Trois Petite Motards

With Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha all offering bikes in the 250cc supermotard category, Bondo decides to give all three a spin to see how they compare.

Words: Steve Bond. Pics: As specified

Supermoto can trace its roots all the way back to the late 1970s when ABC’s Wide World of Sports concocted a made-for-TV event called Superbikers to crown the best all-around motorcycle racer.


They knew how to race back in the 70s!

A half-dirt / half-paved course was designed around Carlsbad Raceway in California, and the top racers du jour, such as Kenny Roberts, Jeff Ward, Eddie Lawson, Bubba Shobert and Wayne Rainey, had at it. Racers used mostly big-bore two-stroke motocrossers modified to handle both the dirt and paved sections.

Motards have evolved since then but basically, they’re still dirtbikes with 17-inch front and rear wheels, a set of roadracing rubber and a honkin’ big disc brake on the front wheel.

Currently there are several manufacturers offering motards for the street in Canada, but only three are in the 250 cc class — Honda’s CRF230L, Kawasaki’s KLX250SF and Yamaha’s WR250X.

Honda CRF230M


CRF230 uses the air-cooled motor from the 230L dualie.
photo: Honda

Honda’s CRF230M is the street version of the 230L dual purpose motorcycle that’s selling like waffles in Belgium. At $6,399, the Honda is the least expensive of the troika but also boasts the smallest (and only air-cooled) engine and least sophisticated hardware too.

The air-cooled, two-valve, SOHC engine actually displaces 223 cc, giving away more than 10 percent displacement to its competition — a significant amount.

The carbureted 230M requires a bit of choke first thing in the morning but once up to temp, the throttle response is flawless everywhere in the rev range. The little Honda is absolutely miserly on fuel consumption too, returning an average of 3.3L/100km under my normal (i.e. “flogging it mercilessly”) riding conditions.

The 230M has basically the same steel frame and aluminum swingarm as the 230L, although the M’s steering geometry is slightly quicker due to its intended pavement-only use.


CRF suspension has a tough job with Bondo on board.
photo: Rick Romanyk

The fork is a non-adjustable 37 mm unit with 229 mm of travel while the preload adjustable rear shock has 167 mm of travel. Spring and damping rates are on the soft side for someone of my (ahem) size, but then riders like me are not the intended market. For smaller, lighter riders, compliance would likely be much better.

Gearing is slightly taller overall than on the 230L, but you’ll still be into second gear by the time you’re halfway through an intersection and grabbing third before you clear the far crosswalk.

Even using lots of throttle while tap-dancing through the excellent gearbox, acceleration can only be described as leisurely, although it’s more than enough to keep you out in front of the cages. Short trips on the 401 reveal that the 230M is (mostly) capable of keeping up with traffic but it’s pretty much wrung out at those velocities.


As simple as you can get.
photo: Rick Romanyk

Where the 230M really shines is as a commuter or city bike. The feathery 125 kg (275 lb) claimed weight with a full tank of fossil fuel, narrow profile and upright riding position make it ideal for zipping around town.

The supple suspension protects the Royal Bottom from all the nasty potholes, craters and heaves around our streets. The sticky 110/70 front and 130/70 rear Dunlops allow some very aggressive cornering angles and the little Honda is an absolute hoot to throw around.

The 240 mm front disc dual-piston sliding caliper are lifted right off the L model, while a small single-piston caliper squeezes the 220 mm rear disc. Braking power is good, although feel and feedback are somewhat vague.


CRF’s styling has Bondo looking for something more sleek.
photo: Rick Romanyk

The square headlight, large rectangular turn signals and instrument cluster look like they were lifted off a mid-1980s XL500. Functional, yes, but it all makes the bike look dated. And, when you’re coughing up six large, I think a tachometer should be included.

The low 805 mm (31.7 in) seat height means it was a bit cramped for me, but new riders or those short of inseam will find it a very hospitable place to be. The seat is hard and narrow (not quite narrow enough to be designated “butt floss”) and acceptable for short jaunts.

Honda’s CRF230M is practical, well-finished and gets great fuel economy but it’s also a return to motorcycling’s roots — fun.

Kawasaki KLX250SF


Motor is liquid-cooled but keeps a carb with cold-starting issue.
photo: Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s $6,699 KLX250SF is slotted between the Honda and Yamaha both price-wise and in technology. The KLX sports a much more modern, “wedgy” visage than the Honda with a sharply styled headlight, inverted fork and a cool, blue LCD instrument package.

The 43 mm inverted fork is adjustable for preload only, while the rear shock is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.

The Kawi checks in at 137 kg (301 lb) wet, about 12 kg heavier than the Honda but offsets that with extra horsepower from its 249 cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC engine (though exactly how much more is unkown as Kawasaki don’t publish figures).

