2017 Vital MX 250 Shootout 16

2017 Yamaha YZ250F vs. KTM 250 SX-F vs. Honda CRF250R vs. Kawasaki KX250F vs. Suzuki RM-Z250 vs. Husqvarna FC 250

Welcome, everyone, to Vital MX's 2017 250F Shootout! We're here to give you our opinions and ratings on the six major 250F models, and help you pick the one that's right for you.

Per our usual shootout format, you'll find all six of our test rider's individual reviews, where you'll get a feel for what they like and dislike. It also allows you to see where they agree and disagree on certain traits, and what aspect of the bikes matter the most to them. Each rider spent their day jumping from bike to bike, working with the support staff of each manufacturer, and keeping their notes of what they learned and adjusted throughout the days.

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 which are listed below. After that, you'll find the dyno overlay chart, plus a link to the individual charts. To close things out, dig into all six test rider's individual comments and where they ranked each bike to find out who we crowned the winner for 2017!

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 $8,599

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $8,499

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,749

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,699

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,699

First Look • First Impressions
MSRP $7,599

Dyno Comparison Chart:

If you want to check out each bike's individual chart, including the torque measurements, click here: 2017 250 Shootout - Individual Dyno Charts.

Our 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 2017, we've continued working with our friends at LITPro to bring some unique analytics to our shootouts. You've probably seen a LITPro this year if you've looked at the helmets of say Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen, Marvin Musquin, 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 the optimal sections together. For a better description of LITPro, check out this piece we did last year 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.

2017 Vital MX 250F Shootout Video

For those that want it short and sweet, here you go. Below is our thoughts wrapped up into about seven minutes to give you a quick overview of who won and why. But if you want all the real details, keep scrolling down to get the whole story.


Name: Derrick Caskey / Age: 43
Height: 6' 2" / Weight: 195 lbs.
Riding Experience: Vet Expert

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

For 2017, the Suzuki RM-Z250 got a little facelift in aesthetics, but unfortunately this didn't reach over to the power department. The Suzuki felt the most underpowered again this year, but I was still able to squeak over all the obstacles on it, even with my weight. Of course, the RM-Z250's ability to corner is still one of the best in the class, as it has a light and nimble feel. It really does have a great balance, as you can easily make the tightest inside lines or rail the outside of any berm, as it does both easily. For me, I was able to quickly dial in the suspension as it worked very well, especially in the tighter sections, where the front had a very planted feel as it tracked in and out of the corners. Personally,  I'm a big fan of the KYB air forks they come with, due to their range of adjustment. The ergonomics fit my style well, and had no complaints with the clutch (which I did abuse) or the brakes. When it comes right down to it, especially out of the box, power is so important in this class and the Suzuki just doesn't quite have enough to take it to the top.

Fifth Place - Yamaha YZ250F

As most know, the Yamaha has a very strong motor, almost as good as the KTM in my opinion, and right there with the Kawasaki depending on what you're looking for. The suspension works well under most conditions, but in my case, especially with their recent changes, it's very under-sprung for my weight. Outside of that, my biggest complaint with the Yamaha was its cornering characteristics, as I felt that I had to change my riding style and almost exaggerate it by sitting very far forward to get it to stay with the corner. The front wheel felt like it would push going into the turns and even climb out of a rut if I wasn't far enough over the front. This made it difficult to take a lot of the inside lines and encouraged me to use more outside ones, to eliminate heavy braking and let the bike flow more. Another contributing factor to the poor cornering, in my opinion, is the very wide feel (tank and shrouds), as I much preferred the nimble feel of my top four picks. Beyond that, the feel of the brakes were okay, but I did feel sometimes like I couldn’t slow down enough to make an inside line, but this could've been from the lack of confidence to control the bike as I'd want. Outside of reworking the suspension, I'd really like to see the Yamaha slim down in the future, especially if it continues the need to be ridden so far forward for the riding position.

Fourth Place - Honda CRF250R

The Honda really just needs one thing for me, more power. Even though they made engine improvements last year, it only went down on my list because the Kawasaki and the Husqvarna made the improvements to move up. As I stated earlier, all the 250Fs feel a bit underpowered at my size to be ideal, but the bottom-end on the Honda is fairly competitive and works with my short-shifting style. With this, I was able to do the obstacles as well as I would on the more powerful bikes, but when ridden through the rest of the range I could really feel the difference. As for the chassis, I feel the ergonomics suit my riding style the best. Even though it's a smaller rider's compartment, the controls at standing position are quite comfortable. Also, I really like the Showa SFF TAC forks and shock as I have quite a bit experience with them on the Hondas. It was simple for me to achieve the best setting possible at my weight. As a Honda "guy", I have to say the fit and finish is on point as usual Honda, which adds well to the nimble and flickable feel this bike has.

Third Place -  Husqvarna FC 250

The Husqvarna really bumped up this year in my opinion; it has great suspension, a strong motor, adjustable maps at the push of a button...plus traction control, a hydraulic clutch, and electric start. Also the Pro Taper bars and DID wheels are bonuses.

The Husqvarna makes about the same power as the KTM on the dyno, but it doesn’t feel the same on the track. It's really due to the stock airbox and the difference in the way it breathes when compared to the KTM. The Husky feels like it takes longer to get through the powerband. It's definitely just as strong, it just needs to rev a little quicker at times. The chassis is comfortable for me as a taller rider with an easy transition from the seat to the tank. The biggest positive is the suspension, which is a lot better than last year, mainly due to the new air fork. The new WP AER fork is very good and it definitely helped bring the overall bike up in my opinion. The hydraulic clutch works very well, keeping a constant lever feel at all times, and the Brembo brakes are awesome. The biggest complaint I had (same as KTM) was the shifter was too long and I kept searching for it and missing shifts. Husqvarna has a fix for this, as they can install a 450 shifter (different part #) which is a bit shorter and fixed the problem.

