The Yamaha TZR 250 remains one of the most sought after 80’s motorcycles to date and a firm favourite among two-stroke enthusiasts and in this article we’re going to look at just why this is.
By the mid 1980’s two-stroke race replica fever was at its peak even with impending stricter emissions laws crashing down and ruining all the fun.
To capitalise off of this success Yamaha knew whatever replaced the RD250 would need to be just as special and be more advanced than before, offering not the same bike with a new name, but something completely new altogether.
For 1986 the Yamaha TZR 250 was unveiled and ready to rip. There would be several generations of the TZR 250 to follow and variations within those generations.
Let’s take a look at what all the fuss is all about.
Yamaha TZR 250 Review
The roots of the TZR 250 go all the way back to 1973 with the first release of the TZ250, a production road racing motorcycle that had a wonderful, successful career winning multiple Japan Road Race Championships among other awards.
In true fashion of the time Yamaha wanted to replicate a road-going bike as best they could using the racing model as their foundation for design and engineering ideas.
An evolution of engine design would follow the TZR 250 from a parallel-twin, to a reverse cylinder and final V-twin layout; each generation had its own purpose and each rider had their favourite edition.
Firstly we will explore the first edition which had the title TZR 250 2MA in the UK or 1KT for the Japanese market. In keeping with Japanese restrictions of the time for 250cc motors, the engines were limited to 45 horsepower.
Differences between these two were minimal. For example, the writing on the brake master cylinder being in English or Japanese, headlight layout was different to suit UK regulations, but essentially they were the same bike.
The TZR 250 was produced alongside the TZ250 racing machine, some would argue that with the exception of a detuned engine and the implementation of headlights the bikes mirror each other almost exactly.
In terms of handling performance that is no bad thing for either model.
It wasn’t just the TZ250 that the TZR took inspiration from, perhaps an even bigger inspiration was the YZR500 – the racing version of the iconic RD500LC.
““At that time, we tried anything and everything with race machines if we thought it might give us an advantage…,” said Racer Group engineer Teruo Abe”” Yamaha
It was the pushing of boundaries of the YZR500 to make it the best it could be that trickled down to the TZR 250, the development of which was also overseen by Abe. What didn’t work on the 500 didn’t filter to the new model and what worked well did.
“When I first rode the TZR 250, I honestly felt that it was just like riding the YZR500 and it was an experience I’ll never forget.” Ken Nemoto a successful Japanese racer states for Yamaha.
While the preceding RD series and bikes such as the Suzuki RG250 and Honda NSR250 were directly aimed at young riders, and encouraged ‘hooligan’ riding, the new TZR 250 appealed to a wider, older audience too. It had a level of refinement that other bikes lacked.
Feeling bigger than it actually was is one of the key features that grew this appeal.
It is worth noting that the TZR 250 was not exported to the US market as road-going two-stokes had all but been banished due to emission restrictions.
Engine and Transmission
The engine was all new for the TZR 250, not just a revised RD250 motor. It remained a simple water-cooled 250cc parallel twin, but it had a tech-forward CDI ignition and the Yamaha Power Valve System.
The YPVS raises and lowers the exhaust port depending on the rpm, it ensures effective timing can be ensured with each rpm level, so that maximum power output is always maintained.
In standard form from the factory the TZR 250 produced just 45 horsepower as it had restricted standard exhausts and ignition boxes to meet regulations.
An important benefit of the YPVS was to give the 250 cc motor plenty of mid-range power to draw on. At the time the RD350-YPVS was still in Yamaha’s line-up but the new TZR engine shared no notable parts with the model.
The new bike had a six-speed gearbox with closely geared cogs. Reed blocks were fed by a pair of 28mm Mikuni carbs. Where electric starts were starting to become more common at the time, the TZR 250 stuck with a good old fashioned kick start.
What all this translates to is a bike that is great to ride, easy to ride, plenty of mid-range rideability and in line with the appeal to a wider older audience.
The engine made for a terribly fun road bike, and it was ready to be tuned into a production racer at the drop of a hat for those that wanted to get out on the track.
With that in mind it is good practice to know the history of a TZR 250 before purchase; one that has seen the track is likely to have had a harder life than one that has remained restricted for road use.
Chassis, Suspension, Handling, Brakes
Yamaha employed the faithful Deltabox alloy frame for the TZR 250, which was the same as their factory racers which added to the racing edge of the model.
It was a rigid frame that was the perfect housing for the engine.
As Nemoto puts it “Of course, the feeling of stability from the chassis was so great it was hard to believe it was a 250cc machine, and the handling maintained a very neutral balance that gave the rider a very good feeling of assurance.”
The TZR is known for its nimble steering which would turn into rapid steering on the track.
It was built to be lightweight from it’s skinny wheels and skinny overall size, it all weighed in at around 140kg fully fuelled and ready to go.
Not only was the bike lightweight but it was built to be narrow, which made for a brilliantly agile ride.
The Yamaha TZR 250 handles exceptionally well, completely flickable, confidence inspiring, appropriate for beginner riders to learn their craft, but awesome for experienced riders who want to push their limits.
In terms of suspension it was capable, up to the job and relative to the chassis and engine.
