Despite few changes in the DS segment in the past few model years, we decided to sample some current DS offerings to see if there is a do-it-all bike that doesn’t suck … the fun out of one type of riding or the other.
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250cc Upper Classmen
Rather than gravitating to the usual suspects like Kawasaki’s KLR650 or a BMW GS model, this time we wanted to look at what was available in the small-bore D-S class. But this category is deceptive, as the offerings vary wildly.
On one end of the 250 spectrum we have the likes of Honda’s CRF230L, Kawasaki’s KLX250S and Yamaha’s XT250. While these bikes essentially fit the displacement range, they are otherwise driven by a price point rather than built to a high-performance standard.
When we compared this trio in 2008 each was priced below $5000. Four years later only the XT has crested that mark, retailing for $5190 in 2012. These 250s keep MSRPs low by sourcing components that, while perfectly functional, lack sophistication and a performance edge.
At the opposite end of the 250 range we have the likes of Husqvarna’s TE250 and Yamaha’s WR250R. These are the pro-am athletes of the class; their rev-happy engines, suspension and chassis are either derived from the manufacturer’s racing efforts, or selected for being some of the best equipment available while remaining affordable for the consumer.
We then decided to prioritize MSRP to see what DS machines might make a price-conscious alternative to the $7600 Husqvarna TE250 and $6690 Yamaha WR250R, yet remain reasonably close to the 250cc displacement. At $6199, Suzuki’s long-running DR-Z400 made the cut.
Now, before the Team Green loyalists start storming the gates to remind us that the KLR650 is only $100 more than the Suzuki yet offers 250cc more get-up-and-go, rest assured the Killer remains a bike much loved at this moto-ezine – we’ve reviewed the dickens out of it. But the Kawi weighs 115 pounds more than the Suzuki when comparing curb weights.
On the street this weight penalty might not factor in as much, but when bombing down rutted Jeep-type trails, or picking around slow-speed technical terrain, the Kawi’s additional weight is a serious demerit. Sorry, KLR lovers, but this is one dual-sport comparison on Motorcycle.com the KLR won’t get to participate in.
The Dirty Trio Is Complete. Not!
We were eager to see how the battle between the Yamaha and Husky would shake out, while the wildcard DR-Z held the potential to throw a wrench in the works, possibly proving itself a serious contender despite lacking serious off-road chops.
Alas, we’ll never know which of these of three might’ve emerged victorious as our top pick in the lightweight dual-sport category. Despite much planning and anticipation, due to circumstances beyond our control, we gots no Yamaha WR250R. But there’s a small reprieve to our frustrations.
Since we’ve reviewed the WR250R and its mechanically similar WR250X supermoto brother several times in the past few years, we have a few points of reference that suggest how the WR might have performed if we’d had one to test. And spec-sheet jockeys can take some solace in our comparative spec table that includes the WR250R. Otherwise, our 250cc Dual-Sport Shootout is unfortunately now more aptly titled as the Comparison of the Obvious...
Two Dual-Sports Are Better Than None
Anyone familiar with the DR-Z and TE250 knows that, despite both falling under the dual-sport banner, these motorcycles have distinctly different intentions.
The Husqvarna is the proverbial dirtbike with lights. Husqvarna admits as much in marketing materials, saying the TE250 is “designed for 90% dirt and 10% street.” The TE is just street-legal enough to get its rider to the next gnarly section of off-road riding where the trails are sometimes connected by pavement. The Suzuki straddles both dirt and street terrain with greater balance.
But the DR has many features and qualities that make a superior street-going ride, so much so that if you only ever used it on-road you might think it’s an ideal streetbike. It weighs far less than many streetbikes, yet its Thumper engine supplies sufficient power to cruise comfortably on city streets and keep pace with traffic on the freeway.
With an additional 148.5cc to its credit, there’s nothing shocking about the Suzuki making upwards of 7 more peak horsepower than the TE250. Nor is it surprising the DR-Z has the advantage across the rev range.