Second Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Kawasaki made a lot of changes this year and the bike overall was a lot of fun to ride. The motor was better this year as it has a decent bottom hit that's very responsive, following into a strong mid-range, before ending with a good over-rev. That makes it a bit more complete through the powerband when compared to last year's bike. The chassis and ergonomics were vastly improved over last year’s model, as the body feels a lot slimmer in the right places, and the whole bike is lighter. These changes gave the bike a very light and nimble feel, especially as you work the bike between your legs. This year the ergonomics were also improved in my opinion with the flatter seat and tank junction, which it made it very easy to move around on and achieve a good body position, whether up on the tank or back on the rear fender. That was a big positive at my size, so I didn't feel cramped or stuck in a pocket on the bike. I really like the adjustable footpeg height and the handlebar positioning, as it can be tailored to both a taller or smaller rider, and I find this huge as an off-the-showroom-floor addition. The suspension worked really well front and rear, but for my weight it would definitely need heavier springs, especially in the rear. Overall the clutch and brakes were both fine and performed their jobs without any complaints.

First Place - KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM takes the top spot for a simple reason, in my opinion it's the best bike off the showroom floor. It covers all the bases of the overall package with a strong motor, great suspension, excellent handling, awesome brakes, a super light and nimble feel, electric start, and hydraulic clutch (that's a good list of reasons!). For me, the KTM makes the best power of all the 250Fs; it isn’t the strongest right off the bottom but is very competitive, but the mid-through-top and over-rev definitely make it the most fun to ride. I tried both engine maps at the push of a button, but preferred the more aggressive map two for the loamy conditions. The bike has a light feel and corners at both ends very well, as the suspension both front and rear was better than last year’s model, and the new AER air fork being the biggest improvement. Personally, I'm a big fan of air forks and the WP units are among the best stock forks I've tried on any brand. For me, we ran the air pressure at around 158 psi, and they did a great job of not bottoming but still soaking up the smaller bumps without a harsh feel. Both front and rear, the Brembo brakes are awesome, which made it easy to stay on the gas longer and still have the confidence to slow down enough to make any inside line. For me on a 250F, the hydraulic clutch is an absolute blessing. As a heavier rider, I had to abuse all the clutches, and the hydraulic system kept the same lever feel the entire time. The one complaint I have with the KTM (and Husqvarna) is still the shifter length, I would strongly recommend the 450 shifter as it's about a half-inch shorter. The electric start is icing on the cake.

Name: Zach Peddie / Age: 23
Height: 5' 7" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Riding Experience: Current Pro SX/MX

Sixth place - Kawasaki KX250F

My first impression of the KX250F was the massive over-rev and aggressive nature in which you needed to ride. The engine had a good hit right of the bottom but seemed to flatten out in the mid-range before finally running it right up to the rev limiter. For me this power characteristic was a bit weird as it felt like I had to really over-ride the bike. On the suspension end of things, the forks felt good at lower speeds in corners and smaller braking bumps, but felt soft and spongy everywhere else. I also struggled with hold-up at higher speeds when entering corners, making the entrance setup a bit of a mystery. Now it did feel fairly balanced, which at times meant the rear was a bit soft for my liking as well. The chassis setup was very sleek and slender, giving the bike a light feel to it, which I really enjoyed. The large 270mm rotor produced a strong but somewhat grabby feel for the brakes, which may have been due to how the bike dove a bit on fast sections. As for the controls, the bar height was perfect for me, working well in sitting and when standing in stance to attack.

Fifth place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Even though it's low on my list, the Suzuki RM-Z250 still left me with an enjoyable overall impression. Of course the highlight of the ride was the turning abilities, as I felt like could place the bike wherever I wanted. This was added to by a certain amount of comfort and feeling that chassis gives to add to the trust, along with a certain ease of getting to front of the bike going into the tightest sections. But actual size of the chassis was a bit bigger than some of the other bikes, especially down at the footpeg area. The suspension was usable at lower speeds, tight corners, slower braking bumps and moguls; but felt spongy and soft coming up to faster sections of the track, even with adjusting compression and speed. As for the engine, it was strong right off the bottom but didn't pull well into the mid or top-end of the range, especially on longer sections where I was shifting constantly to keep it in a usable place. 

Fourth place - Honda CRF250R

My first impression of the 2017 Honda CRF250R was simply comfort, as I really liked how light and nimble the bike felt in all situations. Being a rider with a smaller build, the ergonomics of the Honda suited my style quite well, allowing me to put the bike wherever I wanted it to go with ease. Not just with cornering, but through rhythm sections, rollers, any obstacle this was the easiest bike to manage. The suspension on this bike worked well, and I was impressed with what just a few minor adjustments would do, such as stiffening the compression a few clicks and speeding the rebound up a bit, which helped a lot. As for the engine, the power came on smooth but strong off the bottom, making cornering a simple task, especially in slick and dry sections where the control was great. Overall, I liked the smooth power off the bottom, but it started to taper off in the middle and fell flat up top, this where the bike could really be improved. Overall the Honda was easy to ride, but it just needs a more complete engine package to make it really competitive.

Third place - Yamaha YZ250F

My first impression of the YZ250F was of course related to the great power. The engine was just so strong right off the bottom, with a great hit that carried up into the mid and still finished off fairly strong up top. The excellent throttle response was aided by great clutch feel. The chassis setup and handling of the YZ was stable, but bike balance wasn't the best as the front was low at times and the rear a bit high, causing a stinkbug affect. If I stayed light on the bike, the suspension worked well in the rough areas and I could manage it around the whole track. The negatives for me lie in the unusual bar bend, and the overall size of the bike when compared to the others in the class.

Second place - Husqvarna FC 250

Right off the bat, the Husqvarna just had a great feel and made a lot of power for a stock bike. The engine was outstanding all the way around, but right off the bottom it builds at a little bit of a slower rate than some of the others. In some aspects this was cool as it was putting out a lot of power but was easy to ride, but at the same time it could be a bit snappier. Sometimes, even a dab at the clutch just couldn't get it to build quickly enough when things got loamy or soft. I really enjoyed the chassis on this bike, as it really made for a comfortable ride. Cornering with this bike is excellent and the way it makes power off the bottom allows to really stay smooth, then carve through long berms or ruts. The suspension was easily one of the most versatile sets I've ridden, from plush soft settings in low-speed situations, to one of the most progressive fork and shock setups found on a stock bike. The controls were excellent; from the brakes to the clutch, and more. The only negatives I found were the radiator shrouds were a bit wide for my tastes and although the smooth bottom-end was nice, it wasn't the best in all-around situations.

