KAWASAKI MEETS YZ FINALLY – 74 KX250 / YZ250 shootout
From DIRT BIKE mag June 1974
Bankroll breaker versus budget bun-buster
Two bikes are sitting right next to each other in the Great Yellow DIRT BIKE garage. In fact, one is leaning against the other because it doesn’t have a kickstand. We’ve had both of these machines for some time now – and they look it. The Yamaha has paint rubbed off the tank from lord knows how many knees rubbing against it. The paint on the Kawasaki held up a little better, but has several deep scratches in it. None of the levers on the handlebars has the exact shape it had when new. They’ve been leaned on and re-bent a few times.
Those spiffy rims are now wobbling a bit and the sharp edges are gone from the knobs – front and rear. Both bikes have dirt imbedded in the pores of the metal. So deep, that all the 25-cent car washes in the world aren’t going to make them look new again.
Both bikes have been thrashed. Ridden hard. The motors sound quite a bit looser than when we first got them, but they’re sti 1 pumping out buckets of crisp horsepower. In fact, they seem a bit faster, if anything, now that they’ve loosened up. Of course, if you listen close, you can hear some clickings and whirrings and slap~ pings that weren’t there a month ago. Nothing broken, mind you. just . . . ah, well-seated. Those two motorcycles have been run more and harder and longer tha n they would in six months in the hands of a private owner.
We raced them on weekends, rode them during the week and then raced them the next weekend. In fact, one weekend the YZ was raced in both the Novice and Expert class at a Grand Prix. Then the filter was cleaned, nuts and bolts tightened and it was ridden the next Wednesday by no less than six test riders for hours at a whack.
In other words, what we Lie trying to tell you is: (1) We rode the bikes harder than common sense dictated. (2) We sorta tried to break them. (3) We lived with the bikes in order to find out what they were truly like. (4) We didn’t break either of them. (5) We found out a great deal about these two motocrossers. (6) Keep reading, because now we 1 re going to tell you what they’re like.
Right up front, you must know what these units are going to cost . . . and the difference in pricing poses a —mustjustify— question. Price on the Yamaha YZ as of this writing is over $1700. Price of the Kawasaki is approximately $1150. So you’ve just got to ask,—Isthe YZ worth the difference?
Rather than stand around with our shorts in our mouth and give you one of the typical mealy mouthed “magazine” answers (it’s really up to the rider . . . or, the final choice is whether you like gray or green . . . or, gosh, they’re both so wunnerful that we really cannot decide here at good old POPULAR MOTOR CYCLE WORLD AND ILLUSTRATED QUARTERLY), we’ll tell you right up front that the YZ most assuredly is not worth the difference. At least not in the way the bikes perform.
In all fairness to Yamaha, they did put a whole lot of quality (read expensive) components into the YZ that the Kawasaki just does not have. Seriously. If you get down on your haunches and take things apart and study all the little bearings and holders and brackets and lightweight castings, you can see that the Yamaha must be outrageously expensive to make. Take those same hard looks at the Kawasaki, and right away you can see that the Kawasaki parts were stamped out like a cookie-cutter where someone stood over a lathe for the same part on the Yamaha. The sad thing is, however, that the final result – on the track – is not that different. Surely not worth the price spread.
Face it. The function of a motocross racing machine is to boogie around crappy terrain at high rates of speed. Whoever crosses the finish line first is da winnah.
Now. Let’s take a deep breath and look at both bikes as they stand delivered. Right out of the crate. If you took both of these machines out of the proverbial crate and filled them with gas and oil, then raced them around a motocross course, the winner would probably be the YZ. All other things, like skill and such, being equal, of course.
But sit and think for a moment before you say that this would justify the YZ’s price tag. Remember, you’ve got a $500-$600 difference in initial cash outlay. If you take a part of that difference say, $150 – the story changes. Then the bikes will ‘perform so closely that it really won’t matter. However, if you are the guy who bought the YZ, then you have a bigger hole in your wallet than the guy who bought the Kawasaki. if, then, we deal with realities, the Kawasaki is a better buy and at least an equal performer. It’ll cost you a few bucks, but you’ll still be ahead of the financial picture.
