2009 Kawasaki Jet-Ski First Rides

August 28, 2009
Ken Hutchison
Ken Hutchison
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The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

The Ultra LX features a powerful normally-aspirated 1 498cc four-stroke engine  stable deep-V hull  digital fuel injection  and the same massive storage capacity as the Ultra 260X.  : Lake Mead Kawasaki Jet Ski Tour 2009
The Ultra LX’s luxury touring seat and massive 53 gallon storage capacity combine with a large 20.6 gallon fuel tank and efficient performance to make it the ideal Jet Ski for long-distance cruising on open waters.

Summer is winding down but the temperatures don’t seem to be following suit, making it a great time to get yourself and your family into the water. And we can’t think of anything much better than getting wet on a Kawasaki Jet Ski. We recently sampled the 2009 Kawasaki Jet-Ski line-up at Lake Mead, testing the Ultra 260X and Ultra LX, the STX-15F and 800 SX-R Stand-Up.

Aerial versus the Ultra 260X

We will start off with the cream of the crop – the Ultra 260X ($11,999). This is the flagship Jet-Ski for Kawasaki, so it should be no surprise it features a 260 horsepower engine, a cutting edge hull design and a host of amenities that make this the ultimate personal watercraft. After three days on the lake I had blisters from hanging on to this bad boy but I still couldn’t make myself take it easy. It was too much fun feeling the acceleration from its Supercharged 1498cc Inline-Four. Not only is it one of the fastest PWCs on the water but this thing is well suited for family fun as well. It can tow a tube, skier or wake-boarder with no effort at all.

There were two Ultra 260Xs available during our weekend in Vegas, and since the theme was family fun, I had my 11-year old daughter along with me. What ski do you think she wanted us to ride the entire time? That’s right, the Ultra. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I love going fast and I have the driving record and scars to prove it. I love race tracks or mobbing a big-bore in the desert and once in a while I can’t resist cracking one off on the street because I am a kid at heart. But the most fun and arguably safest location to hold a vehicle WFO without fear of getting busted is on the water. And my kid got bit-bad by that bug on this trip. She was relentless in her pursuit of the 260. If someone else hopped off she’d make her way over and climb on as if to claim the grand prize. Doesn’t matter of it wasn’t our turn either. She obviously didn’t get the memo on press-intro etiquette. It was a great excuse for me to get extra time on the bad-boy though.

Do you think the kids enjoy tubing behind the Jet Ski  Lake Mead Kawasaki Jet Ski Tour 2009
Do you think the kids enjoy tubing behind the Jet Ski?

“Hey, she really likes that one better,” I would explain as part of my negotiations to get us back on her favorite scoot, “would you mind going back to the LX so we can haul-ass and have a really, really good time?” Ha ha ha, it worked every time! Nice job kiddo. Once again were strafing unsuspecting waterfowl and testing the stability features of the 260X. It’s difficult to put it in any more simple terms than what she said again and again: “It was fun…” She’s not a woman of few words so the fact that she was left with so little to say while grinning that Cheshire Cat grin speak volumes.

Not only does the Ultra 260X get-up and go but it’s fun and easy to ride as well. It’s comfortable for passengers and was an excellent mount for our tour of the gigantic Lake Mead Recreation Area. From the Hoover Dam to the Narrows this machine took good care of us. Whether we were ripping along at an indicated 70mph or doing an endless set of doughnuts, it was a blast. We never tipped over, a testament to the Smart Steering feature which helps keep the ski stable at all times. With the wind in our hair and the spray on our faces this water-born rocket was the highlight of our water sports weekend.

Don’t let the big power scare you off though. New riders can simply use the SLO key in order to govern the power down to beginner level so you can get the hang of it before unleashing the full 260 horses. Kawasaki’s Smart Steering helps keep the craft stable while navigating at slower speeds. Ease it up to the fuel dock and you have room for 20.6 gallons of petroleum which makes for an amazing range of operation. Just make sure to keep an eye on that fuel gauge if you have a heavy throttle finger because it will go through some gas if you’re holding it pinned everywhere. Show some restraint and this Ski is capable of exploring for hours and hours without worry.

Good friends  family and a healthy supply of wtaer: What better way to spend a weekend in Las Vegas  Lake Mead Kawasaki Jet Ski Tour 2009
Good friends, family and a healthy supply of water: What better way to spend a weekend in Las Vegas?

