2013 Honda CRF250L vs. 2013 Kawasaki KLX250S - Video

Honda's all-new lightweight 250 shakes up the sleepy dual-sport class

story by Pete Brissette, Photograph by Mike Maez, Created Dec. 13, 2012
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With the introduction of Honda’s all-new CRF250L in October, the 250cc dual-sport class grew into a collection of motorcycles that truly offers something for everyone looking at this segment and displacement range of motorcycling.

At one end of the 250 D-S spectrum are the likes of Yamaha’s WR250R and Husqvarna’s TE250. Both machines are influenced by harder-edged dirtbike/motocross offerings from each brand. And as we learned in our 2012 Dual-Sport Shootout the racy Husky just squeaks by on its street-ability – it very much fits the characterization of a dirtbike with lights.

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Just as notable about the Yamaha and Husky’s higher performance quotient is pricing to match: both rides are well into the seven-grand range. Not unreasonable sums, but not necessarily appealing pricing, we suspect, to anyone other than riders that can fully appreciate and take advantage of the more serious off-road nature and up-spec components of the WR and TE.

2013 Honda CRF250L

Swing to the other end of the scale and you’ll find the Kawasaki KLX250S, Yamaha XT250, and the new CRF250L. Each is a capable machine on pavement or in the dirt, but they don’t excel in one arena at the expense of poor performance in the other.

These three 250s are good all ’round for what they offer – but not great at any one thing – and provide a cost savings of more than $2000 when compared to the pricey Husqvarna TE and Yamaha WR.

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S

Although the KLX-S is more mild-mannered than bikes like the Husky, it otherwise outclassed the XT and CRF230L (the 250’s predecessor) when we compared them in 2008.

The Kawasaki is carbureted, as were the other two, but the KLX offered more useful features and greater performance; benefitted from suspension with multiple adjustment points, and cost only a few hundred dollars more than its competition. But times, they are a changin’.

All that’s left to do then is see just how well the solid-performing KLX250S can stand up to the new CRF250L.

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There isn’t much mystery behind what makes this duo go. Each motorcycle is powered by a liquid-cooled, 249cc Single with a six-speed gearbox. Honda took the oversquare approach, giving the CRF’s jug a 76.0mm x 55.0mm bore and stroke. The Kawasaki engine, while also oversquare, is less so with a bore and stroke of 72.0mm x 61.2mm.

We’ll spare you prolonged anticipation and say up front that it’s a dead heat in the dyno race. Each scoot makes 20 peak horsepower coming on in the low- to mid-8000-rpm range. Only half a foot-pound separates peak torque, with the Honda registering 14.0 ft-lbs and the Kawi 13.5 ft-lbs. However, the Honda scores a bonus point here since it churns out its best twisting force earlier in its rev range (5800 rpm), whereas the Kawasaki doesn’t peak until 7100 rpm.

The CRF’s earlier peak torque is beneficial in that it comes on strong closer to the rpm ranges where the engine will likely spend most of its time spinning – especially when riding off road where the going is often slower.

2013 Honda CRF250L vs. Kawasaki KLX250S dyno chart

When these bikes are rolling on the road rather than the dyno drum you’re hard-pressed to get a true sense that one has a discernible power advantage at any given point. The CRF250L, however, has a distinct feature in its engine package that equates to real world advantages for its rider: fuel injection. The KLX250S continues to use a constant velocity carb.

2013 Honda CRF250L engine
2013 Kawasaki KLX250S engine

Electronic fuel injection (EFI) in this case pays dividends in the form of easy, instant start up, and what we suspected was partially responsible for the feeling that the Honda is more eager to rev, particularly at lower rpm. Throttle response from the Honda’s EFI is free of hiccups, lag time, or any noticeable drawback for that matter.

“Although equal in displacement and nearly so in horsepower, the Honda’s fuel-injected Single is more eager to rev, which really helps accelerate a small-displacement motorcycle out of a tight corner,” said Motorcycle.com Content Editor, Tom Roderick.

