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2009 Kawasaki KLX250S First Ride

Monday, April 28, 2008
A new and improved dual-sport motorcycle for off-road adventure  Kawasaki signed us up and we were along for the ride in Death Valley  California.
A new and improved dual-sport motorcycle for off-road adventure? Kawasaki signed us up and we were along for the ride in Death Valley, California.
Death Valley Dual-Sport

As the sun lit up the rock walls on either side of Titus Canyon the eve of our guided tour of Death Valley National Monument was upon us. The only thing left was 50 highway miles back to the watering hole for some much needed re-hydration and chow. This was the end of our ride aboard the new and improved 2009 Kawasaki KLX250S and, after spending all day trying to bust the bike, it was clear the little KLX has the ability to survive both a harsh desert thrashing and commuter duty in urban sprawl.

The '09 250S is Kawasaki's latest entry to the increasingly popular dual-sport market that its steadfast KLR650 has dominated over the years. Kawasaki sees a need for a competent off-road dual-sport and that's where the light, compact and quick handling S comes into play. Filling the void the big six-fifty simply cannot, the more diminutive 250S is well suited in its role as the 'other' motorcycle for riders who have the discretionary income for multiple bikes in the garage. It's not the best looking or the fastest, but it is a load of fun to ride in a wide assortment of locations - perfect for travelers wanting a multi-purpose bike to stick in the RV. An electric-start, liquid-cooled 249cc Single teams with a 6-speed transmission, box-section steel frame, aluminum swingarm and all the necessary street-legal accoutrements to make this bike an first-rate dual-sport motorcycle.

Leading a long list of updates are improved carburetion and exhaust systems to meet the strict California emission requirements. The past few years the bike was only available as a 49-stater and Kawi was keen to get a piece of the largest dual-sport market in America when it fine tuned its little dually.

Petal-style brakes front and rear are a good addition to the KLX. There's enough feel at the lever to provide aggressive riders the ability to scrub off speed in the hard-packed desert without tucking the front and they are powerful enough to slow it down quickly on the street. When you get journalists together with the fast dudes that run these intros you can imagine the bikes get ridden hard: Some harder than others. Our guide knew his way well after scouting the route a couple times, so we had a good time connecting turns and kicking up enough dust to choke a coyote. The brakes are consistent and the new Dunlop 605 tires provided just enough traction to keep us upright with only a handful of hairy moments tossed in to keep us on our toes.

Changes to the steering geometry have the rake decreased from 27.5 to 26.6 degrees to make it more responsive to rider input off-road. During our day of bashing we didn't tackle a ton of technical terrain but it was clear the bike is light on its feet and easy to manhandle in the rocks of Death Valley's twisty canyons. The first real challenge came at the halfway point through the rugged Echo Canyon section. After miles of rough road riding an imposing 100-ft section of boulders and rocks that climbed about 20 feet proved to be a challenge and assured us the 250S is an off-road bike at heart.

Considering its intended purpose as an all-around motorbike  the KLX transmits enough feedback to make it easy to go fast.
Considering its intended purpose as an all-around motorbike, the KLX transmits enough feedback to make it easy to go fast.
An inverted 43mm fork with 16-way-adjustable compression damping does a nice job of absorbing small to medium sized hits but it dives quite a bit on the street under braking. The rear shock features 16-way adjustability for both compression and rebound. Stock settings are on the soft side, so it rides like a Cadillac over the roads we traversed, absorbing all bumps and moderate-sized ruts without complaint. As the speeds pick up and the hills become jumps and the rocks turn threatening the suspension is pretty wimpy. Despite this, it recovers from hard hits without much wag in the bars. A testament to its capable chassis arose when our guide dusted me out during a high-speed run through the desolate wasteland of the Amargosa Desert. Bombing blindly at 70-mph into a 90-degree left-hander at the start of a rutty silt-belt was a real eye-opener.

Moments after the dust blew away and revealed this little treat there was a split second to avert the disaster, turning was not an option so when I hit the ruts at an angle and the bike pitched me into the bars and the rear started swapping. I thought I was really going to regret not wearing elbow guards as I blitzed past the scrub brush and rock piles before getting back on track. Fortunately, the KLX regained composure quickly, demonstrating that it's capable of going over the edge and still coming back in one piece.

Everything about the KLX250S is on the gentle side. The suspension is as soft as the mellow power delivery and the riding position is painless. On the trails the shock and fork absorb the rough stuff admirably so advanced riders will be able to easily push the KLX to its limit.
Everything about the KLX250S is on the gentle side. The suspension is as soft as the mellow power delivery and the riding position is painless. On the trails the shock and fork absorb the rough stuff admirably so advanced riders will be able to easily push the KLX to its limit.
Considering its intended purpose as an all-around motorbike, the KLX transmits enough feedback to make it easy to go fast. But Kawasaki expects it to be ridden by riders who want to soak in the surroundings, not pass them by in a blur, and the 250S is right at home at those speeds. The 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels have been beefed up with thicker spokes wrapped in tires with a tread pattern aimed at improving the off-road worthiness and providing a more stable ride on the street than the spindly units on its predecessor. Once again the rocky terrain and deep gravel could have wreaked havoc on these OEM components, yet we didn't see a flat, no bent wheels, nada. If it had, the bike is equipped with a useful tool kit on the rear fender that includes pliers, plug wrench, screwdrivers and the wrenches necessary to remove the axles and change a flat.You supply the spare tube.