First place - KTM 250 SX-F

From the first lap, it was obvious how good the KTM 250 SX-F is, as my adjustment time was near zero, even though I haven't really ridden many KTMs in the past. Yes, it has a different feel, but everything about it was so comfortable. From the handlebar bend, to the seat, and most of all the feel of the footpegs and the side of the bike made it so easy to control. Actually, the slight differences in the plastic made the KTM just a bit better feeling than the Husqvarna in this aspect for me. The power was literally everywhere and on tap whenever I needed it. It was aggressive low-to-mid, but still very usable before you could just scream it up top. As far as suspension goes it was hard to say much as it didn't even cross my mind often, it just did everything pretty well and never caught me off guard. The hydraulic clutch was extremely responsive when I gave it a dab here and there, plus the front and rear brakes worked amazing. That wasn't just their pure stopping power, but also the modulation and feel. In the end, this bike was just so easy to keep my momentum up around the whole track and even if I ran into a mistake, it just pulled right back to where I wanted it so quickly.

Name: Michael Lindsay / Age: 24
Height: 5' 8" / Weight 155 lbs.
Riding Experience: Too much testing, not enough racing...

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Kicking things off we have the Suzuki RM-Z250. As most have heard for years, amongst both the 450 and 250, Suzuki has the bike that makes you feel like the king of cornering. The balance of the chassis is quite excellent and with strong input from the front end, you can really throw this bike into a rut or berm with excellent results. Beyond that though, things become average, especially in the power department. At no point does the Suzuki really excite you when it comes to twisting the throttle, as it under-performs at all RPMs when compared ot the rest of the field. Its strongest point is in the mid-range, but that signs off quite a bit early, meaning there's a lot of shifting to be done to effectively get the bike around the track. 

In the suspension department, the RM-Z250 has a heavily adjustable KYB PSF2 air fork. In my opinion, the action of this fork is better than the Showa SFF spring fork they had previously, but still struggles from the same setup issues. It seems like the bike is setup with too stiff of a spring rate (air pressure in this case) and not enough valving. The fork feels topped out/extended, like the fork has a lot of preload, but doesn't have enough speed sensitivity to handle high-speed hits. To get things working a bit better I went a bit lower on the PSI to help relieve the forcefully extended feel, then stiffened the high and low-speed compression to gain a bit more sensitivity throughout the stroke. This also improved the front-end traction in many situations, which complemented the already excellent turning abilities of the RM-Z. It still wasn't the most comfortable setup, but it did the job. Out back, the shock settings were more in the ballpark for my liking, just speeding up the rebound helped the shock recover a bit on acceleration chop.

Overall, the Suzuki can be ridden the closest to its limits out of any 250F we had on hand, but it's mostly due to its limits being a bit behind the others in the class. It's a joy to ride once dialed in, but just not the bike I want to line up on the gate in stock form.

Fifth Place - Honda CRF250R

I've always been a bit back-and-forth with the CRF250R. Yes, it's light and nimble, which should work with my smaller build, but the overall chassis balance has never quite found my favor. While it does corner well, it's partially due to a chassis that places a lot of what I consider "constant" weight on the front end. That's partially due to the chassis balance and the rider compartment that places you right up on the front tire. With this, it feels very planted, but it can be interesting to set up the forks as they hold up under this constant weighted feel, but without being too stiff. Also, it can be very confidence-inspiring to ride because of the grip levels, but I feel like when it washes or pushes the front end, it happens very quickly and suddenly because of the balance. On the positive side, it's a very comfortable bike to ride in the standing attack position and is very easy to manipulate with the legs as you burn laps. The overall inertia of the engine seems quite low on this bike, as you don't get much of an engine braking feel, or the sensation of the engine fighting you....such as when landing a bit sideways, where this bike powers back straight much easier then some others that seem to want to carry that momentum outwards.

As for the engine, the bike did receive a host of upgrades in this area last year, adding a lot of needed grunt from low-to-mid RPMs. It's actually competitive with the best of the other engines in this regard, but just doesn't keep it rolling as the RPMs rise, where it struggles to continue pulling as it goes flat, before it hits a harsh rev limiter. For me, the main changes with bike setup were geared towards running a bit more sag and opening the high-speed compression in the shock to make it squat easier, plus take some of the weight off the front end. From there, I was able to make some small tweaks to the fork itself to soften it and get a freer-feeling action. Lastly, the most aggressive engine mapping was my favorite, as it was the one that allowed the bike to pull through the last bit of RPMs for a more complete powerband. It wasn't much of a power gain per se, but just more for the feel of using each gear before shifting.

For me to bring the Honda up the rankings, I'd like to see it carry the power through the higher RPMs and some changes to the chassis to balance it out more and not rely on so much weight up front.

Fourth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Deciding whether the Kawasaki would finish third or fourth was my hardest decision of this shootout. Deep down, I love the green 250Fs and have had more of them than any other bike. With that though, I try to be as objective as possible, even when a nearly all-new bike gets me really giddy on the inside. For me, I've always labeled the Kawasaki as a bike that requires a very aggressive style to ride, due to a very stable chassis that liked to be thrown into corners with the rear end, and an engine that loved to screamed. For 2017, the engine updates have kept this characteristic and built upon it. Nearly all the improvements are felt from the mid-range through the top of the RPM range, with an excellent rev limiter sequence that allows you to keep it right on the edge but without interfering too much. Off the bottom the KX isn't the strongest, but it's so well-mapped it just has a great, usable response. This crisp reaction really gives you a great impression of the green machine's engine overall, and makes it really easy to hit obstacles right out of a corner at the touch of the throttle. Now when it comes to straight loamy or sandy corners, the RPMs had to stay up a bit as the bottom didn't have the pure grunt to make the best work of them, and this would be my only complaint when it comes to the engine.

