Head-to-head: Kawasaki 250TR vs Honda FTR223
Small, perfectly formed and built tough, these stylish four-stroke 250s excel at nothing in particular except reminding us that simple is often best
Two of the funkiest Japanese import street trackers duke it out on the mean streets (and leafy lanes) of Romford
SOME BIKES INSPIRE awe, others respect, these two… nothing but mirth. Like a pair of slightly overgrown street legal paddock bikes – and less money than a Monkey bike these days too. If you ever needed something for town and country this is where to look.
Let’s make no bones about it – these things are never going to be happy on a motorway, a dual carriageway, or even a fasta-road, they both top out at around 80mph (and that’s a generous estimate with a favourable wind) and are happiest throbbing away at a 65mph cruising speed. Fast they are not. But on city streets and rural lanes they cannot be beat.
We pitch up at Unit 5 Motos to get the Honda FTR223 and the place is awash with all manner of interesting imports; a tidy NS400R, a couple of RS125 racers, and there’s the FTR… compact, with a very long (competitionlong) swingarm and the fattest front tyre (120/90 18) you’ll ever see on a 250.All part of the fairly serious Flattrack Racer (FTR) vibe – and lending it a nicely purposeful look.
The Kawasakitr is a street scrambler.a cod-trail bike without even a 21-inch front wheel to make the pretence just slightly more believable.and with a mere six and half inches of ground clearance (half what any prospective trail bike might have) some city kerb-hopping is about as far as the joke should go.
Neither bike wears a kickstart, so a tap on the button and they thrum into gentle, muted tickovers. Stepping off the Kawasaki onto the Honda (at which point I should declare a vested interest as I bought thistr off Unit 5 a couple of months ago) it feels instantly stubbier and tauter.you’re at once struck by how much more responsive the engine is from small throttle openings, the sharper steering, and the more weight-forward bias of the riding position.
For an engine giving away 26cc to the Kawasaki, you wouldn’t notice (even if someone told you). Honda have always made a decent four-stroke single of whatever capacity, and this oddball 223 is no exception. On paper it produces more torque 15.5lb.ft to the Kawasaki’s 13.2 – and you can certainly feel it. The FTR is clean off the bottom end, thetr slightly woolly in comparison.
Thetr’s engine is that of the Estrella, a Japanese-market (as both thetr and FTR are) retro fashion-crusier type thing. Undersquare at 66 x 73mm and gently-cammed you might think it would have the edge on bottom end, but it’s the reverse. In top gear roll-ons from 30mph the Honda stomps away by 20 yards to near top whack. From a standing start it’s a different story.thetr leaves the FTR for dead. With revs on board the Kawasaki rules, but the Honda is the punchier engine of the two. Both five-speed ’boxes and wet clutches are well up to their undemanding jobs.
The Kawasaki’s longer wheelbase and gentler steering geometry, combined with a 19-inch front Dunloptrials Universal allows it to waft from left to right to left with an airy
ease.you can’t hurry it, yet being of little mass and with that wide handlebar, you can properly swing thetr around on its knobblies.the FTR’S Dunlop K180s have plenty of meat left on them but are plainly past their best time-wise. For old rubber they hold up pretty well and give enough of an impression of what a fresh set might be like – and that would be good. Steering is pretty positive, not at all as heavy as you might imagine with such a fat front tyre. Pushed up to the tank, not uncomfortably though, by the more aggressive riding position (this is a faux flat tracker after all) you get a good feel for what the front is doing.the FTR likes to be dropped into a turn while the laziertr prefers to be shown it first.
The odd thing is how comfortable both are for such diminutive machines, neitheralan nor I feel at all cramped (though we may have looked mildly ridiculous) and when we haul up for a quick bacon and egg roll at the estimable Brook Street Diner (thanks Joanne and Christy) there are a couple of other riders, out for a spin to theace Cafe, who take more than a passing interest in our bargain import playthings.the thrust of the conversation being how a freer breathing pipe and less restrictive air cleaner would pep up both bikes no end.
At this point we decide to see if a new bulb will do the trick to get the Honda’s headlight working.alan miraculously unearths a fresh Osram H4 among the catfood and biscuits in the Shell shop.we plug it in to no avail.ten minutes later with the old bulb re-installed the light decides to work, then packs in again after another 10 minutes. No doubt a symptom of many weeks in a sea salty hot/cold/hot container doing the switches connectors and terminals no favours.
