2011 Entry Level Sport ATV Comparison 0

11_250SportATV_ComparisonRight or wrong, many people feel ATVs are easier to learn riding basics thanks to the stability of four wheels. A solid platform allows entry-level riders to practice shifting a manual transmission, braking and body control without having to worry about balance. Getting new or young riders to start riding an ATV or motorcycle and enjoying the outdoors is a life-changing experience that we can all relate to. With that in mind, MotoUSA rounded up two quads that offer different approaches for an introduction to sport ATVs. We spent over a month logging miles in the hills of Oregon, Californian sand dunes and Arizona deserts. During that time a number of different riders provided feedback including women, teens, beginners and full-sized men with plenty of experience.

The Yamaha Raptor and Honda TRX250X were pitted against each other in an attempt to find the best entry model.

The Yamaha Raptor and Honda TRX250X were pitted against each other in an attempt to find the best entry model.

2011 Honda TRX250X 

The Honda TRX250X has been around since 1987 and over the past decades it has become a staple of the company’s off-road lineup. It is a multi-purpose sport ATV that has evolved into one of the best small-bore four-wheelers on the market today. At the heart of the TRX is a longitudinally mounted, air-cooled 229cc SOHC single-cylinder engine. A five-speed transmission delivers power to the rear wheels via a low-maintenance shaft drive. This setup has been a reliable component for Honda utility ATV’s also, and when combined with the small-diameter rear drum brake, offers decent ground clearance. This powertrain architecture doesn’t leave a lot of room for performance upgrades but we feel this is part of what may be appealing about the Honda. This is the ultimate starter bike whether you are a youth or adult. It sits tall and is roomy for larger riders which will leave room to grow for youth and allow adults a comfortable ride. Everything about the TRX is just easy.

Honda’s SportClutch supplements the five-speed transmission. The unique clutch keeps the bike from stalling in the same way you would expect from an automatic transmission, and this is one of the strongest selling points of this ATV. It will not stall and can be shifted without using the clutch lever, but a quick stab with the left hand helps the engine build some revs, just like a traditional manual transmission. This helps experienced riders carry the front end over an obstacle or pop a wheelie just for kicks, but it also provides a forgiving way for newbies to learn stop-and-go clutch technique. However, the TRX’s transmission has neutral all the way at the bottom and five gears are available above it. This is important to note since it will only start in neutral. In order to get the ATV in reverse you need to be in neutral, then pull the Reverse Trigger located just below the bars on the right side of the bodywork while simultaneously pressing down on the shift lever. The red indicator light will let you know when it is engaged and the low rpm rev limiter will keep you from backing up too fast. The Raptor 250 does not have reverse and that can be a deal breaker for new riders who inevitably will find the need to back out of predicaments as they learn the limits of themselves and their machine.

Like we mentioned earlier, the TRX has excellent ground clearance (5.9 inches) so getting high-centered or stuck in a hole is the rider’s fault for not paying attention to the trail. The combination of shaft drive and 22-inch front and 20-inch rear tires makes it easy to pick through rocks and ruts. If you live or ride near rough terrain or in the mountains with rutted, root-strewn trails then you will be happy to know you have room to work with on the underside of the Honda. While the TRX quietly navigates the obstacles ahead, the Yamaha scrapes against the rocks. We beat its plastic skid plate to a pulp and dinged the chain, sprocket and brake rotor more than a few times. Meanwhile the Honda’s shaft drive and drum rear brake remained high out of the way on all but the most extreme of obstacles. The 250X utilizes a pair of single disc front brakes with dual-piston hydraulic calipers that offer great feel at the lever compared to the drum rear. While the rear brake can squeal once in a while the front brakes perform without complaint.

New and older riders alike felt more comfortable on the TRX too because it didn’t beat them up as much. Part of this is because it arrives there at a much more relaxed pace. It features a taller seat height at 31.4 inches which is plusher than the Yamaha’s foam. Taller bars help make the 250X roomy enough for adults. So far it may seem that there isn’t much to complain about, but the main hitch in the TRX’s giddy-up is a lack of power. On one hand it is so mellow that it will not intimidate less experienced riders. On the other hand it is quickly boring if you are comparing it head-to-head with a feisty machine like the Raptor 250. It is also very cold-blooded and requires a considerable amount of time to warm up.

