Back in the day there was a wide range of trail bikes on the market. From the two stroke brilliance of Yamaha’s DTs to the mighty Honda XRs. If you wanted to go green you could head for the Kawasaki’s KDX or KLX range for your dose of off-road riding at the weekend and then return to commuting on the same bike on Monday morning.

But things have moved on since those halcyon days. Trail riding has become more and more difficult to do thanks to meddling middle-aged townies moving into the countryside and the demographics of motorcycling have followed them into the middle years. The resultant effect has been that there are precious few true trail bikes left, and the off-road market has polarised to Austrian domination of bikes that in reality are far from trail bikes. So in a landscape dominated by supremely competent enduro machines that can pound the lanes one day and win Romaniacs the next, is there still a niche for an old fashioned trail bike?


Honda Vs Kawasaki… which is really better?

Looking at our list of trailies from the glory years, the KLX250 is still the only one surviving . Kawasaki continue to produce the soft-roader some thirty years later and although there have been subtle changes and upgrades over the years, the basic bike is still much the same animal – a gentle and easy to use bike that will run for the next two decades with very little fuss. The 2016 version may take some of its design cues from the KXF motocross range, but this boy is no track monster.

For Honda, the XRs and XLs have long since been consigned to the history books. When we contacted Honda to obtain stock pictures of the XR400R for our XR Vs DRZ review, even after trawling through the photo archive of the whole global network from California at Tokyo, Honda could only locate a solitary image of the bike. The XR was made for nearly ten years, sold thousands of units across the globe and continues to be a firm favourite a decade after production ceased, yet only one image exists. That’s show business …

In its place, Honda now has the CRF250L as the only true trail bike in their range. Using what is essentially a road bike engine in a steel frame, the budget priced bike is constructed outside Japan and has proved to be a popular bike for both commuters and would-be off-roaders.

After retiring all of the trusty Honda XRs from our tour bike fleet in Southeast Asia and we needed to decide on their replacement. So which of these bikes would takes the top step in this battle of an often forgotten class? We had to know…

Toby purchased one of each bike in Cambodia and Julian took some out for test rides on the UK’s green lanes. The Kawasaki KLX250S Vs Honda CRF250L… which is really better?


The Kawasaki KLX250 scores well for comfort, thanks to a good seat and good suspension. Even at full chat the bike remains planted and copes with the big hits well. Although the CRF would take the win for road riding comfort.


Although the frame looks sturdy and well finished, the steel needs care to keep it from getting rusty in damp conditions. The bike needs a proper bash plate straight away.


As the KLX is relatively tried and trusted tech, it needs to be a tad cheaper than the RRP. Haggle like hell if you are buying new.


The KLX has some MX style presence in the car park and looks the part. Expect to change plastics occasionally to keep it from looking tired.


As stock the power needs freeing up to be really enjoyable. It’s fine and stupidly quiet in standard form, you just know it’s being strangled. We wouldn’t dream of using this bike on our tours without modifications.

Green, Clean and far from Mean – KAWASAKI KLX 250

The fact that this bike still exists within Kawasaki’s range is something of a miracle. With the big K often struggling with Suzuki to keep up with Honda and Yamaha, the need to streamline their range must be ever present. So the very fact that it is still there does suggest that however much the market might have shrunk for this machine, it is still there. And on the basis of our test, we can see why. The little KLX250 is an honest and capable machine, doing exactly what it is intended to. And what’s more it’s capable of being substantially better with not too much effort or indeed cash.

Coming in at just over £4000 in the UK, it’s a cheap bike to start off with compared to the performance enduro models at almost double that. The bike runs a four valve, fuel-injected, six geared 249cc DOHC motor in a steel perimeter frame. The front forks are only adjustable for compression damping, but the rear can be tweaked for preload, compression and rebound damping.

The bike runs the usual off-road combination of 21-inch front and 18-inch rear that affords a full choice of proper off road rubber, which you’ll need if things get slippery. The main bugbear in the spec sheet is the 138kg that the KLX tips the scales at. Kawasaki say this is the curb wait rather than dry weight, so at least that’s the top end, but try to get that on a paddock stand and you certainly want any more!

