MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2022 YAMAHA YZ250

THE GEAR: Jersey: O’Neal Hardwear, Pants: O’Neal Hardwear, Helmet: Arai VX-Pro4, Goggles: Scott Prospect, Boots: O’Neal RDX 2.2.

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2022 YAMAHA YZ250 BETTER THAN THE 2021 YZ250?

A: Yes. It’s not a lot better, but it is better. With its inception dating back to 1974, the YZ250 is tied with the YZ125 for the title of “Yamaha’s longest-running dirt bike model” at 48 years of production; however, Yamaha’s entrance into the world of 250cc two-stroke dirt bikes dates back to the 1968 DT1. For 2022, the YZ250 received some upgrades, and the 2022 Yamaha YZ125 received a bigger list of updates than its big brother, but it needed it more.

Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE 2022 YAMAHA YZ250?

A: The Yamaha YZ250’s cosmetics look different, thanks to its updated plastics. The plastic may be new, but the YZ250 is not an “all-new” model. The 2022 YZ250 is more accurately a refined version of the 2021, but we aren’t complaining. We’re simply glad that Yamaha made any updates to its two-strokes this year.

Here are six areas where Yamaha spent time and money for 2022:

(1) Bodywork. The YZ250 bodywork had stayed the same for the last seven years when, in 2015, both the YZ125 and YZ250 received a new look borrowed from the four-stroke’s “arrow” plastic. Now, both YZ two-strokes have new plastics that launch these two old warriors into the modern era.  

(2) Ergos. Along with new plastics comes a new subframe, fuel tank and seat. These three components work together to create a flatter seat profile and an updated “rider triangle.”

(3) Brakes. The YZ450F got updated brakes in 2020 and 2021, and in 2022 they have been handed down to the YZ250 (and YZ125).

(4) Suspension. With stiffer spring rates and firmer valving for 2022, the Kayaba suspension components are basically the same as before. The Kayaba SSS forks received one minor internal update that was also a transfer from the four-stroke. What was it? A leaf spring in the mid-valve for improved comfort (sort of Yamaha’s version of the WP Trampoline valve).

(5) Intake. With the new subframe came new channels for airflow into the airbox. Instead of four channels, there are now two straight and smooth channels coming into the airbox from underneath and behind the seat. The air filter is the same, but there are only three ribs on the air filter cage now instead of eight.

(6) Drive chain. The rear sprocket and chain have been updated to be slightly lighter, and the YZ250 also gained new Dunlop MX33 tires.

Yamaha has been producing the YZ250 for 48 years and 250 two-strokes for 54 years.

Q: HOW ARE THE NEW YZ ERGONOMICS?

A: The new fuel tank, radiator shrouds and seat significantly change the ergonomics of the YZ250. Now, the front of the bike is 36mm skinnier at the tip of the shrouds and 7mm narrower in the middle where your knees grip the bike. The seat works with the new subframe to account for the most noticeable update in the ergonomics department. The seat is 5mm taller in the middle and 6mm lower at the front, creating a flat profile that helps the rider sit “on the bike” rather than “in the bike.”

Five millimeters doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a big difference on the track. In reality, the 2022 YZ250 has a taller seat height that you can feel in the pits and entering corners on the track. Most MXA test riders like the new ergonomics and prefer the “on top” feeling it gives you. Ryan Villopoto called the previous seat shape a “banana seat,” and that’s exactly what it felt like riding it back to back against the new model. The flatter seat profile allowed MXA testers to move forward in corners and back on long straightaways with ease.

Compared to the YZ250F and YZ450F models, the new YZ250 two-stroke ergonomics are far superior. It’s almost comical that the YZ250 is so modern looking and comfortable feeling, yet the YZ250F and YZ450F are so awkward. Most of the MXA test riders feel at home on the new YZ125 and YZ250, but they have to make compromises in the handlebar bends, footpeg height, bar mounts and seat height on the four-strokes to find comfort. We hope that with the praise Yamaha receives for the YZ250 two-stroke’s footpeg/seat/handlebar geometry, this geometry will make its way to the four-strokes in the near future.

 The YZ250 two-stroke engine has smooth, easy-to-ride power characteristics.

Q: HOW ARE THE NEW BRAKES ON THE YZ250?

A: Two-strokes are much lighter than four-strokes, which makes them easier to bring to a halt, but they also lack a four-stroke’s engine braking, which means you have to rely on the brakes more to slow a two-stroke down. New for 2022, the YZ250 is spec’ed with the same brakes that come on the 2022 YZ250F and YZ450F four-strokes.

