(Editor’s Note: Randy Richardson lives in South Carolina and is the two-wheel marketing manager for Michelin Motorcycle. I have grown to know Randy very well over the years and found out he is a very smart man when it comes to knowledge of dirt bikes/evaluation. I also like that he can speak about a motorcycle well enough to get the “testing meat” across while keeping a sense of humor. That kind of guy fits in nicely with Keefer Inc. Testing, so I sent him down the street to the 2019 Yamaha YZ250X, YZ250FX, and YZ450FX introduction. Here are Randy’s findings).
HECK YES! That’s exactly what I replied when Kris text me asking if I’d like to represent Keefer Inc. Testing (KIT) at the 2019 Yamaha Off-Road Press Intro to be held in Greenville, SC. I’m not sure if Kris asked me because of my exceptional test rider feedback during the 2018 model year 250F shootout last November or simply because the host hotel was only 11 miles from my home. Regardless, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to ride the all-new 2019 Yamaha YZ450FX as well as the YZ250FX and YZ250X model bikes on 7-time AMA National Enduro Champion Randy Hawkins’ Silver Hawk Plantation, which is a 1,000 acre private facility in Union, SC. After scheduling a couple days of vacation from my day job at Michelin, I hit up Max & JT$ at WPS for some 2019 FLY Racing gear as I knew Kris would expect me to be nothing less than “Best Dressed” while representing KIT.
Yamaha rolled out the blue carpet for us with a nice hotel reception followed by a presentation where the Yamaha bLU cRU staff shared their reasoning for flying so many journalists all the way from So Cal to So Carolina. Not only is the AmPro Racing team, which is Yamaha Motor Corporation’s Premiere Off-road Racing Program, located nearby but as Yamaha shared in their presentation, the overwhelming majority of the 12K+ motorcyclists who compete in the Grand National Cross Country series annually also reside in the Eastern half of the US. Simply put, Yamaha wanted to provide journalists the opportunity to evaluate their “Pure Closed Course Competition, Cross Country Racer” machinery in the exact terrain and conditions they were designed to perform in. The presentation included some Google map images for the ride location where we would spend the next couple days as well as a popular MX / Off-Road riding area in So Cal that is often used for Off-Road press intros. The comparative visual of Silver Hawk Plantation’s rolling hills, heavily wooded terrain, and open fields had the So Cal journalists buzzing as the only green they usually see on the afore mentioned So Cal riding area’s terra firma is discarded Monster Energy cans.
During dinner I sat with Dominic Cimino, one of KIT’s California based test riders, and a few other journalists and we discussed the innovative changes Yamaha had made to the 2019 YZ450FX machines. Listening to the young journalists whose job it is to evaluate and compare each manufacturer’s newest bikes and changes, combined with the fact that I’d be turning 52 years old the day after the intro and that my personal collection of bikes consist of some mid-70’s vintage bikes, some 2-strokes from the mid-2000’s, and a newer Adventure Touring bike, I began to doubt abilities and my anxiety about properly representing KIT began to rise. I sent Kris a quick text telling him that I thought maybe he’d made a mistake by asking me to be a test rider and he promptly replied with what I assume was meant to be a comforting text message… “Chill down Randy. Trust the process!” Come to think of it, maybe Dom was the real KIT rest rider and Kris was letting me attend as a present for my birthday later in the week. Either way, I had a job to do and I was going to give it my best.
The next morning, the Yamaha bLU cRU staff drove us out to the ride location where Randy Hawkins, the AmPro Racing mechanics, 2002 West Coast 125cc SX Champion and now Yamaha Test Rider / Production Technician Travis Preston, and a fleet of 2019 Yamaha motorcycles awaited our arrival. As the early morning fog began to lift from the surrounding valleys and hillsides, and everyone began taking photos of the pristine bikes assigned to them, I had that exact same new-bike excitement that I had when my Dad gave me a 1971 Yamaha JT-1 Mini Enduro for my 4th birthday almost 48 years to the day earlier. Unlike my first bike, at least my feet would actually reach the ground on the 2019 Yamaha’s.
