2019 Vital MX 250 Shootout 21

2019 Husqvarna FC 250 vs. KTM 250 SX-F vs. Honda CRF250R vs. Suzuki RM-Z250 vs. Kawasaki KX250 vs. Yamaha YZ250F

Is it time for your little grom to move from a 125 to a 250F, trying to get the best stock bike to build your race bikes, or maybe your a vet rider who just loves the smaller machines? If so, we're pretty sure you've got your eyes on more than one machine in the class and that's why we're here, to give you all the information and insight you need to pick the best bike for you. Welcome to Vital MX's 2019 250 Shootout.

Per our usual, you'll get to read all our test rider's comments on each of the six bikes from our multiple days of testing. By showing each rider's opinions individually, our goal is to show you what bikes and aspects they agree on, but also reveal where they disagree and think differently. This will show you how each model works for different riding styles, weights, and overall wants from the testers. At the end of the test, each rider is tasked with answering one simple question. "Which bike would you take home or to the track to race the next day with the adjustments available off the showroom floor?"

As a note for transparency; due to a scheduling change from the manufacturer, Suzuki's RM-Z250 was only available to test on the final of our three tracks. Our Shootouts need well over a month of planning and due to the amount of people who have to schedule their life and work around our test, we were unable to change our test dates when Suzuki's bike arrived later than we were informed by the OEM.

For this latest edition of our 250 Shootout, we visited three different tracks in Southern California; Nuevo, Cahuilla Creek MX, and Milestone MX. These three tracks were chosen because of their range of terrain, size, and jump style...along with what was available due to a series of large rain storms passing through the area. Nuevo is found in many rider's social media channels, as it's just a series of sandy hillside tracks in an area we just show up and ride. We chose one sand track in the group that's insanely rough and reminds even our resident Europe test rider of something you'd find in Belgium. Cahuilla Creek features constant elevation changes, flowing fast corners, a bit of sand in the berms, and it gets angled acceleration chop through most sections. This year, due to the heavy amount of moisture, it was more rutted and just straight soft compared to the normal hard base we find all over. Due to the elevation of the track, the lower portion was spongey and rutted, but up top was the usual chop and hard packed we're used to seeing there. Milestone MX is your typical modern day motocross track, as it's on a fairly flat property, with all man-made obstacles as you enter and exit the corners. At Milestone, you're constantly accelerating, jumping, and then braking hard, with ruts and outside berms in nearly every corner. Beyond this, we continued working with LITPro to keep track of our laps and data for each day. The riders could use this data to help gauge their performance and we're featuring a bit in here.

Previous viewers of our Vital MX Shootouts will recognize the majority of riders on our tester list. Each of these testers are selected because of their ability to provide feedback, their honest nature, along with being in the riding shape needed to pound out lap-after-lap during our multiple days at the track. As you can see by the past bikes the riders have ridden or owned, most of them have had experience on quite the range of brands and models.

The Contenders

If you're looking for a refresher on what's new with each model, you can find the technical info by hitting the specs links. They're listed in order by MSRP, from most expensive to least expensive.

2019 Husqvarna FC 250
MSRP: $9,099

2019 KTM 250 SX-F
MSRP: $8,999

2019 Yamaha YZ250F
MSRP: $8,199

2019 Honda CRF250R
MSRP: $7,999

2019 Suzuki RM-Z250
MSRP: $7,899

2019 Kawasaki KX250
MSRP: $7,749

Bike Weights

These weights were collected at Race Tech, using a scale that recorded front and rear bias of each bike, along with the total weight. Dry weights are done with the motorcycles ready to ride, minus fuel in the tanks. Wet weights on the other hand are ready to ride with a full tank of fuel. Our version of a "full tank" was to fill each bike until the fuel was at the brim of the tank, then place the cap on. That's as full as they get.

and Model
Front Bias
Rear Bias
Front Bias
Rear Bias
Honda CRF250R 228 lbs. 112 lbs. 116 lbs. 238 lbs. 118 lbs. 120 lbs.
Suzuki RM-Z250 226 lbs. 108 lbs. 118 lbs. 237 lbs. 114 lbs. 123 lbs.
Yamaha YZ250F 224 lbs. 108 lbs. 116 lbs. 235 lbs. 114 lbs. 121 lbs.
Kawasaki KX250F 221 lbs. 107 lbs. 114 lbs. 230 lbs. 112 lbs. 118 lbs.
Husqvarna FC 250 220 lbs. 105 lbs. 115 lbs. 230 lbs. 110 lbs. 120 lbs.
KTM 250 SX-F 218 lbs. 105 lbs. 113 lbs. 228 lbs. 110 lbs. 118 lbs.

