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MX Vice Test: 2021 YZ250F

Testing the new 2021 YZ250F.

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2020 has been a weird one. Agreed? When I got given the opportunity to test the 2021 YZ250 I jumped at it, quite simply, especially considering the launch took place at the historic circuit of Bilstein in Germany. A regular on the ADAC series schedule and host of the 1981 Motocross of Nations, a historic edition as Team USA claimed their maiden victory with Team Great Britain finishing second. When I arrived I was eager to get out and ride, half of the track lies in dense woodland and, after crossing a road (tarmac and all), the other half sits on a grassy hillside. An idyllic setting for a motocross track.

Yamaha has given the 2021 YZ250F updates that almost mirror what they improved on the YZ450F for 2020. The chassis has had refinements to the twin-spar section at the top of the frame and the walls have been made thinner, to compliment this they have thickened the frame cradle and changed the material the engine mounts are made out of. Top engine mounts are now made of steel and the front mounts made of aluminium. The top triple clamp has been redesigned to produce a difference flex characteristic and the bar position has been moved forward. The wheel spindle has also been made thicker on the inner diameter to work in harmony with the other changes up front. I noticed these changes the most at corner entry – the front end had a confidence-inspiring feel that let me push hard into the corners to carry momentum. That is extremely important on a small bike and a feeling every rider should strive for. Overall, it gave the bike a slightly more precise feeling. It felt as if I could be very accurate with where I placed the wheels when it came to slower technical sections.

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The 2021 YZ250F is still running the KYB SSS forks and KYB shock. From standard it is great suspension and has incredible potential to be really dialled in for any rider with a bit of tweaking. The shock and fork settings have been revised, for more low to mid-damping. The shock felt good, to me when riding at least, and it had a very good feeling on choppy bumps at low speed. The forks felt comfortable at low speed, but on the higher speed sections of the track they were a little soft at the top of the stroke. This would make the forks dive a little and at speed the front felt a little unstable at times. There was a section on the track that had quite a hard g-out and I noticed it this there especially. Suspension is such a ball-park area, however, because of the varied size and abilities of riders. I believe that the KYB forks are the best standard forks on the market and with a basic set-up they will be dialled in for you specifically, therefore ensuring they are doing what they need to.

Engine wise the bike has received some updates to improve mid to top-end performance: Cam lift has been reduced by 0.3mm and valve overlap has also been reduced from 81° to 72°. The air intake’s been given some much-needed updates and the airbox lid’s been given extra intake vents. To further this they have increased the volume of the intake port to let the bike breathe. To give the bike a more pleasant exhaust note, they have also lengthened the silencer 70mm and increased the volume 340cc. I could feel how much stronger the engine was in the midrange and top-end immediately – it really made the bike easier to ride compared to its predecessor. Progression of the power through the range was stronger and the over-rev improved as well, but if needs be then it can be revved extremely hard. Engine braking has also been reduced and that really compliments the chassis, giving the bike more stability at corner entry.

To really bring the package together the bike has been blessed with the same brakes as its big brother, a new front calliper, disc and pad. The rear also has a new calliper, mount and smaller 240mm disc. The front brake is very powerful, but has great modulation. It had a positive connected feeling from my input on the lever to my front wheel, which is always a good thing. The rear brake has a softer feeling, which I think helped the stability of the bike under braking massively due to it being harder to lock up.

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Like the 2020 YZ450F, the new YZ250F has an on-the-fly map switch. This means you are able to switch between two maps whilst riding with little effort. When you download the Power Tuner app, there are three pre-made maps with the option to create your own. The app is more of a trial and error process, in my personal experience, but out of the pre-existing maps I would pick my favourite and then base the custom map off of that. If you are prepared to learn how to use it then you can really reap the benefits of having a power characteristic that is tailored for you.

I was also able to test a fully-kitted GYTR bike, as well as a YZ250F in standard trim. GYTR is Yamaha’s in-house tuning department and their main goal is to provide performance parts that are effective yet will not compromise on reliability. I could tell the difference as soon as I started the bike – the engine note was much more aggressive. Whilst riding the difference was impressive, it was graced with more power right across the range. I found I could run a gear higher than I could on the standard bike in a few sections, simply because it had so much more grunt. That was so evident that I later asked one of the mechanics if they changed the gearing, and their answer was no! If you wanted to race a YZ250F at a national or higher level, the GYTR kit should definitely be considered as an upgrade to an already great base-level bike.

