YZ250 ARMED FORCES TRIBUTE: BEHIND THE BUILD

BY TRAVIS FANT

Let’s be honest, motorcycles are great big toys. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many of us have spent our lives playing in the dirt and having fun. This particular Yamaha YZ250 project bike is another toy, just like every one I have ever owned. But, in this case, I wanted to add another dimension to the build. I thought it would be great to pay tribute to the great people who have allowed us the freedom to play and pursue our frivolous pastimes. My dad is one of those people, and this bike is dedicated to him.

The Minesweeper was meant to be the next best thing to a brand-new 2005 YZ250. With modern upgrades to the motor and suspension, it turned out better than new. The USS Alabama provided a fitting backdrop.

 

THE FAMILY CONNECTION
I bought this 2005 Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke several years ago. My intentions were to ride it until it blew up. After a year of hammering it in the hills of Southern California, the YZ finally met its fate. I have always had a soft spot for the military, American history, and my dad’s stories from his time in the navy. This is where the “Minesweeper” theme came from. My dad, Tom Fant, is a Vietnam veteran. He was a Signalman 2nd class, E5 on the USS Dynamic MSO432 starting in 1967, which was a minesweeper. He did three tours in Vietnam and was a part of five campaigns during the war. Minesweepers were among the smallest ships in the U.S. Navy—wooden decks and no GPS or computers like the advanced ships that protect our seas today. The ship didn’t even have washing machines. Everyone would throw their clothes over the side of the ship for hours only to have them feel stiff and sticky when they put them back on. Duties of a minesweeper were varied. Obviously, job one was to clear mines so destroyers and larger ships could have safe passage. During “Operation Market Time,” MSO432 searched all vessels from Danang to the DMZ looking for contraband, but mainly weapons of all types. Normal patrols would last 30 days, but one in particular lasted 82 days! Most of these patrols were one to two miles offshore, so minesweepers saw “the big show,” especially at night. MSO432 also conducted aircraft salvage on numerous occasions due to the unique type of sonar they had. While my dad was on board, they swept three live minefields at the Qua Viet River basin. MSO432 popped three active 500-pound mines. Think of what that would do to a 172-foot wooden ship! This sweeping operation earned my dad the Combat Action Ribbon with a gold star.

Let’s be real: a 17-year-old two-stroke is going to vibrate. ODI bars and grips help in the comfort department.

 

When the wheels look good, the rest of the bike looks good. Dubya hubs, spokes and rims can be had separately or in sets.

 

SALVAGE RIGHTS
Coming up with a theme was easy, but there was a lot of work to be done. The engine was shipped to Corona, California, where we had Jay Clark work his magic. He replaced all the worn-out bearings with parts from All Balls. Yamaha OEM parts were used for the gearbox, and Millennium Technologies plated the cylinder. We added a complete Hinson clutch and clutch basket to the bike. A Boyesen Rad Valve with carbon reeds and an X-Wing were thrown in for better throttle response. We decided to modernize where we could; Boyesen has Super Coolers available for two-strokes going back several decades. Building this bike in the midst of a pandemic was difficult. FMF was completely out of YZ250 exhausts, but that didn’t stop them from making an extra one for the build. An FMF factory pipe with a shorty silencer was mounted to the bike. That’s a must for any YZ250 owner, not only for better power, but just insanely good sound.

FMF pipes have been in short supply for months. Availability is finally improving.
Maxxis tires are an excellent value and work well in Florida sand.

Travis loves his pegs sharp! IMS Core pegs have excellent grip.


We sent the front forks and shock off to Ekolu Suspension in Murrieta, California, to get it tailored for my riding abilities, receive new internals, add a new blue rear spring, and make the bike feel like a more updated machine. The fork legs were installed in a set of Ride Engineering 22mm offset triple clamps. A complete Nickel Wurks bolt kit from Spec Bolt replaced all the stripped and worn stock hardware. These kits come labeled, which makes installation really easy. Mark Tilley even helped on the build by vapor-blasting the kick-starter, brake pedal, shifter pedal, and brake assembly before putting it back on. ARC supplied the levers to mount to ODI handlebars and Emig Pro grips. TM Designs has to be one of the best in the business for bike protection pieces. They sent us over a new Slide-N-Glide kit, as well as a rear rotor guard. Black SuperSprox sprockets were added to the bike with stock gearing. Dubya wheels with blue hubs and Maxxis tires were used to put the power to the ground in Florida. Traction made a custom blue/yellow seat cover and added the Vietnam Veteran patch to the front of the design. Backyard Designs made sure the graphics scheme had great details. I sent them photos of my dad’s ship and the YZ250 to put together. They came back with this really cool Navy Tribute from front to back. Later, I found out that the image used in the shrouds has my dad in it! Never planned it, but it’s pretty cool. You can see him standing on the ship, and he recalled shooting that photo in Long Beach, California. Polisport sent over a complete restyle kit to give the 2005 a modern look with all-blue number plates.

USS Dynamic

 

MINESWEEPER VS. BATTLESHIP

When the project was complete, we took our Minesweeper build to the USS Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, for photos and video. Funny enough, this wasn’t the first time a video has been shot with the battleship. If you are old enough to remember the movie Under Siege starring Steven Seagal and Tommy Lee Jones, you’ll recognize this ship. Most of that film from the ’90s was shot on the USS Alabama.

Our testing grounds for the Minesweeper was MX191 in Milton, Florida. This is a track I am very familiar with and ride when I am home with my family. On the track, the bike performed beyond expectations. When bikes are torn apart and shipped off to multiple hands at once for fixing, you never quite know what you are going to get back. It’s a puzzle, and sometimes the pieces come together perfectly. The engine was sharp and crisp as if it had come off the assembly line only weeks ago. The Boyesen X-Wing and Rad Valve with FMF exhaust worked in unison to give excellent throttle response. The Ekolu suspension overhaul that Brian Medeiros performed was just what the bike needed. The 2005 YZ250 didn’t yet come with the KYB SSS forks that many YZ owners have become fond of over the years. Brian got the AOSS fork and shock to feel suppler over big bumps and still have enough hold up over the larger jumps. It was exciting to shoot the photos and see it come together, but the real payoff was starting it up and riding it wide open without an issue. The bike held up great and surprised me with how fast it felt. I hadn’t realized how worn out the engine was until it was all new again.

A lot of time and energy was spent by me and the rest of the Dirt Bike Magazine crew to make this happen. Yamaha got on board and supplied a lot of parts during the pandemic when things were scarce. This bike was built to ride and to honor Vietnam vets in the U.S. Navy—a thank you to those who ran towards harm’s way so our country remained safe. The outlook of minesweepers in the U.S. Navy is bleak, but there will always be at least one left.

Travis Fant aboard his personal YZ250 tribute bike.

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