ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: YAMAHA YZ250 TWO-STROKE PROJECT BIKE
The latest generation Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke–that is to say 2006 through 2016–is one of the greatest motocross bikes made. Don’t take that statement with a grain of salt. There are a bevy of excellent bikes that have wheeled across showroom floors since motocross’ infancy. Typically once or twice in a generation there’s a bike that transcends time and technology. For the list of those bikes, scroll to the bottom after reading this marvelous piece of journalism. Yet for every engineering marvel, there are ten duds. Whether caused by lack of R&D funds, a loss in translation between engineers and the brand’s test riders, general complacency, or by trying to be too futuristic (Cannondale, anyone?), quite a few bikes fail. Appeal is one thing, but results on the track are another. I’m not talking about some high-paid superstar of the sport winning races and cashing checks, either. Do you honestly think that Ken Roczen is riding a production Suzuki RM-Z450 or Tim Gajser is breaking the speed of sound in Europe on a stock Honda CRF450? If you believe that, then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you.
“IT’S TRUE THAT YAMAHA FACED LIMITED COMPETITION, BUT IT WASN’T THEIR FAULT. INSTEAD, THEY’RE GUILTY OF RESTING ON THEIR LAURELS BY HITTING THE ‘COPY’ BUTTON ON THE XEROX BLUEPRINT MACHINE. CAN YOU BLAME THEM, THOUGH? CONSUMERS WERE SHOUTING, ‘GIVE ME FOUR-STROKES, OR GIVE ME DEATH!’”
Back to my point. The latest generation Yamaha YZ250 is one of the greatest bikes ever made. Sure, the all-new 2017 KTM/Husqvarna 250SX/TC250 looks like a show-stopper. I’m thinking about trading my first born for one of those radically cool two-strokers (just kidding, honey!). However, the YZ250 is the quintessential 250 two-stroke. Others likely have surpassed the rather archaic Yamaha, but that in no way detracts from its appeal. Maybe KTM/Husqvarna will supersede the YZ250 in the coming year, but it’s too early to make that call. Over the past decade, the YZ250 has been the 250 two-stroke upon which all others have been measured. By now skeptics will point to the fact that Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki abandoned the two-stroke market faster than a boom town went bust. It’s true that Yamaha faced limited competition, but it wasn’t their fault. Instead, they’re guilty of resting on their laurels by hitting the ‘Copy’ button on the Xerox blueprint machine. Can you blame them, though? Consumers were shouting, “Give me four-strokes, or give me death!” Sure, it’s not as impactful as what Patrick Henry said 241 years ago, but you get the idea. Consumers swayed the tide of motorcycle development. Two-strokes were no longer the in thing. They practically died on the vine.
You should know by now that MXA doesn’t leave well enough alone. We’re a group of tinkerers–a consortium of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylors. While we don’t grunt like wild boars and hammer holes through walls, we embark on unending searches for better performance. Take Dennis Stapleton’s 2015 Yamaha YZ250 as an example. See the list of modifications below.
1. Engine. Stapleton liked the broad power of the YZ250, so he (mostly) left well enough alone. He added a Boyesen RAD valve, Boyesen Power X-Wing, DR.D pipe and NS-4 silencer. These are smart modifications for weekend warriors and amateur-level racers.
2. Suspension. It’s hard to dislike the Kayaba SSS suspension. However, in stock trim the suspension wasn’t set up specifically for our Test Editor. Factory Connection dialed in the valving and slapped on a slightly higher spring rate. A 1.5mm-longer Ride Engineering link arm stiffened up the initial part of the stroke.
3. Triple clamps. Dennis Stapleton loads the shock like a pogo stick, so he’s not overly concerned with triple clamp offset. That didn’t stop him from slapping on a set of Ride Engineering 22mm offset triple clamps, complete with a Showa steering stabilizer. He liked the pairing, as it tuned up the handling.
4. Power and handling are great, but if you want to cut down your lap times then brake deeper into the corners. With inferior brakes, like the old YZ250 front brake set up, stopping can be a trying–if not scary–experience. That’s why Dennis opted for a Braking W-Flo 270mm oversize rotor. He used the stock brake pads. Note, nearly every MXA test rider prefers the performance and feel at the lever of stock pads.
5. Faster USA outfitted Stapleton’s 2015 YZ250 with a set of USA-made wheels. They’re strong enough to handle a ride around “Case City” and look incredible.
6. Upon seeing Dennis Stapleton’s YZ250, a few of our friends tried stealing the aluminum gas cap insert. In an ode to old factory bikes (and some current ones, too), Stapleton had Bionix in Northern California fabricate an aluminum insert and cap. The gas cap sat flush with the gas tank. It was far and away the most trick part on the bike.
7. A plethora of companies came to Stapleton’s aid in finishing up the bike. Red Label designed the graphics; Mika bars and blue grips tied things together; Works Connection hard parts were scattered throughout; a pleated Moto Seat cover and blue CV4 radiator hoses spruced things up even more.
Dennis Stapleton had this to say about his project bike build, “I did what any motocrosser with a fairly large budget and a 2015 Yamaha YZ250 would do. I made logical choices based on past experiences and invested in components that actually made a difference. These are real-world fixes for the YZ250, and, fortunately, most of them don’t cost an arm and a leg. The only indulgences I made were in the Faster USA wheels and Bionix-fabricated gas tank. While the factory-like parts didn’t lower my lap times, they did make me feel faster–and that counts for something.”
Below is a shot of the YZ250 in action. Yes, I know this web feature is entitled “One Photo & One Story,” but I figured I could bend the rules just this one time. For a full review of Stapleton’s YZ250, you’ll need to consult the July 2015 issue. That issue also includes modified rockets built by Jody Weisel, Daryl Ecklund and yours truly.