2023 Kawasaki KX250X Review [16 Trail-Tested Fast Facts]

2023 Kawasaki KX250X Review: Desert bike test

Yes, we know the Kawasaki KX250X is designed to be a cross-country racer. However, we do what many demanding trail riders do—buy a high-performance dirt bike and go riding for the pure fun of it. So, we loaded up the updated 2023 Kawasaki KX250X—read our coverage of the improvements here—and rode it on everything from wide-open desert to the tightest single-tracks and even did some bushwhacking. Here’s what we found out:

  1. Kawasaki tweaked the 2023 KX250X’s motor for more low-end power this year, and that’s where we want the muscle. Kawasaki engineers reduced the diameter of the intake valves by a millimeter, reduced their pitch, and straightened the intake duct. This pressurizes the intake, helping with low-rpm punch. The header pipe is 100mm longer than last year’s, and the magneto rotor’s moment of inertia is increased—resulting in a smoother delivery of horses. While that may compromise the absolute top-end power, we will take that trade every day in the real world.
  1. Although based on the motocrosser’s engine, the KX250X powerplant is rider-friendly, thanks to its own off-road-oriented engine mapping and three power modes. Unfortunately, switching between Standard, Hard, and Soft modes requires getting off the bike and swapping couplers—an inexcusable inconvenience, given the handlebar push-button mode changes on competitive bikes. Also, if you want to set up your own mode, you have to fork over $775 for the Kawasaki KX FI Calibration Kit and plug in the controller. The Yamaha YZ250FX has a free Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone app for that job. Because we were concentrating on trail riding, we used the Soft coupler exclusively.

  1. The timing is advanced a tad to mitigate high-rpm power loss. When we revved into five figures, we were not disappointed by the output available. Once you get the motor spinning at hypersonic speeds, all you have to do is keep upshifting quickly and enjoy the rush.
  1. The DOHC motor pulls nicely from just above idle to over 12,000 rpm. The broad spread of power is easily managed in tight quarters, yet the motor is ready to sing when presented with open terrain. There are no hiccups along the way, though the power increases progressively rather than linearly, providing an exciting ride. The torque curve is reassuringly flat, so the motor responds to the throttle at any rpm.
  1. Our first rides were on chilly days—at least to us in Southern California—and the KX250X’s motor is cold-blooded. With the thermometer reading 50 degrees, you must crack the throttle to get things going, and even nurse it until the engine gets warm enough to idle on its own, which is unusual for an EFI powerplant. Once up to operating temperature, it’s never an issue. However, you can’t just pull away from idle—the motor wants just a bit of throttle or it can stall.

  1. Kawasaki raised 1st gear’s ratio a bit. As trail riders, this isn’t something we wanted. Last year’s first gear was already high on technical rides, and raising the ratio lessens the impact of the low-rpm torque boost and throttle response delivered by the engine updates. To compensate, we slipped the clutch more than we expected. Conversely, as speeds picked up, we could stay in first gear a bit longer than expected. Of course, our biggest wish is a six-speed gearbox, instead of the five-speed the KX250X has. If we can’t get that, we would settle for a wider ratio five-speed gearset. Yes, we know it’s a racebike, but the motor’s broad powerband is capable of exploiting the advantages of a wider-ratio cluster.
  1. With the higher first gear, the clutch gets more of a workout, which it can handle. We’re big fans of the feel of the relatively new hydraulic clutch and single-disc spring, and this year it gets a new pushrod for lighter action. The pull isn’t excessive, and the gradual engagement allows for precise power delivery. We were abusive with the clutch when necessary, yet it never complained about our harsh treatment.
  1. The power delivery accommodates short-shifter and revvers alike. Short-shifting gives you a friendly, easy, and controllable ride. Should you choose to tap into the top third of the powerband, hold on—things get interesting fast. Lugging along is only a problem when you want that burst of power to lift the front end over an obstacle. The KX250X’s motor requires some revs when that happens, which is not always an option on treacherous terrain. You can’t blip the throttle at idle and get a seriously lofted front wheel. This is one of the reasons we’d like a lower first gear for trail riding, even though the KX250X is billed as strictly a racer.

  1. The 2023 Kawasaki KX250X’s off-road friendly engine gets a like-minded chassis. Although it’s a supercross-based chassis, the superb KYB suspension is tuned for off-road riding. The 18-inch wheel means a higher-profile rear tire for fewer pinch flats. You might expect the KX250X to be a bit nervous at desert speeds, yet it’s not an issue until you reach the very top of the rev range in fifth gear. Desert rats will instinctively add a steering damper and be happier for it, though you might want to think twice about that if you head for single-track in the summer. The single-track fans will love the turning manners of the KX250X, which doesn’t require excessive forward movement of the rider on the seat for it to steer confidently.
  1. The Dunlop Geomax AT81 tires are great for all-around riding, and are a perfect match for the engine’s power delivery. The softer suspension helps the 110mm AT81 hook up, so acceleration is predictable and stable. When we were darting between creosote bushes in the desert, we steered the KX250X with the rear wheel, while the front tire went precisely where we pointed it. On mountain trails that constantly change consistency—hardpack to sand to rocks and more—the AT81s saved the day, offering outstanding cornering traction from the side lugs, front and rear. We only had problems in the mud, where the knobs were reluctant to shed the sticky goop when we got to dry terrain. Unless you ride in monochromatic conditions and prefer a single-dimension tire, you’ll be happy with the AT81s. 

