2016 Vital MX 250 Shootout: In-Depth 11

2016 KTM 250 SX-F vs. Yamaha YZ250F vs. Honda CRF250R vs. Kawasaki KX250F vs. Suzuki RM-Z250 vs. Husqvarna FC 250

Welcome all, to the Vital MX 2016 250 Shootout! We're here to give you our opinions and ratings on the six major 250Fs.

Just like in our 450 Shootout, you'll find all five of our test rider's individual reviews. Each tester's section allows you to get a feel for what they like and dislike, and also allows you to see where they agree and disagree on certain traits, or what aspect of the bikes matter the most to them. Each rider spent their day jumping from bike to bike, working with the manufacture reps, and keeping their notes of what they found and changed throughout the day.

If you want greater detail about what's new about each bike, or what we've already discovered in previous individual tests, then dive into our First Looks and First Impressions below. After that, you'll find the comparison dyno chart, plus a link to the individual horsepower and torque charts. To wrap it up, check out all five test rider's individual comments and where they ranked each bike as we crown the winner for 2016!

The Contenders

If you're looking for a refresher on what's new with each model, you can find the technical info in our First Looks, and our initial ride comments in our First Impressions. They're listed in order by MSRP, from most expensive to least expensive.

First LookFirst Impressions •
MSRP $8,499

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $8,399

First Look •First Impressions
MSRP $7,599

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,599

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,599

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,590

Personally, we were pretty stoked on how this Shootout's graphics and stands turned out. If you'd like to get you hands on a clean and matching setup for your bike and stand as well, check out MotoConcepts.com. Plus, we even have a discount code: vitalmxshootout

Dyno Comparison Chart:

Due to time constraints, the Husqvarna FC 250 couldn't be included in this comparison test.

If you want to check out each bike's individual chart, including the torque measurements, click here: 2016 250 Shootout - Individual Dyno Charts.

This year's dyno services were provided by Race Tech. Mostly known for their suspension services, Race Tech now has a full range of engine performance services as well.

(Click to expand.)

Data Acquisition

For 2016, we wanted to add a different element to our shootout, so we lined up our friends from LITPro to come out for the day and keep track of all the riders. You've probably seen a LITPro this year if you've looked on the helmets of say Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen, Jason Anderson, and more. It's a black, wedge-shaped box that has a hyper-sensitive GPS and accelerometers to develop a lap time story that compares your line selection, acceleration points, jump height, distance, and speed from section-to-section. It also allows you to compare segments from different laps to show you what you're capable of doing if you can put all your sections together. For a better description of LITPro, check out this piece we did a few months ago on the product - First Look: LITPro.

​For this test, we decided to have some fun and show what would happen if the Shootout was decided purely upon data collection. Below are the bikes as they were ranked amongst our rider's data; based on fastest lap, lap 99 (their theoretical best lap based on the segment times), their average three best laps combined, top speed, and finally where this math adds up and ranks each bike.

Fastest Lap
Lap 99
Avg 3 laps
Top Speed
Consensus Rank

Test Rider Opinions

Name: Robby Bell / Age: 30
Height: 6' 0" / Weight: 165 lbs.
Riding Experience: Professional Motocross and Off-Road

First Place - Yamaha YZ250F

The Yamaha made my decision a bit easier as I rode it last, when the track was at its roughest and felt the YZ offered the best overall package for me. The motor was strong, making the most power from the lower mid-range on. Even though the YZF didn't have quite the pure bottom-end pull of the Kawasaki, it didn't sign off like the KX-F and so I didn't feel that I needed to be as perfect or quick with the shifting. The bike also cornered very well for me; it was predictable whether pushing the front end into a rut, or sliding the back end around a flat corner or powdery berm.

The overall handling of the bike was good, even though I did feel the suspension setup could use a little work. I felt that the forks and the shock were both a bit harsh. Although we were able to make some adjustments and improve that harsh feeling, it never totally went away and I feel like it would take some internal modification to the suspension to really smooth out the overall feel. Having said that, even though I did feel the bumps a bit more than a couple of the other bikes, I felt very confident in the handling of the YZF. Whether attacking bumps under braking, or hitting sharp chop under acceleration, the bike was confidence-inspiring to ride. The YZF does feel a little wider than the other bikes through the tank/shroud area, which wasn't a negative for me, but something I thought worth mentioning. In the end, I picked the Yamaha as my winner based on the confidence it gave me to push hard in rough conditions and a very strong, yet user-friendly motor.

Second Place - Honda CRF250R

This one was honestly a surprise to me. I haven't been a fan of the newer Hondas, mainly due to a habitually harsh front end. Even when I first jumped on the CRF and cruised over the first few bumps before getting up to speed, I thought it was going the same old story. When I started to attack the track however, the feeling totally changed. At speed, the Honda handled incredibly well, and I actually felt offered the most rider-friendly package of the six brands.