As I mentioned above, the Kawasaki has always been a bit of a rear-steerer, even in the 250 ranks. With the chassis changes they made for '17, a lot of the focus was on making the bike feel thinner between the legs, and changing the front spar/engine cradle of the frame to improve front end feel and traction. This was definitely a step in the right direction for the KX, as it gives you quite a bit more feedback and confidence in the front tire. It by no means turned the bike into a front end carving machine, but it brought a bit more overall usability to riding this bike and opens up the line selection a bit from the previous models. Up front though I found the one reason I couldn't place the bike on my shootout podium, the updated forks. As I sit within the target weight range of most 250F riders, I really feel as if Kawasaki overshot the spring rate in the front fork, which in my opinion really shines through (in the wrong way) when it comes to an single-sided spring fork. Overall, the forks feels very topped out, even when the preload is opened all the way up. Because of this, it feels like it takes a lot of load or force to break the initial tension and get it settle into berms, across high-speed chatter chop, etc. To cure this, I would open the preload all the way and soften the compression a few clicks, but by doing this I would sacrifice too much damping force late in the stroke and cause an imbalanced setup. In the rear however, things work quite well; as the updated shock settings, spring rate, and new linkage curve give a combination of comfort and hold up that's very usable when hanging off the back of this bike when screaming it section-to-section.

Overall, the new KX has a better balanced chassis when it comes to handling characteristics, an aggressive engine setup, and a newer, thinner feel that really makes it a joy to ride. While I would like more bottom-end grunt for the soft areas, it's the trouble with the front fork that kept this bike from placing third or even second on my list. That hurts my green-bleeding heart...

Third Place - Yamaha YZ250F

If you've made it to my notes, then you've already seen the Yamaha slipping down the rankings a bit (as the editor of this piece, I'm the spoiled one who gets to see what everyone else said) and you're probably thinking we're crazy. I will admit, after my sessions on this bike I thought I had gone crazy and I was literally second-guessing my ability to ride a motorcycle, especially when I remembered how much I loved the 2016 model. So how did we get to this point? It took me a bit to really wrap my head around what was going on with the setup of the '17 YZ250F that affected my judgement so much. My first impression when riding the bike was how much I was struggling under braking and actually getting the bike to find its way into a rut without losing feel and control. For 2017, Yamaha went to softer fork springs, stiffer upper fork tubes, plus different settings front and rear. Usually all that follows KYB's SSS forks on a Yamaha is pure praise, but I really think these were off the mark. With these changes, the fork falls through the stroke fairly easily and dives when attacking/braking into tight sections, thus upsetting the bike balance. On higher speed areas and under constant braking through long sections of chop, it gets deep in the stroke but feels like the rebound is so fast it pops back up, so the bike feels like it's teeter-tottering. When added with Yamaha's larger/wider feel, this makes for a bit of a wild ride in some areas. The suspension action itself is quite plush, but when I went stiffer and slowed down the rebound to end the constant movement, the forks lost their comfort and got harsher, which I'm thinking is coming from the stiffer outer tubes. Overall these changes aren't really bad on a track that carries a more constant speed and with wider corners, as the softer settings and quicker recovery would allow the bike to follow the ground well. But on sections with heavy braking into tight corners and heavy acceleration on exit, it becomes a very noticeable problem.

As for the Yamaha's engine, it's still fantastic and actually improved for 2017. The initial response is even better and overall improved throughout the range. Normally I would be quite stoked over these changes, but they kind of compounded the chassis problems I experienced. The YZ250F by far has the most snap and grunt in the low-end and almost has the feel of a mini 450. But with the constant shift in weight with the bike "moving" too much, when you finally get in a rut and grab a handful of throttle, the forks top back out quickly and the energy shifts back too quickly, allowing the bike to pop out of a rut. If you're just slamming the bike into a berm to shoot out, it's not a problem, but if you're trying to get the bike to follow a long arc, it doesn't quite want to stay the path.

Last year, the Yamaha had two out of three things dialed; they had the best engine and the best suspension, but coupled with an okay chassis. Now however, they have an outstanding engine, okay suspension settings to match to an okay chassis...and by match, I actually mean they're not agreeing with each other, in my opinion, of course. Now if this bike had last year's suspension setup things would be more interesting in the battle for second on my list but first place would be hard to topple, as it was just that good.

Second place - Husqvarna FC 250

The story of the pumpkin and its close relative has been the talk of the shootouts the past few years. Since Husqvarna's rebirth, people have questioned how the two bikes can be rated more than a position a part if they're the same bike. Simple, they aren't the same bike; a few key differences really changes peoples opinions of these two. We can't help but directly compare them as it confuses most of us. For 2017, they're still different, but both are so good that's why they sit back-to-back on my list (if you made it this far on my list, you know I placed the KTM first, end of spoilers).

So what makes the Husqvarna so good in 2017? Power, power, and more power. This bike pumps out the most horsepower in the class and it shows on the track, especially when you refuse to shift until the last possible second as it really rewards your work. Before this point is where the KTM and Husqvarna feel the most different. Due to the Husqvarna's airbox, the bike pulls the air in a bit differently and revs just a bit slower. This difference not only affects power, but also the way the bike tracks through corners as well. With the slightly slower revs, it feels a bit more planted in the rear. Not as snappy as the KTM, but it places the power down a bit more precisely. When it comes to the slick stuff, this can definitely be an advantage in comparison, and just flat out be someone's preference. Oddly enough, I preferred the standard map over aggressive with the Husky, as it just seemed to match the rest of the bike's characteristics a bit more.