  1. The fully adjustable KYB suspension action at both ends is plush without a mushy feeling. It refuses to drop too far into the stroke over repeated bumps, keeping the attitude of the KX250X even and keeping plenty of suspension travel at the ready. The KYB suspension is extraordinarily pliable, reducing fatigue over punishing terrain. Sure, if your ride includes a few laps around the local MX track you might want to crank up the compression damping and hope for the best from the springs on jumps and whoops.
  1. On trails, the suspension does a fantastic job. The KYBs keep the rider comfortable, putting power to the ground in the rear, and letting the front wheel track confidently. When you hit the small-to-moderate trail whoops, it swallows them up nicely, as long as you carry some speed.

2023 Kawasaki KX250X Review: Alpinestars apparel

  1. At speed in the desert, the suspension stays tall in the stroke and is ready for unexpected high-speed terrain incivility. You can usually get by with lifting the front end over washouts and letting the rear shock suck it up. Sand whoops don’t disappear, though you won’t be bottoming out as you power through them. The only time we bottomed the fork suspension was on some brutal downhills with abrupt transitions at the bottom. G-outs are handled with aplomb. Otherwise, the suspension satisfied various riders, though you can always fine-tune the damping and spring-preload if you have specific preferences or requirements.
  1. The Nissin/Braking deceleration combo is strong and predictable. The KX250X gets its own front brake pads, and they do exactly what you think they’ll do when you tug on the lever. The rear brake gets extra kudos for not skidding the tire until you want it to. The brakes are in such harmony with the four-stroke motor that you never think about them—they work on pure intuition.

  1. We’re fans of the adjustability of the 2023 Kawasaki KX250X’s ergonomics. The new KX250X gets new, wider footpegs—a great platform when the going gets rough. The Renthal Fatbar can be mounted in your choice of four positions over a 35mm range, and the footpegs can be remounted 5mm lower, which taller riders will want to do instantly—the chassis is compact in the stock configuration. Speaking of the handlebar, there is no dash—not even a low-fuel warning light. The seat is comfortable and does not get in the way.
  1. We are happy trail riders on the 2023 Kawasaki KX250X. The motor is terrific, and the chassis makes you feel like a better rider than you might be. It’s maneuverable when you want it to be, yet not twitchy at speed. The plush suspension and smooth power do not wear you out prematurely, so all-day rides are in the cards. We’d be happy to race the KX250X in GNCC—give it a wide-ratio six-speed transmission, we’d be encouraged to line up on a west coast GP starting line even faster. The latest KX250X isn’t the perfect trail bike, and it’s not designed to be. Until we get a purpose-built KLX250X, the KX250X sure is a fun motorcycle when you’re just out to have some high-performance fun in a wide range of settings.

Photography by Kelly Callan


  • Helmet: Alpinestars SM5
  • Goggles: EKS Brand EKS-S
  • Pants + Jersey: Alpinestars Fluid Narin
  • Gloves: Alpinestars Full Bore
  • Body armor: Alpinestars Bionic Pro V2
  • Knee braces: Alpinestars Bionic-10 Carbon
  • Socks: Fly Racing Knee Brace
  • Boots: Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro

2023 Kawasaki KX250X Specs 


  • Type: Single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Displacement: 249cc
  • Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.2mm
  • Compression ratio: 14.1:1
  • Starting: Electric
  • Fueling: EFI w/ 44mm Keihin throttle body w/ dual injectors
  • Transmission: 5-speed
  • Clutch: Hydraulically actuated w/ coned-disc spring
  • Final drive: Chain


  • Frame: Twin-spar aluminum
  • Handlebar: Renthal Fatbar
  • Front suspension; travel: Compression- and rebound-damping adjustable KYB 48mm inverted fork; 12.4 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable KYB piggyback reservoir shock; 12.4 inches
  • Tires: Dunlop Geomax AT81
  • Front tire: 80/100 x 21
  • Rear tire: 110/100 x 18
  • Front brake: Semi-floating 270mm Braking petal disc w/ 2-piston Nissin caliper
  • Rear brake: Single 240mm petal disc w/ single-piston Nissin caliper


  • Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
  • Rake: 27.8 degrees
  • Trail: 4.8 inches
  • Seat height: 37.2 inches
  • Ground clearance: 13.0 inches
  • Fuel Capacity: 1.6 gallons
  • Wet weight: 240 pounds
  • Color: Lime Green

2023 Kawasaki KX250X Price: $8599 MSRP

2023 Kawasaki KX250X Review Photo Gallery