2019 Vital MX 250 Shootout

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.

"I found the bike to feel tall in stroke and unable to settle into corners."

As far as the chassis goes, it's a bit of a head-scratcher as my complaints with it are kind of merged with a suspension fault. Starting off with the suspension, they've swapped from KYB's PSF2 air fork to the AOS spring fork, and while it's a big step in the right direction...I feel they made the same misstep in setup as they had before. The prior air fork had a recommended air pressure that was too high and what felt like a lack of valving; this means the fork feels topped out and stiff at low speeds, but once any heavy force is applied, it would blow through the stroke. Lowering the air pressure would add initial comfort but cause the fork to blow through even quicker. Fast forward to 2019 with AOS, the initial feel of the spring fork is better and mid-stroke is more compliant. But, it also has the same underlying problem, it's specced with too high a spring rate, but now isn't adjustable without a spring change. I softened the fork in big steps, trying between six and eight clicks softer on compression which allowed the fork to settle more...but made it wallow in the mid-stroke under braking and cornering loads. In response I sped up the rebound and it stayed up in the stroke more, but returned some of the initial discomfort. At this point I was jumping around the same problems and couldn't find a solution.

Out back, the RM-Z250 had to be set up with at least 110mm of sag to feel balanced as it's also a bit over-sprung. After opening up the high-speed compression six clicks and low-speed four clicks, the shock started to settle under acceleration chop but had a heavy lift character under braking, reacting to the ground as soon as I'd chop the throttle. With the front and rear spring rates being too stiff for my weight, I found the bike to feel tall in stroke and unable to settle into corners. While the RM-Z keeps the typical great cornering of a Suzuki, it would stand up mid-corner and I just couldn't carry my momentum from middle to exit. Beyond this, even with the fork softened, I felt a bit too much energy transfer to my upper body. I feel this same sensation on their 450 chassis as well, and for me it seems that the front area or head stay of the chassis might be too stiff. While it creates a lot of feel to the rider and trust for front end traction, it wears me out a bit.

At the end of the day, Suzuki's RM-Z250 has an improved engine and while the settings are off for the average-sized 250 rider, it's still better then what they had and easy to fix. The new chassis is a bit of wash for me, as I didn't feel like the outgoing one had much problems and the new one might be a bit more finicky to set up. I found it reacts to minor fork height changes in a big way, it might have a bit more turn in feel but in my opinion has lost some rider comfort. I've had the opportunity to try this new bike with lower spring rates and with them it's a big improvement for me, if they were in place I would probably rate the bike one place higher. It had more potential than the outgoing bike and if you like RM-Zs, there's plenty to like here. Oh, also...where is the electric start? My short legs want to know.

Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX250F

There's a pain in my heart...pain I say...I love Kawasakis and have owned more KX250Fs (yes, I know it's actually the KX250 now) than any other bike, but this one is getting a bit long in the tooth. So let's start with the good, the engine on this bike is fun. Really fun. No, it doesn't put out more power down low or up high than the other bikes in the class, but it's responsive. It doesn't really matter what RPM or gear position you're in, if you whack the throttle on this bike it has some pick up and response. This really helps the KX feel light, as it responds so easily to throttle and rider inputs. As for the output itself, the KX shines more at low-to-mid RPMs but starts to fade up top when compared to the competition. To get the best of the KX, I found myself shifting a lot, even a bit more than the bike I ranked above this. I'm actually pretty sure I shifted the KX more than any bike in the test, but at the same time, those shifts and the power I received was predictable and usable. The gaps from gear to gear seem very evenly spaced and usable, I just wished it pulled farther before each shift was necessary. Out of the optional map plugs, I tend to stick to their harder-hitting coupler (lean/white coupler), getting the most out of the initial and mid-range and shifting through the gears.

The suspension is an odd one on the Kawasaki and I can safely say after quite a few years on Showa's SFF spring fork, this is quite possibly the lowest ranked fork on my personal list of what I'd like to see on a bike. In terms of modern bikes I've tested, it's between this or WP's 4CS. With the SFF spring fork I can always feel a difference in the reaction of the fork during lean angle, meaning I feel like it works differently depending upon whether it's a left- or right-hand corner. In right-handed sections the fork seems to bind on the spring and skip out easily, while it falls through the stroke more when leaning left. Beyond that, I can never nail a good balance between initial comfort and bottoming resistance. I usually end up leaning towards the softer side with less preload, so I can maintain some level of traction I can work with, but it dives a bit under braking when set up like this. If I add preload, compression, or speed up the rebound too much...it just skips and pushes on turn in. Over the past few years I've tried a ton of tuning on it and I can just never quite get it right. As for the shock, I had no issues as the KX is geared around rear steering and I'm quite happy with how it squats and reacts under acceleration. There is a bit of lift from the rear under braking, but I'd chalk that up to the front end diving and transferring weight too quickly.

The Kawasaki KX250 is pretty interesting in terms of the rider's area. It has a very small footpeg-to-seat height and is extremely skinny up at the seat, meaning it feels tiny between the legs. But, the frame is fairly average in size at the ankles and the bike continues to get small as it moves up, so I also feel like I have to mentally put some real effort in to grip the bike at its best. Beyond that, the bars feel a bit tall considering how small the rest of the bike is. Like the bike was designed around a kid moving up but then the bars were thrown on to satisfy a vet rider. This makes it so I have to sit up a bit too straight when riding, making it hard to lean forward and into the bike when in a corner. When equipped with lower bars, in my opinion the KX feels like the best bike for a small rider, but dropping the pegs into their optional position can help larger riders adapt to it as well.

Due to the amount of time I've spent on a KX, it feels like home to me, but at the same time when I start rating each aspect it falls in the middle ground. Because of this, fifth is where it landed on my list. While a few areas on the bike need work, the forks for me are the biggest hangup. I'm looking for the magic starter button on it, too...

Fourth Place: Honda CRF250R

Deciding between fourth and third place was tough...really tough. When weighing all the aspects of each bike, the Honda has a lot of positives and sits high on my list in many aspects, but there's a small list of items that are low...and most of it's related to the powerplant. It feels odd to complain about the engine because as a whole, I greatly prefer this new generation CRF250R over the prior one. Any day of the week I'd take the new chassis and ergos but I go back and forth on which engine I'd take, based on conditions. Due to some heavy rain this year, we had the opportunity to ride a nice deep sand track and some loamy conditions and I found some frustration with the CRF's engine during this time. While I was well aware of the lack of torque after last year, that was mostly on hardpacked tracks. Add in some soft material and the issue became a lot more obvious.

When the tracks are harder and flow more, with few tight sections, I really start to fall in love with the Honda. Just screaming the engine from gear-to-gear, hanging it out, sort of like I'm on an overpowered 125. But throw in some tighter corners and soft dirt...the mistakes became common, the clutch use heavy, and some cuss words were thrown in. When conditions asked me to drop to second gear for a corner, I found I had to perfectly execute my next shift. The gap between second and third gear is a bit wide, requiring me to take second right to the top of the RPM range before clicking third. If the conditions were soft where that shift happened, there would still be some lugging. But once third was up and rolling, the shift to fourth came quickly. If I could keep the bike in third for a corner, the pull and shifts to fourth and then fifth were clean and easy. It was just odd to me how long second has to be pulled but how quickly it goes through third.

How's the chassis? Fantastic. I think the biggest compliment I can give the CRF250R is I can find the edge of front end traction quicker than any other bike in the class. Basically, I feel like I get the most control and rider feedback (in a good way) from this bike, making it easy to trust the bike when entering ruts or pushing into a slick corner even on my first lap. Honda nailed a pretty good balance between comfort and feedback, and the Honda doesn't wear me out on track as it flexes just enough, but at the same time it feels so precise in almost any condition. At 108mm of sag and their standard fork height, I felt like the bike balance was on point in all conditions. The only other thing I did around bike balance was speeding up the rebound on the fork when tracks got rougher, that way it would stay up in the stroke a little higher. For years, the Suzuki has been labeled as the best turning bike in the class. Sorry Suzuki, the CRF250R now holds that spot for me.

As for suspension, I barely made any tweaks. I found the compression damping to be fairly on the money for me, with the quick rotation we do, and would make rebound changes to the front or rear depending on the conditions. And the ergos? Most riders will say it, Honda usually nails the footpeg/seat/handlebars dimensions. It's a comfortable bike to jump on and the move to a slightly lower handlebar this year really suits the 250 and average-sized rider on it. The CRF250R is also very easy to hang onto; it's not the smallest feeling bike in the class or the lightest, but it's easy to grip and control with the legs.

So while there's a lot of good here, why fourth in my final standings? It's the engine. I don't usually get too hung up on power but in this case it's the usability. Yes, my fastest lap time came on this bike at Milestone but it was also the first bike of the morning, where I just held it pinned on brand new ruts without a single bump involved. As the track got rougher, I noticed the data showed some serious inconsistency with the Honda. Due to the lack of low-end power, the slow recovery of the engine when the revs dropped, and the gear spread from second to third...if I didn't nail everything right, my lap times suffered. Also, the feel of this engine when it was really deep and loamy (sand track day) drove me up the wall a bit. The Honda is on the verge of really jumping up the rankings; it just needs roll-on power, recovery, and please fix the transmission. With those changes? It'd be battling for the win on my list.

Third Place: Husqvarna FC 250

As I said above, deciding between this and the Honda on third and fourth spot respectively was quite hard. Why? As I said, the Honda has solid points and quite a few things that made it better than the Husqvarna. But the gaps between what it does good and bad are quite different. What the Honda does better is only a bit better, while what it did worse at was a bigger margin for me. Even with that, I had to think hard about all three days of testing and look over some of my data to see that I was faster in most situations on the Husky, as well as more consistent.

For me, the Husqvarna's engine is broad and offers a solid amount of power throughout the range. But where it really shines is high RPMs...but it can take a bit of time to get there. The FC 250 was at its best when the track had conditions that were slick or questionable as the power was very linear and the rear stuck right to the ground. The Husky was high on my list for consistency as I felt I was able to replicate my mid-to-exit on corners and any situation when on the throttle the same way lap-after-lap. With slightly tall gearing and a broad powerband, it felt like the Husky could go on forever. Where it was a bit of a negative was in softer conditions, as the revs came on slowly and would plow the bike into a corner instead of snap out of it early. Some clutch action would help, but the response was still slower than I'd like. In certain sections, the slow-revving nature would cause it to feel a bit heavier where it wouldn't pick up and pop over bumps or other obstacles with as much ease. Basically, I felt like the engine didn't do as much work at times and it took more physical input to get the bike to react as I'd like. As for the ECU options, map two was more lively but a bit inconsistent feeling for roll-on power. Map one was calmer but crisper feeling at the crack of the throttle and overall more capable when the track was rough.