We turned our significant others loose in the hills of Oregon and every one of the four who had a chance to ride them agreed that the Honda is easiest to get comfortable on. It is their preferred ATV to learn on. It isn’t scary-fast and the SportClutch makes it easy to learn the nuances of clutch-work. It’s not intimidating but make no mistake, this ATV can get moving along just fine. It just takes a little longer to reach the higher speeds. It has decent torque, but the gearing is tall which makes it slower to build up speed. It has pretty good top end if you’re riding on fast gravel roads. The TRX is fun in the sand but for larger riders it doesn’t have the power to make long dune climbs. In the woods this wasn’t as much of an issue but the power deficit was most notable in the sand. It doesn’t help that the TRX tips the scales at 378 pounds with fuel; that’s a whopping 46 pounds more than the Yamaha.

Another bone of contention is centered on the tall tires. It’s a bit top heavy in faster turns. On the trails you have to give plenty of body English to keep it planted and at the dunes it’s prone to tipping if you make sharp turns. For new riders the pace is generally slower, but as skill and confidence increase, so does the need for speed. That’s when the sluggish handling comes into play. One easy answer is to switch to lower-profile tires. Our stock tires lasted about two months of regular use. Our final hitch is the parking brake. The design has been used by Honda since the dawn of time and it continues to be just complicated enough that new riders struggle with it. You have to push in the pin, pull in the clutch, flip the holding lever in place and then release the clutch lever. It’s possible for the TRX to drive forward when it’s engaged too because it’s easy to overlook the nondescript brake. New riders tend to take off before they notice it’s on and this can fry a set of rear brake pads pretty quick.

If you are looking for an all-around great ATV that is well-suited for riders just getting into the sport then the Honda TRX250X should be at the top of the list. What we found was that the TRX holds an advantage over the little Raptor on the gnarly trails in the woods and desert, but lags behind on faster terrain or power-robbing sand. This is the better beginner bike of the two small-bore ATVs in this comparison. It features the stall-free SportClutch, has manageable power and is quiet yet large enough to accommodate a wide range of riders. Plus it sips gas compared to the Yamaha. It has reverse and the shaft drive offers low maintenance and high ground clearance. It is comfortable for all day rides and is the type of ATV that will remain a member of the family for many years.

2011 Honda TRX250X Specifications

Engine: Air-cooled 229cc OHV Single
Bore & Stroke: 68.5 x 62.2mm
Fueling: 22mm piston-valve carburetor
Transmission: 5-speed w/ reverse
Final Drive: Shaft
Front Brakes: Dual 174mm discs
Rear Brake: Drum
Front Tire: 22 x 7-10
Rear Tire: 20 x 10-9
Front Suspension: Double Wishbone 5.9-in. travel
Rear Suspension: Swingarm-Single Shock 5.7-in. travel
Fuel Capacity: 2.5 gal
Length: 68.5 in
Width: 41.8 in
Wheelbase: 44.3 in
Seat Height: 31.4 in
Ground Clearance: 5.9 in
Curb weight: 378 lbs.
MSRP: $4299
Colors: Red, White

2011 Yamaha Raptor 250




Where the Yamaha Raptor fits into the entry-level sport ATV equation is right at the tip of the spear. This is the sharpest new option for anyone looking to get into ATV riding. Not only is this machine light at 332 pounds, but it’s also fast and powerful. Adding the fact that it looks like a shrunken Raptor 700R makes it even cooler. However, this is not a simply a beginner bike in its purest form. This is the state-of-the-art stepping stone for experienced youth or smaller adults who just want to go fast without dealing with the huge power and weight of the 450 class ATVs.

The Raptor 250 is powered by a peppy air/oil-cooled 249cc SOHC engine that flat out gets with the program. It’s the heart of this bike and the reason why it was so popular among our youth ATV test riders. The Yamaha is a pure-bred sport ATV that’s low to the ground and features long travel suspension aimed directly at going fast on the track, trails, and as we found out, the sand dunes too. It has a five-speed manual transmission that is smooth and precise with a light clutch and positive engagement through the duration of our test. For new riders, the traditional clutch is a challenge to get the hang of, as it always has been for newbies. But once they got some time under their belts we heard few complaints. We saw lots of smiling faces and clouds of roost as we sent wives and children racing off to the great beyond aboard the little Raptor.