The trademark Kawasaki 300 mm wave-type front rotor is more than up to the task of slowing the KLX but the initial bite is soft and overall feel was fairly spongy. This bike would definitely benefit from braided steel lines.


Tall ride allows you to see over the cages.
photo: Kawasaki

The six-speed gearbox shifts very well and, like all enduros or motards, the upright riding position with its 860 mm (33.9 in) seat height allows you to see above most bottom-feeding four-wheeled traffic.

The KLX has a 34 mm carburetor and this brings us to the huge issue I have with the Kawasaki — its choke knob. While the Honda has a handlebar-mounted lever to activate the choke, the Kawi goes with a carburetor-mounted knob.

To engage the choke, you’ve got to reach way around the frame with your left hand, thread your fingers past a couple of overflow lines and breather tubes, grope around for the choke and pull it out — much like feeding a llama through a chain link fence.


Angular styling keeps the KLX in this millenium.
photo: Steve Bond

And the engine simply won’t fire from cold without the choke — even on 25 degree Celsius mornings. And guaranteed, the first time you think it’s warmed up and push the choke in, the bike will stall and you have to do it all over again.

Honestly, the placement of the choke alone would prevent me from purchasing this motorcycle. C’mon Kawasaki. A lever on the handlebar that activates the choke has been done before — get with it.

Thankfully, once the KLX is warmed up, the choke is not needed again all day. If it were, I’d cheerfully consider riding the bike off a cliff.


USD forks, liquid cooled motor and sharper styling.
photo: Kawasaki

The KLX has a tachometer in the instrument cluster and even though it’s one of those despicable LCD sweep units, it’s fairly readable and useful. The large digital speedo is good and there’s even a clock. Nice.

The power is noticeably better than the Honda’s but you’ll still be doing a fair bit of rowing through the gearbox to extract maximum performance out of the one-lunger.

The KLX will easily maintain a legal 100 km/h on the freeway but it still gets blown around by transports, and the zero wind protection limits you to short highway jaunts. However, handling is razor sharp and the KLX rocks around town.

Yamaha WR250X


State of the art motor.
photo: Yamaha

The Yamaha WR250X has the most sophisticated frame and suspension, the most horsepower and best brakes in this bunch. Lord, at $8,599 (almost two grand up on the other two), it had better bring something to the party.

Based on Yamaha’s successful high-tech, four-stroke WR off-road motorcycles, the X has a single-cylinder 250 cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled, four-valve motor complete with fuel injection and a catalytic converter for reduced emissions.

A slick shifting six-speed transmission lets you keep the 28-horsepower mill on the boil at all times.

The WR boasts a rigid aluminum frame and swingarm and a beefy inverted 46 mm fully adjustable fork with 270 mm of travel, while a single, fully-adjustable shock, also with 270 mm of travel, holds up the heinie.


Excellent suspension, strong motor and super sticky rubber.
photo: Yamaha

The Yamaha’s well-damped suspension has way more travel than the other two bikes’, and that’s reflected in the bike’s lofty 895mm (35.2 in) seat height, but that only confirms the WR’s more serious focus.

With super-sticky 110/17 front and 140/17 rear Bridgestone BT090 radial supersport rubber, it loves blasting around corners.

At 136 kg (299 lb) wet, the WR is slightly lighter than the Kawasaki and that, combined with the strongest motor, means the WR is a mini-rocketship.

Acceleration is stellar and I saw an indicated 138 km/h on the large, digital speedo — er, just keeping up with traffic on the highway, you understand.


You can stand the WR on its nose by grabbing a handful of brake lever, which acts on a two-piston caliper that grips a huge 298 mm front “wave style” floating disc.

Around town, the generous suspension travel allows the WR to float over the potholes, heaves and craters that have become the norm on our paved cart-paths.

Unlike the others, the WR has enough oomph for first and second gear wheelies as long as you’re sitting well back on the seat and give the bars a hefty tug first.


Styling is  between the Honda and Kawasaki. photo: Yamaha

And, even when ridden hard (which is the only way to ride these bikes), it still returned a sparkling 3.6L/100 km.

A good friend of mine who is a former pro road racer bought a WR250X because he lives in the city, decided to try track days on it and says it’s a hoot. He gets motored on the straights but says it’s incredible in the corners.

I believe him.


Three motorcycles, outwardly similar but uniquely different.


Supermotards are the perfect in-city bike …
photo: Kawasaki

The Honda is simplest with dated technology and the lowest price, while the Yamaha, which bristles with state-of-the-art hardware, has by far the best performance and the highest list price. The Kawasaki sits firmly in the middle.

