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Yamaha FZR 250
Suzuki's GSX-R250RKSP and Yamaha's FZR250R Exup Grey Imports: lesser versions of the real things or screamingly insane in their own right? To find out, Hargreaves and Smith take mindless, head-down, no-nonsense boogie at 18,000rpm to Exmoor National Park on the Devon and Somerset border.
A damp, deserted moorland road jiggles left and right into the distance across tussockv fiekls and windswept hedges. Smiffy, in front, hits the gas on the FZR and darts away so I chase him, flying backWards and forwards across both sides of the road, straightlining and redlining, skimming verges and scaring sheep. The GSX-R revs to infinity, howling in and out of harmony with the FZR. Life's a scream at 18 000rpm.
It's also a scream at 50mph, 'coz that's how fast we were going most of the time. Big, GSX-Rs are stifled by their exhausted riders trying to contain the overwhelming power and weight, but the 250 is fun without intimidation. Once you gel over the disappointment of 39bhp to play with it's a giggle, hurtling around Devonshire's hills, bouncing off roadside verges, pinning the GSX-R's front end down on cold, sodden tarmac, teetering into corners expecting a front-end washout, and wailing out the other side searching for another horsepower or two to scrabble the back tyre.
"These hikes are fun... for about five minutes," said Kevin after riding the FZR for five minutes. A day later he changed his mind: "Actually, once you forget about big horsepower they're all right really. Neither would stand a chance in a Ministock race — my TZR125 was faster — but they 're good fun in their own way."
It's astonishing that the tiny motor's rinky-dink 62.25cc pistons, micro valves and minuscule cams can take this sort of abuse without going, pop. The Suzuki is impossible to treat gently; to go faster than a restricted moped you have to bounce the needle off the redline in every gear. To get up Devon's 1:3 gradients you have to bounce it off the limiter in every gear.
Sometimes all these revs are good: the shrieking cacophony from a surprisingly loud exhaust makes you think you're doing a million miles an hour when you're only doing 50. Good for the ego and licence. Sometimes they're bad: when you're trying desperately to tip-toe through a quiet Somerset village without having pitchfork-waving locals chase you down the road, or trying not to rouse a rotund Devonshire traffic cop from his in-car slumbers.
At 50mph the GSX-R is spinning at 7,500rpm, and by 70mph it's at a fit-to-bust 9,500. Sounds painful, but doesn't feel it thanks to the super smooth engine. The vibes are probably there somewhere, but they're so high pitched even a dog wouldn't feel them. On the long M4/5 drag to Bridgewater the only part of my body that went numb was my brain, but that was down to boredom. Or an accident at birth. Eventually the endless drone gets tiring, but a full to reserve tank range of 100 miles offers plenty of opportunities for recovery.
The transmission is less slick. The close ratio box is miles better than the FZR's, but knackered cush rubbers on this particular bike made it difficult to ride smoothly.
And smoothly is the only way to ride the bugger. It's peakier than a two-stroke, and the slightest lapse of concentration when an incline steepens or an exit suddenly appears means you've had it; the bloke on the pushbike will be zooming off into the sunset while you're pumping on the gear lever like a man trying to stub out a tab with bare feet. Even when you get the right gear, the long haul back into the power takes an eternity.
The geezer on the pushbike stands a good chance away from the lights as well. 14 seconds over the standing quarter could be bettered with complete disregard for the clutch and by turning a blind ear to the torture being heaped upon the engine, but three runs were all we could stand.
The GSX-R250 is still fast enough to be scary. At least, it is if you're tailing a manic Kev Smith on the FZR across the blustery roof of Exmoor in the dark. That evening, relaxing over a slow game of pool and a long pint of Guinness in Porlock's Castle Hotel bar, I said, "Nice ride today, Kev. You were tramping on a bit."
"Plenty in hand," he replied tersely. Well bugger that. I didn't have plenty in hand. I had plenty in my undergarments though, and it's not often I can say that.
The 250 isn't quite a perfect replica of its bigger brothers, despite fully adjustable suspension and oil/aircooling. A pair of Spondon-lookalike alloy beams wrap around the engine instead of the GSX-R's trademark double cradle looping over the top. It's tempting to say Suzuki should've gone this way with all GSX-Rs, but the 250 shares the same handling characteristics as the 1100 and, to a lesser extent, the 750 so it doesn't make any difference.
