ROAD TEST: Yamaha’s classic TZR street racer

Published: 05 December 2015

A pair of classic road tests from the Performance Bikes vaults, as Yamaha’s classic TZR street racer is joined by a street mutant. 

 

ach day the Yuppie Hordes descend from boroughs such as Dulwich and Islington to shamelessly commit four wheel drives on the streets of London. On Saturdays they congregate in the car parks of Sainsbury’s or Waitrose supermarkets, discuss the excellence of the delicatessen counter and tell each other with perfect conviction that they just don’t know how they managed without four-wheel drives.

Idiots!

The nearest their Daibatsus, Suzukis or Nissans ever get to the dirt is the occasional bit of two-mile-an-hour parking on the verges of the Home Counties. Probably just as well because having driven several such vehicles myself in the course of entertainment, they seem to have adequate ability to get themselves into trouble off-road but few have the power or agility to get out of it. Appearance is all. The females of the species can indulge in fantasies of rural life on their way to collect their pre-packed food. And the males of the species, the minute they get behind the wheels of their rugged looking four-wheelers, experience a subliminal macho transfer causing an instant growth in the size of their sexual equipment.

Any sensible being has to look perplexedly toward heaven and plaintively ask, “Why?”

Such were my thoughts as I looked at the TDR250 before subjecting it to its first taste of road test abuse.

What we have here is the best ever 250cc two-stroke twin cylinder road bike engine wrapped in an off-road style chassis and coated in bodywork that suggests it might be at home in the African desert contributing to the sum total of severe human injury in the Paris Dakar rally.

However, you won’t be surprised to learn that its off-road abilities are as limited as those of the Yuppie four wheelers. A very brief play round the farm at the back of my house convinced me of several things:

It’s too heavy for dirt use.

Too much of the weight is at the front, giving it a taste for digging the front wheel into soft dirt and spitting the rider off.

Suspension travel, while long for a road bike, is far too short for serious bumps.

The footrests are too low, giving rise to serious abuse of the toes while negotiating ruts.

The Metzeler Sahara tyres have as much grip on sticky mud as John Robinson has on his sanity --- not much.

The tyre hugging front mudguard is a great device if you want to collect masses of topsoil for your garden (see last month’s Aprilia test) but about as much use as a chocolate welding torch if you want to maintain forward progress on wet dirt.

It has far more power than any serious trail bike needs.

Grazing sheep are deeply offended by the sharp edge of the exhaust note when the motor hits the power band. My cats don’t like it much either.

Thank god I have my own power washer.

I’m getting far too old for this sort of thing.

It looks as if it can do it in the dirt. Sadly it can’t but who gives a damn when you’re popping a wheelie away from the traffic lights. That front end, so heavy in the dirt, is light for a road bike and a bit of backward lean when the revs hit six grand in first gear couple with a vicious tug on the throttle has the front wheel kissing goodbye to the tarmac with wonderful ease.

Even the world’s worst wheelie popper can be a traffic light hero on the

TDR. You don’t have to be that good to get the front end up in second either --- aim straight for a bump, crack the throttle at 6,500 at the crucial moment and the bike rears up like a rampant stallion before coming gracefully back to earth 30 yards further on.

I couldn’t resist making full use of all this potential, no doubt further convincing my rural neighbours that some people take an awful long time growing up.

The lightness of the front end is a minor drawback at high speeds. The TDR is perfectly capable of cruising at 100mph and there’s no point having it unless you use it. With relatively little weight up front, the sharp end starts to flap around at eighty, developing an annoying but not dangerous steering wobble at 100.

The cure is simple. Taking advantage of the motocross style seat that prevents your nuts being crushed against the back of the petrol tank, you slide as far forward as possible, transferring a portion of your body weight towards the front end. This has the effect of nailing the front wheel firmly to the tarmac and curing the wobble except for the odd twitch that occurs when you hit large bumps in the road or cross cats’ eyes and overhanding at high speed in the wet.

