By the testing staff of TransWorld Motocross

It's often been said that power is everything in the 250cc class, but this year more than ever it seems that just where that power is located is becoming the key factor in a motorcycle's success in the small-bore division. Top racers in the 250 class rely more on momentum and technique than raw torque and horsepower for cut-and-thrust racing that is more common in the 450cc class, and the most desirable machine this year is one that is praised for a high-revving, long-pulling powerband, and excellent handling, suspension, and ergonomics.

Two of this year's 2018 contenders return unchanged (the 2017 Bike of the Year contest-winning Yamaha YZ250F and the too-familiar Suzuki RM-Z250) while three of the machines received a handful of valuable updates (the Kawasaki KX250F, KTM 250 SX-F and Husqvarna FC 250). The all-new machine for 2018 is the Honda CRF250R, as it received the same all-new chassis and suspension updates that the CRF450R did last year, as well as a completely new engine that features electric start and the bike's most visually striking feature: dual header pipes and twin mufflers.

Was Honda's complete revamp good enough to propel it to the front of the field in 2018? We wanted to find out, so we assembled a panel of six test riders of varying age and ability, outfitted all six bikes with Dunlop MX 3S tires to eliminate variances in traction as a deciding factor, and headed to four of SoCal's best tracks to pound out laps and find some answers.

2018 SUZUKI RM-Z250
$7,749 MSRP
234 LBS CURB WEIGHT

www.suzukicycles.com
2018 SUZUKI RM-Z250 | CONTENT ARCHIVE

NOTABLE UPDATES  & KEY FEATURES

White numberplate side panels Blue graphic accents Blue seat cover Optional couplers for easy motor adjustment

Suzuki Holeshot Assist Control

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Wrapped in cool-new blue graphics, the Suzuki RM-Z250 returns completely unchanged for the third year in a row. Motocross legend and Suzuki ambassador Ricky Carmichael once told us, "Do what you've always done, and you'll get what you've always gotten." Sadly, this rings painfully true for the little yellow motorcycle. Though it is blessed with spectacular handling traits and a very good suspension package, the RM-Z250 is hands-down the slowest and least powerful bike in the 250 class. The bike comes with two optional ignition map couplers—one leaner and one richer than standard—and installing the leaner plug helps bring the powerband to life a bit with a little more throttle response and overall snap. The RM-Z250's power delivery, however, remains unimpressive in comparison to its five competitors.

TEST RIDER HITS

Antonovich – "I don't think there is a better cornering bike. I could go anywhere in complete control and never fear that it would do anything unpredictable."

Curtis – "The power is soft everywhere, but easy to ride. I felt like I could charge hard on the bike and not get tired."

Foster – "The RM-Z feels light and nimble even though it is heavy. The bike corners extremely well and inspires confidence."

LaFountaine – "The bike handles fairly well, feels stable, and corners great. The bike enjoys great traction in all conditions."

Maeda – "I love the way the Suzuki handles, and it feels a lot lighter on the track than the scale says it is. Awesome cornering!"

Whitsett – "I like the small, compact ergonomics of the Suzuki and I think it is a very comfortable bike. It's pretty easy to get used to."

TEST RIDER MISSES

Antonovich – "The transmission felt notchy and stiff, which was a bad thing considering how much you have to shift the bike due to its lack of power."

Curtis – "The front end of the bike feels harsh and unstable at speed, which is odd because the bike still corners great. Tricky to set up correctly."

Foster – "The Kayaba PSF2 fork is harsh and definitely set up for larger or faster riders. Wish the bike had electric start!"

LaFountaine – "Power is pretty uninspiring, even with the aggressive coupler installed. The engine is soft everywhere in comparison to the rest."

Maeda – "I love the way the Suzuki handles, but I have to wonder if that's because it is so slow? Would it work as well with more power?"

