2009 Kawasaki KLX250S Review

Review Initially Created: Feb 21, 2012
Review Last Updated: Feb 27, 2022
Vehicle Type: Dual Sport
Evaluation Period: 6 months, 2200 km

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Pros

adjustable suspension, smooth motor, decent top-end power, instruments, good value, decent off road, reasonable weight for the class

Cons

weak bottom end, hot starting problem, weak battery (possible electrical problem), quality control issues

Overview

I was primarily interested in a Suzuki DRZ400S when I found a good deal on a new 2009 KLX250S. That was October 2009. If I had ridden a KLX250S previously, I likely would have bought a DRZ400S instead. The KLX250S is not a bad bike, in fact it’s quite good in some aspects, but I found it lacking in some areas. I put 2200 km on the bike before I sold it.

When I rode the bike the first time, I was surprised at how weak the low end was. I was expecting it to have similar performance to my old 1992 DR350S which was air cooled, but the KLX250S didn’t come close. The weak low-end power was what I disliked most about this bike. In stock form, you pretty much need to use the clutch to loft the front wheel. This makes it more difficult to clear obstacles on the trail. In my search on various forums when I owned the bike, I learned that this bike is apparently one of the most difficult bikes to get the front wheel up on. According to the forums at the time, even with air box modifications, re-jetting and a smaller front sprocket, it is difficult to loft the wheel (forget about power wheelies). I left my bike stock, as from what I read, modifying the carb (jetting, slide spring) and the air box didn’t really increase the bottom end although throttle response was supposedly a bit better. I didn’t change (lower) the gearing because I was riding a fair amount on the highways in order to access some trails and forest service roads. It constantly bugged me that I couldn’t loft the front wheel over rocks and bumps anywhere near as easily as I could on my old DR350S (completely stock except for the tires - MT21s).

I found the top-end power adequate. The bike will cruise on the highway at 100 km/h, but unless I paid attention to the speedometer, I found my speed dropping off at times. I had the bike up to 130 km/h, and I could have gone faster. Acceleration is adequate up to 110 km/h, but it’s not what I would call exciting. I would think twice about passing another vehicle on the highway unless it’s going very slow or you have a lot of passing room. It was reasonably stable on the highway, but it is a light bike with quick steering, and as such, it is subject to being blown around some, but it was never scary. You do have to pay attention to your lines (and lane position).

This is not a comfortable bike to ride on the street, although the engine is very smooth. The seat is very uncomfortable after more than 30 minutes of sit-down riding; the seat is fine for trail riding where you are standing on the foot pegs a lot. This is a trail bike that works okay for short runs on the street. Oh sure, you could ride it across the country if you wanted to, but there are far more suitable bikes for that kind of trip. If you want to use it for extended sit-down riding, you’ll likely want to replace the seat, and you may want a larger fuel tank. I was getting about 165 km of mixed riding (easy trails and street) before hitting reserve. I calculated that I was getting about 32 km/l (mixed use). That works out to almost 250 km out of the 7.8 litre tank, but I wouldn’t try pushing it that far. I would count on a range of about 200 km of mixed, easy riding. More aggressive use of the throttle and more off-road riding will reduce the range.

Issues

The bike is very cold blooded. It needs to be warmed for about 5 minutes before you can ride it without it bogging. I never had a problem starting the bike with a cold engine (outside temp > 18 C), but hot starting was a problem though. If the bike sat for a couple of minutes with a hot engine, it was very difficult to re-start with the electric starter. Using the choke helped some, so I’m guessing the bike is just too lean with stock jetting. I sold the bike before I got this sorted out. The bike was easy to bump start when hot. Perhaps it was a combination of lean jetting and a low-capacity battery (weak spark when cranking?). Speaking of the particular battery that was in my bike, it was a weak link in my opinion. When making a few attempts at starting the bike, you could detect that the battery was running down. Also, after I let the bike sit for 2.5 weeks the battery was essentially dead. Not impressed. I thought that the battery was defective, so I took it to the Kawasaki shop to have it tested (the bike was under warranty). It was supposedly within specifications, so likely there was a drain on the battery while in the bike or there was an issue with the charging system. I never got this resolved before I sold the bike (it was still on warranty when I sold it). The newer KLX250 is fuel injected.

