla Creek to test my skills on the YZ250 at the Marty Tripes Big 3 event. It was a two-stroke-only race with classes for bikes from the 1970s all the way up to 2020. With most people racing vintage bikes, Marty decided to hold the race on the Cahuilla Creek Vet track. The smooth, wide-open, one-line track was the perfect testing ground for the YZ250. The track wasn’t rough. It didn’t have ruts, and the jumps were small but poorly shaped. How could that type of track be good for testing? Well, I was forced to ride the YZ250 wide open—everywhere. And in doing that, I was able to find the strong and weak points of the YZ250 engine.
In the 250 Pro class, Richard Taylor (son of EKS Brand goggle owner and former Pro rider Rich Taylor) and I battled for the win. Richard was riding Mike Brown’s 2019 World Two-Stroke Championship YZ250. It was fully modded for Brownie, so I knew it was fast. I had raced the same World Two-Stroke Championships as Mike Brown, but I was a child of the four-stroke era and still had a lot to learn about racing a smoker. For the Marty Tripes event I had to push my limits and ride the bone-stock bike to its fullest on the smooth track. Not to mention, there was $400 on the line for the win, and I wanted it.
In the first moto, Richard Taylor got the start and I was right behind in second. We pulled away from the other riders and began to battle it out. There were sections on the track where I would pull up close to him, most notably coming into the corners, but then he would gap me on the long straightaways. I had some deja vu from the World Two-Stroke Championship, as I found myself in the exact same position. At the Two-Stroke Championship at Glen Helen, I was right behind one of my childhood heroes, Mike Brown. At that Glen Helen race, I was riding a 2019 Husqvarna TC250 that also had a stock engine, but I did have a set of WP XACT Pro suspension on, so it wasn’t completely stock. I could catch Brownie in the corners, but he would pull away on the long-start straightaway into Talladega and up the steep hills. Not surprisingly, I found myself chasing the exact same bike at Cahuilla Creek; it even had Mike Brown’s big number 3 graphics on it.
UNFORTUNATELY, UNDER MXA’S STRICT PROCEDURES, I WASN’T ALLOWED TO MODIFY THE BIKE FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN SAFETY
OR DURABILITY REASONS.
Compared to the KTM or Husqvarna 250 two-strokes, the Yamaha delivers its best power higher in the rpm range, while the KTM and Husqvarna two-strokes work better in the low- to midrange. One good thing about the YZ having been around for so long is that there are numerous parts available to mod out your YZ250 and make it more competitive in the spots where it’s lacking. Unfortunately, under MXA’s strict procedures, I wasn’t allowed to modify the bike for anything other than safety or durability reasons. After the first lap, I wished that I had changed the gearing, added a Moto Tassinari or Boyesen reed cage, and put on an aftermarket pipe. The stock YZ didn’t want to be lugged around the corners one bit. I was shifting more than ever and slipping the clutch out of every corner to try to get it into the meat of the power as quickly as possible. Coming into the final three corners of the race, I was right on Richard’s rear wheel with two lappers in our way. He went left and I went right, diving into the inside in hopes of forcing him to make a mistake. But Richard held it together and went on to take the first moto win.
Before moto two, I had a lot of time to reflect on the first race. I gave it my all in moto one, but I couldn’t close the deal to get by Taylor. There were a lot of maybes involved. Maybe if we were on a rougher track, like Glen Helen, then the superb SSS suspension would have opened some doors for me. Maybe, but Glen Helen’s big hills might have sapped the stock YZ250s power, as they magnify any powerband weakness. The pressure was on. If Richard Taylor didn’t make a mistake, I would be stuck behind him—unless I could get him on the start. Richard had first-gate pick for moto 2, and I lined up next to him. The start on the Cahuilla Vet track goes up a sandy hill to the tight right. It was not ideal for my stock powerplant. When the gate dropped, I leaned into him and tried to get my elbow in front of his, but his elbows were faster than mine. After the first turn, we hit a downhill straightaway into a sharp left before we entered the circuit. At this point, I threw caution to the wind and tried to make a pass coming into the corner from the outside. Basically, I tried to open a door that wasn’t there. I ran into Richard Taylor from the outside, caught my handlebars on his, ripped my left hand off the bars and went off the track. I saved it, but in the process knocked the third-place rider down. It was an embarrassing ordeal for me but part of the story nonetheless.
Surprisingly, the faux pas at the start seemed to settle me down. I rode much better than I had in the first moto. I actually displayed some two-stroke savvy and caught back up to Richard Taylor, but sadly for me, catching him was not the same as passing him. Immediately after we pulled off, I went over and apologized to Richard. At that point, I was ashamed of my all-or-nothing, win-or-die tactics. We shook hands and laughed it off. I got second-place money from the Marty Tripes Big 3 race.
NEXT ON THE AGENDA WAS TO HAND THE 2020 YZ250 TWO-STROKE OVER TO MXA’S ENDURANCE TEST RIDERS, SOME OF WHOM GREW UP IN THE TWO-STROKE ERA AND, AMAZINGLY, ONE TEST RIDER WHO IS ATWO-STROKE-ONLY SPECIALIST.
Next on the agenda was to hand the 2020 YZ250 two-stroke over to MXA’s endurance test riders, some of whom grew up in the two-stroke era and, amazingly, one test rider who is a two-stroke-only specialist. They raced the bike at Glen Helen and Pala Raceway and were like old hands with the YZ250. Talking to them after their races taught me a lot about the bike and the gearing, and unique two-stroke strategies and starting techniques.
It was a fun experience to race the 2020 Yamaha YZ250. I can’t wait for the next big two-stroke race, especially now that the initial test period has been replaced by the “you can change parts” period, because I have started collecting the parts I need to beef up the low-to-mid and add a couple ponies on top. When I compare the stock Yamaha YZ250 to the stock KTM 250SX two-stroke, it’s not as fast. But, it is a lot easier to ride. Although the power is all on top compared to the KTM 250SX, it rolls into the power smoothly and doesn’t fall on its face like the orange bike does on top. The stock suspension is easy to get comfortable on and super predictable. I can see why so many people still love this bike. It’s fun to play on. It’s affordable, and it’s easier to wrench on. Plus, you don’t have to pay brand-new prices to enjoy the YZ250 experience. You can buy a five-year-old YZ250 for half the price of a new one and no one will know the difference.
For jetting specs on past YZ250’s click here.
For YZ250 Kayaba suspension setting go to the bottom of the page this is linked to.
Check out this link if your YZ250 blew up.
Want to turn your YZ250 into a YZ300? This is how you do it.
Scalvini YZ250 pipe test.
Here is how to put a YZ450F swingarm on your YZ250.