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2018 Kawasaki KLX250 First Ride Review

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In 2015, the KLX250 was missing from the Kawasaki model lineup, yet we now have it before us as a 2018 model. Where did it go? What was it doing? Well, Kawasaki invited us to a little picnic in the park to set the whole thing straight.

Basically, up through 2015, the KLX250 had been relatively unchanged and Kawasaki wanted to give it an update. Much like celebrities or the wealthy elite, the KLX dropped off the radar for a while to get some work done. In its three-year absence, the focus was getting the 249cc machine into the digital age, meaning electronic fuel injection (EFI). Other than that, new mapping, and the cosmetic changes to the Camo version, the bike remains the same as the 2015 bike.

We want to be quite clear: This bike fits firmly in the dual-sport category of machines. It is not a street-only bike, yet is very happy on twisty pavement, and it is not a trailbike for serious off-road use. After riding the previous models and this ’18 model, we feel confident in saying the KLX250 is about a 60/40 machine, dirt to street respectively.

The heart of the KLX is a dual-overhead-cam, four-valve, liquid-cooled engine. The only performance change on the ’18 model is the fuel injection using a 34mm throttle body and 10-hole “ultra-fine” atomizing injector. With a gear-driven balancer to keep things smooth, the power gets transferred via a six-speed transmission.

The frame is a somewhat dated box-and tubular-section steel perimeter frame, which is a direct descendent of the off-road only KLX300 (as is most of the motor, for that matter). The swingarm is aluminum holding an 18-inch rear tire. Suspension duties are handled by a 43mm cartridge fork with compression adjustment only and Uni-Trak shock with compression, rebound, and preload adjustability.

One of the immediately noticeable benefits of the new FI is better starting. The past carbureted KLX250 was extremely cold-blooded and needed the choke and fine throttle massaging to get the bike up to operating temp. Not so on the ’18. It starts up at the first push of the button andis ready to ride with minimal warm-up.

The biggest difference with FI, as you could probably guess, is throttle response. There is no hesitation and the engine reacts without a bog or hiccup to throttle input. While the motor’s response is immediate, the manner of that response is still mellow and not very exciting, using modern dirt bike standards. The bottom-end is smooth with not much of a torque feeling, though slow wheelies are possible with a good stab of the clutch. The engine comes to life more in the midrange around 5,000 to 7,000 rpm (which is conveniently trackable with the large display with easy-to-read tachometer). The KLX also has decent top-end power—it doesn’t fall on its face right after the mid; it continues to pull nicely to the redline at 11,000 rpm.

Handling on the road is surprisingly good. Compared to more dirt-focused machines (that cost more than twice as much) the Kawi is planted and stable and doesn’t have any weird chatter, vibration, or wheel hops that other dual-sports can have. Speaking of vibration, there practically isn’t any. Even at 80-plus mph, the bar and pegs were pleasantly vibration-free. It does take a while to get up to highway speeds, but, to be fair, it is still only a 250 and we can say it has much more get-up-and-go than a Honda CRF250L. The gearing works great for street riding and sixth is tall enough to cruise with California traffic.

Getting to the good stuff, the KLX250 feels like a real dirt bike. Other than a slightly low, sit-in-style seat, the ergos are comfortably familiar. The bike feels good between the legs (not super slim like a moto bike but not far off), and standing and gripping with the ankles and knees feels natural to a dirt bike-only rider. When you have to stop in a hurry or make a drastic direction change is when the word “dual-sport” flashes in your mind. At a claimed 304 pounds, this is a heavy bike by any dirt standard and is the only real issue we have with the machine since extra weight affects so many things (handling, braking, acceleration, etc.). Also, the brakes work okay but aren’t the grabby, aggressive brakes that moto/trail guys are used to. We are just glad that it doesn’t come with ABS—even on the bikes that have the option of turning it off, we often forget to until we are flying off the trail, mashing on the pedal with nothing happening.

For a dual-sport the KLX has a neutral and balanced feel, and it gives a lot of feedback while turning. On heavier street/dirt machines, there sometimes could be no warning when the front or rear are pushed past their traction limits. On this 250, you can be sweeping through a corner and feel the front just start to give and you have plenty of time to adjust and correct. There is a stability factor that is normally not found on bikes this size, which is great for the new rider and older rider alike.

The suspension is soft, but not overly soft. It matches the bike’s purpose and engine character almost perfectly. As dirt guys, we’d want a little more hold-up in the rear, but we could probably do that with clickers. Plush and smooth are the words that come to mind when thinking about the fork, and with none of that lurching back and forth some tall, undersprung bikes can have. The compression adjuster is on the bottom of the fork tubes, but we didn’t find the need to adjust them. As long as you don’t get too much air over water bars or ditches, the suspension can handle a good hop without bottoming. We didn’t encounter any serious trail obstacles but there were some very loose rocky sections that the fork and shock ate up without issue.

To get the maximum off-road fun out of this bike, you simply have to ride it sort of like a 125. Keep it in the aforementioned meat of the power (midrange) and the motor will respond with enough juice to keep a smile on your face. Flowing two-track and dirt roads where you can get into a groove are the perfect terrain for the KLX250. Single-track that requires torque to get over obstacles or that includes tight switchbacks or steep climbs is not going to suit this bike, but we don’t think that should be a surprise to anyone.

Who is the 2018 Kawasaki KLX250 for? First-time off-road riders could do no better than this bike. It is unintimidating, easy on the wallet, yet has enough performance to keep a dirt enthusiast happy for many years. Keep in mind that its closest ancestor is the KLX300, a full-on trailbike. It is also the perfect second bike to a guy or gal who has a gnarly moto bike for the track and/or gnarly woods machine for the trail but wants something economical, street-legal, barely uses any fuel, is built with thousands of road miles in mind, and anyone can ride (spouse/kids). This isn’t a National Enduro bike or going to win any motos, but it takes a win in our book for being a great example of a small, friendly dual-sport that anyone can appreciate.

  • Very comfortable suspension with real off-road performance
  • Hides its weight well with a balanced overall feel
  • FI gives great throttle response and fuel economy
  • Cheap ticket to ride
  • More torque is needed for serious off-road riding
  • Going on a diet would help all aspects of the bike