Dual-sports aren’t new. Pretty much any bike back in the day could be a “dual-sport” if you just rode it off road. Yet for 2018, after a four-year hiatus, Kawasaki has reintroduced its KLX250, with an interesting mix of old and new.
The only real difference between the ’18 model and the 2014 model (the last year it was offered previously) is that it has EFI with a 34mm throttle body and new engine mapping to match. There is also a digital camo version that has black and gray plastics rather than the standard Kawi green/white, as well as blacked-out engine cases, cylinder, swingarm, frame, upper fork tubes, and rims.
Why did it go away after 2014? According to Kawasaki a combination of needing to update to fuel injection and market forces were the culprits. Apparently, there are a lot more things to consider when switching from a carb to FI than just swapping them out, like engine mapping and exhaust regulations.
After riding the ’18 KLX250 all day on mostly rocky, dusty dirt roads, we caught up with Croft Long from product development to start at the beginning with this bike. The original ancestor of this modern machine goes back to the late ’60s with a couple of street-legal small-bore two-strokes with sweet names: the Kawasaki Sidewinder and Bison.
When green switched to four-strokes in the late ‘70s, this dual-sport became known as the KLR250. It was state of the art for the time with four valves per cylinder and was even used by the Marines. In the ‘80s Kawasaki gave it liquid-cooling. That bike was basically manufactured unchanged for 18 years until, in 2009, when Kawi introduced the modern KLX250—a bike pretty close to how we see it today.
But this modern KLX has another parent in its lineage, the KLX300, which was an off-road-only trailbike. Landing on our shores in about the late ‘90s, this four-stroke off-roader evolved from the KDX200 and KDX220, which were two-stroke trail machines that still have a devoted following because of their light weight and ease of maintenance.
This leaves us with a 2018 KLX250 that is part small streetbike, part full-on off-road bike—precisely what a dual-sport should be. The motor is a 249cc, dual-overhead-cam, four-valve single-cylinder. This liquid-cooled powerplant was born as the KLX300 and doesn’t share much with any other bike, as the it was new from the ground up. In fact, we asked Long if it were possible to bolt on a KLX300 cylinder to an ’18 KLX250 bottom end and he could not confirm nor deny whether that would work, instead hinting the engineering team is currently investigating things like this.
The new kid to the party is the fuel injection. It has a 10-hole injector said to have “ultra-fine” fuel atomization. In application, the FI makes the KLX250 much easier to start than in the past, especially first thing in the morning. It also gives the bike much better throttle response. There is no hesitation or bog.
But just because the power is more responsive doesn’t mean there is more to it. Overall, the bike is very smooth and mild in the power department. The meat of the power is found in the midrange, and, if you keep it there by keeping up your momentum and flowing down dirt roads, the 250 is pleasantly capable. On the durability front, the KLX has an “electro-fusion” cylinder, which is a special coating that is supposed to help with heat transfer and lowering weight. It also has a microscopically rough finish that physically holds oil better than a completely smooth finish for less abrasion.
On the top end there is a cam lobe for each valve, with a shim-under-tappet arrangement. It also has the Kawasaki Automatic Compression Release (KACR) automatically lifting an exhaust valve during cranking.
The frame of the KLX250 is directly from the KLX300 with modifications to hangers and mounts for more up-to-date electronics. As we mentioned earlier, the KLX300 came from the KDX machines and that explains why the ’18 bike has classic dirt bike ergonomics. The seat is sloped in the middle to a claimed 35-inch seat height, which is a few clicks less than full-on off-road and motocross machines, making it a little easier for younger or inseam-challenged adults to touch the ground. By dual-sport and adventure bike standards this is a very slim machine, but by dirt bike standards, it would be considered standard width.
The suspension is taken care of by a 43mm cartridge fork with compression adjustment only and a Uni-Trak shock with compression, rebound, and preload adjustments. With the slim feel and high ride height, the KLX250 handles moderately rough terrain very well. Even judging by dirt bike standards the suspension performance is impressive. The fork has a plush overall stroke without being too soft. Same with the shock as the bike feels very balanced.
Also, unlike other dual-sports that seem to be undersprung, the KLX doesn’t dive or lurch backward unwantedly on braking and acceleration. Overall the ride is planted and confidence-inspiring. Yet for the experienced off-road rider, it would be easy to push this bike past its capabilities and get into trouble.
At a claimed 304 pounds, the KLX250 hides its weight well when on the street and at a moderate off-road pace. When you need to make sudden direction change, hop over a trail obstacle, or come to a stop in a hurry, that’s when that extra weight shows up. Overall, that’s the only real complaint we have about the KLX250. If it went on a diet, the power, handling, braking, and off-road ability would all improve, not that they are bad now.
Ultimately, we are happy the KLX250 is back in the Kawasaki lineup. As we’ve seen with entry-level sportbikes, it is the nature of engines to get bigger as riders get spoiled and want more power and more performance. Yet there will always be a need for a small-displacement dual-sport machine and the KLX is back, standing proud to be just that machine.
|2018 Kawasaki KLX250|
|Engine Type:||Liquid-cooled, DOHC single-cylinder|
|Claimed Seat Height:||35.0 in.|
|Claimed Ground Clearance:||11.2 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||2 gal.|
|Claimed Curb Weight:||304 lb.|
|MSRP:||$5,349 standard, $5,549 Camo|