The ergos to the Husqvarna were middle-of-the-road for me. It didn't offer immediate comfort, but it also didn't take a long time to adapt to. The bars are a bit wide and the seat cover/seat foam were a bit rough on the backside, if you get my drift. As for riding position, the Husqvarna is quite aggressive and felt great when rolling through corners. Due to the more mellow power feel, I ended up opening the high-speed compression on the shock to help it settle and stay squatted when on throttle. As for the fork, I tried going stiffer and softer with air pressure. Both had positives and drawbacks but I found the slightly lower pressure with further adjustments was better. At a higher pressure it helped keep the fork up in the stroke under heavy braking and on landings into corners, but didn't help achieve the feeling for corner turn in that I wanted. Stock, the fork needed a bit more bottoming resistance and a bit more initial feel/plushness. At the lower pressure and a few extra clicks of compression I gained some initial comfort and improved grip on turn in, but just enough ramp up in the mid-stroke for it to work for me. With this setting it worked well when the tracks were beat down but when things were fresh or softer, I still wanted a bit more hold up due to the added traction. Did I mention that the Brembo brakes are still amazing? The Magura hydraulic clutch is okay for me. I'm not a big fan of hydros due to their on-off action when compared to a cable setup, but the Magura has decent modulation and engagement feel.

There are two drawbacks on the Husqvarna that hold it back in the rankings for me are. First is the front end setup, it varies a bit more from track-to-track than some of the other bikes in the class. And two, while the engine is broad and easy to ride, with plenty of power on tap, it revs a bit too slowly for my taste/riding style. One last thing...shorter shift lever, please.

Second Place: KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM is a blast to ride; it's aggressive, nimble, and overall is quite exciting to be piloting. Now why doesn't it take my top spot? It's not always the easiest to be in control of, but more on that in a minute. This bike has a lot of good going for it, starting at its weight and nimble feel between the legs. For the past few years the KTM has had a low number on the scales, but it's been a bit larger up at the edge of the radiator shrouds. The biggest improvement I felt on the '19 KTMs are the reworked bodywork and how consistent it is front-to-rear from a grip standpoint. Over the past few years I've felt the Husqvarna was notably better in this regard, but now the shape and feel of the KTM really seems to work for me. The controls and ergos are quite aggressive with a flat seat profile and low handlebar, making it very easy to move about the bike and feel like you're pivot at the hips easily, shifting that upper body weight to the front or rear as needed.

As for the powerplant, the KTM still rips up top and really rewards those that like to hang it out in each gear a bit longer. At the same time, I felt it has enough torque and roll-on to feel fairly complete when using the full RPM range. I can scream the bike in second through a rut or roll it on at low RPM in third and still be happy with the outcome of either method. The biggest change I noticed for the 2019 engine was from their cam and ECU change, as it has more "character" and snap now. The prior year made great power, albeit a bit linear at times. The '19 version has more snap in the mid-range and feels a bit more progressive. What could be improved? I feel like the gearing is a bit too tall overall, making each gear just seem a bit too spread out. Also, to meet the bike I placed number one, I'd like just a bit more roll-on performance or crisp-ness to the throttle response.

How about the chassis and suspension? This was my hang up on the KTM as I felt the front of the bike is a bit harder to set up than prior years. I felt like some of the feel and response from the front tire is missing, but at the same time there's still plenty of front grip. I just felt like I was searching more when I first jumped on the bike each day, trying to find that edge of traction. Also, I felt like some of the comfort up front was missing. Lowering the air pressure .2 bar and stiffening the compression clicker by two helped make the fork move a bit more in the stroke for me, but it still didn't have the initial comfort of the Yamaha or Honda. Overall, the '19 chassis just feels a bit stiffer or more rigid up in the headstay area and doesn't allow the front tire to "follow" the ground as much or produce the feel I was looking for. As more of the class moves back to spring forks, the feel of the KTM starts to stand out more and just isn't as favorable when tracks are choppy and hard-packed for me.

Out back I'm quite happy with the rear shock performance, I usually feel like KTM and WP hit a great rebound setting. Many bikes in the test feel a little slow on rear rebound and can pack on hard-packed tracks, but the KTM reacts just the right amount to feel like I can stay in the throttle when exiting nasty corners, without worrying about the rear end kicking out or packing down. My only change would be to soften it a bit and get more squat depending on the track, as the KTM has a tendency to feel a bit tall in ruts for me.

KTM's 250 SX-F is still a killer choice in this class and really fits the "Ready to Race" slogan that's been their tag line. For me, though, it's not as well-rounded and as easy to set up as my top pick when going track-to-track. At some tracks, I click with it immediately,  while others take some more work, mostly in dealing with the forks and front end feel. Also, the Brembo clutch is really on-off for my taste and the shift lever is a bit too long for my size eight boots.

First Place: Yamaha YZ250F

 From the moment I rode the YZ250F for our First Impression video, I knew it would contend for the win this year on my own list and probably overall. While the engine has carried the YZ250F to some good results over the past few years, the chassis and overall feel of the bike hasn't been enough to put it on top. But for 2019, this is the first YZ250F that really has it all for me and is a true well-rounded package in my eyes.

Starting with the engine, which was already raved about, it's still seen a large amount of changes. Our First Look has all the details, but the majority is new, especially at the top end of the engine. While the prior years have been all about the bottom-to-mid performance, along with that initial response, the 2019 version has been pushed to gain more mid-to-top. I will say the 2019 has a little bit less torque or roll-on feel, but has gained so much more from mid on that it becomes a better overall package. It still has better bottom end performance in terms of feel than any other bike in the class, but just a bit less than the '18. But now it has the mid-to-top to be competitive with the KTM and Husky. In the past couple years, I'd rated the KTM as the best overall stock engine in the class but the Yamaha has surpassed it for me this year.

As we've talked about a lot this year, Yamaha has a power tuner app that's free to use. In the case of the '19 YZ250F I tested the stock map, their loam setting and their TPST map from the US R&D staff. For myself, the TPST map was my preference as it offered more pull through the mid-range and to the top. That made it easier to use third gear to its full potential in tighter sections and the increase mid-range pickup was great for hitting corners a gear higher than the other bikes in the test. Overall, I think the engine character changes make the bike better suited for younger amateur riders due to the more aggressive nature, but it still retains enough of the beloved roll-on to be usable all the way around.

As for the chassis and ergo changes, the Yamaha is finally reaching the size we've wanted to see. Between the lower seat height from the middle to back point and the swap from a convex to concave radiator shroud. Being a smaller rider, these changes were big, allowing me to be comfortable moving around the YZF. In the past, I've felt like I just sat in the middle of the bike, using the great motor and suspension to roll around the track, but not always guide it or manhandle it when needed. With the '19, though, I was much more in control of the bike and able to manipulate it all over the track, while still having that excellent power. The '19 YZF is much easier to guide into the inside of the corner and better to hang off the back in the loose or loamy conditions. The other thing that really impressed me with the new Yamaha was the improved feel from the front end. To get into tight ruts on the '18 or prior, I had to get right up on the front edge of the seat, but with the '19 I get similar traction and feel from the front of bike while I'm firmly sited in a more centered riding position. From here, I'm able to make a larger amount of and quicker adjustments mid corner and on exit. Overall this makes my laps feel more consistent and gives me more control on a varying amount of surfaces.

In the end, I only have a small squabble or two with the bike. While the brakes aren't bad, I wished they had better modulation or power likes those found with the Brembos on the Austrian twins or the new front caliper on the CRF. Other than that I wouldn't mind seeing a 110 tire on the rear stock as the Yamaha easily puts out the grunt to carry it, along with maybe a change to the tire spec. My personal preferences don't seem to align with the Bridgestone Battlecross tires, namely the front, which climbs out of ruts a bit too easily for me.

Simply put, the 2019 Yamaha YZ250F has the most well-rounded engine and suspension, with a chassis and ergos that are quite competitive, all without a major downfall to be found.

LITPro Data from Milestone - Michael Lindsay

Shelby Paget 

Age: 31
Height: 6'0" / Weight: 150 lbs.
Experience: 30+ Intermediate
Recent Bikes: 2018 KTM 125SX, 2017 Honda CRF450R, 2013 Yamaha YZ250, 2015 KTM 250 SX-F
2018 Shootout Results: 1st KTM 250 SX-F, 2nd Yamaha YZ250F, 3rd Honda CRF250R, 4th Kawasaki KX250F, 5th Husqvarna FC250, 6th Suzuki RM-Z250

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

Suzuki has definitely stepped up their game this year, but to be honest they're still a bit behind the competition. The engine had improved power and I felt that it includes a usable roll-on that builds consistently into a decent mid with a short punch at the top, but then falls off. Suzuki has done a good job with the mapping and the power delivery, but they just need to increase the overall power output across the board for it to really be competitive my eyes for 2019. It's very smooth and a beginner rider might enjoy the usable delivery without any nail-biting climax.  

At 155 pounds and an intermediate pace, the Suzuki seems to be sprung a bit stiff for my size and ability, but it may be a perfect fit for someone weighing an additional 30 pounds or so. My biggest trouble was getting the fork and shock to get into the travel of the suspension, without it unsettling and going back to full rebound. If I adjusted the compression softer, then the fork would give out and blow through and going any stiffer would keep the fork and shock suspended too high up in the travel for it to truly be used. This was a bit frustrating in ruts and braking sections where I would find myself waiting for the bike to settle before taking a turn or lining myself into a rut. While the chassis redesign and updated suspension has made the Suzuki a drastically improved ride, it still has a ways to go to be mid-pack or a front-runner with all the other manufacturers pushing the envelope today. Add more power to an already usable powerband, with some proper spring rates for a typical 250F rider, and Suzuki may have the bike to make it up the rankings a bit next year!