The forward riding position is not uncomfortable either. You can cruise at 100mph without discomfort in the lower body regions while the surprisingly effective fairing and fly screen give your top end fair protection against the wind.

In any case, the longest you ever have to stand at one time is 75 miles. That’s how far you can get on a full tank of petrol. And if you think that’s bloody stupid, I won’t disagree. The tank is ridiculously small while the motor’s appetite for unleaded/four star petrol is voracious. Now I know how Pete Comely’s Mum (if he had one) must have felt when faced with his startling ability to consume food (at least the TDR manages to stay slim...).

Speed testing and the off-road photo session drank fuel at the rate of 24 miles to the gallon. Screaming in hooligan mode round my local lanes gave it about 33mpg. Cruising flat out along a motorway gave 30mpg and surprisingly, the best consumption of all came during a busy day of dashing from one appointment to the next in London where uncharacteristically sensible riding (which the TDR does nothing to encourage) reduced the consumption to an almost respectable 39mpg.

Still on the subject of consumable liquids let us now consider the subject of two-stroke oil, or, more correctly, the manner in which the TDR tank gets filled. Let us bare our heads, remove our boots then kneel facing the East. In this religious position let us pray devoutly for the violent and untimely death of the idiot in the design department at Yamaha who decided that the filler hole for the oil should be just behind the petrol tank, protruding rearwards in an almost horizontal altitude.

Filling it is very much like trying to perform an act of love in a small car. Introducing the filler nozzle into the appropriate orifice at the correct angle is damned difficult. Keeping it in there once the vital juice starts to flow is almost as hard and at the crucial moment there is always a good chance of it slipping out, leaving a nasty sticky mess everywhere except where you want it.

But the motor is an absolute delight as it rasps and crackles its way through the six speeds of the gearbox. With plenty of punch from 6,000rpm, it screams the bike out of corners in perfect style and sounds superb.

It runs into a brick wall at 10,000rpm and makes maximum power (44.7bhp) at 9,600rpm. Oddly enough, our TZR made a shade less power (43.8bhp @ 9,600rpm).

The gospel according to Yamaha says that the Good Lord in his wisdom detuned the TDR to improve its flexibility yea, even unto the end of the rev range. Our Heenan and Froude dynamometer says not so. Either we had an exceptionally good TDR or a well thrashed TZR.

The TDR has lower gearing than the TZR. It could easily pull two and maybe even three teeth less on the rear sprocket which would pump up its cruising speed by a few mph.

Handling is secure at all speeds. Whacking round sharp bends it’s very tight but the steering does start to feel a bit vague when attacking high speed curves.

Standard tyres are the Metzeler Saharas, originally developed, I seem to remember, for that giant of dual purpose bikes the R80GS (now grown to 1,000cc). On their ragged edge in the dry, they offer plenty of grip and the motor doesn’t generate enough power to produce rear wheel slides unless a) you’re dumb or b) you get overtaken by an irresistible urge to show off.

In the wet, of which there was plenty during this test, they are very sensitive, twitching at cats’ eyes, repair ridges, white lines; most surface irregularities in fact. These little slides never develop into anything dangerous but such behaviour does invite a measure of caution when cornering on soaked roads.

Brakes, being directly lifted from the TZR, are perfect at all times.

Although it has enough power to haul a pillion even in the cut and thrust of London traffic, two-up travel is not a particularly good experience for either party.

The rider has to squash up to the tank to make sufficient room on the small seat. As described by my girlfriend, the pillion’s riding position is obscene: legs splayed wide, feet very high up and the wrong sorts of pressure in the wrong sorts of places. Even a light pillion flattens the rear suspension to the point where every bump in the road gives you a noticeable kick in the backside.

The instrumentation is eccentric with the rev counter mounted at the front of the tank. You have to take your eyes off the road completely to look at the revs which is not such a great idea.

So what inspired Yamaha to put the TDR together? I guess it’s aimed at people who like the idea of running a wild and crazy 250 two-stroke but who would find the race replica style of the TZR not to their taste or maybe even a bit intimidating. With fewer people getting into the bikes every year, the manufacturers are intent on tilling all possible gaps in the market, even ones that don’t yet exist.

