2008 Kawasaki KX250F
Kawi has the baddest 250F machines in the AMA pro pits, but in stock form, the KX250F needs some fine tuning. Fortunately, Pro Circuit has proven what a good platform it is to build a race winner.
We wanted to put the standard fare of black backgrounds and white numbers on all the test bikes, but the problem there is that we'd be cutting Kawasaki
short. It's the only manufacturer that is offering black numberplates in stock trim - a fact not lost on us and one we appreciate from an aesthetic standpoint. Actually, if we had a category for judging looks, the Kawi would certainly win, to put it mildly. There's no denying our sport's obsession with fashion, and the Kawasaki has it covered in the looks department. Black and green is definitely the hot ticket, just ask Mitch Payton, and the motif has been embraced for 2008 with black rims to accent the number backgrounds. If only the bike performed as well as it looks. In some respects it does, but the KX250F wound up third after the dust settled.
"The Kawasaki is right in the ballpark with a consistent midrange power delivery, but no hit," says Sun in describing the motor. "I was a bit more reliant on the clutch with the KX-F."
"There's not as much there as with the CRF," Gurneé says about the KX-F's low-end performance in comparison to the standout motor of the group. "It comes on midway through the revs and into the top, but you really have to ride it in the meat of the power. I find myself shifting more than with the CRF."
In terms of sheer power, the Kawasaki ranks just behind its former partner, the RM-Z. Dumping 32 ponies to the black rear wheel, the Kay-ex's horsepower comes on a little stronger down low but allows the others to catch up from between about 7K-9K rpm. After that it makes another push to a peak output at 10,800. From there to redline the others run away, so shift early and often. The torque peaks at 8600 rpm where 17 lb-ft are on tap, but again, avoid that rev limiter.
All that shifting is the problem. It takes quite a bit of effort to be slick about the whole process. Granted, the Kawi isn't a horrible shifter, but there are some damn good cog-swappers in the group, like the Suzuki and Honda. Those two are slicker than the finalists in a nude sorority Jell-O wrestling tourney.
Does it sound like we don't like the Kawasaki? We hope not, because that's the exact opposite. It has a couple easy nit-picks, but here Carter demonstrates our true feelings with a whip down one of Cahuilla's many hills.
The Kawi scored last in the transmission/clutch category, and that weakness was at the forefront of our minds when it came time to evaluate the bike as a whole. The direct relationship between the engine and the notchy transmission and grabby clutch tended to overshadow the motor's strong points. One thing we did notice, however, is that we always felt like we were going fast on the Kawi thanks to the loudest, raspiest exhaust of the bunch. It definitely barks, but unfortunately it's disproportionate to the bite.
Competitive with the Yamaha and Suzuki most of the way around the track, another thing that really held the Green Meanie back for our testers was its suspension. All of our riders had a hard time getting the shock to work as well as the other machines. Overall the suspension was a tad unbalanced for us and it showed mostly on impacts such as jump landings and chop. The fork and shock aren't bad, but much of our frustration came from an inability to make much progress with the clicker settings. However, the Showas weren't as disagreeable while cornering. The firm, stable chassis combined to make the KX-F satisfactory around an apex.
"Kawasaki can rail the turns with a very balanced feel," says the former AMA champ. "The stock (suspension) settings were a bit confused for me, the rear shock would blow through the travel, but its neutral feeling chassis makes it a berm railer."
Three pounds separate the Kawi from the Honda and Suzuki (219 vs. 216), but none of our testers felt that the extra weight was really discernible. Terms such as predictable and steady were tossed around like croutons on this green salad.
The highest marks for the KX-F had nothing to do with going fast, but rather slowing down - it finished second to Honda in braking, one of the most hotly contested categories. Slightly less positive feedback at the levers was the only thing keeping it from earning the top spot with its set of petal-style rotors (250mm front, 240mm rear) and dual-pot/single-pot caliper arrangement.
None of our riders ranked the Kawi first overall, which you'll better understand in a couple of pages, but it did get a second-place vote and a pair of thirds. Ultimately it split the Suzuki and Yamaha right down the middle. Deterred by the thought of ending up in the final podium spot? Check out the For My Money at the end of this test and you'll see that the Kawasaki obviously has a lot to offer.