Chris Tedesco

2018 Yamaha YZ250F vs. 2018 Suzuki RM-Z250

A back-to-back test of two very different bikes

The Yamaha YZ250F has been a favorite among our test riders for several years now. Having an engine with great power characteristics and proven KYB suspension, Yamaha is in no hurry to revamp this model. If you want to know how to tell the difference between the 2017 and 2018 models, look for the few appearance changes with new graphics on blue (2017 was white) radiator shrouds and blue rims.

The Suzuki RM-Z250 is also largely unchanged for 2018, receiving only a few minor cosmetic changes, including white number plates and blue accents on the seat and radiator shrouds to match big brother RM-Z450. We took these two bikes to Milestone MX to see how they stacked in a mini head-to-head shootout. Here's what test riders had to say after a full day of testing:

2018 Yamaha YZ250F vs. 2018 Suzuki RM-Z250
Both machines are capable; it comes down to which suits the type of bike you prefer.Chris Tedesco

Steve Boniface, Age: 35, 5'7", 150 lb., Retired Pro SX and MX
I first started riding with the now-familiar YZ250F. I owned the 2016 model and also rode the 2017 version few times, so I felt right at home on the '18. The controls/bar combo is good for me and is to my liking. I like the bend of the bar, grips, and feel of the levers. Like a lot of people mention, I do feel the bike is wider between my knees, but that doesn't bother me when I am riding.

I was very pleased with the suspension overall. The bike is very stable and comfortable. I rode it on two different tracks at Milestone, and the YZ250F worked good on both. The rear settles good coming into the corners in the bumpy areas and gives me really good traction coming out of the corners despite my lighter weight. On top of that, I did not experience any bottoming out, which shows how progressive the suspension is. The fork is also very comfortable and progressive. I could use more stability at high speed, as I experienced a few moments where the front would get busy on fast deceleration before I grabbed and applied pressure to the front brake. Overall, I feel the combo is giving me enough confidence and comfort to ride to my full potential.

Suzuki turning performance
Although the Yamaha is cutting under the Suzuki here, in terms of bike performance the Suzuki is the more natural turner.Chris Tedesco

The engine is amazing for a 250. The power is where I like it—bottom and mid of the power curve—and it’s very torquey. It almost feels like riding a bigger-displacement bike and is very pleasant to ride. The top is okay, but I find myself riding at lower rpm than a usual 250 engine. The one thing I would do is change the sprocket one to two teeth as I often find myself between two gears, especially between second and third gears.

Handling-wise the bike is very stable and gives you tons of confidence. The one point where I feel the YZ250F could be better is the front end of the bike in rutty or tighter corners. For me the front end always seems to want to get out of the rut or berm and I have to either be careful or really fight the front of the bike to stay in the rut. I am getting used to it now, but I still have a hard time just laying it down in a rut and enjoying the ride…

After few sessions on the blue bike, I jumped on the Suzuki and was pleasantly surprised. The cockpit is very comfortable, the bar bend is to my liking, and I felt right at home on it. The bike feels thin and light while riding. After few corners, I was blown away with how well it corners, especially on small, tight corners, rutty or flat. The stability wasn't the strong point of the Suzuki, especially the front end, but I was able to work with it. The fork felt a little harsh in my hand on faster, bumpy section of the track. The shock on the other hand felt a lot more plush and comfortable. I just couldn't wait for the next corner to come by…

Yamaha power
Left: The Yamaha shines in power. It has a lot of it and great throttle response too.
Right: The RM-Z250 loves to play in the corners. It has excellent throttle response and a good boost of midrange to blow up those berms.
Chris Tedesco

The engine was not very powerful, especially coming off the YZ-F. The Suzuki's power delivery is very smooth but not strong enough for me. The midrange is where the engine feels the best but, again, suffers in comparison to the Yamaha. One thing I noticed is the RM-Z was hard to start for a modern four-stroke… And that reminded me of the year I rode for Suzuki in 2004 on the first 250F and all those times the bike would not restart!

Allan Brown, Age: 47, 5'10", 170 lb., Vet A
Because I didn't have much experience with the Suzuki RM-Z250 I picked it to ride first. Normally, we begin the day doing a few photos and this would be a perfect time to get acclimated to the bike. Immediately, I felt comfortable on it and I feel that both of the RM-Zs, 450 and 250, are comfortable to ride. With the RM-Z250 you sit very much on top of the bike and it has a narrow feel between your legs. The grips and levers feel good as they are about the perfect diameter. The bar is a comfortable, neutral bend.

