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Smoker Shootout: Which 250?

Japanese or Austrian? That’s the question most riders who fancy a quarter-litre smoker have to face.

The two-stroke scene is definitely the craze at the moment. The interest is high as the typical clubman rider can see sees the fun of riding, owing and maintaining a two-stroke 250. But if you’re thin king of buying new, which bike is best?

The KTM is a popular choice

The biggest selling bikes come out of two factories – Yamaha in Japan and KTM in Austria, where the me-too Husqvarna is also built. There’s a price difference between the Japanese and Austria brand, with the Yamaha’s official list price of £6999 being £350 less than the 2019 KTM.  But both are available discounted right now. You can get a KTM for £6599 if you look around, although it’s harder to find deals on the more rare Yamaha.

The KYB suspension is a bonus on the YZ

This price parity may come as a bit if a shock, due to one manufacture stopping the development train in 2006 while the other proceeds to drive it forward. KTM’s bike is nothing like its predecessor from a decade ago. Both have pros and cons which will appeal to different riders. The main factors are ride-ability, durability, suspension, pure and value for money, to mention but a few.

The KTM is the newest spec by far

Yamaha stopped really progressing the model in 2006 when the aluminium beam-famed bike with Kayaba SSS suspension came out. There has been some remodelling and suspension upgrades but really it’s been little tweaks here and there. However we are just truly grateful the blue steed is still in the production run.

The YZ still has enough power to keep most happy

Despite it being old technology and still using old-style rear suspension rather than the new YZF linkage, the machine still is competitive. Especially in the club racing world, where the combination of suspension, chassis and power delivery meets the needs of most. Very few two-stroke lovers don’t like the Yamaha 250. The power valve system and boost ports are key in delivering a power curve most can ride. And the throttle response always brings a smile. However the bike does need some modifications to be competitive at the expert end, especially facing the ever-evolving European brands.

The KTM is reliable and quick, and corners well

KTM hasn’t stopped developing the two-stroke range and it shows. The brand have always been able to build a good, solid engine – it seems to be in their DNA. But it’s not all about power. If you’re an out-and-out racer, the power is definitely a major factor but if you’re not, then a bike is so much more than just its power. Like reliability or ease of riding, and years ago, KTMs may have not had the best reputation for that. But in recent years, KTM upped the ante in terms of durability and rideability on the full two-stroke range but especially on the 250. The power delivery was overhauled to meet the needs of the average rider as well as the top flight racers.

You’ve got to love the YZ’s looks

The bike has a counter balance shaft which helped create a good power curve and help drop the vibration levels massively. The chassis, suspension, linkage, swingarm and plastics are all new in 2019, to make the bike handle and manoeuvre out on track as well as look good. The AER WP air suspension is always This seems to be quite hard to find for most but once you get it right, riders love the benefits. Being able to adjust your spring rate with a pump always seems to be overlooked. And of course, those forks are light.

Destroy that sandy berm!

Both bikes tick many boxes but are different and the question is: What type of rider are you? Are you a guy that likes to buy aftermarket parts, who’d love spicing up the YZ with a pipe, porting and a few motor mods? Are you a typical average rider looking for a no-fuss day on a bike you can look after easily? Or a super competitive racer in a championship where you need the best? Check out our video test to see our verdict and find out which bike is best for you.

First published MotoHead Issue 29

By Dave Willet. Photos by Harvey Beardsell