In addition to our regular test riders, we were fortunate enough to have two fast experts help us with the evaluations. Jimmy Weinert showed up, looking for all the world like a lime sherbet, and rode both bikes. And Jeff Blix, a California hotshoe who has been kicking ass in the 250 class on his YZ, showed up. Blix brought along his personal highly modified YZ. Weinert, as usual, brought nothing and even scored about 20 free magazines from us. Rumor has it that he was seen selling them later in the day to school kids, but we cannot verify it.
The time-honored method of getting on a bike is to —slinga leg over it.— Easy enough, unless you’re tinder 5’8″ tall. The Yamaha is very tall, and all us short folks will hook a foot on the back edge of the saddle and fall down unless the leg is swung quite high. No easy trick if you’re wearing 20 pounds of sweaty leathers and gigantic MX boots. Not so with the Kawa. It’s much shorter in the saddle and most average-height riders will be able to plant both feet firmly on the ground whilst straddling the green machine.
While you’re sitting on the bikes, you can flop them from side to side and get an idea of the weight. Both feel very light, and later, the scales showed them to be the same – 215 pounds with a third of a tank of gas. In fact, the weight distribution was identical on both bikes. Sort of makes you think they should feel identical to each other, doesn’t it? No way.
The bikes feel worlds apart. Even starting the two machines is totally different. Both bikes share a new curse on the carbs, however. Instead of the good old Mikuni choke lever that we have all come to know and love for cold starting, the new carbs feature a stupid little rod that must be grasped between thumb and forefinger, pulled up and twisted to lock in place. This is no easy feat. Not only is the thing small and hard to hold, but it slips down occasionally. It is, however, probably a half-ounce lighter than the older version. Big deal.
Whatever. To light off the Yamaha, you turn the petcock on (one position only), pull up the choke and kick. And kick some more. Eventually, the bike will get some fire inside. At no time during the test could we call the YZ an easy starter. The YZ started best when it was good and hot and the rider gave it a huge kick. The Yammie comes to life with a raspy snarl and a nervous revving that immediately tells you that not a whole lot of flywheel is inside those cases. Blip the throttle and the r’s build instantly. No hesitation. You won’t even need a dyno to tell you that lots of speedfreaked ponies are in the engine.
No such sounds flit out of the Kawasaki when you get things stirring. It just starts and makes the usual 250 cee cee noises. Foomba-foomba. And, the savvy rider can tell right off that the Kawasaki has some flywheels inside. Revs build lots slower. Whack the throttle wide open with the bike in neutral and the engine gives a little quiver, then patiently builds some r’s. Patiently, that is, in comparison to the YZ.
It seemed to us that the YZ was more cold-blooded than the Kawa. It took several long minutes for the Yammie to quit blubbering and belching before it ran crisp and clean. One trip through the gears of the Kawa got it cleaned out enough to feel right.
Just about everyone who rode the YZ stalled it when first taking off. With the very light flywheel effect and the tall first gear, a lot of revs had to be fed and the clutch slipped out discreetly to get moving. Or the alternative approach: Wing the sucker up to about seven grand and just dump the clutch. The second (alternative) method does take some practice, we must caution.
In contrast, just about anyone could initiate forward motion from the Kaw without a whole lot of thought. Merely raise the revs a bit and let the clutch out like any street bike around. You’re moving.
Once the Yamaha got thoroughly warmed up, we put a few easy laps on it to get the feel. Even on these easy laps, the front end of the YZ wanted to climb up in the air. just a halfhearted blip on the throttle brought an instant response. While taking those familiarization laps, the suspension felt on the firm side. Most of the small bumps and ripples could be felt through the bars. However, the medium bumps were soaked up fairly well. Obviously, the Yammie was not meant to be ridden slowly.
Soooo, we ran through the gears briskly. Hoooeeee! Power. Lots of mid-range and plenty of beans on top as well. The YZ didn’t want to pull at low revs at all, but the revs built so fast that the rider was never at a disadvantage. Because of the power characteristics, the YZ would literally explode from corner to corner. And this explosion of power meant that the rider had damn well better be pointed in the right direction when he nailed the throttle. You just don’t slop your way through a turn and roll it on to exit. If you do, the rear end of the YZ will whip out or the front end will come up and the rear end will come out. The YZ is best cornered by entering deep into a turn, braking hard, going down to the correct gear and making a berm shot (or a tight pivot), then picking the bike upright and bolting to the next turn.
