Kawasaki is bringing the little KLX back to the fireroads and woods of the U.S. after a three-year absence and is set to give Honda and Yamaha a run for their money.
The small-capacity dual-sport market is getting lots of good press of late, but Kawasaki has been somewhat conspicuous by its absence.
Team Green fled the 250cc dual-sport segment back in 2014 with their aging, carbureted KLX250, a bike that had remained the same since 2009, while Yamaha with their WR250R and more recently Honda with their CRF250L and CRF250L Rally took the lion’s share of attention.
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Photography by Drew Ruiz
For Kawasaki, however, this wouldn’t stand, so they have re-introduced the KLX250 for 2018, complete with a new fuel-injection system housing a 10-hole injector, new colors, graphics and plastics, but that same rider-friendly ethos that’s ensured, even though Kawasaki hasn’t sold one officially for three years, there’s still plenty of KLXs on the trails.
The old KLX250’s main flaw was that it was notoriously cold-blooded when starting, so it’d take ages to warm up. The new fuel-injection system fixes that, and Kawasaki has also fitted their Automatic Compression Release that lifts an exhaust valve during cranking, making starting much easier via the little electric-start button on the right bar.
The KLX’s 250cc engine met foul with the clean-air police a few years back, one of the reasons it was put out for a three-year holiday. The fuel-injection model has been sold in Japan since 2008, but as sales “weren’t quite there” for Kawasaki USA, they had delayed the engine making its U.S. debut until now. As a result, Kawasaki’s fitted a new stainless-steel exhaust system with a new honeycomb catalyzer in the muffler. It’s a bit of a pea-shooter exhaust, and does an excellent job of making this one of the quietest Kawasakis I’ve heard for a long time.
Inside the engine itself, Kawasaki’s given the KLR 72 x 61.2mm dimensions and a compression ratio of 11:1 for a capacity of 249cc, with the motor mounted as low in the frame as possible to aid a low center of gravity.
Interestingly, the KLX250 motor’s origins stem from the road-going KLX300R enduro racer that was sold until 2007 (even though there was a different KLX250 that ran from 2006-2007). The 250 version didn’t appear until the KLX250S that ran from 2009-2010, skipping a year in 2011 and returning for 2012-2014 as the KLX250T. Confused? You’re not alone.
The frame is unchanged from the bike that left us three years ago in the high-tensile steel perimeter design with a box-section aluminum swingarm.
Keeping that show rolling is the KLX’s 16-way compression adjustable 43mm cartridge forks (although rebound is strangely left off), but you do get preload and 16-way rebound and compression damping adjustment on the shock, meaning you’ll be able to dial in an almost perfect setting provided you know what you’re doing.
The front brake consists of a twin-piston caliper gripping a 250mm petal-style disc while the rear has a single piston caliper biting down on a 240mm disc. And there’s not a large amount of mass to stop, with the Kawasaki tipping the scales at a claimed 298-pound curb weight with a 90 percent full tank.
That’s the first thing you notice when you climb on board a KLX250—that’s there not much underneath you. The bike is slim and extremely light, and although the seat height of 35 inches could upset a few of the shorter riders out there, the height is offset by the fact the KLR is so easy to maneuver in tight situations. You get a solid 11.2 inches of ground clearance on the KLX with the 21 x 18-inch wheels, so you’ll have to be doing some pretty gnarly terrain to go bashing the undercarriage.
The KLR’s almost like the adventure bike for those that don’t want an adventure bike. It’s got an ease of mobility larger off-road based bikes simply dream about, but this is still a dirt bike, first and foremost, rather than a propped up off road tourer.
To see just how much fun a KLX could be, Kawasaki took us into the Santa Ana mountains, right behind their HQ in Foothill Ranch, California, and coincidently about 3.2 miles from my house. It proves I’ve been living a sheltered life of late because I’ve been in Foothill Ranch eight months and had no idea this riding area was quite literally on my doorstep—so you can imagine the kind of riding my winter will be bringing.
The Kawasaki is incredibly easy to ride. It shouldn’t matter what level of skill you are, the KLX is one of those bikes you can hop on and feel comfortable with straight away. The lithe chassis will track well over rocky terrain and it’s easy to change direction on when traction is reduced, like when riding up tight trails in second gear, but it’s also surprisingly stable at highway speeds of a sustained 70 mph.
This is indeed a small bike, so riders who are on the tall side from the hips to the shoulders might be a little cramped and would do well to investigate some aftermarket bar riser options.
The little KLX’s single cylinder engine is far from what even the most timid to speed out there would call fast—but what power it does have is tractable and easy to get the most out of. There’s a discernable kick in the rev range at 7000 rpm—that’s when the single-cylinder KLX lurches forward with a sound eerily similar to the parallel-twin Kawasaki Ninja 300. The above 7K mark is where you want to be if you’re serious about forward motion as below that there really isn’t much on tap. As a result, I found I would stick it a gear lower and rev it out to get better performance, rather than let the motor torque me from corner to corner.
Revs aside, the throttle response is delightfully smooth on the KLX. I couldn’t help thinking this will make an excellent bike for working farmers as the slow-speed throttle response and engine manners are impeccable, mixed with suspension that’s as happy to just plod along as it is to be beaten up a trail.
The front cartridge suspension has excellent damping performance and even with my 195 pounds on board didn’t bottom out while charging around the Santa Ana mountain range. On road with the 21-inch knobby tire you have to be a little bit careful as the grip simply isn’t there to push hard, but the front suspension performance is admirable nonetheless.
The brakes are also up to par, the front brake being more than a match for the 300-odd-pound it must haul up, with plenty of feel at the lever without it being over-powering.
Kawasaki’s fitted a digital dash to the KLX that’s relatively easy to read. I say relatively because the revs sweep across the top of the gauge, meaning they can be a little hard to spot with the sunlight on your back. A nice addition is you get a fuel trip meter with this dash, although you mightn’t need it because Kawasaki claims this is one of tier most fuel-efficient machines on offer.
This new KLX with more than a few parts inherited from the 2012-2014 machine will set you back a touch over $5K for the standard Kawasaki Lime Green color scheme and $5549 for the new Matrix Camo edition, which in my opinion is easily the best looker of the two.
The Kawasaki KLX250 is one of those bikes that rarely changes, and for good measure. It’s a super easy proposition for almost any rider to tackle, doesn’t cost a lot and will last for years with minimal maintenance. It’s a good thing for the world’s junior category dual-sporters that Kawasaki is back in the ring. CN
SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Kawasaki KLX250
$5349 (Kawasaki Lime Green)/ $5549 Matrix Camo
4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder, single-cylinder
Bore x stroke:
72 x 61.2 mm
High-Tensile Steel Perimeter Frame
43mm inverted fork with compression damping and spring preload
Front wheel travel:
Uni-Trak with Adjustable Preload, 16-Way Compression and Rebound
Rear wheel travel:
Single 250mm petal-type rotor with twin-piston caliper
Single 240mm petal-type rotor with single-piston caliper
3.00 x 21 in.
4.60 x 18 in.
298 lbs. (curb, claimed)
Kawasaki Green, Matrix Camo