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I wasn’t able to make the 2018 Kawasaki KX250F introduction Thursday at Cahuilla Creek MX, but I wanted to get you guys an opinion on the bike from someone who has ridden a full blown factory Pro Circuit KX250F. I know Tyler Bowers has ridden for Kawasaki in the past, but currently he has been riding a borrowed KX450F to keep himself ready for anything that might make its way through his door. From the time that I have meant Tyler he has always been straightforward and a no B.S. kind of guy. So I thought what a perfect way to get some production feedback from a guy who has ridden some of the best race equipped 250F’s there is. He was gracious enough to write you all this first impression and give you his thoughts on what it’s like to ride the 2018 Kawasaki KX250F. Stay tuned for a full podcast on this machine when I get my hands on it next week! -KK
With the Kawasaki KX250F already getting a big facelift in 2017, it is very surprising to see Kawasaki make so many changes for the 2018 model. In the power department alone, there were a slew of changes including a new throttle body with a revised injector mounting angle for a more in-line fuel spray, a new fuel pump that increases fuel pressure by seventeen percent, a revised air boot with a shorter intake funnel, a longer intake port divider in the cylinder that creates a smoother flow, a new camshaft and advanced timing and a visibly wider/longer exhaust header to improve both torque and top end power.
From all of the race team testing I have done in my career, I knew how big of a difference just one of these changes could make to a bike. You could definitely tell there had to have been a lot of input from the Kawasaki race teams in this design as many of these are go-to moves when building a race machine. I’m also all about big increases in torque on a 250F due to my bigger size (weighing in at 190lbs), so I was eager to get on and try it out. Right off the stand I noticed a difference in torque. I could feel the increased throttle response and snappy power as soon as I put it in gear and rode toward the track entrance. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which of so many updates is responsible for this, but from my experience I know air-boot changes usually make a noticeable difference in throttle response and feel.
Once on the track I tried to really focus on a few key things; overall power, controllable power delivery, and I wanted to see how quickly the engine could recover from me sinking it into a soft berm or rut. I was impressed by overall power, but it wasn’t much to write home about and get me too excited. It felt like a stock 250F on top end, which is pretty decent once you get it moving. We were at a little elevation (almost 4000ft), so it could be an impressive thing that it felt as good as a stock 250F at that altitude. I did notice I had to short shift a bit, but I did also notice I could short shift it. Normally, especially on a 250F, you have to hit your shifts points just right or you could find yourself losing ground with a dip in RPM. I did not feel any issues with this on this bike and this allowed me to ride in a higher gear, thus freeing up the chassis and suspension a little for better handling and less surprises.
With part of this day being dedicated to do a photo shoot, I did get to sink it way deeper than anyone normally would into a few silty berms. Once again with me being on the larger side of your average 250F motocross rider, I expected a big drop in RPM during this. However, to my surprise, when I would seldom get a little dip in RPM, all it took was a generous crack of the throttle and the engine would recover very quickly. This is going to be a big advantage for your average amateur level racer that can make more mistakes than a professional. We have all been in the heat of a battle with someone and came into a corner a little too hot only to lose those hard-earned bike lengths because we were stuck it in the corner and didn’t get a good drive out. All of this added torque and low-end power sounds amazing, right? Until we think about those tricky flat hard pack corners where that snappy throttle only gets us into trouble. With the advanced timing, more in-line and better injector spray pattern, and changes to exhaust, the power was more controllable than I remember a Kawasaki KX250F being. The torque actually made it easier to throw it in a higher gear and “lug” it around to optimize traction in those slick corners like you would on a 450.
Kawasaki didn’t stop its work to improve the 2018 KX250F after refining the engine. On the suspension side of things Kawasaki worked with Showa to make improvements to the SFF spring fork and rear shock designs with a new front fork valve stack, improved dampening, and a softer spring rate. Once again I was all about putting this to the test. I have recently been riding an all stock 2017 KX450F at the local so-cal tracks, and it honestly hasn’t felt as bad as people make production bikes out to be. I am starting to think a lot of these team race bikes are a bit over-engineered because I am liking the production machine. The 450 comes with the Showa TAC-air fork, and it has been about four years since I have ridden on spring fork. I was interested in seeing the pros and cons in being able to now compare the two. Luckily there were a few good downhills’ that, despite being ridden on mostly by media guys and writers (not pro level aggressive braking) did develop a good amount of large bumps toward the end of the day. One characteristic of a spring fork that I have heard of is the lack of hold-up on the hard hits. Let me tell you that was not an issue with this machine as I sent it down some of the hills in 5th gear. Now it’s usually a give and take scenario with suspension as you may know. You can have it stiff enough for the big hits, but then it feels like it’s going to rattle your teeth out through the little chop and beat your kidneys out in acceleration bumps. It is very tricky to have the best of both worlds, but Showa and Kawasaki have been able to improve the large hits while the dampening and softer spring rate smooth out that chatter. I noticed a very good balance between the fork and the shock. Many bikes end up with either a super stiff front end that gets exacerbated by a soft rear shock, or vice-versa. What I really enjoyed about this quality was the lack of “teeter-totter” or pitching like movement under braking or acceleration. It was a very stable and had a controlled feel as I was hard on the front brake into corners. The forks would pull down right to an acceptable level entering a corner, even into those pesky shallow ruts, making for a controlled entrance to the corner. There was also a smooth delivery of weight when I released the brakes and started to accelerate. There were no surprises that made the weight transfer to the rear of the bike that would cause a packing of the shock and possibly slide out and lose traction.
The chassis seems to be the only area that Kawasaki decided to leave unchanged. If you have ridden the 2017 KX250F, you already know about the slimmer feel and flat seat in comparison to the previous models. They also kept the two-position foot peg and four-position handlebar adjustable ergo-fit system to help riders of both the taller and shorter stature feel comfortable without much work. Now I will add that this was my first time on the KX250F with this updated chassis style. I rode and raced the 450 in this chassis last summer and even though I do like the 450, I really like the 250 in this chassis. With the reduced weight it just feels so flick-able and downright fun to ride. All in all I think the improvements Kawasaki has made to this machine were noticeably beneficial, and with the MSRP of $7,749 staying exactly the same as 2017, I think it’s a great buy and a fun ride! We will have to see what Keefer thinks when he rides it in the coming weeks to see if it signs up with what I felt at Cahuilla. -Tyler Bowers