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By: Jason Giacchino

May 2011 - Off The Pegs

Flirting with the 250 Class

Apex 250F
Apex 250F

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been intrigued with the concept of a 250cc race ATV from the moment the 450cc racing displacement was solidified. For aspiring racers there really hasn’t been a solid “intermediate” step between getting-started in the sport and competing in the premiere 450-class. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of events around the globe that offer open classes to allow for competition aboard machines of nearly any style and displacement, but unlike so many of our cousin power sports, ATV racing has virtually no established stepping stone class.

In fact, one could go so far as to say that the past decade or so has witnessed the decline of the 250cc displacement (once the engine size of the world’s premiere race class) from mid-sized sport quad on down to “beginner only” territory thanks to simplified engine designs, minimal technological advancements and automatic transmissions.

It was Yamaha who shook things up with the Raptor 250 a few years back by recalling what made machines like the Kawasaki Mojave and Honda TRX250X (the original incarnation of the model from 1987-1992) so popular: zippy performance, comfortable ergonomics and a peppy engine coupled to a manual transmission. In essence Yamaha’s goal was, of course, to provide riders with a modern 4-stroke equivalent to fill in the massive void left by the Blaster 2-stroke’s demise.

In short, they succeeded with their ambitions and in fact, inadvertently created a bit of a “club racer” class in the process. Raptor 250 riders quickly discovered a healthy aftermarket and loads of hop-up potential with their new machine. The desire to race it was nearly immediate, the only problem was that the only competition could come from other Raptor 250 models as no other manufacturer offered an air-cooled 250cc ATV to contend.

I’ve been as excited about the Raptor 250 (and the class it inspired) steadily but still, it didn’t take too much imagination to begin wondering why none of the manufacturers stepped up and offered a genuine performance oriented 250; a smaller bore version of the liquid-cooled, high-tech 450s tearing up race courses all over the planet.

The answer, at least to many of the industry insiders I’ve spoken with, seems to be that poor timing is the major culprit. Just as the popularity of 450cc race equipment was growing strong enough to warrant a whopping eight models from which to select (not even taking into consideration various trim packages available from each manufacturer); the economy took a massive dive back in 2008 that still hasn’t recovered fully with the 2012s on the way. A backdated inventory filling warehouses around the globe had many manufacturers shutting down production lines until demand could once again exceed supply.

Obviously the reality of the economic situation coupled to decreased manufacturer R&D budgets meant the chances of someone developing a new model (in this case a legitimate 250cc race machine) were virtually none.

However, this column serves to express my excitement in the fact that a 250cc race quad does indeed exist and can be purchased right now.

It was American mini manufacturer Apex Motor Corporation who finally decided to answer the “what-ifs” surrounding the potential of stuffing a modern 250cc (coincidentally also a Yamaha mill) race-oriented 4-stroke into a competition-ready chassis. The best part about it was that it wouldn’t be some one-off custom quad that magazines could cover to illicit lust from riders who could never even hope to spend a minute in the saddle of, much less purchase and race.

The Apex 250F boasts such features as a genuine Yamaha 250cc DOHC 4-Stroke/5-valve with an estimated 37 HP rear wheel rating (for comparison’s sake a stock Raptor 250 is pushing about 17 horses).

For what boils down to a factory custom, the Apex 250F is quite competitively priced at $11,000, and it has been AMA approved for competition.

I’ve been hoping with great interest that the Apex 250 will inspire its own race class for purpose of harvesting and fine-tuning the future generation of 450cc class competitors; or at the very least inspire some of the larger international manufacturers to take a stab at creating an OEM 250 of their own (after all, they would virtually own the class until the other manufacturers jumped in with offerings of their own).

As nice as it is to ponder the development of another displacement of competition ATV, I should note that Yamaha’s at it again with their Raptor 125. The machine shares many components with its 250cc brother but does so with even less weight and the potential to launch another class of “club racing” at facilities all around the world. Of course, it doesn’t take too much imagination to envision the potential of a truly high-tech race-ready 125cc ATV; you know a class to give aspiring racers a place to hone their skills before making their move up to the 250s.

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