Fifth Place: Honda CRF250R

I have a desire to see the Honda at the top of the podium, but being this is the 250 shootout and power plays a big part in this class, it’s just not the complete package to break into the top bikes yet for my personal list. Now where the Honda shines, is its incredible chassis. Whereas the Suzuki has typically been known as one of the best turning bikes in the class, I feel that the CRF has taken over that position.  The bike made light work of deep ruts with decreasing radius exits, as well as sections where you want to manual the bike through rollers or pop off of a jump face. The Honda front fork is my favorite in the class this year and it’s hard to describe...but it reminds me of a wide, stable couch fork that has great action, and decent bottoming. Although it's a bit floaty in quick chop, I felt like the front end is stuck to the ground and tracking wherever I pointed it. The rear of the bike was fairly good but I did have a recurring issue in fast, off-camber smaller jumps. I noticed that if I didn’t push hard into the fast rolling jump while going through the off camber section the rear end would drop towards the ground right off the lip, which got me crossed up a few times until I figured out that I really had to preload the rear again, harder than any of the other chassis in the class to make it respond accordingly. I played with the rear damping clickers a bit and it helped a little...but the tendency to drop was still there.

Where the Honda really got pushed towards the back of the pack was in the engine department. This has been the Honda’s weakness for years now and though there have been improvements made, it’s simply not as easy to feel like a front-runner as the bikes ahead of it. The engine reminds me exactly of my KTM 150 SX, it’s got very little roll-on ability, requires a lot of clutch work to get it into the mid-powerband and then the power hits in a strong exciting way as it revs to the top end. While this powerband makes the bike amazingly fun to ride, I would select other brands first if I were to have to line up at a race tomorrow. I found myself shifting, sometimes from first all the way through fourth gear in sections where bikes like the KTM and Yamaha could just remain in third gear. I also had to feather the clutch just before landing on the backsides of some jumps in order to get the revs up in third and fourth gear when a jump followed. If this class was purely chassis and handling-based, I’m certain the Honda would be up front, but since power is a huge denominator in the 250 class, for me the CRF needs a bit too much attention in this area before it’s a real front-runner.

Fourth Place: Husqvarna FC 250

The Husqvarna has an all-new chassis for 2019, and in my opinion the bike is improved quite a bit from last year. Power on the Husky takes a minute to build into a strong mid, with an absolute explosive top end. The Husky makes good power on the low-to-mid, but with how hard the top end hits, it almost makes the bike feel underpowered on the roll-on despite it having just enough. With the way the engine is mapped, the hit on the upper end was similar to a strong '96 CR250 and it put a huge smile on my face every time. I was able to stretch out each gear longer on the Husky than any other 250 this year and that huge high RPM pull was what made this possible.

The chassis itself felt more balanced and supple than the years past, which made the bike so simple to jump on and ride with confidence right out of the gate. Though the Husky is very easy to ride, I personally prefer a bit more positive feedback from the front end and chassis for me to really feel connected to the track and bike as a whole. Overall, the Husky felt less rigid than the KTM, but not quite as precise as some of the bikes that were ranked above it. As usual, I really enjoyed the hydraulic clutch and Brembo brakes. In the end, I feel that if the Husqvarna were to help out the low end roll-on while maintaining the explosive top end hit...I would certainly move this bike up a few spots.

Third Place: Kawasaki KX250

When I first got on the Kawasaki I noticed how small the chassis felt, and it made me feel like the bike was going to be very easy to throw around and keep under me. The KX is a bit of a unique bike for the podium this year as it doesn’t necessarily do any one thing exceptionally well, but it does a very good job of doing things well enough to make it feel like a very easy to ride and well-rounded bike. The power was responsive off the bottom, strong through the mid and though it fell off on top, it didn’t seem to affect my comfort on the track despite fiddling a bit more than I’d like between second and third gear. The KX250 comes with a few different couplers for power output and I found that I liked their most “aggressive” version with the white coupler. It helped get the bike out of corners and made up for my mistakes a bit better than with the stock setup. Like I said, the engine isn’t anything spectacular, but it’s strong, easy to use, and made me feel confident and comfortable.

The suspension felt a bit more connected in terms of feedback than some of the other bikes this year. Though in some sections this was a bit of an issue in regards to too much bottoming or a bit of a dead packing feel, for the most part I enjoyed being able to feel connected to the front wheel in this way and it helped me feel confident in selecting entrance lines to ruts, navigating rolling sand whoops, and scrubbing off of jump faces.  What was really enjoyable was the playful feel the KX had to it for cornering and jumping.  The seat and chassis has a very flat transition from front to back, which really made it easy for me to move back and be aggressive in different sections, then slide back up front for the corners.  

With stock settings, the rear had a slight tendency to buck a bit on off-throttle braking bump sections, so we slowed the rear rebound down by two clicks and the issue was fairly resolved, providing a well-balanced chassis around the track. I know some riders had more issues with the fork bottoming, but I only encountered this a couple times, otherwise the bike felt well-sprung for me and my speed, carrying itself in the middle of the stroke in most sections. If there was one area that I would like to see an improvement it would be the rear brake, as it seemed a bit soft and had a spongy feel to it. This may be eliminated with a brake bleed but it didn’t feel as positive as some of the other bikes in the class. I think this bike would be a killer platform to build on since all attributes are well-balanced and the KX pulled of third place for me with its easy to use power, along with the light and flickable chassis!

Second Place: KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM was a very close second for me this year, and KTM has been consistently producing top-notch bikes for years. This year the whole new chassis has made some noticeable changes to the riding experience. The orange bike still maintains a great amount of power, but in comparison to the YZF, the power rolls on much less aggressively and continually builds to create a strong and very usable powerband. I would like a bit more low-end punch, but still found myself more than able to pull third through many of the same sections as I was able to on the Yamaha, just the same but with a different engine output feel. The KTM has a amazing top-end power in second and third gear, pulling strong all the way to the high rev ceiling, which helped save me from having to shift in certain sections. To sum up the power on the KTM in one sentence, I’d say that the 250 SX-F has a tremendously smooth but strong-pulling engine that is easy to adjust to... but packs enough punch to get the rider out of any sticky situation.

As I move onto the chassis, the air forks have come a long ways but I feel there’s still room for improvement on the stock setup with the KTM. For me, the fork is the main item that kept the KTM from the top spot this time around; although it functions well, there’s still that bit of "breaking the crust” feel at the very beginning of the stroke that's felt on sections where I was trying floating the front end through lightly, as well as when I’d come up a touch short on a jump or roller section. The fork had a bit of a hollow feel after initial engagement which stayed through the bottom of the stroke. This wasn’t a huge issue, but it didn’t allow me to feel as connected to the front tire as I’d like, which affected my front end confidence in technical, or fast and choppy sections. Also, there was a touch of shaky chatter in the mid portion of the stroke that made the front end feel just a bit unsettled at times. The rear end however was very sure and planted in pretty much all scenarios I put it in. With this, I felt that the KTM really put the power to the ground in such a predictable and efficient way. And I never found myself second-guessing what the rear end was going to do when I made a mistake, as it would always make its way back to center while putting the power to the ground.

Of course, I can’t talk about the KTM without mentioning how nice it is to have such a slim, light-feeling chassis that's equipped with the most powerful brakes and lightest clutch in the class (alongside the Husky). Like I’ve said in past years, the KTM seems to be designed as a precise racing tool that is built to help riders win races, but it’s not always the bike that puts the largest smile on my face, as the chassis hasn’t always invited the playfulness that I feel on some of the other bikes. Nonetheless, with the bikes all exceptional in 2019, the KTM made its way into a very close second place ranking on my top picks! 

First Place: Yamaha YZ250F

It’s been a few years since Yamaha topped the podium in my personal rankings, but it proved itself worthy for the pole position in my 2019 250 lineup! The first thing I noticed when I climbed aboard the Yamaha is that it's still the widest bike in the class, and though this takes a couple laps to get used to, before you know it the ergonomics feel just like home. While still a bit big feeling, I felt the '19 was improved in that area...but it's still noticeable. The second, and likely most compelling attribute for the YZF, is that incredibly strong roll-on torque that builds into a usable mid a with a decent top end pull right as you shift into the next gear! This bike literally feels like a baby 450 in the way that it pulls so hard out of corners and helps make up for any mistakes I may have made in my line selections on the track. This was one of two bikes that I could comfortably ride an entire lap (Milestone & Cahuilla) in third gear, literally getting away without shifting. This was nearly impossible for most other engines in this class, aside from maybe the KTM when I hit things just right. I also liked that with a few clicks of my smartphone I could swap over to a new ECU map. We messed around with a few settings at the tracks and these changes were subtle but noticeable. I loved how easily it was to tune the suspension and engine depending on how tired I was, how rough the track got, and when I needed more or less of out of the bike.

Once I stopped smiling from the amount of power the blue steed puts out, I noticed how well-balanced and suspended the bike is in stock form. Each day we tested all the bikes I really wanted to feel best on a few other bikes, but after each session and each day came to a close I found myself feeling by far most comfortable and confident on the Yamaha, regardless the track layout or conditions of where we were riding. The bike simply inspires confidence. This has been the case in the past for me with the the KYB suspension and the Yamaha chassis, but this year they really balanced the bike out from front to rear and improved in all areas. The front end is supple yet holds up really well in stock form, and as a rider I really felt connected to the front wheel. Whatever input I initiated, the output from the fork was equal and easy to anticipate. The front wheel would stick very well into rutted corners or flat sweeping sections. I didn’t feel any initial bonking or tremendous hold up in the fork action that some of the other bikes displayed, and the fork action was progressive, smooth and I didn’t feel any harshness upon larger impacts. A few of the stock 250s have a tendency to bottom easily, but this wasn’t the case for me with the Yamaha.

The rear end was a bit different for me and if I were to pick a component of the YZF that I would personally like to spend some time tampering with it would be the rear shock. It might be just a touch too stiff for my weight and speed, or maybe I just hadn’t found the perfect setting, but I found the rear end to have a subtle left-to-right swap off throttle braking into choppy, faster sections. This was the only drawback to the Yamaha for me and with a bit more time I think I’d be able to iron it out fairly easily with either a spring swap or potentially adjusting the high-speed compression damping a bit more. Corner turn in was agile and easy once you get used to sitting a hair further back on the seat than some of the other bikes, since the seat rose a bit as it got closer to the front. The front brakes were very powerful and stopped on a dime accompanied by a complementary rear brake for dragging into or out of sections if needed. Overall this bike was an easy winner and if I were to line up tomorrow at the gate, I would be most confident in achieving the best results on the Yamaha YZ250F!