The Kawi’s carbureted fuel induction, though, proved to be less than optimal. The KLX is one of the most cold-blooded motorcycles we’ve ridden in some time. Starting the KLX was routinely difficult, even when up to operating temp. Culpability likely lies with environmentally friendly carb tuning meant to keep the engine running lean, and therefore clean.

The Kawasaki’s power delivery is generally linear, but engine response at small throttle openings during on/off throttle transitions seem ever so slightly delayed, again likely due to lean jetting to meet modern emissions standards. If we owned a KLX, we’d definitely look into fitting it with a jet kit. But when the Honda starts instantly, and without thought on the rider’s part, well, why not have EFI…?

Neither bike suffers from too little power at freeway pace and easily cruise between 70–75 mph without feeling frenetic. Engine vibes are expected from a single cylinder, yet both manufacturers did a commendable job of mitigating the amount of buzz reaching the rider.

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S and 2013 Honda CRF250L

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Similarities in each motorcycle’s chassis are many. Both bikes use a semi-double cradle-type steel frame paired to an aluminum swingarm. A single brake caliper and rotor in front (and out back) easily reels in speed on either bike, but we preferred the Honda’s brake lever for its larger surface area that gave us a better sensitivity to brake feel – a simple thing, but we felt it noteworthy.

The CRF’s off-road footpegs are wider, thereby providing more area to rest bulky protective wear like motocross-style boots. The Honda’s seat is wider, also, with supple seat foam density, which may or may not be more comfortable depending on length of time in the seat. Unfortunately, the passenger grab strap on the Honda seat is positioned directly beneath the rider’s bum, which makes it an annoyance sooner than later.

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S and 2013 Honda CRF250L

Impressions of overall ergos are that the Honda feels like a bike of larger displacement. The Kawi has a slimmer waist thanks to a narrower seat, and scores a lighter ready-to-ride wet weight (298 lbs vs. 320 lbs) – both positive qualities for riding in technical off-road terrain. Seat heights are within a half-inch of one another: 34.7 inches for the Honda, 35.0 on the Kawi.

In ’08 we gave the KLX250S the nod for having 16-way compression damping adjustment on its 43mm inverted fork, and a shock with spring preload, as well as 16-way compression and rebound damping. The CRF’s fork and shock offer no means of adjustment.

2013 Honda CRF250L seatSurprisingly, during test rides, we found the Honda’s suspension – built to serve an array of riders and riding – so well sorted that we couldn’t find a good reason to think it needed much tuning out of the box.

If a gun was put to our heads to come up with one shortcoming in the CRF’s suspension, our minor gripe would target the 43mm fork’s 8.7 inches of travel to be closer to the 10.0 inches offered on the Kawi. As noted in the CRF250L’s single-bike review, its fork would occasionally reach the bottom of its stroke when tackling larger ruts, rocks, and the like. Rear suspension travel is a draw, with the Kawi at 9.1 inches and the Honda offering 9.4 inches

“I found the CRF’s non-adjustable suspension nicely sorted for the intermediate off-road riding to which this bike will most likely be subjected,” said Tom. “If this is where Honda saved money, it was a smart decision and makes it more affordable compared to the KLX and its adjustable suspension.”

Ride quality and handling, on and off road, from both ’cycles is sufficiently up to snuff in our estimation. Steering response is precise and low effort during canyon carving laps, and neither dual-sport felt twitchy or unstable at higher speeds when darting through Greater Los Angeles area traffic.

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S and 2013 Honda CRF250LThese characteristics carried over to dirt riding. The KLX and CRF handled our rough Jeep trail route confidently, allowing as spirited a riding pace as we wished. Additionally, the Honda’s extra 20 pounds didn’t hurt its stability when plowing through sandy sections.

Creature features are few and far between on motorcycles of this ilk. Still, both manufactures took the time to add an amenity rarely seen these days: helmet locks. “Why is it,” asked Tom, “that bikes such as these have helmet locks but you won’t find something as useful on a $15,000 cruiser?”