So what else do you need to know? The brakes use a 255mm front and 230mm rear disc, the tank has a fairly small 7.7 litre capacity and the ground clearance is 285mm – that’s not massive in off-road terms but big in road terms.

The clocks are clear and easy to see, which is not true of the headlight.

The exhaust is a full Euro 3 compliant unit with an internal catalytic converter. These are not words you want to hear.

If you think that engine looks familiar you’d be right. Back in the early 2000s, Suzuki and Kawasaki combined forces to reduce R & D costs. The result in terms of motocross was the first tranche KXF250s that enjoyed fantastic success in both US and World motocross, while the almost identical but yellow Suzuki did next to nothing of note. But on the off road side of things, the flip side was true, with the mighty DRZ400 selling boatloads all over the world and continuing to be popular, while the again almost identical KLX400 being almost as invisible as sensible American politicians. We literally have never seen one in the UK.

But the smaller sibling 250 is far more visible and the lump it uses looks a dead ringer for the DRZ donk, even if the internal capacity is lower. And the similarities don’t end there… Click here to view on the Kawasaki website.




RockyMountain ATV/MC ADV & Dual Sport Parts


The Honda CRF250L may not have adjustable suspension, but what is there does the job well. The seat is ‘all-day’ comfortable and the cockpit is open once you ditch those nasty steel bars. The KLX has the upper edge of comfort on the tougher off-road.


Even though the CRF250L is built far away from Japan in downtown Thailand, the Honda quality is still there. From the steel frame to the excel rims, it’s good stuff. You will however want to add a strong radiator guard to the top of your shopping list


All this goodness and flexibility for less than 4 large is great value in any currency. Buy a nearly new and you can take a quarter off that too!


For a budget level bike, the Honda is still a looker, so scores high with its MX inspired styling.


As stock it’s competent and copes with on or moderate off-road easily. And simply a new pipe lets the power rip.

Little Red Rooster –HONDA CRF 250L

Pitched at the same price point as the KLX, the Honda CRF250L has been a bit of a silent assassin in the range, clocking up fans from both the tarmac and mud community. As a true Ronseal bike, the Honda does exactly what it says on the tin. You can commute every day from now until your pension kicks in and the bike will never let you down, yet if you want to mix in a bit of dirty fun, then it’s happy to oblige. It’s a winning combination.

Honda list the little CRF in the adventure section of their website and in fairness that’s not wrong. People are taking this bike on trans-global expeditions thanks to its rock solid capabilities and reliability. Like the KLX it’s a 250 cc, six geared, four valve DOHC lump wrapped in a steel frame that’s painted to look like aluminium. It’s clearly not ‘ally’ because if it were the bike wouldn’t come in at a decidedly porky 144 kg.  American website called this ‘feathery’ – they clearly have some mighty big birds in the US …

The wheels are 18/21. The ground clearance is lower than the Kawi at 255mm and the brakes use a combination of a 256 front disc and a 220mm rear. The look of the bike fits in with the rest of the bikes in the CRF range, but the motor is a transfer from the road division having been swiped from the CBR250R. It works well on the dual-purpose guise having been given a smaller 36mm throttle body and a longer, narrower exhaust header to extend the midrange. The bike is more than capable off-road and just as the KLX, the motor has more to give once freed of the emission friendly gubbins that the regulators seem to love.

Like the KLX, the tank is 7.7 litres but as with the Kawasaki, the Honda is not a thirsty bunny – it sips the unleaded like it would prefer not to have to bother. Click here to view on Honda’s website




The CRF and KLX out on the trail

Heading out onto the trails, these bikes feel remarkably similar in standard guise. You immediately lose the weight that is evident on the side stand and the bikes both feel surprisingly agile given their bulk. Also immediately noticeable is that you step off an enduro bike onto these two mild-Millie’s you are going to be seriously disappointed.  You really have to reset your head to cope with the power drop on the standard bikes. If you keep these bikes for any length of time then the chance of you not seeking out a bit more oomph are small – but more of this later.