My first balls-out ride on the Suzuki came in the photo session. I found a corner we'd used on the 600s test in '92, and was happily grinding the FZR away when photographer Kenny called a break. Kev didn't think much of the corner: "It's crap. It's got a huge bump halfway round and the GSX-R steps out and slides over it." I berated him gently: "You great Scottish poofta." "You 'kin try it then."
I did. I never got the FZR back. The GSX-R steers exactly like the 1100 — reluctant to change direction, needs strong countersteer to turn, stands up dramatically if the brakes are stroked mid-corner, and feels for all the world like the tyres are flat or the head bearings are too tight. They aren't on both counts.
After a quick ride at Bruntingthorpe, Editor Roop was convinced the frame was bent. Il isn't because the GSX-R steers straight with hands off the bars, and tracks events over white lines and camber changes, I reckon the problem stems from the grippy-but-suspiciously-wide Yokohama tyres and Kev agrees! "It feels like it's got an oversized front. I know what it's like 'coz my CBR used millions of tyres I'd nicked from race slips and none of 'em matched. You just get used to it."
And you do. It only bothers you when you first get on the bike, and then only if you've just jumped off something that steers normally, like the FZR. After the first ten miles the feelings go away'
The Suzuki's suspension is multi adjustable, and a good job too. On the motorway down to Porlock the GSX-R rattled around over bumps and beat up my wrists and kidneys (too much compression damping front and rear), and during the photo session the rear end squirmed around over the aforementioned bump (not enough rear rebound). At least, that's what I thought. I backed off the rear compression, upped the rebound and behold, it was exactly the same as before. Well it was a bit better, but that may equally have been me getting used to the GSX-R's quirky handling. At least you get a choice, but how come Yamaha's engineers can get it right on the FZR and don't need to add all the adjustment strews and collars?
There are several things that are without doubt on the Suzuki: the mirrors are the worst I've encountered and the front of the fairing is ugly. "I he lights are good, the indicators illegal and beautiful with it, and the clocks are calibrated in kph
The riding position is pure racing crought; anything else feels silly, but it's bearable on the straight bits. The seat is soft, the pegs high, and the bars well forward, low and splayed apart. As with all sports bikes, it's possible to find a comfortable riding position eventually. 350 miles in one hit is no problem, and it's not inconceivable that the GSX-R could go all the way to the South of France without too much discomfort. For the rider anyway. Dunno of the engine would make it....
The Suzuki's brakes feel exactly like their 1100 counterpart's: not much initial bite but rapidly building to eyeball-poppers. Some people like 'em like this, some don't. I do; really progressive with loads of sensitivity. They pull great stoppies too.
Apart from the fairing nose, the GSX-R is an exquisite, beautiful little gem. It's so cute it's a shame to ride it around at all, let alone in the middle of winter. But to sit back and admire it would be a waste: this baby exists to be thrashed stupid over and over again. It's nut last enough to be serious competition to a bigger bike on 90% of roads, but somewhere out there is one twisty enough for the GSX-R to beat anything. Apart from an FZR250, that is...
Yamaha FZR250R Exup
Conservation of momentum is the name of the game: wind 'er up to a flat out and don't back off for anything.
Overtaking must be planned carefully 'coz there ain't no surplus power to rely on. Measure the distance with your senses, weigh it up, make imperceptible changes to throttle position to keep speed constant, drop back to wind up...now...full throttle, suck up behind the car, whip out of its slipstream and past. And onto the next one.
It's a rewarding way of riding and it makes you a better rider too: you learn to read traffic and anticipate its movements.
More than the Suzuki, the Yam encourages hedonistic lunacy. Maybe it's because it revs even harder that the GSX-R - 10,500rpm at 70mph and redline at 18,500rpm. Maybe it's because it's more of a proper motorbike than the toy-like GSX-R - heavier, larger and rougher. Or maybe it's because the FSR's got a better engine.
Performance figures don't tell the whole story. At the top end both bikes are roughly equal, and absolute top speed has more to do with which rider had the museli and which the fry-up breakfast. What counts is the ways the Yam's throttle response and roll-on power romper-stomps on the Suzuki. From low down the FZR eggs all over the GSX-R only pulls it back at the very top end. On the road, the Yam's more flexible and less rev-critical - the difference between going down three gears to accelerate instead of going down one.
