1968: Yamaha introduced the DT-1 250 two-stroke and
everything changed. Before that, no one would consider racing a Japanese bike professionally. Even though that first
model was no racer, it became a platform for various racing
venues because it was light and reliable. European motocross
bikes would still rule, but their days were numbered.
1974: The first YZ250A was introduced. This was based
on the bike that Gary Jones had used to win the 1971
National Championship, which was actually derived from
his top American status in the Inter-Am Series. According
to legend, Don Jones had shipped the bike to Japan with
“A2Z” written on the tank, meaning it had everything modified from A to Z. Jones had made a new frame, cast his
own engine cases and strapped on a CZ alloy fuel tank
with bridal tack. When the bike arrived, it was designated
the YZ, because most Yamaha models began with a Y. But
it was remarkably true to what Jones had built, right down
to the strap on the tank.
1975: Yamaha’s other development program was taking
place on the European front with Hakan Andersson.
Andersson started the 1973 season with a works version of
the YZ. But at the third race in Belgium, he debuted the YZ
Monoshock and won. That bike, in turn, was the foundation
for the 1975 YZ250B and its Monoshock rear end. It was
far and away the best bike of its day, but things were
changing so rapidly that it was totally redesigned the very
1976: Prior to this point, Yamaha had two dirt bike lines:
the YZs and the lower-priced MXs. In 1976, the two were
merged. Or more accurately, a YZ logo was suddenly painted
1992: During the Damon Bradshaw years, Yamaha won races
but no championships. The YZ did very well in magazine
1988: This was an excellent year for the YZ. The next year it
got the upside-down fork, which most believed was a step
on the MX250’s gas tank and the price was increased. It was
a corporate cost-cutting measure. Purists bemoaned the loss
of the ultra-light YZ250, which was virtually a works bike. In
truth, the 1976 version worked just as well as its predecessor,
despite the additional weight. But when Suzuki unleashed its
RM250 bombshell, the YZ was overshadowed.
1977: Yamaha quickly caught back up. A whole new bike
was released with a super-small motor, a lighter frame and
more travel. The fuel tank was plastic, and the swingarm
was steel. The follow-up 1978 model looked almost identical, but had more travel and an aluminum swingarm. Bob
Hannah started his winning streak in 1978, and Yamaha
would raffle off his production bike to the public after each
1979: This was a standalone year for the YZ250. The
1979 model got a different look and a motor that was
abandoned after one year.
1980: To this day, the YZ250s of this period are highly
regarded and sought after. Suspension and power were
excellent, and the 1980 model was almost identical to the
1981 version, aside from the gearbox, which went from a
six-speed to a five-speed.
1982: Everything changed, and not necessarily for the better. The 1982 YZ250 was a technological milestone. It was liquid cooled with the radiator mounted on the forks. It got the
first production power valve, and it got linkage between the
swingarm and shock. Almost all of these measures needed
more development, but the bike was rushed. The radiator
location had a bad effect on handling, the shock was enclosed
flings the 1983
YZ250 for a
Dirt Bike test.
where it could get no airflow, and the power valve was located so far away from the piston that it had little effect.
1983: Yamaha started to iron out the design of the previous year. The radiators were relocated to the frame, and
the shock was moved halfway down to the swingarm.
These little changes continued in 1984 and 1985, but
Yamaha was also dipping rather heavily into the snake oil,
with features like the BASS valve on the shock. In that
last year, the yellow-and-black color scheme gave way to
white and red; U.S. models looked just like their