The overall dimensions on the two bikes is compact too, maybe a little more so on the Kawi than the Honda. Both use ‘cheap as chips’ steel bars that bend far too easily and transmit lots of trail vibration. Although we appreciate that they are built to budget, not fitting alloy bars to bikes being made in 2016 is a bit rich – ditch them and go alloy before you take the bike out of the garage in our opinion.

The cockpit and the Kawasaki is pleasing and really easy to read compared to the more slim line off-road models. The Honda isn’t bad too, just a bit more cluttered to our mind, but it does have a fuel gauge while the KLX goes for a tacho instead. Both bikes have conventional key controlled ignition that you will forget if you are not used to keys off-road – that’ll be us then!

” On the red dirt roads and easy trails the comfort and smoothness of the Honda wins every time, but when you get to the more snotty stuff it’s the more agile handling and superior suspension of the Kawi that takes the win. And that’s before the mods! “

– Ride Expeditions founder, Toby Jacobs

Out of the two the plastics on the Honda work better, as the tank shrouds on the Kawi seem to catch your riding jeans on occasions. It’s also made of a tougher compound too – our KLX in Cambodia was dropped and plastic snapped far too easily. Similarly – we can hardly believe we are saying this – the footpegs are better on the Honda being both wider and more comfortable than the skinny steel items on the KLX.

Suspension wise, the Kawasaki KLX250 comes out in front, thanks to the adjustability of the rear and front compared to Honda’s ‘you get what you are given’ units. But while that’s a win for the green bike, Little Red gets the vote on the power of the stock machine as it’s got that little bit more bite that you need.

One annoying glitch on the Honda CRF250L that was really noticeable was the fact that the engine is asymmetrical and really sticks out on the right hand case, forcing your legs wider than the left. In comparison the KLX250 feels much more natural.

Both machines come with road based semi-knobbly tyres that sort of do the job on both surfaces, but inevitably fall short once it gets slippery, giving them a vague and uncertain feel. They grip, just take a while to do it almost like they are operating on a fly-by-wire interface, rather than handlebars.
As a final note, the fuel economy on both bikes is just staggering. We went out all day on both machines and when it came to refuel time our trail riding buddies were putting in £8 of fuel in their two-strokes, while the KLX took half that at £4 and the lil’ Honda just £3.50. Impressive stuff.


From stock these bikes are very similar, as you’d expect. Where the one excels, the other has an answer up its sleeve. Both are extremely easy to ride both on and off-road, but if left standard you will soon find their limitations. On the basis of the marginally more punchy motor the Honda edges it in the battle of the CRF250L Vs KLX250S, but the Kawasaki is damn close even given it’s long model run. Upgraded, it’s a different story…

” We will be replacing our trusty old XR’s with the Kawasaki KLX250 for the trails in Cambodia alongside our YAMAHA WRF450’s for those that insist on extra horses!. But the Kawi as standard simply won’t cut it, so ours will all be heavily modified to improve performance – bored out to 300cc, fuel controllers, aftermarket exhausts etc. The Honda CRF250’s will be used for our tours up in Laos and Vietnam. “



Ride Expeditions have upgraded our fleet of Honda XR250’s and Suzuki DRZ400’s that we used on our off-road tours in Southeast Asia, and it is now  the Kawasaki KLX & Honda CRF 250’s and the YAMAHA WRF450s are the ones to fill their shoes. But bearing in mind that the little 250’s lack in power when left standard, we need to look at options for upping the ponies.


For the CRF, releasing the power appears to be relatively simple. A quick swap on the strangling pipe that Honda have fitted to a far more free breathing FMF version releases the horses like opening all the stable doors at once. From a shy librarian it removes its glasses, shakes loose its hair and is suddenly far more fun to be with.  In fact the power and noise on the FMF make the CRFL feel much more like its predecessor XR’s – close your eyes and you’ll be convinced that Honda are still making them.

Next up the tyres need to go in favour of proper off-road rubber, though what you choose depends on the terrain. In the UK we go for a trial rear and enduro front, but in Vietnam and Laos where we will be using these, then enduro both ends is the best way to go.

Other than this it’s just a set of new taller alloy bars, either cross-braced or FatBars and we are good to go on a totally transformed Honda that will still return 70mpg and run all day – perfect.