If the engine doesn’t impress you then the stable and agile chassis will get your attention. This machine is at its best with the engine in the upper end of the rev-range, spinning the low profile tires and ripping around your favorite trail in the woods, desert roads, dunes or MX track. Sliding the rear, crossed-up, pulling jumps and doing wheelies is the name of the Raptor’s game. It has excellent brakes and the suspension is taught enough that our larger 150-pound teens could actually jump decent sized hits without bottoming on landings. It’s also very stable and predictable while carving up the trails. The exhaust note is a little louder than the Honda, but it meets EPA requirements and it sounds great to us.

Our test pilots all had a similar tune with most saying they can’t believe how awesome the Raptor is. For the majority of the riding we did the bike is great. It dominated the TRX at the dunes thanks to the extra power. It was easier to ride fast on fire roads and hard packed terrain because it’s low to the ground and features sporty suspension. On the technical trails it was a bit easier to man-handle and it just seems to bring out the hooligan in all riders. On the flip side, when you get in a bind it doesn’t have reverse and it became a real pain having to hop off and physically drag it out of ruts or over obstacles. The lack of reverse was a real gripe in the gnarly woods and the nastiest desert rocks. It also has minimum ground clearance so when we’re hauling ass it’s prone to smashing the plastic skid plate – which held up very well by the way. It’s easier to pick and switch lines on this agile quad, but it’s also a necessity. The TRX is more of an all-around machine and the Raptor has a sharper focus.

The Raptor also has a couple things the TRX does not. The mindlessly easy parking brake is a big paddle-style lever on the clutch side of the handlebar that flips into position. It is easy to see, easy to engage and is a big plus for the less experienced riders. The engine warms up much quicker than the TRX as well. You can fire it up and hit the trails right away and the tool-less air filter access is a Yamaha strong point as well. Just pop off the seat, open the air box clasps and voila, there it is. Last but not least are the headlights. We rode at night a few times and while the single TRX headlight is adequate, it doesn’t cut nearly the swath through darkness as the Raptor’s dual lamps.

While there is not a lot we would want to improve on the Raptor 250, this is a model that has a lot of performance potential locked up inside it. Aside from a healthy list of GYTR components, many aftermarket exhausts are available. Suspension is already impressive, but there are race-quality shocks popping up and the traditional chain drive allows for modification of the gearing to suit any type of riding style. This is a true sport ATV and there is plenty of room for the machine to grow with its rider.

As you can tell, the Raptor 250 is one of the most entertaining ATVs we’ve ridden in a while. It carves up a trail through the woods and is easily whipped back in forth through the trees. It can be held back in the ruts and rocks, but if you pick your lines carefully it can go about anywhere you want it to. It has the power to make hillclimbs and big dune passes possible for all but the full-size adult riders. This is not necessarily a pure entry level ATV. It is more of a stepping stone before taking the leap to the full bore Raptor. It is also one of the best ATVs we have ever sampled for smaller adults, female riders in particular. It is fast enough to get them in trouble but small enough not be overwhelming. It starts easy, handles great and looks like a million bucks. Between these two small-bore sport ATVs, the Raptor won us over because it is simply offers more to a wider range of quad riders. If your significant other or teenage ATV racing prodigy are looking for a small-bore sport ATV to ride the hell out of, then the Raptor 250 should be high on the list.

2011 Yamaha Raptor 250 Specifications

Engine: Air-cooled 249cc OHC Single
Bore & Stroke: 74.0 x 58.0mm
Fueling: 29mm Mikuni carburetor
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Final Drive: Chain
Front Brake: Dual Disc
Rear Brake: Disc
Front Tires: 20 x 7-10
Rear Tires: 19 x 10-9
Front Suspension: 5-way pre-load adjustable shocks w/ 7.5-in travel
Rear Suspension: Single pre-load adjustable shock w/7.9-in travel
Length: 64 in
Width: 42.1 in
Height: 40.9 in
Wheelbase: 43.7 in
Seat Height: 28.7 in
Ground Clearance: 3.9 in
Fuel Capacity: 2.4 gal
Curb Weight: 332 lbs.
MSRP: $4599
Colors: Blue, White

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