2018 Kawasaki KLX250

Editor Score: 84.0%
Engine 17.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Instruments/Controls3.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 8.0/10
Desirability 7.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score84/100

In the 1960s and early ’70s, small dual-sport bikes were a common and affordable way for new riders to enter into the world of motorcycling. Today sees a resurgence in the tiddler dual-purpose bikes, with Honda recently offering up its updated CRF250L ($5,149, plus $330 destination charge) and the mechanically similar CRF250L Rally, an adventure-styled quarter-liter mount. Yamaha continues to sell its higher-spec WR250R, which offers greater performance but at an inflated price ($6,699).

Related: 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally First Ride Review

Now comes along a freshened KLX250 from Kawasaki after a three-year hiatus, ringing in at $5,349 for the lime green color option. The worst aspect of the previous model was its lean carburetion that resulted in difficult starting and imprecise throttle responses. Addressing that issue is a fuel-injection system utilizing a 10-hole injector that delivers easier starting and improved performance while purportedly consuming less fuel. The EFI system has actually been available in overseas markets for several years.

For a $200 premium over the green KLX250, you can get it in this attractive digital Matrix Camo version with blacked-out components including its frame, swingarm, engine, rims and fork tubes.

Related: 2018 Kawasaki KLX250 Announced

Related: 2013 Honda CRF250L vs. 2013 Kawasaki KLX250S

The last time (2013) we tested a KLX250, it spat out 24.0 hp at 8200 rpm to its rear wheel, with 13.5 lb-ft of torque produced at 7100 revs. The addition of injection to the DOHC, 4-valve motor yields livelier throttle response, but its output is still quite tame. Kawasaki fitted the KLX’s gearbox with a revised shift drum designed to offer greater precision when shifting through its six cogs. Swapping gears takes only a light effort, and a fairly easy clutch pull doesn’t tire hands.

Short riders new to motorcycling might be intimidated by the KLX’s 35.0-inch seat height, but a the bike’s narrow midsection and its springs settling under a rider’s weight reduces foot reach considerably. A benefit of the tallish seat is a considerable amount of legroom that will be slow to cramp long legs. When its 2.0-gallon tank is filled, Kawi claims the Klixxer scales in at a reasonable 304 pounds. The CRF250L is claimed to weigh 317.5 pounds with its 2.1-gallon tank full.

Light motorcycles are easy to manhandle, even for smaller riders like myself.

The KLX has always had a suspension advantage over its lower-end Japanese rivals, with more travel and adjustable damping, and that holds true today. The KLX’s shock offers 16 levels of compression- and rebound-damping adjustment as well as spring preload, while the 43mm inverted cartridge fork settles for 16 steps of compression damping variance but no rebound adjustment. The CRF250L’s boingers are non-adjustable aside from the shock’s preload. The Kawi’s front and rear suspension travel is listed at 10.0 and 9.1 inches, respectively, which closely compares with the CRF’s 9.6 and 9.4 inches.

Related: KLX250S In 2008 Lightweight Dual-Purpose Shootout

The KLX comports itself well around town, with its injected motor offering enough jump to stay ahead of car traffic if desired. Highway cruising is fairly painless, with the counterbalanced 249cc Single dishing out performance adequate to achieve 80+ mph, although it’s happier at 70. The KLX’s 21-inch front wheel and semi-knobby tires feel a bit odd out on the streets, but the bike’s lithe nature easily heeds the commands of its pilot. Steering responses are quick but always predictable and linear, and a shove on its wide handlebar ensures snappy reactions when needed.

The KLX250 is easy to ride and control, whether riding on asphalt or dirt.

Riding a dual-sport significantly multiplies the places where a motorcycle can be ridden, allowing off-road excursions whenever dirt opportunities present themselves. Our ride on the updated KLX nicely illustrated the horizon-expanding capabilities of lightweight, off-road-capable machines by pointing us into the Santa Ana Mountains, an uninhabited area that feels a million miles away from the concrete-encrusted Orange Country in SoCal despite being right next to it.

The only paved route over the range is Ortega Highway, which is regularly jammed with cars commuting between Riverside and OC counties. Our route took us to the end of Silverado Canyon, at which point became a two-track dirt road with challenging but fun twists through the mountains until emerging north of Lake Elsinore. Despite this riding area being so close to my OC digs, I had never ridden this route.

This doesn’t look like Orange County but it is. Adventures might be closer than we typically think.

The KLX250 shines in this environment. The Kawi’s light weight and willing maneuverability makes even mediocre dirt riders feel in control on difficult terrain. There were several sections with rocks and sand that would be extremely challenging on a large-displacement adventure bike but were relatively undemanding on the little KLX.