The TDR looks great and is tremendous fun to ride. If a machine like this fails to stir your soul and lead you to acts of highway vandalism then may I respectfully suggest that you up your pension payments so that you can retire a bit earlier, put your helmet away and buy one of those nice Skoda motor cars.

And my personal opinion? There are certain modifications I’d make to a TDR to adapt it to my tastes. Out would go the 18-inch front wheel to be replaced by a 17-incher to match the rear. On would go a set of even more decent road tyres (Yamaha have already been careful to leave this option wide open with their rim/wheel sizes but the very best steering bikes run 17 inch wheels up front these days).

Next item would be a lower ride height with less suspension travel. Up top the fairing would have to go in favour of a more racy body and those high, wide bars would have to be narrower and lower. I’d leave the high level exhausts though, ‘cos they look so bloody smart.

And in case you hadn’t guessed, I’ve just described a TZR. That’s where my money would go because while it might not have the pose value of the TDR, it delivers more in every other respect.

 

TZR 250

The standard by which real engines are measured is that when they are run under load, they sound like calico being torn. Tearing, shearing, searing are all ideas which flash in and out of what passes for a mind when the TZR’s twistgrip is eased open.

It is smooth, but intense. Violent but pleasant. Crisp and even. The absolute dog’s testicles. This is probably the definitive two-stroke engine.

There’s not much more to be said, really, except, of course that there are now two of them. There are small differences in the TDR and TZR engines, but the biggest noticeable change is obviously in the riding position.

It makes the TDR seem heavier on the front end and is much more upright, but this doesn’t make the bike any easier to control. If anything it is more vicious than the TZR --- but that is probably because the gearing is four teeth lower on the back wheel.

So which is best? After a brief squirt up the road on both of them, my vote went to the TZR, mainly because it felt lighter, steered faster and had a riding position which made it easier to control. The TZR went down on my hill-climb entry form, leaving Peter and Rupert to squabble over the TDR.

Rupert had discovered more or less the same thing when he did the performance tests at MIRA. The TDR, because of its lower gearing, was hard to get off the line and was eight tenths of a second slower in the quarter mile. It was also 10mph down on the top and again due to low gearing and worse aerodynamics.

At the time we thought that the engines were more different than they really were. We hadn’t run them on the dyno at this stage and it felt like the TDR had much more midrange and a more vicious pick-up (but most of this was down to the low gearing). The TZR seemed to have more peak power and more willingness to rev out, while the TDR did the usual two-stroke trick of peaking and then stopping dead.

As the bikes have different exhausts, this was not unexpected. Later, the dyno showed them to be much closer in their characteristics; the TDR did drop off faster once it had peaked, but it also had a pretty accurate rev counter, while the TZR’s rev counter picked up an extra 500 rev error as it got close to the redline and made the engine look as if it were revving higher.

The TDR has more power – up to 2bhp more – below 7000 and quite a bit more torque around 4000rpm. In the power band they are very close – the TDR just has the edge, if you can call it that, and then drops off a touch more severely than the TZR.

The differences? Well, there are the exhausts, completely different jetting, a different ignition advance curve (the TZR runs a few degrees more advanced), different generators, and the big drop in gearing.

The TDR’s heaving front end wasn’t an illusion. The bike weighed 20lb more, most of which seems to be up front, it has 1 degree less caster, more trail and a longer wheelbase.

It all seems to be an attempt to slow it down, an effort that wouldn’t be necessary if it didn’t have the low gearing that makes the power delivery so explosive. The TZR, in contrast, is perfectly balanced; the handling, braking an cornering grip are superb. It is in the class described by Rupert, in front of witnesses, as “if you can’t get your knee down on a TZR you’re a real girlie.”

But more than that, it is so good it is also comfortable at the same time. Even though the bike is very light, the suspension works, and although the riding position is small, it is comfortable. One real-world problems with small, highly tuned engines is that they drop out of the power band at 60 or 70mph in top and it becomes impossible to cruise at this speed without continually slowing, shifting down, accelerating back up and starting the cycle over again. The TZR will, incredibly, hold anything over 55mph steadily in top.