Whitsett – "The engine if soft everywhere in the powerband. I don't think I could race this competitively in stock condition."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 6-6-6-5-6-6
FINAL RANKING | SIXTH PLACE

2018 KAWASAKI KX250F $7,749 MSRP

230.3 LBS CURB WEIGHT

www.kawasaki.com
2018 KAWASAKI KX250F | CONTENT ARCHIVE

NOTABLE UPDATES  & KEY FEATURES

Revised cylinder head, intake cam angle, longer intake ports New bridge-box piston, new throttle body, new fuel injectors Longer, larger diameter header pipe for increased torque Revised air intake duct for a straighter shot of air with greater volume Revised Showa SFF Air fork with a softer spring rate and increased preload

Revised rear shock valve settings

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Completely revamped in 2017, the Kawasaki KX250F received a surprising number of updates for '18, most of which were focused on coaxing more low-end and mid-range power out of the machine. The new green machine is indeed snappier right off idle, but the shift in power robbed the bike of some of its top-end overrev. We experimented with both of the optional fuel map couplers, but in all three settings, the bike signed off pretty hard on top.
The Kawasaki has a very well balanced chassis that corners great, is stable at speed, and feels narrow and flickable between the rider's legs. Suspension action is good on both ends, albeit set up for the smaller rider. The Showa SFF fork is soft as delivered, and adding too many clicks of compression dampening resulted in a harsh ride.

TEST RIDER HITS

Antonovich – "There are plenty of options for set up with multiple handlebar and footpeg positions. Easily the most ergonomically adjustable bike."

Curtis – "The difference in feel between the engine couplers is easy to detect and the aggressive coupler works the best with great low-end hit."

Foster – "The KXF is light, narrow and flat, and easy to maneuver on and change directions with. Cornering is excellent, hampered only by inconsistent fork action."

LaFountaine – "I like how narrow and light feeling the bike is. Low-end throttle response is great and the bike pulls pretty well out of corners."

Maeda – "I love the way the KX250F handles! The fork is too soft for me but the bike, as a whole, is comfortable and confidence inspiring."

Whitsett – "The power is an improvement over last year. It still isn't the most powerful bike but it is totally competitive."

TEST RIDER MISSES

Antonovich – "The engine produces good tractable power but it does flatten out on top. And when it does, it really flattens out. There's no more power."

Curtis – "The Kawasaki has a rigid chassis feel that I don't necessarily care for because it is harsh and unforgiving. The forks are hard to set up, too."

Foster – "I preferred last year's firmer fork setting as this year's SFF fork dive and wallow, thusly affecting corner entrance stability."

LaFountaine – "The bike flattens out and stops pulling as it builds rpm. If you don't grab the next gear at the right time the bike almost stops going forward."

Maeda – "I was caught off guard a couple time by how hard the bike signs off up top; you can't overrev it the way you can the others."

Whitsett – "The separate function fork is good when you find the sweet spot, but it takes some work to get them set up at every track you go to."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 3-5-5-6-5-4
FINAL RANKING | FIFTH PLACE

2018 YAMAHA YZ250F $7,699 MSRP

231 LBS WET WEIGHT

www.yamahamotorsports.com
2018 YAMAHA YZ250F | CONTENT ARCHIVE

NOTABLE UPDATES  & KEY FEATURES

Bold new graphics inlaid in the plastic bodywork Blue rims just like the Factory Yamaha team riders

Optional GYTR Tuner

OVERALL IMPRESSION

The Yamaha YZ250F returns unchanged for 2018 but with three consecutive TransWorld Motocross 250 Shootout wins to its credit, we can only assume that the changes made to three of its competitors helped them win more favor from test riders. The bike still boasts an unreal amount of low-end punch, a super-strong mid-range, and ample top-end overrev and is the easiest to feel fast on. The lack of electric start does tarnish the Yamaha's engine package. Blessed with the best suspension package in the class, the Yamaha handles superbly in spite of its "thick" feel between the rider's legs.