Zach Peddie

Age: 24
Height: 5' 7" / Weight: 155 lbs.
Riding Experience: Pro Motocross and Supercross
Recent Bikes: 2018 Honda CRF450R, 2015 Honda CRF250R, 2017 Husqvarna FC 450, 2016 Yamaha YZ450F
2018 Shootout Results: 1st Honda CRF250R, 2nd KTM 250 SX-F, 3rd Husqvarna FC250, 4th Yamaha YZ250F, 5th Kawasaki KX250F, 6th Suzuki RM-Z250

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

The Suzuki without a doubt improved over last year's model, with a much faster engine and a more balanced chassis. On the downside, though, the fork and shock on the RM-Z initially felt like a Supercross setup, being really stiff in the initial part of the stroke and stiffened up even more so when deeper into the stroke. With the suspension feeling so stiff and a bit on the slower side, we softened up the compression and sped up the rebound three clicks each on the fork, replicating similar changes to the shock. This seemed to help a little, but overall it was still a firm ride. After spinning five or so laps on the bike, I did notice I was able to push much harder coming into corners and up to jumps... but I just had to be aware of bigger bumps as the fork and shock would want skip out and lose traction.

The motor had a good connected feel to the throttle and clutch, which was great coming through ruts and around a tight track. Second and third gears were fairly stout, but it did seem to rev out a little slow and required a bit of clutching to keep the RPMs up. Once I got this bike into fourth gear it really wanted to open up, but the hard part was getting it there since third gear was extremely long and revved out slow, so I only found myself in fourth in a few sections on the track.

The overall feel of the chassis was much stiffer feeling then in years past, probably because of the stiffer suspension set up. It had a BMX bike feel to it, stiffer, yet light and it felt like I could do quite a bit with the bike on the ground and in the air. The footpeg to seat height was pretty close together which was nice, but the handlebars were extremely close to the rider and seat, making the cockpit feel really small, which took a bit of time to get used to. I did like how slim the bike felt at the feet and all the way up to the front shrouds, it really made me feel as if I were one with the bike. However, I did have a hard time with the shifter being pretty short and I really had to be precise on where I placed my feet. Overall, the bike had great characteristics and I felt like I could definitely get comfortable on it...I just felt it could’ve done better in the suspension and motor department.

Fifth Place: Yamaha YZ250F

My initial thoughts on this bike was, "Wow!" It's very smooth with fast but with usable power. The YZF's engine works extremely well in any condition; sand, hardpack, slop, loam, silt, etc. But, the areas I struggled with on this bike was the suspension feeling a bit overactive, plus the chassis and ergos made me feel a little small for the bike.

I felt when I was going in a straight line, the fork and shock worked really well as far as sucking up bumps and potholes on the go, but where I struggled was finding the bike's balance under braking, entering and rolling through corners. The fork was extremely plush in the initial and mid part of the stroke, making the track feel as smooth as ever. On the downside it felt like it had a lot of weight on it, making the front end feel a bit twitchy, especially if I was under hard braking coming into turns or had a rough turn in a sweeping section. The shock had a hard time staying planted in most turns, I kept getting pushed back up into the stroke through ruts, as well as flat fast corners. I think for my weight I just wasn't heavy enough to make the bike settle correctly.

The engine on this bike is definitely next level. The way every gear pulled was extremely predictable and solid, plus the bike never seemed to stop revving, which was nice. If I ever needed more power I just had to pull a shift at any point and it didn't matter what RPM it was at. The bottom end grunt is unbelievable, in deep sandy turns this bike felt like a rocket ship and the mid-to-top end of this bike made strong but usable power, making it pretty easy to get into fourth and fifth gear on some of our bigger tracks. Also, with the power tuner app I had all of the adjustability I could ask for.

The frame on the Yamaha was very supple; not too stiff or too soft, it just seemed to mold to the track quite well. The shroud plastics are noticeably slimmer than last year's model but still a little big for myself. I really liked the adjustability the top triple clamp offers to all sized riders. Where I struggled was with the footpeg height and position, it just made my grip and position on the bike when standing hard to cope with. The bars did seem a bit low, so I definitely felt spread out towards the front of the bike. In combination with the suspension feeling front-heavy I wasn’t confident pushing the bike into rougher corners and sections, like I was with the bikes ahead of it on my list.

Fourth Place: Kawasaki KX250

The Kawasaki didn’t have the fastest motor, nor the best suspension, but it was definitely one of the easiest bikes to ride, hands-down. My favorite part about this bike is how comfortable the chassis is, it’s very slender at the feet and knees, whether you're standing or sitting. It also feels very small and a bit on the shorter side in length, which I though really helped me get comfortable in my corners as well as whipping it in the air.

If the track was extremely smooth and fast, the KX worked really well and corners were definitely its strong suit. Laying it down in ruts or bigger sand turns was no problem at all this bike, as I could feel where the wheels were at all times. However, I ran into some difficulties with the fork when the track roughened up as it wanted to blow through the stroke quite easily. Even with stiffening up the compression and speeding up rebound, I couldn’t find a comfortable setting on our rougher tracks. The shock was similar if the track was smooth, as the bike settled really well, I just had a hard time finding that next stiffer/faster setting. 

The engine was peppy and very alive feeling, making this bike really easy to ride, especially in tighter or rutted situations. The gearing was my favorite part about this bike because of how even every single gear pulled, all the way from second to fifth. It did lack a little bit in overall power for each gear, though, and I did have to shift a bit to keep up my momentum. Where I felt I lost the most time on the track was down bigger straightaways and in deep sand due to a slight lack in overall mid-to-top end power. 

However, I did feel like I rode this bike very consistently and would have no problem racing it as-is in any condition. The only reason this bike edged out the Yamaha to me was how comfortable and predictable the chassis felt. The handlebars were also slightly taller feeling from the seat compared to most bikes, and with the seat already feeling low I had a ton of control and confidence in the bike. In tricky rough sections or even through a deep rut, I felt it allowed my upper body to relax and be more upright.

Third Place: KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM worked really well for me, from the engine to chassis this bike has so much to offer on any track conditions. The hydraulic clutch seemed to give very good feedback and the engine also had a very connected feel to the throttle when getting on the gas. For me, the KTM felt very similar to the Husqvarna when it came to suspension. The bike felt balanced and calm in most situations, but the fork did ride a bit high in the stroke. Through big sweeping corners where you didn’t need as much of a lean angle, the bike seemed to work extremely well. But I did have to go out on compression and rebound to help the fork settle in rough sections and tighter, rutted corners that needed the bike to be leaned over more. 

The power came on fast and almost abruptly compared to the Husky and I felt it had a slightly lower-revving motor, like the power was more in the middle compared to the Husky. Right off the bottom it seemed to hit pretty hard and I could tell the gears were pretty long and spread out. Second and third gear were extremely usable and powerful, sending me over any jump in my way.

The frame itself had a soft feel to it, which really helped in rough sections for me as it allowed the chassis and suspension to mold to whatever riding condition I was on. The footpeg to seat placement was extremely comfortable, although I struggled with feeling like I was sitting on top of the bike... not in it so much. I did enjoy how slender the frame felt at the feet and knees, along with being quite easy to get my leg up high against the shroud in deep corners.

Second Place: Husqvarna FC 250

The Husqvarna has an unbelievable motor and great handling characteristics, along with a very usable hydraulic clutch and excellent throttle response. Actually, those last two items felt as if they were connected as one. But where it lacked for me was some of the feel and ergos. Overall I felt like it was little long, which for sure which isn't a bad thing for straight line stability, but when riding the bike I felt like I was sitting up on the bike not in it. For me, that didn't offer the overall comfort as the my top pick did through corners and tighter parts of the track.

The fork and shock felt fairly balanced, with the fork being just a bit stiffer than the shock, which gave me tons of confidence on my straight line stability. Also, bigger corners that were soft or hardpack were extremely easy to hit. Plus, the Husky stayed fairly neutral and calm underneath me on downhills and through rough sections...but the fork still felt a bit stiff and rigid in faster or slow speed sections. I went three clicks out on compression and rebound, which seemed to help my problem on the fork. Room for improvement? That would be on tighter rutted corners, where the fork didn't want to dive into the stroke all that easily, but the faster I went the better it worked...just not that comfortably.

I really enjoyed riding this bike because of the supple feel the frame gives and the slenderness it offers. But I did feel like I was sitting on top of the bike, which made some corners difficult. The footpeg to seat height was spot on and I really like how the footpegs slightly bow up into the frame, which allowed me to squeeze the bike with my knees easily. The seat itself was comfortable, and I liked the stiffer foam. It was just the distance from the front of the seat to the handlebars that felt far away and I found myself on the front of the bike more than I wanted to be.

The engine on this bike is on another level, the bottom-to-mid power was like a rocketship and it kept revving, even if you left it in the same gear too long. I really liked how second gear was long and powerful at any RPM, working well in tighter and bigger ruts really well. Third gear pulled strong off the bottom and carried through the entire gear, and yet fourth gear was fairly easy to get into and still made great power, even if I was lugging it a bit. I also noticed there wasn't a ton of engine braking, so the bike had great roll speed coming into corners, it just took me a little bit of time to get used to entering into tighter corners, as the bike flowed in noticeably faster.

First Place: Honda CRF250R

The Honda took my top spot because of the overall handling and chassis setup, it's definitely not the fastest 250 in the class, but by far I was able to do the most on the track with this bike. I just felt like I could be as aggressive as I wanted to be in all parts of the track. In rutted corners, the bike laid over extremely well and didn’t have a hard time staying in those ruts. But also on bigger turns that were flat, choppy, soft or hard I always had great feel of where my wheels were at.