What the dyno graph does reveal is the Husky’s rev-happy engine – a trait often found in high-performance dirtbikes. The TE can’t keep pace, but it does like to spin up, making its best power 3000 rpm later than the DR-Z. If you’re used to spirited engines in your off-road motorcycles, the TE will appeal to you.
In the interest of parity, we took a previous dyno run from a WR250X to see how the Yamaha stacks up in the engine department. A best run of just less than 27 peak horsepower for the WR is a modest advantage over the Husqvarna, but the caveat here is that the supermotard-like WR-X wears 17-inch street tires, while the TE250 was dyno tested with its standard-issue off-road-biased Metzeler Karoo tires.
Off-road tires are prone to slipping on the dyno drum since they have less surface area to contact the drum. Had we dyno’d a WR250R, with its larger tread blocks, we suspect the Yamaha would’ve produced peak horsepower and torque figures closer to what the Husqvarna managed. But we’ll never really know how the WR would’ve performed, will we…
The full story of an engine isn’t told on the dyno, and through riding we discovered the Suzuki’s liquid-cooled, carbureted, 398cc Single is notably smoother than the TE’s buzzy engine. However, the DR’s 5-speed gearbox struck us as needing one more gear.
“At 65 mph and below, the single-cylinder engine thumps along at a tolerable cadence,” says Content Editor, Tom Roderick. “A sixth cog in the Suzuki's transmission would go a long way to making the DR-Z a better freeway machine.”
Like the TE, the WR-R also has a 6-speed transmission, and fuel injection. Throttle response, along with shifting and clutch action, performed well on the Suzuki and Husky, but in his review of the 2009 WR250X, Editor Duke noted that, “clutch engagement is a bit lurchy and inconsistent, while the gearbox is occasionally notchy.”
In that same test ride Kevin was generally happy with the Yamaha’s freeway-pace manners, noting, at 70-75 mph, using sixth gear brought down revs and vibration to acceptable levels. Yet, like the Zook and Husky’s higher speed behavior, KD remarks that the WR is “able to cruise at 80 miles per and above, but engine vibration becomes more pronounced and its darty steering becomes unnerving.”
The DR-Z is almost a pleasure to ride on the highway in contrast to the TE, and presumably the WR-R.
Despite having a 6-speed transmission, the Husky’s mill delivers a constant supply of vibration at freeway speeds; and the TE’s knobby off-road tires only serve to compound the buzziness. Contrarily, the Suzuki’s tire tread is far less aggressive, making it better suited for street use, and rubber footpeg inserts further quell vibrations, giving the Suzuki a smoother ride overall.
Other areas where the Suzuki excels over the TE250 in the street include the DR-Z’s increased comfort thanks to its wider, plusher saddle, and some wind protection rather than almost none on the TE.
Also, the DR-Z’s robust LCD instrument panel holds lots of useful info and is easily read at a glance – it looks like a streetbike instrument panel, but as Tom says it’s also “big and blocky.” Yamaha has given the WR an informative LCD display similar to the DR-Z, but managed to do so in a smaller package. The TE also has an all-LCD gauge, but it’s tiny, and the three warning lamps it uses are like fiber-optic specs of light compared to the brighter array of indicators found on the Suzuki and Yamaha.
If you’re looking to accommodate a pillion, the Suzuki will oblige since it has full-size passenger pegs and a comparatively large seat. If you’re not inclined to carry a passenger you’ll at least have more potential space for strapping soft luggage. Heck, the DR even provides the rarely seen helmet lock.
The WR250R has passenger pegs, but the rear half of its saddle looks awfully narrow and short, which wouldn’t make for a fun place to spend much time. Meanwhile, the TE is a one-man show: no passenger pegs and a very firm, narrow dirtbike seat.
When the ride transitions from smooth, paved surfaces to rutted, rocky, uneven terrain, the Husqvarna’s 90%-dirtbike-design finally has a chance to show its strengths, one of which is off-road-tuned suspension. The Suzuki and TE provide 11.6 inches of rear suspension travel, while the TE’s 11.8 inches of front travel is 0.5 inches more than the DR-Z; the WR250R has 1.0-inch less travel front and rear.