TEST RIDER HITS

Antonovich – "Action of the fork is top notch, as there are no spikes or shortcomings throughout the stroke. This combo of fork and shock is the best for me."

Curtis – "Suspension and engine performance are great. Power is good down low and through the mid, which is great for a rider of my capacity."

Foster – "The depth of the Yamaha's power sets it apart from the others. It doesn't have as much top end as some but the low- and mid-range make up for it."

LaFountaine – "When there is traction the bike handles and corners great. The power is very aggressive down low and in the middle. Suspension feel is very good."

Maeda – "The immediate throttle response and big hit in the middle always makes me look twice at the displacement sticker on the rear fender. The Yamaha is aggro."

Whitsett – "The Yamaha has a wide, usable powerband that is strong everywhere. One of the best in the 250 class for sure."

TEST RIDER MISSES

Antonovich – "Extra weight is needed over the front end, especially when accelerating out of corners. The width of the shrouds doesn't make getting forward easy."

Curtis – "The weak point of the bike is lack of electric start and the width of the gas tank area, which makes it hard to get forward and grip with your legs."

Foster – "The bike has a larger overall feel which isn't an issue for me as I am on the taller side, and I can understand how it would be tough for shorter guys."

LaFountaine – "When the track dries out, I have no confidence in the front end entering and exiting corners, and especially so in flat corners with no rut or berm."

Maeda – "I still love the YZ250F; it just feels like an old bike in comparison to some of the others. Has the largest feel of all the bikes, too, and no e-start."

Whitsett – "The bike's overall size is an issue for me. It handles and corners well, but I feel like the bike is fat and hard to throw around on the track."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 2-4-1-4-4-5
FINAL RANKING | FOURTH PLACE

2018 HONDA CRF250R
$7,999 MSRP
238 LBS CURB WEIGHT

www.powersports.honda.com
2018 HONDA CRF250R | CONTENT ARCHIVE

NOTABLE UPDATES  & KEY FEATURES

All new dual-overhead cam engine Increased valve size/lift, narrower valve angle, oval cross-section valve springs Higher compression ratio Downdraft air intake Dual exhaust ports/headers/exhausts for centralized mass and increased power Electric start with lightweight, lithium-iron phosphate battery Lighter frame/subframe with optimized flexibility characteristics and improved front-end stability Revised chassis geometry for lighter handling, improved rear traction, reduced front-end lift Lower, more centralized shock location improves stability Lighter swing arm reduces un-sprung weight New Showa coil-spring fork contributes to a plush feel

Titanium fuel tank

OVERALL IMPRESSION

All new in 2018, the Honda CRF250R is a huge improvement in every way over its predecessor. It doesn't have lots of low-end torque like the '17, but as the rpm begin to build, the red bike comes to life! Aggressive doses of throttle and clutch are the best recipe for speed on the Honda, and the bike continues to pull into the upper echelons of the rpm range in every gear. The new chassis is compact and easy to maneuver on, and the Showa suspension package (spring fork!) is perfectly balanced and easy to dial in for a wide range of riders. The CRF corners with extreme precision, and the chassis allows the bike to lean over with minimal effort whether there is a rut or not.

TEST RIDER HITS

Antonovich – "A rider who revs the bike will be rewarded with lots of power. Although there isn't much low end, the middle picks up and the top end is limitless."

Curtis – "Riding the bike high in the rpms is what makes the Honda shine. I was really happy with the way the bike handled and the forks especially are great."

Foster – "The new Showa fork is a massive improvement and is second only to the Yamaha's in regards to feel and function. Cornering is where the Honda really shines."

LaFountaine – "I love how planted the front end feels. The bike handles great and it goes exactly where you point it. The engine is a huge improvement over '17."

Maeda – "For as poorly as I gel with the CRF450R, I love the CRF250R. The bike handles and corners like a dream and the power feels just right for the chassis."

Whitsett – "Handling is the bike's strong point as it corners great, feels light while you're riding it, and is stable at speed. I was comfortable on it immediately."