Where the CRF lacked for me, and what kept it off the top spot, was a slightly less powerful motor than a few of the other bikes. Though the Honda makes decent power through the mid-range, it was weaker off the bottom than I would've personally liked, and noticeably slower to pull out of a few loamy berms compared to all but the RM-Z. What the Honda lacked in power, though, it made up for in handling and rider confidence. Perhaps it was slightly due to having less power, but the Honda gave me the feeling that it could be controlled and thrown around, wherever and however I wanted. There was a slight bit of harshness through the front end for me, but not as much as most other bikes in the group. As for the rear of the bike, the shock felt very good, which I think helped offer that rideability and control. In the end, the rideability of the bike and confidence it offered when pushing at speed is what landed the Honda on the second step of the podium for me.

Third Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Where the KX-F stood out for me was the bottom-end pull the motor offered. On track, it definitely felt like it had the most grunt and response off the bottom compared to the other bikes in the class. Unfortunately, after that bottom end hit, the bike would sign off fairly quickly after a decent mid-range, and I felt I needed to shift it more often to keep it in the sweet spot of the power curve.

In the handling department, the Kawasaki didn't disappoint, but it also didn't stand out. It cornered well, but I did notice a slight tendency of the front end to flop in corners. It was a different feeling than when a bike knifes hard, something I'd maybe describe as a bit of oversteer, but I was able to get used to it and counter the feeling the more I rode the bike. I did feel a bit of mid-stroke harshness in the fork, and though we improved it some with clickers, the feeling never totally went away. Overall, the KX-F is a very good package, with a good handling characteristic and a motor that offers something none of the other bikes do. In the end though, it didn't stand out enough in other areas to get it above the Yamaha or Honda.

Fourth Place - Husqvarna FC 250

The Husqvarna was a fun bike to ride, thanks mostly to a very strong motor. Like the KTM, I felt the Husqvarna had the strongest overall motor, most noticeably when trying to clear the fifth-gear triple step-up in the back section at Cahuilla. I was able to get furthest on the two Austrian machines. It definitely made the most power from the mid-range on, and felt the most like a screamer compared to any of the other bikes. This meant I could over-rev the bike if need be, without feeling like I was losing too much power. The suspension felt quite pleasant after a few clicker adjustments, as I felt it offered the plushest fork of the bunch on the day, and the shock wasn't too far behind in the plushness category. One thing I struggled with was the distance between the foot peg and shift lever, as I felt I really had to reach my foot forward to shift. After bringing this up to the Husqvarna staff on hand, they swapped to FC450's shift lever which is a few millimeters shorter. This actually made a tremendous difference with the ease of shifting, bringing it on par with the other bikes in the class. Overall, the Husqvarna FC 250 was a very comfortable, enjoyable bike to ride, but for me it wasn't quite as nimble as my top three picks, and just seemed to tale a little bit more effort to push at top pace. That may be nitpicking, but that's what's required to separate such a closely contested class of bikes.

Fifth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

When you think of Suzuki, you think of cornering ability, and the RMZ definitely didn't disappoint in that department. It's very easy to rail corners with, especially as you start to push more aggressively into turns. The two key points that held the Suzuki back, for me, were the motor and rigid feel of the bike. The motor definitely left something to be desired for me. It wasn't very inspiring off the bottom, the weakest power on track in my opinion, and didn't pull as hard as the Yamaha or two Austrians through the mid and top. Don't get me wrong, it'll get you where you need to go, just not as quickly, while also lacking some of the excitement of the other bikes.

My other complaint was the harshness of the bike as it definitely gave a more rigid overall feel (meaning front and rear) than the other brands, giving me a lot more feedback across the track. Those points aside, the RMZ is a very good bike, it would just take some more time, and modifications, for me to get the comfortable and compliant feel that I like to get from a well-dialed-in dirt bike. However, the key place it needs help is definitely in the engine department.

Sixth Place - KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM was lowest on my list for one main reason, the forks, as I really struggled to get them to feel as I wanted. They were the harshest in the class and were really noticeable when leaning into a corner while still hitting some braking chop. This harshness and rigidity hurt the front end tracking, which pushed me past the berm or rut I was aiming for a few times. I'm not sure it was all the fork, or perhaps the frame, or even up around the triple clamps, as it just felt little too rigid and didn't flex the way I'd like.

I was also surprised at how touchy the front brake was, as I really had to be conscious about how much pressure I used at the lever to keep from locking up the front brake. Aside from those two complaints, the bike is still very good. The motor is very strong, sharing the characteristics of its Husqvarna sister, and the shock/rear end of the bike worked well for me. I also want to make a quick note of the same issue and solution with the shift pedal as the Husqvarna, switching to the updated shifter making the shifting a bit easier and more comfortable. I'm sure, putting in more effort, I could get the front end to work the way I would like, which would totally change my opinion of the bike. But in this type of scenario, with limited testing time and no aftermarket modifications, I have to put the KTM in sixth place on my list of the 2016 250Fs.

