My experience on the KLX250S was pretty varied; and I feel at least somewhat qualified to evaluate it against my skills in every environment except for very rocky and sharply (or at least sharp and extended) inclines/declines.
I actually tried to talk my friend into a DS bike when he really wanted a sportbike (a larger one). After hopping on a couple in the showroom, he decided he wanted a much smaller bike; eventually arriving at the Ninja250. At that point I had him start looking at websites like www.advrider.com
, and invited him to start playing around and learning to ride on my dirtbike. Once he got on the dirt, the rest was history.
I'll admit I was concerned about the streetability of the KLX since he was a big guy (6'4" and 220-240ish lb). I was also concerned about the very dirt orientation of the bike and how it would compare to a larger DS on the road. Likewise, I was also skeptical about a road-worthy bike being much of a comparison to my dirtbike on the trail, espeically one so much larger in stature than the dirtbikes I have (TT-R125LE).
He became very interested in the KLX and eventually purchased one, somewhat out of the blue. I was more than a little intrigued. Being the good buddy he is, he was perfectly willing to let me abu... errrr... spin his bike. My first experience was a day at the offroad park. Our offroad park has it all. We have deeply rutted trails with sand to snare you; big rocks that threaten your rims and dare you to misstep; mud that doubles as oil slicks and is always deceptively deep. There's even a few water crossings and really tight underpasses from semi-downed trees. Depending on your speed, it is either a walk in the park to admire the scenery, or a challenging mix of terrain with suicidal riders to dodge.
So it begins:
I showed up at the dirt park with my little TT-R125LE and unloaded it. Not long after, my buddy also showed up with his bike, on his new trailer. His bike was clean. It was also beautiful. The bike is so no-nonsense that it is an exercise in logic; dirt logic. Everything is in the proper place and tucked nicely to avoid a nasty break when dropped... and any bike that has any type of offroad application, no matter how minimal, WILL BE DROPPED. Fact of life.
We unloaded the bike and set about taking the mirrors off and leaving them in the car. They fit in the attached bag, but the car was the safer route at the moment. This required no tools. I noted that the indicators are all rather smallish, and like the rest of the plastic, was tucked nicely and were softly rubber mounted as well to add a bit more protection in the event of a drop/crash. The dash tells you what you need at a glance, and is wonderful to behold. It is a thing of beauty and simplicity. It gives me a great feeling when I look at it and for some reason reminds me of Douglass Adam's eternal and reassuring phrase 'Don't Panic'.
Before we get too much further into this, I have to admit a little secret: While I was an avid mountain biker in New Mexico, spending at least 120miles a week commuting during the week and at least as much for fun in the mountains in the saddle, I am not a dirt-eating, grunge wearing, tabletop/invert/360/gnarly dirt guy who started riding peewee bikes at the age of 13 months. No, I started riding dirt when I picked up my KLR650 in 2004. I followed my KLR with a TT-R125LE and, up until I rode a KLX250S, was perfectly happy to think I had a pretty amazing little bike. The TT-R turned this KLR rider into what amounts to a super stream-crossing, stump-jumping, air-catching slickster. Yeah, I was cool, even if my bike was little. Those 8" of travel really shone when I pushed it hard, but even so, I do bottom it out more and more often as my skills advance and I push the little bike ever closer to its design limits. Thankfully, I'm not a huge guy and the bike is still better than I am (which saves my often overconfident backside from permanent damage on a regular basis). My buddy, who is quite a bit taller than I, also thoroughly enjoyed my other TT-R (yeah, I bought one for me and one for my wife). We had an absolute blast trying very hard to kill ourselves with these machines. I'm faster. I wreck more. You do the math.
Okay, now that my dirty (or, not so dirty, as it turns out) secret is out, we can move on.
Off the trailer came the bike, and on the saddle went my friend. I hopped on my rather dimuinitive blue steed, and off we went. It was his first time out on his bike, at least offroad, and he was within 200 miles on the odo. We putted around in the open area for a while as he got to know his bike and how different it was. I watched him for a bit as he rolled cautiously over the whoops, then repeated a bit faster, then faster yet. He was really screaming by the third pass and I started to worry for him. That is a much bigger bike and he has less bike experience, much less dirt experience than I do! How the heck could he be doing this?
