Kawasaki KLX 250S review

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• KLX250 in Mohave
Baja Gallery
KLX250 – mountain and desert
Update: from 2018 Kawasaki USA are selling the efi KLX250.
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A couple of years ago I did a great six-week trip around Southwest USA on a CRF250L. At that time the CRF had been out a few months and had been heralded by the press as the return of the humble trail bike. Today on this website my CRF pages still remain among the most read.

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People love the CRF which makes me wonder: what was ever so wrong with Kawasaki’s KLX250S? The current version was upgraded way back in 2009 with fully adjustable suspension. Europe and Asia got efi, but until a couple of years ago, poor old North America got stuck with a carb along with a pile of clumsy emissions devices to try and make it run as clean as efi. Other than that and colour schemes, they’re pretty much identical.


The carb 250 got dropped from Kawasaki US’s website in 2014 and came back around 2018 as an efi. In the same year even the venerable KLR650 got dropped, to return revamped for 2020, some say. In the UK 2016 was the last year the efi KLX was listed, possibly to steer buyers towards the VersysX 300 twin (right) which is some 40-kilos heavier.

Wet, the KLX250 is about 15kg lighter than the hefty Honda CRF with its road-bike engine; my ’09 carb got up to 88 mpgIMP (73US or 31kpl), that’s about 90% of what my efi Honda managed at backroad bimbling speeds – 65US was more normal. And the stock suspension is a whole lot better, with USDs and fully adjustable damping all-round right out of the crate.


When the 2009 came out in the UK it seems the mags didn’t take to it at all. Bike gave it 1* or 3/10 – a veritable sheep in wolf’s clothing, just like my original air-cooled KLX from the early 1980s (left). MCN weren’t that impressed either, although as Brit bike publications go, their trail bike reviews are famously poor. It seems the efi 250 electronically restricted rpm in the upper gears for safety or longevity – who knows. According to this thread the full potential can most easily be released by eliminating the clutch cut-out switch to remap the KLX’s performance from ovine to canine. All I can say is my American KLX ran no slower but not always as smoothly as my 2013 injected CRF.

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I bought my 2009 with 8000 miles for $2900 in Flagstaff (see blue text, below). It seems about what that go for and anyway, I only had so much time to buy something, get it prepared and go riding. After a test run in the California deserts, I took it on a short run to Baja.
The bike came with a tail rack, Barkbuster Storms, newish wide bars and battery, plus scratches on all corners. The side stand mount had been welded, the owner warned me the stand- and clutch cut-out switches played up and the tickover was set high (Flagstaff is 7000′ asl). But it ran back down to Phoenix at up to 75mph with no issues.
Gearing is 15/42 – a tad on the high side for dirt roading; there was a case saver round the front sprocket. The gear change is a bit crunchy at times and clutch a bit juddery at low revs, just like the Honda, iirc. Brakes are OK – I put new EBCs on the front, perhaps a steel hose and fresh fluid would help. But it’s not a heavy bike, according to my bathroom scale trick was 131kg wet with the Barks and the rack. Officially they say 137kg. They also say the tank is some 1.9 gallons US or just 7.2L I thought it was smaller as the best I got from reserve was 15 miles (125 best total). Just before I left I spotted a kinked fuel hose. The alternator is said to put out 210 watts.