On the front brake, the caliper’s piston was increased from 22.6mm to 25.4mm, while the front brake caliper’s rigidity was increased a whopping 30 percent. This stronger caliper doesn’t flex as much under hard braking, which means it maintains better brake-pad contact with the rotor at all times. As for the front brake pads, the surface area was also increased by almost 30 percent with new, high-friction material added to 2017’s 270mm front rotor.

On the rear brake, the rotor diameter was decreased from 245mm to 240mm, and the rear brake caliper and bracket were reshaped to save almost 1/4 of a pound of unsprung weight.

HOW DOES THE YAMAHA YZ250 RUN ON THE TRACK?

A: Both of Yamaha’s two-strokes are known for being smooth and manageable, while their competition (KTM) has been known for having more torque and midrange horsepower. The KTM 250SX hits hard, revs fast and signs off early. It is more tailored to racing rather than play riding. The YZ250 has consistently been friendlier and easier to ride than the KTM. This year the YZ125 engine was completely rebuilt, and, if you read our test on the 2022 YZ125, you know that it lost its easy-to-ride personality in pursuit of more mid-and-up power; however, the YZ250 engine didn’t gain from any compression, porting or Power Valve updates. On the track it feels identical to the 2021 YZ250.

There was one potential powerband enhancer added to the YZ250 two-stroke in 2022—a straighter intake tract—but it didn’t make a noticeable difference for the MXA test riders. The YZ250 is still smooth off the crack of the throttle, and it pulls hard up to the 8800-rpm range.

When compared to the KTM 250SX, the YZ250 isn’t as powerful from low-to-mid, but it is easier for new riders to keep in the meat of its mid-and-up rpm range. The KTM engine requires more skill in managing throttle, rpm, clutch and shifting, but it rewards you with harder-hitting power and stronger thrust—almost too much.

The Kayaba SSS forks have stiffer springs, firmer valving and a new leaf spring at the mid-valve.

Q: HOW DOES THE YAMAHA YZ250 HANDLE?

A: The handling department is where the new-generation 2022 YZ250 changed the most from last year’s version. With stiffer spring rates and valving, the MXA test riders went out one click on compression in the fork and shock. Surprisingly, one click made a difference that was appreciated; however, once the YZ250 broke in, the bike began to dive hard under braking, giving our test riders a harsh sensation on corner entrance. To get more hold-up from the front forks, most faster and heavier test riders slowed down the rebound and turned the compression in until the bike leveled coming into turns.

Surprisingly, some test riders missed the softer suspension of 2021. Although it was too soft for our heavier and faster riders, it was very comfortable and predictable for lighter riders, slower riders and Vet riders. Luckily, the 2022 Kayaba SSS forks are easily adaptable to different riders’ wants and needs. We admit that Yamaha’s engineers went chasing the approval of faster riders with the stiffer valving and spring rates in 2022, making it more difficult to find the sweet spot for each rider.

Q: WILL THE PARTS OFF THE PREVIOUS YZ250 FIT ON THE NEW BIKE?

A: Most of the performance-related parts on the 2022 YZ250 are the same as the 2006–2021 YZ250s. You can swap your wheels, forks, shock, linkage, swingarm, triple clamps, reed valve, clutch, big-bore kit, carburetor, handlebars and footpegs over from your old bike to your new ’22. One large aftermarket upgrade that doesn’t transfer between the two is the exhaust pipe and silencer. Other than that, the subframe, airbox, seat, fuel tank, shrouds and rear fender won’t transfer over, either.

The YZ250 gained new brakes for 2022 by borrowing the YZ450F four-stroke brakes.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: Here’s a list of things we hated.

(1) Suspension. It’s nice that Yamaha tailored the suspension settings to favor heavier and faster riders, but it wasn’t a complete success. In the past, anyone could hop on a Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke and ride it without playing clicker roulette. On the 2022 YZ250, MXA’s test riders struggled to find comfort and were constantly chasing their tails on settings. The 2021 settings were softer, but they were easy to find comfort with.

(2) Seat height. The flatter seat was a catch-22. Every rider liked that he could move around easier on the new seat, but many of them wished the same flat-seat profile was lower to the ground. We like the flatness of the new seat, but being taller in the turns made it feel more awkward.