Any of these motorcycles would make a great city bike for commuting or zipping back and forth to school. They can be pressed into short highway duty but their forte is really around town. The upright riding positions, supple suspensions and sticky rubber are perfect for tooling back and forth to work or school on our crappy roads.

For aggressive riders, the Honda and Kawasaki need suspension help as they’re both on the soft side and, when a big handful of brake is grabbed to make a quick turn, they dive noticeably. When the brake is released, they then rebound quite quickly, which upsets the chassis. Best to brake early and gently.


… though you can also have fun on the track too.
photo: Yamaha

The cool thing about all the 250 motards is that you can ride them around pretty much flat-out and nobody cares. Come up to a corner, grab a couple of downshifts, throw it over and power it out (and I use the word “power” here loosely) and nobody gives a damn. You’re not making any noise and, even better, you’re not trashing any speed limits.

With its air-cooled, two-valve engine, no tachometer and dated styling, the Honda should be priced a grand lower than the Kawasaki rather than just $300 less, while the Yamaha is obviously targeted towards serious knee-draggers.

The Kawasaki is probably the best combination of technology and features balanced against price but I just can’t get past that choke knob irritation. Of course, the almost two grand you’ll save over the Yamaha will buy a lot of suspension or an aftermarket pipe and jet kit that’ll get the Kawi up to Yamaha horsepower territory — and you can always jury-rig a better choke setup.


There’s something very sexy about 17″ laced rims. L to R: Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda.
photos: Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda

I found the 250 class motards a bit lacking in performance for someone of my riding style, experience and (ahem) physical stature.

But, if Honda brings out a supermotard based on their CRF450, I’ll be the first in line.



Bike Honda CRF230M Kawasaki KLX250SF Yamaha WR250X
MSRP $6,399 (2010) $6,699 $8,599 (2010)
Displacement 223cc 249 cc 250 cc
Engine type Four-stroke SOHC single, air-cooled Four-stroke DOHC single, liquid-cooled Four-stroke DOHC single, liquid-cooled
(crank – claimed)
18 hp @ 8,000 rpm N/A 30 hp @10,000 rpm
13.9 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm N/A 17.7 lb-ft @ 8,500 rpm
Tank Capacity 8.7 litres 7.7 litres 7.6 litres
Carburetion 30 mm CV carburetor 34 mm CV carburetor EFI with 38 mm throttle body
Final drive Six speed, chain drive Six speed, chain drive Six speed, chain drive
Tires, front 110/70-17 110/70-17 110/70-17
Tires, rear 130/70-17 130/70-17 140/70-17
Brakes, front Single 240 mm disc with dual-piston caliper Single 300 mm disc with dual-piston caliper Single 298 mm disc with dual-piston caliper
Brakes, rear 220 mm disc with single-piston caliper 240  mm disc with single-piston caliper 230 mm disc with single-piston caliper
Seat height 805 mm (31.7″) 860 mm (33.9 “) 895 mm (35.2″)
Wheelbase 1,336 mm (52.6 “) 1,420 mm (55.9″) 1,425 mm (56.1″)
Wet weight
125 kg (276 lb) 137 kg (302 lb) 136 kg (299 lb)
Colours Black Blue Purpleish white
Warranty 12-month, unlimited mileage 12-month, unlimited mileage 12-month, unlimited mileage


  1. WR250X: $8,700 is a lot of money, but $5,999 for left-over ’09 is decent. Will 30 HP be enough for me? We’ll see, but it will not be my only bike (Triumph Street 675 R: more that 3x HP and still a very light bike at about 100 lbs heavier (wet) than the X.) The WR250X will replace my KLR650 which rarely saw dirt roads.

  2. Yeah, that sounds about right for an air-cooled 250 of a similar spec to the Honda. Might be willing to pay a small premium over that for the Honda name, but not 4 grand.

  3. No you aren’t the only one. You can pick up a new non current 2009 Versys or a 2007/8 Aprilia RXV for $7500-8000.
    The trailie version of the 230 LISTS for $3699 in the US.
    I’m all for getting more people into motorcycling but its almost like they are forcing people to start on 600’s and 1000’s again when you can double the displacement for a few hundred $.

  4. Am I the only one that thinks the pricing on these things is nuts? I mean, 8 1/2 grand for a 30 HP single-cylinder street bike? And the Honda is probably even less worth its asking price, given its rather proletarian engine and other bits. For a few more bucks (if any) you could pick up something like a Versys or DL650 with more than twice the power and way more on-road versatility. Yeah, yeah, I know, lightness and good quality suspension have their own benefits, but none of these bikes have enough power to make it worthwhile, IMHO. Make it a 450 at the same price and get back to me.

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