LIT Pro Data

As we do every year, we linked up with the crew from LITPro to gather some data as we rode each day. Our riders all get to mule over the data and for most us, things like consistency and acceleration zones can help us differ some between the machines. Every year we have comments regarding a machine a ride rates mid to back of the pack possibly having a good "best laptime", but this data is collected across a whole day and sometimes the best laptime comes from the bike they warmed up on when the track was perfectly groomed. So we always recommend taking the best laptime data with a grain of salt and for what it is. You'll find that each rider's bike list is in a different order, the top bike was the first recorded that day and the bottom of the list is the latest to be ridden that day. Information like average G forces aren't associated with suspension setup as most would think, but are usually associated with how hard the riders are pushing. The LITPro crew mention that with their years of testing, a higher average G force usually represents the riders pushing throughout the track. The faster the rider, the higher their average G force...for the most part. Five of our seven test riders collected enough proper data from our day at Milestone to be used in the article and their charts can be found at the bottom of each of these fives rider's opinion section. Below is a quick video to show you an example of some of the playback we get to see. There's a ton of depth to this product and we highly recommend checking them out at LITProLive.com.


The Results

Below you'll find the results for each bike, listed from last to first place. With each overall result, you'll also find the personal scores of each test rider added up, which reflects that model's finishing position. Each rider ranks the bikes from first to sixth, then we add up these scores and the lowest total number wins. It's simple but effective, allowing you a quick view into how each bike landed where they did. Once you get past the shock and awe of the results, you can scroll down a bit more to find each rider's individual results, along with their personal rankings and write-ups about each bike. Giving each rider their own voice and allowing you to see where we all agreed, and disagreed over the 2018 fleet.

For those that want the brief low-down or just like listening instead of reading, we've got our video edition with about ten minutes of quick results and insight from our own head of testing, Michael Lindsay. If you have some free time though, we strongly recommend you keep scrolling to see the scores of each bike and each of our seven test rider's thoughts. There sections will show you how we came to these conclusions and how the scores added together.

2019 250 Shootout - Video Version:


Also, if you want to discuss the results with us, drop us a comment below the article or join our larger QNA discussion in the forum..which you can find that here: Forum QNA - 2019 Vital MX 250 Shootout.

Sixth Place - Suzuki RM-Z250

Scores: 6 - 6 - 6 - 6 - 2 - 6 - 6 = 38

Fifth Place - Kawasaki KX250F

Scores: 5 - 4 - 5 - 3 - 3 - 4 - 5 = 29

Fourth Place - Honda CRF250R

Scores: 4 - 3 - 2 - 5 - 5 - 1 - 4 = 24

Third Place - KTM 250 SX-F

Scores: 2 - 4 - 4 - 3 - 5 - 3 - 2 = 23

Second Place - Husqvarna FC 250

Scores: 3 - 1 - 2 - 4 - 6 - 2 - 3 = 21

First Place - Yamaha YZ250F

Scores: 1 - 2 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 5 - 1 = 12

Test Rider Opinions

Michael Lindsay

Age: 25
Height: 5' 8" / Weight 155 lbs.
Riding Experience: Somewhere between really good and really bad...
Recent Bikes: Everything Vital MX tests
2018 Shootout Results: 1st KTM 250 SX-F, 2nd Yamaha YZ250F, 3rd Honda CRF250R, 4th Husqvarna FC250, 5th Kawasaki KX250F, 6th Suzuki RM-Z250

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

After the last few years I know the Suzuki faithful don't want to see us rating this bike this low in the rankings, and trust me, it doesn't feel good doing it. I had the opportunity to fly to Japan and test this bike a few months ago, and while the conditions we rode in were super-unusual, I found some upgrades on the bike I liked, but also things I didn't. As sloppy and soft as those conditions were, it made me keep as open a mind as possible when the Shootout came along...as I'd finally get to try the bike on familiar grounds.

My immediate thoughts were that the engine improvements were a bit better than what I'd thought they were. On a more consistent surface the gains in mid-to-top performance were much more noticeable. It doesn't match the output of the screamers in the class, but to me it felt a bit better in the high RPMs than the Kawasaki, but a bit behind the rest. The shifts from third, fourth, and even up to fifth were consistent and even; but the transition from second to third is a bit spread out. The stock gearing attempts to keep the RM-Z in third for corners but in tight situations you have to drop to second. To cross back from second to third, I'd have to really scream the bike through the range to get a nice clean pull into third. A short shift would results in some lag and slow RPM build once third was engaged. However, third to fourth could be accomplished without such a high RPM shift. To help the roll-on power character, I switched from the standard ECU plug to their leaner coupler. This helped eliminate a gurgle and hesitation I felt at low RPM, making it easier to get the bike to react and carry itself in mid-corner. But this coupler change also made the bike sign off a bit more at high RPMs. Overall, the engine is an improvement with more overall mid-to-top output and it's more usable around the track. It still needs more torque or roll-on character down low to give it that rounded feel, or further improvements at high RPM to give it an engine near the top of the class.

