For this week’s GP’s Classic Steel we are going to take a look back at the bike that nearly took Damon Bradshaw to the 1992 AMA Supercross title, the 1992 Yamaha YZ250.
After making a big splash in 1988, Yamaha put its YZM-replica YZ250 on a steady diet of refinement over the next five years. By 1992, the Y-Zed offered the most polished overall package in the class.
The early nineties were a great time for Yamaha fans. After struggling through nearly a decade of mediocrity in every class in the eighties, the purveyor of piano’s came roaring back in 1988 with an all-new YZ250 that took the sport by storm. The YMZ inspired Y-Zed looked trick, handled well and had the power to win races. After years of also-ran status, the tuning fork was back on top.
This YZ250 from the Primm MX Collection, was once owned by American 250 World Motocross Champion Donny Schmit.
As the nineties approached, Yamaha continued to refine their award-wining 1988 design. The ’89 season would see the YZ updated with a Supercross inspired 19” wheel and a switch to inverted stanchions for the front forks. For ’90, the YZ would receive an ergonomic and styling update (If you can call red fork tubes and a stripe on the seat an update) and some additional fine tuning to Bradshaw’s new ride. It was no longer the stand out machine it had been in ’88, but it was a solid package that did everything well and nothing poorly.
By 1992, the basic design of Yamaha’s 249cc mill had reached a full decade in use. Originally debuted on the ’82 YZ250, the YPVS (Yamaha Power Valve System) power plant had proved adept at providing a solid and torquey spread of power. Never a rev-rocket, the YZ mill made its best power in the mid-range and turned every power pulse into forward motion.
The 1991 season would see an end to Yamaha’s traditional white and red color scheme, in favor of a new shade of pink Yamaha insisted on calling magenta. In addition to the new color, the YZ would receive a swoopy set of new plastic for the rear and a redesigned linkage better suited for Supercross. Even though the basic YZ250 was a four year old design at this point, its near perfect blend of tractable power, polished suspension and fault-free handling were enough for it to take the crown of best 250 in ’91. After a class win in ‘91, Yamaha would prepare to bring out their old girl for one last rodeo in ’92. With both Honda and Kawasaki introducing all-new 250 designs, and a much improved Suzuki on tap, Yamaha would have a tall order maintaining the 250 crown for 1992.
For most (American) old school moto fans, the 1992 YZ250 remains synonymous with the Beast from the East, Damon Bradshaw. Damon went on a tear in ’92, ripping off 9 wins and nearly capturing the ’92 Supercross title, before suffering the most spectacular melt down in the sport’s history at the series finale.
While the basic YZ package was little-changed for ’92, Yamaha did make several refinements in an effort to keep the magenta missile on top. For the motor, Yamaha’s engineers spec’d new porting, refined the Power Valve action and improved sealing with new bearings and seals. They also beefed up the piston, rings, wristpin and crankshaft. To aid throttle response and power, Yamaha massaged the intake tract and spec’d a revised exhaust. Lastly, the engineers mounted larger radiators to handle the increased heat of the hot rod motor.
American Works: Because of America’s production rule, Bradshaw’s Factory Yamaha had to stick closely on the production Yamaha. Other than the one-off, factory suspension, careful attention to detail is the biggest difference between this bike and the one you could find in a Yamaha showroom.
Full Works: Without the constraints of the production rule, GP teams are free to push the envelope of design. This means the teams can run radically modified frames and use prototype motor and suspension designs. Bikes like this World Title winning Chesterfield Yamaha of Donny Schmit are an example of the exotic machine we no longer get to see race in the USA.
In ’92, the 249cc YZ mill produced one of the sweetest powerbands in motocross. Snappy off the line and chunky in the middle, the Y-Zed was ready to rip at a moment’s notice. A notchy transmission and mediocre top end were the only things keeping it out of the top spot in the ’92 power rankings.
In the suspension department, Yamaha mounted all new Kayaba forks (copies of the units found on the KX250), wider triple clamps and a new “temperature compensating” Kayaba shock. Travel was up slightly front and rear and a 2mm larger axle helped fight front-end flex. Wrapping up the package were Bold New Graphics (still pink) and a new Y-Zinger style front fender and number plate.
No accounting for taste: The 250 class of 1992 stands as probably the most colorful in motocross history. Pink, purple or mint green, in ’92 they had you covered.
On the track, the YZ250 produced one of the best motocross power spreads of 1992. It offered a solid, torquey and hooked-up delivery that made excellent use of every ounce of power from its 249cc’s. It was snappy off idle and pulled well from the first crack of throttle. In the midrange, the Y-Zed really came alive, with a strong and chunky surge of torque that powered the YZ out of turns and over obstacles with ease. On top end, the YZ revved, but steadily petered out as you came closer to the redline. While the ’92 YZ made solid power in all three stages of the power curve, the majority of its thrust was to be found in the midrange. It was the kind of power that was both easy-to-use and fun-to-ride.
With a snappy powerband and supple suspension, the YZ250 was one of the most pleasant bikes to jump in ’92.
In the 1992 power rankings, the YZ was rated by most as the second best motor in the class. It was stronger down low than the Honda, but unable to keep up once the Honda lit the afterburners on top-end. It was snappier than the mellow (and booorrriing) Kawasaki and broader than the fun-to-ride, but hard-to-race Suzuki. It was the kind of motor that could find traction on wet gorilla snot, yet still power through a deep loamy berm. The only real issue was its notchy transmission, which could make tricky shifts a hit-or-miss affair. Even with this slight handicap, however, it was still one of the best motor packages of ’92.