Other problems or complaints: the bike would weave at low speeds (under 40 km/h) on pavement. This improved with more km on the bike. I suspect that the steering head bearings were a bit tight from the factory. Gas dripped out of the carb drain tube when the bike was new. It once left a puddle of gas under the bike (fire hazard). Likely the float was sticking. This problem resolved itself. Oil leaked out of the oil filler hole. Either the oil filler hole neck (where the O-ring seats) was machined too deep or the wrong O-ring was installed. This was fixed with a thicker O-ring from an auto parts store. The machining of the oil filler hole was poor; it was rough (not the sealing surface), and there was a very sharp protrusion of casting material next to the hole (like a knife edge that stuck up about 4mm). During the first oil and filter change I discovered a lot of metal bits that I presume were left over from the manufacturing process. I know it is not unusual to find some metal bits during the first oil change, but this seemed excessive to me and compared to other new bikes I have had. I talked to someone who purchased a new 2020 KLX300R and discovered a spiral shaped piece of metal, like a spring, from the machining process in the oil passage connected to the oil filter chamber when he performed the first oil change; this may have impeded the oil flow some. These are all indicators of poor quality control. I’ve run into a number of other quality control issues (and design issues) with another new 2020 Kawasaki motorcycle. This makes me somewhat hesitant to purchase another Kawasaki motorcycle, but on the other hand, my brother-in-law has purchased a couple of Kawasaki street bikes in the last ten years, and he hasn’t had problems.

Other comments

The stock fork compression damping setting was too much for my weight (150 pounds without gear) for riding on rough, rocky trails. After a short distance my arms were getting itchy from the pounding and vibration. The problem was easily solved by reducing the amount compression damping. I found the stock suspension springing okay most of the time. I did bottom the front end a couple of times when hitting runoff diversion ditches cutting across the trails. I rode the bike at a moderate pace on the trails (mostly double track). The bike handled well on the trails. The bike would do better on the trails with lower gearing and more aggressive knobbies. As I already mentioned, it is difficult to loft the wheel over trail obstacles. The bike just crashes into them. I do find that a bike is more fun to ride off road if you can get the front wheel up in the air without too much difficulty. The KLX250S doesn’t fit that criterion. The bike is suitable for riding single track trails, but it is quite a bit heavier than most dirt bikes.

I think that the bike looked good (for 2009), but I don’t think that the fit and finish on the bike was as good as that of a DRZ400S or a newer CRF250L. A number of mounting brackets on the frame looked like they were added on as an after-thought. Some of the welds were rough. The rear tail light assembly rattled quite loudly (knocking / smacking) on the trails. The frame looked like a low budget item, as did some other bolted on items.

I liked the suspension. I liked the digital instruments. I liked the looks. I liked riding it on the trails, but you had to keep the motor revved to get any performance out of it. I didn’t find it particularly heavy (297 lbs claimed curb weight, the 2020 model with EFI is 304 lbs) or tall (34.8 inch seat height). The stock tires were decent on pavement, gravel, dirt and rocky trails; they were not so good when the trails were muddy. The chain didn’t need adjustment until about 2000 km.

I sold the bike almost a year after buying it. The bike was nicer to ride after putting about 2200 km on it. I was somewhat reluctant to sell it, and there have been times when I wished I had kept it. If I could have justified owning two dual sport bikes at the time, then I might have kept the KLX250S. Over the years I have considered buying another one. If I ever do, I would put MT21s on it and lower the final gearing to make it more fun to ride off road. I would likely re-jet (richen) it too if it was a carbureted model. It still wouldn’t be as good off-road as a true dirt bike, though. I sold the KLX because I wanted a dual sport that was more suitable for some extended highway riding while still being decent for exploring forest service road, back roads and easier trails. I wanted a bike that had some decent low-end power. After debating about either a Suzuki DRZ400S or a DR650SE for quite a while, I ended up buying a DR650SE, but there have been times, like when the trail has deteriorated, when the DRZ400S would have been a better choice. A lighter dual sport is definitely preferable when the trails get rougher or more challenging (a DR650SE is a lot heavier than a KLX250S).

