Yamaha XT250: Affordability with practicality

By Jacqui Madelin

Yamaha's new-gen XT250 is equally at home on the daily commute or off the beaten track

Yamaha's latest XT250 includes wider Renthal bars, hand guards, lowered gearing and a luggage rack.Pictures / Jacqui Madelin
Yamaha's latest XT250 includes wider Renthal bars, hand guards, lowered gearing and a luggage rack.Pictures / Jacqui Madelin

My impatience to ride Yamaha's latest XT250 will seem odd to most off-road riders, the gung-ho types who prefer super long-travel suspension and powerful motors, and lust after the sort of machine that'll leap a mountain in one bound, clamber up the steepest cliff-face and do it at a speed that'd make your eyes water.

The XT has never been that sort of beast. It's a trail bike that's road registered, with a low seat to suit shorties or the daily commute, a tractable engine, and the sort of grandpa's axe philosophy behind it that's seen a glacial rate of improvement over the years, bringing with it the benefit of a reasonably affordable price.

My impatience came because I've owned several generations of the diminutive beast, starting with an XT225 (sometimes tagged the Serow), a 223cc bike built from 1986 to 2007. Its XT250 predecessor saw a brief flash of fame when ridden by Sylvester Stallone as Rambo in First Blood - albeit with a two-stroke soundtrack apparently dubbed over the four-stroke original.

But the 225 that succeeded it was far too innocuous for such a red-blooded profile, and it was replaced by another XT250 which gradually received minor updates over the years. But the basic four-stroke, air-cooled modest motor remained, at its peak producing around 13kW maximum depending on generation, with modest suspension, brakes and ancillaries all built to deliver an equally modest price.

I replaced my 225 with a 250 too, and though it looked more modern and - gasp - replaced kick- with electric-start, it felt almost like the same bike.

Yamaha's latest XT250 has modern technology.
Yamaha's latest XT250 has modern technology.

Still, it suited my average height and woefully inadequate fitness, and though I would never finish a ride at the front, that tractable engine and handling package meant I quite often puttered around obstacles which felled more aggressive riders prone to fanging over or through things I was forced to avoid.

I did long for a whisker more power and slightly better suspension though, and toyed with various Yamaha-fitted aftermarket tweaks over the years - until this new-gen fuel-injected XT arrived.

The basic bike remains unchanged, so Yamaha fitted a few options like these wider, higher Renthal bars to improve the standing attack position; hand guards and a luggage rack, a rear tail-tidy kit to cut bulk out back, lowered gearing and a brake snake to protect the gear lever from snagging, plus a sump guard.

It also fitted bigger, Super Tenere front footpegs and removed the pillion pegs, then fitted a set of Michelin AC10 dual-sport tyres better suited to adventure riding - which is like two-wheeled orienteering, with a hefty off-road component and not much road riding to your 250-350km day, hence the route-sheet holder bolted to the left handlebar.

That all meant the only difference to the similarly equipped bike I rode a year ago was this engine, but the improvement was almost immediately obvious.

Yamaha's latest XT250 proves its a real off-roader.
Yamaha's latest XT250 proves its a real off-roader.

Yamaha doesn't publish power and torque figures so we can't confirm an increase in grunt, but power seems to come on more smoothly, more progressively, and that assists you to keep the rear rubber down over the sort of lumpy going that stymied the earlier bikes. It simply feels like stronger urge across a broader spread of revs, from a motor less prone to run out of the few available revs and stall, and delivering the goodies from basement rpm and without that brief pause for thought my older bike seems prone to.

I charged steadily up hills I'm sure my own XT would have baulked at - including one that featured a line of blokes poised to assist those struggling with the steep ascent. Without a run-up my XT would have gasped for breath; this one just plugged on up and left them all with nothing to do. Yee haa.

Otherwise everything was familiar; the modest 810mm seat height, the easy manoeuvrability, a fairly comfy seat and the ability to tackle a commute or trail with equal aplomb - trading lack of sheer grunt and long travel suspension for everyday usability and a still-modest price, at $7999 just $51 more than it was a year ago.

That grandpa's axe philosophy continues to carry some weight at Yamaha, and as a result there's still an affordable trail-commuter to suit shorties, or more experienced riders seeking an undemanding all-rounder.

- NZ Herald

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