Through the mean streets of Romford on the outer edges of east London and carving through dense traffic is never simpler on
these narrow, nimble and decently-braked devices. Both employ a twin-piston sliding caliper up front, the Honda on a 240mm disc, the Kawasaki a 270. Neither feels particularly wanting, although slowing from higher speeds might prove a tad more interesting. On dual purpose rubber though, anything more powerful would most likely invite problems.
It’s around the lanes of Essex that these are most at home. Between 40 and 60mph both are in the sweet spot of their performance envelope.and while that might read as being woefully short of thrills, it’s big on amusement. If you haven’t thrashed a small engine since your moped days, cast your mind back to the borderline hysterics of hanging onto gears (with no tacho) until mechanical noises change from very busy to worryingly fraught, while you glance furtively in a mirror to see how where/how far back/how close your mates are. Of sticking right with someone through every marginal overtake, so close to their back wheel you’re almost riding as a demented four-wheel conga. Of not braking, not braking, not braking, not... and then banging on the stoppers in a daft bid to gain a vital two yards into a roundabout.yes, all of that.
Thetr’s twin shock rear end is marginally less disciplined than the FTR’S mono operation
when surfaces become interesting, yet that matters little when offset by its miniscule advantage in top-end urge.you get the impression that all of these quarter-litre funsters, we include the Suzuki Grasstracker in this, would be so evenly matched as to make any outing a three-way tie for smiles.
Spec-wise the FTR wins out with its black-anodised alloy wheel rims, chromed headlight shell and instrument pod, rubberised stepped seat, way better mirrors, and of course that monoshock rear. Kawasaki play the trail bike card heavily with bendy white plastic mudguards (high-rise up front), old school vinyl-covered seat, braced handlebar, and, let’s be clear about this – one of the tastiest fuel tank paint jobs you’re ever likely to see.
The Honda is also available in a white/red/ blue scheme that to some does it more favours. Others, of the Freddie Spencer persuasion, will swear by the more subtle silver with blue flash. This bike wears the small, non-number board, side panels, which to many are the preferred option.they’re certainly smaller. If you’re after the full house track look then the bigger (ie huge) ones, which a lot of previous owners ditch for the little ones, will suit.
The earliest FTRS were built with Honda’s four-valve XL250 engine. Not many survive. If you were to unearth one it would be very much the thing to have. Just that bit more punch for a smidge more weight would make it the connoisseur’s option.while Britain is not exactly swimming intrs and FTRS there are enough around to offer a modicum of choice.
All are on or around the two and a half grand mark, largely low mileage, 15k being the average, and in typically standard, unmolested Japanese market condition. Bought from an importer they’ll be on the NOVA system (Notification Ofvehiclearrivals) with duties paid.all you have to do if you buy one is get it Mot’d and fill in av55/5 form (ordered from the DVLA), pay a year’s road tax, and a £55 registration fee.then a log book (V5) will miraculously arrive in the post about a fortnight later.a dog could do it – although it took me two attempts to get mytr registered owing to gross incompetence on my part.
SO,TR or FTR? Should you require a machine to treble up as a light commuter, funbike, and perhaps even as a gentle introduction to off-road sport in the form of short track ovals, the Honda is a pretty convincing bike.the engine, and you know this, will keep doing its thing forever and a day, so long as you’re meticulous with oil changes and remember to get to the centrifugal crankshaft
filter every other change. It only requires a peg spanner and a new clutch cover gasket. It looks great, and frankly, if I hadn’t already got the Kawasaki I’d think very hard about it.
Pretty looks aren’t everything. But take another look at that dinky little one and a half gallon tank in white and green with the big K writ large and you might come over all peculiar (as I frequently do).thetr will happily manage the everyday as long as that doesn’t involve big, fast roads and it’s a great city bike.what it’s not is a trail bike. Sure, a dry, unrutted green lane is within its compass, but show it anything else and you’ll be trying toaraldite holes in the crankcase while sobbing into your goggles.
These are not serious motorbikes. Both have been expressly designed to bring all that is best about messing about on two wheels within easy reach for young or old, experienced or raw.they are under-stressed, undemanding to ride, and in the UK market today, exceptional value.try either and remember how many laughs can be had with unexceptional yet strangely endearing small bore motorcycles.
These things are made for country lanes and city streets
Trying to come to terms with the Honda’s massive front tyre Neat, petite and hard to beat for innocent joys (the bike)
Klock in Ks Kawasaki lump looks bigger than it is Lukewarm trail in reality Shiny chromed steel rims and brake arm
Local produce for local people Rockin’ in Romford