Because of the way it laid down power, I didn't make quite the same rear end changes as I did with the KTM, as the Husky had no problem with traction in the back. Up front with WP's AER 48 air fork I went up three PSI to stiffen the whole stroke up a bit, looking for a bit more bottoming resistance, then went two clicks back on compression. With the Husqvarna, the power and slight differences in the chassis created a more planted feel even at the front. This all coupled together really made the bike feel like it was "on rails" as I went section-to-section, and made for a more effortless ride when compared to the rest of the class. The brakes are awesome, electric start should be mandatory after riding one of these bikes, and the Magura hydraulic clutch is the best hydro I've used (and that's coming from someone who actually isn't a massive fan of hydraulic clutches). So why didn't it take the top spot? The orange bike is just a bit more fun to ride. It's a bit more active not only in the way the engine revs, but how the overall bike handles. Where the Husqvarna feels like it's on rails, the KTM feels like I can point it anywhere I want to go, just a bit more than this white machine. Now compared to the rest of the class? I feel like the Husqvarna is possibly the easiest to ride because of those couple key differences that give it its personality. But for '17, I chose excitement just a bit over the easy route.

First place - KTM 250 SX-F

First place for this bike was an easy choice, as it simply has the best package. Albeit minor, the small electronic changes and other tweaks brought up the impressive numbers this bike pumps out even more. It has power characteristics that just suit a 250, with a strong and progressive bottom end, which transfers into a hit that's most found in the higher part of the mid-range, before finishing out with some insane horsepower up top for a stock 250F. Only the Yamaha has an advantage, and I'd only say it's right off the bottom where it snaps and barks earlier, but it's not by much, especially when the KTM is set to the aggressive map which I preferred. The standard map keeps a more controllable roll-on feel that some might prefer in slick conditions. For me however, the biggest shining point of the KTM is the chassis, which I feel like carries the best balance and cornering characteristics as a whole compared to the rest of the class. Yes, the Kawasaki shines a bit more when hanging off the back and rear steering, but the KTM is just an inch behind it in that feeling. While up front, it nearly has the cornering prowess of the Suzuki, but has better feedback in my opinion. That's because I have a better understanding of the front end's grip level when compared to the other bikes. 

For me, my changes consisted of opening up the high-speed compression on the shock just a bit and running two millimeters of sag beyond the base setting. Just a little more squat to satisfy my rear-end feeling on the faster tracks we rode. Up front, WP's AER 48 is just a tad soft through the whole stroke for my taste, but an added three PSI solved that. This stiffened the fork just enough so that I was thrilled with the bottoming resistance, while opening the compression one click gained back just a tad bit of initial comfort I gave up. Overall, the move to WP's AER fork over the previous 4CS was the best thing KTM could have ever done. The KTM, like Husky, both have a combination of frame flex front-to-rear and just the right amount of rebound control to really help both ends of the bike follow the ground and feel planted, but while also keeping a good level of comfort. As usual, the Brembo brakes and electric start are massive positives, while the Brembo hydraulic clutch is okay for my needs. While I'm not a massive fan of the engagement feel on the hydros, the newest versions are better. I actually prefer the Magura unit found on the Husky (KTM has Brembo) as it has a bit more engagement length, which reminds me of a cable clutch a bit more. But that small detail is one of the only major things that stand out to me on this bike. The other? Please KTM/Husqvarna, put the shorter shift lever on these two bikes. My short feet and occasional missed shifts would thank you. If you're in the market for a 2017 250F and this bike isn't on your list to consider, you're crazy, period.

Name: Ryan Washburn / Age: 18
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 135 lbs.
Riding Experience: Novice

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

For 2017, the Suzuki was sort of a struggle for me. The power, when compared to the rest of the class, is a setback. Right off the idle it feels pretty good, but then is just average through the rest of the range before falling really flat up top. I spent more time shifting the Suzuki than any other bike we rode and it took a lot of effort to get over some of the obstacles on track. As for suspension, I was also just a bit lost as I couldn't find a good setting with the fork to balance between initial feel and having enough hold up late in the stroke. The one major positive is the handling of the Suzuki; as it is nimble when standing and attacking, plus it's really good in the tightest of corners. But with my suspension struggles, I wasn't really comfortable throwing it into the fastest corners as I wasn't 100% confident in the front end.

5th place - Honda CRF250R

The 2017 Honda really is a fun bike. The way it corners and handles is a bit different than the rest of the class as it just feels so planted, allowing to put the bike anywhere on the track at anytime and be confident in it. Not only in corners; but through rollers, scrub singles, anything...it was just easy to change lines and go where I wanted. Suspension was decent and worked along with the chassis, but took a few adjustments to balance it out. Now how did it end up fifth? Solely the power. Although improved last year, it's still just not enough to deal with the rounded package the other bikes have. The Honda is pretty decent off the bottom (there's better), strong in the mid-range, but falls flat too early to really hang it out like you want to on a 250F. Instead, I spent a lot of time shifting, so I could focus on staying in that middle punch.

4th place - Yamaha YZ250F

The 2016 Yamaha YZ250F was amazing, while the 2017 version was a bit of a letdown. I was really struggling in the corners, especially through ruts as the bike just seemed to fight me and wouldn't glide through the corners. We made a few changes on the suspension, but it still wouldn’t settle into the corners like I wanted. Making both the entrance and exits hard to accomplish cleanly lap-after-lap. Of course on the bright side, the YZ's engine is really amazing. It produces a lot of power right off the bottom and stays very strong in the middle, finally ending pretty competitively up top. With all this power though, it compounded the problems I had with the handling, making it hard to just keep a consistent arc through a corner. Throttle control was key, as if I tried to unleash what the Yamaha had I would really upset the bike and lose my lines. Honestly, the bike wasn’t terrible, it has so much potential, it just needed a lot of work to be as good as some of the others. A lot of time with a screwdriver could really improve this bike, it's just a bummer when compared to how good some of the other brands are with their stock settings.