"The best part the bike is still the handling and suspension"

2018 CRF250R had a top-end power only type of engine, which I had to ride almost like a 125cc two stroke. Once I got used to, it was a really exciting and fun bike to ride. Now for 2019 Honda has made some changes to the bike, focusing on the engine department. The bike has a new intake and exhaust-port geometry, camshaft, smaller throttle body and the right-side exhaust pipe shortened 50mm. The changes helped a little in the mid range but the bike is still lacking bottom end power, still needing to be ridden aggressively to go fast. The gap from second to third gear is too long and the bike tends to fall off the pipe between gears. It would be interesting to see if adding one or two teeth to rear sprocket would help, as I felt like improving the gap would be a big help. The more open and flowing tracks suit the Honda, but tight/stop and go type of tracks were not its friend. I honestly thought I was slowest on Honda but when I went through my LITPro data, I found out that I posted some of my fastest lap times on it. Just like last year, I also took my best starts on the Honda with the time of 2.17 seconds to 60 feet. Beyond that, the Honda has three ECU maps that can be changed from the switch on the bars. The first one is the base map, second is a smooth map and then the third map is the most aggressive. I liked the map three best as it seems to give the most bottom-end power. There's also a new launch control setting for starts, but I actually took best starts without it.

Just like last year, the best part the bike is still the handling and suspension. It's really good for me in stock form and all I needed was a few clicks stiffer on the compression, plus a bit more rebound on some tracks. I feel that I can put the Honda where ever I want on the track without too much of an effort. I can turn really tight or rail the outsides and I think it's the best cornering bike in the class. Also over jumping or clipping jumps wasn't a problem for me, as the Honda doesn’t react in a funny way and things can be corrected with some light body English. I think young riders coming off of 85s or 125s will like the bike as it loves to be revved to the the moon, but unfortunately I’m getting too old and lazy...so the top only powerband drops CRF250R to third in my rankings.

Second Place: Yamaha YZ250F

For the last few years, everyone has been raving on how strong the Yamaha YZ250F engine is at low RPMs. This holds true with the 2019 model as well, although Yamaha’s focus this year was to get more power from the midrange to top. With the new motor came also the electric starter and ability to do engine tuning through the GYTR Power Tuner app. The power Tuner plays a Vital (pun intended) role on getting most out of the YZ250F as you can easily modify the power and feel of the engine. Earlier this year I had chance to test 2018 and 2019 back-to-back and actually liked the power delivery of 2018 better, as I felt it had a bit better roll on character. However, by modifying the ECU maps we were able to get the new bike’s power delivery to replicate the older model and fit my needs. I feel the YZ250F has plenty of power, but it lacks some responsiveness and that makes the bike feel a little heavy...and slow. Part of the reason might be the throttle tube, which has a heavier to turn compared to rest of the 250F’s. Once I told the techs about my concerns, Yamaha’s always helpful media manager Mike Ulrich loaded up a harder hitting map. That change helped the bike to get back up and going after I messed up in a turn or wanted to jump over braking bumps, which I could do with a blip of the throttle.

Yamaha has stayed on spring forks for the past few years, while others jumped on the air fork bandwagon and are now coming back. The 2019 YZ250F’s suspension is pretty much spot on for my 168 pound weight and 40+ Intermediate speed, so I didn’t have to change it too much. I just played a little with fork rebound, depending on the track, but on some even the standard setting were right in line.

Despite a great engine and good suspension, the Yamaha isn’t my dream bike either as the ergonomics of the bike aren't something I really like. The YZ250F feels good when standing up, but the short seat to footpegs ratio gives it a rather upright sitting position. While the Yamaha is getting slimmer each year, the radiator area still feels a bit wide, especially when sitting down on corners with my leg out.

I could've still put Yamaha first in my personal rankings...until I went through my LITPro data. The strange thing about the Yamaha is that for second year in a row I feel fast on it, but in reality I’m a few seconds off the pace of Honda, Husqvarna, KTM and Kawasaki. I’m not sure why that is, but maybe the Yamaha has so much more low end torque that I get lazy and ride it like 450. Basically cruising around, short shifting it, and letting the engine carry me over obstacles instead of my cornering speed. Also, my starts were also slower on Yamaha than the Honda, KTM, or Husqvarna.

