It’s easy to look back at the past with rose tinted glasses, everything was better, the music, the weather, the football…
everything… except sometimes it wasn’t… in the case of quarter-litre motorcycles, the past was very much the pinnacle.
Rewind back to the mid 80’s, two stroke race bikes ruled the roost and the 250 market place was very much the place they made their mark for Joe Public.
Replacing a legend…
All the big factories pushed out 250 race replica bikes and Yamaha had big shoes to fill when they were looking to replace the legendary RD350.
The TZR 250 stormed onto the scene in 1986 in Japan, designated the 1KT, by the time Mitsui Yamaha launched it in the UK it was launched as the 2MA.
It made previous 250 offerings look like a bowl of offal, a true race bred beauty faithfully mirroring the TZ250 race bike of the time. Svelte dimensions, weighing in at around 140kg fully fuelled. A sublime Deltabox alloy frame and suspension to suit. Braking was taken care of by discs front and rear, the front disc being shared with the much bigger, and heavier, FZR1000 so power was never going to be an issue.
The engine itself was brand new, with a water cooled, parallel twin kicking out around 45bhp. The YPVS (Yamaha Power Valve System) was transferred onto the new motor. In a nutshell, the YPVS controls the exhaust port to optimise timing / rpm and ensured that the motor produced maximum power throughout the rev range, giving the bike a frantic but also usable power delivery.
The TZR was ‘officially’ imported into the UK until 1992 when it was quietly shuffled out of the showrooms. The TZR lives on in the UK in small numbers on the road and still can be found in various club race meetings.
So what’s it like to ride? I hear you scream. . . funny you should say that. . .
I am a little biased (this is my own bike). A 1989 UK model 2MA, originally registered in July 1989, when I was 11. I have a history with this bike, I first owned it in 1995, I had just passed my test at 17 and it was my first ‘proper’ road bike. . . I owned the bike until 1997 when I sold it to buy an FZR400RR-SP.
Sixth form car parks
I always had a soft spot for little TZR, the fastest thing in the sixth-form car park. It saw me through Fogarty at Brands, Euro 96 and Oasis at Knebworth, got me in small amounts of trouble (and almost got my dad kicked off a golf course but that’s another story), it was my first genuine 100mph+ bike. . . I loved it.
Fast forward to 2016 and I had just lost my dad. One day I was scrolling through bike ads and stumbled across this bike, I instantly recognised the number plate as my old bike so I got it back and restored it with the help of Pete and the guys at Pan Motorcycles in Haywards Heath and Tony Price with the paintwork.
Well, now it’s restored to its former glory it would be rude not to ride it. . . the bike is every bit as good as I remember it, if not better.
It will happily pootle around town in a mild mannered and docile way and will take you on your daily commute in an unflustered way if you like. . . I didn’t like. . . I wanted to play.
Heading out of town onto more ‘interesting’ roads the bike gets to stretch its legs and becomes what it was designed to be. The rev counter needle merrily winds towards the top of its range, the YPVS opens up and my left foot dances with the 6 speed gearbox. All of a sudden that docile, friendly nature is gone and the TZR shows its fangs. I know it’s not the done thing in this day and age but as the bike builds to its crescendo it’s hard not to have images of childhood GP heroes in your head.
The engine screams its beautiful song and the bike dares you to push it further. Despite this, the bike never feels out of hand, the suspension is planted and perfectly balanced ensuring confident, neutral handling with the brakes never feeling like they will let you down.
On the low flying mission around the twisty back ways of Sussex the little TZR never fails to put a huge grin on my face and enjoys humbling a lot of larger, more modern bikes.
It’s hard not to regress on a bike like this. It flatters, but calls you out if it doesn’t think you’re trying hard enough. It’s fast with a top speed, in standard trim, knocking on the door of 120mph, ok maybe not ‘FAST fast’ but plenty fast enough to have a lot of fun on.
What’s next for this old girl, well, giving some consideration to a set of Martin Johnson or JollyMoto exhausts and maybe a Zeeltronic programmable ignition system to see what else I can get out of the bike.
The little TZR rewards you for what you put into it. No fancy rider aids or instant power, the more you work the little bike the more it comes alive.
There’s a reason the TZR was the first production 250 top lap at an average over 100mph at the Isle of Man TT in 1986 in the hands of Mat Oxley and it likes to drop hints as to these reasons at any given opportunity.
If you ever get the chance to ride or own one of these then I wholeheartedly recommend that you do. Mine will never be for sale again. . . rejuvenation therapy, that’s exactly what it is and I absolutely love it. . . .
Thanks to Helen Simon for the fantastic pics for the Yamaha FZR 250
Now, a bit about our new team member and retro race nut ‘Sancho’…
I have been riding bikes my whole life, literally born into the Grasstrack racing paddock. Had my first bike at 18 months old and the addiction grew from there.
Did my first track day at Goodwood when I was 15, CBT at 16 and full test at 17… the longest I have been without a bike was a week in 2005 when I had sold my 600 and waiting for my 750 to be delivered! I initially followed my dad into bike industry (he worked for Yamaha UK – or Mitsui Yamaha as it was back then) and spent time working at Frontiers Motorcycles in Wimbledon before working for the UK importers of KTM / Beta / Hyosung / Royal Enfield and Bajaj… avid follower of racing and a penchant for rock music, 2 strokes, Ducati and bikes of the 80’s and 90’s…
Current bikes: Ducati Panigale 899, Yamaha TZR250, TriBSA 650 ‘project’ and Aermacchi 250