Worth the Wait
Without a doubt, the most highly anticipated motocross bikes of 2004 are the Kawasaki KX250F, the Suzuki RM-Z250 and the Honda CRF250R. The four-stroke revolution is upon us, and with the introduction of these three new models in 2004, the 125cc class now officially has four-stroke entries from all four of the Big Four Japanese manufacturers. Yamaha has had no competition in that marketplace since it introduced the popular YZ250F back in 2001, and it will be interesting to see how the new competition stacks up to the tried and true YZ250F.
TransWorld Motocross was invited to spend a day testing the 2004 Kawasaki KX250F at Cahuilla Creek Motocross Park on Thursday. A freak rain storm passed through the area the night before our test, dropping three-and-a-half inches of rainfall and leaving the loamy course in epic condition save for a few mud holes that rutted up nicely. After spending several hours aboard the new bike, here are the first impressions that we can offer.
Ergonomics of the KX250F (and the soon-to-be-released Suzuki RM-Z250) are on the cramped side when you are cruising through the pits, but on the track the compact layout is comfortable and plenty roomy for all but the tallest riders. It’s funny; as your ride through the pit area sitting down, the footpeg-to-seat height ratio seems short and the bars feel like they’re in your lap, but once your begin to charge all of those sensations go out the window. At 5’9, I was just as comfortable as our new associate editor Ryan Cooley, who measures somewhere around the 6’0 mark. Overall, the bike has a slim feel between your legs, and none of the body panels get caught up on your boots or knee braces.
From the moment you take to the track, the bike’s light weight becomes apparent (Kawasaki claims that the KX250F weighs 4.5 pounds less than a ’03 Yamaha YZ250F), as the KX250F has a nimble, responsive feel. The bike has a very low-feeling center of gravity when compared to the YZ250F. While the Yamaha feels like it is riding between your thighs, the KX250F feels as if it is riding between your boots, if that makes any sense. Getting the bike to lay over in a corner requires very little effort, and it is equally at home railing a deep rut as it is sweeping a fast outside sweeping line. Because the track was in such epic condition on test day, it’s hard to tell how the bike will slide and track in dry, slick conditions. It is our hunch, however, that the KX250F will handle like a champ in all conditions.
The performance of the Kayaba suspension is superb. Both ends are sprung two spring rates stiffer than last year’s Yamaha YZ250F, and the bike was easily dialed in to suit all three TWMX testers, who ranged in weight from 170 lbs. to near the two-buck mark. By the half-day mark, the course began to develop its typical rolling whoops and big acceleration chop, and lap after lap, the KX250F gobbled up everything thrown its way in a consistent, predictable manner.
Enough about the handling and suspension, already: you wanna know about the motor, don’t you? Well, the Kawasaki KX250F didn’t knock our socks off, but it is very competitive with a much wider powerband than the established Yamaha YZ250F. While the YZ250F runs a little flat down low, then packs an exhilarating punch in the middle and top, the Kawi begins to pull extremely well right off idle and continues to do so into the upper 13,000 rpm range. The KX250F engine delivers plenty of power, and does so in a smooth, easy-to-ride fashion. Without riding the bikes back to back, it is actually a little difficult to compare the KX and YZ four-stroke powerbands, as they seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum from each other. What we can say after one day on the bike, however, is that the KX250F definitely enjoys the same advantages and disadvantages over two-stroke 125s that the Yamaha does. The KX engine flat-out rips, but it is easier to ride than its only competitor of the moment. We love it!
Stay tuned for a full race test in the December issue of TransWorld Motocross, due to his newsstands in September…
Click the link on the top right to see a Quicktime video of TWMX tester Rich Taylor in action aboard the KX250F.