Best Motocross Bike 5th Place—2020 Kawasaki KX250

Now a contender in the high-rpm horsepower battle of the 250 class.

If you read the 2019 250F Motocross Shootout, you are probably looking at the 2020 Kawasaki KX250 and thinking that the Japanese manufacturer only changed the color of the number plates from white to green. Such is not the case however, as the Kawasaki KX250 was significantly revamped for 2020 despite looking very similar to the 2017 to 2019 models. Engineers completely redesigned the engine, added new suspension components, and even made a few chassis changes that aren’t immediately detectable to the untrained eye. While the 2020 Kawasaki KX250 is certainly an improvement over its predecessors, it lacks in some areas and misses the mark in others, all of which put it down in the overall shootout rankings.

Although the Kawasaki KX250 is improved for 2020, it finished in fifth place in the 250F Motocross Shootout for the third straight year.
Although the Kawasaki KX250 is improved for 2020, it finished in fifth place in the 250F Motocross Shootout for the third straight year.Jeff Allen

2020 Kawasaki KX250 Engine

The KX250 is one of two bikes in the class to come with a kickstarter and the most affordable of the big six 250F motocrossers on the market at $7,799. The Kawasaki weighs 233 pounds, making it the second lightest bike in the class and the lightest Japanese motorcycle in the test.
Left: The KX250 is one of two bikes in the class to come with a kickstarter and the most affordable of the big six 250F motocrossers on the market at $7,799. Right: The Kawasaki weighs 233 pounds, making it the second lightest bike in the class and the lightest Japanese motorcycle in the test.Jeff Allen

Before we began testing, we mounted a Dunlop D404 street tire on the rear wheel of the KX250 and ran it on our in-house Dynojet dynamometer, where it churned out 39.6 hp at 12,500 rpm and 18.9 pound-feet of torque at 9,600 rpm. With these figures, the Kawasaki ranks third in both peak horsepower and torque. At peak, it makes 1.2 less horsepower than the KTM 250 SX-F and 1.1 less horsepower than the Husqvarna FC 250, and edges out the Honda CRF250R by just 0.2 hp. After the dyno pulls were complete, we fitted Dunlop MX33 soft-to-intermediate-terrain tires, as we did on all of the bikes to ensure consistency in traction among them for the entirety of the test.

Churning out 39.6 hp at 12,500 rpm and 18.9 pound-feet of torque at 9,600 rpm, the KX250 ranks third in both peak horsepower and torque.
Churning out 39.6 hp at 12,500 rpm and 18.9 pound-feet of torque at 9,600 rpm, the KX250 ranks third in both peak horsepower and torque.Robert Martin

The KX250 engine has a mid to top powerband and minimal bottom-end power. On the dyno, it’s about equal with the CRF250R all throughout the rpm range, but on the track, the Kawasaki feels more powerful than the red bike due to its snappier throttle response. It doesn’t pull as hard or long as the 250 SX-F and FC 250 up top, and lacks the low-end grunt of the YZ250F, RM-Z250, and 250 SX-F. It has slightly less bottom-end than the FC 250 as well.

With the extensive number of updates the KX250 received for 2020, it retained many positive characteristics of the old engine. It has a quick, light-feeling engine character coupled with a crisp and snappy throttle response. Being that it lacks bottom-end power compared to every bike but the CRF250R, it requires a fair amount of clutch work to keep the rpm up to get it through tight, inside corners, but it gets into the meat of the powerband quickly with a quick stab of the clutch when accelerating.

The clutch pull is light, but the throttle pull on the other hand is noticeably hard. It’s also one of two bikes in the class that kickstarts (the other being the RM-Z250). That wouldn’t be as big of a deal if it started easily, but such is not the case with the green machine as it can be difficult to fire to life when it gets hot. It’s also very loud and raspy sounding, rivaling the YZ250F as the most audible bike in the shootout.