I feel the bike has benefitted from all of the small refinements that have culminated in a bigger improvement. I really liked how stable the bike felt on corner entry and I also loved having a motor that was a little stronger in the top-end than the previous motor. The chassis and engine work together really well to give great feedback and feeling to the rider. The stopping power of the new brakes gives you the confidence to push the limit too. It’s a comfortable bike to ride for all abilities and with some basic set-up personalised for you it will be a competitive bike at a local and amateur national level. If you were to race it at a higher level then the GYTR kit will give you the extra edge you are looking for.

Words: Rob Holyoake | Lead Image: Supplied

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British MX Nationals

The All-New Kawasaki KX450

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The KX legacy has created a long line of champions and Kawasaki’s drive to produce more has never faltered.

This year Kawasaki celebrate 50 years of Dirt Domination with the KX brand, so it’s no surprise to see a characteristically “full gas” approach to the 2024 MX season, with the much-anticipated announcement of the 2024 models.

Leading the 450 cm3 class charge is the awesome KX450 enjoying its first full-model change in five years, innovatively introducing features never seen before on a KX machine.

The all-new flagship race machine, the KX450 off road motorcycle, offers next level engineering and power to dominate the track. The 2024 KX450 benefits from a new frame and bodywork plus increased engine performance thanks to a symmetrically aligned intake and exhaust. Handling performance has also improved, with greater front-end feel contributing to improved cornering performance to complement the KX450’s acclaimed light, nimble handling and legendary straight-line ability. Aggressive new green bodywork offers improved ergonomics due to a slim, and smoother rider interface while upgrades for the coming season include premium Brembo brake components and ODI Lock-on grips.

In terms of tech highlights, the 2024 KX450 features for the very first time Power Modes and Kawasaki Traction Control, both easily selectable from switches at the left handlebar. Riders can quickly select from two levels (Weak, Strong) of traction control to suit conditions and preference. Riders may also elect to turn the system off. Using the Mode (M) button on the left handlebar, it is also possible to switch between two engine maps (Normal, Mild response) provided in the ECU.

Additionally, smartphone connectivity allows riders to connect with their machine to adjust engine mapping directly from their smartphones using the application “RIDEOLOGY THE APP KX” to adjust engine maps including fuel and ignition timing while maintenance logs are also available.

Adding new features, plus carefully selected electronic rider aids, has taken the KX450 to the next level and Kawasaki hopes that 2024 season riders will accelerate ahead of the chasing pack towards well deserved podium results.

With innovative and evolving features over the decades, we’ve learned what it takes to win and stay on top and the KX450 embodies this legacy to the fullest. The new 2023 model is available from December 2023, contact your local dealer today or visit kawasaki.co.uk to find out more.

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Guest Blogs

Guest Blog: Ben Griffith

Insight from the other side of the world.

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What is it like to be a British mechanic abroad? Ben Griffith is currently working his way through the Australian Supercross Championship with Empire Kawasaki’s Bradley Taft and chucked this piece together to give some insight into his journey. What does being a professional mechanic actually entail? How does the Australian scene differ to the European racing? Read on to learn more about Griffith’s experience on the other side of the world.

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After the flag fell at the final round of the Australian Motocross Championship, it was time to load the truck up and head back to Empire Kawasaki’s race team headquarters in Melbourne, Victoria. When we got back to the factory to finish up, the team talk quickly turned to 2019 supercross.

This year I was approached by the manager about taking on young American Bradley Taft for the supercross season and asked what I thought about building his bikes and working with him. My first port of call was to phone my friends in America, Cari and Brian Schehr. They had Bradley live and train at their MX facility in Southern California, Gristone Compound. I fired off several questions at them, asking if Brad’s been riding much and for their thoughts on him.

Brian got straight to the point and said, “Benny get him there, he’s been training with Gareth Swanepoel and the kid just wants to prove his worth.” The Schehr family’s been in the moto world for more than a decade and have both worked with – and trained – some of the top professional riders. I don’t hesitate to take Brian’s advice before Cari backs him up and says, “Taft looks fit and healthy, every time I’ve seen him at the tracks he’s always been happy and very appreciative of what he gets.” Cari is also a fitness trainer for the riders at Grindstone Compound as well as being a riding coach, so she deals with a lot of pro riders every day.

It’s all the reassurance I needed before saying to the Empire manager, “Let’s get him here if the figures work for the team.” Two weeks later, Taft landed on Aussie shores and I was deep into building him a competitive 2020 KXF250 race bike. I started him out with a bit of motocross to get him into riding the Kawasaki: We rode at the team owner’s private track. After a few days riding and a few engine modifications, Taft caught up on rest and I cracked on with getting his bike ready for supercross as well as arranging supercross suspension with SPMX.