He came back to me with the biggest grin I've ever seen him wear. I don't remember what he said, entirely, but the gist of it was something like this "What whoops?" then sped off and left me with a good coating of dirt. Hmmmm. We headed out into the tighter trails along the river, where the 'whoops' become more like moguls, often with an entertaining dash of mud punctuating the next. He was a little slower than me at first, but quickly started matching my pace. Weird. I really expected his bike to be more like my KLR; and as such I started thinking that this guy had some serious skills and was really sharking on me all this time. I started to become resentful; as if I were the butt of a bad joke.
Then we swapped bikes.
Oh, I see. Yes... hold on, what was that? Oh yes, the clouds part, angles begin to sing, and rays of heavenly light begin to surround the KLX.
Mr. KLX: Whoops? What whoops? Let my long legs simply turn these sneaky fork benders into a happy afterthought. Moguls? A simple bump, nothing more. Oh, and, would you like some air with that? Really, no need to slow down; just use caution about where you land that front tire; but not too much, I'll save your butt and prove my superior engineering will almost always get your inexperineced and overconfidenced behind out of trouble.
It soaked up so many things I was sure this was really an Imperial Speeder-bike. You know, like in Return of the Jedi.
Lots of track guys say things like "I just thought and it went". I understand that, and it applies here. It is strange to thing of precision in an environment like a dirt track, yet that's exactly what the KLX gives you. The brakes are precise, the engine manipulation is precise, the throttle and clutch are precise. It doesn't clatter, chatter, or otherwise give you any impression of being a lot of bits strung together in hopes of becoming more than the sum of its parts. It feels more akin to being carved from a solid piece of something... something fun and something fast (at least offroad). It was heavier than my TT-R, of course, and a great deal taller, but oddly, unless I was in a situation that called for an off-camber stop in a ditch, it was at least as easy to control. When in motion, more often than not, it was easier
to control than my little TT-R.
I wheelied it. I squared off corners. I powerslid. I throttle slid. I locked 'em both up and prayed. I whooped. I jumped. I landed.
It was a fantastic ride. It still proves to make me grin and, I hate to say it, but I covet that bike. I want one. I want one badly.
The day was bright and clear, and just a tad crisp. I found myself headed out into the twistier parts of Iowa (yeah, I know how that sounds, but you'll have to trust me here). I decided to stop and call my buddy; maybe he'd like to join me. Even though the XX is capable of stomping the ever living Kawasaki green out of his little KLX, I really enjoyed riding with my friend. Oh, and forget the fact that I was hoping he'd let me trade bikes so I could give his little machine a good on-road summary. Shhhhhhhh...
After about 60 miles, I asked him if he wanted to trade steeds. He's a new rider, but he's also a cautious guy, and the XX is a rather forgiving machine so long as you're not being a complete wanker with it. Besides, I was insured. Since I was the guy who had lent him all manner of bikes, and encouraged him to ride, he was gracious enough to oblige me.
Here's what I expected: The bike would get blown around. It would be very vibey. I expected, certainly, that the top speed would be very lacking and that getting to legal highway speeds would be *yawn* boring. The ride, of course, would be similar to the KLR, if not more Caddillac-like due to much longer suspension travel. Funny how things can be different than you expect, eh?
Is this bike a great road bike? No, of course not, but it does better than it lets on. It, my dear friends, is a dual-sport bike, and as such it must follow the cardinal rule of its pedigree and be an exercise in compromise. I would love to have been able to flip a switch and have the engine do a Transformer dance and turn into a 1157cc fire breathing powerhouse, but alas, no such switch exists on this bike. I'm not sure what the engine produces in the way of horsepower, and it is probably for the best, but I'll suffice to say that it is more than enough offroad for most anyone, and enough on the street to stay easily with traffic up to legal speeds. Faster cars and most other motorcycles will have their way with you, but you can smile and know that the sky's the limit when you decide where you want to go for the day.
