First Test: 2011 Kawasaki KX250F - Dirt Rider Magazine

When the call came to come roost the 2011 KX250F around Maryland's legendary Budds Creek Motocross Park, Dirt Rider was all over it. After countless laps around the National track and additional testing back in Southern California, we now have a pretty good idea of how this machine ticks.It's not uncommon for manufacturers to roll out new features wrapped in clever acronyms, and the 2011 KX250F is no exception; DFI and SFF are the freshly abbreviated innovations of the day. DFI stands for Digital Fuel Injection, the battery-less system aimed at taking the Kawi to the next level in terms of response and delivery. With no hot-start lever and a 43mm throttle body, the KX250F's DFI is nearly identical to the system on the KX450F, but with a different ECU setting and roughly 20 percent more fuel output required by the 250's higher rpm ceiling. A 250F revs to 13,000 rpm, and that requires a lot of fuel. The other standout acronym, SFF, represents the new, Kawasaki-exclusive Separate Function Fork consisting of Showa fork legs that handle springing and damping independently of each other. The left fork boasts one large damper and traditional clickers, while the right fork leg essentially consists of one large spring, a bit of oil for lubrication and an external preload adjuster that offers a whopping 60 clicks of height adjustment. Although unheard of on a production machine, the SFF setup is claimed to offer easier maintenance, more adjustability and easier fine-tuning, as well as promises of less weight, reduced friction and better damping.There are several other changes to the machine-over 30 total-that make the 2011 a fully upgraded version of the almost-shootout-winning 2010 KX250F. If you want to see an extended list of revisions, check out www.dirtrider.com. Now, let's get to the fun part.We initially tried to evaluate the KX250F first as a complete bike, but right away it was hard not to focus on the fork action, which is startlingly...normal. That's right, no odd binding of the axle, no twisting of the front end and no out-of-whack rebound to send you flying off the track. Really, the SFF operates just like a normal fork, but with slightly smoother action and a borderline soft stock clicker setting. One thing we did notice was how huge of an effect each individual turn or click on the new style fork really has. One click on the rebound or compression makes a notable difference, so much so that you'd have to go two or three clicks on traditional forks to achieve the same effect. It didn't take long to chase the clickers into a somewhat stiffer setting, one that worked on two hugely different tracks for a variety of rider abilities. Overall, the damping was great and the front end felt balanced with the rear. It has an active, stable and progressive character in chop.After trying fork preload in both directions, we liked the standard setting on the fork preload adjuster the best, and so long as proper shock ride height was maintained we really didn't feel a need to mess with the front end's ride height. However, it is nice and simple to tune with a wrench.The rest of the handling revisions-including a full millimeter reduction in fork offset-all help to maintain the excellent stability that we've praised the KX250F for in the past. The front end is a touch quicker and a little lighter handling than last year, and none of our testers complained about a lack of traction. The revised shock settings are right on the money, so much so that only our heaviest test rider cared to play with the clickers, and that was just to tighten up the compression a touch. In fast, repeated hits or slow, bucking bumps, the rear of the bike simply ate up whatever we could throw at it.

Unlike the easy-starting KX450F, the KX250F's engine isn't the most cooperative thing we've ever kicked, though it's a long ways off from being the hardest starting bike out there. Off the bottom, the 2011 Kawi retained last year's holeshot prowess with a surge of power that is barely violent enough to be described as a hit yet still strong enough to achieve race bike-like acceleration while still maintaining killer traction. The engine has powerful off-the-gate torque and flawless response that resembles a well-tuned off-road bike. The Kawasaki's strong bottom-end dips into a smooth-though not mind-blowing-midrange pull. Up top, another strong surge of pure punch eventually signs off, though not nearly as early as the 2010 did. Many 250F riders will find themselves keeping the revs up near this ceiling, which can certainly be shifted around to maximize the output of the screaming little engine. All in all, we feel the DFI system is a worthy successor to Kawasaki's well-tuned carburetors of the past.A rundown of additional likes and dislikes brings out a thumbs-up for the new muffler, which sounds noticeably better (though still raspy) in back-to-back trackside comparisons with our 2010. On the downside, the Kawasaki still ages in dog years, meaning that it doesn't hide wear very well at all. Ergonomically, though, this motorcycle fits a wide range of pilots and combines a great bar bend with a now-gripper seat for maximum control. Braking is excellent, and aside from a vague feeling in the clutch's friction point at higher temps, we (thankfully) don't have any major knocks about the transmission.All together, the 2011 KX250F is an awesome stock machine. We don't have a lot of time on the SFF setup (yet), but its initial performance tells us Kawasaki is certainly on to something that, combined with the new fuel injection, makes for one heck of an overall package. If the bike's initial performance gives any clue to its future, we'd expect that Kawasaki has nothing to worry about, and the competition does.

Specifications: 2011 Kawasaki KX250F

MSRP: $7,299

Claimed weight (curb): 233 lb

Actual weight (tank gull): 234 lb

Seat height: 37.3 in.

Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.3 in.

Footpeg height: 17.0 in.

Ground clearance: 10.7 in.
What's Hot!

  • Separate Function Fork breaks new ground in terms of adjustability and ease of maintenance. Not to mention that it works pretty well on the track!

  • Kawi hit the nail-or, shall we say, the shock-on the head. We dig it.

  • Fuel injected. Finally.

  • This is how bottom-end delivery should feel. Strength through traction!

  • A less abrupt rev ceiling makes for an easier-to-ride top-end than last year.

  • Comfortable ergos make this a bike you can just hop on and go.

  • The "S" in "Kawasaki" must stand for stability.

What's Not!

  • Is it just us or does this bike not like to start on the first kick every time?

  • We appreciate that the muffler is longer, but why does it still sound raspy?

  • One moto on the plastic equates to 10 motos worth of wear.

  • We know there's more midrange hiding in there somewhere...

  • Stock fork settings have a soft overall character.

Opinions

Kris Keefer

6'10"/160 lb/Pro

The first thing I noticed about the new KX250F was how crisp and instant the throttle response was. It didn't have huge hit, but was very crisp on the delivery with no hesitation. The 2010 had a hiccup upon big landings, but not the 2011! The power comes on smooth and pulls well off the bottom but falls off a little in the middle between second and third gear. If I was in fourth the bike pulled decent on top. We will try some mapping changes soon to see if we can get that "dip" in the midrange to come back a little. I did play with the preload adjuster on the fork, but either direction I went (both higher and lower) caused the bike to not settle like I wanted it to. The shock felt great all day on acceleration, chop and braking bumps; I have no complaints there. The graphics wore quickly from my knee braces, but that was the only real drawback I found on the bike.Chris Green

5'9"/160 lb/Intermediate

The 2011 Kawasaki KX250F has a more comfortable feel than the 2010. The corners are where I noticed the biggest difference. I was able to point the front end to any line I wanted to take without having to fight the bike or work hard to get it where I wanted to be. Not only did this make it more comfortable to ride, but it gave me more confidence going into corners which was a huge plus. The bike's overall handling was great, although a little soft. I was able to come into corners a lot more aggressively, and the bike just plowed through the braking bumps. Another improvement I really enjoyed was the bike's ability to track coming out of a flat corner; it seemed to stick to the ground even when I was hard on the gas. The fuel injection did give the KX a very quick throttle reaction, but it was very usable. I thought the quick reaction time might take some getting used to, but it was a surprisingly easy transformation.