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Editors Note: It’s hard to be in two places at once. Yamaha scheduled their 2020 YZ125X/250FX introduction in South Carolina after I booked a testing trip to New Mexico. With that being said, it’s not as easy as you think to find good people to help you give some quality feedback in this industry. I get countless emails/calls about wanting to help me with testing, but after I tell them to write me something on their own bike (as a test), send it in to me, so I can see if they can write, it usually ends in crickets. Most people just want to do the fun shit and go home, but there is more to testing than just riding the bikes. Colton Aeck and Dallas Dunn are two of only a few that I have within Keefer Inc. that I trust to go to an event like this. Colton is a quiet kid, but respectful and does what he says. He’s a privateer Supercross racer that doesn’t get to ride much off-road, so I thought the YZ125X/250FX machines would be the perfect fit (for him) to give you the reader, a perspective from an off-road newbie. Dallas is a single father that works as a heavy equipment operator that loves everything two wheels. He is your average blue collar dude that just loves to ride dirt bikes and is a bad ass at shooting photography as well as riding a BMX bike. I knew he would be a great photographer to bring this trip to life. Below is Colton’s story of how the event was, as well as his first impressions of how the bikes performed out in a true off-road setting. -KK
Written By: Colton Aeck
Photos By: Dallas Dunn
For 2020 Yamaha completed their line of “X” off-road bikes by introducing the new YZ125X. They also made major changes to their YZ250FX model by updating it with all the changes we saw from the 2019 YZ250F motocrosser. This past week, Dallas Dunn and I were invited to the home and training compound of off-road legend and 7 time AMA National Enduro Champion, Randy Hawkins to test out the new bikes.
When I first got the call from Keefer a few weeks back, I was pretty excited, but also a bit nervous. In the past few years I’ve spent the majority of my time riding and racing Supercross. Besides a few WORCS races back in 2012 as a B rider, I’ve had zero off-road experience. By saying that most of you probably know, off-road in the wet coast desert is almost the complete opposite of what you’d find in the tight woods at a GNCC or enduro on the east coast. As we pulled up to Randy’s on Tuesday we arrived at a big open pasture that was surrounded on all sides by hills and woods. It was a brisk 28 degrees and I thought to myself this west coast boy is going to be coming out of his shell this week!
Randy and the crew from Yamaha set up 3 separate courses through the woods, each with a variety of what you might expect to see at a GNCC or National Enduro. We had a variety of open fire roads, ultra tight woods, single and double track jeep trails, steep uphills/downhills, creek crossings, and there was even a grass track as well as a motocross section. Other than some frozen fingers in the morning and having a run in with more than a few trees along the way, I can honestly say that it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a motorcycle. Throughout my life I’ve never understood why people would choose to ride or race off-road. Moto and Supercross just always seemed a lot better for me. Not to mention ripping across the desert wide open and eating a bunch of dust, just doesn’t sound like much fun. Well, riding in the woods is a completely different animal, but riding these Yamahas in the woods of South Carolina has really changed my mind about off-road riding in general. In fact, it has my gears turning and thinking more about what I’d like to do after my moto career is over.
I strongly encourage all you moto guys out there, if you’ve never been trail riding out in the woods, find a place, find a bike, and go try it! Racing is my passion, but just like anything, if you do it enough it can turn into a job as well as burn you out on something that you love. This week I had the chance to get back to my roots and really remember why I love dirt bikes so much. Being out in the wilderness, with just yourself, your bike and a couple buddies really reminds you why you got started riding in the first place. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone riding all day long and still wanted to keep going. The Yamaha crew just about had to pry me off their bikes each day just so they could prepare for the next day of riding.
Enough about me and how much fun I had, you guys are here for the testing, so let’s get to it. Yamaha’s goal with their “X” line is to have a purpose built bike that’s ready to ride and race in off-road situations. They took their motocross bikes and made a handful of changes to each to better suit off-road riding.
The YZ125X shares most of its parts with the YZ125, with a few key changes, the biggest being engine and suspension. The X model has a different cylinder head shape, different powervalve shape/settings and a new ECU setting to match the engine changes. The suspension components, as well as spring rates remain the same, the only suspension change is in the valving. The YZ125X also comes with a kickstand, o-ring chain, reserve fuel petcock, 18 inch rear wheel and Dunlop AT81 tires.