Helping to take the edge out of the OHV equation is an assortment of standard Kawasaki switchgear, mirrors, comfy seat and modern instrumentation. A trick new digital dash replaces the dual analog dials on the previous bike and features a bar graph-style tach across the top of the slim screen. The display also houses a speedometer, dual trip meters and clock. Heck, the mirrors even stayed in place on the majority of our test fleet units and they provide a great view of the aft action. A few did come loose, requiring the rider take a minute to tighten 'em back down before moving on.

Between photo ops and water stops we were pushing our luck and the sun was disappearing behind the towering walls of Titus Canyon. We did manage to soak in the sights near the end of the day. The picturesque rock formations demanded attention and coming off the wet season there was an unusual amount of green foliage in contrast to the brown and red rock canyon walls.

The KLX250S might not be the biggest or baddest off-road bike to come out of the Kawasaki camp but it will go farther than most riders will be willing to go.
The KLX250S might not be the biggest or baddest off-road bike to come out of the Kawasaki camp but it will go farther than most riders will be willing to go.
The KLX's stylized front headlight acts as a number plate/wind deflector if you can call it that. It didn't block much of the 30-mph headwind we battled on the highway our last 50-miles back to the Furnace Creek Resort but it definitely looks cool. The seat was plush enough to do a couple hundred miles on without any concern, which is a big deal considering how hard some dual-sport seats are. Another highlight is the nifty flip-top gas-cap that has keyed access and a hinge that lets it remain on the bike during fuel stops. At our first 55-mile fuel stop the bikes only took a bit over a gallon for a gas-sipping 46mpg average. Using the power of deduction, knowing that the 250S has a 2-gallon fuel tank, we estimate the range to be in the neighborhood of 100 miles.

Mother Nature spent millions of years crafting the Death Valley monument, and despite the fatal nature of this places' name it is a wonder to behold. Here, sitting astride the 250S, a mere spec in the history book of this place, it is clear why we need these types of motorcycles. They are unobtrusive, easy to ride and capable of going where few people have gone before. It opens the door for casual riders to explore places that many would never dare to go on foot and venture further than many four-wheeled vehicles. And at $4899, this dual-sport offers a smile-per-dollar ratio that's pretty damn hard to beat.

Let us know what you think about this article in the MotoUSA Forum.

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victor -09 klx 250s  December 4, 2010 05:47 AM
bought my bike last july of 09. i almost went back to the dealer and return the bike because i thought something was wrong with it.
there was no power at all, but i decided to try using it through the break in period and see how it turned out. i found the power so amemic that i just did all the mods i read about before i even finished the break in period. dyno jet kit, twin air filter, removed snorkel, put on a powercore 4 muffler.
it made a huge difference, but still just more bark than bite. really, i remember my 1982 xl 185 made more power than this 250. i am planning to do the last mod, which the 350 cc bore kit and pumper carb. if this doesnt work, i will just have to accept this bike as it is.
Biker79 -New KLX250S  September 8, 2010 12:45 PM
First day of ownership, anemic power, slightly over weight, and very tall. You need a jack to pull the front end up. We will see how much it can be made better in the aftermarket. I will gear it down a little and add a complete exhaust with the proper jetting as it's too lean as delivered. Probably get some adjustable dog bones to lower it some also and we'll see. Maybe a good beginner bike as new but if you've rode any other bikes it's not great in stock form.
Terry Brooks -aka Cupid Stunt  April 13, 2010 03:42 AM
Oh dear What's wrong with the USA ? Here's the answer... "letting the more technologically-advanced Americans have the injected model" :)
scobib -awesome  February 9, 2010 06:37 AM
If you're 5'7", you'll want to look into lowering it just a bit. My Dad installed Kooba Links on his and lowered it 1" - made a big difference for him. As far as rain goes, well, that depends on the tires. OEM tires aren't bad.

FWIW, we have two '09 KLS 250S models and love them - we installed a KDX snorkel, No-Toil filter, Dynoject Stage II kit and FMF Q4 and it really, REALLY woke the bikes up. Night and day difference, without killing fuel mileage. Sure makes it easier to get the front wheel up to clear obstacles and provides more grunt for thumping up stuff.

