Off-road: Kawasaki KLX250 and Rieju Tango 250
By: Web Editor
Two four-stroke, small capacity dual-purpose bikes: MCM test them on track, trail and Tarmac to see what they’re made of
Remember when you had one, cheap to run motorcycle that could happily commute or ride across fields? Bikes like the Suzuki TS250 were popular for a reason. Say trailbike nowadays and people think of either the GS-type big trailie or full-on enduro machines. But a recent crop of quarter-litre bikes are again gamely taking on the role of the smaller all-rounders.
At first glance, Kawasaki’s revived small-bore KLX250 trailbike looks a more rugged, purposeful machine than Rieju’s diminutive Tango 250. But as established as the Kwacker may be (it’s still powered by pretty much the same, liquid-cooled four-stroke single motor it had a couple of decades ago), the Rieju is billed as a modern, air-cooled urban commuter still capable of taking in some occasional dirt along the way.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Rieju before, rest assured it’s not some unknown Chinese manufacturer but an established Spanish company whose speciality is small capacity bikes: 95% of Rieju’s business are road-based machines for the learner market, plus they are enjoying plenty of success off-road in Europe, with wins in the 50cc Enduro series, a second place in the 125 4T series plus podiums in the E1 national Belgium series. Probably one of the lightest 250cc dual-purpose bikes on the market, at just 101kg the Tango also has a rider-friendly 830mm seat height and thanks to its narrowness, feels almost trials-bike like. With a carbed engine manufactured by Loncin (who also make the engines for the BMW F650 range) producing around 16bhp, the focus is on reliability and economy rather than outright performance.
This particular bike we had on test had an original homologated exhaust (with CAT), but the factory do a full power, non-cat can for £99, which, combined with a larger main jet should give better pull all through the rev range, and also make the top-end stronger (the homologated model feels a bit wheezy).
It’s also worth noting that although the motor is currently 223cc, it will be increasing to 249cc by the end of the summer at no extra cost.
Revived by Kawasaki in 2009, the water-cooled 22bhp 249cc DOHC KLX250 returned with fresh enduro-biased styling and fuel injection. A tallish 890mm seat height combined with a narrow, fairly hard saddle (big miles a no-no), plus a useful rear fender tool bag, wide bars, alloy bashplate and 43mm adjustable USD forks all point towards its off-road capabilities.
The engine is about as proven as you can get, having been used in earlier KLX models and the steel perimeter frame is fairly low-tech but robust enough and forgiving. Fully adjustable Uni-Trak rear suspension is useful if you’re on the heavy side, as for off-road riding you’ll probably need to up the pre-load to stop the softish, trail-oriented suspension from bottoming out.
The 138kg KLX immediately feels more substantial than the positively anoxeric Tango, and also boasts a bigger fuel tank – 7.7 litres compared to the Rieju’s tiny 6.3 litres. But both sip fuel: after a good 40 miles of very lively on and off-road riding around Lincolnshire, the previously brimmed bikes could only take £3.50 each worth of juice before the nozzle clunked. Which is good news considering their cheap commuter credentials.
What are they like to ride?
On road, the KLX feels more stable at speed, thanks to its larger dimensions and longer 1430mm wheelbase compared to the Tango’s 1305mm. The Kawasaki also has six gears to the Tango’s five, but interestingly the KLX feels a little restricted in the top two gears, and doesn’t rev as well as it does low-down.
Hop onto the Tango and although it feels slightly scary to be perched on little more than a mountain bike doing 70mph, the motor does pull nicely and clever use of the gears saw me edge away from the KLX up a small hill. Town riding is a doddle on both bikes, but the Kawasaki’s meatier brakes do a better job of hauling the KLX up: in particular, the Tango’s front stopper felt wooden and needed a fair amount of pressure at the lever to get it working.
Off-road and the KLX came into its own. Its soft suspension soaked up bumps and holes and the wide bars helped when standing up on the pegs. Cornering was sure-footed as the narrow enduro-style seat let you get to the front of the bike easily, and the soft power delivery won’t intimidate those new to the dirt: easy-going trail riding is where it’s at.
Even though the Tango wasn’t as capable as the KLX on the dirt, I didn’t expect it to be. Equipped as it was with both 17-inch front and rear dual-sport rubber, it was surprisingly agile and although the 37mm Paoli forks look quite spindly, they provided reasonable travel over most of the smaller bumps. It’s worth noting that for off-road playing most Rieju dealers re-gear the 250 and fit pukka off-road tyres too, plus offers two more tyre/wheel combos: 19-inch front and a 16-inch rear wheel on enduro tyres, and 17-inch front and rear wheels on pure road-going rubber. For extra commuting storage, there’s a 27-litre waterproof side case now available at £141.
Which one would you buy?
At £3099 for the Tango (both for trail and SM versions), the KLX looks quite pricey at £4199. However, if you’re after a true dual-sport small trailie, then the KLX wins hands down. But if your focus is more on commuting, town hops and the occasional foray onto the dirt, then the urban trailie Tango is definitely a worthy contender.
Words: Melanie Falconer
Pics: Joe Dick
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