I still remember the first time I heard Yamaha was producing a YZ250F four-stroke. I was sitting at my desk reading motonews, when my jaw dropped. There on the front page, was an announcement that Yamaha was indeed introducing a racing thumper for the 125 class in 2001. At the time, the thought of something like this bordered on sheer madness.
Prior to the 2001 YZ250F, no one had ever been able to make a small racing thumper really competitive against the two-strokes. Big thumpers were heavy, but capable of putting out enough power to overcome their weight deficit, but traditional small-displacement four-strokes were just not capable of making the kind of power that would allow them to run with the oil-burners. All that changed with the 2001 Yamaha YZ250F.
As soon as I saw Yamaha was producing a 250 version of the YZF, I knew I had to have it. At the time, I was already a Yamaha four-stroke owner (a 1999 YZ400F) and while I loved a lot of things about it, it was far from perfect. For starters, it weighed as much as a small Toyota truck and felt like it. It was also insanely complicated to start and prone to flaming out for no good reason. The power was amazingly broad and smooth, but that big four-stroke feel never really went away.
For me, the thought of owning a smaller and lighter version of the 400F was intoxicating. Keep the smooth and rev-happy motor, but ditch the XR-like weight and feel. Unfortunately, the Rube Goldberg starting procedure was still part of the deal, but I was willing to put up with that to bounce that rev-limiter off of the 13,000 rpm mark.
That very day, I called my buddy who owned a Yamaha shop and told him I wanted to put a deposit down on the first one they got. Six months later, I was the proud owner of a spanking new Yamaha YZ250F.
At the time, my first impression was how very different it felt from my YZ400F and my best buddy’s YZ426F. Even though it looked virtually identical, they felt completely different on the track. There was none of the big YZF’s portly feel and thundering power. Instead, the YZ250F felt light and flickable, more like a 250 two-stroke than a typical thumper. The power was not awe-inspiring, but the motor was incredibly smooth and seemed to just rev forever. Compared to a 250 smoker, it was slow, but compared to a 125, it was a torque monster.
Overall, my only beef with this bike was that damn starting drill. While the procedure was the same as on the YZ400F/426F, the small bike turned out to be even harder to start. It was not harder to kick, just more tricky to light. Sometimes, it would take me 10 kicks to get it going, and sometimes, nothing short of an act of God was going to get the fire lit.
In the end, this was the thing that got me to part company with the lovely YZ250F. One day, after spending over an hour trying to get the damn thing going, I had finally had enough. After calling the bike every expletive known to modern man, I loaded the damn thing in my Silverado and drove it back to my buddy’s shop, where I traded it in on a brand new 2002 Honda CRF450R. A bike, I will have you note, with no DAMN starting drill!