Dual-purpose Dunlop D605 tires seem a good compromise of street security and dirt grip. Rear traction is enhanced by the engine’s mild output. First gear is low enough to slowly crawl through nearly anything, with a fairly large gap to a tallish second gear that provides a wide range of speeds – almost 90% of our off-roading was spent in second. As a KLX owner, I’d be inclined to somehow hot-rod this motor to provide a bit more snap.

The KLX250’s power is quite mild, but there’s enough grunt on tap to make riding it fun.

Suspension performance is better than I expected, with admirable compliance without feeling too loose. While it would be insufficient for gnarly hits, it is nicely dialed in for the type of off-roading for which the KLX is intended, and I felt no need to adjust the factory settings during our ride. It handled rock hits without much deflection, and it made street bumps virtually disappear. Excel aluminum wheel rims remained undented despite several poor line choices in rocky terrain.

The KLX’s footpegs and the rear brake pedal are cleated to ensure boot grip even when muddy, and a folding shift lever nub alleviates a bent lever in a tip-over. A skidplate between the lower frame rails protects the engine sump from obstacles larger than the bike’s generous 11.2 inches of ground clearance.

A seat strap under a rider’s butt is my only ergonomic complaint about the reborn KLX250. A small bag atop the rear fender provides stowage for tools, while a helmet lock is provided a few inches below.

A twin-piston caliper bites on a 250mm front wave rotor to provide good speed retardation. Only one finger is needed when riding in the dirt. A single-piston caliper is matched with 240mm rear rotor which proved a bit too aggressive when braking in off-road situations, locking prematurely in low-traction situations. ABS is unavailable on the KLX.

The LCD instrument panel remains as previous, offering a bar-graph tach, dual tripmeters and a clock. A gear-position display would be a nice addition, as would a fuel gauge. Although the KLX’s fuel tank holds just 2.0 gallons, the bike’s 60+ mpg fuel burn should enable a range of more than 120 miles. Its gas cap has the convenient flip-top design with a lock.

Those who claim small-displacement motorbikes can’t be fun probably haven’t ridden a KLX250 off-road. It’s built in Thailand, like most of Kawasaki’s small-bore motorbikes, to keep its MSRP palatable to even small budgets.

Conclusion

The return of the KLX250 to Kawasaki’s lineup is well-timed for the contemporary moto market, offering a proven platform on which to enable the establishment of riding skills for newbies and adequate performance for more experienced riders. Taller newbs who feel cramped on small-displacement sportbikes will find the KLX’s much-rangier ergos much more accommodating.

Most illuminating to me, though, is the horizon-expanding capabilities of lightweight dual-sports like the affordable KLX250. It can adeptly handle commuting and city traffic as well as allowing fun and challenging adventures off-road. Perhaps it’s time to again look toward the dual-sport category for a versatile way to get new riders into the world of motorcycling.

2018 Kawasaki KLX250
+ Highs

  • Versatile and affordable fun
  • Easy to ride
  • Quality suspension and brakes
– Sighs

  • Underwhelming power
  • Touchy rear brake
  • Feeling inadequate next to GS BMWs

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Kawasaki Communities

  • JMDGT

    it is hard not to like these small bikes.

  • Gabriel Owens

    It appears that the gauntlet has been thrown down.

  • My KLX250s 200099 EFI has now 54.000 km on it’s odometer. Here in Europe the model has been discontinued in 2017 due to the new Euro4 emmission norm. What a pity. The bike is very reliable and for me it is a good touring bike for long travel.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Good to see you putting that many kms on a bike. Do you ride all over Europe?

      • Not all over Europe, but so far: Scotland, Estonia, Norway, Denmark, England, Poland, France, Lithuania, Italy, Wales, Ireland, Schweiz, Belgium, Finnland, Tschechien, Latvia, Austria, Liechtenstein und Sweden.
        In 2018 I will go to Iceland on the KLX. It’s fun to travel with tent and sleeping bag.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Wow! Good luck on your travels. And be safe.

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  • Gruf Rude

    I absolutely loved the 2009 KLX250S (minor jet adjustment fixed the lean condition) – this appears to be a more-than-worthy replacement.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Yes, lot less headaches with EFI.

  • TC

    Nice review, when I was a young man, 250’s were considered to be a mid size bike. We were lighter back then.

    • David K

      2 gallon gas tank?