The brakes are very much the same, more than upto the job of providing the necessary stopping power. The same braking system was equipped on the bigger bikes in Yamaha’s lineup at the time, so some would say overkill for the baby 250.
The overall handling of the TZR 250 changed the trajectory of its predecessors, the RD range were great bikes, but were brutal in their nature, the TZR gave riders a chance to truly hone their skills, and feel at home on the road.
Where fear may have played a role in riders of earlier machines not wanting to push their bike too far, the TZR encouraged riders to throw harder into the corners and lean it over further.
It was a mesh of race technology and practical usability and it was destined to be a big hit.
The focus on excellent handling was seen to be a turning point for Yamaha; where the testing put in place with the TZR would roll over to the FZ and FZR ranges to make the bigger bikes stand out from the competition.
It was a time where Yamaha had the edge over other Japanese manufacturers when it came to great handling motorcycles.
In terms of rider aids, electronics and fancy tech, you are better off to get that out of your head now. The TZR 250 is a basic machine with any tech-forward prowess based on the chassis and engine design as opposed to rider aids. It is a bike you just want to ride.
From a comfort standpoint most riders say that you are good until you have to stop for your first tank of fuel. 50 miles will do you well before things start to ache and get uncomfortable, you won’t be touring on a TZR.
It wouldn’t take long before Yamaha wanted to develop the TZR 250 further and they would do this by reviewing the engine to start with.
Yamaha TZR 250 Variants
For 1989 the Yamaha TZR 250 received a reverse cylinder engine layout and the new title designation was 3MA.
It would later receive upside-down forks and a reshaped expansion chamber which further increased the mid-range but this was at the expense of some top-end power.
From 1991 onwards the engine turned into a V-twin and was titled the 3XV, it remained in production until 1998.
Throughout that production run the 3XV would see many variations.
Different carbs, ignitions, clutches, power valves, cylinders etc. were all key components that were chopped and changed throughout that time frame.
- ‘R’ were the base 3XV models and had a wet clutch
- ‘RS’ was a step up from the ‘R’ with a dry clutch
- ‘SP’ bikes were top of the pack with adjustable front and back suspension, dry clutch, and further engine refinements to get the best possible performance out of the bike, as well as bigger carbs
- There was also an SPR model which took things even further the main enhancement being a triple YPVS (the addition of two extra valves)
The SP and SPR machines were built to race, they had different cylinder heads, exhausts, electrics etc. all of which would lead riders to unleash some serious power.
However, all bikes were built around the 45 horsepower limitation, so you would have to derestrict any of the models to get the most out of them.
25 plus years ago this was expensive and difficult to do.
Fortunately today, there is plenty of know-how available to do this at a reasonable cost and it is well worth doing.
Yamaha TZR 250 Spec’s
Engine and Transmission
- Engine – Two-stroke, parallel twin, reed valve
- Capacity – 249cc
- Bore x Stroke – 56.4 x 50mm
- Compression Ratio – 5.9:1
- Induction – 2 x 28mm Mikuni Carbs
- Ignition – CDI
- Kick Start
- Max Power – 45 horsepower at 10,000rpm
- Max Torque – 35.5 Nm at 9,750rpm
- Transmission – 6 Speed
- Final Drive – Chain
Chassis and Dimensions
- Front Suspension – Telescopic Fork
- Rear Suspension – Coil and gas spring 9-way preload position
- Front Brakes – Single 320mm disc, 2 piston calipers
- Rear Brakes – Single 210mm, 1 piston caliper
- Length – 2005mm
- Width – 660mm
- Wheelbase – 1375mm
- Seat Height – 760mm
- Dry Weight – 128kg
- Wet Weight – 140kg
- Fuel Capacity – 16 Litres
Yamaha TZR 250 Top speed
120mph is thought to be the top speed of the TZR 250, but this would be condition dependent and varies among sources.
How Much is a Yamaha TZR 250 Worth?
In the UK £3,500-£6,500 seems to be about right for a Yamaha TZR 250. Whereas in the US the price ranges from $10,000 upwards.
The models were never officially exported to the US and therefore the only models on the market are those that owners imported privately.
This 1991 model put up for auction has an asking price of $15,995. I have to admit that it is in excellent condition and truly looks immaculate.
Another example on Iconic Motorbike Auctions sold for just over $10,000.
In the UK the parking motorcycle is a good place to start looking, although they have models from all over Europe not just the UK.
This first edition Yamaha TZR 2MA model has an asking price of £3,500. The 2MA remains popular as the original version as it is a two-stroke racer that you can actually happily ride on the road, and do so with relative ease.
It is the later edition 3XV models that are more highly sought after with a focus on the SP and SPR editions particularly thanks to their improved performance.
I’ve done it again, written another article where I have sold myself on another bike to add to my warehouse, yes I now need a warehouse for the number of bikes I hopelessly fall in love with.
The Yamaha TZR250 is a solid all round two stroke that was one of the motorcycles of the 80s that continued well into the 90s thanks to Yamaha’s engineers willingness to continue to adapt the bike as their R&D progressed behind the scenes.
A conversion from an initial parallel twin to a V-twin for the same model line is something largely unheard of, but Yamaha had every faith in the TZR250 to continuously fill a gap and be desirable to their audiences.