Name: Shelby Paget / Age: 29
Height: 6'0" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Experience: Intermediate

First Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Right off the bat when I got onto the blue bike, a few things stood out to me from a cockpit perspective. The bike feels wide...wider than any of the other contenders this year. It also has a unique flat seat design that leads right up to the front of the bike, instead of a traditional gas cap, so it encourages more movement from front-to-back than the other brands. Also, the bike just feels stout and planted because of its flat and wide cockpit design. Initially for me, the bike felt slightly dog-nosed, but as soon as I got on the track that feeling disappeared.

The most apparent difference for me on the Yamaha compared to any of the other bikes was the power. In one word, the Yamaha’s engine was incredible. I haven’t seen the dyno charts, but via the seat-of-the-pants dyno, the YZF felt like it had the most useable power and by far the best bottom-to-top, strong-pulling powerband. The KTM was close in this department for feel on the track, but the the YZF had an over-rev that I haven’t felt before on a stock 250F, which would just pull to the moon. The bottom end snap was also great, allowing me to run in third and fourth gear on the whole track, instead of second and third like most of the other 250Fs. I took the YZF out twice during the day and got the chance to run the stock map as well as an “aggressive” map. In this setting, the power was still smooth, but a little bit more lively from the low-mid part of the powerband.

Suspension on the Yamahas have always been great since they've been refining the KYB SSS stuff for years, and in 2016 this is no exception. The best way for me to sum up how the YZF handles, is that it simply inspires confidence for me more than the other brands. Coming into corners with heavy braking bumps and exiting with square edged stair step ruts was easier on the YZF, because of how predictable and planted the suspension and chassis feels. The only other bikes that were close in this area of comfort for me were the Honda and the KTM. All in all, the Yamaha seemed to successfully nail each area of performance and I would be most confident in picking up a stock 2016 YZ250F to take straight to the track for a great day of racing!

Second Place - KTM 250 SX-F

I actually had to think on it for a few days, before finally deciding that the KTM would be my runner-up in this shootout. In my opinion, the KTM and the Yamaha were both in another league of their own in stock trim when compared to the other bikes in the lineup. There were a few things that I actually liked on the KTM much more than the Yamaha. First, the KTM is slim, light, and extremely nimble. From the killer brakes, to the improved chassis and suspension over the 2015, the KTM is top-notch package for anyone looking to head straight to the track from the dealership. The e-start should definitely be adopted by all the brands and this is one of my favorite features of the KTM and Husky.  Lastly, I feel like KTM designed the chassis this year to provide more traction  to the ground than any other brand for 2016. Whenever I was on the gas, it translated to instant and predictable forward motion on the KTM. This was personally my favorite attribute about the KTM.

On the downside, the front end on the KTM was a bit more dodgy compared to the YZF for me. It felt pretty consistent on the small braking bumps but had a slight blow-through feel when hitting braking bumps at high speeds or under heavy braking. If the KTM had a more refined fork and the low-end power delivery feel of the YZF, it would have been a clear winner for me.

KTM has come leaps and bounds over the last few years and it shows in their final product for 2016. The bike has great power, loads of traction, and fairly good suspension.  With a few minor refinements to their WP 4CS fork this bike will be gunning for the top spot without a doubt!

Third Place - Honda CRF250R

I've owned a couple Hondas in the past and have been a huge fan of their bikes, so I was excited to see how the Honda stacked up this year. The very first thing I noticed when I got on the Honda, was that it's a bit loud at idle. But when I got onto the track, the sound became much quieter and docile. This bike was really just a lot of fun for me to ride, as I found it easier to throw around than most of the other brands. I was also able to ride for the full session without feeling worn, uncomfortable, or questioning the bike in rougher areas of the track.

Now we all know Honda has had some negative feedback around the power output on the CRF250R for previous years, and this is something Honda looked to address in 2016. They increased the compression and added some other top-end upgrades, which produced loads of fun power in the mid-range. I found that this bike would come on a bit soft, have an explosive mid hit, and then sign off a little earlier than desired. The gearing made this a bit more obvious and was probably not ideal for Cahuilla Creek, since I found myself shifting back and forth between second and third more than the KTM and KX-F.

Honda has always had the right formula when it comes to making a bike that is rider-friendly. The CRF feels most balanced in the class to me and it also feels fairly small and agile. We had to slow down the rebound just a bit on the rear end because of some feedback I was getting under heavy braking into worn out corners, and the rear end was stepping out a little more than I'd like while exiting corners. After the adjustment the bike was extremely predictable, as the front and rear suspension was very smooth and progressive. I did feel a bit of chassis feedback, not necessarily in a bad way, but I think the KTM’s steel frame (which I rode right before the Honda) absorbs more track “feedback” than the Honda’s aluminum frame. I think that’s expected when riding steel and aluminum frames back-to-back.

