When we were formulating this 2023 shootout of fuel-injected quarter-liter four-stroke trailbikes, the immediate pairing was the Honda CRF250F and the Kawasaki KLX230R. However, a closer examination of the spec sheets revealed that the low-seat KLX230R S is a closer match to the CRF250F, so that’s what we have here. The first thing we can tell you is that, despite the two bikes occupying the same category, they are quite different machines, and we aren’t just talking about the color of the plastic. Let’s do a quick tale of the tape before we take to the trails.
Both motors are air-cooled, SOHC, two-valve designs with fuel injection, while the Honda CRF250F motor has a 17cc advantage over the KLX230R. The CRF has a 4mm larger bore and the KLX230R catches up a bit with a stroke 3mm longer. As a result, the KLX230R’s motor is just a hair oversquare, while the CRF250F is fairly short-stroke. Honda uses a 34mm throttle body, which is 2mm wider than Kawasaki’s. The KLX230R has a six-speed transmission, while the CRF250F gets by with a five-speed transmission. So, there are noticeable differences in the motors.
The chassis also stake out different designs. Kawasaki balances the travel of its suspension with 8.7 inches in the fork and 8.8 inches of rear wheel travel. Honda uses Showa suspension, with 0.2 inches less fork travel and 0.3 inches more rear wheel sweep. Neither bike has damping adjustments, and both have linkage for the spring-preload adjustable shock. The KLX230R S has 0.4 degrees less rake than the CRF250F, but 0.3 inches more trail—a bit unusual. The KLX230R S is much shorter, with a 53.1-inch wheelbase, a significant 2.8 inches less than the CRF250F. Even though the KLX230R S is the “short” model, its seat height of 35.4 inches is still 0.6 inches higher than the CRF250. Disc, brake, tire, and wheel sizes are identical. Honda goes with Pirelli Scorpion XC Mid Hard tires, with Kawasaki using Dunlop Sports D952 rubber.
Put it all together, and the Honda CRF250F tips the scales at 265 pounds, making it 11 pounds heavier than the Kawasaki KLX230R S. Both bikes have MSRPs under $5k, with the Kawasaki having a $150 price advantage. With that out of the way, we will press the start button and go riding.
I paired up with Editor Don Williams for this comparison, resulting in considerably different opinions of the Honda CRF250F and Kawasaki KLX230R S comparison. At 165 pounds, Don weighs 50 pounds more than I do, and he’s three inches taller at 5-foot-9. Plus, he rides a bit harder than I do and is generally more demanding, though I can usually keep up with him on bikes like these, thanks to my weight advantage.
As the numbers suggest, the CRF250F and KLX230R motors put out power in distinctly different ways. The Honda is smooth off the bottom with plenty of overrev. This gives the 250cc mill a broad powerband and the ability to get by with a five-speed transmission. The Kawasaki has a snappy throttle response off the bottom, likely due to the narrower throttle body. However, Honda uses its displacement edge to put out more power at any rpm you care to name, though the smoothness of the power delivery masks some of its horsepower and torque advantage.
On the trail, you get the most out of the KLX230R motor by shifting early and enjoying the sporty snap of the power delivery. The KLX flattens out by 6000 rpm, so there’s nothing to be gained by revving it to its 9k rev limit. The Honda is happy to rev higher, where it eventually enjoys a two-horsepower advantage over the Kawasaki. Like the Kawasaki, though, torque production tails off above 6000 rpm, so the pull is reduced the higher you rev. That’s less of a problem for 115-pound me than 165-pound Don.
We did most of our testing on single-track trails, as wide-open spaces quickly gobble up the power of both of these motors. Don preferred the snappy response of the KLX230R motor and the enjoyment of shifting to keep it in the meat of its powerband, while I liked the smooth sailing provided by the CRF250F powerplant, along with the boost on top whenever I found a place to wind it out.
