There isn’t much change in the 250 dual sport class. Year-over-year most bikes remain basically the same, with an update every decade – give or take. So, when we got both the Honda CRF300L and Kawasaki KLX300 duallies last year, people took notice. Was the 250 class finally growing up? This spring, I got my hands on a new-for-2021 KLX to find out.
An increase in power
The biggest complaint about the old KXL250 model, and 250 dual sports in general, is a lack of power. When Kawasaki updated the KLX’s fuel-injected liquid-cooled four-valve single, it increased the bore by 6 mm, bringing the engine capacity to 292 cc.
The end result is more power all through the rev range, with noticeably more torque over previous 250-class machines. The front wheel on this 300 pops up much more readily than older quarter-litre Japanese bikes. It still doesn’t have the zip of a lightweight, high-strung enduro or MX bike, but it’s a street legal duallie with a practical maintenance schedule. I’ll take that trade-off any day; it means more time riding and less time wrenching.
Kawasaki doesn’t publish horsepower figures these days, but the general belief is the new 300 has 29 hp at the crank. That’s perfect in the role of mild-mannered trailbike, which makes sense, as this is the same engine as the dirt-only KLX300R. It also works nicely on curvy back roads and two-lane secondary highways.
On four lane highways, the KLX300 does much better than most of the old 250 dual sport class, but it still lacks the power of the larger thumpers. You can run 100, 110, even faster but it won’t be fun, as the bike gets a bit buzzy at the top of the rev range. Long grades and headwinds will slow you down, too.
Just remember it’s a 300 single that’s aimed at trail usage, and then you’ll be fine. Work the six-speed gearbox, and you’ve got low-down snap for the trails but can still move along at triple-digit speeds. If you want to cross the continent on divided highways, go buy something bigger (We hear there’s a new KLR650 coming …).
Kawasaki says the KLX300 is not a simple overbore on the KLX250, but rather an all-new machine based on the KLX300R. Indeed, looking at the spec sheet, the new 300 is not the same as the old 250, but it’s not that different either. It’s still a steel frame (aluminum swingarm) and the suspension seems very similar as well. Kawasaki puts a compression-adjustable 43 mm fork on the bike, along with a compression/rebound-adjustable shock on the 300, just like the 250 had. There’s less ground clearance on the new machine (275 mm), but that’s the compromise you get between street and trail.
Over a couple of weekends of riding back roads and gravel, I must say I was very pleased with the KLX’s suspension performance. On-road or off-road, the rear end stayed planted and the front end didn’t wander. This bike isn’t made for high speeds on the street or in the dirt, but ride it sensibly, and it handles well (the 137 kg wet weight helps here, too). If you don’t like the suspension feedback or the general stability, you can adjust it, which is more than you can say for almost all its competition in this price range.
There’s a single brake disc up front, with a two-piston caliper, and a single disc in rear. ABS isn’t available for 2021, even as an option; I would expect it to eventually show up, but Kawi likely wanted to streamline production in a high-demand year, and keep the price down. The first thing most riders do when they leave the pavement is shut it off anyhow.
Between the updated engine and the competent chassis, I’d say Kawasaki has a winner here. I’d particularly recommend it to riders looking for a dirt-oriented machine, as I think the added power and competent suspension make it superior to any of the Japanese 250s, with the exception of the Yamaha WR250R. But that machine was cancelled for 2021.
The first thing most serious dual-sport riders do when they buy a bike is start bolting on farkles, so what would I add? Although I never ran out of fuel on this bike, the teeny-tiny 7.7 L gas tank had me nervous when the Low Fuel light came on for the first time. I had just started riding down a forest road, a decent distance from any gas station. After that, I kept a close eye on my fuel range, and didn’t ride past the fuel pumps once my tripmeter passed 100 km. The fuel light came on around the 120 km mark most of the time, requiring around five or six litres to top up after that.
The low range would be OK for many riders who are simply commuting to work or riding close to home, but if you’re planning a serious adventure ride you’ll want to start carrying extra gas, or maybe buy a larger fuel tank. You’ll also want to buy handguards, as the KLX300 doesn’t come with any handlebar protection. The Kawasaki OEM handguards are floppy plastic, and I’d instead recommend something like these Moose units; they’re much cheaper, and offer better protection.
You’ll also want a skid plate. For now, Kawasaki doesn’t list an OEM skid plate, so you’ll have to look around online and find one that fits. I suspect a KLX250 plate would fit, but certainly can’t guarantee it will work.
I wouldn’t mess with the seat; it’s a bit hard, but if you actually ride the bike instead of reading about upgrades on the Internet, you’ll soon adjust to it. Same goes for the 895 mm seat height. Yeah, a lower seat would be nice, but if you actually ride the bike, you’ll adapt. Spend your money on gas and tires.
Kawasaki also considerately added a folding shift lever, so you don’t have to spend any coin on an aftermarket unit here—the stocker should suffice for sensible off-road use.
So, some sort of extra fuel storage if you’re headed further afield (a jerry can, in a pinch), a set of handguards and a skid plate would cover the basics. Heated grips would be nice too, given the option.
Those basic farkles will add $300 or more to the KLX’s price tag. For 2021, Kawi wants $6,499 for the Lime Green KLX300, and $6,699 for Fragment Camo Gray (I prefer the green version, myself). It wasn’t that long ago you could buy a 650 for that kind of money, but prices are rising. Honda’s new CRF300L is also priced at $6,499, and when the Kawasaki KLR650 appears in summer, it’ll carry a $7,499 MSRP. The Suzuki DR650 remains sub-$7k, at $6,699.
With that in mind, and considering the general boom in dual-sport sales (maybe the only good thing to come from this pandemic), I’d say Kawasaki will have no problems moving these machines at this price point. Head over to Team Green’s website for more details.