Acceleration is fierce and it’ll take a crisp 400cc bike to out pull the YZ from corner to corner. We found it best to sit well forward to keep the front end from skittering up. Oh yeah. The front end, You must pay attention to where your body position is, or you’ll spend a great deal of time out of control. Much of the aerobatics of the front wheel are due to the high seating position and lightness of the front end and not because of any flaw in weight distribution.
We had several anxious moments when leaving jumps. Most of our riders tend to think of test bikes in—normal-terms. In oth er words, you treat a bike like any other bike, until it lets you know otherwise. -Otherwise, ;, in the case- of the YZ, meant almost looping it. Try to take a jump in the 11 normal” manner on a YZ and you’ll ruin your shorts. It took us more than the usual few laps to get the feel of the Yamaha, but once we did, that problem ceased.
By contrast, the Kawasaki was very easy to ride right from the beginning. Seating position is low and this induces some additional confidence in the rider. Power conies on right from the bottom of the rpm range and surges strongly at mid-range, flattening out sooner than the YZ. Our dyno testing backed up this initial impression. The YZ does have a few more horses on top. Still, the machines are virtually equal in acceleration. With ideal traction conditions, the YZ would slightly edge the Kawasaki in a straight line drag race to the first turn.
Obviously, some thought had been put into the YZ chassis, as the bike had superb manners. It was neutral in front/rear behavior. To make the rear end slide, the rider had to get forward on the gas tank. By just sitting in the normal middle position, the front end would still bite and hold. To get best results out of the YZ, the competitive rider will have to move all over the machine. You just cannot park -your rump in one spot and expect to make the YZ work. The YZ rider will constantly shift his body weight around to get maximum benefits of the light weight and good geometry. This is truly not a bike for the beginner or novice rider. In fact, out of all the people who rode the machine, the fast experts liked the bike far more than those with lesser levels of skill. What was terrifying to the beginner, was just what the pro wanted.
Back to the Kawasaki for a moment. No one had any difficulty with it, even though there was some front end washout. A little too much to suit us. In order to eliminate the “plow” up front, we loosened the pinch bolts on the triple clamps and let the fork legs slide up until they made contact with the bars. Perhaps a half-inch change was all we gained, but that made a big difference in the way the bike reacted. Now, instead of the front end slipping outward in the tighter turns, it bit well enough to allow the rider to stuff it inside. Of course, a great deal of weight had to he over the front end, but this is normal on most moto crossers. The Kaw was a slider.
Both bikes tracked well in a straight line over bumpy ground at high speeds, with the Kawasaki being more of a —straight-linerthan the Yamaha. Neither bike tracked as well as a Bultaco or a Maico in the sand – but then, what does?
Neither machine had a bad case of rear end hop, but attention had to be paid to the Yamaha and corrections were demanded frequently. No spooky shakes or shudders were felt on heavy impact on either bike.
At first, we thought our Kawasaki had decent shocks and poor forks. But after we entered the bike in a 45-minute Grand Prix, our opinions changed. The forks are atrocious and the shocks are sad jokes. If the rider engages in only ten- or 15-minute motos, the shocks will be satisfactory. But once they get hot, all of’ the damping goes away and the springs take over completely. And -you know what an undamped spring does. Boing, boing. The ass-end of the Kaw gets compressed in a rut, then recoils and leaps into the air. Front wheelstands become common. By the time the shocks go south, the forks are bottoming and topping out over moderately, rough bumps. We tried a number of different oils in the forks and nothing really helped. Kawasaki team riders are not using the stock forks, and unless you’re a slow rider, you won’t want to either.
We wanted to install a Number One Fork Kit on the 250 Kaw, but the manufacturers told us their kit did not fit the new model 250 or 450. They’re going to send us one of their new kits as soon as they modify it to fit, and we’ll cheek it out and let you know if it works as well as their other kits. But as it stands right now, replacement forks are going to be a must. In fact, the first day, we received the bike, the stock fork springs sacked out and we had to scavenge a set from another bike the Kawasaki folks had along. We did not experiment with the hammerhead shocks, but they can he taken apart and the oil changed. It still looks like they don’t offer enough travel for the competitive rider, though, and replacement shocks will be a must.