The goal was to make the YZ125X more capable for off-road and after the crap out of it, I think they did just that. The engine changes lead to a broader, easier to ride engine character for the tight, slippery terrain I was testing in. The engine hits sooner in the RPM range (although not quite as hard as a YZ125) and pulls longer on top. The engine is really what you’d expect from a 125. It’s not a rocket ship, but it is a lot of fun to ride when riding in that sweet spot. I was really impressed at how well it climbed some of the steep hills on Randy’s trails. In situations where a 250F or 450 would break traction and start digging a hole, the 125 would stay light and on top of the dirt, driving with forward bite.
To my surprise the suspension worked really well for me on initial plushness and small impacts, but left me wanting more hold up as well as bottoming resistance on hard impacts (like creek crossings, or big G outs). Anything more than a medium size impact left me with an empty/soft feeling front and rear. I was able to get the fork and shock to bottom fairly easily when I started to feel comfortable and push it. Honestly though, soft suspension was what I expected from an off-road type of machine, but I am so used to such stiff settings on my SX bike that anything feels soft to me. I don’t think a 180 pound Supercross pro is the target market for the YZ125X, but I enjoyed it a lot. Your typical younger generation off-road kid or even the older more mellow weekend warrior will have a blast on it while feeling like a hero through the trees, but may want a little stiffer suspension set up once broken in. I think this bike is the perfect tool for the younger generation moving up off minis or a newer, less experienced rider just starting out in off-road. The YZ125X is not intimidating to ride and is light enough that almost anyone is able to pick it up after a spill.
The bike I enjoyed the most was the YZ250FX. The 2020 YZ250FX received all the changes we saw to its moto brother, the YZ250F in 2019. This means a completely new chassis and engine, plus all the off-road goodies you’d expect the X to have. The X differs from the standard YZ250F, with stiffer front engine mounts, (designed for off-road), GNCC specific suspension settings, a kickstand, 18 inch rear wheel, O-ring chain, skid plate, a check engine/low fuel light/sensors, oversized gas tank, and the big one, a wide ratio six-speed transmission. Also new for 2020 the X now utilizes the Yamaha Power Tuner app so now you can wirelessly adjust your fuel and ignition mapping all from your phone. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, chances are you can find a map that makes you happy out on the trail.
On the trails, the YZ250FX was insanely fun to ride, I really had a hard time finding anything to critique honestly. I’ve never ridden suspension that was setup specifically for off-road and I was really surprised how well it would soak up small rocks and roots. I have experienced trail rides before on stiffer suspension and would find myself deflecting off everything on the trail. With the YZ250FX I’d approach rocks and roots expecting my front wheel to grab and deflect, but the bike would roll right over them with ease. It also had good hold up as well as bottoming resistance when riding over big logs or on hard impacts/landings. If I had to nitpick I would want a little more damping feeling through the mid-stroke just so I could start to push more when feeling comfortable. I know I would want to go faster, so I need to forecast my suspension settings accordingly.
The YZ250F has been a class leader in the engine department for a few years now. I am not a 250F guy, but when I have tried the YZ250F in the past it blew my mind with how much torque it had. The X uses the same engine, so the torque feeling is just like how I remember it. It has a strong bottom end that pulls hard all the way through the RPM range. I enjoyed the wide ratio transmission and I found myself riding almost everything in 3rd gear, only using 2nd for really tight sections and occasionally on a steep hill climb. I can’t really imagine a place where 1st gear would be very useful because after getting about 10 feet from the truck, I was out of first and never touched it again. The YZ250FX loves to lug and I have come to find out that lugability is important in the woods. The only major compliant I could come up with is that the YZ250FX is fairly difficult to start in gear. Unless you’re in neutral, plan on it taking a few seconds to get the bike fired up or use the throttle a little bit in unison with the start button. Keefer is going to experiment with maps for you all and will post them up here on Keeferinctesting.com very soon. I will let him handle all of that stuff!
Just for fun, I also had the chance to ride the YZ450FX on our last day at Randy’s. Being a 450 guy, I thought I would love it, but honestly the extra weight and power was just too much for me in the tight woods. This made me appreciate the YZ250FX even more because of its fun and easy to ride nature. The YZ250FX is really easy to just jump on and ride and when you start to push it, you don’t get the feeling that you’re one whiskey throttle away from a head on with a tree. I really think the YZ250FX is the better all around bike for this type of riding and anyone from beginner to pro could have a blast on it.
Overall I was super impressed with Yamaha’s additions to their “X” lineup. They are designed to be race ready for GNCC type riding and I think Yamaha did a great job. I know most of you Keefer Inc. readers are moto guys like me, but trust me when I say, “don’t knock off-road until you try it”. Support your local riding spots and get out on the trails and ride. You’ll probably be like me, re-kindling your love for dirt bikes and wondering why you didn’t try it sooner! See you soon off-road! See you soon! -Colton Aeck