After a brief absence from the line-up, the Kawasaki KLX 250 was recently reintroduced for 2018. It’s not high-tech. It’s not powerful, lightweight, or sophisticated. In almost every way, the KTM 250EXC’s reverse stands out from most dual-sport threads. But it’s still a legitimate 250cc dual sportbike, and it meets a key need in the motorcycling world perfectly.
The Kawasaki KLX 250 is not a racer. But does everything have to be?
This bike has a history. Long before four-strokes became mainstream, Kawasaki liked to dabble in off-road th strikes. The first version of this bike was a full-size trail bike launched in 1994. This was followed by the KLX 1997 in 300. the 300 had a larger displacement, a bigger fuel tank and a few other upgrades. The KLX was ahead of its time when it came to off-road technology. It was a compact DOHC, liquid-cooled four-valve, located in a peripheral frame. However, in terms of performance, this was a poor match for the two-strokes of the time, lending credence to the notion that four-strokes would never catch on.
The bike was occasionally a big success in off-road racing with riders such as Larry Roeseler, but for the most part was considered a sport bike. The street-legal 250cc version was electrically started in 2006 and by 2008 the pure dust version was dropped. Dual sport bikes were not introduced until 2014, after emissions regulations made it clear that carburetted bikes were to be phased out sooner or later.
Now the KLX makes a fuel-injected return. The main point of the bike is the price. The standard green version costs $5,349 and the matrix camo version costs $5,549, which features different graphics as well as a blacked-out frame and motor. This happens to be in line with the popular Honda CRF250L, which retails for US$5,149. Both are built in South East Asia rather than Japan to keep the price low. Interestingly, the KLX was once made in Japan and its quality was flawless during the transition.
In the early 1990s, the KLX was as high-tech as anything in the four-stroke world. Even by today’s standards, its design elements are still up to date.
So let’s get our definitions straight. It’s a dual sport bike in the traditional sense. Designed for easy riding in the dirt and on the street. Bikes such as the KTM 250EXC, Husqvarna FE250 and Beta 350RR-S have given rise to the term ‘hardcore dual sport’. They are not the same thing. KTM and its ilk are based on racing bikes. They perform as high as possible in the dirt and still maintain street legal status. As a result, the KTM costs around $4000 more than the KLX. The key to Kawasaki’s success is not horsepower, weight or any race oriented performance. It’s comfortable.
The Kawasaki KLX 250 is a quiet, friendly, inviting bike that you can ride for hours at a leisurely pace. The ride position is natural, the seat is comfortable, the suspension is luxurious and the engine is virtually vibration-free. It’s not particularly fast, but it doesn’t have to be. It can keep up with motorway traffic, climb modest hills and cut through deep sand. If you try to ride fast on rough trails, you will quickly run into limits. The bike fuels up to over 300lbs and has a very soft suspension. Kawasaki does offer a moderately complex fork for the bike with adjustable compression damping, but it’s still no racer. The tyres are perfect for pavement and piled up dirt roads and won’t break loose.
If you feel self-conscious when driving in the dirt with your KTM, Husky or Beta, the best remedy is to lure them into a long drive on flat dirt or pavement. They’ll still have the faster, lighter bike, but in the end, they’ll feel like they’ve been wrestling with a rabid Rottweiler, and you’ll feel fresh and happy.