Today, we introduce our newest reviewer, Jacob Black, who is also CMG’s new managing editor. That won’t stop us laughing at him every time he falls off his bike in the dirt or on the track, though — which he does, a lot.
Jacob is Australian. We’ve tried to translate his review of the 2018 Kawasaki KLX 250 into the Queen’s English, but please forgive us if there are moments of illegibility. – Ed.
Photography by Rob Smith and Jacob Black
It seemed an impossible choice. The fork in the trail gave few clues to what lay beyond, with both paths disappearing quickly from view. The little Kawasaki seemed confident, but now, the secret muppet within me cowered.
The trail to the right led into a gully; it looked innocuous, but there were hints it grew steep. To the left, things looked rougher, but flatter.
“Bah, ya ruddy great wuss” I muttered into the helmet, and turned the little KLX right, down into the gully. I’m a novice trail rider. I’ve done a bit, but not enough, and while I understand the physics, there’s still a big disconnect between brain and bollocks.
Trail riding requires an evenness, and a confidence. It’s hard to maintain momentum when you’re packing your dacks every 30 seconds. (“Packing your dacks”? Must be an Australian thing. – Ed.)
I made the bolder choice, but I can honestly say that on any other bike, I might not have. The $5,599 2018 Kawasaki KLX 250 is almost custom made for people like me: people who want the challenge, but lack the full-out confidence needed to really achieve it out here.
When I first posted my adoration for the KLX on social media, CMG contributor Jeff Wilson scoffed.
“Ha! Got to love a 15-year-old bike that’s exciting again because it’s got EFI…” he sniped. He was right. Kind of.
The KLX hasn’t had much in the way of upgrades for a few years now. This addition of fuel injection is way overdue, but sure, many of the other changes are cosmetic with not much trickery. The radiators are smaller and lighter, the plastics look more aggressive, the handlebars are slightly higher and farther back. And yes, even the digital instrument cluster is a carryover from the last generation.
But the KLX is a virtual bicycle. It’s small, noticeably narrower than the Honda CRF250L, and feels lighter too. A check on the spec sheet shows the weight difference between the 138 kg KLX and the 145 kg CRF.
Kawasaki has done a good job of packing that weight down low, and the overall thinness of the box-and-tube perimeter frame helps make this 250 feel much smaller than it is. Visually and tangibly, it’s a small bike within this class.
If faced with a choice between a smaller, lighter, aging design and a bulkier, heavier, newer one – where would your eyes land?
The tweak to the bars makes for more comfortable riding, at least for those of us who are a bit shorter. It also effectively increases the angle of leverage from your arms to the front wheel, giving more accurate and responsive steering.
Because the bike is so narrow, I found myself using more peg-steering weight than I thought I’d need for a bike of this size, but I also found it willing to change direction when required. The ability to weight the pegs and guide the bike with foot pressure is a key part of riding smoothly off-road, so the KLX’s happiness to accept those inputs is a positive, even if you need to use more weight than you might think.
At 890 mm (35 inches in non-Australian speak. – Ed.), my meagre inseam struggled with the seat height here, but dirt bikes weren’t built to be stopped at traffic lights anyway. Out on the trail, I rarely got anywhere near the full range of travel (255 mm up front, 230 mm out back if you’re wondering) but did find that it was well damped. Over some whoops, the KLX had the composure of a hurdler, and when the trail was pocked with tree roots, it scrambled over them with sheer disregard.
On the road, the 250 cc engine revs high but stays smooth and the long-travel suspension makes a mockery of potholes and frost heaves. The front feels lighter on the street but you can ride around that sensation by pretending you’re on a dirty trail. That is, don’t lean off the side like a road bike, push it down into corners like a dirt bike. Ride it like it’s built to be ridden and the knobby tires and soft suspension hold their own.
Compromises are a natural part of riding a dual sport. This means braking power isn’t as strong as it could be or should be for the road.
With 23 hp and 15.5 lb-ft of torque coming on at 7,000 and 7,750 rpm respectively, there’s adequate power for the ride out to the trails. The wind buffets things around at highway speeds, but it’s not enough to get the front end quivering in your hands. In fact, the revised plastics seem to do a better job of coping with the wind than previous editions.
Refreshed suspension internals are alleged to reduce pitch and dive if you read Kawasaki’s press materials, and I’ll admit I found the KLX more stable than expected. The changes are small though, and I’d wager that in back-to-back riding the difference would be subtle for even the most well-tuned rider.
And so, despite my trepidation when I first set out, there was only one moment of real difficulty. Descending a loose clay hill with a tight(ish) little turn at the bottom, I failed to get my weight back far enough. The front bit into the dirt, the side of the hill gave way, and down went the tubby Aussie.
“Oh dear”, thought I. “Goodness me, this is less than positive”.
To its credit, the KLX did what a dirt bike should: it crashed well. There were barely any scuffs on the bike’s new plastics, the radiator guards were unruffled, the mirror wasn’t even out of position. The only clues to the fact I’d dropped the bike was a burn mark on the plastic where it had rested on the exhaust, and a black plastic smudge on the exhaust from where I’d tried to rub off a bit of clay with my glove.
The front brake lever, which I’d thought felt thin and insubstantial in my fist, survived unscathed. Picking up the bike wasn’t any drama, and nor was manhandling it back into the general direction of the trail.
What was disconcerting, though, was the steep, rutted, and muddied hill I had to reclimb. There’d been momentum for previous hills, asking little of the KLX’s diminutive engine. Even so, I probably didn’t need to run it up to the 10,500 rpm redline on that hill – but catharsis is a screaming engine.
An hour or so later, I emerged from the bush a sweating, grinning mess — not quite so clean as when I went in, but a lot more confident.