MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2023 YAMAHA YZ250F
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2023 YAMAHA YZ250F BETTER THAN THE 2022 YZ250F?
A: No! Yamaha spent all its R&D money on the 2023 Yamaha YZ450F, so none was left in Yamaha’s coffers to do much of anything to the 2023 YZ250F.
Q: WHAT WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT CHANGES THAT YAMAHA MADE TO THE YZ250F BACK 2022?
A: Even if Yamaha’s engineers didn’t give the 2023 YZ250F a sideways glance this year, the 2023 model does benefit from significant changes made in 2022. Here is what they did.
Yamaha lightened the rear hub by 28 grams to reduce unsprung weight and strengthened the hub’s sprocket flanges. The small, 1.85 rear rim, that was a throwback to when 250 four-strokes ran narrow 100/90-190 rear tires, was updated to a 2.15 rear rim fitted with a 110/90-19 Dunlop MX33 rear tire. Plus, the rear wheel spoke lacing pattern was changed from a cross-two pattern to a cross-three pattern. A cross-three spoke pattern absorbs higher loads and produces a much stronger wheel.
Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE 2023 YAMAHA YZ250F SUSPENSION FRONT?
A: We’d be lying if we said that we wanted Yamaha to make any changes to the Kayaba SSS coil spring forks and shock. These are the best forks made, and Yamaha would be foolish to make any changes that might upset the apple cart. Don’t mess with success.
The YZ250F suspension is balanced and has the uncanny knack of working well for riders from Novice to Pro to Vet with just a few clicks in either direction. The setup is foolproof, making the YZ250F one of the easier bikes feel comfortable on after you get used to the ergos.
Q: HOW DOES THE YZ250F HANDLE?
A: If we have a complaint about the way the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F handles, it would be that it is slow to respond to rider inputs. You could argue that the slight delay makes it very predictable and helps minimize mistakes.
In motion, the YZ250F doesn’t turn the sharpest or maneuver the quickest, which is, in a weird way, one of its strengths. The 2023 KTM 250SXF, GasGas MC250F, Husqvarna FC250 and Honda CRF250 are very sensitive to input from the rider and demand total concentration to stay on top of them. By comparison, the Suzuki has ultra-quick handling and amazing accuracy at turn-in but is twitchy at speed, while the Kawasaki KX250 is slow turning and typically understeers at corner entrance. Both of these bikes require a different type of concentration than the FC250, MC250F, CRF250 or 250SXF.
As for the YZ250F, its middle-of-the-road handling splits the difference between what a great turning bike can do and what the slightly odd RM-Z250 and KX250 are capable of. MXA test riders believe that the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F is the best handling bike for a Beginner or Novice racer. It takes less effort to ride the YZ250F than the KTM 250SXF; however, the Austrian steeds can do things that the YZ250F can’t. The question is, which kind of handling suits you best?
Q: WHERE DOES THE 2023 YAMAHA YZ250F FALL IN TERMS OF ERGONOMICS?
A: Before we denigrate the layout of the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F, we should note that we used to say the same bad things about the Yamaha YZ450F until Yamaha came out with the all-new 2023 YZ450F and erased the common refrain of “big, bulky, wide, tall, heavy and loud.”
Yamaha recognizing what they were doing wrong on the YZ450F means there is hope that the “odd, weird, strange and awkward” YZ250F can come around when it gets its shot at Yamaha R&D money for 2024. We aren’t saying that the YZ250F’s ergonomics are terrible, just that they could be so much better—proven by its big brother.
Q: HOW FAST IS THE 2023 YZ250F?
A: It is definitely not a barn burner. It depends more on power placement than impressive peak horsepower. Its primary competition is the 2023 Honda CRF250, which cloned the Yamaha’s low-to-mid powerband—and did it better. In the hands of a talented rider, the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F doesn’t hold a candle to the high-revving, high-horsepower, high-output Austrian trio (and the 14,000 rpm Kawasaki KX250).
The YZ250F makes 42.11 horsepower compared to the 45.20 horsepower on the 2023 KTM 250SXF and the torque isn’t much better at 19.83 pound-foot to KTM’s 21-17 lb/ft. In what is a strange twist, the Yamaha YZ250F’s midrange power at 8000 rpm is 29.23 horsepower. It only beats the Suzuki RM-Z250’s horsepower numbers . The KTM 250SXF makes the most power at 8000 rpm with 31.20 horsepower. It should be noted that Husky, Kawasaki, GasGas and Honda all crack 30 horsepower at 8000 rpm—only Suzuki and Yamaha don’t.
Both the 2023 YZ250F and Honda CRF250 are exciting to ride. You can feel the power the moment you turn the throttle. The YZ-F and CRF pull assertively from the low end through the midrange. It is a revelation to twist the throttle of either of these bikes on corner entrance. They go and go now!
MXA test riders love this power because they can feel it, but in slow corners, especially rutted ones, the YZ250F’s bold power requires a very precise throttle hand or you get a jumpy, agitated, herky-jerky sensation. Test riders don’t like this. Some say that the herky-jerky sensation is due to the YZ250F being too powerful down low, but we think it is a hesitation at the crack of the throttle. It would be an even better low-to-mid engine if the power off the crack of the throttle were more linear. We typically smooth out the jolt by altering the mapping, but it’s still there.