For the KLX, the older engine needs a bit more help to get real sweet. We’re heading along the route of ‘there’s no replacement for displacement’ by fitting a 300cc big-bore kit for the new bikes we’re using in Cambodia. Allied to this we’ve changed the exhaust system to let it breathe freely and added a hopped-up EFI control unit with improved mapping to match the pipe. The results, when matched to a new 14/45 sprocket setup are an astounding improvement over stock and release the potential in this dependable little motor. Where the stock bike lacked the snap to overcome trail obstacles, the upgrades make it one hell of a bike for adventure motorcycling, and a worth successor to the legendary Honda XR250s we used to run and love. The King is dead, long live the King.

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31 comments on “Honda CRF 250L Vs Kawasaki KLX 250S

  1. Great comparison, thanks! I’ve owned the KLX for years – i love it – but I agree 100% that modifications are ESSENTIAL! Completely transforms it.
    I’ve not yet tried the CRF, but I’ve heard the suspension really let’s it down on the rough trails.

  2. Great write up but Im astounded the WR250R didnt get a look in?? All these little 250s punch well above their weight/power, return unbelievable economy and reliability and are just a pleasure to ride.

    1. Thanks for your comment Matt. Agreed, the WR250R is a fantastic trail bike, but with the price being so much higher than that of the KLX and CRF we don’t think it is a fair comparison.
      For our tours, we were looking for a bike that we could replace the Honda XR250’s with – a modern day equivalent that wouldn’t force us to increase our tour prices too much for our riders. The KLX and CRF are perfect for this – not expensive to buy, reliable & easy to maintain and inexpensive parts. We also offer the KTM’s for people that don’t mind spending a bit more on performance!

  3. I had a close look at both bikes before buying.
    In the end the KLX came out best by a large margin, it has better suspension, more ground clearance and weighs less.
    The Kawa was also £400.00 less on the road , that’s a fair bit towards any future mods..
    I am not knocking the CRF it’s a decent little bike but I think the KLX has more potential and is a bit more off road focused.

  4. Hi, thanks for a really interesting write up.
    I currently have an xr400 and a 2011 klx250 efi which I would like to upgrade and eventually use to replace the xr.
    I would be interested to hear your views on if you think the modified klx is as good if not a better all round bike than the xr? and also if you would be kind enough to let me have a copy of the upgrade parts you fit onto your klx ‘s.
    Look forward to your reply

    Steve Ward

    1. Hi Steve – yes on balance I’d say that the upgraded KLX has far more potential than the XR40 – it’s a broader spread of power and just generally more up to date. We use them in Cambodia and they are a great option.
      In terms of the upgrades, we’ll be running an article on this fairly soon, but in essence the first bit is to fit the barrel and piston of a KLX300 which is a straight fit. After that you can either tune the existing FI unit or fit an aftermarket part – we did the latter. Once that’s done it’s a full exhaust system and take off anything that is not essential to bring the weight down!
      Watch this space for the extended version of the above!
      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  5. Yes I’d also be interested in the mods description for the klx. I’ve looked at both the crf and klx and prefer the kwak. Physically smsller and lighter appeals to me, plus i prefer to look of it.

    1. We will be blogging on the upgrades soon, but it’s really just a 300cc barrel and piston, new exhaust system and ECU and take of anything that isn’t essential. It’s a transformed bike!


  6. What’s the best mods to make to a KLX and in what order of benefit per dollar? I have an FMF pipe on mine, and although it sure makes it sound way cooler, I don’t know if it actually produces more horsepower as I have never ridden it another way. (Came from the dealer with this mod already on it, I think they were using it as a demonstrator. It had 1600 km and the new pipe on it when I bought it but I was the first person to register it.) I’m thinking an off-road tire for the rear next? Are there any free mods that work?

    The one downside to this bike (the KLX 250) is the hard cold start and long warm up period. Maybe they have gone fuel injection now, that would be a huge improvement to this bike but I still got a carb. Maybe that’s why it gets such great mileage, no gas actually goes in there. I also think I would prefer to have a kick-starter in case I got in trouble in the woods, although when the engine is cold I don’t think it would be very easy to start this bike that way.