TEST RIDER MISSES

Antonovich – "The bike feels wide in odd areas, especially towards the rear. This is due to the twin mufflers I suspect. The grips and levers are also too fat."

Curtis – "The Honda is a lot heavier than the KTM or Husky and I could definitely tell on the track when I was riding it."

Foster – "Low-end power is the Honda's only shortcoming. Even in the aggressive map which has the best low-end, a bit more power would soften cornering miscues."

LaFountaine – "The bike's only weak point is its average low-end power. If it had a little more response down low it would easily be bike of the year."

Maeda – "The only things I dislike about the Honda are extremely nit-picky. The grips feel fat, the silver rims look lame, and the bars should be of the oversized variety."

Whitsett – "If I wasn't in the perfect gear, the engine would bog. A one-tooth-larger rear sprocket would help. Bike needs black rims."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 5-3-4-3-1-3
FINAL RANKING | THIRD PLACE

2018 KTM 250 SX-F
$8,699 MSRP
216.49 LBS WITHOUT FUEL

www.ktm.com
2018 KTM 250 SX-F | CONTENT ARCHIVE

NOTABLE UPDATES  & KEY FEATURES

Updated WP AER48 fork settings, including a new air seal, air piston, and rebound spring on the air leg; the damping fork leg also received a new piston Orange frame Electric starter A new, more powerful Skyrich HJTZ58-FP replaces the Samsung battery of the past

Two pre-programmed ignition maps plus traction control option

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Revised suspension settings and a stronger battery for the electric start are the biggest changes made to this year's KTM 250 SX-F, while orange frame paint, stronger radiator louvers and a beefier shift shaft round out the upgrades. But did the KTM really need more? No. Equipped with a massively powerful engine, the KTM has arguably the biggest powerband down low and in the middle, before it flattens out on top. As usual the KTM carves a corner with authority, and the performance of the WP AER 48 air fork is superior to that of other air-spring equipped components. Suspension balance is excellent, and the flex characteristic of its steel frame give the bike a forgiving feel in acceleration chop that cannot be matched by aluminum.

TEST RIDER HITS

Antonovich – "Because the KTM engine doesn't feel as snappy down low, I could cruise through tight sections and feel more in control. A stab at the clutch works wonders."

Curtis – "The steel frame flexes a little more and that provides a more comfortable, forgiving ride. The bike settles into corners very well and is predictable in all areas."

Foster – "Where other 250s build power with zing and high revs, the KTM build with long brute force. Smooth initially, it makes big power from the middle on up."

LaFountaine – "The KTM has a very long power curve. It starts off soft but it keeps building power all the way through the highest rpms. It's a great pro motor."

Maeda – "The electric start, hydraulic clutch, and Brembo brakes are unbeatable. The high quality of the stock components is setting the new standard that others fall short of."

Whitsett – "The engine is very aggressive and its ability to get back into the powerband helps make up for rider error easier than on some of the others."

TEST RIDER MISSES

Antonovich – "I know the fork is the same on both the KTM and Husqvarna, but the KTM lacked the same level of comfort, especially in small chop."

Curtis – "The 250 SX-F could use more grunt down low…that would make it unstoppable. As is, faster riders will be able to make the best use of the powerband."

Foster – "Fork is good for air, but a mechanical spring fork would be better. Too much feedback from the front end, but that also has to do with the handlebar."

LaFountaine – "The bike's only weak point is its average low-end power. If it had a little more response down low it would easily be bike of the year."

Maeda – "For me, the KTM revved slower and felt tighter than the Husqvarna. It does have less time on it than the white bike, so that could be the reason."