3rd place - Kawasaki KX250F

The 2017 Kawasaki was huge improvement over last year's model. It was quickly apparent how big of a difference the updated chassis made, as the bike no longer had to just be thrown rear end first into and out of corners, with the front end now doing a good portion of the work. Now the Kawi can actually carve a bit through the ruts and hold its lean angle, instead of just powering out and standing up under power with the rear tire. As for the suspension, it wasn’t my favorite as it felt really oversprung. With a few changes to softened it up though it became pretty rideable, but still could use some improvements. The rear shock was well set up, though, and suited my riding style and weight well, bringing a lot confidence as I slammed the rear in and out of anything on the track. As for the power, the KX is definitely better in this department, with a good amount of gains across the board. Mostly though, its ability to scream was really fun as you could get really aggressive all over the track. On the downside, I didn't like how soft the seat was. The profile of the seat was much better this year, but it just felt a bit spongey as I sat on it during landings or under acceleration. 

2nd place - Husqvarna FC 250

The 2017 Husqvarna was my second favorite bike of the day and overall...it felt like the most improved bike from 2016. Albeit still different than the KTM, it's different in some good ways this year; where last year it just struggled a bit. By far the most standout improvement was the suspension, as this bike struggled the most last year with the 4CS fork. Last year's model had the same chassis and cornered quite well in some situations, but the fork held it back in a lot of others and didn't give you the confidence to push. With their new setup, the confidence was there, no matter where I was on the track. Now while the power is strong through the range on this bike, it's just a bit sluggish off the bottom. Due to the amazing mid-to-top, though, I just tended to shift a bit less and hold each gear out more to get the power I wanted. Like last year, the brakes and other components around the rider's cockpit and feel are great, so adding this with the other improvements made it easy to pick for second on my list.

First Place - KTM 250 SX-F

Going into the shootout I had high expectations for the 2017 KTM 250 SX-F, as after last year's event I'd switched over to KTM based off what I liked about the '16 model. Compared to that, they've managed to just refine every aspect of the new bike. From the power delivery, suspension, to handling; everything just felt a bit better this time around. Of course, the biggest standout was the new WP air fork, which was night-and-day better than the previous fork that KTM used. Outside of literally not wanting to make any changes to the fork, because the action was on par for what I was looking for, it really improved the way the bike carved into corners. That was due to the bike giving me so much more confidence as I turned in and picked my lines. In the back, I had a similar result as I just set sag and got a good feeling from what KTM had done in stock trim. When a bike follows through the corner and handles as well as this one did, there's just not much you have to change. As for the power, like I said, it's just a bit better than the '16 all-around, from bottom, mid, and right to the top it made the best power for my riding style and never felt out of place or lacking anywhere. The brakes were outstanding and electric start just really makes your day easier. When I had nothing to complain about, the KTM obviously had to take the top spot.

Name: Chris See / Age: 28
Height: 5' 10" / Weight: 175 lbs.
Riding Experience: 25+ Pro

Sixth Place - Honda CRF250F

Honestly, old red needs to beef up the hit down low for us "older" (feeling older) guys, as I make way too many  mistakes to make this bike fast. I will say the middle through top was good for my style, but it really, really, needs to improve on the snap out of the turns, as it's just too mellow feeling for me to work. Overall, the suspension just needs to be stiffer at both ends, as under hard braking the front end fell through the stroke pretty far. I feel like this is one of the main reasons this bike turns so well, though, due to the soft front end, which dives and makes you able to pivot another direction in some situations. But the rear end is equally soft in these cases, allowing it follow the front and maintain some stability.  

For me, the Honda had the ergos really dialed in, as it's the easiest and most comfortable bike for my size. The transition from sitting to standing on this bike was a breeze and rally helped the overall control aspect. Overall the Honda needs some improvements and one of the biggest helps in my opinion would be the gearing, as I feel the top gears are spread so far apart, that you could add a tooth or two to the rear sprocket to gain some bottom end power plus bring in the spacing of the gears up top.

Fifth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

The Suzuki does have some power, you just have to ride it in the meat of the power (kind of like a two-stroke), and for me I make way too many mistakes to make this bike go as fast. After riding it, I think some people may judge this bike too harshly, but what's stopping it from being a top dog is that it just doesn't have the zap right out of turns that the others do, so you really have to keep the momentum up for this bike to stay moving.


The RM-Z is still surprising in the cornering department, as I could simply still turn this bike anywhere I wanted and you start to fall in love with that. Honestly, I didn't mind the forks too much but I did feel like the rear end rode fairly low for my taste. It made it super stable but once squatted in a corner, I felt like it was a bit sluggish to balance back out. I'm not sure if that was from having the sag too low, or just being to heavy for the spring rate, as it just felt a bit dead. Surprisingly, it didn't really affect how great the bike turned, just something I would have to immediately address if I continued to ride this bike. 

The banana really, really needs some different bars on it, I'm not sure if it's the bend or height, but it really makes the front end feel funky. Also, I will say I got quite a bit of clutch fade on this bike. Overall, the front and rear brakes are evenly mushy and could maybe use some steel braided lines down the road. Also, even though I was shifting a lot, I was impressed how easily it did shift.

Fourth Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Starting off, of course the Yamaha was strong in the engine department, giving out great bottom end torque and leading into a progressive feel in the middle with a good amount of top. It's by far the best bike at carrying a gear higher, as you can hit so many tighter corners while still in third gear. I did find that the gap from third to fourth felt a bit large, though, and I would consider a gearing change to tighten these up if you like to really use the higher gears to the best of their abilities.

Sadly though, Yamaha was my biggest let down for 2017, going from one of my favorites last year to one of the bikes I liked the least this year. The front end push of this bike gave me a severe distaste on almost every turn entrance, and I felt like the front tire was going to wash out and put me on my face. Even with some changes, I just couldn't get the confidence to get that out of my mind. Also, the Yamaha (like the Suzuki) could really use a different bar bend, as it makes me feel that my back is really straight and my knees are in a weird spot once I'm riding. Lastly, the extra struggles with the setup this year really shone a light to the width of the bike as the setup just didn't allow me to keep the wide girl where I wanted it to go.

