Every year we like to pick a different displacement and model category for our off-road shootout. This year is the 250 four-stroke cross country bikes. While we would have liked to have more bikes in the comparison there are a couple of reasons why there are only four machines. First off, Beta, Sherco, and Husqvarna don’t make a bike that fits in this category (no lights, cross-country specific). Secondly, KTM does offer the 2021 KTM 250 XC-F which would absolutely fit this category, but they didn’t bring any media loan units of that bike into the US this year.
That leaves us with these four bikes. They are all heavily based on their motocross counterparts with minor changes to handle off-road riding, some more than others. They all have 18-inch rear wheels, kickstands, and off-road-specific suspension and ECU settings. The Kawasaki KX250X is all-new for 2021, yet when looking at the specs, it is the least changed of all these machines; it doesn’t even have a bigger tank. Next, the Honda is also pretty close to the moto version, but does have a bigger tank to carry more fuel. The GASGAS and Yamaha bikes take their machines one step further into off-road specificity with six-speed, wide-ratio transmissions.
We tested at Cahuilla Creek MX since there is a wide variety of trails and, obviously, the motocross tracks as well. Cross country bikes should be able to handle some track time. While the suspension is going to be softer than the moto-specific models, these bikes should not be so soft to make them a danger to jump and their handling should be on par with moto bikes to handle close to a moto bike. We would love to hit some true single track in thick forest, dodging trees and roots, but SoCal just doesn’t have much of that. For any of you rolling your eyes because you live in the South or on the East Coast, we’d love an invite if you have some amazing places to ride.
GASGAS EX 250F
As usual, we headed over to Race Tech in Corona, California to dyno the bikes. Also as usual, this is where we explain that, while it is interesting to know dyno numbers, one, they arent’ always reflected by actual ride-feel and, two, they are only useful to compare bikes to each other on the same dyno. All dynos read differently so to compare these numbers to any bike dyno’d anywhere else is useless.
(Highest to lowest HP)
Max HP - 38.76
Max Torque - 19.0
GASGAS EX 250F
Max HP - 38.69
Max Torque - 18.8
Max HP - 37.05
Max Torque - 16.8
Max HP - 35.87
Max Torque - 18.1
(Lowest to highest)
GASGAS EX 250F
|Bike||David Pingree||Bruce Marada||Cory Martin||Willy Simons||Sean Klinger||Total|
|GASGAS EX 250F||4||2||4||2||2||14|
First: Yamaha YZ250FX
Across the board, all testers agreed that the YZ250FX had the most potent motor and felt the most like its motocross counterpart, despite having the lowest HP numbers on the dyno. The power is strong, barky and has what seems like a massive amount of torque. This is also do to the lower 1st and 2nd gears, since this machine has a six-speed wide-ratio transmission. Also, with the Power Tuner app, you can change the power character to pretty much anything you prefer. For gnarly mud or wet, slick rocks and roots, the power delivery and snap can be dialed back for more traction and control.
Suspension-wise, the Yamaha is hard to fault. It has a really wide range of usability from comfort in technical sections to bottoming resistance in fast whooped-out sections. It wasn’t the most plush (that was the GASGAS) and it wasn’t the most firm (sort of a tie between the KX and CRF) but right out of the box, the suspension was both comfortable and firm to handle pretty much everything we rode.
The handling of the YZ250FX feels identical to the YZ250F, which is great. Since the larger FX gas tank is under the seat, not only does the extra weight stay in the center of the bike, it also doesn’t make the shroud area of the bike any larger either. Testers had no issues in the tight, repeated S-turns keeping the YZ on the trail and pointed where they wanted to go.
Who is this bike for? Pretty much any off-roader who also motos and wants a bike that can do it all. The only rider that might not be super pumped on this bike would be someone who only rides extreme enduro. That being said all of these bikes wouldn’t be great at that type of riding.
Second: Honda CRF250RX
The Honda had some surprising numbers in both the HP and weight department. According to Race Tech’s dyno, it makes the most HP and torque, but it also weighs the most. I don’t think any of our testers would say it has the strongest feeling powerplant but that can also be perception since it is a pretty quiet bike. It doesn’t have the explosive torque feeling of the YZ, but it does rev quickly with great throttle response and usable power throughout the range. Like the moto bike, it’s a little more of a revver than a lugger, but in 3rd gear, it doesn’t fall on its face completely if you drop out of the meat of the power.