Whitsett – "The front end has a bit more feedback than the Husqvarna and that costs it a little feel entering corners. I suspect it is the different handlebars between the two."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 4-2-3-2-3-2
FINAL RANKING | SECOND PLACE

2018 HUSQVARNA FC 250
$8,799 MSRP
217.81 LBS WITHOUT FUEL

www.husqvarna-motorcycles.com
2018 HUSQVARNA FC 250 | CONTENT ARCHIVE

NOTABLE UPDATES  & KEY FEATURES

Updated WP AER48 fork settings, including a new air seal, air piston, and rebound spring on the air leg; the damping fork leg also received a new piston Electric starter A new, more powerful Skyrich HJTZ58-FP replaces the Samsung battery of the past

Two pre-programmed ignition maps plus traction control option

OVERALL IMPRESSION

In the past, the Husqvarna has always rated behind its orange brother, but in this year's comparison, the FC 250 had a snappier feel with better throttle response and mid-range feel, while at the same time revving to the moon and still making great power up top. Not the most powerful down low, the Husky has the best-rounded powerband that is easy to make good use of in a variety of track conditions. The WP AER48 fork is the best air has to offer, and the bike handles predictably with great front- and rear-wheel traction. Cornering is the bike's forte, yet it remains stable at speed. Light on the stand and on the track, the Husqvarna is almost without flaw and was the landslide winner of this year's Bike of the Year honors.

TEST RIDER HITS

Antonovich – "The power curve is broad and easy to make good use of. The powerband in the map 1 setting is perfect for my riding style."

Curtis – "The steel frame feel, coupled with the great suspension components, makes the Husky feel amazing when the track gets rough."

Foster – "The Husky is one of the best overall handling bikes. It has an excellent blend of plush suspension, straight-line stability, eager cornering and a planted feel."

LaFountaine – "The Husky has great throttle response with a powerband that never dies off. The bike handles exceptionally and corners great. Super predictable."

Maeda – "Handling and overall comfort is high. I like the way the bike feels while accelerating out of choppy corners, as it has the most forgiving, predictable ride."

Whitsett – "The bike feels so light, it's like riding a bicycle. The suspension is easy to dial in and the bike stays very planted through the braking and acceleration chop."

TEST RIDER MISSES

Antonovich – "In comparison to the other bikes, the Husqvarna's seat isn't that much softer than a cinder block. Also, the white body panels show wear much quicker."

Curtis – "It could use some more bottom-end power, especially when the bike is in the map 2 setting."

Foster – "The only weak point in the Husqvarna's armor would be soft throttle response down low. A little more hit right off idle would be beneficial."

LaFountaine – "On larger jumps the suspension felt too soft and you could see the bottoming marks under the rear fender, but I didn't want to sacrifice small-bump comfort."

Maeda – "There isn't much to complain about when it comes to this bike. Well, both the KTM and Husqvarna have loose-spoke problems that must be watched closely."

Whitsett – "To be honest, there isn't anything about the Husqvarna that I don't really like. Well, the crossbar pad is kind of big and goofy looking."

TEST RIDER SCORES | 1-1-2-1-2-1
FINAL RANKING | FIRST PLACE

RIDER IMPRESSIONS & RANKING

Michael Antonovich | 27 yrs./5'11"/150 lbs./Novice

1. Husqvarna FC 250 2. Yamaha YZ250F 3. Kawasaki KX250F 4. KTM 250 SX-F 5. Honda CRF250R

6. Suzuki RM-Z250

I was comfortable from the moment I sat on the Husqvarna FC 250. On the track, I always knew what it was going to do and I trusted it in short order. It was never shy on power and the suspension handled everything I could throw at it, even if it was casing a jump. The small changes made to the bike this year were enough for it to eclipse last year's shootout winner, in my opinion.

The power of the Yamaha engine is remarkable. There is nowhere that it is lacking, although that sometimes causes the front end to lift and become even lighter, which is the bike's only downfall in corners. The YZ's Kayaba suspension is the best in the business.