Our Yamaha never gave us much trouble in the suspension department, but it was not really a comfortable ride. Overly firm would be the best description of the forks. Lighter riders sniveled the most about being beaten to death by the suspension, but heavier riders thought the suspension was in the ballpark. This would indicate that springs can be changed to suit body weight. We had a highly modified YZ along for comparison and it was a great deal more comfortable to ride than our stocker.
Jeff Blix, a 250 Expert who has been on a win streak lately, let us put a lot of time on his machine. He ran 20-weight Lubritech fork oil up front and it helped. On the back, he sported a forward mounted shock setup done by Pro-Fab and a pair of the new Arnacos with a relief valve. The combination worked well and most of the harshness of the stock YZ was not present. Jeff also had some good rubber on his bike and that too made a difference, especially the Barum knobby on the front. Both the Kaw and the YZ had painfully average tires that were on the hard and slippery side. Reducing the tire pressure down way low helped the bite on both bikes but allowed too much wallowing on hard packed turns.
We also raced the YZ and had better luck with the suspension than with the Kaw. During the entire 45-minute race, the suspension stayed pretty much the same as when we started . . . too harsh, but no annoying bottoming or topping. At least the Yamaha suspension is made to last the duration of a lengthy race and can more than likely be sorted out to suit the rider. As of this writing, the Kawasaki does not enjoy that advantage.
RACING BOTH OF THE BIKES
After the 45-minute race, both riders got together and compared notes on the two bikes. The YZ had been raced in the Expert class and the Kawasaki in the junior division. Both riders were hammered – the YZ rider much less. Notes from the YZ rider: —Those bars are so wide that it’s uncomfortable. Still, 1 suppose you could cut some off the end with a hacksaw, but 1 don’t like the shape at all. It cramped my forearms early. . . . Shifting was not what I’d expect from a Yamaha. 1 missed a lot of gears, mostly between second and third – going either way. And you can’t tell what gear you’re in most of the time. The jumps between the gears are very small and the revs build so quickly, you’re never really sure if you shifted or not. Oh yeah I stalled a whole lot. Seems like you just touch the rear brake and the engine locks up. 1 suppose you could get used to it, but I would have been happy with something a Jot less sensitive. Especially when you get tired and a little sloppy in your reactions. 1 even bumped the YZ out of gear accidentally a few times. But the bike was fast and nothing pulled me down any straight. Grips ate my hands alive, even through a good pair of gloves. That tank is not as narrow as it seems and 1 bruised the inside of my thighs on it as 1 was crawling around. Wish there was some flywheel in that motor.–
Comments from the Kawasaki rider: “My (censored) arms are ready to fall off. This (censored) thing beat me half to death. But it does have neat power and 1 was going real strong until the suspension went away. And I mean a-way. It shifts just fine and you don’t even have to think about the gearbox. just nudge it and you’re right there. And the brakes are perfect. just enough and they don’t lock up prematurely. Little bit of chatter in the rear brake, but hardly enough to snivel about. Plenty of power and lots of low end grunt. If the bike just had some suspenders, it’d be all any one would ever want. It’s got better power and handling than an Elsinore, but the Honda has it beat easily in the shocks and forks.–
WHICH ONE WOULD THE RIDERS BUY?
Most agreed that if they had to spend their own money, they would buy the Kawasaki and some good suspension units – front and rear. The asking price for the YZ is simply too high, in the opinion of those who rode the two bikes. Especially when you consider that additional money will have to be spent on the YZ to set it up properly.
A few other factors should be taken into consideration by prospective buyers of either bike. Parts prices vary a great deal. The YZ has a chrome liner. This means that if you puke an upper end, the barrel will have to be replaced. You can’t rebore. At approximately 100 bucks for a barrel, this is no small consideration. Still, the wear should be minimal if the bike is kept scrupulously clean in fuel and breathing inlets. Strangely, the piston in the Kawasaki costs almost twice as much as the Yamaha piston. Don’t ask us why.
Like we said earlier, if you look real close, the high cost of producing the YZ is apparent. A tremendous amount of detail work was put into the execution of the bike. Weinert told us that the bike was, indeed, the same thing they rode a few years back.
What Yamaha has done is give the consumer a –European motorcycle. They made a first-rate chassis with a bon-eroo motor and a suspension that’ll have to be sorted out from the ground up. It’s a bike that’s radical, fast, light and temperamental.
