The brand new three-year old "foo foo" Yamaha XT225 was a steal at three grand. You can find these bikes used in great shape for much cheaper, making the fun-per-dollar ratio great compared to a no-name play bike.
I’ve always figured the best defense is a good offense, so with that strategy in mind I’ll introduce myself before you start asking, “Just who is this guy?”
|First things first. The XT 225s are jetted so lean they will barely warm up. Before even starting the bike I drilling out the sealed cap over the fuel screw on the carb, installed a 42.5 pilot jet, lifted the needle with a 1mm shim and pulled the snorkel out of the airbox. The main jet seems ok, for now. Fuel screw is 2.5 turns out.|
I grew up in a dirt bike family in the early ‘70s, my life revolving around all things wheeled, engined or winged. As a kid I hung out with racers, learning from them and play-riding with them. My dad took me to watch tons of different types of races; one weekend an enduro, the next motocross, the next flat track, the next a hill climb. Instead of focusing on winning races, I was learning to appreciate all forms of the sport. Mostly I raced vicariously by reading Dirt Bike instead of studying math. In fact, it was Super Hunky and Paul Clipper’s columns that basically taught me to read and write. I knew then, at five or six years old, I wanted to work for a motorcycle magazine someday. Besides, my math grades made it obvious I was never going to become an accountant or work for NASA …
Fast-forward a bunch of years. I’d been taking TV Broadcasting and Print Journalism at College, and with the tiniest trace of ‘booksmarts’ and the blown up ego of a cocky 20 year-old I took off for California to bang on the door of Hi Torque Publications. Tim Tolleson took pity on the deranged Canadian kid on his doorstep and showed me around, giving me bits of advice I soaked up like a giant ShamWow.
Another bunch of years went by. I finished my apprenticeship to become a licensed motorcycle mechanic, working for two years on Harleys and two years on Japanese bikes. During this time it was suggested I contact a magazine called Inside Motorcycles, as they were looking for an editor for sister publication, IMX. I started by contributing stories, but before long I was moving my tools home from the bike shop and taking on the role of Off-Road Editor at IM and Editor at IMX.
A couple years later, ‘confident beyond my wildest abilities’ (Super Hunky quote there) I started writing freelance press releases for big Canadian factory motocross teams, like Blackfoot and OTSFF Suzuki, as well as writing Canadian content for PartsMag. By this time I’d met Paul Clipper, who gave me the opportunity to write some bike tests and feature stories for Trail Rider, including big stuff like the North American World Enduro Championship rounds. Was I stoked? You bet!
The rest, as they say, is history. This year I was talked into writing an off-road column for www.directmotocross.com. Then came the offer to do bike tests for www.motorcycle.com. Recently the opportunity arose to work with www.offroad.com. I won’t bore you any further, besides my own horn has just about had its fill of tooting, but needless to say I hope you enjoy my stuff here at Off-Road.com.
|I’m optimistically 5’7”, but I still had to make spacers from old handlebar clamps and use longer bolts to get the funky-looking bars high enough to actually ride the bike standing up. I also found a set of white handguards from some old Yamaha IT under my workbench that fit perfectly.|
So, with pleasantries out of the way, lets kick this gig off with ‘Project Foo Fighter’.
The question ‘why?’ immediately comes to mind regarding this project bike. I have often thought a light, small street legal foo-foo bike would be the perfect mule for covering off-road races. With that in mind I picked up a brand new, zero-mileage 2007 Yamaha XT225 dual-sport bike, dirt cheap. Like $3000 bucks cheap. Canadian. It had been leaning against a shop wall, under a cover, for three years. To brush you up on your ‘Foo Foo bike’ knowledge, the XT225 was in Yamaha’s dual-sport line for 15 years with virtually no changes until it was finally replaced by the XT250 in 2008. Even at year-one the air-cooled, two-valve engine and suspension technology was dated, locked somewhere in the early ‘80s. You can find these little bikes for sale used everywhere, often with no trail time and very low street mileage.
|Remove the brake arm from the drum and flip it so it faces upwards. XTs in other markets come like this from the factory, so the brake actuator rod fits perfectly in this position and the brakes work the same as ever but ground clearance is greatly increased. I used a bit of fuel line to keep the rod from rattling on the swingarm.|
|Exploring with my little co-pilot is one of the best things about the Foo Fighter project. Riding two-up on low, slow and quiet bikes like the XT is a great way to introduce kids to trail riding!|
With that in mind, I was surprised when I started researching the XT. There are tons of people who love these things, riding them everywhere and modifying them out the wazoo. I’d stumbled into a netherworld of dual-sport riders more interested in exploring gnarly trails at a snails pace than flying down the freeway on a Dakar-esque 400-pound pseudo “dirt bike.”
