MXA RETRO TEST: WE RIDE JAMES STEWART’S 2005 KAWASAKI SR250
We get misty-eyed sometimes thinking about past bikes we loved and those that should remain forgotten. We take you on a trip down memory lane with bike tests that got filed away and disregarded in the MXA archives. We reminisce on a piece of moto history that has been resurrected. Here is the test we did on James Stewart’s 2005 factory Kawasaki SR250.
“So, where’s the scrub button?” was the first question we asked Kawasaki team manager Bruce Stjernstrom when the MXA wrecking crew arrived at Kawasaki’s private test track. Bruce smiled faintly and said, “There isn’t one. James does that all on his own.
For months, the MXA gang has been trying to get our hands on James Stewart’s Kawasaki KX250‚ which, when outfitted with works parts, gets the factory designation of SR250. We didn’t have much luck‚ mainly because “Bubba” was busy testing in preparation for the 2005 Supercross series. Once the season started, we knew that our odds of spending a day with his bike were nil—unless something weird happened! And, as luck would have it, something weird did happen. James broke his arm just seven days into the 2005 season.
WITH JAMES UNABLE TO RIDE THE BIKE AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS INVESTED IN THE PROMOTIONAL VALUE OF THE RACE TEAM, KAWASAKI CAME TO THE REALIZATION THAT THE MXA WRECKING CREW JUST MIGHT BE ABLE TO TEST JAMES’ SR250 AFTER ALL.
With James unable to ride the bike and millions of dollars invested in the promotional value of the race team, Kawasaki came to the realization that the MXA wrecking crew just might be able to test James’ SR250 after all. Although racers are hired to win motorcycle races, the true motive for their employment is to make the product visible, enhance its prowess and sell motorcycles to the public. You can’t do that standing on the sidelines, so Team Kawasaki decided that if Stewart couldn’t race the bike, then a test in MXA might be the next best thing. It would keep the race team in the limelight, showcase the KX250’s performance, and perhaps sell motorcycles.
SR stands for “Special Racer,” and James Stewart’s Kawasaki is very special. With the works engine, programmable ignition, trick carburetor, works Kayaba suspension, powerful brakes, exotic triple clamps and magnesium hubs, Stewart’s once-stock KX250 is transformed into an unobtainable SR250.
Almost from the moment the 2004 AMA 125 Nationals ended, James and Team Kawasaki went to work on the KX engine. It is obvious that they did their homework. The engine is flawless. One snap of the throttle and you feel how powerful the engine is. On a scale of one to 10, the throttle response is a 12. The jetting is crisp, and thanks to the hot ignition, Bubba’s Kawasaki mill pulls cleanly from way down low all the way to the top. Most 250cc two-stroke Supercross bikes need low-end snap to get up and over a stadium track’s tight jump sequences. A lazy powerband could be disastrous. Stewart’s bike has snap. Whereas the stock KX doesn’t come on cleanly until the midrange, the SR250’s acceleration is like a rocket ship. For comparison purposes, we conjured up images of riding Ricky Carmichael’s 2003 Championship-winning Honda CR250. RC’s bike had punch and snap but required a quick clutch hand at low revs. Not so with Bubba’s bike. The SR250 has plenty of over-rev and jumps off the starting gate like a scared cat. We would be shocked if Stewart didn’t get holeshots at every Supercross he races when he returns to action. That’s how good this engine’s pickup, response and throttle control are.
As with all Pro-level Supercross bikes, Stewart’s suspension was a different story. We expected the forks and shock to be firm, which was more than true on the SR250, but we never really came to terms with the SR’s mix of stiff suspension and understeer. There was no doubt that we weren’t pushing the bike anywhere near the limits of adhesion like James does, so we chalked up the understeer and uncertain turn-in to personal taste (James’ taste).
SOME FACTORY RIDERS PREFER THAT THE FRONT BRAKE HAVE SOME EXTRA PLAY IN THE LEVER TO GIVE THE BRAKE A MORE MODULATED FEEL. NOT BUBBA. HIS FRONT BRAKE ACTUATED VERY ABRUPTLY. ONE NOTE OF INTEREST: JAMES RUNS A WORKS CONNECTION ON-THE-FLY CLUTCH PERCH AND LEVER.
We’ve ridden works bikes with handlebar and lever setups that are so far away we could never adjust to them (Ricky Carmichael’s low-rider bars and high-rise levers are classic examples), but Bubba is a regular guy. We were pleasantly surprised to find that his Renthal 997 TwinWall bars were about even with the angle of the fork tubes. And although his levers were slightly high for our liking (basically horizontal to the ground), we weren’t hampered by any part of his personal setup. Some factory riders prefer that the front brake have some extra play in the lever to give the brake a more modulated feel. Not Bubba. His front brake actuated very abruptly. One note of interest: James runs a Works Connection on-the-fly clutch perch and lever.
Kawasaki uses a works five-speed transmission instead of the stocker. We’ve tried these factory gear ratios before. They are much more usable than the stock ratios because they take out the gap between second and third gear. The close-ratio cog box magnifies the hard hit of the SR engine. On practice starts, we found that the new ratios allowed for very quick shifts with solid pulls from gear to gear. The SR250 hooked up amazingly well on a dirt start. While practicing holeshots, we couldn’t keep the front end down. The bike felt like it had the power of a 450F, only it came on quicker. Stewart’s bike is a prime example of why 250 two-strokes won’t be disappearing from Supercross any time soon.
We loved James’ bike, although we were more enamored with his powerband, clutch, and gearbox than his suspension and handling. The SR250 had more than enough power, was extremely lightweight, and had that brand-new smell (it only had one race on it when we rode it). The overall package was impressive, and the bike certainly won’t hold James back from winning races this year.
As for us, we’ll just use the excuse that we couldn’t jump everything on the Kawasaki test track that James jumps because we couldn’t find the magic scrub button.