(3) Wheels. We wish that our Yamaha two-stroke wheels would fit on our Yamaha four-strokes and vice versa. Most of the time, it’s not a big deal, but when you realize you have a flat tire right before your moto, you wish you could swap a four-stroke wheel onto the YZ250 to make it to the line on time. This really isn’t so much a wheel-related issue as it is the fault of the old-fashioned YZ250 swingarm, which was built for 22mm axles, not the newer 25mm size.

(4) Wash and wear. The rear-facing air scoops in front of the rear fender jet-express water into the airbox when you are washing the bike. MXA tapes them off before hosing off our dirty YZ250s, but we still end up with a wet air filter. As always, the best solution is a plastic Twin Air airbox cover.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: Here’s a list of things we liked.

(1) Commitment. We’ve said this about the YZ125, and we’ll say it again for the YZ250. Thank you, Yamaha, for continuing to invest money in two-strokes.  

(2) Maintenance. The average rider can keep his YZ250 running without it costing an arm and a leg.

(3) Ergos. With all-new bodywork, the YZ250 is modern, slim and stylish. Can’t they make their four-strokes look and feel like this?

(4) Brakes. Going fast down a straightaway is only good if you can slow back down to make the upcoming corner smoothly. These aren’t Brembo brakes with braided steel lines, but they’re an improvement.

(5) Seat. The new seat comes off with one 8mm bolt that’s covered by a plastic guard and is located in the rear of the seat—nice!

(6) Price. For $7799, the YZ250 is $1000 more wallet-friendly than the KTM 250SX two-stroke.

(7) Demo. One of the best aspects of Yamaha is its off-road demo program. With events happening all over the U.S., riders get a chance to test any Yamaha dirt bike at the track before purchasing their own.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: The 2022 Yamaha YZ250 got a much-needed facelift. It looks and feels more modern than before. On the downside, the lack of engine upgrades or weight savings means that the new YZ250 didn’t close the gap with the 2022 KTM 250s two-stroke power. On the upside, many of our 2021 and earlier parts will transfer right onto the 2022 YZ250. Plus, the new bike is only $300 more than it was last year. Considering inflation, increased shipping costs, increased demand for motorcycles and the improvements it received, we can tip our hat to Yamaha for keeping the YZ at a user-friendly price point. 

The YZ250 is a favorite in the MXA stables.

MXA’S 2022 YAMAHA YZ250 SETUP SPECS:

This is how we set up our 2022 Yamaha YZ250 for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

KAYABA SSS FORK SETTINGS
When we first received the bike from Yamaha, the suspension was firm, so we originally went out on compression to soften up the forks. But, after the bike broke in, the forks started pitching the bike forward when they dove. To compensate, we closed up the compression and rebound to get better hold-up. For hardcore racing, this is what we recommend on the 2022 Yamaha YZ250 (stock clickers are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 4.4 N/mm
Compression: 10 clicks out (14 clicks out)
Rebound: 6 clicks out (9 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: 5mm up
Notes: The updated fork settings were more finicky than on most previous Kayaba SSS forks. Most test riders in the 160- to 190-pound range slowed the rebound and compression down to lessen pitching. Our featherweight riders went softer than stock.

KAYABA SHOCK SETTINGS
Test riders in the 160- to 190-pound range felt comfortable with the stock settings once we got the forks to feel better. Light riders went out on high- and low-speed compression, but most of our testers stuck with the stock settings. For hardcore racing, we ran this setup on the 2022 Yamaha YZ250:
Spring rate: 50 N/mm
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/8 turns out
Lo-compression: 9 clicks out
Rebound: 8 clicks out
Notes: The shock doesn’t do anything funny. It tracks straight and is in tune with the bike. We love this shock.

2022 YAMAHA YZ250 JETTING
The Keihin PWK38S carburetor has come stock on the YZ250 for a long time, and the settings haven’t been changed since the N3EW needle was added in 2007. It’s safe to say that Yamaha has the base setting dialed in for the YZ250. This is what we recommend for hardcore racing (stock settings are in parentheses).
Main jet: 178
Pilot jet: 50
Needle: N3EW
Clip: 2nd line from top
Air screw: 1 turn out
Notes: If you hop up your YZ250 with some engine upgrades, you might have to go to a bigger 180 main jet or add VP C-12 fuel in a 50/50 ratio with pump gas. Also, the air screw is sensitive between a 1/2 turn and 1 turn out.

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