Previously published on Motorcycle.com
Far from the urban jungle that is Los Angeles lays a land of extremes. A land worthy of exploring by any means – hike, bike, or ride – regardless your skill level or personal passion. California’s Death Valley is this land and our playground for the introduction of Kawasaki’s first 2009 model, the KLX250S. Throwing extremes from every direction our way – heat and dust, rocky trails to barren desert playas – the nimble, quick and affordable KLX soaks up the hits with a smile while leaving your wallet smiling in the process.
I’ll trade in the skyscraper walls of Alvarado Street in downtown L.A. for the sandstone canyon walls of Titus Canyon any day. The Buff Monster tags are famous all over Los Angeles but they haven’t got the staying power of the petroglyphs found in the slot canyon carving through the Grapevine Mountain range just west of the ghost town Leadfield, CA.
The rocky trails of Death Valley’s Echo Canyon can be unforgiving if not ridden with respect. I speak from experience.
The 2009 Kawasaki KLX250S is a capable machine both above and below sea level.
Twenty-two hard miles from Beatty Nevada, the road to Leadfield was once a main thoroughfare from the east into Death Valley. A testament to durability of both humankind and the KLX, the heat and dusty conditions make you wonder why the hell anyone would build a city here. But there was ‘Gold in them thar hills!’ –actually lead ore and silver – and so the mining town operated primarily from 1925 to 1927 with great debate of its legitimacy. Despite shady promoters and stock fraud, an inflow of hundreds, if not thousands, of men and an outflow of millions of tons of ore and silver built a town large enough to support its own newspaper, post office and the Western Lead Mines Company. Western was one of the largest operations in town and brought in a 180-horsepower Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine in March of 1926 to operate their drills.
With karma like that working against you, and nearly a two-day walk to the nearest gas station – you can forget about a hospital – we were glad to have such a reliable and fuel-efficient machine like the KLX beneath our asses. It didn’t hurt to have the slightly larger 2.0-gallon gas tank as well as a support vehicle filled with Subway sandwiches and Gatorade for us thirsty journos either! The longest lasting accomplishment of the era is the Titus Canyon road, costing an estimated $60,000 and still standing as one of the most spectacular routes into Death Valley.
Nimble, go-anywhere? ?From gritty urban settings to eroded earthen passages, the ’09 KLX passes the test for commuters as well as weekend dirt warriors. For the iron-butted readers out there with an affection for dirt riding, you can now make that trek without the need for a trailer thanks to the street-legal adaptations.
Combine the racy good looks of Kawi’s KX lineage with the street-legal appointments of the updated Kawasaki parts catalog, and the 249cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke Single has more than enough power to dig any desert explorer from below the sea level to a mile above in a jiffy. The KLR650’s little brother has quick throttle response and feather-light steering to help avoid obstacles in your path (helping to keep the desert tortoise population thriving). The whole package makes for a motorcycle capable of almost anything.
Kawasaki hesitates to call this KLX an all-new model, but the revisions made between this and the previous 2007/08 model are numerous. The updated dualie gets revised suspension, steering geometry, and styling as well as improved ergonomics. The cooling system, swingarm, transmission and brakes are improved. Better use of power is courtesy of a revamped exhaust, and changes to the tranny including a reshaped shift cam and tighter ratios between 5th and 6th gear. The goal of all the updates was to directly target the trail-riding buyer of the previous model.
Cooling upgrades are done with high-capacity Denso radiators found on the KX250F/450F, lending excellent heat dispersion and weight savings to the overall package.
Reduced suspension travel was never noticed, even when the Fonz jumped the land shark.
Ergonomics are updated with a more ‘woods-bike’ like handlebar with a flatter curve profile and a stock position that is higher and closer to the rider. Another inch of rise would be ideal for riding in a standing position, but to update the bars yourself, you’ll have to add that inch with a taller profile bar because the risers are cast directly to the triple tree.
The semi-double cradle steel-frame’s geometry is sharpened via a 1.0-degree reduction in the steering rake to 26.5 degrees. A new aluminum D-section type swingarm beefs up the rear end, complemented by a set of KX-style chain adjusters; last year they were of the snail type. The wheelbase is snugged a couple of ticks to 56.3 inches.
“Nimble, go-anywhere,” says Kawi. From urban canyon walls to the eroded earthen passages, the ’09 KLX passes the test for commuters as well as recreationalists.
I’ll do the extra mile for just one more inch.