Chase Curtis | 18 yrs./5'10"/140 lbs./Beginner

1. Husqvarna FC 250 2. KTM 250 SX-F 3. Honda CRF250R 4. Yamaha YZ250F 5. Kawasaki KX250F

6. Suzuki RM-Z250

Though all of the bikes are great, the Husqvarna FC 250 really stood out to me. The bike handles great and I feel as if I can put it anywhere I want with minimal effort. The power delivery is smooth and strong, and it was easy for me to keep it in the good part of the powerband. I rode the Husky and KTM back to back, and it was surprising how different the two bikes felt. The KTM is also a great bike, but the power was not as smooth and free revving as the Husqvarna's and that's what gave the FC 250 the nod in my book. The KTM handlebars also have a strange bend and they feel stiffer and less forgiving than the Husqvarna's.

Pat Foster | 40 yrs./6'1"/180 lbs./Pro

1. Yamaha YZ250F 2. Husqvarna FC 250 3. KTM 250 SX-F 4. Honda CRF250R 5. Kawasaki KX250F

6. Suzuki RM-Z250

For me the Yamaha continues to offer the best overall package. The low-end grunt and strong pull through the mid-range is so effective at putting quality power to the ground quickly; it's indisputable. The top-end pull is strong as well—maybe not the most powerful on top—but by the time you get to that part of the rpm range the Yamaha has already done some damage to the competition. The suspension package is notably more plush and controllable than any others, and the bike has no noteworthy deficiencies other than its decent cornering abilities. While some shorter riders complain about the YZ250F's girth, it has never been an issue for me at 6'1". It's not shiny and new, but I continue to love it.

Tallon LaFountaine | 20 yrs./5'11"/175 lbs./Pro

1. Husqvarna FC 250 2. KTM 250 SX-F 3. Honda CRF450R 4. Yamaha YZ250F 5. Suzuki RM-Z250

6. Kawasaki KX250F

I chose the Husqvarna FC 250 because it is the total package in stock form. It is super fast and it corners great, handles awesome, and looks badass. The Husqvarna feels a lot smoother than the other bikes, with a forgiving feel. The top four bikes are all so close for me, I would be happy owning and racing any of them. The KTM 250 SX-F is almost as good as the Husky. It only lacks some low-end power in comparison. It also has a slightly more rigid feel on the track. The new Honda CRF250R is really good and a huge improvement in both power and handling, and it comes with great forks. The Yamaha YZ250F is explosive in the power department, but it's a little wide and lacks cornering precision.

Donn Maeda | 49 yrs./5'9"/175 lbs./Intermediate

1. Honda CRF250R 2. Husqvarna FC 250 3. KTM 250 SX-F 4. Yamaha YZ250F 5. Kawasaki KX250F

6. Suzuki RM-Z250

For years now I've been a huge Yamaha YZ250F fan because of its aggressive engine with big low-end and mid-range, but this year the higher-revving Honda, Husqvarna, and KTM really got me excited. The all-new CRF250R is really impressive. It doesn't have the best engine—that honor still belongs to the Yamaha—but the new chassis feels perfect between your legs, and the bike handles like a dream. All you have to do is think about changing directions, and the Honda carves a line wherever you'd like. The Showa spring fork also seems to work better on the 250 than it does on the 450. Love the electric start, though the clutch-lever safety feature is kind of lame.

Cody Whitsett | 20 yrs./5'8"/130 lbs./Intermediate

1. Husqvarna FC 250 2. KTM 250 SX-F 3. Honda CRF250R 4. Kawasaki KX250F 5. Yamaha YZ250F

6. Suzuki RM-Z250

The Husqvarna FC 250 engine is powerful and smooth and that, coupled with the bike's great handling and suspension, made it an easy first choice for me. I love the Husqvarna's feel on the track: everything about it is smooth. The KTM is a close second, but the Husky has a more refined feel and I wasn't able to feel as quick or comfortable on it. The new Honda is a huge improvement and it has great power in the mid-range and top-end. If it had a little more low-end power, it could have been my first choice because the rest of the bike is so nice. It corners with precision and the new spring fork feels great and requires less maintenance and set up.