Winning a Dirt Rider 250F motocross shootout is no small task, but the 2011 Kawasaki KX250F almost made it look easy. This hard-hitting little machine was our overall favorite pick of the mid-sized MXers, and for the last year we’ve continued to be impressed with the bike’s strong acceleration, consistent handling and overall easy-to-ride nature. For 2012, Kawasaki has thrown a number of revisions at the KX250F in hopes of keeping the bike at the top of the shootout heap, and from what we’ve seen so far it’s going to be a great year to go green.
First, the changes: Kawasaki started off by seeking to gain more top-end performance through changes to the existing Digital Fuel Injection (DFI) that include a second fuel injector-something never before seen on a production MX bike. This new component can be seen up by the airbox intake. Additionally, the Keihin throttle body gets a new seal, and the crankshaft has redistributed inertial balance for, as Kawi puts it, “higher performance”. Some modified shift components and blue bling oil filler plugs round out the motor mods. Suspension-wise, the spring rate on Kawasaki’s unique Separate Function Fork has been boosted to a stiffer setting. The left fork takes care of damping, and the valve stack has been reworked to accommodate the heavier fork spring. To keep the overall ride balanced, the rear shock also saw similar changes as the forks and was given a stiffer spring rate along with a more aggressive valve setting.
On the track, the motor is just as impressive as it was last year, with some fun twists thrown in for good measure. The bike screams when ridden at a higher rpm; this is where it likes to be ridden. It’s also easier to keep at a higher rpm and revs quicker than before, almost like having easy access to screaming top end power. Our testers noticed that cracking the throttle brought the motor up to a high rpm quickly and once you dumped the clutch, the engine stayed there and made strong power. You can benefit from this trait if you get held up behind lappers or when you go to blow up a soft berm and lose speed. Either way, the power up top is ready when you are. The transmission was beefed up this year and, while hard to notice anything performance-wise, our hard-shifting riders didn’t experience any issues.
Right off the bat, the stiffer suspension setting can be felt over hard hits and in rough sections. Compared to last year, the 2012 KX250F feels more aggressive and can handle things like big drops and G-outs with a lot better resistance. The hits aren’t so harsh and you can charge into obstacles with a lot more aggression and without that nervous feeling of completely bottoming out. Overall, the fork and shock feel balanced and definitely work in unison with each other. If there was a complaint on the 2011 KX250F, it was the soft suspension, and Kawi has worked that out with the stiffer spring rates and adjusted valve settings.
Handling on this bike is every bit as good as we expected and feels very close to our 2011 test bike. If you like the feel that last year’s model offers, you will get along with the 2012. The stiffer suspension setting obviously changed some handling aspects but we played with some settings for a more personal feel. Our rear-steering test riders took the shock preload from 103mm to 106mm and felt more consistent action out of the front end. The guys who prefer the bike to steer with the front wheel really like the stock setting and the track didn’t get rough enough for them to want to play with any clickers or settings. Cornering is especially good in rutted turns, and when the tires have something to push against it’s easy to get a consistent lean angle out of the bike.
With a day’s worth of hard riding on the 2012 KX250F, we’ll now run this machine around a variety of tracks to really see where it shines and where-if anywhere-it doesn’t. As this is the first 2012 250F MXer that we’ve received, it’s apparent that the bar has been set pretty high for this highly-competitive class. Will the rest of the pack be able to keep up? Stay tuned to Dirt Rider for a full test and our comprehensive shootout to find out!