Kawasaki has taken the opposite approach and made an inexpensive bike that is civilized and relatively easy to ride. And one that has no manners whatsoever in the suspension department.
The only sad thing is that if the rider puts a hundred and fifty bucks into the Kawasaki, he will be able to race on equal terms with the YZ . . . and still have enough money left over to buy a small Yamaha enduro bike for fun riding.
YAMAHA 250 YZ
- PRICE: Retail, approx, $1700
- ENGINE TYPE: Two-stroke single, torque induction
- DISPLACEMENT: 246cc
- BORE & STROKE: 2.756 inches x 2.750 inches
- COMPRESSION RATIO: 7.4:1
- CARBURETION: Mikuni VM34SC
- HP @ RPM: (claimed) N/A; (actual) 28,8 (@ 8000
- CLUTCH: Wet multiple disc
- PRIMARY DRIVE: Gear, 3.083
- GEAR RATIOS: 1) 1.789:1 2) 1.409:1 3) 1.166:1 4) 1.000:1 5) 0.857:1
- AIR FILTRATION: Wet foam
- ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: CDI inner rotor
- LUBRICATION: Pre-mix
- RECOMMENDED FUEL: Premium
- RECOMMENDED OIL: None
- FUEL CAPACITY: 1.8 gallons
- FRAME: Tubular double loop
- SUSPENSION: (front) Telescopic forks; (rear) Yamaha Thermal Flow
- WHEELS: Alloy
- TIRES: (front) 3.00×21 Dunlop; (rear) 4.00×18 Dunlop
- DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase: 55.9 inches, Ground Clearance: 8.9 inches, Seat Height: N/A, Handlebar width: 35.0 inches, Weight: (claimed) N/A; (actual) 215 pounds with 1/3 tank of gas; (on front wheel) 94 pounds; (on rear wheel) 121 pounds
- INSTRUMENTS: None
- LIGHTS: No
- SILENCER: Yes
- SPARK ARRESTOR:.No
- PRIMARY KICK: Yes
- PARTS PRICES: (frequently replaced items) , Piston assembly: $23,00, Clutch cable: $2.78, Cylinder: $99.95, Shift lever: N/A, Brake pedal: $19.22, Clutch lever: $3.20
KAWASAKI 250 MX
- PRICE: Retail, approx. $1150
- ENGINE TYPE: Two-stroke single, air cooled
- DISPLACEMENT: 246cc
- BORE & STROKE: 69.5mm x 64.9mm
- COMPRESSION RATIO: 7.9:1
- CARBURETION: Mikuni VM34SC
- HP @ RPM: (claimed) N/A; (actual) 26.6 @ 8000
- CLUTCH: Wet, multiple disc
- PRIMARY DRIVE: Gear, 2.68
- GEAR RATIOS: 1) 2.33:1, 2) 1.73:1, 3) 1.41:1, 4) 1.16:1, 5) 1.00:1
- AIR FILTRATION: Wet foam
- ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: Magneto CDI
- LUBRICATION: Pre-mix
- RECOMMENDED FUEL: Premium
- RECOMMENDED OIL: Kawasaki
- FUEL CAPACITY: 2.38 gallons
- FRAME: Tubular, single cradle
- SUSPENSION: (front) Telescopic forks; (rear) Swingarm w/Kawa shocks
- WHEELS: D.I.D.
- TIRES: (front) 3.00×21 Jap. Dunlop; (rear) 4.00×18 Jap. Dunlop
- DIMENSIONS:Wheelbase: 55.8 inches, Ground Clearance: 7.7 inches, Seat Height: N/A, Handlebar width: 34 inches, Weight: (actual) 215 pounds with 1/3 tank of gas; (on front wheel) 94 pounds; (on rear wheel) 121 pounds
- BRAKES: Drum
- INSTRUMENTS: None
- LIGHTS: No
- SILENCER: Yes
- SPARK ARRESTOR: No
- PRIMARY KICK Yes
- PARTS PRICES (frequently replaced items), Piston assembly $38.40, Clutch cable: $4.00, Cylinder: $66.40, Shift lever: $10.30, Brake pedal: $7.60, Clutch lever: $2.90