Accommodations are slick with a five-way adjustable handlebar and 60 gallons of storage, 53 gallons of which are in the front compartment alone. The swim step makes it easy to climb on plus it retracts automatically. The dash is very sportbike-like with dual gauges, a tach, speedometer, fuel and boost indicators to name a few. Plus the two-piece seat is comfortable enough for all day rides. And you’ll want to spend all day on this machine because it’s so much fun. Whether you’re riding solo, two-up with your kid or towing someone, this is the ultimate personal watercraft.

For folks who simply do not need that type of power, Kawasaki makes a few cheaper, more manageable options than the Ultra 260X, including the Ultra 250X and LX-versions. The LX ($10,999) is a normally aspirated version of the 260X so it feels the same…it’s just not quite as fast. There’s also the STX lineup which includes the STX-15F and base-model STX. Both these machines are still three-passenger watercraft but they feature lower MSRPs at $7899 and $8399 respectively, both of which feature 3-Star ultra-low emission ratings.

All of these machines have SLO and Smart Steer technology and are capable of towing a skier or taking up to two passengers along for the fun. They just aren’t as extreme as the Ultra 260. Still, we were forced to do our time on the Ultra LX and except for the lack of arm-stretching acceleration this ski is still a heck of a good time. It just didn’t cause the giddy-laughter I had become accustomed to from our time spent in the saddle of the Ultra 260X. I mean seriously, when you are on the water it’s all about having fun and you might not need all that power (even though we do).

But wait, there’s more. My personal favorite, the original personal watercraft, was also available for us to fool around on. I got my first taste of jet-ski fun back in the ‘80s aboard my crusty 440 stand-up. It was loud and obnoxious but definitely fun. Fast-forward two decades and Kawasaki is still making stand-ups. We only wish our old-school skis performed like the new 800 SX-R. This is a thoroughly bad-ass ride that features a 780cc 2-Stroke Twin that should humble anything this side of a fully-modified race ski from back in the day. The biggest difference being that our old skis would implode after a couple seasons and we were almost always on the edge of filing an environmental impact statement anywhere we hoped to ride the things. That’s not the case with the 800 SX-R.

The Kawasaki 800SXR is the most entertaining Jet Ski of them all. But you can only go solo so you need to have a riding buddy to get maximum fun out of this bad-boy.
The Kawasaki 800SXR is the most entertaining Jet Ski of them all. But you can only go solo so you need to have a riding buddy to get maximum fun out of this sled.

This is about as tight a personal watercraft as you can get. It’s sleek, fast and one of the cleanest running 2-Strokes ever. It still requires mixed gas but that harkens back to the glory days of the PWC in my book. The smell of premix as you idle through the no-wake zone followed by that raspy bark of a healthy two-cylinder engine as it wails to peak rpm is one of the fond memories of that rapidly disappearing era. That’s right about the time I usually lose my balance and get a sinus cavity full of H2O though too. The other appealing thing about the stand-up jet-Ski to me is that it takes a bit of skill to ride one. Anyone can plop down on a sit-down and have a great time. But you have to be coordinated to ride one of these.

That’s why one of the most entertaining memories of this mission was spent taking diggers and getting high-sided while trying to get my groove back in a secluded canyon on Lake Mead. Joined by fellow stand-up novice, Jason Britton, we raced around the cove, turning, carving and crashing like a couple of teenagers on their first joyride. Sure we were probably doing pretty well practicing the basics: Leg down turns ala Jeff Fischetti and lame-ass subs but it was a riot. By the time the sun was going down I had been pitched off the ski a dozen times at 30-40 mph and felt like a drowned rat but if we had more daylight to work with, neither of us would’ve given up. In the end we found our carving groove and Jason will soon be doing wheelies from the Narrows to Hoover Dam but none of that matters. The personal watercraft is still around. It’s still all about the rider, the machine and the water – and that’s the allure of the stand-up ski. Of course there were no photographers allowed during this session so you’ll just have to take my word for it. We had serious fun.

Our mission didn’t end there though. After three days on the lake we were heading to Sin City and the Orleans Casino for the opening round of the 2009 Endurocross season. The defending champion just happens to be Monster Kawasaki rider Ricky Dietrch and we were all set up to meet the team and get a VIP view of the roughest indoor motorcycle race on the planet. But not before we got one more blast in on the morning of the race. But you don’t want to hear about how much fun that was again. Do you?

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