Brit buying a bike in Arizona, USA (in 2016)
assaultYou need to remember that the US is like 50-something small countries each with their own laws. Some states are a bit less regulated or more libertarian about things, and I get the feeling that, like an assault rifle with laser sights, buying a used bike in Arizona is easier than many places in the US, not least California. Obviously the selection will be biggest in an urban conurbation like Phoenix. All you really need is an address. Technically only the insurance gets posted to an address but even that can be printed off online to get you on the road. So a hotel or hostel may do.
Craigslist is to the US what Gumtree is in the UK. Ebay seems less used here for bike sales as, like Gumtree, CL is regional which makes a difference in a huge country. Scams are said to be common on CL, but even then even sellers can be oddly cagey. Maybe it’s a big city thing. Emailing is encrypted via CL but one seller simply couldn’t bring himself to name a time and place – any place. His bike was still for sale. Maybe using a phone works better.
Then again, in 2013 I bought my CRF250L off San Diego Craig’s and the seller could not have been more accommodating, arranging to truck it with a huge kit bag full of stuff to Phoenix (such trucking is commonly done when buying bikes in the US). I recall I paid with Paypal and incurred no fees.
On Craigs, click the options for ‘all bikes’ or just ‘private sellers’, add a distance range from a zip code and also click ‘clear title’ which I presume means there’s no ‘lien’ or outstanding payment on the machine.
Vehicles in the US come with two documents: the title (ownership, like our logbook) and the state registration which relates to the plate and which needs renewing annually. To transfer a title in Arizona requires a notary’s stamp at the time of sale (similar to Justice of the Peace in the UK) and in my case the KLX seller’s local bank in did the deed. So weekdays may work best.
The seller didn’t want me to use his soon-to-expire plate (he would have got a refund has it had many months to run, like UK road tax now). But he went online to the AZ DMV and for $1 printed me off a temporary 3-day rego. I could’ve taped that to my bike, but kept it in my pocket. A vehicle not displaying plates isn’t the obvious pull in the US, as it certainly will be in the UK. Just as long as you have something to show.
With the temp rego print-out and the notarised title, I went to a local DMV bureau in Phoenix (similar to a local DVLA office in the UK). I never use these back home; like most people I simply send my V55 off to Swansea, but in the US you’ll want that new plate pronto. Because these DMV places are so busy, there are several in a big city as well as more efficient authorised ‘third party’ bureaux taking up the slack. I found one a couple miles from where I was staying, took a number from the machine and 15 minutes later the lady at the counter took my docs showing my local address, took my UK driving license (no drama), took $70 and gave me a new plate with new rego and a new title document. No request for insurance and no need for any ‘MoT’ type roadworthy certificate –Arizona recently dropped even the requirement for emissions certificates on motorbikes. KH500 prices soon went off the scale.

proginsAs many travellers know, Progressive Insurance can cover foreigners riding in the US, and it can all be done online without the need to answer awkward or annoying questions on a phone. Not all questions on the online form need to be answered, nor does this seem to load your quote. The only mandatory question which could not be dodged nor answered correctly was which state my license was from. I entered my UK number which didn’t correlate with any US state of course, so I picked a random Canadian province which worked. There was no option for any other countries. If you don’t like the sound of that, call the 0800 number and see what happens. Total cost was $70 for a year for what looks like absolute basic TPO cover. Never in 40 years riding have I paid so little for bike insurance. A pdf cover note got emailed within minutes, that got printed and I was on the road. A week later some Progressive documents arrived in the post.
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Back at Al Jesse’s compound, his workshop-like garage is bigger than our flat in London, and with record high temps, I took a leisurely couple of days checking the KLX over. The Shinko E700 trail bike tyres were less than half gone so would do. I gave them a shot of sealant; for a tenner it’s worth the gamble (right).

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The bike had been lowered unequally so the back end sat too low, but an inspection revealed the KLX had a set of what they call turnbuckle links: adjustable dog bones (left) like car track-rod ends. Aftermarket bones for shorties are commonly sold online, but I’ve never seen adjustable ones – seems like a great idea. Shortening them raised the back, but I took the chance to remove them to make sure the length was equal and regressed the needle bearings which actually looked OK. Cranking in a bit more spring preload for my 95 kilos and letting the forks back slip down the clamps to the original setting, my red KLX now resembled the stance of Al’s green house-bike – the seat height a rather daunting 36″ (910mm)


Stripping it back a bit showed the alloy-painted, one-piece steel frame (left) was a grade or two chunkier at the back than what I recall on the CRF, and is partly helped to the added bracing loop around the rear-mounted battery.

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A peep into the airbox revealed what looked like a fat Twin Air foam filter stuffed in there, nicely oiled and clean enough for the moment. Along with the shock links, someone knew their priorities, but it probably wasn’t the seller who’d come out with some cock-and-bull excuses and was probably selling it for someone else.

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While the seat was off Al reminded me of the old seat mount trick: cut the tabs open (lef) so you only need to loosen the mounting bolts to slip it off.
The slack carb throttle cables got pulled in, the oil and filter changed and I should have gone all the way and taken the tank and carb off for a clean, but the bike was running pretty well. If needed there’d be time for that before the Baja trip.