It’d been a while since Taft had rode supercross, so we broke into it slowly and used two tracks to test on. One was Daniel Sanders’ track, a top enduro rider here in Australia. The other belongs to a local vegetable farmer Craig Heppel. Heppel happens to loves the sport as much his spuds and has a full-size track with a full watering system at his property, which we were lucky enough to access. Over the next couple of weeks, a lot of our work together was about testing the bike. We covered everything from suspension work with Steve Powell from SPMX to engine and different gear ratios.

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In the last fortnight leading up to round one, Taft and I concentrated on doing race day schedules and sprint work. There were a few starts but not too many, just so he didn’t overthink the whole process. My main goal was to keep it fun. A couple of days before we were scheduled to leave, the race bikes were built and the entire team headed out for Empire’s team photos. Taft broke his race bike in with two of our other Empire riders who are on 450s, Dylan Long and Lawson Bopping.

Once the boys have finished the shoot, Daniel Sanders wanted to leave us all with a smile. He pulled out his Husqvarna 501, did a few laps on his motocross track and cut a few more on his endurocross track. Seeing Sanders ride around there with all the obstacles, we all have a newfound respect for the enduro side of our sport – it’s gnarly. Back at the factory, I stripped and cleaned Taft’s bikes and built them back up. Those were the final few touches, so there was then one last truck check for all the correct parts and we loaded the bikes up.

Along with getting Taft’s bike in order, I also co-drive the race truck with another gent. It was a little over 20 hours of driving up to Brisbane Entertainment Centre, so we set off three nights before race day. Pulling into the stadium, the promoters directed us to our parking spot and we got our position. It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that most people don’t see like unloading the truck, then setting up the awning and our mobile workshop for race day. The two of us now have it down pat – we were set up in just over two hours.

It’s only then that the riders and the rest of the team have flown in, arriving at the stadium before we all call it a day and head back to the hotel to get ready for a team dinner. The next morning, we have a bit of a later start time. First up at the stadium, we have rider sign-in then track walk and a riders briefing. Taft and I both commented on how small the track was as we walked it – it was sure to produce close, one-lined racing. We then walked back to the truck together and made a plan for the day.

Taft got ready whilst I had one last check over the bike before warming the green machine up. Taft was slotted into A-practice, which is what we wanted. He starts a little slow but quickly gets up to speed and finds a flow – practice is only six minutes and that isn’t long at all to work out a new track. After practice, we debrief about how it went. Taft is candid and admits he rode tight and didn’t ride like he knows he can. I made some small changes to the bike and then, before we knew it, it was time to head back out to staging for qualifying.

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It only took half a lap for me to see he was feeling better. Taft got in some excellent clean laps and qualified sixth, just one-tenth off of second place. Heading into the night show, Taft is put into heat two. Being a small indoor arenacross-style track, only ten riders are taken through to the main events (four out of the heat races and two out of the last chance qualifier). Taft knew a good start and clean laps were key.

In his heat he had reigning champ Australian Jay Wilson and two American riders, Mitchell Oldenberg and Josh Osby. Taft got a good jump out the gate but clipped another rider and had to shut off before being boxed out. He got around the first turn cleanly in fifth and put in some clean laps to take fourth in his heat – that was enough to progress straight through to the mains. He told me he was happy with how his bike felt and didn’t want to make any changes.

Taft had eighth gate pick for the first main event, which saw him sent to the outside – not the best position. Taft started with a pretty good jump out of the gate and came around the first turn in sixth. Within two laps, he was into fourth and all over Kyle Webster in third. I could see Taft was eagerly searching for a place to pass Webster and then as the two riders came up to the finish line, they collided and both went down. Taft’s fork guard was ripped off, he had snapped the front brake lever and the triple clamps were all bent. He still finished up in sixth place though.

Knowing there were only about five minutes until the next main event, I ran back to the pit area and got parts ready to put on his bike. When Taft got back to the pits he was clearly frustrated, but I just concentrate on getting the bike ready. That was a scramble given the turnaround time. Taft has already headed back to the staging area to wait for me.

The card went up and with the same start gate as main event one, he got a horrible jump and came out of the first turn in tenth.  He didn’t lose focus though and kept his head down before making some passes to finish in sixth at the flag. That put him in sixth-place overall for the night. It was not the night he or I wanted to achieve, but Taft told me he was healthy and hungry to show what he has at round two in Adelaide.

Just as the night comes to an end, we all spend time reflecting on round one while we pack the truck up. Before we know it, we are all loaded up and my co-driver and I are heading back down south to do it all again next weekend. I hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight into the first round of what happens down here in Australian racing.

Words: Ben Griffith | Lead Image: Supplied

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