All in all the Honda was a real blast to ride! With more power down low and some additional over-rev, this bike could potentially contend for the top spot for a beginner/novice rider. It rates in third for me because of its agile chassis and easy-to-ride nature.

Fourth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a green bike (aside from my KLX110) and given its performance last year in the shootouts, I was curious how at home I would feel on the KX250F. A lot of the bikes feel slim in 2016, but I honestly think the KX-F was the most slim feeling bike for me. When I got on the track the bike’s useable power is instantly noticeable, but I felt like the front end was too light and not as planted as I would've liked. After a few laps of getting cozy on the green machine, I took the bike in for a quick sag and compression adjustment. The bike was feeling a bit like a pogo stick to me on the track, so we slowed some things down and set the sag to 105mm. After that the bike felt more sure of itself and if I were to take a guess, I think the KX-F would like to have been ridden a bit faster than what I could throw its way. Seemed like the harder I rode the KX-F, the more “plush” and smooth the bike  felt. I could see this being a great bike for a serious racer, but for me I like throwing in some sightseeing laps and not always riding at my limit since I have work come Monday. The power was not a disappointment in any way, and I would classify the KX-F as one of the most useable powerbands in the class. The throttle response was great, as it hit smooth and strong in the mid-range, and pulled through the top nicely. But it did fall off earlier than the KTM or the YZ-F did.

The Kawasaki cockpit felt a little long to me compared to some of the bikes I rode during the test. This gave me confidence in the faster sections as I could transfer my weight around more, but I felt that the bike was not as nimble turning in on the sharper or technical corners as the track got rougher. Also, the bike still felt a little bit bouncy to me over the rough sections, under braking and acceleration. All-in-all, I feel the KX250F is a strong choice for anyone, but I just didn’t feel as at home on it as I did the bikes I’ve ranked ahead of it for this test.

Fifth Place - Husqvarna FC 250

Just like most people out there, I was expecting the Husqvarna and the KTM to be nearly the same bike. Although they do in fact share many attributes, I felt as if they were definitely two very different machines on the track. The power on the FC 250 was great as long as you were at the top of the RPM range, really revving it out. As long as I was staying at this point, the bike was pulling and shooting out of corners like a beast. The second I let it fall off the power, I had to either shift down or use the plush hydraulic clutch to make her sing again. As the day went on, we switched out the shift lever since shifting was a bit notchy and I had hit neutral four times myself on the FC 250.

I took the bike out twice during the day because as the track got rough, I wanted to see how the bike handled and try the different shift lever off of the TC450. The bike was more comfortable with the changes Robby and Michael used, which yielded a more planted feel. In the long run, I think I would need more time with the suspension tuning to really get comfortable on this bike and use it to its potential.

The composite subframe is really what seems to make the Husqvarna handle much different than the KTM. I felt that the rear end tracked straight, but was abrupt when going through bumps or choppy sections. The bike was rigid feeling and not as forgiving as the other brands. The seat actually bucked me around quite a few times until we adjusted the sag after the bike was warmed up. The FC was great when it came to point-and-shoot turning. Whether I was finding a rut or squaring up on a berm, the bike was easy to direct out of corners with a couple tugs on the clutch lever. Through some of the jumps I felt that the FC would bottom easy and felt like I was either riding too high in the stroke on the straight sections, or blowing through the travel on the jumps when I came up short or over-jumped a section.

No company has ever completely hit the nail on the head the first time around and I believe that Husqvarna will be able to move their FC 250 on up in the ranks as they find and refine the areas in question on their new bike. I’m interested to see how the composite subframe develops and I would love to ride one of these again as Husqvarna polishes their diamond in the rough.

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

I actually raced the first year of the RM-Z250 back in 2004. I remember that bike being a rocket compared to my 125 and a handling like a dream, so getting to time travel and ride the 2016 RM-Z250 was a bit nostalgic for me. The bike brought back a lot of great memories, but to be honest I was expecting the bike to stand out more than it did, given the eighty plus small changes that have been made to the bike this year.

At first, I felt that the bike was dog-nosed, but the ergos of the Suzuki were comfortable and the bike positioning was a good fit for me. As I rode my session on the RM-Z I came to the conclusion that it's is a great bike but doesn’t do anything particularly well, which makes it easy to pass over. The power is smooth but doesn’t have a playful or explosive accent to it. The chassis had the classic RM-Z handling but with all the other brands stepping it up so much this year, I think that Suzuki needs to go back to the design board and bring some “wow” factor back into the bike.

I only made a few small adjustments to the rebound and compression on the fork to help alleviate the jittery feeling I had coming into corners under heavy braking, while the rear end was predictable and smooth for the most part. I would suspect that this bike would have been a top contender if it was going head-to-head with some previous year competitors; but with all the power, controls, and technology that has come into the mix for 2016, the Suzuki seems to have missed the mark for me this year. It simply didn’t demand my attention in any area of performance or even visual engagement in its stock trim. Although the Suzuki is a good bike in every area, it isn’t a great bike to me in any area, and feels a tad dated for 2016.