Slim and nimble Suzuki
One of the Suzuki’s great traits is its slim and nimble overall feel.Chris Tedesco

As we began to do a few laps between photos I noticed the Suzuki was a touch rigid, possibly from the air fork. I had set the KYB PSF2 fork at 34 psi and the shock was set to OEM stock. The more I rode it, the better it felt. I would say the suspension was maybe on the stiffer side for a 250F, but it made the bike more fun to jump. Additionally, I think this helps give the RM-Z its light and nimble feel.

The engine seemed slightly underpowered coming out of the corners compared to what I was used to, but as long as I didn’t mess up in the corner I didn’t think it was too bad. Approaching jumps it felt great because of the firmer suspension. It held up well in the transitions, and the slower motor meant you could pretty much hit everything wide open and not worry about overjumping.

On a big plus side I would say this bike corners incredibly well. The narrow feel makes it easy to get forward on the bike, and the sitting-on-top feel makes it easy to lean the bike in at corner entry. The brakes also worked very well and were progressive and predictable.

Yamaha suspension
Chris Tedesco

My only real issue with the RM-Z250 was that it was a little hard to start. At times it would take multiple (10-plus) kicks to get it fired. I tried raising the idle but that didn’t seem to make much difference on the starting. After we finished with the photos I did a few more laps on the Suzuki and it was time to switch to the Yamaha.

I am always amazed at what you can feel when you jump from one bike directly onto another. I knew right away I was riding a Yamaha. The seat and wider gas tank between my legs are unmistakable. You are definitely sitting in the bike on the Yamaha as opposed to on top of the bike like with the Suzuki. If I had just started on the Yamaha, it would not have been as noticeable; it’s when you get off one of the narrowest bikes in the class and hop onto what is maybe the widest that you notice it right away. After a few laps it was not an issue and this would not be a deterrent to me if I were shopping for a new bike.

Suzuki flying
The Suzuki is most at home in the turns, but it loves to fly too.Chris Tedesco

The next thing I noticed is cutting to the inside of the corners was not quite as easy. The Yamaha felt like it has a much longer wheelbase. You needed to set up much earlier and work a little harder if you wanted to catch that inside rut. The way the two bikes cornered could not have been more opposite.

The suspension on YZ250F was plush. I could feel it moving in the stroke with good progression and bottoming resistance, but setting the sag was very important. I had not set the sag for my initial laps and the bike felt very choppered out. I went back to the truck and set the sag to 103mm; the chopper feeling was completely corrected. You would think a bike that does not corner inside very well would be super stable on the outside lines at speed. I experienced some occasional head shake on faster-speed sweeping corners that was somewhat unexpected.

YZ250F power
The YZ250F might be the top bike in the class for putting the power down and eating up the straights.Chris Tedesco

Another way you know you’re on a Yamaha is the power. There is no doubt the Yamaha has a good motor. The torque is there when you need it, and if you did get a little lazy in a higher gear, a quick stab to the clutch picks the rpm right back up to where you need them. If I had to say one negative about the engine, it’s a little loud. You can hear the intake very clearly because of the airbox being so close to your head, and the muffler is not exactly the quietest in the business either.

We continued swapping bikes back and forth to help get a good feel for the differences. The Suzuki’s stronger points were light, quick, and nimble handling with excellent cornering ability. Its weaker points might be a slower, not very exciting engine and a touch harsh chassis/suspension. The Yamaha’s strong points are its super-strong engine and good suspension with great feel and bottoming resistance. Its weaker points would be cornering to the inside and not being as stable at speed as I was expecting. Both bikes have good brakes, decent stock grips, and comfortable levers.

Suzuki and Yamaha
Here the Suzuki gets its chance to cut under the Yamaha. Both bikes are excellent and fun to ride.Chris Tedesco

Also there were a few spots on the track that I felt both bikes were between gears. I found this very unusual as they have such different engine characteristics.

Assuming the cost was the same, I would probably go with the Yamaha first. I think it would be easier to make the bike corner a little better with a different triple-clamp offset and maybe a few other chassis adjustments. I’d likely take this route over buying the Suzuki, revalving the suspension, getting a pipe, and possibly some expensive engine mods to bring it up to the Yamaha.