Kawasaki KLX 125 vs 2011 Husqvarna TE 511
On the quiet byways of Hertfordshire we got out in the sunshine, surprisingly for the middle of October, with a few friends and had a play in the mud. If you are someone who has never ridden a motorcycle on a byway then I can thoroughly recommend it. Far away from the cars and buses trying to get in your way in the city, just you enjoying your bike.
The bikes we chose for a day of fun in the mud are very different breeds of off road animal indeed. In the red corner stands the 2011 Husqvarna TE511; get well back this thing is nuts, you will need a full motorcycle licence to ride this one, but the mind blowing acceleration alone is worth the extra effort of getting one. In the green corner sits a mighty 2011 Kawasaki KLX 125; it can be ridden on ‘L’ plates by passing a CBT, it isn’t fast but smiles per mile are abundant and it can do over 80mpg. With the chasm between the two bikes in terms of performance and purpose, you wouldn’t be the only person to think that pitching them against each other in a head to head test would be a little unfair, but the results were surprising.
It’s was a 3 hour journey from home to Hertfordshire while I could have ridden the KLX there it probably would have taken all day, so we decided to take advantage of it being small and use a Land Rover Freelander boot to transport it. Logistics dealt with, it was on to the first lane of the day. (Byways are generally farm access roads and look a little bit like footpaths, OS maps are the best way to find them.)
The first thing you notice about the KLX is its size, it is tiny, narrow and low, it doesn’t feel like an off road bike at all. Open the throttle and the lack-luster performance doesn’t point to much off-road ability either, but bear with it. The brakes and suspension cope surprisingly well, mostly owing to the light weight and low speed of the bike. This particular KLX has had some cheap ebay motocross style tyres fitted as the standard bike comes with road biased tyres for pootling about town; the addition of these tyres for a day out in the mud is a must. It might make it a little bit wobbly on the road, depending on the type and quality of the tyre, but once off road you can really have some fun. Backed by the confidence the small size and unintimidating engine gives, it’s possible to ride quite near the limits of grip/ability relatively quickly. With that in mind we got a little carried away attempting U-turns by sliding in on the rear brake and sliding out on the power, or in our case sliding in on the rear brake, hitting a wet patch and laying down in the mud. A quick kick of the brake lever and we were back on track for more puddle bashing.
Eventually the tight, technical woods gave way to some open flowing gravel tracks (the councils insistence on grading byways for walkers has struck here). While the tighter turns allowed some more over-confident, over enthusiastic cornering on the KLX, the big Husqvarna was the tool for this job. Its almighty power and long-travel suspension ate up the straights and smoothed out the larger bumps and dips. While the KLX bucked and bounced from peak to trough the Husky floated over the top spitting chunks of gravel at any silly little green bike that tried to get near. The power of the Husqvarna is immense, even on the road it will stay with some sports bikes away from the lights, off-road I was struggling a little to find some grip, but when I did the straights became a lot shorter and the corners tighter. In the narrow and technical routes through the woods the big husky was hard work, heavy and difficult to control; try and get it out of a rut without precise throttle and body control and it just won’t budge. The extra ground clearance did offer a significant advantage in the deeper ruts, where the little KLX would, catch footpegs or even change gear by itself.
As an inexpensive way to get into the world of muddy fun, the KLX is great, drown it in mud at the weekend, then ride it to work Monday morning; it is possibly the slowest 125 out there, but everyday it just works. No mixing fuel and oil like a 2 stroke, no hefty rebuild costs like a faster 4 stroke, just simple, cost efficient, fuel efficient fun. You could do the same with the Husqvarna, but unless you have done a lot of off road riding the weekend will be a long slog of picking up a heavy and tall bike. Even the owner of this particular bike managed drop it in a petrol garage while trying to out-stoppie the KLX. Weekdays riding to work, the power of the Husqvarna will certainly wake you up in the morning and the exhaust note will wake your neighbours too, but what a hoot. Getting to work in tact and still in possession of your driving licence will be your only concern…