In any case, the 225’s slow but bulletproof engine, light weight and low seat height made the bike a huge hit around the world for Yamaha. To put the size of an XT225 in perspective, consider this: a YZ85 has a taller seat height. Even a TTR230, like the one Super Hunky souped up for ORC, is three rungs further up the evolutionary ladder. So what we have with the XT is a machine with a minibike’s seat height, full-sized wheels and a dry weight 80 pounds lighter than a Suzuki DR-Z400S. My hardcore moto and off-road friends thought I was crazy, but to me the XT225 sounded like the recipe for a killer adult-sized street-legal play bike and moto-journalist mule. Plus, it was cheap.
An experienced dirt biker can spot the weaknesses of the XT in a second. Still, with the bike in bone stock condition, right down to the tires, I did 1,600 miles of trail riding in two months. By the way, between commuting and play riding I’ve been getting over 70 miles per gallon, on regular gas. Cheap is good!
Project goals? The bike has to be legitimately street legal. I’ve owned lots of dirt bikes with street plates over the years, including minimally modified two-strokes, four-strokes, enduro bikes and motocross bikes. They could go from trail to trail maybe without being hassled by the cops if you were polite and kissed their boots. So Foo Fighter has to be legit to the letter of the law, no loophole nonsense. I want to ride this bike downtown to the liquor store and post office but also be able to navigate normal enduro singletrack. No amount of money is going to make an XT225 do anything quickly, but I didn’t want to ride a complete slug either. Around here, most riding places are “questionably legal,” so stealth is very high on the priority scale. I broke my wish list down to a few key areas.
|Getting rid of the giant taillight thing that makes you look like a spaz every time you try to get on or off the bike required some thought. I opened up the hole in the fender where the light bulb sits, then used a couple of nylon spacers to get the tail light to sit flat. It’s solid, it’s simple and it looks better.|
The XT225 has a steel gas tank! Picture the sound of walnut-sized hail bouncing off the hood of your car … enough said. The stock handlebars are weird and belong on a Huffy beach cruiser, not a dirt bike. No self-respecting bird would be caught dead with their claws wrapped around those tiny little footpegs! The turn signals hang waaaayyyy out there, catching on brush constantly, as do the mirrors.
The XT225 engine, despite sharing ancestry with some truly wretched three-wheel ATVs, actually pulls ok. Smooth, torquey and with enough guts to get around the woods and take off ok from stoplight to stoplight on the street. It does feel somewhat constipated though, and nobody ever complained about having a few extra ponies at their disposal. The six-speed tranny feeds a decent quality but wimpy-sized 428 chain. Gearing is a “decent but not ideal” compromise between street and dirt. The stock dual-sport tires are awful. Awful on the street. Awful in the dirt. Wet, dry, sand, loam, rocks, pavement … no difference. Awful. A good set of DOT-approved knobby tires is an absolute necessity! The brakes, a dual piston disc on the front and a drum out back, work fine for the casual speed the little bike can produce.
Another view of the modified-to-be-less-dorky taillight. The stock rear tire is no more than an awful way to protect that wimpy wheel. At some point we’ll be beefing it up with stronger spokes and using the crummy tires to make a swing to hang from the tree out back.
Yamaha kept the seat height and price low by using rock-bottom budget boingers. The rear shock is adjustable for rebound damping only and has nice grease fittings on the linkage, but coughs up 7.5 inches of grotesquely soft department store mountain bike quality travel. The 1970’s damper-rod technology forks have wimpy 36mm tubes, gushy mushy springs and 8.5 inches of travel. Some XT guys have been buying Works Performance shocks and grafting on YZ125 forks and triple clamps, but that’s pretty much the cost of the entire bike. We’ll figure out something.
The XT has good DID aluminum rims, which are unfortunately laced with the wimpiest spokes imaginable. The rear wheel uses a cross-two spoke pattern, something even the cheapest bicycles don’t use. The thought of collapsing the rear wheel is always on my mind when I ride the XT on the trails. Aesthetically, the XT also looks like it was designed in the mid-80s. It’s cute, in a retro sort of way. Me, I wanted the bike to look like a 7/8-scale enduro race bike, at least from a distance in the rain.
Stay tuned for part two!