First Place: Husqvarna FC 250

I wasn’t fastest on Husqvarna on any of the test tracks and for me it didn’t have the best engine, suspension, or ergonomics. However, it was constantly up there in lap times and I felt pretty comfortable no matter where I rode it. Basically, it was just well rounded. It has all the same updates that KTM received for 2019 and for most part it has the same good and bad qualities. There's still a clear difference between the bikes both in power and handling; the Husqvarna’s power delivery is smoother than its orange sibling and it makes it easier to ride on slippery hard pack, ruts, and other tricky conditions. The KTM's sharper power is perfect for soft sand ,where you need all the power you can get but for most of the track...The Husqvarna takes the cake. I did take some time to try out the traction control, but I felt I lost some of the responsiveness by using it. The same goes with Launch Control mode and as according the LITPro, I got my fastest starts without help of it.

There seems to a whole lot more flex on Husqvarna, which makes the suspension feel more comfortable and forgiving. Just like KTM, Husqvarna feels tall and has great straight line stability, but in corners it seemed to like the outside lines and berms more than cutting to the insides. The WP AER fork works great with heavy loads, but it doesn’t maintain the ground contact and feel in smaller stuff like conventional spring forks. I got the forks working pretty good and to my liking by raising the pressure to 10.5 Bar (stock is 10.3), then slowing down the rebound few clicks and softening the compression. With these changes, I was able to get some of that contact feel I was looking for.

As stated earlier, the Husqvarna and KTM have longer shifter arms, more than the other bikes. That takes a little time to get used to and I sometimes missed a shift. As a note, ff that is an issue there's an optional shorter shift lever available. The biggest issue that I have with the Husqvarna is the seat cover; it's super rough and you should use at least two pairs of underwear or cycling shorts with padding to protect  the skin on you backside...or just get a different cover. Hopefully someone in Austria reads this so we could have a more butt friendly cover in 2020. To end my review with a positive note, due it’s smooth handle between rear fender and side panel, the Husqvarna is easiest bike to lift to stand.

All-in-all, the Husqvarna was the most constant performer through the whole test and that's why it deserves the number one spot on my list.

LITPro Data from Milestone - Kusti Manninen


Yamaha is back on top after a few years away from the crown. Just by looking at the average result, it's clear to see the Yamaha was favored by nearly every rider, offering a package that almost every rider could figure out on any track. Led by it's outstanding engine, the YZ250F finally has the chassis and ergos to round out the package and take the victory away from the KTM after back-to-back wins in '17 and '18. 

The next three positions are close, ridiculously close. Once again, the KTM and Husqvarna twins split their results and finish side-by-side. They're just enough different to stand out to each rider and these differences clearly suit some riders more than others. Albeit they have the same general characteristics, these differences make it easy for a rider to pick one over other. While both are lead by their amazing engine and lightweight...the bike that nearly tied them is a bit opposite in what it offers. The Honda is a bit on the heavy side and doesn't have the broad power of its competition, but what it does have is a screaming, fun engine...along with a chassis and suspension to make any rider feel like they can rail a corner pinned. The lack of low-end grunt kept it back and in the range of the Austrian duo. Seriously, look how close these three were!

The Kawasaki was the only unchanged bike in the class and while it slips down the list for some, others still find praise for the green machine. Pretty much every test rider can admit it's not well rounded compared to its competition, but it has some stand out characteristics that make it a great choice in the right hands. What does 2020 hold in store for Team Green?

Suzuki brings up the back of the pack for our test again but every rider in the test commented that they've made steps in the right direction, and their 2019 RM-Z250 holds much more potential than the outgoing machine. Some missteps in setup stopped the RM-Z from moving up the ranks for most but as you can see from our one test rider that gelled with the machine, it has hope.

While picking a winner is one of the goals in our 250 Shootout, the main reason we do this is to give you our honest opinions on each machine. If you're in the market for one of these machines, we hope you take the time to read everyone of our rider's opinions. Honestly, the bike that wins is very well rounded but it still might not be the bike for you. At the end of the day, we'd like to help our readers get the bike that will be the most enjoyable for their needs, so take it all in! As usual, we'll be back in year's time to give you all of our test rider's thoughts on the 2020 250 and 450 models. Do you have any thoughts on the results, or a suggestion on the format? Possibly a question about the actual results of this test? Drop us a note in the comment section below, or join our discussion on the forum in a special QNA dedicated to the Shootout and its results. You can head here: Forum QNA - 2019 Vital MX 250 Shootout.


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