In 1991, Yamaha went looking for better bottoming resistance in their Monocross rear end by spec’ing an all-new linkage for the YZ. The new “Deltabox” swingarm and rear linkage, did offer better bottoming resistance, but at the expense of ride comfort. For 1992, Yamaha kept the low hanging “cowcatcher” linkage (so named, for its tendency to get hung up on whoops and sharp landings), but paired it with a much improved shock.
In the suspension department, the ‘92 YZ once again offered the second best package on the track. This time, however, it was not the Honda out in front. While the ’92 CR had no peers in the horsepower department, its suspension left A LOT to be desired. In truth, there really was only one game in town in ’92 when it came to suspension: the Kawasaki KX250. The 1992 KX may have been a slow and overweight tank of a machine, but oh boy, could it soak up the bumps. It soaked up everything in its path and was head-and-shoulders better than the others. Behind it, were the very good Yamaha, and a couple of confused messes with the Honda (grim front and rear) and Suzuki (decent shock, atrocious forks).
On the track, the YZ’s rapid fiiiiirrree delivery made it one of the most fun bikes of ’92.
While the ’92 YZ’s Kayaba forks were not quite as perfect as the one found on the green machine, they were still very, very good. After failing to score a win with their “bladder-type” forks in ’91, Yamaha decided to shelf the controversial units for ’92. Instead, Team Magenta decided to steal the class leading Kayaba’s straight out of Kawasaki’s parts bin and mount them on the YZ. The 43mm inverted KYB’s punched out 12.2 inches of travel and were exceedingly plush in action. As delivered, they soaked up sharp hits and small chatter with works-like precision. Their only fault was a set of springs that were slightly too soft for hard-core motocross. For faster or heavier riders, a swap to .40 Kilo springs was advisable, but even with the stock units, the YZ was raceable and far better than the CR or RM.
For ’92, Yamaha ditched its controversial “bladder-style” forks in favor of the class leading KYB’s off the Kawasaki. Plush and well damped, but slightly soft on big hits, these were some of the best forks in motocross.
In the rear, the YZ once again owned second place in the suspension rankings. In 1991, Yamaha had switched to a new more aggressive rising rate for their Monocross rear end. The idea was to provide better bottoming resistance on Supercross style obstacles. Unfortunately, the change was not an improvement for the 99% of the population not named Bradshaw. The 1991 shock was harsh at the end of the travel and a step back from the excellent ’90 set up. For 1992, Yamaha kept the low hanging, “cow catcher” linkage, but specs an all-new Kayaba damper to hopefully improve performance. The new shock offered a half an inch more travel than the ’91 set up and did a much better job of smoothing out the track. It was plush and well controlled over obstacles big and small, with none of the harshness from the year before. By most estimation, it was not quite as silky smooth as the magic carpet Kawasaki, but not far off.
With slightly more travel and a revised damper, the ’92 YZ suffered from none of the harsh action that had plagued the Yamaha’s in ’91. In ’92, only the ultra-plush Kawasaki was able to top the well-sorted Y-Zed in the suspension rankings.
After losing his Factory Suzuki ride in 1989, American Donny Schmit took a chance and sailed across the pond to contest the 125 World Championships in 1990 (a title he would win). Two years later, the Minnesota native would take his works Chesterfield Yamaha YZ250 to the ’92 250 World Motocross title.
In the handling department, the YZ250 offered the most well rounded package of 1992. It turned well (but not as well as the Honda), jumped well (but not as well as the Suzuki) and was stable at speed (but not as rock solid as the Kawasaki). It was planted in the turns and confident at speed. In the handling department, its only fault was with its low hanging linkage, which tended to get hung up on tall whoops and in hard landings. Overall, if you were looking for a bike that was at home in every condition, the YZ was the only game in town in ‘92.
Politically correct: In the heyday of cigarette sponsorship in motorsports, Big Tobacco was everywhere. Camel, Chesterfield, Marlboro and Winfield all sponsored series and teams in an effort to get around the bans on tobacco advertising. Will energy drinks be next?
In the details department, the YZ was one of the better bikes in the class. The brakes were solid and progressive front and rear, with less power than the CR, but far more than the lackluster RM and KX. While the brakes were largely trouble free, rear pad wear was excessive compared to the competition and a dragger could burn through a set of pads during a long moto.
Paging Jody Wiesel: While not everyone loved the YZ’s new bodywork and magenta color scheme, the grab handles built into the bodywork were appreciated by all.
Overall reliability was very good on the YZ and with Honda’s first year frame issues, the best of the ’92 class. Clutch life, top-end longevity and build quality were all top notch. One issue some riders had with the new YZ bodywork was that the rear sideplate bulged out quite a bit on the exhaust pipe side. It was very noticeable and similar to the feel of a dual-shock bike from a decade before. While some riders were bothered by this quirk, others found it offered a good place to grip the machine.
In 1992, Yamaha trotted out the old girl for one more go-around and came home with the winner’s trophy. The Honda was faster (but atrociously suspended), the Suzuki was sharper (but SCARY at speed) and Kawasaki was plusher (but boring to ride), but none could top its combination of fun, easy-to-ride power, faultless handling and well-sorted suspension. The ’92 YZ250 was a just sendoff for the bike that brought Yamaha back from the brink in 1988.
In 1992, Yamaha offered a five-year-old design, which beat the new boys at their own game. It was not the fastest, or the sharpest, but it did everything well and nothing poorly. It handled well, soaked up the bumps and was easy-to-ride. That was enough to nearly take the 250 Supercross crown, and good enough to take the prize for best stock 250 motocrosser. In a field of flamboyant and flawed machines, the conservative YZ reigned as King in ’92.
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