I had ridden a 1991 TZ250 in a one-off ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ meeting at Lakeside in 1994 grabbing one of my early road race wins in the process and the only other time was a 1995 TZ250 at Phillip Island, again in a one-off race meeting in the Victorian Championships in 1998.
So when the chance came up to ride the very last version of the famous and successful TZ250 I couldn’t say no and just quietly I was quite looking forward to it. This bike was a little special though, it had come directly from the Garage 4413 team who campaigned it to the runner-up slot in the All Japan 250cc Championship. The bike’s current owner, Harry Danilidis, purchased it from the team two years ago, straight after the Championship.
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Harry chose it simply because, in his own words, ‘it was a pure race bike and the last of its breed’. Harry’s passion for the bike is evident when he lets us know that it only did one season and was never crashed so therefore the spares kit is still full. It made me feel quite privileged to be given an open pit lane, a clear circuit and a brand new set of soft compound Bridgestone slicks to use as I saw fit.
On the technical side, the bike is a kitted TZ250-5KE and the final evolution of the original TZ250. In standard trim the bike puts out a claimed 93hp but with the addition of the kit that is boosted significantly to 105hp. The cylinders are factory items but the porting is done in-house by the team. A few other parts are sourced from ‘The Japanese Tuning House for Yamaha GP bikes’.
The ignition system is Yamaha along with the dry clutch and the factory exhausts. Trevor Lusby of Scott’s MC was our mechanic for the day and looks after the bike. He mixed the fuel at a fairly conservative fuel/oil mix for us journos and has jetted the bike slightly on the rich side just to be safe and taking into account the cool morning temperature.
I had previously ridden a GSX-R750 earlier in the day testing some Pirelli tyres and that is usually considered a pretty nimble bike in terms of the big four-strokes so when I jumped on the TZ and accelerated out onto the private circuit more affectionately known as ‘The Farm’ I knew I was on the right bike. Anyone who has ridden at The Farm will know that there is absolutely no rest and corner after corner that includes a five-changes-of-direction chicane to give a grand total of 29 corners. If there was any bike you would want under you while negotiating 29 corners per lap then this little Yamaha is the one.
As I wound up to speed and got used to the two-stroke again, the brakes were the first thing that took me by surprise with their incredible stopping power. The Nissin calipers give great feel and that coupled with the Bridgestone front tyre soon pushed aside any concerns I had of stopping without the assistance of the engine braking that I have come to rely on. I simply just squeezed the TZ’s brakes a little harder and never missed an apex all day.
I have to mention the Bridgestones that Trevor had fitted for me because from the moment I went out and got the bike on my knee, they gave me great confidence and feedback. The front actually seemed to get better and better the harder I pushed it and although the rear started to slide on the corner exits towards the end it was very predictable and a lot of fun. This was typical of a soft compound tyre getting a little hot and starting to move around a little.
The engine pulls from as low as 6-7000rpm exiting the slow turns but builds revs really quickly as I went up through the gears all the way to the shift point about 12,500rpm via the quickshifter. It flattened a little right at the top but as Trevor mentioned earlier this was due to him going on the rich side with the jetting. This also made it a little rough on initial opening from closed throttle at low rpm.
The real reminder that you are riding a true race bike comes when going back down through the gearbox. Rushing into one of the turns in fourth gear then banging it down all the way to first reminds you how easy and quickly this is done on a two-stroke. I went down three gears while braking really hard with the rear wheel barely touching the surface and there wasn’t the slightest unsettling from the rear during the downshifts.
Initially looking at the bike I assumed it would feel very cramped and small with the high footpegs but once I was on the bike and lapping I had plenty of space in the turns and no problem getting tucked in down the two straights.
The TZ gives the feeling and response that I remember chasing on the four-strokes for years. The little Yamaha turns in very easily without being unpredictable and comes into an apex time after time and holds its line on the exit because it steers on the throttle.
Finally I have to bring up the five-corner chicane again because on most bikes you would be thinking, oh no not again but on the TZ you finding yourself looking forward to reassuring yourself that it really is that easy. Sadly though, these pure race bikes were built for one reason and are destined for museums, parade laps and passionate collectors. Very few will have the opportunity to sample these thoroughbreds, which is a shame.
I’ve wanted to ride a proper late model 250GP forever. Having raced 250 proddies for years and being part of a top running Honda team in Japan that ran 250 GP bikes (I was riding 600s and 1000s), I’ve always drooled over 250 GP machines. But a few things stopped me ever racing one – mainly money and my fat arse!
The first thing that grabs me is the size. I’m 25kg heavier than I was last time I rode a 250… Once I squeezed in I was OK. And after the initial amount of clutch slip and rpm took me a second to get used to after so many years of four-stroke riding, I was off up the chute. The bike was hot and the tyres too so I wasted no time. I put my head down and ran the bike through to 12,500rpm. I like to do that – rather than ease into a shock of power just get the shock over with! Once I had a feel for the powerband and throttle I was off.
I’ve done a million laps of The Farm and never been fully satisfied on any bike I’ve ridden on the challenging layout. There is always a section that doesn’t suit a bike in some way. But not this time. The TZ250 is perfection.
The bike was jetted on the rich side so it was a matter of rolling off the throttle very gently mid-turn to lean the bike out then it would snap into its powerband and that sticky rear Bridgestone would step out. So much fun! The gearbox actuation was incredible and the quickshifter sensational.
But the big thing for me was the performance of the front-end – the tyre, brakes and forks all worked together to give feel and accuracy that I simply have never felt before. No chance of running wide or missing an apex whether on or off the brakes. The chassis was inch perfect everywhere and the most amazing section, the Famous Five Esses, was a dream on the 100kg 105hp pure racer.
The bike was so well presented and it was a real honour to ride it. I can honestly say I’ve never had so much fun on two wheels. It’s over and above the ride on John Kosinski’s Cagiva 500 or Broc Parkes’ ZX-6R. It was just a dream come true for this boy racer!
2009 Yamaha TZ250 5KE SPECIFICATIONS
Wet weight: 95kg
Engine: Yamaha 5KE 250cc two-stroke GP engine, SJK internals
Bore & stroke: 54 x 54.5mm
Compression: 7.2 – 7.7:1
Fuel delivery: Keihin flatslides
Exhaust: Yamaha Racing
Gearbox: Cassette-style adjustable ratios
Final drive: Chain
Chassis: Aluminium, hand made
Rake & trail: Variable
Suspension: Front: Showa; Rear: Showa
Brakes: Front: Nissin/Brembo Rear: Nissin
Wheels: Front: 2.75 x 17 Magnesium Rear: 5.50 x 17 Magnesium
Tyres: Bridgestone slicks
2009 Yamaha TZ250 5KE Gallery