2015 Yamaha YZ250FX First Ride Test

Although the Japanese have been active in GNCC and other off-road racing for decades, the bikes used at the top levels have always been modified motocrossers since the four-stroke revolution in the 1990s. The “off-road” bikes the Japanese sell have not been competition oriented…until now.

Coming hot on the heels of Yamaha’s all-new YZ250F motocrosser is the 2015 Yamaha YZ250FX, which is an off-road racer in every sense of the word. Yes, Yamaha has massaged the motocross version in converting it to off-road racing — Yamaha names GNCC, Hare Scrambles, Best in the Desert and WORCS as the target — but in doing so they have keep the competitive edge fully intact.

For the first ride test of the 2015 Yamaha YZ250FX, I ended up in rain, snow, and a bit of sunshine at Ballinger Canyon OHV Area, so the traction ranged from epic to icy. Single-track trails were challenging, with a variety of conditions unfolding in quick succession. In other words, perfect for the first time out.

Most of my riding is off-road, so the idea of a fire-breathing motocross bike on technical trails is a bit daunting. Yamaha did work on the suspension, fuel injection, clutch, and tuning, to make the YZ250FX appropriate for the slower speeds of tough single-track. Add to that an 18-inch rear wheel and the result is astounding.

Nicely narrow with a workable 38-inch seat height due to over a foot of travel at both ends, the YZ250FX feels perfect when you get on. An electric starter is a wonderful addition, as stalling when you’re already tired on the backside of a GNCC course is not an appealing prospect. It also helps with dead engine starts, and I really appreciated it in the sub-freezing morning when first firing it up…on a kickstand, no less!

There’s really nowhere the 2015 Yamaha YZ250FX did not impress me. Warming up on wide, rutted roads, it accelerates with authority if you are willing to twist the throttle and send the revs into five-figure territory. Nice size bumps are either soaked up by the outstanding KYB SSS suspension, or you’re send airborne in a fully controllable fashion.

In the slicker parts of the road, I quickly learned that the YZ250FX has a smooth bottom end. I have good throttle control, so that certainly helps, but the new reverse-intake motor never caught me out. When I needed to nurse the rear end around a flat, wide, slick corner, the FX was more than happy to oblige.

Whooped out roads were another place that allowed the YZ250FX to shine. While I’m not someone who can skip whoops, I can jump them, and the YZ250FX allowed me to time different sets of whoops perfectly and make good time with minimal effort. The FX lands as predictably as it flies, with no bad suspension manners. The spring rate and damping is appropriately taut without having supercross-style resistance.

Technical hillclimbs are far easier than you’d expect from something starting with YZ. Sure, you can blast up the smoother climbs with abandon, but you can do that with a YZ250F. In the case of tricky hillclimbs with direction changes along with ruts, rocks, loose dirt, and snow, the YZ250FX’s ability to drop the engine speed and let me pick my way through when necessary was amazing. I didn’t have to keep an unreasonable ground speed going, and I could drop down to a crawl, and then easily find the traction to return to race-style speed. It was uncanny.

Running through the winding single-track trails was just flat-out fun. The YZ250FX has little resistance to direction changes, but it doesn’t have a mind of its own. It is one of those motorcycles that reacts so intuitively that you forget you’re riding and you just go with the flow of the trail, almost unconsciously.

The ability to put the front wheel where I wanted it was unmatched. Freewheeling through a section was no problem — just steer confidently. Most impressive is the ability to blip the throttle and place the front wheel anywhere, avoiding obstacles and setting up for turns. Give the throttle a blip and the front end lifts up a bit. The chassis obliges your desire of when the front Dunlop AT81 returns to the trail.

Some of the single track is in tight gullies, where you are constantly turning, coming upon tricky obstacles (log, sand, rocks) unexpectedly, and many of the turns have huge bowls for turning. The YZ250FX loves those corners and will take them like a supercross 90-degree turn if you like. Break the back end loose and rocket away, or just smoothly rail them, all based on what you can see ahead. Great fun, absolutely.

Sandy streambeds with a mix of sand, rain, and snow offered up more fun. Even in tight turns that require hard braking, the KYB Speed Sensitive System forks did not dive excessively. You can stuff the front end into the sandy corner, get on the gas, and roost your way out. It’s easy to get the YZ250FX’s motor up in the rev range when you need to get on top of the sand. This will definitely be a great desert bike, and it has a wide-ratio six-speed transmission.

The Dunlop AT81s adapt well for a wide range of conditions, enhancing the friendliness of the motor. You will be able to beat them in specific conditions, but for overall riding, the AT81s will be tough to better.

Even with the six-speed transmission, I worked the clutch hard and it never complained; to be fair, conditions were not hot, of course. Speaking of heat, the YZ250FX has mounts for a radiator fan (wiring included) and a skid plate. I was definitely keeping an eye out for the worst rocks, but we do have an Enduro Engineering skid plate en route. We’ll let you know how it works.

The 2015 Yamaha YZ250FX is one of those bikes that absolutely fires the desire to ride. It makes you feel like you’re riding far above your normal skill level, in that you can go fast, ride accurately, and do it all with an exhilarating confidence. Many people have waited for decades for a truly competitive off-road racer from Japan. In the form of the 2015 Yamaha YZ250FX, it has arrived.

Location photography by Tim Warriner

Riding Style
Helmet: Fly Racing F2 Carbon Acetylene
Goggles: Progrip Baseline 3201
Jacket: Fly Racing Patrol
Gloves: Fly Racing 907 Cold Weather
Jersey and Pants: Fly Racing Evolution 2.0 Spike Racewear
Basewear: Fly Racing Base Layer Heavyweight Top and Pant
Knee braces: Alpinestars Fluid Tech Carbon
Boots: Sidi Crossfire TA

2015 Yamaha YZ250FX Specifications
Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke; 4 titanium valves
Bore x stroke 77.0 x 53.6mm
Displacement: 250cc
Compression ratio: 13.5:1
Fuel delivery: Yamaha Fuel Injection Keihin 44mm
Ignition: Transistor Controlled Ignition
Transmission: Wide-ratio constant-mesh 6-speed; multiplate wet clutch
Suspension / front: KYB Speed-Sensitive System; inverted fork; fully adjustable, 12.2 inches of travel
Suspension / rear: KYB Fully adjustable single shock; 12.5-inches of travel
Brakes / front: Hydraulic single disc brake, 250mm
Brakes / rear: Hydraulic single disc brake, 245mm
Tires / front: Dunlop AT81 90/90-21
Tires / rear: Dunlop AT81 110/100-18
L x W x H: 85.2 x 32.5 x 50.4 in
Seat height: 38.0 in
Wheelbase: 57.7 in
Ground clearance: 12.8 in
Fuel capacity: 2.0 gal
Wet Weight: 249 pounds
Color: Team Yamaha Blue/White
2015 Yamaha YZ250FX MSRP: $7890