Comparing the KLX250S to other bikes

Comparing the 2009 KLX250S to other bikes of the same era (model years), the seat height is going to put some people off as it’s about three inches taller than that of a Honda CRF230L, Suzuki DR200SE or Yamaha XT250, and the KLX250S is a bit heavier. I had a test ride on a CRF230L. The KLX250S has a lot more power on the highway; the CRF230L was straining on the highway. The CRF230L seemed to be a bit stronger at lower revs, and has a lower seat and bit lower weight. The KLX250S far out classes a DR200SE in terms of engine performance, suspension and top speed. I’ve extensively ridden a DR200SE and have taken one on some pretty rough trails including single track and very muddy sections; the bike is quite capable, but you have to ride slower than you would on a KLX250S. The main limiting factors of a DR200SE are the suspension, power and stock tires; as a plus, the DR200SE has a far greater fuel range with its 13 litre tank.

The Honda CRF250L, which is fuel injected, is probably the closest competitor to the KLX250S. The KLX250S is quite a bit lighter than a Honda CRF250L (2020 model is 322 lbs), and the KLX has better suspension for rougher trails. The seats heights of the bikes are close. By most accounts the KLX250S out performs the CRF250L in off-road situations because of the suspension and lighter weight, but the CRF250L is better on the street. I’ve had a ride on a 2013 CRF250L. My impression was that the Honda had a noticeably stronger bottom end, which I place value on. Peak power of the two bikes is probably close. For 2021 the Honda CRF250L has been replaced by the new CRF300L (lighter, more powerful and available with ABS), and the KLX250 has been replaced by the KLX300 (essentially the same bike with displacement and price increases).

Other moderately priced Japanese dual sport offerings include the Yamaha WR250R (discontinued after 2020) and Suzuki DRZ400S. The WR250R has higher specifications and looks to be better made than the KLX250/KLX250S, but it does cost quite a bit more. The DRZ400S lists for a bit less than the WR250R, but the DRZ400S is heavier and even taller, but it has decent suspension and more power than the other bikes. If you want good value, and you intend to ride more ride trails, and the seat height isn’t a problem, and a strong low end isn’t a requirement, then the KLX250S may be a good choice for you especially if a DRZ400S or a WR250R is too tall or above your budget. If you're going to be riding more easy trails or more pavement, then maybe take a close look at a CRF250L. The dual sports of the European brands and the Honda CRF450RL are in a different performance and price class than the other bikes that I have listed here. I have had only a limited amount of riding time on the XT250, DRZ400S, CRF230L and CRF250L; I have had a significant amount of riding time on a DR350S, KLX250S, DR200SE and DR650SE.

So what about the Honda CRF300L and the Kawasaki KLX300? Reports on the KLX300 basically state that it's really just a KLX250 with a bit more power; they even look the same. The reviews of the KLX300 have been mostly positive. Reports on the CRF300L are also pretty positive except that the suspension is too soft for most except lighter riders and maybe beginners, but the motor and gearing are better than the KLX300. The better suspension of the KLX300 would be a big advantage on the trails, but based on my previous experiences, I have more confidence in the Honda. Without having ridden either the KLX300 or the CRF300L (but having ridden a CRF250L and owned a KLX250S), my thinking is that the Honda would be more enjoyable to ride on the road than the Kawasaki. For lower speed trail riding, the better suspension of the KLX300 isn't as much of an advantage (unless maybe you're a heavier rider). For more aggressive trail riding, the KLX300 would likely be the better choice than a stock CRF300L. Another thing to note is that the CRF300L is available with ABS, but the KLX300 is not. The CRF300L appeals to me more, but I wouldn't rule out the KLX300. Maybe what it may come down to is what's available in your area, whether ABS is important to you, the local dealers, and what deal you can get. You could also upgrade the suspension on the CRF300L, but I don't know if it's worth spending the additional money; if you were considering this option, maybe it would be better to just get the KLX300. In Canada, the MSRP for the 2021 non-ABS CRF300L and the 2021 KLX300 are about same (~ $6500).

Last Words

The KLX250S is a decent bike with pretty good suspension for the price. I didn't enjoy riding it on the road that much, but it is pretty good on the trails with the exception of the poor bottom end engine performance, at least in stock form. Would I recommend the 2009 KLX250S? Yes and no. The choice really depends on what your priorities are in a dual sport bike. Seat height, weight, engine performance, simplicity, suspension, fueling, maintenance requirements, build quality, future modifications and budget may all be important factors. As I mentioned above, I had previously considered buying another KLX250S, but today I would likely to buy a Honda CRF300L or KLX300 as my next dual sport bike.


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