Name: Derrick Caskey / Age: 42
Height: 6' 2" / Weight: 195 lbs.
Riding Experience: Vet Expert

First Place - KTM 250 SX-F

First off, the electric start is worth its weight in gold, and now onto the rest of the bike. Honestly, the KTM is a very good bike and well-balanced; the motor was very solid, not as strong off the bottom as the Yamaha, but pulled strong from the mid-to-top. This made the KTM the bike that was the most fun to ride aggressively. It also had a very light feel and cornered very well, with fantastic front end traction. The suspension both front and rear was soft for my weight (as all bikes in the class are), and since they are spring forks, I would need heavier springs. I immediately went in two clicks stiffer on the compression in the forks, and then followed up with two more clicks after my first few laps. This was better, but when I would adjust them stiffer than that, the 4CS forks seemed to get harsher and had much less comfort.

The KTM is nice (like the Husqvarna) because you can make on track adjustments to the compression and rebound without a screwdriver. I switched back and forth with ignition maps as well, but overall, I preferred the aggressive one. Both the front and rear brakes were very good, and allowed plenty of time to take inside lines and more confidence to push deep into the corners. For me, a hydraulic clutch on a 250F was a blessing, because as a heavier rider I had to abuse all the clutches. With this, the hydraulic system kept the same lever feel the entire time. The one complaint I had with the KTM (and Husqvarna) was definitely the shift lever. It seems to be very far from the footpegs (which is amazing, since I wear a size 13 boot) and would have trouble missing shifts.

Second Place - Honda CRF250R

The Honda was almost my first pick, but the motor isn’t as strong as the KTM or the Yamaha. At my size, the engine really takes precedence and makes a huge factor on my decision. On the other hand, the Honda was much better than I had anticipated. Due to very competitive bottom-end power, I was able to do all of the same obstacles on the Honda that I could on say the Yamaha or the KTM, so the slight horsepower difference weren't that dramatic. Similar to the 450, the Honda chassis and ergonomics suit my riding style the best of any of the bikes, which really adds to my confidence in pushing the small bike hard. As for the suspension, I preferred the Showa forks and shock on the CRF250R when compared to the other bikes. However, they would still need to be revalved in the front and re-sprung in the rear for my weight, but the adjustability and feel is awesome. The Honda feels like the easiest cornering bike in the class, along with being very light and nimble in all situations. To top it all off, the clutch was excellent but the brakes were just ok. With just a bit more power, the Honda could have taken the top spot on my list.

Third Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Right off the bat, the Yamaha does feel like the fastest bike I tested. But overall power alone wasn't quite enough to get the YZ250F to the top for me. The suspension was a bit under-sprung, but had a balanced and consistent feel and seems like it would be fairly easy to dial in further. From bottom-to-top, the Yamaha's engine was easily the most usable, especially for someone coming off of only riding 450s for years. The way the power rolls on, really feels mini 450-esque, allowing me to shift a little less and concentrate on my lines. While it's a great bike, the main reason it didn’t win, in my opinion, was because of how wide the bike feels. For the 250s, I much prefer the nimble feel of the KTM or the Honda, and the control that comes with it. Naturally, it's easy to upgrade suspension and engines, but creating a thinner feeling bike can be a much bigger challenge, thus relegating the YZ250F to third for me.

Fourth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

The Kawasaki was definitely a bit middle-of-the-road for me. The engine was responsive, but just okay overall; as it had average bottom and was decent mid-to-top. The suspension, especially the forks, was a bit firmer than any of the other bikes but not too comfortable overall. The Kawasaki is also a bit in the middle when it comes to the feel of the chassis. It's not as wide as the Yamaha, but doesn't feel nearly as nimble as the KTM or say the Honda. It just doesn't seem to react to my steering input quite as quickly, either.

As for the cornering, it was a bit average and definitely preferred to be rear-steered. The front end didn't wash, but just didn't seem to track as well as some of the other models. The clutch action was quite good, though, which helped in breaking the bike loose and pivoting it.

Fifth Place - Husqvarna FC 250

For me, I didn't feel that the Husqvarna came off the dealer floor quite as well set up as the KTM. This bike definitely has a lot of potential, but unfortunately I'm rating this based on stock setup. As I stated earlier, I was able to do all of the same obstacles on all of the bikes, but the Husqvarna was a little weak off the bottom end, going into a decent mid-range and top-end. The suspension felt very soft both front and rear; so just like all the 250s, it would need to be re-sprung. As with the KTM, I had issues with the shifter being too long, so I kept searching for the shifter and missing it. The Husqvarna crew had a quick fix for this, as they installed a 450 shifter (different part #) which brought it back further and fixed the problem.