Starting with the suspension, the fork and shock felt safe yet predictable on both compression and rebound. It was supple on the top of the stroke and worked extremely well in small chop, at fast or slow speeds. These two units also worked as a pair, feeling very progressive from the mid-to-bottom of the stroke. On bigger jumps, rollers, and harsh hits the bike reacted really well and stayed calm underneath me. The only negative I could take from the suspension setup would be the high-speed rebound on the rear shock was a bit light, making the rear end sit a little tall around the track. After making a quarter, then half-turn adjustment out to soften it, the shock felt slightly lowered in the rear and relieved a little weight from the front end of the bike, further balancing things out.

The ergos on the CRF were my favorite part about this bike, as the footpeg placement is extremely neutral and not too low nor high. Being a smaller rider, the distance from the footpegs to the seat felt awesome, as well as the seat height to handlebars, which were close enough together that I never felt too spread out through my corners or entering into rough sections. I also really liked the new bar bend that Honda is utilizing this year. From the motor compartment to the shrouds, the bike is extremely slim; this made cornering very comfortable as I was able to have my leg nice and high, not ever getting held up on the shrouds or having to think of where I'm going to place my leg through the corners.

I did like how smooth the motor was on the CRF, I felt it made very usable power around the track but I just wasn’t in love with it completely. Overall, I felt it could use a bit more power on the bottom and middle. Second gear seemed very short and didn't make all that much power, so making it into third was challenging. It was was a smooth and predictable gear, that you could use on tighter sections and through bigger difficult ruts...just not something to rely on pulling too far. Third gear seemed to pull for a fairly long time but just didn't make the power I was looking for. It felt extremely powerful if you got it into fourth gear, but in order to do that I would have to rev out third pretty far, which at some of our smaller tracks was a problem. If I could lengthen second and shorten third that would allow me to get into fourth more often at some of the tighter tracks, really allowing this motor to open up.

Chris Hay

Age: 36
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 160 lbs.
Riding Experience: 30+ Pro
Recent Bikes: 2018 Kawasaki KX450F, 2017 Yamaha YZ450F, 2013 Kawasaki KX450F, 2012 Suzuki RM-Z450
2018 Shootout Results: 1st Yamaha YZ250F, 2nd KTM 250 SX-F, 3rd Husqvarna FC 250 4th Kawasaki KX250F, 5th Honda CRF250R, 6th Suzuki RM-Z250

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

I was really looking forward to getting on board the all new RM-Z; with its all-new styling and sharp ergos, the bike just looks good. Once I initially sat on the bike, I was having flashbacks of their 450 as the ergos felt basically identical. Straight away on track I could feel the improvements over the '18 model, as the engine and power stepped up...but not enough to compete with the frontrunners in the class. When I cracked the throttle, it was a bit hesitant off the bottom, but from middle-to-top it had a controllable curve. I did go to the leaner coupler (white) following the tech crew's recommendation to help it rev and although it improved, it was barely noticeable and not a big enough change. While the engine is more competitive now, it's still at the bottom fo the list for me in that regard.

For myself, probably the biggest complaint was the chassis and suspension. It had a harsh feel on everything from small chop, slap down landings, and really, anything that the front encountered. Then on braking it was twitchy and deflected, which didn’t inspire confidence to push harder. I did go softer on the fork, but it didn’t really help much, and I struggled to eliminate the topped-out feeling front and rear. This feeling really impeded the bike's ability to settle in corners or really anywhere on the track, as it just constantly felt tall. I feel like with some more refinement the RM-Z could challenge for a higher position; but to do so for me it would need more chassis compliance, better suspension (likely including a spring rate change), and some more grunt from the motor.

Fifth Place: Honda CRF250R

It hurts to put the Honda in fifth place. The positives to this CRF is that is has a lot of potential to be a frontrunner, and was fun to ride aggressively. It’s easy to tell that Honda engineers have put in time making improvements to the things that hindered the bike last year, but it was still lacking in a few areas where it mattered to me and ultimately affected the final results.

The Honda chassis and cockpit ergonomics felt comfortable and challenged for top honors in class...seriously, something about their bikes just feels comfortable when you jump onboard. Initially, the suspension was a little stiff, but just a couple of clicks softer on compression helped settle the front end. This let it dive and move through the stroke a bit more, which I liked for absorbing the little bumps when entering turns and ruts. This small change gave me more comfort, which the CRF is already full of with its new chassis.

Now the biggest downfall with the CRF is the motor, namely the initial throttle response. It lags right off the bottom and I had to use the clutch on the tighter turns for it to respond. Although the middle range felt like an improvement over last year, you still have to rev the Honda to get the most out of it. And I mean like rev it, straight to the limiter! Don’t get me wrong, it is fun doing that but sometimes it feels like it takes a lot of work to keep it singing. Pretty much I was having flashbacks of being on a 125. Honestly, with the great chassis that Honda has developed...adding more power off the bottom would have it challenging for a podium result in an instant!

Fourth Place: Kawasaki KX250F

The KX has always been a favorite bike of mine, as I've owned quite a few of them, so jumping on one always offers some level of familiarity. Honestly, I had a lot of fun on the tighter tracks with this bike and it had a smaller, more nimble feel than some of the other bikes with recent upgrades. Faster tracks with larger obstacles weren't quite as enjoyable as the suspension just felt soft and a bit unforgiving in these situations. I went up two clicks on compression in the fork and rear low-speed compression as well, plus a few turns on the fork's preload. This was an improvement but I made another tweak by going two clicks slower on rebound to settle down the front. This was a improvement on the faster layouts but the overall feel of the bike was still quite soft. The chassis offers a lot of natural comfort but I'd like the suspension to offer a ride that could be pushed a bit harder.

The engine was easy to ride and liked to be revved, and for me it felt like it had possibly the least amount of engine braking compared the other bikes in the test. This made it easy to carry entrance speed and roll the initial parts of the corners, just making for an overall fun experience. The response of the KX is also a highlight, as the engine just feels well-mapped and ready to go. It's definitely not the most powerful in the class, but it has its highlights. Due to the size, ergos, and softness of the bike...I’d say the KX would be perfect for the younger, lighter rider, moving up to a 250F for the first time. For me, though, it just felt a little too soft, but it's a good bike nevertheless.

Third Place: KTM 250 SX-F

Ahh, the KTM 250 SX-F, the original Austrian bike. Last year the KTM was second in the shootout for me, but this year it dropped to third. I’ll start with the positives on the SX-F, the power and aggressive nature of the bike makes it feel just like the slogan says, "Ready to Race"! I felt like the engine was the most aggressive throughout the range and with map two switched on, it had a harder hit that helped in the sand and softer sections. But in tighter corners and hardpacked conditions, the midrange seemed like it was a little too much and needed smoothing out. I ended up switching to map one as soon as things got slick or inconsistent. It let me rev out he bike a bit easier and the power was smoother in this map, but it still needed to be a bit easier to use in some sections as the bike could become a handful. 

Probably the main reason why the SX-F didn’t move up and challenge for the win was the compliance throughout the chassis, as it was slightly too rigid for my liking. I did drop fork pressure a little and this did help slightly, but still could do with a bit more. The overall feel, even with some fork adjustments, was a bit too rigid and loss of front feel, making it harder to trust in all conditions. And again with the shock, it was slightly stiff and I didn’t feel like it absorbed acceleration like I would have liked. Really, the KTM feels like an aggressive race machine right out of the box, which is great, it's just not as well-rounded out of the box as the bikes farther up this list.

Second Place: Husqvarna FC 250

The Husqvarna ripped, period! It felt comfortable for me and part of that was the easy to ride with linear power. This broad power allowed for easy application and made the bike very consistent on each track, challenging for the top position in my laptimes on each day of the shootout. The output of the Husky was easily translated to the ground and the engine pulled all the way to the top without signing off, which inspired confidence to push the bike further in attacking sections. On certain sections, I did find there was a little gap between second and third gears, which I struggled with. There were times I wanted to get third sooner to carry through the section but had to rev out second pretty far before shifting.

The chassis felt quite forgiving and had more compliance with the terrain than the previous year's model, which made it easy to ride and adapt to. Honestly, I’ve never really been a big fan of the AER forks and they're probably the weakest link of the bike for me. I had a few issues keeping the bike planted when laying the front wheel down on a bump or landing of a jump, but other than that they worked pretty well. But If I had this bike for myself, I’d probably switch them to a spring fork that would give the feedback that I look for. Overall, I was impressed and with some further changes to the forks, I could see it battling for the top spot.

First Place: Yamaha YZ250F

The YZF was a blast to ride. Like last year, Yamaha topped my 250F shootout pick and with the improvements they made this year, it was easy to put it in that spot again. The motor stood out on every track with its strong low-end pull and light, easy-revving feel...especially with the TPTS map equipped. For 2019, the addition of electric start, map switch, and Wifi tuning app were nice. I know some think of these sort of things as gimmicks, but for my rankings, they made a solid impact. The ergos on the Yamaha took a few laps to get used to. Although the bike has received some updates and been thinned out a bit, it just has a different feel to the other machines in the class. Once I adapted the Yamaha's feel, it seemed to be the easiest bike to go fast on with a lower amount of effort. This translated into the fastest laptimes on each day of testing, also with my lowest heart rate from lap-to-lap. 

I did feel that on faster sections of the track the front end was a bit twitchy, but going stiffer on compression helped this. Once the bike was higher up in the stroke, it didn't overload the front and dance in my hands at higher speeds. With just a few small changes, it was the best suspension in the class for my preferences. The rear of the bike felt quite stable and planted on acceleration, inspiring confidence and a playful feeling that was enjoyable to ride. The Yamaha inspired confidence to try laps and jumps on the track unlike any other machine in the class and this was a big part of my choice to place it number one on my list. 

LITPro Data from Milestone - Chris Hay

Sean Klinger

Age: 32
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 210 lbs.
Riding Experience: Vet Novice
Recent Bikes: Anything Vital Tests
2018 Shootout Results: NA

Sixth Place: Husqvarna FC 250

I know that I’m in the minority in placing the FC 250 in last place, but to be fair, I’ve put it last place for a couple years now. Previously it was because the Husqvarna had the tamest power delivery and had to be ridden very aggressively to get the most out of it. But this year, it wasn’t the power that put it at the bottom of the list for me, it was the new chassis. Or at least that is what I felt was the issue, just like with the KTM. 