Third Place - KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM has a very impressive motor from mid-to-top, which is surprisingly improved over last year's which was already really good. But for me, the hit and feel down low wasn't the best as I wanted something a bit more usable that I didn't have to rev so much. I honestly thought the KTM and Husky would feel closer, but the KTM felt softer all the way around to me. From the way the chassis flexes to the suspension settling. While it was comfortable, it wasn't as precise when I needed it. Also I noticed the front forks getting deep for me under fast braking sections and I had to adjust them a bit stiffer to keep the front higher up in the stroke, maintaining the bike balance I needed.

Weirdly enough, The KTM ergos weren't as comfortable around my legs where I hugged the bike. It's interesting how the plastic shape can effect this. Both the front and rear Brembo brakes are super strong, but the front catches me off guard occasionally, especially as it pulled the front end deep in braking. Honestly, the KTM is good but I had to ride it a bit too aggressively with the power and with things being a bit soft elsewhere on the bike, it just wasn't the perfect combination for me. 

Second Place - Husqvarna FC 250

While the Husky has the same engine as the KTM, it felt way more mellow through the bottom end power range, where the KTM which is more linear and aggressive. Honestly, I preferred the easier control coming from the Husqvarna when it came to keeping mistakes at a minimum and just putting down solid laps.

As for the handling, this bike was like being in a dream. I really felt like the rear end of the bike was more rigid feeling and was way more receptive to trying to steer the bike with the rear in dry bowl turns. Like the KTM, the forks blow through the stroke under intense braking, which I needed to stiffen a few clicks to counteract. For me, though, the rear area feel of this bike really separates it from the KTM, just the front needed to be stiffer to match. Also, oddly enough, the Husqvarna ergos felt better to me than the KTM. I think the long, one-piece radiator shroud that extends along the bike and the side panels fit my build better, allowing for better grip on the bike. I know the Brembo front brakes are amazing, but at times it was almost a bit too much for me as I about put myself on my head, the rear, however, is just outstanding. As with KTM, rider cockpit wasn't my absolute favorite, as I feel like the distance/angle from the seat to the bars makes my elbows feel a bit uncomfortable in the long run. The icing on the cake though? The electric start and the fantastic clutch performance.

First Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Right off the bat I really enjoyed how perky the Kawasaki engine package felt, as it was better everywhere in the range compared to the older model. It started right off the bottom in a very responsive fashion, then built into great mid-range and carried a good rate to the very top. But what made it the best for me, because of my riding style, was that initial hit and strong middle so I could short-shift it a bit and not have run it right to the top. The balance of the Kawi for me was great right out of the box, as it was stiff in the front and held up, which is exactly what I like. Once I went a few clicks stiffer on compression I had the confidence that no matter how hard I jumped, or what I threw this bike into, it was going to handle it. With the settings I ran, the rear end had a high feeling, but was firm and held a consistent feel under power. I also enjoyed how it felt that the more I committed to turns, the more rewarding it was.

The Kawi really nailed the ergos for me this year, as the slightly tall the bars and are to the seat feels very open when compared to the other bikes. As for the brakes, both front and rear weren't the strongest I've ever felt, the rear was on par with all the others but the front could be much more usable. Lastly, the length of the clutch engagement felt a bit different from some of the other bikes in the class. As I tried to adjust it, I was struggling with hitting my own fingers with the lever as I tried to gain full engagement.  

Name: Tommy Weeck / Age: 25
Height: 5' 6" / Weight: 160 lbs.
Riding Experience: Pro

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Honestly, I had fun riding the Suzuki, as leaving this bike wide open and whipping it was a blast. But I'm riding it wide open because the engine is at such a deficit compared to any other bike in the class. One some of the biggest jumps on the track I had to do everything I could, every lap, just to barely case it, let alone clear them with comfort and confidence. Scrubbing the bike and maneuvering it into and out of corners was easy with its nimble feel but I was constantly clinching for the landings preparing for the front forks to clank metal. The air forks on this bike weren't very easy to set up, as I continued to have a metal "clanking" feel when it bottomed out, but if I went any stiffer it really unsettled the bike and took away my confidence in the bike's handling characteristics. 

Fifth Place - Yamaha YZ250F

The Yamaha has a very, very unique style and I felt as if I had to adjust my riding style the most to make this bike work correctly. Mostly I was adjusting my center weight about three to four inches further forward to keep my weight into the forks to get the bike to plant as I changed directions. Cornering was difficult, as I struggled to sweep and keep my momentum up. For the most part, I felt as if I needed to make every corner a pivot and then use the power to catch myself back up to speed. With that being said, it had the pure grunt and power to catch an inside line to huck into the rollers or any situation, unlike any other bike in the field. However, to keep a smooth lean angle or a sweeping apex of a corner was difficult for me, making it hard to keep a rhythm or flow around the track. Adjusting the high-speed compression on the shock a quarter turn out to settle down the rear end helped, but a lot of adjustments felt needed for me to be comfortable for scrubbing and keeping a smooth feel; versus being notchy and having to point-and-shoot to keep my momentum going.

Fourth Place - Husqvarna FC 250

Ah, the TC 250, what a smooth but aggressive power. For me, the Husqvarna had the most unique power in the class, putting the power down at any RPM. Really, click this bike into any low gear it would just rev and scream, but keep pulling. Vice-versa, click it up into a high gear it would lug its way right out of the corners! Jumping the triple step up this was the only bike I got my front wheel over the whole thing. However, the rear end had a harshness that I could not handle. Adjusting the high speed made a big difference but I found myself puzzled on its reactions, the main differences of the swingarm design and plastic subframe being the differences from the KTM may have been the cause of these reactions, but left me feeling unpredictable on entering my corners.

Third Place - Kawasaki KX250F

In 2017, Kawasaki has really stepped their game up for their 250F. For me the new Kawi was great right up against the rev limiter as it fluttered, and good but a bit average throughout the rest of the range. The ECU couplers the bike comes with makes for a very noticeable change between the three choices. My favorite was easily the "aggressive" coupler, as it made more all-around responsive feel and a smoother top-end pull which didn't sign off as harshly. Sections like uphill rollers were the Kawasaki's best friend, as you could easily get off the back of the bike and  it really stuck to the ground, while still recovering between each roller and giving me enough free rev to keep a consistent blitz going as I attacked the section. But, to get the bike stopped in time to catch the inside rut after was rather difficult at time with the strong but dead feel I felt from the front brake. Kawasaki's new chassis was large improvement and handled better than I expected. However, I was surprised that we ran a much higher sag setting at (102mm) than I'm use to. But finding the balance in the forks was hard as I felt to constantly be using the full stroke and bottoming them. 

