Tested: 2016 Kawasaki KX250F - Project Bike 4

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No matter which 250F wins the Vital MX Shootout each year, there's still one that holds a special place in my heart, and that's the KX250F. Do I think it's the best? Not necessarily, but I feel fairly comfortable on one. That's probably due to the fact that I've spent more time on one than any other full-sized bike, including owning five of the green machines. So ever year, I just have a want to swing a leg over one.

Over the years, I've ridden these bikes from box-stock to fully modified. And for 16 I wanted to make some improvements, but not spend a ton of time tearing into the bike. So I sat down, made a small check list and went after a few key components I wanted to swap out to get the best bang-for-the-buck. Now by no means did I intend to go on a budget. I was going to grab what I wanted, but keep the list a bit short.

Starting off with the performance side of things, I'm a huge fan of how the Kawi produces power. I feel that the engine is very well-rounded, with a very responsive initial hit that pulled consistently throughout the range. It doesn't make the most initial power, but the way it comes on and the throttle response makes it a very capable bike. My biggest goal was to add enough torque and low-end horsepower to help the bike pull a gear higher in corners, eliminating the need to jump down to second gear as often. To do this, we grabbed a set of billet cams from DCR (Daniel Crower Racing) which were focused on overall gains, but mostly in the low-to-mid-range I was looking for. Also, being that the cams are cut from billet steel, they're quite a bit lighter than stock, meaning the KX250F would be a bit snappier and rev a bit quicker. Beyond this, I went with Rekluse's top-of-the-line manual clutch, the Torq Drive. This was a simple choice for a few reasons: One, I knew that even with some mods, I would be slipping the clutch a bit more to keep it a gear higher in the tightest of corners. The added plates in the Torq Drive's system, plus the upgraded inner hub and pressure plate, can really take some constant abuse without fading. Because of the expanded clutch pack the Torq Drive allows for a higher torque capacity, which enables the use of softer clutch springs, which is great for my lack of finger strength (stupid hand injuries and short fingers...)

To open the Kawasaki up on the top-end, while still keeping the gains down low, I went with Yoshimura's full carbon fiber/titanium RS-4 exhaust system. Yoshimura isn't the most common choice on a Kawasaki, but I had heard great things from friends that had used one, so I gave the dice a roll. First off, I loved the unique look and sound, and I was impressed with the gains from the mid-range through the top, without any noticeable losses. Usually, I stay away from carbon fiber systems due to concerns about their durability, but due to Yoshimura's refurbish program I had a lot of faith that even if I ran into any problems, they could make it look brand-new in a snap. Beyond that, I also asked if they wouldn't mind polishing the headpipe, as they do for their race teams, which produces a gorgeous blue and purple finish once warmed up properly. They even offer this to the public on their stainless systems if you hit Yoshimura up directly!

Once my few key pieces were in place, I topped the bike off with some of VP Racing's U4.4 fuel and used Kawasaki's hand-held programming tool to lean the bike out just a touch. With these additions, I popped on a rear Renthal sprocket which was two teeth larger than stock. Normally if I did this by itself, the bike would feel like it should be in third in most corners, but wouldn't have the grunt and response to make it actually happen. Thanks to the modifications I added, the KX250F really came to life with the gearing change; having the grunt and response to pull the higher gear I wanted.

As for the handling, I get along with the KX250F quite well, so nothing major was changed on the chassis. I added a set of X-Trig's heavily adjustable ROCS triple clamps, mostly for their PHDS bar mounts and the ability to scoot the bars farther back than is possible with the stock clamps (I have short arms...so many personal problems). I also equipped the bike with a set of aggressive titanium pegs from Pro-Pegs, Renthal's 996 Twinwall handlebars, as well as their dual-compound Kevlar grips. My last personal wish was for a good seat cover, so I snagged an SDG pleated cover, which is a bit different than a ribbed cover. This pleated cover has more pleats (nine vs. six) than a ribbed cover, and they're stitched into the main cover instead of on top of the material. The feel and grip is a bit more aggressive when sliding back, but easier to move forward on the bike.

Like most riders, I hate changing tires, and the conditions in Southern California go from loam to hardpacked within an hour, especially during the summer. Because of this, I'm a huge fan of any tire I can run throughout the day with a consistent feel. This seems to be the same story amongst most pros. Pirelli has gone out of their way to create a new tire, the MX32 Pro, and their goal was to extend the usable range on each end of the scale, while keeping the same feel. With the new Pirelli's in hand, I mounted them up to some of the toughest rims out there, Excel's A60 rims, which were attached to a set of bright green, lightweight KITE hubs by Dubya USA. Luckily, the newest batch of Kawasakis come with a 270mm rotor up front, so there wasn't a huge need to upgrade. While aftermarket rotors could definitely add some performance, I didn't feel as much need being that this was for a 250F. Last up for the wheels was bolting up a green (got to match those hubs!) Renthal 52-tooth rear sprocket. To tie the front and rear sprockets to together and reliably keep the power moving, I used a RK 520 MXU chain.

One more major improvement was needed, the suspension, so I turned to Factory Connection for that. The KX250F has used Showa's second version of the SFF spring fork since 2013, and while they haven't swapped over to an air fork yet, I'm not a huge fan of this fork. Why? In my opinion, the SFF spring fork has always been a bit of a struggle in the harder-packed conditions. The large spring on the right side has always been a bit noticeable to me, as the front seems to bind up and push along small chatter chop when entering corners. Also, it tends to feel very harsh on slap-down landings, like the fork has too much preload at all times. So for the front, my biggest request was to improve the initial action and really improve the feedback the bike gives. In the rear, I was looking for a bit better action in the middle of the stroke when under acceleration. I wanted to free up the stroke when the bike was squatted, hopefully to improve the traction when the bike was being rear steered. In the end, Factory Connection revalved the forks and shock, while also going to a lighter rear spring. This meant I had a fairly minor bill, since we weren't "reinventing the wheel" inside, but the results were well worth a higher price as they nailed my requests to a T. The forks were much more plush initially, which provided a more free initial feel that really improved my confidence in the front end of the bike. This was done without making the front dive or feel mushy, even at high-speed. In the rear, the bike felt much more compliant and softer, which I was worried about a bit. But overall, it still had just enough hold up to keep with the program under some more severe hits. I could bottom the rear every once in awhile, but it was a very controlled bottoming feel. Personally, I don't mind suspension I can bottom (you have 12 inches of travel for a reason), as long as the bottoming motion is controlled and doesn't give back a negative reaction or force.

Last up was the overall look of the bike; I stuck with black and green for almost all the extra parts, including Yoshimura's black hard-anodized hardparts, and finally topping it off with a custom graphics kit from Magik. I simply sent Tyler from Magik my logo choices and told him what colors I had on the bike, and left any accent colors to him. I was pleasantly surprised to see my graphics proof when I spotted the purple accents throughout the kit, which I've always wanted to put together on a Kawasaki. The bike isn't over-the-top in the looks, but definitely popped. All-in-all, I accomplished all my goals with this build. Some of the parts used were pricier than the other options out there, but all of them were exactly what I wanted and nailed the changes without going too deep into the bike and not really sacrificing any reliability.

Credit: ​Joe Carlino

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