The power on the ‘19 FC is better than last year’s bike, or at least if feels that way to me. I would say it is very much like the KTMs, where in the past the Husky was noticeably tamer. It has a smooth, but usable bottom-end, then makes good power in the mid-range and rewards the rider who hangs on into the top-end. For the sand track on the first day, I found that the smooth power made it easy to get traction and keep consistent, even throttle through the deep sandy berms. But on the other tracks, I wanted more bottom-to-mid power that I can use right out of a corner. Throttle response is also a little lacking compared to the KTM, and other bikes for that matter. I left it in the second map all three days of testing - there wasn’t a situation where I wanted a tamer map. 

"I was using a lot of energy trying to keep it on the line I wanted"

Just like the KTM, I was struggling with the handling of the Husqvarna. At the sand track I felt like it was all over the place and I was using a lot of energy trying to keep it on the line I wanted. At the other tracks it behaved a little better for me but, again, it wasn’t turning with ease like the Suzuki, Yamaha, and Honda. Like the Kawasaki, but even more so, I was taking the outside lines and avoiding the ruts because I couldn’t stay in them very well. The lightness of the bike is felt when jumping and clearing obstacles but not so much when turning, unlike year’s past. 

The WP fork and shock work well for me, but I am maxing out the shock preload adjustment with my weight. Something I’ve noticed over the years of doing shootouts is that out of all the bikes, even the KTM, I can barely get in the right sag range on the Husqvarna. I know 210 pounds is pretty heavy for a 250F rider, but I’m sure I’m not the only “plus size” moto rider out there. To try and get a little more turn-ability we softened the fork by dropping the PSI from 10.3 bar to 10 bar and went a few clicks softer on fork compression. This didn’t really help and sort of reinforced the feeling that it is a chassis thing, not a suspension thing. 

Fifth Place: KTM 250 SX-F

I used to be a pretty big fan of the orange bike, but the changes this year had me overall struggling with it. The motor felt like it had a similar character to previous models (smooth bottom-end, strong mid, very strong top) with maybe even more power across the board. It definitely makes more power on the bottom than the Honda. You can lug it around, but that isn’t the most efficient way to ride SX-F. If you are an aggressive, spazzy rider that loves to bounce off the rev limiter, then the KTM’s motor should work great for you. That isn’t the way I ride so it isn’t my favorite. Map 2 is the way to go. Map 1 is mellower and I would only consider using it in super blue-groove conditions right after the track got watered. I didn’t mess with the traction control because I’ve played with it in the past and I don’t ride fast enough to notice any difference. 

The handling department is why this bike landed in fifth place for me. I used to really enjoy the supple, reactive chassis feel of the KTM, but for some reason, this year I felt like the bike was much more rigid, which made it really hard to turn for me. The SX-F didn’t want to lean into corners willingly and then when I was in a rut, I felt like it kept wanted to stand up mid-turn. In years past, its low weight would make it feel agile and easy to put where I wanted but for some reason, it wasn’t saving me like it did in the past. The bike has a “sit on” not a “sit in” feel which I like but the seat is starting to feel a bit wide compared to the other bikes in the class. 

I didn’t have any major complaints with the suspension. The WP AER fork is the best air fork I’ve ridden but it doesn’t have the plush comfort of the KYB SSS on the YZ250F. I went a little softer on compression to try and help with the turning of the bike, but I didn’t have an changes for the fork based on bump absorption or anything like that. I did go a quarter-turn stiffer on the shock high-speed compression to get a little more balance and hold up, since I felt a little choppered out. I like the WP shock - for a vet guy that doesn’t jump every jump and lands on top of the bigger jumps, I appreciate the KTM for having a smooth, firm shock that doesn’t blow through easily. 

Fourth Place: Honda CRF250R

I wanted to like the Honda more, I really did. And it does a lot of things well, it just lacks in the motor department, which is really important in the 250F class. Riding the bike by itself, it is easier to ignore the lack of torque feeling because you don’t have anything to compare it to. And you sort of just naturally start to wring it out more because that is where the power is. But riding it with the other bikes in the shootout throws the power into contrast, and that is why it is fourth place for me. 

As I just mentioned, the motor really works well if you rev it to the moon, and sort of ride it like a 125. But when you ride the other bikes (especially the YZ) and get spoiled by their torquey, snappy power, you sort of wonder about the Honda and why all the power is mid-to-top. The throttle response is great and it has a quick-revving character, it just sort of lacks pulling power, like it has a thin, not-meaty bottom end. It does make pretty good power starting in the mid-range and into the top-end, but this made it hard for me personally to hit certain jumps right out of corners. Your really do have to use the clutch a lot and ride it more like a two-stroke. The three power modes don’t make a massive change out on the track. I stuck with the stock map since the aggressive map seemed to just boost the top-end and not really do anything for the bottom. I do have to say I really like the way the bike sounds. It is pleasantly quiet, but has a throaty tone. 

The CRF handles really well. The first word that comes to mind is flickable. That being said, I don’t have as much cornering confidence as I do with wiht RM-Z or YZ. I feel like, when setting up for turns, it is a little twitchy and not as settled in the turn or rut as I ride through it. It does respond really fast to rider input and I felt like I had to be on my game to get the Honda to turn the way I wanted, just because it is so responsive. It has a very light feel when jumping and it felt like it floated over some of the rough sections of the tracks rather than slamming through them. That being said, it doesn’t get very high marks on stability, which really hurt it at the sand track on the first day. It took more effort to ride it fast through the rollers than some of the other bikes. 

The suspension worked good for me, but doesn’t really stand out as super-comfortable or firm. It is very middle of the road. I went a few clicks softer on the fork compression because on some repeated slapdown hits it was giving me a harsh feeling at the top of the stroke. The change helped but didn’t completely alleviate the harshness. The shock feels a little more active than some other bikes like I’m using all of the stroke but it wasn’t too soft, either. I prefer a more reactive shock feeling than a “dead” unresponsive shock that some fast guys prefer. Overall, I had a lot of fun riding the Honda, but it reminded me too much of riding a 125 when stacking it up with the other bikes. 

Third Place: Kawasaki KX250

With literally no changes from last year, it might be surprising to see this so high on my list but the bikes that ranked lower than the KX just had some characteristic/s that didn’t work for my style of riding. For me, the Kawasaki does everything really well, one thing great (stability) and nothing bad. 

The motor has a torquey, barky, pretty quick-revving character that is in the same ballpark as the YZ and very similar to the Suzuki. It is much more bottom-to-mid range focused than the Honda, KTM, and Husqvarna. There is a considerable amount of power right off idle that pulls strong through the mid-range, then tapers off on top without falling on its face. I did try the lean coupler but, for me, it made the bottom end power feel too thin and didn’t boost the mid and top enough to justify losing some torque feeling down low. Where the motor really worked well was on the sand track we rode the first day. It has a good balance of usability/smoothness and hit. I felt more than the other bikes that I was getting a ton of traction in the sand and moving forward, rather than just spinning the rear tire and throwing roost. 

The sand track was also where the KX out-shined the other bikes in the handling department for me. It was dead stable and didn’t wallow around or get bucked by off-camber bumps and knobs. The chassis has a great balance of offering a stable ride without being harsh or too soft. On the other, more traditional tracks the KX still handles predictably but I found myself taking more outside lines that cutting down to the inside ruts. It turns pretty well for me, just not as good as the Suzuki, Yamaha, and Honda. In the past the KX was known as a rear-end steering bike but for the 18/19 model, Kawasaki made a few changes that make it seem more of neutral steering bike that can work for both front- and rear-end steering riders. 

The fork is on the harsh side of things but not so much that it bothers me a whole bunch. I went one full turn (four clicks) softer on the fork spring preload adjuster and I got some comfort and more balance to the bike. In stock trim it felt a little choppered out. I also went a half-turn stiffer on the shock since I was blowing through the stroke in a few parts of the track. Once I made these changes I was happy with the way the KX absorbed hits and landed from jumps. Overall, I would recommend the KX250 to anyone who doesn’t know what they want. If someone doesn't know how they like to turn a bike or if they want to chug or rev, I would say the KX would please a wide variety of riders, especially those who live close to sand tracks. 

Second Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

Yep...I’m the odd man out putting the yellow machine much, much higher in the rankings than anyone else, yet I do have a pretty good explanation, so please bear with me. For one, I struggle with riding ruts and my overall cornering skills aren’t the best. That means I really fall in love with a bike that can help me turn faster and more effortlessly. The Suzuki has long been a quick-turning and agile-feeling machine and the '19 is just that. The other thing that is major point for this bike is that the spring in the fork is the same as the RM-Z450, which is much higher than all the other 250Fs, and the shock spring is also a higher rate. So, this bike feels to me like a 250F that has been sprung perfectly for my weight. More on that in a bit, after I talk about the motor. 

Last year, RM-Z felt slow-revving and pretty boring, to be honest. But this year, especially with the lean coupler installed, the yellow bike feels much more lively and fun to ride. It isn’t as aggressive and snappy as the YZ and it is very similar feeling to the KX, motor-wise. Compared to the other three bikes (CRF, FC, and SX-F) I would say the Suzuki has more bottom-to-mid range power, which is where I tend to ride. If you like to scream a bike to the rev limiter, the RM-Z wouldn’t be the best choice since it doesn’t make a ton of power past mid-range. The stock coupler works okay, and had great throttle response and torque feeling but is a little flat in power delivery. The lean coupler is much more dynamic and it responds faster to throttle changes, though it lacks a little torque right off idle. The motor feels freer to spool up faster. 

Handling is where this bike works amazingly...for me, that is. The fork and shock felt super-balanced and I could put the RM-Z anywhere I wanted, effortlessly. I’m a front-end steering guy and the Suzuki really rewards this style of riding. I had the most confidence in the front wheel on the RM-Z. Never did it want to push or slide out and in some tight 180s, I could turn in even tighter than the first rut. Compared to some of the other bikes that I was using a lot of physical and mental energy to turn, the Suzuki let me look to the end of the turn and past to the next obstacle, like I’m supposed to. Also, it felt very light and easy to jump. 

