Bubba's Kawasaki KX250SR - Dirt Rider Magazine Online

Imagine you're James Stewart. You're driving down California's I-15 Freeway heading home after some physical therapy on your healing arm, and you pass the Kawasaki factory supercross test track. Your chin hits the leather-covered steering wheel as you see some squid rolling the triples on your works No. 259 Kawasaki. The fans lining the fence are getting back into their cars, and the resultant traffic jam that usually occurs on the freeway just south of Corona is nonexistent. What do you do? You hit the next off-ramp, make a U-turn and head back to the track to see what's up.Now imagine you're me, Dirt Rider Editor Jimmy Lewis. I grew up as a fledgling amateur motocrosser and at one point earned that elusive Team Green "C" ride. My whole life at the time was about someday being able to ride a factory KX250. That day finally came. Not that the circumstances were exactly as I had imagined them-I'd much rather have earned the ride with spectacular speed and fascinating results. But today I was gifted a chance to take a spin on Bubba's bike because I'm the editor of a big motorcycle magazine.I was driving in my truck to go riding with just a gear bag in the back and thought this is what it must be like to be one of the factory boys. I noticed my truck rides a little roughly on the freeway without a bike in the back, a new sensation for me. OK, so I don't have the 27-inch or so wheels, and my windows aren't tinted, and it is a few years old, but I can pretend.As I had to do when I arrived at the track. I can't recall the last time I rode a true SX track, which is a lot different from what it appears to be on television, especially when facing one of the monster jumps-worse yet, when you are on a bike designed to hit those jumps as if you meant it. I was greeted by the Kawasaki crew, PR guys Greg Leucheski and Russel Brenan, Bubba's mechanic Jeremy Albrecht, team manager Bruce Stjernstrom and testing technician Skip Norfolk. Michael Byrne was out on the track testing and practicing, and some guy named Jeff Emig was there riding Bubba's bike for Racer X Illustrated. I was presented with a large document known as a release form, on which I signed away my life and possessions in the event I kill myself while riding the bike.My factory rider dream world was revived as I peeled my new Fox gear (with my name on it!) out of its wrapping. I felt pretty slick because I looked as though I belonged there. There were actually cars stopping on the frontage road to watch the bikes go round. Emig surrendered the bike, and it was my turn. There were about 15 or 20 people gathered at that point, hoping someone famous was about to spin laps; little did they knowBubba runs his levers pretty high and has a straight or flat bend to the handlebar as with most kids today. I gave the bike a bounce to see what would happen, and I might as well have been on a hard tail-the rear didn't even budge. I pulled in the front brake and tried to compress the fork, with similar results. The bike gives a new definition to stiff. With a little more effort, I got it to move; the rebound side was equally slow. Then I had to ride it, I mean, roll the track. The bike is jetted so crisply that it doesn't really have what I'd classify as bottom-end; it barks to life at the midrange with a wallop that will catapult the bike right out from underneath you in such a sudden surge that I believe it is unhealthy. The rear wheel is connected to the throttle all right, with some sort of amplitude enhancement and the level cranked to 11. Evidently, a lot of work went into acclimating the motor to run on the mandated unleaded fuel, which has been a challenge for the remaining two-stroke racers. The ignition mapping, port timing, crankcase volume, piston and head shape and exhaust pipe have become ultracritical in eliciting high power and consistent performance.Just rolling the track is a chore in itself, because the bike wants to jump everything. And on a real supercross track, the jumps also want you to jump everything. I didn't want to jump anything; I just wanted to learn where the jumps were so in the event the bike did what the track requested, I wouldn't end up in the surrounding fence. The crowd had dwindled to a lone girl, and I think she was looking for a lost cat.After about 20 minutes of playing chicken, I became used to the wicked-fast KX and began hooking up double jumps and a few combo step-on, step-off sections. Of course, I'm no judge of how well Bubba's bike really works, because I can't even come close to using it for what it was intended to do on an SX track. But I do know that it is an impressive piece of machinery. The motor barks and pulls really hard, with a flat and tractable spread that revs for a long time without signing off. I know because there was a start straight on which to figure that out.As for the suspension, it works in a way that is hard to explain other than if you ride it really hard and hit stuff really fast, it will absorb whatever you stumble over. It seems to be extremely slow in low-speed compression but will move a little more easily when punched into the high-speed range. The rebound setup seemed similar. This