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2009 Kawasaki KLX250S: MD First Ride

Despite an overall downturn in motorcycle sales, interest in dual sport bikes is continuing to rise. The reasons? That is difficult to say with any precision, but these bikes serve a number of market targets. The lower displacement 250cc bikes appeal to beginning riders, returning riders, experienced riders seeking a second bike and commuters. The price point of the bike we test here, $4,899.00, is another reason for interest in this category.

Changes to the KLX250S for 2009 are not necessarily large in number, but they are significant. The KLX250S has better power this year as a result of a revised exhaust system and new carburetor settings. Gear ratios were tightened by moving sixth gear closer to fifth. Cooling is improved with a new radiator design as well.

A slightly steeper steering head rake is said to improve both stability and turning. A new, stiffer swingarm with much nicer chain adjusters rounds out the chassis changes.

The suspension is revised with new damping settings and a new rear linkage (to compliment the new swingarm). Those suspension pieces hold wheels with beefer spokes and new petal-styled disc brakes (including a larger 240mm disc up front). Ergonomics get tweaked with higher/straighter handlebars and a revised seat shape featuring firmer foam.

A trick new digital instrument panel is very legible, and features a sweeping tachometer, speedometer, clock, odometer, and dual trip meters.

Kawasaki invited us to Death Valley here in Southern California for a surprisingly intense press introduction that sent at least one experienced journalist back to paved roads when he decided the off-road course was a little bit too tough.

Death Valley should be famous for a lot of things, but it is really only famous worldwide for one thing. Heat. We stayed at the appropriately named Furnace Creek Inn near the heart of the valley but traversed many of its paved roads and unpaved trails (primarily, the latter) throughout a day of riding that seriously challenged the skill of the journalists as much as it did the competency of our mount.

After a short stint on paved roads, we immediately dove onto trails full of rocks of various sizes and shapes (including some of the large, jagged-edge variety). If you weren’t comfortable having your bike slide around beneath you (including the front contact patch, from time-to-time), this was a pretty hairy trip. After hours of this stuff, I wondered how yours truly (weighing in at 210 pounds on a good day) had not experienced a pinch flat. I found out that Kawasaki had inflated the dual sport tires to in excess of 20 PSI, both front and rear. Not a bad thing on the street, I suppose, but a prescription for dicey traction on the silty, hard-packed trails we would ride later in the day.

Given my personal background on dirt bikes, I suppose I felt more comfortable than most during this ride. Frankly, I thought it was a blast . . . one of the best press intros I had ever attended. Nevertheless, I had a couple of close calls when I “lost the front” trying to change directions on the loose shale beneath me.

Overall, the new KLX250S acquitted itself extremely well. It wasn’t too long ago that a fast rider of my girth would bottom the suspension of a typical dual sport repeatedly, and frequently, on a ride such as this one. I don’t know that I bottomed the fork or the shock on the KLX250S all day long. Despite this, the suspension felt plush and controlled . . . soaking up the frequent square-edged bumps (despite the high tire pressures) without much complaint.

I would normally want more spring preload in the rear shock, given the fact that I outweigh the target customer significantly. I opted to leave the rear shock alone when I started the press ride, and I did not feel that I had any steering issues despite this. The KLX250S displayed good stability and solid turning capability throughout the day. Despite the overly high tire pressures (and the occasional front end slide), the bike felt like it was balanced well, with the right distribution of weight between front end and rear end. Part of this may be credited to the change in front end geometry. Whatever the reason, it was hard to fault the handling of the KLX250S while riding terrain that would leave the typical dual sport (and its rider) begging for mercy.

The transmission shifted reliably, and presented no issues. At times, I felt like I could use a stronger brake up front on paved sections (which is fairly typical for a dual sport, with its relatively small front disc), but braking was solid and predictable off-road (when I could get the front tire to bite).

Not surprisingly, the 278 pound KLX250S felt light and nimble. The seat height also seemed shorter than most dual sports (and at 35 inches, it is) allowing me to get my feet flat on the ground at rest, and to “dab” when needed on tight, slippery trails.

Despite five hours, or so, in the saddle I couldn’t complain about the seat, either. The width and density of the foam seemed a good compromise between off-road and street comfort, but as stated, we spent little time on the road. If you use this bike primarily as a commuter, you might want a different, after-market seat that is a bit wider and firmer.

Engine power was very good. The powerband was broad, and despite the relatively short gearing, the KLX250S was comfortably able to maintain 70 mph on the highway. Overall, I would say power is down a bit on the new Yamaha WR250R we tested a little while ago, and the Yamaha could carry higher speed on the street, but there is a fairly significant price difference (the Yamaha being $1,000 more expensive).

Still carbureted, but relatively affordable, the Kawasaki KLX250S receives a good dose of performance and refinement for the 2009 model year. The bike is fun, and extremely capable off-road. It also features one of the nicest digital instrument panels available on a dual sport bike. Available in either Sunbeam Red or Lime Green, the 2009 Kawasaki KLX250S retails for $4,899. For additional details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site here.