In my younger days, I was always of the mindset that more is better and the biggest is the best, especially when it came to motorcycles. If Danny Hamel used a KX500 to slay the competition in the desert, then that is what I needed to win the Novice class as well. More often than not, my racing endeavors ended in huge crashes, visits to the hospital and parts bills that eclipsed my meager earnings at the local motorcycle shop. Now I’m closer to 40 than 30 and I’ve come to find that smaller displacement dirt bikes are more fun to ride. If given my druthers, I’ll pick a 250cc modern 4-Stroke more often than any other.
In the MX realm there is no shortage of 250s to choose from, but in the enduro world the list is much shorter. You’ve got Honda’s long-in-the-tooth CRF250X and three very similar machines built in the same Austrian factory – the KTM 250 XCF-W, the Husqvarna FE250 and the last run of the Husaberg FE250. That’s it. We decided to round them up and see how they stacked up against each other. Would the Honda be competitive with the European machines, and how different would those three be when put to the test?
Honda’s CRF250X hasn’t seen a change since its redo in 2009 and may seem the least performance-oriented machine in this shootout. While it does not feature fuel injection, it does sport an aluminum frame and Honda’s Unicam liquid-cooled 4-valve engine. It may look dated and even a bit pudgy, but it can’t be counted out, especially when you consider the MSRP of just $7410, over $1100 less than the next-cheapest competitor.
There really is no denying that KTM is the juggernaut when it comes to off-road and enduro. Go to any GNCC, Hare and Hound or enduro and you can’t spit without hitting an orange bike. And for good reason. KTM has given the hardcore off-roader what they want – a high-performance bike with all the tech found in modern motocrossers. KTM’s $8599 2014 250 XCF-W has a completely new DOHC powerplant and revised suspension settings.
This is the last year of the Husaberg FE250 (and for any Husaberg for that matter) as the brand will be absorbed into the KTM and Husqvarna lines. And although the end is at hand, the 2014 FE250 did receive the same new motor as the XCF-W, reworked 4CS WP closed-cartridge forks and frame revisions. After 25 years of uniqueness, the Husaberg is not going quietly and is a real threat in this shootout.
KTM’s CEO acquired Husqvarna from BMW last year and we were thrilled to see it happen. The BMW-era of Husky was less than successful with bikes that always felt underpowered and not on the same level as the rest of the market. Now what you have is an amalgamation of the KTM and Husaberg for a slightly higher MSRP of $8649. It’s the only one of the three with linkage rear suspension, versus KTM’s tried-and-true PDS system, but it shares the 4CS WP fork and composite subframe of the ‘Berg. Will the new ownership bring the beloved Husqvarna moniker back to its former glory? We fully expect that will be the case.
To put these four single-track slayers to the test we headed for the picturesque location of Sand Hollow State Park, located just outside of St. George, Utah. The terrain is a mixture of desert trails, sand dunes, wicked singletrack and challenging slick rock. MotoUSA spent some time at this location once before with the crew from Fasst Co. for an industry ride and have raved about it to anyone that would listen ever since.
Our testing crew for this mission included yours truly along with four men that speak the Queen’s English and hadn’t seen the sun in several months. First on the roster was Simon Pavey, Dakar legend and owner of Off-Road Skills, a UK-based riding school for enduro and adventure bikes. His son, Llewelyn Pavey, aka Llel, would also join in the fun and is an accomplished rider in his own right. He is freelance editor for several European off-road magazines and a damn fine photographer. Our good friend Chris Northover from Superbikes magazine based in London has more off-road talent in his shaggy locks than should be allowed for a guy that makes a living riding on the tarmac; we were constantly enraged by how easy he made every hill climb and obstacle look. Chris also brought along a completely unhinged lunatic named Max Hunt who knows no fear and would be the driving force to go bigger and faster. Mainly because he bought a Taser in a Utah gas station and you were in jeopardy anytime he was at arm’s length.
So what we have is an epic riding area, excellent riders and four 250cc Enduro machines. With that there is only one thing left to do – find out which machine will take the win using our standard scoring system that includes both objective and subjective categories. Let’s get it on!