Quarter-Liter Supermoto Shootout
Yamaha WR250X vs. Kawasaki KLX250SF
Reasonable entry fee, excellent fuel mileage and grins-a-plenty: this description can apply to most motorcycles, but they are especially apropos in regard to these black-cloaked little funsters. These bikes appeal to younger or less-experienced riders who want a new bike at a relatively low price, and especially those who may have some dirt-riding experience.
Supermoto is an emerging motorcycle niche, gaining momentum in 2003 when an American national race series emerged. The basic formula is a lightweight dirtbike adapted for pavement use by using a shorter suspension, more powerful brakes and 17-inch wheels with sticky roadrace rubber.
European manufacturers like KTM and Husqvarna were the first OEMs to provide street-legal supermoto bikes, followed a few years ago by Suzuki’s DR-Z400SM. Now Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda have picked up the supermoto baton in the 250cc class. The air-cooled Honda CRF230M would be outgunned in this group so we simply lined up the new-for-’09 Kawi KLX250SF against the WR250X that Yamaha debuted in 2008.
We already knew from our street test of the WR250X that a quarter-liter street supermoto can be a riot on the right road. Then Fonz hogged the new Kawi to himself and wrote his review of the KLX250SF. A comparison test was inevitable.
This duo has a lot in common. Rake, trail and wheelbase are within fractions of each other, and they each weigh right around the 300-lb mark full of fluids and fuel. Both engines are liquid-cooled 250cc Singles with four valves per cylinder and double overhead cams. Each has black-anodized wheels and wave-type brake rotors, and you’ll find small pseudo number plates above the headlights that help deflect a modicum of wind around a rider.
But despite their similarities, there is no doubt the Yamaha is built to a higher specification. The WR’s resulting $6,190 MSRP is a sizable $891 more expensive than the Kawi. Click here to check out the comparitive specs.
|Why the Yamaha Costs More|
While a quick glance may lead you to believe these two bikes are spec’d out similarly, a closer look at the WR250X reveals many extra-cost components that ultimately lead to an MSRP about 17% higher than the KLX.
Once we compared dyno charts from our friends at Area P, we knew the KLX was going to be in for an uphill battle. Although the KLX has competitive low-end and midrange power, the WR’s fuel-injected mill handily out-muscles the Kawasaki up top.
The Kawi stops gaining power around 8000 rpm but continues revving to its 10,000-rpm rev limiter (10.5K indicated), giving its best of 20.3 rear-wheel horsepower at 8100 rpm. Meanwhile, the Yamaha is just hitting its stride, surging to its 27.8-hp peak at 9000 rpm and continuing with a useful over-rev up to its 11,500-rpm limiter. Its more oversquare engine and lightweight titanium valves achieve a rev limit 1500 rpm higher than the Kawi.
A back-to-back street ride confirmed what the dyno told us. Simply put, you’ll run into the KLX’s throttle stop a lot more than the WR’s. The Kawi doesn’t have trouble staying ahead of automotive traffic, but the Yamaha does it easier. This is especially true at California freeway speeds, where the KLX can keep up with an 80-mph flow while the WR has the extra juice to exceed that speed if desired.
The KLX performs best at lower speeds. Its stated 33.9-inch seat height is much easier to manage for smaller riders, and its light-action clutch and gearbox are very cooperative.
“The KLX is far more welcoming of new or newer riders,” says our whipping boy Pete Brissette. “The lower seat height and overall shorter height may help deflect the scary impression that rookie riders have of impossibly tall dirt bikes. The softer powerband is both smooth and linear, a boon on the street and for many riders looking for a fun but manageable daily mount.”
In comparison, the WR’s injected motor has a jumpier throttle and a smaller clutch engagement zone, so a newer rider has to pay more attention. The Yamaha’s seat height is relatively lofty at 35.2 inches, making it impossible for both feet of my 32-inch inseam to flat-foot the ground like I can on the KLX. The WR does, however, have an adjuster in the bottom shock clevis that can reduce the seat height by nearly an inch.
Both bikes have compact electronic LCD instrumentation, both quite legible and each with its own benefits. In addition to the usual tripmeter and clock, the WR’s enduro-style gauges include a stopwatch function. However, its lack of a tachometer is an odd omission for a streetbike. The KLX has an easy-to-read bar-graph style LCD but does without the stopwatch. The 250X also has Yamaha’s handy countdown fuel tripmeter to let you know when the 2.0-gallon tank is nearing empty, while the Kawi has an old-school fuel petcock for its same-size tank. Also old school is the KLX’s manual choke knob required during cold starts.