Overall, the Husqvarna just felt a bit off for me in multiple areas and I didn't quite jell with it. This relegated it to fifth when the day was over in my book.

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

As most would guess, the Suzuki's cornering prowess is one of the best, if not the best in the class. It has a light and nimble feel as you throw it around the track, but unfortunately this is coupled to a slower engine package. Due to my size, none of the 250s feel overly powerful, but the Suzuki definitely was lowest on the list in this department. To really feel competitive or even ,pre fun to ride, the Suzuki would definitely need the most motor work for me. The suspension, although soft, worked very well; especially in the tighter and slow speed sections. This was coupled with a very planted front end which added together to make cornering a breeze.

Also, the bar bend was a little too swept back and down for my liking, and cost me some comfort through my session on the RM-Z.

Name: Michael Lindsay / Age: 23
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Experience: Expert

First Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Yamaha really hit the nail on the head when they changed over to their current 250F platform, and in its third year the refinements are really starting to pay off. There are two things that really bring the YZ250F to the top of my list, the insanely usable power and the excellent suspension.

In the engine department, Yamaha has come the closest to creating a mini-450 in terms of its low-to-mid-range power and how well it rolls on out of the corners, all without sacrificing top-end pull. The YZ250F really shines on the exit of tighter sections, where most other 250Fs have to be in second gear and then immediately shift to third to get over the next obstacle; while the Yamaha can often carry third through the corner with little to no clutch action. Being able to just focus on getting into the corner and railing it without as much shifting, really allows you to up your game and gain some extra confidence. Getting the time to focus on the corners is a bit necessary, however, because the Yamaha's only real drawback is its overall size. While the front-end is well planted, it isn't the easiest in the class to get into the corners, but the excellent suspension and brakes help overcome this drawback.

As for the suspension, the Yamaha's KYB suspension is as on point as always. The only change I made was going two clicks softer on the fork and speeding up the rebound in the shock just a bit; which was to deal with the high speed chop around Cahuilla as the day went on. My only complaint with the chassis is with the subframe, as the Yamaha feels fairly high in the rear, even when the sag is properly set. The first thing I'd do is lower the subframe if I took the YZ250F home.

Second Place - Husqvarna FC 250

The Husqvarna took a little work to dial in for me and definitely underwent the most changes during the day. This wasn't totally a bad thing though, as the bike had a lot of potential and it was easy to gather which direction I wanted to go. Starting off, the handling was fairly well-balanced. I felt like I could place the bike wherever I wanted and it faithfully followed the front tire, wherever I pointed it. The chassis felt like it was rigid enough to handle anything I could throw at it, but also had enough flex to keep the worst hits from affecting which direction I wanted to go. All this really became more apparent once I stiffened the forks about four clicks, plus we stiffened the shock and slowed down the rebound. With most of the Japanese bikes I was speeding up the rebound to handle the sharp acceleration chop (getting the rear to recover faster and not pack), while with the Husqvarna I could actually sacrifice a little rebound to keep the rear settled and tracking better.

As for the engine, the Husqvarna didn't have the bottom-end of the Yamaha, but had a competitive mid-range and the best top-end power. Even with a bit less roll-on power, the FC 250 was still fairly easy to ride up a gear in the corners with a bit of clutch action, courtesy of the Magura hydraulic clutch (which I felt was a bit more manageable than the KTM's Brembo unit).

Even though I mentioned we improved the Husqvarna's suspension, I still felt it was a bit soft at times and I couldn't go much stiffer with the forks with out the typical harshness I find with the 4CS forks. Also as a few other test riders mentioned, I really struggled with the shifting on this bike, so I also opted for the shorter shift lever from the FC450. This, coupled with a bit less roll-on power than the Yamaha, brings the FC 250 to second at the end of the day.

Third Place - KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM narrowly falls behind its white brethren on my list because of a couple small aspects. While it nearly mirrors my comments in the engine department, I felt as if the KTM has a little better roll-on power, which could be due to the airbox. I also didn't like the Brembo hydraulic clutch as much as the Husky's Magura unit. The Brembo clutch is a bit better than years past, but still feels a bit too "on-off" for me and doesn't have as much modulation as the Husqvarna unit. While I was still impressed with the overall nimbleness and balance of the chassis, I did notice I wasn't as comfortable in higher-speed sections on the KTM. Notably on a few downhill sections, where I felt like the KTM squirmed a bit underneath me when entering the larger braking bumps at the bottom of the hills. In these situations, I felt that the Husqvarna was more planted and tracked straighter.

