Every kid who has ever raced a dirt bike shares one dream—to ride one of Mitch Payton’s factory Pro Circuit Kawasakis. “I wish I could ride this thing” is the one thought that every other spectator and I are thinking when we stand there drooling over its intriguing factory sparkle. Only a few young talented riders get the chance to board these high-performance and unique machines, and they’re the lucky ones who Mitch hand picks directly out of the amateur ranks. If you plan on mounting one of these high-strung fire-breathing race bikes, then get your amateur career in check, start winning and impress Payton enough for him to want you on his team. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds; that’s why I had a smile 10 miles wide when I was asked to ride Dean Wilson’s outdoor race bike. It was the experience of a lifetime.
I was expecting the engine to be explosively fast with more snap than I could handle. Now I just cracked into the pro ranks for the local SoCal scene, and I was surprised that the off-idle hit was controllable for someone my speed. Second gear felt more like third gear on a stock bike but with tons more pickup off the low-end idle. You know how your bike has something called a rev-limiter? Well, Mitch’s Pro Circuit bike didn’t really have one of those. I wanted to see how long I could hold a gear without having to shift, and in doing this the bike failed to pop and revved out. It kept pulling the same gear although it was obvious I would pick up more speed if I shifted up to the next gear. The engine offers a very wide spread of power throughout the rpm range. The throttle response was excellent, and when I hopped on a stock fuel-injected 250F, it felt carbureted.
Wilson’s bike also had great pickup like you wouldn’t believe. The best word to describe this is magical. On a stock 250F, if you whack the throttle too low in the rpm it will lug for a moment and have to work back up into the revs; Wilson’s bike would pick up from any level of rpm (say, if I was in third lugging instead of being in second) and ramp up into the meat of the power immediately. It was almost as if everywhere was the sweet spot and by hammering on the throttle you had instant power. If you think about it, these guys have to ride these bikes at full race pace for around 35 minutes, and they can’t be on a bike that is going to wear them out. The bike has plenty of hit, but it comes on in a smooth way. It doesn’t hit and surprise you, but when you get on the gas the power rolls on then hits with a very strong, steady pull. A stock 250 four-stroke needs to be clutched in order to build up into the rpm. A 250 two-stroke also needs to be clutched but has a narrower window to where you can ride in the main surge of power. And compared to a 450, this factory Pro Circuit 250F climbs up into the revs quicker, feels much lighter, won’t tire you out nearly as much, revs a ton higher and only lacks one trait, and that is the meaty, torquey grunt that makes a 450cc motorcycle such a beast.
Shifting on this race bike absolutely impressed me. The transmission felt very tight, and all you needed to click between gears was a gentle tap up or down and you could feel the bike solidly lock into the next gear. Now that I think about it, you don’t really see Pro Circuit riders hitting a false neutral too often. For obvious reasons, we weren’t allowed to personally look at the internals of the tranny, but we hear they are absolute works of art that look almost handmade. If you’ve ever had the chance to watch one of these races from the sidelines, you’ll notice that the roar of the engines on the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasakis have a unique tone that every motocross fan loves. Listening to that noise through your helmet while aboard one of these top-tier bikes is a whole different story.As far as weight goes, the bike felt 10 pounds lighter than any 250 four-stroke I’ve ever ridden, yet it feels tons more planted at the same time. How do they get those two things to go hand in hand? To me, it feels like the suspension takes care of that. It’s a bit touchy, but when I was coming hot into corners at speeds I was used to, I could get on the brakes and slow way down before I even needed to set up for the corner. A few times I stopped way too early and was able to get back on the gas going into a turn. Right away this gave me a ton of confidence on the bike, and I quickly realized why Mitch’s group of talented riders are able to accomplish so much on these bikes.
And in the suspension is where I was expecting a hard-to-ride bike. The top pros travel around the track at blistering speeds and slam into the faces of jumps with much more force than the average rider, and you would think that would require a rock-hard setting. The suspension was on the stiff side, but it was a stiffness that came across as being incredibly smooth—something I have never felt from a bike before. Handling rough braking bumps was also surprisingly smooth, and the bike never got out of shape or sketchy when charging through the rough. Stability can mean a couple of things when it comes to handling. There is the stability of the bike when accelerating and when braking. The ideal bike would track straight while accelerating through chop and wouldn’t dance around. For braking, you want a bike that doesn’t get twitchy when the weight transfers to the front end, and the rear tire shouldn’t step out to either side while you’re hard on the binders. Landing flat was another obstacle that this motorcycle has covered. The initial hit felt plush, and when you’re expecting to bottom out, the mid- and end-stroke aggressively slow with great bottoming resistance. Take a lap around a rough track in your head. Now imagine how you would want the bike to handle the braking bumps, accelerating chop, G-outs and hard hits. That’s pretty close to what I felt lap after lap on Dean’s factory PC Kawi.
When it all comes down to it, everybody wants to know what Mitch’s secret to success is. How does he build the fastest bike in the business year in and year out? Obviously he’s doing something right, and whatever that may be will definitely remain a secret. The things I can tell you are that the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team spends endless amounts of time testing and improving on bike setup for each rider. What this does is personalize the bike for the rider, giving him 110 percent confidence in his equipment. When you’re that confident and the bikes are that good, there is hardly any rider or team that can stop you.“Imagine how you would want the bike to handle the braking bumps, accelerating chop, G-outs and hard hits. That’s pretty close to what I felt lap after lap on Dean’s factory PC Kawi.”
“As a rider, as a fan, as a moto-geek who sits in the stands, it breaks my heart not to have been able to test this bike. Having worked with Pro Circuit and Mitch Payton’s crew since the mid-’80s, I would have loved to see how this bike had evolved. But due to sponsor conflicts, it couldn’t happen. I’m currently racing trucks for Red Bull, and I have to respect the people who put me on the podium. I have to sit and be an editor and not a pilot. However, I was stoked to give the test to Chris Green. Watching him size up the jumps and rail the berms, and just seeing the smile on his face, says it all about how well this bike works. Everything he ever imagined out of that bike, it definitely lived up to it. You can see that Pro Circuit leaves no stone unturned, and there’s no luck involved—these guys work their asses off.”