Second Place - Honda CRF250R

For me, the Honda's overall handling capabilities are second to none (that's why I ride them). From cornering ruts, berms, scrubbing or whipping the dirt bike; I felt no matter how far sideways I got, if I committed I could power through the scenario with ease. Now where does the bike lack? Simply in the overall engine package. For me, it just didn't quite have enough power anywhere in the range to satisfy me in stock trim. Personally, I ride bikes high in the RPM range, and this is where the Honda struggles the most. There's a lot of situations where I would land off an obstacle or attack a section when the bike got into a lugged-out situation and just fell on its face. To get it to work as I liked, I either had to start stomping down gears or hammering the clutch to keep it where I felt comfortable. For me, one or two teeth taller in the rear would give the bike more bottom and a smoother power delivery, but opened up for more shifting. Suspension-wise, I didn't have too many complaints as the chassis just felt so natural to me that I didn't have a large need for changes. Lastly, the rear brake feel was very usable and strong, but the stock front setup is just a bit spongy and soft feeling for my liking.

First Place - KTM 250 SX-F

Now my first place ranking was a hard decision, as I've been riding and racing Honda’s myself for quite a few years, but to deny the all-around capabilities that the KTM had would be sheer stupidity. To see how this bike has progressed was impressive. I rode for KTM throughout my amateur career and turned pro for them, my initial comment was that it felt like the 2009 Factory KTM I raced at Unadilla, but the crew's reply was that it's even faster and they were right. I have no complaints in the power department, as I said it feels stronger than what I had as a factory engine a few years back. In the handling department, the overall balance and feel of the bike was impressive through all conditions. Riding this bike last, as the track was at its roughest with some hard-edge bumps, the KTM felt stuck to the ground but without the WP AER forks feeling harsh at any point. Now for most people air forks are a very big issue for building pressure and giving a rider a uneasy feel after 15-plus minutes of riding, but WP/KTM has solved their harshness and it continues to give the exact feel I needed throughout the moto. How good was it? Simple, the KTM was the only bike I didn't make one change on, instead I just pulled in after 25 minutes asking for more fuel to continue riding! The only negative I could come up with is that the KTM's chassis still has a different feel to the Japanese models, and can still take a short adjustment period if you haven't spent much time on one before.

The Overall Results:

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Scores: 6-5-6-6-5-6 = 34


- 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 - Honda CRF250R

Scores: 4-4-5-5-6-2 = 26


- Very usable low-to-mid engine performance.

- Lightest feeling and easiest to throw around.

- Lowest MSRP in the class.


- Still falls a bit flat on the top-end of the powerband.

- Rider cockpit can feel cramped for some riders.

- Some struggles with SFF TAC forks.

Fourth Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Scores: 5-3-4-4-4-5 = 25


- Best low-to-mid punch, with a strong overall powerband.


- Suspension and chassis changes from prior model have caused chassis unrest.

- Widest feeling bike in the class.

Third Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Scores: 2-6-3-3-2-4 = 20


- Aggressive and stable chassis.

- Lightest feeling and easiest to throw around.

- Most rider cockpit adjustability.


- SFF spring fork is a bit stiff for lighter riders and initial feel can be tricky to get through setup.

- Could use more grunt right off idle.

Second Place - Husqvarna FC 250

Scores: 3-2-2-2-2-4 = 15


- Overall bike is lightweight and easy to ride for most riding styles.

- Best engine from mid-to-top, with responsive low-end power.

- Excellent brakes, hydraulic clutch, and electric start.

- WP's AER 48 fork is the best production air fork, yet.


- Some riders felt the engine revs a bit too slowly for their liking.

- Highest MSRP in the class.

- Stock shift lever is too long.

First Place - KTM 250 SX-F

Scores: 1-1-1-1-3-1 = 8


- Overall bike is lightweight and easy to ride for most riding styles.

- Best engine from mid-to-top, with responsive low-end power.

- Excellent brakes, hydraulic clutch, and electric start.

- WP's AER 48 fork is the best production air fork, yet.


- Higher MSRP than most of the class.

- Stock shift lever is too long.


Well, the 2017 250F Shootout ended with a bit of a shocker, as the Yamaha YZ250F was not only dethroned by the KTM 250 SX-F, but it slipped back farther than any of us would have guessed going into the test. The improvements that the KTM is enjoying for the new year has also brought the Husqvarna up to a clear-cut second, after always finishing a few spots away from its orange brethren in the past. And speaking of improvements, Kawasaki didn't have the most rounded-package out there, but they hit just the right details and took a few strong scores to nail in third place. Falling down to fourth was the defending Yamaha and as you can see above it really was a unanimous decision amongst the six test riders that the bike struggled under its stock setup. Even with a host of engine upgrades, it wasn't enough to shake off the mis-handlings the new model carried. Right behind it in fourth place was the ever-aggressive Honda CRF250R. Last year the CRF gained a host of engine updates which brought it up the list, but the gains of the other manufacturers in '17 showed the age of this Honda as it nears the end of its current generation. Lastly is the corner-carving RM-Z250, which outside of its turning prowess just doesn't have the oomph and grunt to be chosen higher up the list.

Hopefully we've shown you what you needed to know about the 2017 250Fs, and given you some solid insight/knowledge if you're looking at purchasing one of these bikes for yourself. As always, we'll be back in year's time to give you all of our test rider's thoughts on the 2018 250F models, along with any other shootout we perform. Any thoughts or suggestion on the format? Or maybe a question about the actual results of this test? Drop us a note in the comment section below.

Article by Michael Lindsay // Video by Joe Carlino // Photos by Steve Giberson, Max Mandell, and Preston Jordan


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