We swapped the tires out with Michelin AC-10's and installed some HD tubes for a ride in the desert (Big Bend) - awesome. The bikes tackled all kinds of stuff with no issues.
Krash_australia -The 2010 KLX250S  December 30, 2009 06:12 PM
Dalley -09 klx250s mods  December 17, 2009 06:35 AM
I bought mine late this fall at the dealer were I work as a tech. That alone should tell you something about the bike it has not caused any kind of trouble. I dont want a bike I have to worry about having to rebuild motors and stuff I just want to ride and this is the bike. Now im not saying I didnt Mod the thing like eveyone else I found the power a little soft so the day I got the bike I installed the dyno-jet jet kit and FMF power bomb head pipe and Q4 muffler. The sound alone was worth the investment but it also gave the bike more grunt. I plan on installing a KDX intake snorkle and after market filter this spring. I love the bike and I better because with 2 baby boys my wife is not going to say yes to buying another bike anytime soon...
gengo -klx250s 09  November 24, 2009 03:10 AM
bought mine this week , found it had no grunt and made a few enquires which I found out these bikes are heavily restricted and its as simple as blocking two holes in the carby slide and airbox then it has approximately 20% more kick and revs freely now took it straight back to dealer they did free of charge massive improvement couldnt understand how someone could ride in restricted form so slow
Richard S LI NY -09 kawa klx250s  August 13, 2009 09:03 PM
Purchased new 6/09. Bike is great except break in period. I really like the overall look and style. The power lacks in the lower end, but my last dual purpose was a dr350 plenty of power and then some. I expected less power in the 250, but sometimes I wish I had a little punch when needed in the woods. The bike really handles well and won't get away from you, on tight trails and curves. I love it over all and can deal with less up front power. The bike handles very well off road as on. I think I have a keeper.
Matthew Howell -50 states street legal.  July 20, 2009 11:07 PM
I bought my KLX250S about a year ago now. For those who have issues with its power, you gotta remember it is only a 250 but, on top of that, it has been choked up pretty well in order to meet emissions standards in all the states. Its really easy to open her up. High flow air filter, jet kit, and aftermarket slip-on make a big difference. If that's not enough, you can also get a 351cc big bore kit. All those modifications only tack on maybe another $1,500 bucks. It would be great if the bike came from the factory that way but, really, what bike comes from the factory with no modifications needed?
Don -250 KLW250S  June 19, 2009 07:24 AM
Just bought one this week. Its a good bike to learn on, and I'm having a lot of fun on it too. Tank range is 84 miles. I know the hard way.
PythonKiller -Good starter/entry bike  June 7, 2009 01:04 PM
Just bought mine in April. Long break-in, but so do most bikes. Wish it came with hand guards stock and the tail light assembly shakes on rough terrain, otherwise a pretty responsive ride. Dumped it twice so far, no damage that would end your day. If you're looking for a basic dual sport, not a motocross with lights and a horn, this would be a good choice. Some people are complaining about power and low end, well go ahead and modify it. It is basic for a reason, so you can customize it to fit your needs! I ride on a lot of dirt roads and levee tops between pavement forays, so I don't have much of a need for low end torque but a good suspension is huge. Be like Darwin and evolve your bike into a kick @$$ ride, or sit in your garage and complain.
Chuck Brown -Should Work  May 21, 2009 06:46 PM
I just completed the Eastern TAT on my 1991 R100 GS and plan to do the Western half in September - but not on the GS. This sounds like the perfect bike and not all pumped up like the KTM's. Good price and I'm sure it will do the job. My old DRZ 400 worked very well and was bone simple.
DAVID SMITH -kawasaki KLX 250-s 2009  May 8, 2009 11:02 AM
Bought new Apr.2009. Disappointed in power of bike. Weight only 15 lbs. lighter than my DRZ 400. Had to change primary gear to a 13 tooth just to get some more low-end power. Hardly able to power front wheel up to clear ruts. I don’t know why Kawasaki just didn’t build a 300-325 cc bike. Weight would be the same weight but with more usable power.
Byron Black -Surprise about the intake configuration  January 21, 2009 09:19 PM
Enjoyed your article very much - I used to write for CYCLE and CYCLE WORLD (Japan Correspondent) and I appreciate a clean, straightforward style. I have a strong lust to get a pair of the KLX250s for poking around West Java, which has more than its share of hidden trails. It's extremely rugged and volcanic and it's hard to find anything horizontal for more than a few feet. Great enduro territory. But the local machines come fitted with fuel injection - not with carbs, like the US models. Puzzling - you'd expect that they'd do it the other way around, letting the more technologically-advanced Americans have the injected model. I also hope that the FI machine has the same smooth response at small throttle openings as the carburetor-fitted one does. I've ridden machines before with snappy FI and it's not so pleasant when traction is tenuous. Keep up the great work. Byron Black
ultra auto -250 kawasaki dualm 2009  January 12, 2009 07:13 PM
just bought one recntly. seemed nice on cold fast test drive . can twait t for weather to break so i can really try this bike out. Thanks God bless all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!