The suspension, as I said earlier, feels like it is sprung for my weight. It's firm and solid feeling, with great hold up. It does lack a little comfort, which could be a frame issue as well. I went three clicks slower on the fork compression which helped smooth out the very initial part of the stroke without affecting the handling or hold up. The shock was also firm but not so much that I wanted to soften it up. It might have offered just a little bit less traction than the Yamaha, but with more time I’m sure I could play with the settings more to get that. The bike, overall, felt extremely balanced and neutral which gave me a ton of confidence in both jumping and turning the RM-Z. 

First Place: Yamaha YZ250F

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. This phrase pretty much sums up how I felt about the 2018 YZ250F. So, when I heard Yamaha was making a lot of major changes to the '19 model, I was a little worried. But after riding the bike, I was happy to find out that I worried needlessly. 

The motor is unreal. It feels like a race motor or that it’s cheating with more displacement. Throttle response is as instant as it possibly could be and the overall character of the power is both torquey and extremely fast-revving. I could leave the bike in third gear coming out of corners that I was using second gear with every other bike. Some faster testers said it might feel a little mellower right on the bottom, but I didn’t really notice any lack of bottom-end. For me, it is the most aggressive, snappy, exciting motor in the group. The only two downsides I have with the Yamaha’s exhaust note is that it is pretty loud and raspy-sounding when wide open, and in the stock map it revs almost too fast for some situations. The first day of testing was at a deep sand track after a pretty good rain and, towards the end of the day when all the sand was churned up and soft, I felt like I was getting more wheelspin than traction driving me forward. 

Some testers in the past have had a hard time turning the Yamaha, but I never did. And the all-new bike turns just as easily for me this year, if not even easier. The bike feels very intuitive, like I just need to look where I want to go and the bike responds with very little input. The only other bike that turns easier/sharper is the Suzuki. The Yamaha has a very light-handling feeling, whether it be cornering, changing lines mid-straightaway or jumping. The shrouds have been slimmed up - now no one should be complaining that the bike feels wide, because it doesn’t. It comes in just behind the Suzuki for nimbleness/agility and about the same as the Honda for me. 

Other than changes to match the new frame, the suspension is the same setup it has had the last couple years which is fantastic news. The fork is plush, without any harsh spots in the stroke. For my weight, I would probably got to a stiffer spring rate to keep the whole bike balanced, but I would do the same with all the bikes except for the Suzuki. I did go two clicks softer to get a little more front end bite on corner entry. With the shock, I only had one complaint. At Cahuilla, there is a fast, bumpy downhill section where the rear would buck up, and side-to-side more than the other bikes. This was the last session of the day and the track closed so I wasn’t able to back out the high-speed just a bit, but I’m sure this would have helped. I also didn’t have any shock issues at either of the other two tracks. 

Overall, the Yamaha just sort of blows me away. It is surprising that both fast and not-so-fast guys can get along with the motor, handling, and suspension. Plus the power tuner app is like having a engine tuner with you all the time. You can drastically change the power characteristic anytime you feel like it. The only negative I have for the blue machine is that it makes me want to ride with ear plugs.

LITPro Data from Milestone (Vet Track) - Sean Klinger

Joe Carlino

Age: 34
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 160 lbs.
Riding Experience: 30+ Novice
Recent Bikes: 2019 KTM 350 SX-F, 2016 KTM 250 SX-F, 2016 KTM 125 SX
2018 Shootout Results: 1st Honda CRF250R, 2nd KTM 250 SX-F, 3rd Yamaha YZ250F, 4th Husqvarna FC 250, 5th Kawasaki KX250F, 6th Suzuki RM-Z250

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

I’ve got to say the Suzuki is a sexy bike, I love the lines and the design of the plastics, colors, and graphics. If this shootout was by looks, I could give it the winning spot at the first glance. But once I swung my leg over the seat, my thoughts drastically changed. My first riding impression of the Suzuki when just rolling onto the track was that it felt very low in the cockpit area, everything was very compact and short. I remember thinking to myself that I’m glad I’m not any taller, because I would be so crouched over. The shifter is the shortest I’ve ever felt on a motocross bike, and if you have big boots, you'd better be riding on the balls of your foot. But I guess there are scenarios where this is nice, such as downshifting, but for upshifting it was very hard to hook my toe under it.

The chassis gave the bike great front end traction and I don’t think this has even been disputed on a Suzuki, but it was also very stiff to me. I could make this bike turn on dime, I'd just look and it would go there. If this were my bike, the first thing I’d work on is adding some comfort. Maybe softer/more flexible engine mounts, bars, and even look at the clamps?

Being that we only had the bike for one day at Milestone, I went to work as fast as I could on the suspension. But it seemed like everything I did yielded little in comforting me on the bumpy beat up track. At my 160 pound weight, the springs just feel like they were way too much. The three words I wrote in my notebook to explain the suspension was “stiff and dead”. Without sounding completely negative, because it’s not a bad bike, it does have some great usable power from bottom-to-top. As far as couplers, I preferred stock as when I ran the lean map, it made the bike feel very tight to me. For me, a free-feeling engine is something I really enjoy. I think the '19 felt lighter in action than the previous '18 bike, which is a great step forward.

In the end, the stiff suspension made the entire bike feel super-rigid to me and I could not get past that feeling. I’m sure once the suspension gets sorted out it could be a totally different motorcycle.

Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX250

Last year, I rated the 2018 Kawasaki in fifth-place spot and with no changes for '19, I’m not surprised it's back in the same position. I’ve never been a Kawasaki rider, so the cockpit area is a bit strange to me, I just can’t gel with the footpeg-to-seat-to-bar triangle. It feels cramped in one aspect but too far spread in another. Honestly, I’d be interested to feel the bike with different bars, that are lower, but unfortunately that’s not part of the shootout.

"I got the small harsh bumps feeling better but..."

What I did really enjoy is the engine and the mapping, literally everything I did with the throttle the engine responded in kind. I felt connected like a “fly by wire” system in my wrist. This connection helped me in the corners, because the bike is doing exactly what I want, when I want. Overall, the engine spools up fast and it’s snappy all over. Now what really hurt this bike for me was the suspension. The fork has a really small window of it being good and it takes some work to get there. By example, I got it set up great at Cahuilla and it was stable and smooth on low-speed hits, even on the down the hills. But then the sharp high-speed bumps would be super-harsh and chatter the front end in my hands. After making some changes to the settings, I got the small harsh bumps feeling better but then the bike felt scary in long ruts and in turns. From track-to-track I felt like it was hard to get it dialed in for the majority of sections. While the bike was enjoyable in some areas, the out of the box setup wasn't for me.

Fourth Place: KTM 250 SX-F

It hurts me to write the words "KTM, fourth place". I bleed orange, live orange, and love orange. But when I compare the KTM 250 SX-F to the other bikes in the class it just doesn’t suit me out of the box. I’m in no way saying it’s bad, it's just not for me. I realize that to me the KTM is a very high-performance machine; it’s fast, nimble...it’s an Audi R8 to me...and I came to the conclusion that I need an Audi S4 that offers more comfort but still has the nice luxury touches.

The chassis and fork feel are too stiff to me on small bumps and slap down landings, which really hurts my confidence. I think the AER fork doesn’t give me that feel of the dirt that I’m used to of a typical spring fork (my personal KTM has spring forks). I was able to get the bike feeling close to what I want, but that small gap is the difference between the SX-F and the bikes ahead it on my list. The things I do really like about the bike are the slim feel of the bodywork, the ergos, the style and the overrev on the engine. The WP shock on the KTM is really amazing out of the box, I went a quarter-turn softer on high-speed and just love how it tracks through the corners. It never kicks up, never slaps to the side, and it's right on the money.

As I wrote above about really liking the overrev of the engine, it just pulls forever which I’m used to with owning a few KTM 250 SXF’s and a KTM 125. My qualm with the engine is the mapping didn’t feel as connected as some of the other bikes. I would almost feel like I needed to flick the throttle before entering a corner to wake it up. This slight delay gave me a hard time in the longer ruts and also weighed on my 2019 decisions.

Third Place: Husqvarna FC 250

Straight up, the Husky to me offers a lot of comfort! The bars, the frame, the carbon composite subframe all give me that tiny bit of comfort that some of the other bikes lack. You really feel this when the track gets rough and square-edged. The interesting thing is that the added comfort doesn’t take away from the sharp turning capability of the Husqvarna. I thought I could point and shoot on this bike, look and go where I want, and that’s an amazing feeling to have on any bike.

The Husky 250 has very comfortable ergos, easy to move forward and back but I gotta tell you, make sure you wear cycling shorts, because the seat really hurts the hiney! The bars feel nice but I did feel like the grips were thin. I felt that this bike had better connected mapping to its sibling, the KTM. Riding them on the same day makes you understand how a connected map and delay can feel, and even affect when you need the bike to do something. The Husky is an amazing bike, I would consider picking one of these up in the future because of the feel it offers out of the box. As with the KTM, my main complaint is still the fork. It's better feeling on this machine but still not exactly the feel I need to trust it from track-to-track.

Second Place: Honda CRF250R

I think deep inside, I’m truly a Red Rider because of my younger days on the Hondas. I felt right at home on this bike from the first lap as the rider triangle is just perfect. I believe my lap times were the most consistent on this bike and it was the only bike I actually yelled to myself in joy as I smashed a berm, revved out, feeling like Justin Barcia when he rode for Gieco. When you are riding this bike well it’s like a 125 two-stroke on steroids. It's one of the most fun and gratifying four-strokes I've rode because you gotta work for it and be in the right gear. Yes, you need to shift this bike, and I think I shifted twice as much on this bike as any other.

As I look in my notebook, I didn’t even write much because everything on this bike felt natural to me, between where my feet connect against the chassis, the seat is the right height and has bar to match...it just led to a perfect body-to-bike grip. This could be the most natural-feeling bike in the class to me. The suspension for myself as a 160 pound B/C rider is drop-dead unreal. I spend hours and hours tuning my WP kit suspension to my liking and Honda comes out with a production fork that has me scratching my head in amazement. The combination of suspension and chassis are like peanut butter and jelly, they work perfect together. I changed it by going two clicks softer on the rougher tracks and just a quarter softer on the high-speed shock setting.

Now with all this praise, why didn’t it win? The low-end power to me hurt the bike as an overall package. I love revving the piss out of it, I feel like a god out there screaming the bike against 450s, but when I make a mistake of being in the wrong gear or mess up an inside rut...I'm down shifting twice, rolling the jump and that would be a big mistake in a race situation. In map three, the bike was so free feeling off throttle you could almost coast into corners then snap the throttle when you were ready and the engine started to spin up. It was a very cool feeling!