Just as well, because this FZR's box is sloppier than a bowl full of runny porridge. False neutrals lurk behind every change (particularly nasty on a bike that revs so high, and none too pleasant changing down into a corner either) apart from the one between first and second.
But what and engine. No ride is ever an easy dwadle; every trip turns into a mad, headlong dash for oblivion. Never before has the reason for travelling been so much for the journey and so little for the arrival. It's breathless and exhausting stuff.
Sweeping comers are taken flat oot fer the lads with the throttle wide open — none of this big bike on/off/on nervousness. Just get yer head down and go for it. The featherweight FZR skittles about, bars giving the occasional twitch over bigger bumps, but always in control and always fun. The Yam's unadjustable suspension manages to be supple and taut at the same time; soft enough to soak up the bumps and well-damped enough to let the rider know they're there and that the bike is doing something about them. The GSX-R is vague in comparison.
Tight corners are a chance for some demon late braking before flicking the Yam in so fast your knee's on the deck before you remember to hang off. In fact the FZR is so immensely capable of high turn-in and cornering speeds that overreacting is a real problem. The wailing exhaust and silly figures on the tacho make you think you're going much faster than you really are. At the first hint of a bend you bang it down a couple and lunge at the brakes, then wobble round the corner at a fraction of the speed you could. With a red face you get back on the power and hope no one from Team Roberts was watching. Which they're unlikely to be in the pissing rain in the middle of winter on some Godforsaken moor in Devon, but you never know. I could've sworn the sheep were laughing. Again the FZR teaches about riding; reading the road and watching for vanishing points through corners is vital to maintain maximum speed and avoid those shoulda-gone-faster blues. And to avoid having to wade through piles of revs to get back up to flat-out again.
The baby Exup's motor is rougher than the Suzuki's. This one is much rougher, needing a good lean on the starter button before it deigns to fire up, hot or cold, racing at 4,000rpm before a quick fiddle with the fairing-mounted choke knocks it back, then slapping away to itself on tickover as the camchain flaps around. The Suzuki starts and idles more easily, and runs cleaner on the bar-mounted choke. Life can survive in the most inhospitable climates, but how long an engine can last at 18,000rpm is anybody's guess. Probably as long as a man can survive on a diet of Guinness and cream teas, which turns out to be not much more than three days judging by the time Kev spent on the loo.
The Yamaha looks more like big brother Exup than the Suzuki does the 1100. While Kenny was fussing over the photos in sunny (not) Lynmouth, Mr and Mrs Matching Honda Paddock Jacket sauntered past. Eager to impress his other half, Mr MHPJ nodded wisely at the GSX-R and said, "That's a Grey Import 400, isn't it?" then, "And what's that? An Exup?"
I can forgive him his errors, if not his choice of apparel: the GSX-R looks small where the FZR looks... bigger. They both look dated: the five year old Suzuki wears its years better than the younger Yamaha in terms of looks, but both have suffered minor chips, knocks and dints.
The Yam's mirrors are only marginally less useless than the Suzuki's; it takes a tilt of the head and a tuck of the elbows to see anything behind. The FZR's riding position is less comfortable over long distance mainly because its seat is so bloody hard, otherwise there's nothing in it. Or the seat, har har. The pillion seat is a joke until you sit on it, but it's not as funny as the Suzuki which has pillion pegs and no pillion seat.
Odd that anyone bothered to build a 250 four stroke in the first place. Who buys them? They're nowhere against a KR-1S or RGV in handling, torque or power. But they are a few years old, so maybe a comparison with the TZR250 would be more appropriate. But then five-year-old TZRs don't cost two and a half grand.
The FZR and GSX-R's appeal must be very specific. You'd have to hate two strokes, love regular valve clearance checks, have impossibly high insurance, 11 points on your licence and the mechanical sympathy of a bike journalist to be able to put up with them for long and remain sane.
The FZR is the best choice. It hasn't the trick suspension of the GSX-R, but it doesn't need it. It doesn't look as cute or as trick as the Suzuki either, but its engine is much better. And when you're only packing 40bhp, you need all the engine you can get.
Source Simon Hargrevious Bodily Odours