This article was originally published in the June 1997 issue of Sport Rider.
When you think of the word dominance, you think of Rich Oliver and his Yamaha TZ250. In 1996, Oliver won every single 250GP national on the calendar, basically riding in a class of his own at each race. His dominance was carried over from the previous year, when he won seven of ten races, making last season’s achievement even more impressive.
Oliver has extensive experience working with noted two-stroke tuners like Bud Aksland over the years. In a class where even half of a horsepower can pay big dividends, Oliver’s vast knowledge is evident in his consistent qualifying and race performances. His bikes are always at, or near, the front of the pack speed-wise, and when combined with his skill as a rider, the two of them are all but untouchable.
When we last rode Oliver’s 250, we were struck by the bike’s serious demeanor, in both chassis and engine. The same aggressive chassis personality seemed intact as we climbed aboard this latest weapon. The TZ’s clip-ons are set low and pulled back, putting the rider in a radically canted position meant for hard corner entrances and seriously high cornering speeds.
But when we ventured out onto the track, we were surprised to find the new motor was a far cry from his previous one. Instead of the hard-hitting, top-end-heavy powerband of the ’95 bike, the ’96 version was much more user-friendly, with none of the high-strung thoroughbred antics. Throttle response was crisp, yet not hyper-responsive, making it easy to get on the throttle early in corners. But don’t think that this TZ is soft by any means; acceleration is deceptively fast, shooting you into the next corner with alarming speed (and usually with the front wheel airborne). Oliver’s experience also shows in the perfect spacing of gear ratios, making it easy to row the smooth-shifting gearbox and keep it on the pipe.
Overall handling was just this side of incredible. Oliver’s setup provides sharp, precise steering that lets you snap the bike into a turn with confidence, though with his low clip-ons, steering took some effort. Suspension action was brilliant, literally making bumps disappear, keeping the chassis perfectly neutral. Cornering feedback was just as amazing, which only added to the sensation that you could do no wrong with this bike.
The brakes earned more superlatives. Oliver likes his binders to have instant grab, and these were no exception. Killer stopping power and amazing feel with just one finger was the rule. Rich Oliver’s TZ was one of the most enjoyable bikes to ride, and a great example of how champions tailor their weapons for utmost efficiency. No fidgety manners or surprising quirks; the less effort required to pilot the bike, the more that can be used for extracting speed.
|Oliver TZ250 Temp Gauge|
|Hospitable engine manners||The morale of Oliver's competition|
|Fantastic handling||Makes for lonely racing|