We spent the first day riding both the Yamaha YZ250FX and YZ250X models and as I mentioned earlier, I’m a two-stroke guy. Having said that, I was intrigued to compare Yamaha’s X model bikes back to back on the 12 mile course that featured a mix of tight Enduro and flowing GNCC trails, rocky creek crossings, some fast open field sections, a MX track, and a few very challenging hill climbs. Hopefully no one noticed as I, similar to recent bLU cRU convert Steve Matthes, looked like a dork reaching for a kick-starter on the YZ250FX before remembering that the bike features Electric Starting. Once I pressed the magic button and fired up Yamaha’s revolutionary rearward slanted, liquid cooled, DOHC 4-stroke power plant, I began clicking thru the 6-speed wide ratio transmission as I headed out across the field to enter the trail where I’d spend the next half hour or so dodging trees while evaluating the overall performance of the YZ250FX. Yamaha specs indicate that the engine is based on the YZ250F and includes all the same race-winning features such as an updated cylinder head, lightweight forged, two-ring, flat-top piston; a shorter, more durable piston pin with diamond like carbon (DLC) coating; a revised piston oil jet, and advanced connecting rod, crankshaft, and counter-balancer designs all resulting in improved peak power, power delivery and overall durability. It was obvious that the YZ250FX is a very refined platform as the bilateral beam frame that’s based on the championship winning YZ250F provided stability in fast sections as well as nimble lightweight feeling handling that enabled me to dodge every single one of the trees, including the one that Racer X Online’s Jason Weigandt tried to uproot with his bike. I thought I’d mention that just in case he forgot to include it in his article. The fully adjustable KYB spring-type XC spec YZ Fork and KYB XC spec YZ Rear Shock feature revised valving resulting in a very balanced feel that provided a supple feeling on the exposed roots and rocks on the trail, remained high enough in the stroke to absorb the bigger hits on the whooped-out trail sections, and also resisted bottoming when jumping the bigger table tops and doubles found on the MX track. Having a ground clearance of 12.8” (compared to 14.2” on the YZ250X), the factory installed Glide Plate protected the YZ250FX engine and lower frame rails from the larger rocks and logs encountered on the course. Though still a 2-stroke guy at heart, I quickly appreciated the versatility of the 250cc 4-stroke engine. I’d describe the YZ250FX engine as very rider friendly as it enabled me to ride more aggressively in a lower gear at higher RPM’s or I could simply click up a gear to allow the engine’s usable torque to provide a smooth power delivery and less fatiguing ride. Remember, smooth is fast and I used to be FAST… before I lost the S.
After lunch, my 2-stroke emotions were quickly triggered as I kick started the YZ250X to life for the afternoon riding session. I sat there for a few moments gently blipping the throttle, embracing the moment, and then I slowly closed my eyes and began revving the crisply jetted engine to the tune of Whitesnake’s 1987 hit song Is This Love. Even though the YZ250X features a 2.1 gallon fuel tank with a reserve feature, I snapped out of it before I wasted too much fuel and I headed out for more fun riding the amazing loop Yamaha provided us with. The YZ250X’s liquid-cooled reed-valve-inducted engine features a revised compression ratio, exhaust port timing, revised Yamaha Power Valve System (YPVS) timing, and a model specific CDI unit that are all focused on creating a wide, controllable power character that’s ideal for cross-country racing. The stock gearing of the 5-speed wide ratio transmission provides a broad range and the clutch’s reduced lever pull allowed me to quickly bring the RPM’s up to the desirable range. I was definitely enjoying the throaty bark of the YZ250X more than Weege enjoyed the bark of that oak tree. Similar to the YZ250FX model, the suspension performed well in all the terrain I mentioned before. Though the wheelbase of the YZ250X is nearly an inch longer than the YZ250FX (58.5” vs 57.7”) and the rake is more relaxed (27.7deg vs 26.3 deg), the YZ250X weighs 20lbs less (229lbs vs 249lbs) resulting the bikes being similarly agile in the tighter sections of the woods. While the YZ250FX and its 4-stroke engine breaking seemed to turn into corners more naturally, the lighter weight feeling YZ250X could easily be maneuvered where ever I wanted it to go and I enjoyed the handling characteristics of both bikes. Standing at, or more like limping around at 5’ 10”, and just 12 lbs above my target weight of 170 lbs, the ergonomics of both bikes fit me perfectly. The rider triangle (that’s test rider lingo) felt comfortable at all times and thanks to the seamlessly smooth seat and bodywork juncture, the only thing that made the transition from standing to sitting and back up again challenging on either bike was my torn ACL’s in my old knees.
In addition to their Yamaha Team Blue color and updated graphics, both the 2019 YZ250FX and YZ250X models feature a side stand, a sealed o-ring chain, an off-road centric 18” rear wheel, Dunlop AT-81 tire shod blue rims, and a 30 Day Limited Factory Warranty. Given that there’ll always be the 2-stroke vs 4-stroke debate, it’s obvious that Yamaha is dedicated to providing high performance based options for both sides of the ongoing argument and with a MSRP of $7,999 for the 2019 Yamaha YZ250FX and $7,499 for the 2019 Yamaha YZ250X, I think any consumer would be greatly pleased purchasing either model. As for me, I really wish I had an extra $15,498 lying around as I’d love to have them both! But then again, you know the old saying “You can’t ride two bikes at once”. Well, with the innovation of the Power Tuner Smartphone App found on the 2019 Yamaha YZ450FX, I’m not so sure that statement holds true any longer as I spent time on day two of the intro on the significantly redesigned flagship model of Yamaha’s cross-country range. I was amazed at how quickly the YZ450FX could be switched from a fire-breathing 450cc beast in the open fields to a super mellow rider friendly power delivery for the tight woods and back by simply pressing the handlebar mounted ignition mapping switch for a mere 0.2 seconds. Even though I didn’t get a chance to ride the TP Pookie map, Yamaha’s innovation is truly like having two bikes in one so make sure to read Dominic’s complete review of the 2019 YZ450FX.
Well, that’s a summary of my experience with the 2019 YZ250X and YZ250FX and as Keefer Inc Testing’s Senior East Coast Test Rider at the 2019 Yamaha Off-Road Press Intro. Thanks again Kris and Yamaha Motor Corporation USA for this amazing life experience!