Yamaha had a master plan. The fuel injected YZ250F was scheduled for release about two years ago. But things don’t always go as planned. The world ended back in 2008, financially at least, and that meant that nothing would go as planned for a long, long time.
Now that we have about five years of Armageddon under our belts, things are sort of returning to normal. The YZ250F that we knew was coming has finally arrived, at least in pre-production form. The bike is exactly what we knew it would be. It’s a scaled-down version of the big YZ450F, complete with fuel injection, a reverse head with the exhaust in the rear, the intake up front, and the “mass centralization” theme that was the battle cry back in 2010. The bike is such a substantial change that it will be late for the 2014 selling season, and in fact won’t be in showrooms until the end of this year. Yamaha didn’t want to completely miss out, and to keep the public’s attention, the company flew a handful of pre-production bikes to California to give the press a sneak preview.
The motor is completely new—that’s a big deal because the YZ powerplant had looked pretty much the same since 2001. The whole 250F world came into being in that time, evolving and growing every year. The YZ actually did change, but it retained the same layout and five-valve design for 12 years. No more. The new motor has a four-valve head, and it’s canted rearward to keep the bike’s overall CG near the center of the bike. In order to give the new Keihin injection system a straight downward shot into the head, the airbox is located right behind the handlebar. The exhaust exits the rear of the cylinder with a wrap-around pipe to maintain a proper head-pipe length. This is radical stuff, but it’s not big news because we we’ve seen it in action with the YZ450F. That bike got a remake as well for 2014, and the 250 benefitted from the 450’s history. In fact, the new 250 has the same frame, swingarm, linkage, body work and suspension components as the new 450. The engine cradle is different and the KYB suspension has its own settings. As for the injection system itself, it uses a 44mm throttle body with 10 injector holes. The generator produces over 100 watts which is more than enough to power the fuel pump and the electronics. That means the bike is heavier than it was. In 2013, the YZ was the only carbureted bike in the pro pits, and it was also the lightest. Yamaha says the bike gained about 4 pounds in the final stages of production, which is encouraging if true—other bikes gained more with the coming of EFI.
In our brief preproduction ride, we can’t confirm or deny anything about the weight. Even if we did have the fabulous Dirt Bike Electron Scale in our back pocket, the bike was pre-production and might not represent the final version. But we can say that the bike was fast. Really fast. Yamaha closed the horsepower gap in a hurry. The motor revved out to a screeching top end that rivals that of the KTM 250SX-F that we tested last month. Yamaha techs say that the motor shuts down at about 14,000 rpm, and that seems accurate. What’s more impressive is that the bike does good things on the bottom, as well. If the final version is as fast, KTM finally has competition in the horsepower wars.
Handling reviews aren’t as clear cut. The 2013 version was great in that department, so improvements won’t come as easily. This bike is very different in feel. It has some of the same traits as the 450. The front end feels light and turns with the throttle. With both Yamahas the front end bites best when the bike is ridden hard. That characteristic is much milder on the 250, but still noticeable.
As far as injection goes, the bike is clean. The carburetor version hiccupped in rough terrain, and now the bike seems glitch-free. Other positive notes: the suspension felt good and there’s no reason to assume it’s any different from the 2013 model, which was excellent. The bike has a tight layout with the bars back in the standard position, but you have four possible handlebar locations, and the bike is roomy enough for a six-footer with the bars all the way forward.
If you’re looking for a bottom line on how the bike will stack up with the rest of the class, you’ll have to wait until at least November, when the first production bikes will have in the U.S. But so far, so good. Yamaha had a lot of ground to make up, and if the preproduction bike we tested is any indication, the company is right on track. Just a few seasons later than planned.