The 2024 Kawasaki KX250 is either in its prime or in no man’s land, depending on how you look at it. Kawasaki has developed a fairly predictable routine in recent years. When the KX450 gets a big change, you can expect the KX250 to follow suit afterwards. For 2024, the KX450 was completely redesigned, while the Kawasaki KX250 is completely and totally unchanged. That leaves the Kawasaki faithful with a big decision in the 250 class. Do you play it safe with a proven commodity, or do you take a chance and wait?
In 2024, the Kawasaki KX250 presents a great case for playing it safe. Last year the KX already had the best motor in the 250 class. That’s just plain fact. The odds are that it will be the overall power king again in 2024 and maybe even 2025. This motor didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a work in progress since 2020. That was when it got a new valve configuration with finger-followers between the cams and the valves. It was a massive change for the KX; it went from being a low-end torque king to the class screamer. The next year Kawasaki gave it electric start, a hydraulic clutch, a whole new chassis and a little excess weight. In 2023, it got extensive changes in the intake tract, valves, cams and injectors to bring the low-end power it needed to complete the package. Our 2023 250 shootout showed that the KX had the most power of any bike in the class—between 8,000 rpm and 12,000 rpm. On the very top, somewhere around 13,000, the KTM squeaked out a tenth more, but that was after the real work had been done.
The Kawasaki still has some features that aren’t mainstream. The bike has a secondary injector in the airbox boot, which provides an extra blast of fuel in the middle of the rpm range. It’s also the only Japanese 250 with a hydraulic clutch. On the chassis side, it offers adjustable footpeg height in addition to four handlebar locations.
Kawasaki has developed a Yamahalike phone app for tuning its new 450 this year, but it isn’t yet available for the 250. For now, this bike’s mapping is only adjustable through the use of Kawasaki’s $800 accessory FI calibration tool, which sells for almost $800. Without that tool, you still have three maps preprogrammed into the motor’s electronic brain—lean, standard and rich. They can be selected through the use of color-coded plug-in couplers.
To get the most out of the KX250, you have to ride angry. You have to know going in that no one has a right to reach the first turn in front of you. Rev it, stomp the gears and use the clutch. The Kawasaki will get angry, too. It pops, spits and makes noise like no other motorcycle. This isn’t a sweet, purring little four-stroke. It’s raspy, loud and rude. It works best when you’re raspy, loud and rude. At the end of the day, it’s still a 250 four-stroke, which means it won’t overpower you or wear you out. What gives it that delinquent attitude is a lack of polish. It’s loud and it doesn’t run very clean at extremely low rpm. It’s as if the bike is reminding you that no one ever won a race in the 250F class by under-revving the motor.
Kawasaki owners generally play with the couplers when they first get the bike, then lose them. Ask what map they use and most won’t remember. The couplers can be useful, though. The rich coupler (black) is good if you have taxing conditions like hills and sand that might overheat the motor. Riders most often race with the lean coupler (white) because they feel the bike has more snap. This doesn’t show up on the dyno, but if you think it works, then by all means, use it.
The 2024 Kawasaki KX250F sells for $8,799.
The little green plug fastened to the Kawasaki’s steering head is the coupler that decides which map is employed by the Kawasaki’s EFI system.
Kawasaki had the original launch assist system. Not many amateurs use it in the 250 class, but virtually all factory pros have special maps for the start.
The KX250 also has the original launch assist, called Kawasaki Launch Control Mode. This is widely ignored by rank-and-file 250-class riders, but it shouldn’t be. Virtually all of the factory pros use special maps for the start. Each rider has their own recipe, and in almost every case, the bike’s output is tamed down somewhat for the start. The Kawasaki’s is activated when you press the white button, and it deactivates itself when you shift to third or chop the throttle. The trick is that you have to practice with it, which requires patience and a little blind faith.
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In 2022, the KX250 got the frame developed for the 450. Oddly enough, it doesn’t really handle like the 450. As we say again and again, power delivery is the single biggest factor in overall handling. The 450 is stable and slow-handling due, at least partly, to its gentle power output, whereas the 250 is much more hyperactive. When you run the 250 motor at higher rpm, it affects handling in a multitude of ways. Another head-scratcher is the bike’s weight. The Kawasaki feels like the lightest bike in the 250 class, but it’s not. On our scale, the KX weighs 227 pounds without fuel, which makes it one of the heaviest. It is, however, very narrow and has a spread-out, loose riding position.
In the suspension department, the 250 uses KYB suspension, whereas the 450 is equipped with Showa. Again, the two KXs have a very different feel. Overall, the 250 seems set up for a larger, heavier rider than you might expect in the 250 class. It takes someone in the 175-pound range to get the most out of the fork in particular. In order to balance the feel, most riders reduce compression damping up front or maybe even reduce oil level. We have, at times, changed the fork height from 3mm of the fork tube showing above the clamps to as much as 5mm for tight, slow tracks, but this isn’t ideal for faster racecourses. The overall suspension action isn’t bad, but balance and setup can be a challenge for smaller riders.
Make no mistake, the KX250 is a great 250 motocross bike. The motor alone puts it near the front of the class. The detailing is excellent, too. The coned disc clutch has the easiest pull in the class and is much more durable than the older, coil-spring version. The brakes are great, and the fact that you can personalize the rider layout is a huge bonus. There are some details we would like to see changed, though. Times have moved beyond coupler-based engine tuning. The grips and chain aren’t the best, and even though the raspy sound of the motor is part of the KX’s personality, we would like a little more civil noise level.So, will it pay off to go with a proven commodity like the KX250 in 2024? The Yamaha YZ250F is the question mark of the class. Last year it was the polar opposite of the Kawasaki—great suspension with an unexceptional motor. This year it is all new. You place your bets and take a risk. At least if you bet on the Kawasaki, you know you won’t be a loser.
When Kawasaki went to a finger-followers valve train in 2020, it changed the KX250’s personality completely. It’s now a revver.