Even fuel consumption is a tolerable 30 to 45mpg and the TZR’s 16-litre tank has a 2-litre advantage over the TDR.

We’d borrowed a pro motocross rider, Gary Butcher, for the pic session. Gary has been racing for about twelve years and had never ridden a road bike in his life. He couldn’t believe how heavy and wide the TDR was and commented that it was really mild at the bottom end and didn’t have the hard-hitting powerband that his racer has.

“My motocrosser has more bottom end and an explosive powerband...this TDR is just mellow. With these tyres it’s a pain on the dirt. The front end keeps going. It’s more fun for me on the tar. I prefer the TZR.”

So, even at a very early stage in the test (a one-mile squirt on each bike plus Gary’s comments and Rupe’s version of the quarter-mile acceleration tests) everything pointed towards the TZR. The TDR was great for some idiocy in fifteen-minute doses but variations on the wheelie get tiring after a while.

That was before we’d seen the hillclimb. Going through bottom-gear hairpins with vicious bursts of power required techniques, riding positions (and wheelbases) that none of us had contemplated before.

The TZR had the advantage off the line because it was less wheelie prone. From there the straights were just long enough to get into second – for about ten yards – before standing on the brakes and screwing it round corners that were tight enough to make it drop out of the power band in first gear.

The only way was to grab a handful of throttle somewhere near the apex, and as the exit of the corner came into the Yamaha’s sights, to ease some pressure on to the clutch lever. The struggling engine would burst into vicious action as the great shearer wasted another strip of finest calico. From there it was a matter of keeping the throttle wide and balancing clutch pressure against a slewing back tyre and a lifting front.

The TDR took it all in its shorter stride. At the same speed in the corners, it was still in its power band. The riding position allowed foot-out caution that would ensure the bike was still upright when it hit the wall.

After the first practice runs, the idiotic grins on Rupe’s and Peter’s faces suggested that they had drawn the long straws.

In the open 250cc race, Rupert’s best time on the TDR was 32.015 seconds, while I managed 32.06 on the TZR – only forty-five hundredths of a second slower! Just a bit more violence and the TZR could beat the jumped up trail bike. They finished 10th and 11th out of a field of 22.

Next time out, in the production class, it was Pete’s turn on the TDR but I knew he would be a pushover (a) because I had now done four runs and he had only had one and (b) because once he saw the immense number of spectators I knew he wouldn‘t be able to resist playing to the crowd and wheelieing from one corner to the next. Sure enough the TZR ran 31.715 seconds and blew the TDR off by nearly one and a half seconds. This time they finished 5th and 7th respectively.

The only fair comparison came in the open class, when both Roop and Peter managed to ride both bikes. With the same rider, the TDR was 0.57 seconds quicker (in Roop’s case) and 0.9 seconds quicker (Peter).

There can only be one moral. If you live at the bottom of a steep hill, you need a TDR. If you live at the top, the TZR is the bike to have.

 

 

TEST SPECIFICATION

MODEL

                        Yamaha TDR250

Yamaha TZR250

Price

£2,449

£2793

PERFORMANCE

Maximum speed (sitting up)

105.6mph

114.5mph

Maximum speed (Prone)

106.5mph

117.9mph

SS ¼-mile/terminal

13.89s/97.5mph

13.06s/102.4mph

Fuel consumption average

37mpg

38mpg

TESTER’S VERDICT

Good points

Style, easy wheelies

Engine, frame, suspension, brakes, gearbox and fairing

Bad points

Cruising range, oil filter

Couldn’t find one

Performance

Could be better with taller gearing

Perfect

Comfort

With only 75 miles between fill-ups, no sweat!

Surprisingly good

Braking

Identical to TZR

Identical to TDR

Value

Plenty fun per quid

A snip

 

 

TDR test Jim Lindsay TZR test John Robinson Photography Patrick Gosling