One of the first 2011 250Fs to be introduced to the masses, the new Kawasaki KX250F is here, and in full force. With a great track record, a strong starting platform and excellent race results, Kawasaki was in a perfect position to expand their mid-sized four-stroke from better to best, and from what we can tell after riding the bike at the press intro at Budds Creek, Kawi just may have done just that.
Kawasaki worked hard to improve the KX250F’s design, a fact made evident by almost 30 upgrades that grace the motorcycle. The big news here is something that we knew was coming, but are excited about nonetheless: Digital Fuel Injection (DFI). Essentially identical to the DFI system on the KX450F, the new system automatically bumps the KX250F to the top of its class in terms of technology. A simple and lightweight system geared towards ease of use and spot-on delivery, the DFI utilizes several lightweight, high-tech components to provide the highest performance that Kawi could squeeze out of the little machine. Interestingly enough, the new setup actually flows more fuel than the 450F does, thanks to the higher rpm ceiling of the 250F, with airflow also increased over the 2010 KX250F’s carburetor.In addition to the DFI, the KX250F received a number of other significant changes, like a modified cylinder and piston (for higher compression), revised crankshaft rotational inertia, a new coil and redesigned transmission and final drive ratios. There have been some complaints in the past about how this motorcycle shifts, and Kawasaki answered this with a modified shifting mechanism designed to provide easier operation at higher speeds and RPM. Another mod that we’re excited about is a combination longer header pipe/ higher-volume muffler assembly, Kawasaki’s answer to a noise issue common with many recent KX-F four-strokes.
On the chassis side of things, the 2011 KX250F boasts an eye-catching new feather: Kawasaki’s new Separate Function Fork, which features Showa fork legs that handle springing and damping separately. The right leg handles the springing function by way of a larger main spring/ rod assembly, with a bright blue preload adjuster placed squarely on top of the right leg. The left leg takes care of damping, and has only a cartridge damper assembly and fork oil inside the tube. Sound like an exotic setup? It is, but you have to remember how much testing goes into these machines, and Kawasaki wouldn’t mass-produce the SFF system if they didn’t fully believe in it. For sure it will be vastly easier to service. Beyond that, other notable changes that the KX250F received include a reduced fork offset for quicker handling, revised shock damping settings and grippier seat sides for better control.
Before we even first fired up the 2011 KX250F at the press introduction at Budds Creek Raceway in Mechanicsville, Maryland, it was pretty clear that this machine means business. A former Dirt Rider shootout winner with excellent ratings last year, the 2010 KX250F almost had what it took to be our favorite 250F. With the host of changes attached to the 2011, we wondered if this would be the year for the green machine to reclaim its shootout throne. Right off the bat, the DFI system proved its potential with great response and smooth, strong delivery. The bike has a ton of punch down low, mimicking the 2010′s aggressive character right off of the gate. This hit transitions into a strong, heavy-flywheeled chugging feel that is reminiscent of an off-road bike-this machine could definitely crossover with minimal mods. The bike accelerates well while maintaining traction throughout the mid, and on top, the KX250F pulls hard but still has a tendency to sign off once the revs get too high, almost as if the bike is saying “I’m a 250F, shift me!” As for the DFI system itself, the 2010 KX250F had stellar response, and Kawasaki took no steps backward in the tuning department; the motorcycle starts well and runs strong. It seems that the new high-compression piston/cylinder setup really kept the racey feel of the motor alive, with an aggressive character throughout to deliver the power. The revised exhaust setup may have given the Kawasaki a lower overall sound output (we’ve yet to sound check it, but definitely will), though the raspy tone remains from previous models. Shifting-wise, we didn’t notice any issues when grabbing gears under power, and the bike has yet to complain when slammed into a lower gear in turns.
The Budds Creek course was ripped deep in the morning with developing ruts in the afternoon when we rode it, with plenty of hard hits and a couple of super poppy jumps. Despite the diverse terrain, the KX250F’s handling felt predictable and stable. We’ll admit: We were skeptical of the SFF system, as one would think that the fork would feel unbalanced and awkwardly independent. However, the bike feels totally planted and balanced. In fact, if you were to put an average rider on the machine and tell them it was a normal front suspension setup, we doubt they’d ever tell a difference. From what we’ve seen so far, the fork has a slightly soft character to it, and we’re still playing with settings to get back some of the motorcycle’s former ability to handle hard hits. In terms of steering changes, the KX250F feels flickable, yet it tracks well-it will be good to get it on some different tracks and see how the bike performs. The gripper seat cover is also a nice addition and adds a tough more control for the rider.On top of all the effects of the improvements, the KX250F retains the same characteristics that made it such a great bike last year. The ergonomics are comfortable for a variety of riders, with easy-to-grip shrouds and non-snagging side panels. The Renthal bar bend on this machine is comfortable, certainly enough so to keep on the bike until it bends rather than replacing it straightaway with an aftermarket setup.So, what do we think? Seeing as this is one of the first 2011 models that we’ve ridden-and the first from Kawasaki-we’d label this as a darn solid year of modifications to a bike. Kawi was able to improve certain things without wildly altering the motorcycle, and we think this will benefit the brand when it comes time for our shootout testers to review the machine. Sure, the SFF system is foreign to most riders and may still require some fine-tuning and the DFI response takes some acclimatization time, but this is an extremely solid stock machine with loads of potential for both the weekend warrior and the aspiring racer. We’ll soon get the bike back to our California-based offices and put some more time on it, then park it until it’s time for our 2011 250F motocross comparison. Stay tuned to the October issue of Dirt Rider for more info!