Showroom showdown: 250 duallies

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.

The CRF250L has the edge in power and torque, especially since its upgrades in late 2017, but it’s not much different from the KLX250.

Engine

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?

Air cooling means the Yamaha XT250 is lighter than the competition, as well as less mechanically complex.

Weight

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 KLX250 has adjustable suspension, although it’s still pretty basic.

Suspension

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 XT250 has the lowest seat height here, which makes it much more noob-friendly.

Ergonomics

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.

All three bikes have similar brake systems, with two-pot single discs up front and a single-pot disc in rear.

Brakes

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.

An extra $200 gets you this camo paint scheme for the KLX250.

Aesthetics

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 XT250 has the lowest price here, but also the least power and most basic suspension.

Pricing/Conclusion

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.

13 thoughts on “Showroom showdown: 250 duallies”

  1. I bought a KLX 250 last week after about 2 years of looking for a fairly light dual sport. Already love it, 120 easy on the highway and super fun off road. I have been riding pavement for all of my life and I am 56 now. Needed a new challenge because pavement in Alberta and eastern BC is boring. 2 amazing off road riding areas within 1 hr of Calgary. I am now looking at the XT 250 for my girlfriend as she is more inseam challenged than me. And I am tippy toe on the KLX with my passenger Air Hawk. LOL. My KLX is not even broken in and 120 easy on the pavement, why do we need more power? What we need is less weight. Cam

  2. What happened to the CSC RX3? When are you going to see that the chinese are making big strides for less money. BTW, the reliability of these bikes is dramatically better these days. They are coming!

    1. Indeed. What happened to them? I’ve never seen one on the road, and only once for sale used on Kijiji in recent memory.
      Perhaps the strides are not so great.

  3. I think there is a lot of people shopping for a dual sport who are frustrated with the choices on the market. There are 250s which are too small, 650s which are dinosaurs and KTMs which are too tall and expensive for many. Nobody makes a goldilocks bike in this segment, that’s why I bought the DRZ, which suffers with gearing. Can’t anyone make a mid sized dual sport with good suspension, fuel injection and a decent sized fuel tank? Make it around 300lbs and $8k and doesn’t have a seat the width of a 2 by 4. That is not too much to ask.

    1. I hear you. Perhaps a KLX with re-valved & re-sprung suspension, a (factory?) big bore kit and an IMS tank would meet your parameters?
      At the Toronto bike show there was a SWM 450 or something. I believe was projected to be in the 10k range. I don’t know if it has become available, if it ever will or even if it’s a decent option.
      As much as I like my KTM’s I wish Honda had taken the XR400, added electric start and made it into a dual purpose machine.

  4. Something that should probably be mentioned is how they compare in distance per tank…. I’m 6’1 250lbs and my xt250 will take me 300km on old forest service roads in the bc rockies…. not sure how that compares to the other bikes? I will say that the xt was bought as a learner a few years back and I do feel cramped now that I know how to ride but it’s not bad.

    1. Well that is a good question. But in my experience, once you get offroad into the equation, all bets are off (said the guy who almost ran a TW200 dry the weekend before).

    1. Probably the best all-rounder, I agree, but not in the same price range (as it says in the opening paras). Not even close. It’s a bike aimed at experienced users with hard core intentions, and packs more advanced tech.

      I might see 2-3 WR250 a year out here between for-sale ads and actual on-street bikes. The XT250, CRF250L and KDX are extremely common.

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