Both bikes have reasonably comfy seats with gripper-type covers, passenger accommodations, helmet locks and tool kits. The Kawi’s stylized headlight and mirrors earn some fashion points; the WR gains some back with its sleek taillight sourced from pre-2004 R1s. Also, its magnesium-colored trim and smooth contours on the aluminum frame and swingarm offer a higher-end appearance.
There are few things on two wheels as fun as riding a low-powered performance bike to its limits, so we brought this duo together for some horizon-tilting antics at a local go-kart track. What we found surprised us.
At the track, we figured the Yamaha’s surplus of power and more sophisticated suspension would serve up a spanking to the Kawasaki. But someone forgot to send that memo to the KLX.
“What the Kawi lacks in power it sure can make up for with an unflappable chassis,” says Brissette. “Though it’s down on power, on a kart track that allows supermoto bikes or in tight canyon confines, the KLX’s sure-footedness can keep the Yamaha at bay, barely. The bike feels exceptionally stable and planted at all times. On the kart track, this good suspension set-up translates into nearly instant confidence that the bike will continue to do what you ask of it with little to no protest.”
In comparison, the WR initially felt more unsettled on the track with its stock suspension settings. “The additional 1.5 inches up front and 2.5 inches of suspension travel out back means more chassis pitch when aggressively flinging the bike between quick corner transitions, and more front-end dive under braking compared to the KLX,” Pete notes.
Luckily, the WR’s suspension is three-way adjustable at both ends – something the Kaw can’t claim. Some determined knob twiddling greatly settled the chassis, although it still suffered more dramatic chassis pitching that is exacerbated by the sharp initial bite from the powerful front brake. However, as Pete notes, “The Yam’s extra suspension travel could pay serious dividends over dirt jumps on a supermoto course.”
As with the front brake, the 250X’s throttle can be a bit abrupt when getting back on the gas. It’s not bad, but it does demand your attention. This minor criticism aside, the Yamaha’s motor is clearly the most desirable.
“Not only is the bike’s power evident when accelerating through each gear,” says Pete, “the instant response from the EFI and the extra 2 ft-lbs or so translate into a potent little smack of go-power off the bottom. You can feel it almost immediately after shifting into the next higher gear when hard on the throttle.” The Yamaha’s fuel injection always assured quick starts, whereas the carbureted KLX often needed a throttle pump before firing.
The Kawasaki is less intimidating. It’s very cooperative and steers well, and its friendlier throttle transitions make it easy to re-apply the gas while leaned over. And although the front brake is a bit mushier than the WR’s, it responds well. Its pegs drag earlier than the WR, but you’d have to ride really aggressively to touch them down while riding on the street.
But even with a perfect corner exit on the KLX, passing an equally ridden WR is impossible. The Kawi’s horsepower deficit was evident in the speeds shown at the end of the longest straight, consistently about 10 mph below the Yamaha.
“The KLX’s power is sufficient for the class and intention of the bike, but aggressive riding leaves the rider wishing for more from the engine just as it runs into a mild rev limit,” Pete says. “If Kawi could squeeze out a couple more horsepower, or add another thousand rpm before running of steam, the KLX250SF would give the Yamaha a lot more grief.”
And the above statement pretty well tells the story about these quarter-liter supermoto wannabes. An experienced rider will ultimately gravitate toward the higher-spec WR250X. It costs more because it offers more, including higher finish quality.
“The WR seems much more like a true, current-generation supermoto machine: a dirt bike with slightly chopped suspension and 17-inch wheels shod with sticky streetbike rubber,” states Pete. “The assertive whack of power is reminiscent of torque-biased Thumpers, and the addition of excellent EFI only sweetens the pot.”
Which isn’t to say we failed to see the charms of the 250SF. For an inexperienced rider and/or someone small of stature, the less expensive KLX makes a lot of sense.
“With the WR250’s aluminum frame, fuel injection, 7 more horse power and more adjustability in the suspension compared to the KLX’s steel frame, carburetor and less horsepower, one would think the Yamaha is clearly a winner,” says regular test rider Kaming Ko. “Well, just hold on to your hat, sunshine, other than hardcore riding, the Kawasaki KLX can hold its own just fine for nearly 20% less money!”
While the above is true, our experienced riders had a clear preference for the WR250X. Pete sums up our feelings.
“I’d opt for the Yamaha,” he opines. “The relatively small price gap of $890 is almost a moot point when considering the Yamaha’s engine performance advantage and EFI. It’s a lot easier – and cheaper! – to do a little suspension tuning than it is to find another 5 to 10 hp while keeping reliability a priority.”