The Suzuki’s suspension package is the softer of the two bikes: it better absorbs imperfections in the street, and does a commendable job of gobbling up washboard sections and most of the rough stuff. However, when speeds increase off-road the DR’s front-end doesn’t cope with the trail as well as the Husky. The Suzuki’s fork reaches the bottom of its travel quickly over large obstacles or high-speed bumps.
Firmer settings (an update for 2012) in the TE’s Kayaba fork allow the rider to keep the pace brisk without fear of losing traction or getting blown off the intended line. “Like a truly dirt-dedicated bike, the harder you ride the Husky the better its suspension performs,” notes Tom.
Based on our reviewer’s commentary about the 2011 WR250R we speculate the WR-R would probably ride similarly to the DR-Z:
“Hitting deep, rutted sand washes at anywhere from 20-40 mph, we sort of had to just hold on and keep the WR upright, staying mindful of body positioning, trying not to nail something that could affect steering … it did not encourage us to fly like banshees through the open scrub environment like guys on better-equipped dirtbikes could.”
Off-road-tuned suspension is one facet of the Husqvarna’s superior handling performance in the dirt, but the matter of vehicle weight is an equally crucial aspect of how well a dirtbike does its job. With its 2.25-gallon fuel tank topped off, the TE250 scales in around 265 pounds – 30 pounds less than the WR250R, and 57 pounds less than DR-Z. This considerable advantage for the TE pays dividends in the form of quick steering, easy direction changes, and less work for the suspension.
If the Husky rider finds the bike getting away from him or her while blitzing down the trail, it’s much easier to reel in compared to the Suzuki. The DR-Z’s extra pounds, higher center of gravity, and aforementioned softer front suspension work against the rider should the bike’s chassis become upset by the terrain. This isn’t to imply that the DR-Z400S is inept as a trail bike, but it simply isn’t as nimble as the TE.
From the streetbike realm we know Brembo is a name we can rely on to supply superior brake performance. The TE250 also wears Brembo brakes, and the dual-piston single front caliper with 260mm wave-type rotor fully lived up to the caliber of brake action we expect from Brembo. The DR-Z’s single caliper and rotor performed admirably, but couldn’t match the TE’s high level of feel at the lever, excellent initial bite, and stopping force – aided, of course, by the TE’s lighter weight.
The lengthy suspension travel dirtbikes have usually translates into lofty seat heights – a hang up for riders short of stature, riders that would otherwise have a keen interest in these machines.
For the current iteration of the TE250, Husqvarna trimmed suspension to bring the seat height down to a manageable 35.8 inches, yet still gave the Husky nearly 12 inches of suspension travel. The Husky’s lower saddle does wonders for rider confidence, particularly when off-road – reaching out to dab a boot is easy and natural feeling.
Although the DR-Z’s seat is only 1.0-inch taller, it gives the impression that it towers over the spritely TE. Of course, the Suzuki’s taller saddle isn’t an issue for everyone. But if you’re inseam is approximately 31 inches or less, sticking a boot out to help prevent a tip-over (as well as stopping comfortably on uneven terrain) is a more precarious operation than on the TE. The Yamaha’s seat height of 36.6 inches seems like a decent compromise.
Street/Dirt Bike Summary
“You have to be a dedicated dirtbike rider to justify the $1,400 price increase the TE demands over the Suzuki,” Tom states matter-of-factly.
Put a different way, if you’re looking for the dual-sport motorcycle that is biased toward the street side of things, yet is at home and capable where the pavement ends, the Suzuki DR-Z400S is the bike here that doesn’t over-commit to one extreme at the cost of the other.
Where the DR-Z is the political moderate, the Husqvarna TE250 is unabashedly an extremist. The Husky has an agenda, and that is to get to the trails ASAP. While the DR-Z is a competent off-roader, in the hands of a skilled dirtbike rider, the lightweight, athletic TE250 will sprint away like a March hare, doing high-flying tailwhips along the way, and the DR-Z rider likely won’t see the TE again until the trail ends.