I do have to say, WP's shocks have really come a long ways and it shows on these newest models. I guess you can say their extended GP experience comes into play on hardpacked acceleration chop, as the WP shocks really seemed to have their rebound settings dialed. The KTM has just the right amount of recovery, allowing the rear end to settle between the chop and keep the power to the ground. However, I felt like the shock was a tad bit soft overall when I started to push the bike a bit harder. The 4CS forks on the other hand, still haven't won me over. While they have improved, they still have the same fault. Not enough hold up under braking and with abrupt obstacles, and if you try to stiffen them to handle these situations they end up becoming a bit harsh. Sadly, this can give up the excellent front end traction this new chassis provides.

Overall, just a couple small things changed my overall comfort with the KTM and gave the Husqvarna the nod in my final standings. On the plus side for the KTM though is the Dunlop MX32 tires, which I much prefer over the MX52 as an all-around tire. Also, can we just get electric start on all these bikes? These things are starting to spoil me.

Fourth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Placing the Kawasaki in fourth was very hard for me. Personally, I've spent more time on the KX250F than any other bike over the years. This is purely because of how comfortable I've become and how predictable the bike is for me. I feel like I can push harder on the Kawasaki than any other bike in the class. At the same time, though, I do recognize the fact that the KX250F doesn't work as well as the other bikes when I'm not on top of my game.

While I love the instant response of the KXF's engine, it's not the strongest in the class and requires a bit more shifting than the three bikes I rated above it. Beyond that, the fork feels like it's one spring rate too stiff for my weight. Even with unloading the preload and softening the compression a couple clicks, the front end doesn't settle as well as it should. This leads to the bike pushing a bit in the corners and needing to be rear-steered. I do feel that the chassis is well balanced and easy to manipulate, but with the other factors involved, it takes a bit more energy and thought to ride well. Mostly due to the forks and engine, I feel that the KXF isn't the easiest to ride bike when just goofing around and really requires me to push it to reap the rewards.

Fifth Place - Honda CRF250R

Placing the Honda fifth doesn't quite represent the gains they've made for 2016. Honestly, the CRF250R's engine gains really surprised me. While it hasn't reached the level of the Yamaha or KTM/Husky, it has gained itself enough power to be just a tick off of them and still be very usable. While Honda made gains throughout the powerband, it was most noticeable off the bottom and with roll-on response, which I actually thought wasn't too far off the Yamaha. I do feel like the gearing could be a bit better to take advantage of this, and get the bike up another gear in some corners. As for the top-end of the powerband, it's better, but still the weak point for the CRF as it goes a bit flat too early for a 250F.

On the chassis side, the Honda is as most would guess; extremely light and nimble, making it very, very easy to ride hard. For my personal style, I still feel as I'm right on top of the front tire and I just feel like I have to modify the controls too much to get farther back on the bike. This has been my typical thought on Hondas for the past few years, though, and can definitely be filed as a personal preference.

As for the suspension, it's not bad, but not great for me at the same time. The fork is a big improvement over last year, having much better hold up under braking and when dealing with obstacles. But I don't think it's as comfortable as it could be in high-speed chop, leaving a bit of a dancing feeling I'm not overly comfortable with. However, the shock has predictable action and squats well under power, really putting the new low-end grunt to the ground. I do wish the Honda felt a bit lower in the rear when the sag was properly set as well. Even though I'm average height at 5'9", my legs are a bit short and I feel like I need a bit more room.

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Even though it may not appear so, the 2016 RM-Z250 definitely has undergone some major changes. They're noticeable, but just not enough to get it farther up the rankings. The engine, which underwent a large number of upgrades, is definitely different-feeling, but not strong enough to take on the others in the class head-to-head. The 2016 engine is much more lively and responsive, and feels more active, but doesn't quite put down the torque or horsepower to match up. It's well-rounded and broad, but just needs more zip.

As for the chassis, the RM-Z does nail it pretty well. Outside of the oddly shaped bars, the Suzuki is very comfortable and natural to push hard, while being light under your toes when changing directions. This is coupled with a front and rear end that both feel evenly planted and didn't have me guessing for traction. The suspension swap to KYB also brings an improvement, as the bike feels a bit more balanced now. Although, I still felt as their forks are a bit too stiff in terms of spring rate. With the PSF2 however, this was changed fairly simply by dropping one PSI. The new shock and forks are a bit more progressive feeling than the Showa units from the '15, and really match up well with the confidence the chassis brings to the table.

The Suzuki has plenty of potential, but really just needs more power to bring it into the top three's range. Overall though, the RM-Z lends itself well towards a novice or rider coming from a smaller bike, as the chassis and suspension will give plenty of confidence, while the engine is smooth and broad.

Name: Ryan Washburn / Age: 17
Height: 5' 7" / Weight: 135 lbs.
Experience: Novice

First Place - KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM was honestly an easy choice for me to pick as my winner, as we literally just set the sag and I rode it without feeling the need for any further changes. The 250 SX-F was extremely responsive and nimble entering corners, while the excellent brakes allowed to me to really push with confidence in each section. While the power right off the bottom wasn't the best in the class, it had the most outstanding mid-range through top-end pull. Even though it wasn't the strongest off the bottom, the rear settled just right in the corners and really put what power it had to the ground. Personally, I'd never swung a leg over a KTM 250 SX-F, but I'd really like this to be my next bike.