The 2009 KLX250S lets the good times roll both on and off road.
‘…the KLX offers serious off-road capabilities from a lightweight street-legal mount’
Modifications to the 43mm inverted fork include revised internals and settings, 16-step adjustable compression damping and KX-style slider guards. Its travel has been cut down approximately 1 inch to 10.0 inches. The reduction in travel is to enhance on-road stability, and the Uni-Trak rear suspension (with a new linkage and adjustable preload and 16-way compression and rebound damping control) is slimmed down nearly 2 inches to 9.1 inches for the same purpose. Nonetheless, the 35.0-inch seat height of the new KLX is surprisingly a skosh taller than the old model, but I had no trouble flat-footing it with my 34-inch inseam.
The reduction in suspension travel affects the bike’s ground clearance, going down from 11.6 inches to a still generous 11.2 inches. Aluminum bash plates are fitted under the engine to protect against crankcase damage when the trails get really gnarly.
With these changes, the KLX offers serious off-road capabilities from a lightweight street-legal mount. The mushy feeling from the old bike’s front end on the road has been reduced significantly. But, at the same time, the bike’s reduced suspension travel hasn’t hindered its ability to handle rough off-road terrain. It’s capable of taking ledge drops of 4 feet without the dreaded clunk of a bottomed-out suspension.
Sprung from each end of the ride are a pair of wheels with thicker spokes (now 4mm as found on the KLR650) for greater off-road durability, each wrapped in Dunlop 605 tires with smaller tread blocks that are designed for longer street life, a smoother ride and better on-road handling. Not once did I feel the hunt of a knobby tire on the highway when racing at highway speeds towards lunch in Beatty, NV, nor any wheel flex on the trail.
When left alone to break the wind (So you farted whilst alone? ¬Ed. Like falling trees in the forest, I didn¹t hear a thing. – Fz), I caught this little quarter-liter motor exceeding our top-speed estimations when we saw 85 mph on the digital read-out – and as much as 91 mph while drafting another KLX. The all-new all-digital instrument console includes a bar-graph tachometer, speedometer, clock, odometer and dual trip meters, but is a bit hard to read when dust-covered in comparison to the previous model’s analog design.
With highway miles clicking away at a steady pace, our desert oasis came upon us quickly and the front and rear pedal disc rotors (also found on the KX and Kawasaki street bikes) made quick work of bringing this dualie to a halt in Beatty for lunch. This year’s larger 240mm rear disc and KX-style rear caliper with new pad materials and a revised lever ratio added to the overall beauty and function of this exploration machine. There’s a 250mm semi-floating petal disc up front doing its part for the cause.
Wrapping up the walkthrough is a USFS-approved spark arrestor and a new evaporative emissions system that allows the KLX to meet the strict California Air Resource Board regulations, making it now eligible for sale in all 50 states; the previous model wasn’t offered in Cali.
Geared towards the new street and/or trail rider, RV crowd or commuting rider is electric push-button starting. Making it even easier for granny to ride away is the Kawasaki Automatic Compression Release (KACR) which automatically lifts one of the exhaust valves when the magic button is pressed to reduce the starting effort. This saves wear and tear of your thumb for the après-ride wrestling matches for the biggest steak on the grill back at camp, as well as your battery’s amperage. For the purists, the crankcase is still stamped for the addition of a kick-starter as was the previous model.
With a relatively short history in the U.S. market for the 250S, this second edition comes away with a host of refinements over the last model – new styling, larger rear wave rotor, a gear-driven engine balancer for less vibration, stiffer frame and spokes, a firmer saddle and a new emissions system. All told the KLX250S gained just under 16 pounds (18 lbs. CA model) while the $4899 MSRP increased by only $100. It comes in two colors, Lime Green and Sunbeam Red.
With the recent introductions of the Honda CRF230L, Yamaha WR250R and this updated KLX, the quarter-liter dual-sport category is taking off. The Honda is the cheapest at $4499, but it is powered by an older-tech air-cooled motor. The Yamaha boasts an expensive aluminum frame and a technologically advanced liquid-cooled engine, but that stuff comes at a price premium of $5899.
• Lofty level of versatility per dollar
• Fifty-state street legal
• Gas sipping engine gets nearly 50 miles to a gallon
• The new lower-profile handlebar is too low for tall riders when standing up
• Digital dash is hard to read when dirty
• Slightly heavier than the previous model
The Perfect Bike For…
Newbies and experienced riders looking for a casual day on the street/trail at a modest price.