The suspension is closer to the moto bike than some of the other bikes in the test. This makes it one of the best to hit high-speed whoops and rollers. This is also where the weight of the bike disappears a little since it is very easy to “float” the front wheel over repeated trail whoops and other obstacles. There is a good amount of comfort at the very beginning of the stroke, and while it isn’t amazingly comfortable in rock gardens, it is adequately comfy and encourages you to charge through rather than slowly pick a line.
This leads to the handling of the RX, which is definitely one of the best at high speeds. The suspension and chassis work together to make the Honda completely at home charging hard and staying on course. It was the one bike that was the easiest to slam into things and have it not get out of shape. There is great chassis predictability. On the flip side, slicing back and forth through tight joshua trees wasn’t the easiest. While the handling isn’t sluggish, this is where the weight shows up and the bulk of the gas tank hinders its agility. It just takes a little more effort to change directions in a hurry.
Who is this bike for? Most would agree this is definitely a West Coast style off-road racer. It is stable and solid at speed and can handle fast, hard hits without blinking an eye.
Third: GASGAS EX 250F
Technically this is an all-new machine for 2021, but just behind the red plastics is (nearly) a KTM 250 XC-F. A major difference is the exhaust pipe which doesn’t have the resonator that the KTM does, but other than that and the forged clamps, this is pretty much the same machine. Like the moto version of this bike, the power is mellow on the bottom and wakes up in the mid to top end. I like to call it sneaky fast. It doesn’t sound aggressive or feel like it’s ripping your arms off, but you can use all of the traction-grabbing bottom-end to flow - before you know it, your flying! This is the most controllable power and gives an impressive degree of confidence up loose, rocky climbs or down techy descents.
The suspension is a little more suited for moderate-paced riding than all-out sprinting across the desert. In the faster whoops sections the suspension would start to go beyond its happy place and the bike would lose a little predictability. That being said, the fork and shock had the most comfort and had amazing traction, front and rear. In the rocks, it was very happy. It was equally adept in the tight, flowing S-turns where you could really get a flow going. All this being said, the bike does have an air fork so if you wanted a stiffer setting, you could effectively go up a spring rate or two to match your terrain and speed.
The handling of the EX 250F is quite impressive. Sure, it has a bigger tank, but it is imperceivable by the rider since it doesn’t make the bike any wider. Speaking of width, like all GASGAS/KTM/Husqvarnas the EX feels exceptionally thin and nimble, and it responds to rider input immediately. It feels the lightest of all the bikes on the trail, and it is the lightest on the scales even with the extra-large tank full of gas.
Who is this bike for? As far as cross-country bikes go, with the wider six-speed transmission and comfortable suspension, the EX is more suited, in our opinion, for more technical cross country riding found on the East Coast or in the South. No doubt it can be set up for faster, more open riding but as it comes it more of a true off-roader.
Fourth: Kawasaki KX250X
It’s really cool to see Kawasaki getting back into the off-road dirtbike market. For 2021, they offer both a 250 and 450 cross-country bike, yet don’t expect a whole lot of difference between the KX-Xs and the KX moto bikes. Like we said before, it is the only bike in the comparison that has the same gas tank as its motocross version. While that does keep its weight down compared to the others, it obviously limits its range and race options.
Power-wise, it is no different than the KX250. It uses the same ECU settings and the same three-coupler system to modify the power. The only change is that the KX250X comes stock with the black (richer/mellower) coupler installed with the green (standard) and white (lean/aggressive) optional. There is nothing to frown at with the Kawi’s power and it is closer to the YZ in characteristic than the other bikes. It has a barky hit that isn’t unmanageable off-road. But the YZ is a little better in terms of throttle response, quick revvy-ness, and raw power.
The suspension does have off-road specific settings, yet on the trails, it is difficult to feel the changes from the moto bike. Like we mentioned in the video, if we were riding the KX by itself, the suspension would feel reasonably good, yet with the other bikes in the test having a good balance of comfort and hold up, the KX feels like a motocross bike lacking off-road suspension nuance.
The KX250X handles very much like its motocross counterpart. Overall the bike has a stink-bug setup, with the rear feeling higher than the front. Without any changes, it felt like the shock was overpowering the fork on repeated hits and it was difficult to find a good rhythm. Kawi did open up the high-speed compression which helped the balance but didn’t make it perfect.
Who is this bike for? The KX250X would be a good choice for a rider who wants a motocross bike with a kickstand, slightly softer suspension, and an 18-inch rear wheel.