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

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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

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