In mixed traffic, the bike does well. You have great visibility, and the stiff chassis makes the bike feel extremely nimble; even hyper-responsive to your input below 55mph. Above this speed, the bike becomes a bit twitchy due to the steepness of the geometry. I'd strongly recommend a steering damper if this were a highway bike. The odd thing, however, is that even once the bike begins to oscillate (as DS bikes often do) it wants to settle right back down; especially when you go 'light' on the bars. It, my friends, is smarter than you in this regard. Still, I stand by my suggestion of a damper; it will only make things better in most any circumstance. But, stability aside, how does it compare in 0-60 times? I know you are asking the question, and I'll answer as best I can: it does fine. I had no problem pulling ahead of traffic, but don't expect much when you're at 45mph and you want to overtake a car doing 10mph faster than you; especially on an uphill grade. Let's just say that if you're in hill country, and my weight or higher, you'll find that 70mph is quite attainable and maintainable, but not much more. In flats, with enough room, and indicated 95 is about all she has in her, but that's not really the point of this bike, now is it?
The 6th speed is a necessity. It allows the other gears to be lower and pull the bike around with its rather smallish engine. I never really felt it to be lacking, and could easily loft the wheel in first on power alone, and ride into other gears up on one without much fancy clutchwork, etc. It is an astonishingly controllable bike, and the transmission is a nice, positive feeling unit that enhances the feel of control one gets from riding it. The gearing is predictable and never left me feeling that some gap was left in the powerband due to wonky gearing.
At speed, to be more specific, at highway speeds of 65-70mph, the bike does emit a buzz. It is not the deep tissue massage of the larger displacement thumpers, but more of a tingling buzz as the little single cylinder leaps to and fro at an amazing speed of up to 11Krpm. It is quite smooth, in fact, weridly smooth, at 'around town' speeds. The smaller displacement does much to make up for a lack of heavy counterbalancers in the engine like the KLR uses. As such, is more snappy and peppy than its bigger, and older brother. It revs quite freely, and is a great plaything. The exhaust note is quite nice; especially for such a small bike. It is quiet, and I like that. When offroad I appreciate the feeling of being a little less obtrusive in nature, and when highway riding I appreciate its consideration of my hearing. A nice mix.
The brakes are more than adequate in any situation. All the little bits worked well, and didn't leave anything to be wanting that I'd given note of. I must keep returning to the instrument cluster; it is simply pleasing to look at, and tells you what you want and need with no gimmicky complexity, and all the shapes are comforting to the eye. The colors are nice and bright and the contrast of the numbers is nice.
Lots of Japanese bikes, especially in the DS spectrum, seem a bit... well... cobbled together. The KLX is having none of this, thankyouverymuch. It feels very well built, and very solid. For you bicycle riders, it is like going from an off-the-shelf steel Huffy to a near top-of-the-line Cannondale. Yeah, maybe they both have similar function and similar bits, but one is a world away from the other. One of the ways that set this aside, and maybe the defining factor in this is the bike's suspension.
I expected it to roll down the road like it was on a cloud. I was wrong. The suspension, while not harsh, gave incredible feedback. It was not sloppy, mushy, or spongy. It was tight, precise, and firm. I couldn't quite get my mind around how the bike could be so smooth and plush offroad, yet give such good feedback (even over small imperfections and road surface debris), but it does. There was no appreciable fork wandering, thanks to the beefy USD tubes. There was very little chassis flex, and the bike put into corners amazingly well even on nearly offroad-only tires (big lugs!).
I put nearly 300 miles on that bike, with about 135-155 miles per tank and never found a point where I wasn't enjoying the machine. I'd like to have a bigger tank for roadgoing, but for offroading it provided plenty of entertainment.
It did get blown around a bit. Hey, it's a light bike with steep geometry!
So, the reader with at least two active brain cells to rub together can tell I really enjoyed this bike. It shines where other larger bikes fail, and in surprising ways. I was skeptical that such a small displacement bike would fit so well into such a broad spectrum of riding. I think this bike is, perhaps, one of motorcycling's best kept secrets, at least in the Americas. This bike has been around for a number of years overseas, and as such has quite a few performance upgrades available to include a big-bore 330cc kit which is sure to enhance all the positive aspects of this machine while nearly eliminating some of the not-so-positive ones (though I can't for the life of me remember what they are at the moment). If you haven't considered this bike for your needs, please do. If you disagree with me, by all means share your stories, but at least take the time to note how many roles this bike can fill, and do so for a very small entry fee.