The two chassis couldn’t be more different, which always makes an interesting comparison. The KLX230R S has tauter suspension, as Kawasaki firmed the travel up when it shortened the standard KLX230R suspension. The CRF250F’s Showa units are plush and trail-rider-friendly. Neither bike is set up for jumping or whoops, and typical trail riders don’t do much of either.
Carrying more weight and aggression, Don loved riding the KLX230R S. The ergonomics are more like a regular dirt bike, and it turns on a dime with the shorter wheelbase, steeper rake, and firmer suspension. The primary performance limiting factor on the Kawasaki is the Dunlop Sports D952 tires—definitely a price-point choice. I preferred the smooth ride of the Honda, and didn’t have any trouble turning it, and the Pirelli Scorpion XC Mid Hard tires are the real deal. The Honda has more relaxed ergonomics, which fits its mission.
Don had problems turning the Honda, as his weight used up more of the shock travel, raking it out even more than it is at rest, and he felt it was squatty. I did like riding the KLX230R S on the trails, and the more serious I got, the more I appreciated its focus. But, if I’m going to ride hard and sit up higher, give me a CRF250RX or KX250X and let’s get serious.
The relative performance of the two trail bikes was most clearly revealed when we rode hard and switched mounts back and forth. When Don was on the KLX230R S, I had to work hard on the CRF250F to keep him in sight. When we switched, I could stay close on the Kawasaki to Don on the Honda. We didn’t have stopwatches out, but our sense was that Don’s speed varied quite a bit between the bikes, while my pace stayed consistent on the Kawasaki and Honda. Regardless, when tooling around at typical trail bike speeds, the Honda has the edge in comfort.
Maintenance will be minimal on both bikes. The air filters take tools to remove, though that’s not a big deal. Comically, the KLX230R owner’s manual advises, “Cleaning and inspection of the air cleaner element should be done by an authorized Kawasaki dealer.” To quote testy tennis legend John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious.”
Kawasaki does allow you to change your oil and oil filter, as does Honda. Both bikes make the job easy. While under the motor, you’ll notice that the Honda CRF250F has a skid plate and the Kawasaki KLX230R S does not—and that the KLX has a half-inch less ground clearance. As luck would have it, a rock found its way to the left side cover of the KLX230R motor, poked a hole in it, and oil poured out. Moose Racing makes a nice aluminum skid plate for the KLX230R for $168—well worth it in our experience.
The great thing about comparing the Honda CRF250F and the Kawasaki KLX230R S is that you’re left with stark choices. Heavier riders downsizing from racing-based dirt bikes will prefer the Kawasaki’s ergonomics, suspension, handling, and throttle response. Casual trail riders and lighter pilots will appreciate the smoothness of the Honda motor and suspension, along with its forgiving chassis and superior tires. The price isn’t enough to make a difference, so any buyer has the luxury of basing a purchase on needs and desires rather than budget. In this case, I’d park the Honda CRF250F in the Ultimate Motorcycling garage right next to the Kawasaki KLX230R S that Don would choose.
Photography by Don Williams
|2023 Honda CRF250F
|2023 Kawasaki KLX230R S
|Bore x stroke
|71.0 x 63.0mm
|67.0 x 66.0mm
|SOHC; 2 valves
|SOHC; 2 valves
|EFI w/ 34mm throttle body
|EFI w/ 32mm Keihin throttle body
|Front suspension; travel
|Non-adjustable 41mm Showa fork; 8.5 inches
|Non-adjustable 37mm fork; 8.7 inches
|Rear suspension; travel
|Linkage-assisted spring-preload adjustable Showa shock; 9.1 inches
|Linkage-assisted spring-preload adjustable shock; 8.8 inches
|Pirelli Scorpion XC Mid Hard
|Dunlop Sports D952
|80/100 x 21
|80/100 x 21
|100/100 x 18
|100/100 x 18
|240mm disc w/ Nissin caliper
|240mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
|220mm disc w/ Nissin caliper
|220mm disc w/ single-piston caliper
|DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES