Off-Road, On-Road Motorcycle.
Designing a bike for the dual-sport market is a balancing act. Some riders will spend most of their time on the street, with the occasional off-payment foray on friendly dirt roads; others will use the street simply as a means to get to the dirt. Once there, challenging primitive roads and single-track trails become the adventure.
Kawasaki has made several significant updates to its KLX250S dual-sport motorcycle for 2009 with both styles of riding in mind, though the bike definitely favors the off-road crowd. When I put the bike through its paces on a 120-mile ride through Death Valley, I started in the dirt—well, to put a finer point on it, gravel. After three or four miles of deep gravel, I was feeling nicely acquainted with third gear. The bike floated effortlessly along the top of the gravel in a true and straight line as long as I was on the throttle. When my speed dropped as I took a peek at the awesome canyon walls I was picking up in my peripheral vision, the bike wavered. The DOHC, 4-valve, liquid-cooled KLX has enough torque to capably pull third gear, so it only took a little twist of the wrist to pull me back up on top the crunchy stuff.
As the gravel wash gave way to a 4×4 jeep trail, I was able to sit down a bit and guide the bike between the rocks that were generously scattered along the path. The revised suspension soaked up the uneven trail and the straighter line of the handlebars afforded additional leverage when the unexpected rock, dip or rut couldn’t be avoided. (Click image to enlarge)
When traversing a particularly nasty uphill jumble of boulders blocking the path, the 250 had plenty of useable power on the bottom—the 34mm semi-flatside Keihin carb works flawlessly—allowing me to finesse a line through the obstacle. Clutch work is intuitive, thanks to a light pull. This is a great trail bike—nimble, light, and powerful.
Once out on the canyon I had a chance to open up the throttle. Straight dirt roads with the occasional bend allowed for some fast fun. Though not pure knobbies, the KLX250′s street-legal dual-sport tires do a fairly credible job in the dirt. As the road deteriorated into whooped-out sections and silty stretches, the bike soaked it all up with ease, making me feel like a desert racer. Although travel was reduced this year (just as it was on the KLR650 last year), the 10 inches of travel in the forks and 9 inches in the rear is plenty for dual sporting.
On the pavement the bike is equally comfortable. Though the bike is cranky shifting out of neutral from a stop, requiring several taps on the shift lever to lock in, the rest of the transmission was spot-on precise, thanks to a reshaped shift cam. I ran it through the six speeds in quick fashion on my way up to 85 mph. The switch to Dunlop 605s, with their smaller tread blocks, as well as the stronger wheels (the spokes went up a half-millimeter in diameter), makes for a solid, secure ride. The bike was cruisin’.
Kawasaki upgraded the rear brake system, but most of the time I rely on engine compression braking and the front disc. The petal disc design in front and rear is a cool touch. The firmer seat makes it easy to move around, and an updated shape makes long distance treks more comfortable. I’m 5′ 6”, and the 35.0-inch seat height is manageable for me, but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as low. (Click image to enlarge)
The 2009 Kawasaki KLX250S has been tweaked in all the right places and is finally California emissions compliant (the earlier Super Sherpa 250 [which I own] and pre-’09 KLX250S were not), allowing everyone the opportunity to enjoy a great dual-sport bike.