2020 Kawasaki KX250 Suspension

“The suspension on the KX250 is a tad harsh. It’s not very plush over smaller bumps and lower-speed sections of the track. It seems stiff in the top of the stroke.”
“The suspension on the KX250 is a tad harsh. It’s not very plush over smaller bumps and lower-speed sections of the track. It seems stiff in the top of the stroke.” —Tanner BassoJeff Allen

In addition to its engine overhaul, Kawasaki also spec’d the KX250 with new suspension components for 2020—a KYB 48mm coil-spring fork and KYB shock, both with different spring rates than the outgoing Showa Separate Function Fork (SFF) and Showa shock. The fork uses a 5.0 N/mm spring rate while the shock runs 54 N/mm. Similar to Suzuki, Kawasaki’s 250F and 450 motocross bikes both use the same fork and shock spring rates in 2020.

The KX250 suspension is stiff. While it’s not quite as firm as the RM-Z250, the KX250 undoubtedly has the second-stiffest suspension setup of the six bikes. All of our test riders, even our heaviest and fastest pro-level pilots, noted the fork lacks comfort. It feels harsh at lower speeds such as in braking bumps and smaller choppy conditions. The KYB components have very good bottoming resistance and work best when you are on the gas and carrying as much speed as possible around the track. Even so, test riders desired a plusher feel from both the fork and shock, especially as the day wore on and the track got rougher.

2020 Kawasaki KX450 Chassis/Handling

“The Kawasaki’s oversprung suspension delivers some additional feedback through the handlebar and causes the bike to feel unsettled at times. This can be somewhat alleviated with some clicker changes.”
“The Kawasaki’s oversprung suspension delivers some additional feedback through the handlebar and causes the bike to feel unsettled at times. This can be somewhat alleviated with some clicker changes.” —Eric StorzJeff Allen

The chassis is the least changed major component of the KX250 for 2020. It has lower front engine mounts that now use a stud bolt design, a 250mm rear brake disc, a revised rear brake master cylinder and brake line, and it now runs the same front brake pads as the 2019 and 2020 KX450. Weighing in at 233 pounds, the KX250 is the second lightest bike in the class and the lightest Japanese motorcycle in the shootout.

The KX250 handles well and is one of the nimblest bikes in the class. It has a light and smaller overall feel. Its narrow radiator shrouds and midsection complement its neutral handling too. There is a slight bit of rigidity feedback when you are not riding at 100 percent, which can be attributed to the bike’s stiff suspension and some chassis rigidity, but it mostly goes away once you get up to pace. Its flat seat combined with its narrow bodywork makes it easy to move around on as well. The stock Renthal 971-bend handlebar is high, which throws off the otherwise-good rider triangle.

Why The 2020 Kawasaki KX250 Should Have Won

“The KX250 has by far one of my favorite chassis. I like how it feels—nice and slim, very well balanced, and easy to maneuver both on the ground and in the air.”
“The KX250 has by far one of my favorite chassis. I like how it feels—nice and slim, very well balanced, and easy to maneuver both on the ground and in the air.” —Michael WickerJeff Allen

The engine has very good top-end power and crisp throttle response, the suspension is forgiving on hard landings, the chassis offers neutral handling, the ergonomics are agreeable, it’s one of the lightest bikes in the class, and it’s also the most affordable of the big six 250F motocrossers on the market at $7,799.

Why The 2020 Kawasaki KX250 Didn’t Win

The engine lacks low-end power and electric start, and the suspension is too stiff, offering very little rider comfort.

Gearbox

“You jump further than expected when pulling up the faces of jumps on the Kawasaki, which tells me the motor is pulling well. It just takes a few laps for the engine to give you that confident feeling.”
“You jump further than expected when pulling up the faces of jumps on the Kawasaki, which tells me the motor is pulling well. It just takes a few laps for the engine to give you that confident feeling.” —Allan BrownJeff Allen