Although the 650 thumper class has been in decline for a while, the quarter-litre class is as strong as ever, with the Suzuki DR200, the Yamaha TW200, XT250, and WR250, the Kawasaki KLX250 and the Honda CRF250L. That’s a lot of bikes to choose from, so how does a buyer pick a machine?
We’re going to make it easy for you by breaking down the differences between the three most common 250 dual sports — the Yamaha XT250, Kawasaki KLX250 and Honda CRF250L. There’s nothing wrong with the others here, but the WR250 is considerably more expensive and the TW200 and DR200 are down a bit on power when compared to the bigger 250 engines. So, read on, and let us know what you think of the findings.
All three bikes run fuel-injected single-cylinder 249 cc engines, but the Honda and Kawasaki have liquid-cooled DOHC designs with four-valve heads, while the Yamaha is air-cooled with a two-valve head.
Depending on your perspective, the CRF250L and KLX250 have a big advantage right out of the gate because of this, making 24 hp and 23 hp respectively (allegedly!), while the Yamaha only makes a claimed 19 hp. That’s a huge difference in bikes of these size.
However, some owners want the air-cooled engine for its simplicity in maintenance. They also like that there are fewer parts to break when the bike tips over, which does tend to happen in the dual sport world …
The bikes are all much closer in torque. The Yamaha’s still the backmarker here, with 14.5 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm, but the Kawasaki doesn’t have much advantage, with 15.5 lb-ft at 7,750 rpm. Honda has slightly more jam, with 16.7 lb-ft at 6,750 rpm. So, Big Red once again is the winner.
Something else to consider: there are big bore kits available for all these bikes, either using aftermarket parts (XT250) or some combination of OEM parts (Kawasaki, Honda). The Honda might be the easiest bike to hot-rod, as you can simply swap in a CBR300 engine with some of the EFI components. In any case, you can bump all these machines up to the 350 class if you’ve got enough money, which takes them from sedate, noob-friendly traillies to legit offroad funwagons, leaving us wondering why the Japanese OEMs don’t build 350s to start with?
When the Honda CRF250L first came to market, there was an outcry over its weight. With a 146-kg wet weight, it’s the heaviest bike here. The previous Honda 250 class duallie, the CRF230L, had a 121-kg wet weight. The designers would have done well to put this bike on a diet.
But having said that, the CRF250L is still very manageable on the trails, despite weight that pushes it close to 650-class dual sports, and CMG’s long-termer was always fun, even in the tight stuff.
The lightest bike here? The Yamaha XT250 comes in at 132 kg wet, and the Kawasaki is close behind at 138 kg wet.
The XT250 has standard non-adjustable forks with 225 mm of travel, and the CRF250L has non-adjustable upside-down forks with 250 mm of travel. The KLX250 has fully-adjustable upside-down forks with 259 mm of travel.
In back, the XT250 has a preload-adjustable monoshock with 180 mm of travel, the CRF250L has a Showa-sourced monoshock with preload adjustment and 240 mm of travel, and the KLX250 has a fully-adjustable shock with 231 mm of travel.
These are all budget bikes, and a larger North American rider would likely do well to upgrade the suspension on all of them, especially if they plan to ride with luggage. But for simple street use and slower off-road riding, they’ll all work. The Kawasaki’s adjustment capability probably gives it the edge here; don’t kid yourself, it’s still basic suspension, but at least you can tinker with it a bit. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing with the adjustments, it might not be as noticeable an advantage.
The Kawasaki has an 890 mm seat height, the Honda has an 875 mm seat height, the Yamaha has an 810 mm seat height. The low seat height would make the Yamaha very attractive to beginner riders, and riders with shorter legs, which is good. However, that low seat height is partially the function of reduced suspension travel, which is bad.
For now, ABS is unavailable on these machines, although that might change as the EU forces the manufacturers to include it across the board. All the bikes have a smallish disc up front (in the 250 mm range) with a two-piston caliper and an even smaller disc brake in back with a single-piston caliper.
This year, the XT250 is available in a cool beige paint scheme (looks straight from Desert Storm). The Honda is, as always, available in red, and the Kawasaki comes in a grey camo scheme (for an extra $200), or classic Kawasaki lime green. There’s no real difference in the aesthetics otherwise; some more traditional buyers might like the Yamaha’s round headlight, but that’s about the only difference.
The Yamaha XT250 has a $5,349 price tag in Canada for 2018; the Kawasaki KLX250 is $5,599, and the Honda CRF250L is $5,799. The MSRP is only part of the story here, as all these bikes will typically see some sort of seasonal discount to lure in the beginner buyer.
So which one is the machine to buy? It depends, to an extent, on what your plans are. If you want a cheap, serviceable and simple bike to take leisurely rides on, and you don’t plan on ever spending any money to upgrade the machine, the XT250 is worth considering. It’s light, the air cooling means there are less parts to break, and it’s fairly affordable. However, if that’s all the riding you intend to do, maybe you should consider the TW200 and DR200, too …
For more serious riders, the Kawasaki is hard to beat. Making almost as much power as the Honda for less money and with slightly less weight, and with fully-adjustable suspension, it’s surprising the KLX250 isn’t more popular in Canada. It would serve many motorcyclists well as an entry-level dual sport, and can be upgraded if the rider eventually desires more power or better suspension.
That’s not to say the Honda is a bad choice. The quarter-litre CRF has been selling like mad to even experienced dual sport riders since its introduction, and it’s a bike that CMG and its associates know well, having put many, many hard miles on our 2015 test model. There have been some issues with a broken subframe now that it’s passed on to scouting duty for the Fundy Adventure Rally, but otherwise, it’s been a positive experience. If you have a strong local Honda dealer, it may be advantageous to go with Big Red. And if you’re planning to go actually lay down serious miles on your machine, you’ll find that many dedicated adventure riders have been using these Hondas for long-distance rides over the past few years, with very few serious issues to report.