We wish we’d gotten our hands on Suzuki’s new TU250X before we doled out our Best Of 2009 awards. Having ridden this new lightweight retro scoot after the fact bums us out, as we probably could’ve found a place for the TU somewhere in the Best Ofs.
Alas, we cannot turn back the clock, but Suzuki has come close to creating a time machine. The maker of one of the most dominant model lines in all of motorcycling – the GSX-R series – has returned to the simple formula of the UJM, and with it brought back the pleasures of riding a friendly, straightforward motorcycle.
Part of the model name of the TU indicates its engine displacement; this little throwback boogies on down the road with an air-cooled, SOHC, fuel-injected, five-speed, 249cc (72 x 61.2mm) Single.
Er, wait a minute. Back up. Did we just say the TU is fuel-injected? Indeed, and at $3,799 it retails for as much or even less then similarly displaced bikes that don’t benefit from EFI.
BAM! Take that, lightweight 250cc class!
"...at $3,799 it retails for as much or even less then similarly displaced bikes that don’t benefit from EFI."
Suzuki’s own GZ250, a more cruiser-ish type bike, inhales through a traditional carb, and has an MSRP of $3,799. And to this day we’re still surprised that when Kawasaki revamped the venerable Ninja250R the company chose to leave CV carbs as part of the package. Kawasaki claimed at the time of the Ninja’s update that using a pair of Keihin CVK30 carbs was a good way to keep the sticker price as low as possible. The sporty littlest Ninja retails at $3,999.
|What's a UJM?|
The term Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) coined decades ago described the numerous standard-style, and remarkably similar, bikes coming from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha starting in the 1970s. In an effort to keep pace and trounce one another, the Big Four produced various models well into the end of 1980s that fit the UJM mold.
Perhaps the model that universally represents the UJM is Honda’s CB750. Manufactured from 1969 through 1978 as a SOHC, then as a DOHC from ’79 to ’82, the CB was reborn in 1991 as the Nighthawk, and utilized hydraulic valves. The Nighthawk moniker was also attached to the ’82 model, as well as other Honda models that didn’t fit the CB’s 736cc to 749cc displacement variations over the years. The Nighthawk 750 continued in the U.S. line-up until 2003, and the Nighthawk 250 until 2008.
The basic platform was an upright, open seating position motorcycle powered by a carbureted, air-cooled engine wrapped in a steel-tube cradle-type frame, and at least one disc brake to bring it all to a stop. The simple design made motorcycling accessible to riders of all types and skill sets. UJMs could be found in various displacements, and their ubiquity helped grow motorcycling in America during the 1970s and ‘80s.
The TU’s fuel-injected Thumper rides inside a classy-looking matte-silver colored tubular-steel cradle frame matched with an equally attractive tubular-steel swingarm. Even the passenger seat subframe tubing is shaped and colored to pair perfectly with the frame and swingarm.
"Even the passenger seat subframe tubing is shaped and colored to pair perfectly with the frame and swingarm."
A basic, non-adjustable fork holds an 18-inch spoke wheel shod with a 110/90 x 18 Cheng Shin tire. Twin coil-spring shocks with 5-position ramp-style preload adjusters keep the rear 18-inch spoke wheel and 90/90 Cheng Shin tire combo in check. A total of 54.1 inches is measured between the axles of each wheel.
A simple but effective drum brake slows things on the back end, while a single Tokico two-piston sliding-pin caliper stops the front. Our initial experience with the name brand front caliper was that it would’ve benefited from more initial bite. But after more miles the pads seemed to bed-in, improving feel and stopping power. Otherwise, the basic brake is a quality item that works well.
Beginning riders and short inseam folks will appreciate the flat-footable 30.1-inch seat height as well as the seat’s wide shape and thick foam. Though we didn’t have a guest passenger, we’re guessing most pillions will be thrilled at the amount of seat foam in the rear half of the two-piece saddle.
Riding the TU
Part of the TU250X’s appeal lies beyond its accessibility. The low seat, open and upright riding position and unintimidating powerplant are all welcoming qualities, but the TU simply is fun to ride, too!
We didn’t imagine the TU would handle very well when first seeing its skinny wheels and fundamental suspension. But after plenty of freeway time and sprinting around local mountain roads we were reminded that looks are sometimes deceiving. The TU250X provides unexpectedly quick and precise steering response, as well as stability in the corners. Good ground clearance was another pleasant surprise.
No doubt the bike’s claimed 328-lb curb weight (full of fuel) aids its agility in the tight stuff, but we’re also convinced the 18-inch wheel/tire size contributes to the bike’s predictability in around town riding as well as when on the interstate.
The Suzuki doesn’t exhibit that sometimes-sketchy “seeking” sensation from the front end we experienced while riding at full tilt on other lightweights that use 17-inch wheels. Though it’s small-ish, the TU, at times, acquits itself like a larger machine. Of course the TU is much more at home in urban settings than it is trying to overtake an 18-wheeler, but we feel its freeway manners are worth noting.
Like most single-cylinder motorcycles the TU250X offers up some vibration; yet, you’ll probably only take notice of this when the Single is spinning near the top of its rev range.
Nevertheless, the rubber-covered footpegs do a decent job of mitigating buzz at speeds or revs the typical TU rider will probably impose upon the bike. Like when casually cruising the boulevard, or dashing across campus to make that mid-week chem exam.
The TU250X: Looking the part
In the saddle you can’t help but notice the big round headlight’s shiny, chromed nacelle. The chrome square mirrors offer a great field of view that doesn’t get too distorted from engine vibration, and switch gear is of the quality we often see on bigger, more expensive bikes in Suzuki’s line-up.
The dash is kept simple with a basic speedo, and the Neutral and low-fuel indicator lights even play on the retro theme: They’re just like those large, gem-like dash lights found on bikes in the '70s. Also cool is the old-timey round taillight.
The easily accessed helmet lock is a handy item, and the chrome-plated locking gas cap is a nice feature — an item not found on the smaller-displaced, carbureted and considerably more expensive Honda CRF230L and M models.
Adding to the TU250X’s overall great value-for-the-dollar appeal was the 67-mpg we observed from the 3.2-gallon fuel tank.
We had to search for things to nit-pick, but the mounting brackets and materials used for things like the turn signals and footpegs seem industrial-looking if viewed from the right angle (or mentality). However, the dark color used on those bits doesn’t clash excessively with the bike’s deep red color scheme.
Fuel-injected mighty-mite wrap-up
Keeping the bike in context of the intended market, it became hard to find any serious drawbacks on the TU250X. It is, as noted above, kind of small, so big dudes need not apply. And if you’re an experienced rider accustomed to big-cc machines, you’re sure to be underwhelmed by the 16-ish rwhp as seen in other publications.
Additionally, it’d be nice if top gear was a little taller or the tranny was a six-speed. We’re confident the engine has the steam to pull a taller top gear.
But, really, these things don’t even qualify as problem areas or even annoyances; they’re merely observations. What will annoy California riders is the TU’s 49-stater status. Too bad, ‘cause it makes a great lane-splitter.
If you’re new to riding, or just want a motorcycle mostly for utilitarian purposes and fuel economy is important, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better performing and economically priced bike as enjoyable as the TU250X.