    1. Hi

      The mods we carry out are to fit the 300 barrel, complete exhaust system, upgraded ECU and bin just about anything non-essential to bring the weight down. After that you could look at the suspension to improve the handling

      Good luck and let us know how you get on


  7. I had a 2008 Honda CRF230L and dual-sported it. It had a very low seat height, low weight and decent performance on the trail. I recommend it!

  8. Hi, I emailed a while ago regarding the mods you have fitted to your klx250efi’s. I’m keen to fit a 300 kit to my klx but am struggling to find much info on the Internet or suppliers in the uk. Would it be possible to get a list of the parts you have used and an idea of the cost? or are you in a position to supply the parts.
    Look forward to hearing from you.
    Steve Ward

    1. OK so the Kawasaki comes out slightly in front with around 27 bhp, 20nm torque and up to 85 top speed, which compares to 24 bhp , 18,3 nm torque and 80 mph on the Honda. However to focus on these figures for gentle trail riding kind of misses the point – these are soft trailies, never designed for big power of speed either on or off- road. If that is you priority, neither of these bikes will satisfy and you should be heading to more enduro based machines – if you want high top speeds on the road – an off-road bike is not the bike you need at all!


    1. Yes you’re probably right Vincent. But the CRFL is the one that is selling well, and it’s not too difficult to uprate it. If Yamaha were interested, their WR250X could be the one to challenge the Honda.


  9. I live in Thailand where the KLX 250 is produced. A company here sells an after market ECU that can be inserted instead of the original ECU as a plugin without doing any soldering or rewiring. Takes about 10 minutes to take of the plastic cover on the rear left side to replace the part. The result is about 20-25% more power but the engine is still running very smooth. No need to change air filter or exhaust pipe (nice to be relatively quiet when riding through the hill tribe villages and fields in the mountains here). Fuel economy only down about 10% compared to the stock ECU. Used it for 3 years now without any negative effects on the engine.

    1. Thanks Per

      We make a lot of changes to our KLXs to make them more competent on the trail, from 300cc big bore kits, to changed ECUs and replacement exhausts.
      Thanks for your input


    2. Per Anderson could you please post the company name or how I would be able to buy that aftermarket ECU in the U.S., your option seems to be the easiest way to get more power without all the other mods, thankyou

  10. The klx has big potential for upgrades but it comes at a cost. Since emissions regulations came in, kawa was reluctant to fit a catalytic exhaust so they detuned it, cams corked exhaust and intake, and ecu that’s making it run very lean. Point is, to unleash it you need to upgrade everything. Went through it, incrementally.
    Exhaust, intake and ecu definitely are to come together.
    300 cc and cams are the next level. New cams are absolutely essential, it was the last mod i did so i can tell the difference it made, not a grind ( webcam are a joke seriously) but new cam, with higher longer lift and propper surface hardening process.
    With the kawa klx 300 cylinder/piston and beet cam( jap parts, exact ref is Beet nassert camshaft t1
    0602 k38 00 ), i got my ecu tuned on a dyno here in thailand, 33.6 hp at the back wheel. Yoshimura also makes cam for it that get even more power, 37 hp on the 300 jug i was told by the tuner but the power band is really high and torque takes a hit at low rev as it’s titanium thus very light.
    The ecu brand is api, made in Thailand, exaust is tbr full system, intake is dna with a bigger snorkel

  11. hello I have a crf 250l of 2013 I am happy with the speed but I feel stressed to feel the engine so drowned, what exhaust system did they put? Did you open the filter box, regulate injection or just the exhaust pipe and the intake pipe? Thank you

      1. Hi, by changing the exhaust to FMF, is the difference substantial to be noticed or is it worth changing for the price? about the ecu tune, how can it be done? do we need power commander?

        1. For the CRF it’s pretty much an instant improvement without a PC. For the KLX there is quite a bit of work to release the power, but losing some of the weight is equally important!


  12. Thanks Julian, I have not yet asked the correct question, because they decided to put the improvement at 300 c.c in the klx and not in the crf 250l.

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