We rode the new, upgraded 2021 Yamaha YZ250F at Glen Helen Raceway for a first ride impression. We were fans of the previous YZ250F, so we had high expectations for the 2021 edition. Let’s roost and consider the updates.
For several years, we have considered the Yamaha YZ250F to be the top 250 four-stroke motocrosser. A front-intake motor with more torque than any other motorcycle in its class and excellent KYB suspension is a formidable combination to beat.
For 2021, Yamaha’s main focus was giving the bike more midrange to top-end power, plus better cornering with a more planted front end. To address the handling, Yamaha revised the frame with thickness changes, and added a new upper triple clamp and front axle. On the motor side, the ’21 YZ250F gets a new intake system, exhaust cam profile, muffler, and ECU settings as the most significant updates. The transmission and shift cam are beefed up.
The backward-facing, rear-slanted YZ250F motor is superb. With Yamaha working on midrange to top-end power, we worried it would lose too much of that much-loved bottom-end torque. That is not the case at all! There is still plenty of low-rpm power to pull you out of corners, even when you let the revs drop lower than you should on a 250. Once into the upper rpm range, the 2021 Yamaha YZ250F pulls hard. Plus, it has more over-rev than before, which allows you to pull gears longer before you need to shift up to the next gear. While it still doesn’t rev as high as some other 250Fs, the overall power output from bottom to top is superior to any other 250F. The clutch and five-speed gearbox are flawless, though we’d still prefer hydraulic clutch actuation.
The Yamaha Power Tuner App comes to the YZ250F via your smartphone. The Power Tuner App is an easy and smooth way to change engine mapping. There is no need to buy expensive tuning devices or anything like that—just download the free app to your iOS or Android smartphone, and you’re good to go. Not only does it allow you to change engine mapping, but it also tracks engine hours, maintenance intervals, and race logs.
The YZ250F feels a little wide when first getting on. It’s not an overly broad feeling—just something you notice, especially as other 250s are getting narrower and smoother bodywork these days. Everything else on the YZ250F regarding the rider triangle is comfortable, and it provided plenty of room for our 6’ 1” test rider. Yamaha has four mounting positions for the handlebar, providing some personalization capability. Adjustable footpegs would be a nice feature to add.
Yamaha’s revised chassis is nimbler than last year. Yamaha has always been a stable motorcycle that gave you plenty of confidence while riding. Turning wasn’t bad on the previous version—it just felt a little vague in corners and wasn’t the quickest in and out. With the new chassis and other updates, the front end has a much more planted feel. That allows you to put the motorcycle where you want, and gives it a lighter overall feel. Flat corners are easily negotiated, as are bermed and rutted turns. On exit, the Yamaha’s power is nicely harnessed by the chassis.
The changes didn’t hurt straight-line stability, even in Glen Helen’s rough whoops. As in previous years, the YZ250F tracks straight and true at speed. The increased agility hasn’t changed that one bit.
The KYB suspension has excellent manners. Yamaha techs set the sag at 102mm for us, and that was the only change we made all day. We couldn’t think of another change that needed to be made, as the action is very plush. Through the bumps, our test rider said the 2021 Yamaha YZ250F is one of the best bikes he has ever ridden from a suspension standpoint. Even with the plush feel, there is never any harsh bottoming, even with a 185-pound pro-class test rider.
Predictable in takeoff, flight, and landing, the 2021 Yamaha YZ250F is fun to jump. Repeated jumps during photoshoots can be tedious, but the YZ250F’s manners take away the drudgery.
Yamaha also updated the front brake, and it’s aggressive. The caliper’s piston size is increased by 12 percent, pads have a new higher friction material, and the rotor has 16 percent more surface area. All that adds up to a powerful front brake and borders on a little grabby—we like it. If you want smoother braking, look into different pads.
We tried a more aggressive map via the Yamaha Power Tuner App, and the new map made a noticeable difference. The big revved quicker and pulled even harder in midrange to top-end power. The 2021 Yamaha YZ250F has a handlebar-mounted switch that allows you to switch power modes on the fly. For example, that means that when you go out on your second moto and the track is dryer or rougher than expected, you can switch to a softer map of your design during the race—very cool.
The small details are all good, and that adds up. The Bridgestone Battlecross X20 tires are excellent, even if they aren’t a usual choice. The tapered aluminum handlebar is nice, the grips are soft and comfortable, and levers have a nice feel with rounded corners. While thin, the seat isn’t harsh at all, and the cover has a nice gripper feel. The top-mounted air filter is also easy to change and stays cleaner than other filters in the conventional underseat location.
So far, the 2021 Yamaha YZ250F is still top of the class for us. Having ridden some of the other 2021 250cc four-stroke, which are also great motocross racers, we find the latest Yamaha YZ250F to be the class leader still. Power is very strong, yet with its torque, the YZ250F is easier to ride than other bikes. The KYB suspension is excellent for a wide range of riders, and now the chassis is more maneuverable and turns better than before. Add to that the Yamaha Power Tuner App and Yamaha durability, and it makes the 2021 Yamaha YZ250F a compelling choice in its class.