keeps the bike from wallowing and allows a stiff and precise feeling when hitting jumps. Plus, it's stiff enough to overjump, flat-out land or just plain slam into things. It works; I left more case marks on jump tops at the Kawi test track than anyone. When I got the wheels on the ground, the suspension performed really well. Bottoming wasn't even an issue for me as I never got close, even with some landings that would have flattened a stock bike. Works suspension is amazing, but it is really the amount of testing time spent that ensures it is set up correctly. The rebound keeps flight trajectories low and allows Bubba to hit jump faces harder without getting flung higher into the air.The bike doesn't really squat in turns but likes to be leaned into bowls or, with a tap of the incredibly strong rear binder, tail-slide a little and rip out of the hole. The front brake is equally impressive in strength, and there is very little dive. Everything felt tight as with a brand-new bike; that is the level at which the machinery is kept every time Stewart rides it.My turn was up, and it was time for someone who could appreciate the bike to take a spin. Imagine for a minute you're Matt Armstrong, journeyman SX racer struggling to make the shows at the West Coast rounds, and now you're going to be riding Bubba's bike, because someone has to ride it to its potential. In his own words, here's Armstrong's impression:"I was really surprised! Testing for Dirt Rider, we get to ride some cool bikes, but we're rarely able to ride real factory race machinery-the editor steals those opportunities. As I got out of bed early Tuesday morning, I had butterflies in my stomach; it felt as if I were headed to a race. As I neared the Kawasaki test track, I began feeling super-nervous. Then fear took over, and the questions for Test Editor Corey Neuer began: 'Dude, are we going to have the track to ourselves? Will I get fired from Dirt Rider if I wad Bubba's bike?'"Some questions were answered before I even got out of the truck. We didn't have the track to ourselves; instead, there were several heroes burning laps. Michael Byrne, Paul Carpenter, Darcy Lange and Evan Laughridge were there, as well as a slew of mechanics. I was no longer excited, I was scared to death!"After drumming up the courage to get out of the truck and face my fears, I loosened up a bit as the track seemed to be thinning out. We arrived late to get the best sunlight for photos, and just as I geared up Byrne and the others were done riding and preparing to leave. That relieved a little pressure for the time being. It was cool to be able to walk up to Bubba's bike and sit on it and talk to his mechanic about it. This is a bike that I have only been able to see under the Team Kawasaki awning, and now I was getting to ride it-sweet! As I pulled on my jersey, Jimmy Lewis went out for a few laps, and to my surprise he wasn't the scared-stiff board I thought he would be and he was actually jumping stuff. Then it was my turn. As Lewis handed me the bike, I could see a huge smile on his face and could tell he was having fun."Now a tad more comfortable, I hopped on the No. 259 KX250 and was off to learn a new track on a new bike with new gear and new boots. The track definitely had some crazy sections, but fortunately I've been riding a lot of supercross lately, getting primed for a few of the 125 Western Region supercross rounds. As I became familiar with the course, I couldn't believe how hard the power hit on Bubba's bike. It's super-snappy and hits harder than any bike I have ever ridden. The throttle response is insane; forget about being in shape to burn laps, you have to be in shape just to hold on to the green monster."The part I liked the most on the KX250 was the Kayaba works suspension. It is super-stiff; I overjumped a few jumps, and it soaked up the landing without taking any energy from me. It also kept the bike straight at all times, so I could get away with making little mistakes that would have been huge errors with stock suspension. I've bought kit works suspension for my personal race bike, and after riding Stewart's, I want to have mine set up even stiffer. I liked the way it soaked up everything straight as an arrow. Overall, the bike was a lot better than I thought it would be, and there is only one word to explain it: gnarly!"As I was doing laps for photos, I noticed someone on the side of the track watching me, and when I looked, I realized it was none other than Stewart. I felt like a kook! It was really strange to have one of the best riders in the world, whom I have always watched, watching me! Instantly I was nervous again, but on the other hand, it was a cool experience; besides, I didn't crash his bike! And being able to talk and shoot a few photos with him was super-cool; hopefully, some of his speed will rub off on me. It was truly a day I won't soon forget!"In the end, Bubba lost only about 15 fans, or as he said, "At least now they'll think I'm really hurt the way you guys were riding!" His bike is one of the meanest motorcycles Armstrong and I have ridden. Most of the setup is normal, just made to go really fast. And when Stewart gets back on it, we're sure that's what he'll do.