They can let the Kawasaki guys dole them out to whichever riders they want, particularly in the 250F class. If you look at a list of the bikes that have won the Lites class for the last few years, the Kawasaki KX250F is drastically overrepresented. You would assume that there are more KX250Fs than any other bike. That’s not the case.
Why such success? Part of the credit goes to Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit. Part goes to Bruce Stjernstrom and Kawasaki racing. But then a huge chunk goes to the Kawasaki KX250F. It’s good. So good, in fact, that Kawasaki felt safe to send it back to the front without much in the way of change.
IS IT EXACTLY THE SAME?
Mostly. The 2008 Kawasaki KX250F got such minor changes that you would never notice, even if you had the 2007 model side by side. We’re talking about things like the engine mount spacers and the crankcase thickness. The gear dogs on four gears have less chamfer, the kickstart ratchet is beefier and the head gasket has a redesigned seal. That’s about it for the motor. The suspension got a few more changes, but the 250F did not get the ‘Diamond-like coating’ on the fork tubes. Inside, the rods are 0.5mm thicker and the valving is different, as is that of the rear shock.
Remember, this bike was new from the ground up two years ago, so Kawasaki has every right not to rework it. Not yet. The aluminum frame, which looks almost exactly like that of a Honda, is back. The motor still has four titanium valves and a dry sump design that pumps the oil out of the crankcase and ‘stores’ it in the gearbox like an oil tank. That lets the crank rotate more freely without the drag that pooled oil creates in the sump. The head is hand-polished, which is something Kawasaki also does to its top-line street bikes. In fact, you can see a lot of road-race technology in the KX engine. It’s kind of a baby Ninja.
TALE OF THE TRACK
First things first: the Kawasaki is a big bike. It’s larger and more spread out than a Suzuki or Honda, and way larger than a Yamaha YZ250F. That suits big guys fine, but if you just came up from the mini ranks or if you’re Villopoto-sized then you might check into some growth hormone shots. It isn’t a seat-height issue, but the rider compartment is pretty spread out. With the new shock valving, the bike stays higher in its rear suspension stroke too. We set the bike to 100mm of sag, like we did to last year’s bike, but it rode higher. To tell the truth, we liked it. The bike felt more agile and was easier to drop into turns. That’s clearly one of the KX’s strong points. It feels light and it wants to turn. Setting up for a corner on a rough track can sometimes seem a bit hectic. The bike isn’t as stable or well-planed as a Yamaha or a Honda. But once you’re there, the KX loves to lean over and nail the corner. The rear suspension also seems slightly stiffer. This is a common theme among the 2008 models. The new Yamaha YZ250F got stiffer springs but still feels softer overall than the Kawasaki. At least the KX is consistent in suiting bigger, heavier riders.
But having said that, the suspension still rates high. Glen Helen in the summer is the playground to the pros and it gets hideously rough. With our 170-pound test riders, the bike never bottomed hard or seemed under-suspended. We haven’t yet stuck our lightest test riders on the bike, but we’ll make the not-so-brave prediction that the novice and intermediate guys will think seriously about softer springs.
Last year the KX250F was a screamer. It revved out higher than anything except, perhaps, the KTM. This year there’s nothing on the list of changes that would change that story. After a few days of riding, our 2008 model isn’t revving quite as high as our ’07 test bike. It probably takes time to loosen up, but even so, the KX motor has a significant top-end tilt. It doesn’t really get going until about nine grand, where it has a wicked hit. We had our 2008 Yamaha YZ250F on hand for comparison and found that the YZ had substantially more low-end power. You need to remember that these are 250Fs, so by low end power, we’re still talking about 8000 rpm. But the Yamaha trails off on top and the Kawasaki keeps on screaming. In the end, the two bikes are close in overall output; they just do it in different ways.
Some of the difference can even be found in the pipes. The Yamaha is quiet and the Kawasaki is free and loud. It was last year, too. We expected the new KX pipe to be a little more restrictive than that of the 07 model because of the general trend toward quiet bikes, but Kawasaki made no mention of any such change in its technical information. The new bike sounds a little more quiet than our old 2007 test bike, but then our old test bike is old. The bottom line is that the bike should at least come from the factory with a decent muffler because that’s as quiet as a bike will ever be. What happens next in a free world is up to the owner.
We have small issues with the some of the other KX details, too. The chain isn’t great, the seat foam breaks down quickly and the rubber bar mounts tend to get soft with time. On the other hand the brakes are great, the clutch is good and the bike starts easy, hot or cold.
This is clearly a year for rest and regrouping. The Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and KTM 250Fs aren’t dramatically different for 2008, and they were all chasing the Honda in 2007. Will the Honda be different? We still don’t know. For now, the Kawasaki remains a good bike in a field of good bikes. But being the best is another thing.
Fast and smooth
Weak bottom end power
Small 7/8-inch bars
Wobbly rubber bar mounts
Seat foam breaks down