The Husky is a capable motorcycle on the street; the same traits that make it such a good dirt bike (light weight, quick steering, stable chassis, excellent brakes, etc.) also make it entertaining on pavement. The difference between the Suzuki and Husqvarna’s street worthiness comes down to a matter of which bike is more comfortable for the rider to spend time aboard for extended paved mileage. That bike is the DR-Z400S. But we knew this going in; no grand revelations have unfolded during this comparison of the obvious.
Yamaha’s WR250R was sorely missed as a real competitor, rather than one imagined. But we have enough factual info on the WR to know that it falls somewhere in the middle of this group.
However, experience with all three bikes tells us that the Yamaha, while fairly capable as a streetbike, doesn’t have the Suzuki’s extra horsepower and torque, and its 20-something pounds weight savings over the DR isn’t significant enough that most riders could discern an advantage. An 0.8-inch lower seat than the DR-Z might be helpful to some riders, but the WR isn’t quite as cozy for the rider.
The WR will be easier to manage when in the dirt, helping justify its $500 premium over the DR-Z400S, but the difference won’t be huge to anyone who does only mild off-roading. And now that we know the Husqvarna is the off-road king in this group, for the dirtbike junkie, the $900 gap from the Yamaha to the Husqvarna is a no-brainer for getting the best dirt bike here, the TE250.
The WR250R is the middle child, but also last in line.
|By the Numbers|
|Husqvarna TE250||Suzuki DR-Z400S||Yamaha WR250R|
|Engine Type||liquid-cooled four-stroke Single||liquid-cooled four-stroke Single||liquid-cooled four-stroke Single|
|Bore & Stroke||79.0 x 50.9mm||90.0 x 62.6mm||77.0 x 53.6mm|
|HP (BHP or Rear Wheel)||24.3 rwhp||31.6 rwhp||26.8 rwhp|
|Torque||13.4 ft-lbs as tested||23.4 ft-lbs as tested||16.7 ft-lbs as tested|
|Frame||cro-mo single-tube steel, cradle-type||steel, cradle-type||cast & forged alum, w/steel sections, semi-double-cradle-type|
|Front Suspension||48mm USD Kayaba w/11.8" travel||49mm USD w/11.3" travel||46mm USD w/10.6" travel|
|Rear Suspension||fully adjustalbe Kayaba monoshock w/11.6" travel||monoshock w/11.6" travel||fully adjustable monoshock w/10.6" travel|
|Front Wheel||spoke-laced 1.6 x 21"||spoke-laced 21"||spoke-laced 21"|
|Rear Wheel||spoke-laced 2.15 x 18"||spoke-laced 18"||spoke-laced 18"|
|Tires||90/90 x21 front, 140/90 x 18 rear||80/100 x 21 front, 120/90 x 18 rear||80/10 x 21 front, 120/80 x 18 rear|
|Front Brakes||dual-piston single caliper w/260mm wave rotor||dual-piston single caliper w/250mm rotor||dual-piston single caliper w/250mm wave rotor|
|Rear Brakes||single-piston caliper w/240mm wave rotor||single-piston caliper w/220mm rotor||single piston caliper w/230mm wave rotor|
|Fuel Capacity||2.25 gal. U.S.||2.6 gal. U.S.||2.0 gal. U.S.|
|Weight||246 lbs w/o fuel||317 lbs curb weight||295 lbs curb weight|
2012 Husqvarna TE250 Review
2012 Suzuki DR-Z400S Review
2011 Yamaha WR250R Review
2009 Yamaha WR250X Review
2008 Yamaha WR250R & WR250X Review
2008 Lightweight Dual-Purpose Shootout
All Things On-Off Road on Motorcycle.com
All Things Husqvarna on Motorcycle.com
All Things Suzuki on Motorcycle.com
All Things Yamaha on Motorcycle.com