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I tried to fit a 12-volt cig plug off the battery for a locally-bought Nuvi satnav and my Best Rest tyre pump (right). Hours of picking about later, attempting a hardwire instead led to a fried Nuvi as well as a couple of USB adaptor plugs. A dodgy Powerlet SAE-to-female cig adaptor may have been the cause; it worked for the pump but not for the satnav plug which meanwhile worked off other vehicles – the dark art of electrics… Luckily Nuvi’s are cheap (up the road a near-new 50LM on Craig’s was $50). I don’t use smartphones so need some sort of satnav gadget with good local mapping.

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I very much didn’t want to test-fry my untried, £300 Garmin Montana – a more sophisticated touch-screen nav, mapping and route logging tool, combining practical GPS with handy satnav. Al found a switched plug (i.e.: only live with the ignition on) somewhere behind the headlamp to run my CyclePump (right) in case of a flat. It dawned on me that the Montana’s Lithium batteries last at least a day without a recharge, so no urgent need to wire it in, though clearly, that’s a better solution in the long run.


Al was testing a Sunjack solar charger and with storage battery (right), a fold-out unit similar to a Power Monkey, but with ten times more panel area and probably as many years of advances in solar technology. I bought the smallest 7w / 4000mAh for later desert trips. They go from just $50 discounted online.

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Al’s house KLX donated it’s Jesse sidetracks which took his prototype Softbag mounts: basically a plate on which were an Ortlieb Motobag and Speedbag were permanently mounted (it’s what was lying around spare to use). Add to that my handy Touratech sternpod on the far end of the rack and a canvas pouch for extra water at the back of the side rack.


An old bar-mounted screen from what looks like a 650GS went on the front and a 1.25 gallon NoSpill gas can on the back (can actually take 1.49 gal). Integrated spout gives a clean pitstop-like fill if you do it up tight enough.
The green bike also had a Seat Concepts saddle, up to half as wide as the original on my bike. I wasn’t expecting any wonders from my seat but knew from the CRF experience that the frequent refuelling breaks meant you rarely sat on the thing for more than an hour and a half. As I was to shortly discover find, 90 minutes is a long time in KLX saddle-world.

KLX, Mohave test run

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9 thoughts on “Kawasaki KLX 250S review

  1. Jesse

    Hi mate, I’ve been hearing all these nightmare story’s about the rear subframe snapping and cracking with a load on it – particularly with the Jerry on the back! You didn’t have any issues? Just asking as I just got an 07 klx, and am in the process of adventurising it all up.


    1. Chris S Post author

      I don’t think KLX is any more snap prone than other light 250s like CRF.
      If you mean a full 20L jerry then yes, read the last rites to the subframe ;-)
      Keep the weight low and on the sides with very little far out back.
      It’s a great 250, once you get the tank range sorted.



  2. Chris Hammond

    Hi. I saw your post about a trip to Moab on the klx250. I have a 2020 and am wondering if I need to put different tires on it for my upcoming trip to Moab. Any thoughts?


    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Chris, it depends what the tyres are and how worn. Are they the originals from the shop and will you be doing big miles with heavy loads? All I know is I did a similar trip a few years earlier on a nearly new CRF250 with stock IRC tyres and the rear was done in just 3000 miles.

      CRF250L Southwest USA – Gear Review

      IRCs (and Kendas) are often fitted to new Jap 250s, so if you have big plans for a lot of dirt, fit something from this list

      The Best Off-Road Travel Tyres

      or similar, and save the original tyres for later.
      You will have a fantastic time around Moab; my favourite spot in the amazing Southwest.


      1. Chris Hammond

        Thanks. I do have the original tires with about 1000 miles on them. They are Dunlop D605 tires. Did some mud riding and they weren’t great. My riding partner has the much bigger Honda 450 and is planning to get knobby tires suitable for dirt. I’m. Not sure I need to go that far and am really wondering if what o have right now might be suitable for Moab. Tires do appear to be in short supply.


        1. Chris S Post author

          D605s look pretty good for what you’re doing, and mud ought to be very rare in the Moab area. A lighter and more powerful 450 would be easier to manage with proper knobblies but I agree, you don’t need to go that far on the KLX. Moab’s mostly gravel with some sand and rock which means great traction 99% of the time.


  3. Ken farsi

    Hi there – where did you buy the wind screen on your KLX? I have a 2012 KLX and have been looking for one of these and can’t find one. Thanks!!!


    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Ken, it’s from a BMW F650GS Dakar which was going spare at the place where I did up the bike.
      I see them on ebay UK for 30 quid. The bar-mounted support rods are probably from Slipstreamer, a US brand but also in the UK.



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