  • gjw1992

    Way back then except for old reliable honda with its xl250, most of the rest of the 250 trailees were wonderful (in hindsight!) 2-strokes. And the suzi ts250 I had in 19-ahem was a good 40lbs lighter than that KLX (give or take – maybe dry vs curb). Number of times I had to pick it up gave me a good idea of its fairly light weight.

  • MyName

    wr250r is still king of the 250 dual sports, if you can swallow the price.

    • Gruf Rude

      Big “if”.

    • J.r. Wright

      $600 BB351 and the WRRRRRrrrrrr isnt even close.

  • BillW

    “The worst aspect of the previous model was its lean carburetion that resulted in difficult starting and imprecise throttle responses.”

    I can’t say that I’ve experience either of those issues with my 2012 KLX250S. Well, maybe a little lean surge at constant throttle, if that’s what you mean by “imprecise throttle responses”, but it always starts nearly instantly at a touch of the button. You do have to use the choke when the engine is cold, of course, and remember to turn it off after a half mile or so. I’m sure EFI would be nicer, but, at least in my mild climate in San Diego, the carb works just fine.

  • Old MOron

    Oh man, if I had a Silverado Canyon close by, I would so get a small dualsport. Probably this Kawi right here! That you had fun on this bike rings loud and clear in your review. And the pictures don’t lie.

    “A twin-piston caliper bites on a 250mm front wave rotor to provide good speed retardation.”
    Ha ha, that’s what it’s called when a MOron has to slow down.

  • SRMark

    Sure would be nice to see a KLX650 back in the mix.

    • Jon Jones

      Yes.

  • Juliet Bravo

    I have an ’09. I’m sure FI would make it better but man what a nice trail bike. Easy, good ergos, and, as mentioned, the low first gear make it a good single track cruiser. The throttle response on mine is great. I’m not the first owner so it may have been rejetted. It’s no KTM off road but it’s still great fun and it’s good on road, for a couple hours any way.

  • Craig Hoffman

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cabac36c2dc03f49765c4ab99b152c1b41e4398578e16edc6882eb107281789e.jpg

    There is a lot of meat in this bike’s cylinder. The B&B Cycle Restoration Bill Blue 351cc big bore kit has been available for the KLX 250 for years, and it has proven to be reliable.

    Hmm… Sounds like a fun project. By the time you are done, it will be another 2K for the kit and all the supporting fueling, exhaust mods and suspension tuning, but what the Hell, that would be a cool bike 🙂

    • Kevin Duke

      That does sound like a cool project! But if it requires spending another $2k, then might a better starting-off point be Yamaha’s WR250R? Any idea of the rwhp available from this kit?

      Kawi kept it as a 250 because no extra investment was required to sell this version in America, as it’s the same bike as previously sold in global markets. Enlarging the engine would require expensive R&D and recertification for noise and pollution emissions regs and would be harder to sell in international markets that have licensing and insurance restrictions to 250cc. And, IIRC, bikes bigger than 250cc need to be equipped with ABS in Euro markets. Add it up, and the $5500 KLX becomes a $6500 (est.) one.

      • Craig Hoffman

        Blame the government(s) – LOL Sounds legit.

        Had not thought of it when I posted that, but of course the off road only KLX300 was around years ago. This is an engine yearning to be more, stopped short by rules and regs. How tragic.

        I do know the Athena 435cc kit works great in the DRZ 400 from personal experience. The DRZ apparently has a pretty good flowing head on it that likes to have its valves unshrouded, and the power increase is more than the displacement bump suggests it would be 😛

  • James Stewart

    At first I was cheering Brittle Bones Burns for being all Mr Off Road Aggressive, but alas – it has just Mr Wheelie Duke… Dang. But where was Burns and his XR400? Still thinking one of those fuel injected KTM 300cc two strokes in street legal form would smoke this bike – but could they sell it for $5500? Probably not.

  • Patriot159

    Love the dual sport segment. The more the better I say! Waiting on the Yamaha T7 (or if need be, the KTM 800 ADV). The little bikes are sweet but I NEED more power!

  • HumesSpoon

    “Fueling Kawasaki DFI; TKmm throttle body”
    What’s a TKmm Throttle body?
    Really, when you get a chance, could you replace the placeholder?

    Grew up on a Yamaha DT, but liked the Suzuki and K bikes too.
    Been riding Kawasaki street bikes for decades now. Used up a few Ninjas.
    Would like to get back on dirt trails — a whole lot fewer zombies attached to cell phones!

    • Kevin Duke

      Thanks for the reminder. In my haste to beat other pubs to the punch, I neglected to update the spec chart. 34mm is the answer, now updated.