Better late than never, the electric-start KX250 is here!
By Ryan Nitzen | Photography by Kit Palmer
This is the KX250 we’ve been waiting for. We thought we would see it last year (2020), but Kawasaki kept us waiting another 12 months. Luckily, the wait is over.
Kawasaki pulled the wraps off the ’21 KX250 way back in early July, and we had to wait until now to throw a leg over it. We’ll get to the point; the wait was indeed worth it.
2021 Kawasaki KX250 Review | What’s Shakin’?
At first glance, the ’21 KX250 looks identical to the Kawasaki KX450, and there is a reason for that, because Kawasaki used the KX450 as the 250’s role model. The 250 sports an all-green bodywork, mounted to a new frame that uses many of the same parts on, you guessed it, the KX450. Thankfully, Kawi finally chucked the manual kickstarter system for a push-button electric start system, and, like the ’21 KX450, the new KX250 also gets a coned disc (instead of coil springs) Nissin hydraulic clutch. All welcomed stuff!
But the bad news is more weight. Kawasaki admits that the new electric-starting system, which includes the addition of a battery, comes at a price, an additional 4.5 pounds.
Deep inside the motor, a reshaped crankshaft, a longer connecting rod and a new piston add up to a higher-revving engine package. Revs have been bumped up to 14,500 rpm. But it wasn’t all about more revs. Kawasaki also focused on giving the ’21 more bottom-end power, something the KX lost in 2020. The new motor also features reshaped intake and exhaust ports and revised exhaust cam timing.
Finishing visual touches to the motor include a new gold-colored oil cap and generator cover plug, which compliments this year’s green, gold and black graphics.
The motor rests in an all-new aluminum perimeter frame that comes straight from the KX450. If it wasn’t for a couple of modified engine mounts, the 250 and 450’s frames would share the same part number. The 250’s aluminum swingarm, however, comes straight off the 450.
The 250 features a new lower triple-clamp and revised linkage ratios, and the 250’s KYB suspension gets updated settings to compensate for the all-new chassis.
Up front, you’ll see a new front-brake master cylinder and, in the back, a smaller-diameter (240mm from 250mm) rear disc. The over-sized rear disc fad didn’t last long; it turns out they tend to be grabby (which leads to engine stalling) and are more susceptible to damage.
Not only is the ’21 KX250 fitted with new Renthal Fatbar handlebars, but they are also positioned lower and closer to the rider where you grip the bars. They are, however, still fully adjustable via the previous moveable-mount design. Footpegs are still two-position adjustable, as well.
2021 Kawasaki KX250 Review | Track Time
Kawasaki introduced the new KX250 to the media at Perris Raceway, a smaller and tighter track than some of its neighboring circuits, like Glen Helen or Fox Raceway. The more compact course suited the 250 well, forcing us to find the bike’s potential to clear jumps from the faster inside lines. The 2021 engine, again, seems to make its best power up top in the rpm curve, but there is just more of it. Last year’s motor saw a host of revisions that had us feeling like we were piloting one of Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit race bikes right out of the box. The same high-revving and race-ready characteristics are warmly welcomed with the new model year. This thing is fast! Top-end power of the ’21 KX is strong and, without question, comparable to the other top competitors in the 250 class. The extra revs of the ’21 are noticeable and well received by us because you can hold whatever gear you’re in longer coming out of the turns, so you aren’t in as much of a rush to click up to the next gear. And, at the other end of the straight, you can stretch out the gear a little longer, sometimes eliminating an extra shift.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the sound: the KX is loud and raucous. For some, this isn’t an issue, but for us, well, we’d just as soon not have a headache after every moto.
Our crew put in a total of two hours of ride time on the KX during our first day and tested all three of the included plug-in couplers. While we wish Kawasaki had a bar-mounted map switch, the couplers are at least easy to change. Yes, we know it seems like yesterday we were happy with kickstarters and carburetors, but now we are “complaining” about the lack of on-the-fly map switches.
Times have changed, indeed, and all the latest technology these days has spoiled us. If you’re not happy with the pre-programmed couplers, no problem, they can be customized to your liking via the KX FI Calibration Kit, Kawasaki’s hand-held EFI tuner, but it’s sold separately for a hefty $699.95. That price is tough to swallow when Yamaha offers a free smartphone app that pretty much accomplishes the same thing as Kawi’s calibration tool, but with its YZs. But the EFI tuner should eliminate the need to purchase an aftermarket exhaust system, but, we know, you’re going to buy one anyway. In that case, the tuner will help dial in your new exhaust even better.
The KX comes from the factory with a standard map (green coupler) installed. With the green coupler, you get good power and good revs. But the aggressive (white) coupler is where the fun is hiding out. The difference is significant. It certainly livens things up, and you’ll notice the improved over-rev that it enhances. It gave us that little extra edge and allowed the bike to stay in one gear for just that much longer.
The Perris track broke down and dried out in the heat of the day, giving us that typical slick So Cal hardpack. So, it was time to switch to the mellow (black) map for these conditions, and we were pleased with the controlled delivery that it provides. Even with the black map, I expected the bike to break loose or slide in the slick dry, but I was impressed by how well it stayed true and held its line thanks to a smooth transition from bottom to midrange power. Bottom line, the couplers aren’t just a gimmick. They are functional; you’ll notice the difference from coupler to coupler.
The KX250 already had a light-pull clutch with good feel, as does the KX’s new clutch, but the real question here is, will it last? Only time will tell, but from our experience with most hydraulic clutches, it should hold up better and provide a more consistent feel than the KX’s old cable-actuated coil-spring clutch.
The KYB techs set our sag at 102mm, a bit stiffer than the common man’s 105mm. They assured us that the bike’s chassis and overall balance were designed around this 102mm sweet spot. They obviously know a thing or two, because the bike’s comfortable poise is easy to feel from lap one.
The KX250 rode like a dream on the Perris track, maintaining agility in the tight inside ruts and stability in the fast sweeping corners. It tracks well in the hairpins and gives riders the confidence to charge rutted turns. We were pleased with the stock suspension settings. We did not feel the immediate need to make a single clicker adjustment to the fork or shock during the day, as braking bumps and chop were hard to come by. We must admit, the Perris track wasn’t what we would call rough on this day, so we’ll be anxious to get on the KX again on a rougher one to better evaluate the suspension. But for now, so far so good.
Even though Kawasaki says the ’21 KX250 is heavier this year, even the most sensitive rider will have a hard time noticing that. The e-start is well worth the small increase in weight, especially when you don’t even notice it on the track.
2021 Kawasaki KX250 First Impression
So far, it is safe to say that the 2021 KX250 is indeed much improved over its predecessor. If all Kawasaki did was give it the new clutch and electric starting, it would already be a better bike, but tack on a higher-revving motor and seemingly improved handling, and you certainly have the icing on the cake.
Just don’t forget to pack your earplugs. CN
2021 Kawasaki KX250 Specifications
||4-stroke, 4-valve, DOHC, single
|Bore x Stroke:
||78.0 x 52.2mm
||DFI w/44mm Keihin throttle body and dual injectors
||3 DFI couplers
||Nissin hydraulics, cone-disc springs
||Aluminum Renthal Fatbar; 4-way adjustability
||2-way height adjustability
||KYB, 48mm inverted, coil-spring fork, fully adjustable
||KYB, single shock Uni-Trak, fully adjustable
||80/100-21 in. Dunlop MX33
||100/90-19 in. Dunlop MX33
||Single 270mm floating disc, 2-piston caliper
||Single 240mm disc, 1-piston caliper
|Weight (curb, claimed):