Once you are out of a corner, you will be enthralled by the YZ250F’s power surge in the midrange. This surge hits hard and fast, and you need to be ready to shift before the power flattens out. Overall, the 2023 YZ250F engine is really good. That sense of excitement makes it fun to ride; however, that excitement goes away once the KTM 250SXF, FC250, MC250F and KX250 go past you down a fast straight.
Q: WHAT IS STRANGE ABOUT YAMAHA’S MAP SWITCH?
A: It’s a sad truth that not that many Yamaha YZ250/450 riders ever use Yamaha’s Power Tuner app. Part of the problem is that Yamaha’s map button comes with two modes, one with no light on the button and a second with a blue light. Many YZ250F riders will switch back and forth between the two map settings, unaware that Yamaha does not put a different map in the blue light setting. You read that right: the YZ250F map switch has the same map in both the stock setting (light off) and the blue-light setting.
We suggested that Yamaha put one of its best Power Tuner maps in the blue light setting. It would only make sense, since their competition comes stock with two or three preprogrammed maps that can be accessed by the push of a button, but they want everyone to use the Power Tuner instead. It is very short-sighted on Yamaha’s part and short-changes the buyer.
Q: WHY IS USING THE POWER TUNER A GOOD THING?
A: MXA really likes the Power Tuner Wi-Fi app, but many people are approaching “computer app burnout.” They don’t want to go through another learning curve to access something that Yamaha could have given them in the first place. An amazing number of Power Tuner app users rely on a computer-savvy friend to map their YZ250F for them. Our advice is to take the time to learn how to use it yourself, because the maps make a difference, especially the ones we include in this test.
Be forewarned that once you download the app, you will need to connect it to your smartphone’s Wi-Fi, as the YZ250F has its own signal. Once you press “connect,” it will ask for a password. You will find your YZ250Fs password by removing the left-side panel and pulling out the Wi-Fi box to see the password under the Serial number. Once you do that, your bike should pop up in the app. From here, select the map you want to try. To put MXA’s map in, go to the “Map List” page and select the plus sign in the upper right-hand corner. You will then select the new map and add in the fuel and ignition number sequences as shown in the charts. After you complete this step, press the up arrow in the upper right-hand corner to send the map to your bike. Yikes! Now that we read Yamaha’s instructions, we understand why most racers don’t do it. It is harder than necessary.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Weight. The YZ250F is 10 pounds heavier than the lightest bike in the class, the GasGas MC250F.
(2) Width. The YZ250F is bulky and wide. Testers don’t mind it until they jump on another brand.
(3) Top end. The midrange grunt of the YZ250F is great, but the green, white, red and orange bikes blow right past it down the straightaways.
(4) Rear fender. Either the bike is too heavy or the rear fender needs to be beefed up, because when you lift the fender to put the bike on the stand, it feels as if it is going to break off.
(5) Clutch. A lot of riders still like the feel of the cable clutch, but seem to forget to adjust the cable play in time to save the clutch. Yamaha should spec a hydraulic clutch. Why haven’t they done it already? It would add weight, and they can’t afford for this bike to get any heavier than its current 228 pounds.
(6) Compression clickers. It is almost impossible to turn the compression clickers without stripping the adjustment screws. There is no room between the bars and the fork cap.
(7) Maps. Yamaha offers two preprogrammed maps, but they are both the same map.
(8) Airbox. This airbox could be so much better. The 2023 YZ450F airbox is better, but it, too, could be so much better.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Suspension. The Kayaba SSS suspension offers great balance and comfort.
(2) Brakes. The more rigid and more powerful front brake has less fade and offers a better feel at the lever than before.
(3) Wi-Fi. Tuning the power curve with the Yamaha Power Tuner app is awesome, even with the learning curve.
(4) Durability. Yamaha has steadily been beefing up this bike’s weak points over the last five years. It is a solid machine.
(5) Powerband. There are only two low-to-mid powerplants in the 250 class. They both offer a unique style of power that when used to its fullest is fast, effective and manageable.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: There is no doubt that the usable powerband and Kayaba SSS suspension are the highlights of the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F. When you like the power and suspension on your bike, you are more than halfway home to feeling confident about racing it. And confidence is a huge step towards maximizing your speed. We are confident that most average riders will be faster on a YZ250F than on a fire-breathing, high-rpm dragon.
MXA’S 2023 YAMAHA YZ250F SETUP SPECS
This is how we set up our 2023 Yamaha YZ250F for the track. We offer these settings to help steer you in the right direction.
KAYABA SSS FORK SETTINGS
The 2023 Kayaba SSS forks are more tailored towards racers. They don’t dive, but they also absorb hard hits without bottoming. The stock compression setting was too stiff for most of our testers. We went 6 or more clicks out to increase the overall ride comfort as the forks followed through the stroke better. Faster riders kept the stiffer setting, as there was less fore and aft movement. For hard-core racing, we recommend this fork setup for the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 4.7 N/mm
Compression: 17 clicks out (10 clicks out)
Rebound: 11 clicks out (7 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: 7mm up
Notes: For lighter riders who aren’t using most of the travel, try going to the lighter 4.6 N/mm springs.
KAYABA SHOCK SETTINGS
This Kayaba shock is the best in the business. The stock settings are in the ballpark for the majority of testers. Testers were split between using 100mm and 105mm of sag. For hard-core racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2023 Yamaha YZ250F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 56 N/mm
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 7/8 of a turn out
Lo-compression: 8 clicks out
Rebound: 10 clicks out
Notes: This is a stiffer spring than a couple of years ago. If you have less than 30mm of free sag, think about going to a softer 55 N/mm spring rate.