Second Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

The new RM-Z250 was definitely an interesting bike for me. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of how the bars felt. Even as a smaller rider, the sweep felt wrong and the width felt a bit skinny. The power wasn't amazing, but as overall balanced for me. While it didn't come on too strong anywhere, it was very easy to push to the limit along with the chassis. I felt like I could really sit into the turns and had a lot of confidence that the bike would pull me out, even if I got in over my head. It was also the easiest bike for me to get into ruts and would carry through without much effort. As for the suspension, the forks were fairly plush and settled well into corners, but always felt very planted. At the rear, the shock settled and didn't do anything out of the ordinary for me. As for the overall bike, it didn't have the most amazing engine or brakes, but had just the right chassis and suspension to make me very comfortable all over the track.

Third Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Simply put, the Yamaha has the most amazing engine in the class. I think all-around, it's the easiest to ride bike when it comes to getting over obstacles. Although Yamaha is a bit wider, but really works well when you charge deep into the outside of corners, let the suspension just work, and use all that power to get out. Getting into the tighter inside corners was a bit more challenging, as the size of the bike made things feel a bit harder to keep on track at times. Because of this, I felt a little more limited on my lines. I had no complaints with the suspension, and really didn't want to change much throughout the day. While the bike was great, the slightly larger feel and the bit less confidence I had in the tighter areas of the track brings it to third for me.

Fourth Place - Honda CRF250R

Since I currently ride a CRF250R, I had to be hard on the 2016 Honda to see what I really liked and didn’t like about the new model. After setting my sag, I went out on the track but came back in immediately to go four clicks softer on compression in the fork and loosen the steering damper a few clicks to free up the front-end. Once we made these changes I was happier with how the Honda soaked up the small chop and settled into the corners. Just like my 2015, the CRF250R handled great and was lightweight, but it also had improved power. The bike had much better hit off the bottom but still signed off a bit too early. Being that the Honda lacked a bit on power compared to the other bikes, and since I felt the suspension could still use a bit more work, the CRF250F fell into fourth for me.

Fifth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

The engine response of the Kawasaki was great and the overall power was fairly competitive compared to the other bikes. It was easy to use to tackle obstacles and work from section-to-section. Beyond that, I wasn't overly fond of the KX250f, mostly its handling characteristics. Overall, I didn't feel comfortable with how the front or the rear of the bike steeled, so I struggled cornering it in most cases. Even with a few changes, I couldn't carve into corners as I'd like and I found myself pushing the front-end past the point where I wanted. While the Kawasaki has a very competitive engine, the setup of the chassis and suspension would take me much longer to get used to than the other models.

Sixth Place - Husqvarna FC 250

Overall, my experience on the Husqvarna left me really wanting. I really felt like I struggled with a few major aspects of this bike and could't quite find comfort during my time on it. Considering how much I liked how nimble and planted the KTM felt, I didn't quite get the sensation on the Husqvarna and struggled with entering corners. The forks were a bit harsh feeling and in the corners I didn't feel as comfortable from entrance, to middle, or exit. I did like the electric start, excellent brakes and hydraulic clutch though. Also, the engine was still quite good and really liked to be revved out and ridden hard. Due to my discomfort with the chassis though, I had a hard time pushing the bike like I needed to, leaving me a bit lost.

The Overall Results

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Scores: 5-6-6-6-2 = 25

- Nimble and well-balanced chassis.
- Suspension offers the most adjustability in the class.

- Power is lacking in all areas when compared to the rest of the field.
- Aged looks.
- Awkward bar bend.
- Smallest brake rotors in the class.

Fifth Place - Husqvarna FC 250

Scores: 4-5-5-2-6 = 22

- Overall bike is lightweight.
- Amazing engine performance from mid-to-top.
- Excellent brakes, hydraulic clutch, and electric start.

- 4CS fork is improved but still retains harsh feel when stiffened.
- Higher MSRP than most of the class.
- Chassis doesn't seem to agree with all riders.
- Stock shift lever is too long.

Fourth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Scores: 3-4-4-4-5 = 20

- Responsive engine brings confidence.
- Most adjustable cockpit, with bar mounts and peg height.

- Stiff front fork results in lack of front end traction for lighter riders.
- Steering characteristics don't suit all riders.

Third Place - Honda CRF250R

Scores: 2-3-2-5-4 = 16

- Upgraded low-to-mid performance was surprising.
- Lightest feeling and easiest to throw around.

- Still falls a bit flat on the top-end of the powerband.
- Rider cockpit can feel cramped for some rider


View replies to: 2016 Vital MX 250 Shootout: In-Depth


In reply to by locky

In reply to by ML512

In reply to by dbrunski125

The Latest