FIRST RIDE: 2024 YAMAHA YZ250X
Words by: Kenny Schipper Photos By: Chad de Alva
In a world inundated with fourteen thousand dollar four strokes, push button convenience, and EPA certifications, is there room for an old, carbureted, kickstart-only, parts bin bike? Yamaha clearly thinks there is as the 2024 YZ250X carries over parts from the 2006 YZ250, and the X designation gets you a kickstand, an 18” rear wheel, different jetting, and suspension valving. The question is, why?
That’s what I thought when I first swung a leg over the fresh-off-the-showroom 2024 YZ250X. Starting this new/old bike may be a foreign concept or a trip down memory lane depending on how old you are. There is no easy button here – you have to flip the petcock to on, click the choke up, and kickstart the bike. The YZ250X has a long-lived chassis design, an even older engine, no 6th gear, no e-start or counter-balancer, and you have to know how to jet a carb. Yet it turns out that Yamaha knew what they were doing in 2006 and they haven’t broken the formula 18 years later. If you make key refinements to a winning bike, the result is a really awesome motorcycle. And since Yamaha didn’t spend the entire operating budget on research and development, you can pick up a brand new YZ250X for a mere 8 grand at a time when you need to take out a second mortgage to buy certain European two strokes.
That’s great on paper, but no one rides a bike “on paper”, so all that internet comparison is worth exactly what you paid for it. What’s it like to actually ride the YZ250X?! In short, a lot of fun! Back off the clickers, and the suspension soaks up square edges and whoops with equal aplomb. Fine tune the air screw and the motor runs crisp as anything. Then hold her wide and work that clutch and just try to wipe the grin off your face! Ride as intended (two strokes thrive on abuse!) and she will treat you right. Need to crank through some whoops and spray your buddy with sand as you fly past? Check. Need to lug up that rock chute and soak up the ledge at the top? Check. Need to loft the front end through the water crossing or slice through some tasty corners? Check and check. The YZ250X can do it all. It’s so easy to get caught up in the dirt bike arms race and forget about what makes a motorcycle great: A stable chassis, comfortable and competent suspension, and an easily controlled but powerful motor – attributes that can all be had new for a four-figure sum in the YZ250X.
Let’s break down some of the things we really liked about the Why Zed. The benefit of these bikes being in production in some form for the last 18+ years is that it has ALL the bugs worked out. You can get parts all day long, there’s an aftermarket solution to everything, and it’s all in all a very known quantity. You want to set it up for hard enduro? Here’s the recipe. You want to race GNCC? There you go. Leisurely trail riding? Bob’s your uncle. From 300cc kits to electric start to hydraulic clutches, there is no shortage of parts to build a YZ into almost whatever bike you want, and you can buy and build all but the most full-send YZ for less than a new European two stroke. Yet the stock YZ 250X setup is almost perfect for your average trail rider or racer, though it certainly favors the latter out of the box.
The YZ250 is affordable; you’ll be riding sideways because of the extra five thousand dollars weighing down your wallet. Japanese quality and manufacturing reliability are second to none and this YZ is no exception. You get all the top tier components that really matter, such as KYB suspension, Nissin Brakes, a Yamaha engine, and none of the ‘extras’ that you don’t really need. The YZ250X is incredibly light at 229lbs with a full 1.8 gallons of gas, so you’d be hard pressed to find a lighter full size enduro bike these days. Being a 250, you really don’t miss the counter-balancer. The carburetor also means that there is no need to buy a $1500 aftermarket computer just to get the bike to run decently - you can tune the motor any way you want with $25 worth of brass. And did I mention it’s cheap?
Now the not so good. When you throw a leg over, it’s clear that you need to adjust your riding style, and your mindset back a decade or two. There’s no starter button, so don’t skip leg day. There’s no EFI, so go find your tuning screwdriver again. Want to cruise faster than 45mph? Get on another motorcycle. We also suffered incredibly poor fuel mileage – we flipped over to reserve after only about 15 miles on our first day! Granted, we were in the dunes and were doing our best to stretch the throttle cable and blow the carbon out, but still. These bikes are somewhat known for their very short fuel range and a simple fix is to adjust the float level in the carb and re-route the overflow hoses. Fuel dumped on the ground does not help your mileage. The YZ250X is quite tall, and shorter riders may wish for a step ladder, or a suspension lowering. The motor is somewhat more ‘peaky’ than we’re used to, but a quick adjustment in our riding style sorted that. Like I said – mindset. Kicking a bike to life is indeed better relegated to the novelty it is today, especially on off-camber slopes. The stator is almost nonexistent so adding things like lights, navigation, or other electrical doo-dads becomes somewhat of a challenge, though aftermarket solutions do exist.
So how does the Yamaha Motorcycles YZ 250X compare to other 2024 two strokes on the market? The YZ250X wins out on two important areas: cost and suspension, with an honorable mention in simplicity. A 2024 YZ250X is two-thirds as much as the MSRP of some 2024 model two strokes from other manufactures – yet it’s certainly not two thirds as much fun as these other bikes. The YZ250X is a light, fast and fun off-road bike that can also be raced competitively on the weekends. The bike may have a carburetor, a kickstarter, and deliver an experience that has real nostalgic value for some riders out there – but it’s about electronic-free as a 2024 model year bike can get, so no computers are required to fix the thing. The thousands of dollars saved with a YZ 250 X over another bike can buy a lot of tires, fuel, and pre mix too.