It was a hard choice for me to put this bike second because it was out of the box it was the most “fun” bike for me to ride in the shootout. If I didn’t do any Vet 30+ races, I would take this bike over my winner. But I ranked the bikes as they were set up out of the box, and how'd I'd use them for my riding/racing. And in the stock trim, this Honda engine isn’t at the same level as my winner.

First Place: Yamaha YZ250F

Here it is, my overall favorite bike. Why? Because to me the YZF250 offered the best overall package. I don’t think it’s a perfect bike; but the engine, chassis and suspension are all top three against the other bikes in the class...and that's why it's the winner. I need to start with the engine...wow. The punch and bottom end they can get out of that 250, it's amazing. Last year I didn’t like it as much because I’m used the the KTM 250 SX-F and it's 125-style top-end and just being able to scream. This year I noticed that extra pull from the top that Yamaha has been working on, it's still not as far, but I don’t mind where it signs off. I rode both tracks in map two, which was the TPTS map they loaded with the WiFi app. I think this bonus of the Wifi app is the future of motorcycles, I'm a tinkerer and I really enjoy tuning the power as much as my suspension. Personally, it's something I’m really into and the app is an A+ for me.

I was able to get comfortable on the bike fairly quickly, it’s very neutral and the only thing that stands out is the width because the airbox is in front of the gas tank. I don't know if it's visual but it's noticeable. If you don’t think about it or dwell on it, it’s physically not much wider than the rest. But coming from a KTM as my personal bike, it did bother me for a few laps. The suspension wasn’t 100% perfect to me out of the box, I was getting a vague front end feel but we corrected by adding some low-speed compression to the shock and two clicks softer on the fork, adjusting the bike's attitude and getting some more bite. I  was also having some problems with the rear end stepping out in flat corners but I’m chalking that one up to the Bridgestone tires that I’m not a fan of. So as you can read here, the bike was not perfect to me. But with the mapping app and a handful of clicker changes, this bike did give me the best-rounded package. At the end of the day I can confidently say this was the best bike of 2019 in stock form for me.

LITPro Data from Milestone - Joe Carlino

Kusti Manninen

Age: 41
Height: 5' 9" / Weight: 170 lbs.
Riding Experience: 40+ Novice
Recent Bikes: 1989 Kawasaki KX500, 2016 Honda CRF250R, 2017 Honda CRF450R
2018 Shootout Results:
1st Honda CRF250R, 2nd Yamaha YZ250F, 3rd KTM 250 SX-F, 4th Husqvarna FC 250, 5th Kawasaki KX250F, 6th Suzuki RM-Z250

Sixth Place: Suzuki RM-Z250

Suzuki made some heavy revisions to the '19, but it's not new from the ground up. The engine is based on previous generation model, albeit with a few upgrades...but the frame and ergonomics are new. The new RM-Z250 shares the stylish and aggressive look of its big brother, the RM-Z450 and when you hop on the bike it feels compact and thin. The Renthal Fatbar has a nice bend and the seat/footpegs/bars triangle suit my 5’9’’ height pretty well. The only thing that seems to be a little out of place is the shifter, which was a little too short for my size 10 (US) boot and I actually ended sometimes shifting with the inner ridge of my boot instead the toe cap. Just a few years ago you would occasionally reach for the kickstarter on bikes with electric start. Now that most of the bikes have electric start, I found myself looking for start button. The Suzuki still relies on a kickstarter and sometimes it would need several kicks to fire up. Once running, the bike has nice sound to it and it's also pretty free-revving. 

On the track, the RM-Z250 has a good pull...although it's not on the same level as some other bikes in the class. Similar to the previous generation, you find yourself riding the bike more aggressively because it's a tad slower. Although, the new engine definitely has a wider range than the outgoing machine. Changing to the leaner "white" coupler on the ECU helped some, but also made the bike a little harder to start. 

I’m not the biggest fan of air forks and I was excited to see Suzuki go back to spring forks on the 250. Unfortunately, the suspension was way too stiff for me and it's also the reason why I had to put Suzuki last in my rankings. I weigh around 168 pounds, so I’m usually bit on a heavier side for the 250's target range. However Suzuki seems to be set up for heavier riders and it felt a way over-sprung for me. The suspension was pretty much topped out all the time and I couldn’t get any traction in front or rear. I went way softer on compression and added some more rebound which helped a little, but I still couldn't get comfortable on the bike. Despite the fact that the suspension is way too stiff for me, the Suzuki still retains its legendary cornering abilities and direction changes are easy on it. According to the LITPro data I was slowest on the yellow bike, again this year. I still think Suzuki took a step in the right direction with their 2019 RM-Z250 and it's a viable option, especially for heavier riders out there.

Fifth Place: Kawasaki KX250

The Kawasaki KX250F received bunch of changes for 2018 and it was noticeably better than the previous year model. For 2019 the full focus went to KX450 and only thing that changed for 250 was that they dropped F from the name, and went all green on the plastics. The best part of the KX250 is the free revving engine and overall light feeling of the bike, both on the ground and in the air. The KX250 has really good throttle response and it picks up RPMs easy, which in part makes the whole bike feel light. Just like the Suzuki, the Kawasaki offers three different couplers for different ECU settings. I felt that the standard green one gave me the best torque and most linear power, which made the bike easy and fun to ride in all conditions. Depending on the track, the Kawasaki was around the midpack in my personal lap times. Also, the bike is quite loud and to be honest, I don’t really like the tone of it. 

Ergonomics of the KX are pretty good, feeling really thin and streamlined. But, the rear feels a quite a bit lower compared to the other bikes and the footpeg to seat measurement is around inch less than in Honda. You feel it especially when accelerating from a corner ,sitting down as the rear drops even lower and the bars seem to be super high. Partly for that reason, I feel that the best way of riding the corners on a KX250 is to rail the outside standing up and turn with the rear wheel. While the KX250 offers wide range of adjustability ,with two different positions for the footpegs and four positions for handlebar clamps and mounts, in the end I found the stock positions worked good for my average height. 

My biggest complaint on the KX are the front forks that are quite harsh. After last year's Shootout, I had some time to tinker with setting and I found a pretty decent set up for me; which is three clicks stiffer on preload, two clicks out on compression and two clicks in with the rebound. These changes gave some comfort and took away a bit of the harshness, plus adding preload gave enough hold-up even on downhill braking bumps. Similar to the Suzuki it still lacks electric start, which seems a little old school nowadays. On an interesting note I had the chance to ride the bike in Finland this Summer, and I’m confident to say that the bike has same strong and weak points whether it's ridden here in US or back in Finland. I really look forward for the 2020 Kawasaki KX250 as it will probably have same forks and other changes that KX450 got for 2019. But for now the light feeling and free revving engine were only able to carry 2019 KX250 to fifth place in my personal ranking.

Fourth Place: KTM 250 SX-F

Some of you might be wondering why I put the KTM fourth in my personal rankings and the almost similar Husqvarna a few spots ahead. Honestly, the top four are really close and the final order could have been different if each bike just had some minor changes. Both the KTM and Husqvarna have a new frame, plastics and also some motor updates for 2019. The motor updates include new exhaust camshaft with different timing, a Pankl transmission, new airbox and a new exhaust system. Unfortunately, the new bigger expansion chamber doesn’t have heat shield and it actually burned through my pants each day. The electric start, easy-to-change air filter and hour meter are standard features on the Austrian twins. Also, both the KTM and the Husqvarna have compression clicker on the forks, which allowed for quick setting changes.

The KTM’s motor is strong and has great over-rev. The power band is very linear down low, but compared to Husqvarna it's a bit snappier and quicker revving, especially on the top. The hydraulic Brembo clutch has a light pull but I still like the feel of conventional cable clutch better. The shifter is almost an inch longer than on the Yamaha or Honda, so it takes a while to get used to it and caused a few miss-shifts. The KTM and Husqvarna do have an optional shorter shift lever available and interestingly enough it comes stock on the 450 SX-F. The new body work is slimmer than on the previous model and it helps when cornering, being able to get forward on the bike with ease. The 250 SX-F is a bit tall and has long feeling to it, so I usually end up wandering to outside lines in the corners. On downhill braking bumps the rear would occasionally give me a slap in the rear end and as I earlier stated, I’m not big fan of air forks for several reasons. Firstly, it adds one more thing to check and worry about when going to track. Secondly, I like the feel of traditional spring forks better, especially on small chatter bumps and slippery hard back. It's not only about comfort, it's about the feel and trust they give me. Since you can’t adjust the balance chamber pressure on the WP AER fork, I tried to fight the initial harsh feeling and topped out nature of the forks by adding a few clicks of rebound, then raising the air pressure to 10.5 Bar (10.3 stock) and opening the compression a few clicks. 

On the rear, I just added a few clicks to the rebound to calm things down. I came up with this setting on the Husqvarna and just copied it to KTM, but despite using exactly the same settings...the bikes felt quite a bit different. The swingarm, subframe, bars and triple clamps are different on the KTM and those combined with the harder hitting engine makes it feel a lot stiffer than the Husqvarna. The new frame makes the bike really stable on high speed and the bike really shines on soft sand tracks, offering good traction so I could use the full potential of the motor. The suspension also works better with bigger bumps and heavy loads...however, I couldn't get totally comfortable on the KTM in hard pack and that dropped it to fourth in my rankings.

Third Place: Honda CRF250R

Honda is known for its excellent ergonomics and 2019 CRF250R is no exception. Whether I was sitting or standing on the bike, everything was in the right place and I had a natural feeling when moving around the bike. A welcomed change for 2019 is the new, lower bend Renthal Fatbar. My old bones and joints just love the flex and comfort of a Fatbar, especially on square edged braking bumps. Last year I felt the front brake wasn’t as good as KTM or Husqvarna and thankfully Honda changed it; the new HRC inspired front brake caliper has different size pistons and a new brake line. It's very powerful but still not too grabby, offering improved braking control. Despite not being the lightest bike in the class, the Honda really feels the opposite. The light feeling combined with excellent spring forks and shock makes it the best turning bike in the class for me. 

"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.