An easy-to-read LCD gauge comes on each bike, yet we didn’t see much benefit in the KLX’s graduated bar graph tachometer. The Honda’s digital fuel gauge is far more practical, and the exclusion of a tach on the CRF wasn’t missed in the least.

“Most of the time on Singles, you usually make gear changes by engine sound and feel, so a tach seems extraneous,” noted Tom.

We also preferred the field of view from the Honda’s wider mirrors when compared to the KLX’s round units. And, well, the Honda’s mirrors looked slicker, too. What we can’t figure is Honda’s thinking by installing a detachable (locking) chrome gas gap on what is ostensibly a sometimes-dirtbike.

The Kawi’s locking gas cap is hinged, so you won’t ever leave it behind or drop it, and its black finish likely won’t show wear as soon and is more congruous with dirtbike styling. The KLX also has a brush/crash guard around the rear brake, and its aluminum wheel rims are from Excel – a brand familiar in off-road riding circles.

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S LCD

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The Kawasaki easily deserved its victory in our 2008 Lightweight Dual-Sport Shootout. The KLX250S had then, and still does, many admirable qualities, not the least of which include a strong engine, excellent-for-the-class suspension, and a good handling chassis.

But the KLX’s tremendously difficult starting thanks to the aging technology of a constant velocity carb was too much for us to look past this time around. A larger price tag of $5,099 didn’t help the Kawasaki’s case. The KLX makes its best proposition for someone who is interested in fitting an aftermarket exhaust, as then you’d be in the market for a jet kit anyway.

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S and 2013 Honda CRF250L

But stock to stock, Toms sums up this compare succinctly: “I'll forgo the KLX’s adjustable suspension, higher price and tach for the lesser price, fuel gauge and fuel injection of the CRF.”

The all-new CRF250L competes head-to-head with the Kawasaki in almost every respect, and then leaps ahead with the inclusion of fuel injection that isn’t just newer technology but is a clear benefit to the rider.

Icing the deal for the CRF is the fact that Honda bests the older 230’s $4999 price tag (2009) despite being an entirely new motorcycle from the now-gone CRF230L. Credit Honda’s Thailand factory for helping bring down its cost.

So, we prefer the Honda in this duel, but the real winner here is the 250cc dual-sport class customer.

By the Numbers
  Honda CRF250L Kawasaki KLX250S
MSRP $4,499 $5,099
Engine Type liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke Four-stroke, Liquid-Cooled, DOHC, four-valve single
Bore x Stroke 76mm x 55mm 72.0 x 61.2mm
Fueling PGM-FI, 36mm throttle body Keihin CVK34
Transmission 6-speed 6-speed
Frame semi-double cradle, steel Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
Final Drive #520 Chain Chain
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork; 8.7 inches travel 43mm inverted cartridge fork with 16-way compression damping adjustment / 10.0 in.
Rear Suspension Pro-Link single shock with spring; 9.4 inches travel Uni-Trak with adjustable preload, 16-way compression and rebound damping adjustment / 9.1 in.
Front Brakes Single 256mm disc with twin-piston caliper 250mm semi-floating petal disc with two-piston hydraulic caliper
Rear Brakes Single 220mm disc 240mm petal disc with single-piston hydraulic caliper
Front Tire 3.00-21 80/100x21
Rear Tire 120/80-18 100/100x18
Seat Height 34.7 in. 35.0 in.
Wheelbase 56.9 in 56.3 in
Rake/Trail 27°/113mm 26.5°/104mm
Curb Weight 320 lbs 297.7 lbs
Fuel Capacity 2.0 gallons 2.0 gallons
Available colors Red Lime Green, Bright White

2013 Kawasaki KLX250S and 2013 Honda CRF250L

Related Reading
2013 Honda CRF250L Review
2012 Dual-Sport Shootout
2012 Husqvarna TE250 Review
2008 Lightweight Dual-Purpose Shootout
All Things On-Off Road on Motorcycle.com
All Things Honda on Motorcycle.com
All Things Kawasaki on Motorcycle.com

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