Suzuki’s TU250X– Sometimes Size Doesn’t Matter

by Lee Bruns

Few things in life are as satisfying as the feel of a well-sorted four-stroke single. Multi-cylinder super-sports may rule the racetracks and canyon roads but when it comes to smiles-per-mile, a Thumper just feels right. Suzuki seems to understand this more than most companies. Their DR-series of dual sports, their venerable LS-650 Boulevard (formerly known as the Savage) and GZ-250 cruisers have set the standard for modern street-legal four-stroke singles. The latest offering from the good folks at Hamamatsu is the TU-250X.review119a

While familiar in Europe and Japan, the awkwardly named TU is new to the US market. In the past, U.S. sales of thumpers like the Yamaha SRX and Honda GB-500 have fallen flat. Time will tell if the U.S. market is ready for this sporting single.

I picked up the TU from the Motocycle Shop in Watertown, South Dakota at the beginning of a three-day weekend, hoping to put on a hundred miles or so of in-town exploring. Four hundred miles later, I was saddened to have to return the faithful steed.

The TU and I spent two days exploring back roads both paved and unpaved, and it felt equally at home on either. Be it droning past South Dakota cornfields or riding the gravel Minnesota River Road, the TU never missed a beat. The classically styled TU-250X is marketed as a commuter/runabout but it actually makes for a fine light-duty tourer or weekend corner-carver. With the addition of a set of clubman handlebars and a bum-stop seat, it would make a great café racer. Add some wide bars and a flat track tail and it’s a street-tracker. With taller shocks and a high-pipe exhaust it becomes a scrambler. The clean, basic styling lends itself to customizing like no other bike on the market short of the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 or one of the offerings from The Motor Company. I would love to see Suzuki sponsor a competition where each entrant customized his or her own TU-250X.

An excellent toolkit is included under the right side cover and is accessible by using a coin edge to remove the single screw. Using the included tools the rear seat quickly unbolts for a slick bobber look. An aftermarket rear parcel rack in place of the rear seat would look great and add practicality. Even the rear frame loop unbolts for a true ‘bobber’ appearance. My only niggling complaint is that the rear passenger pegs are welded-on instead of bolted, though the peg-mounts themselves are bolted on and easily removed. If the peg-mounts were removed a new muffler hanger bracket would need to be constructed.

The seating position is standard with the footpegs below the rider. The well-shaped seat offers excellent support that was still comfortable at the end of my 400-mile day. Seat height is just over 30 inches making it fine for the short-legged types and still tall enough for me to ride without feeling like a circus act. Handlebars are tubular ‘superbike’ styled with a good distance between the grips for better leverage. If that doesn’t suit your handlebar preference, hundreds other bar options could be easily installed in a matter of minutes. Mirrors are spaced wide and are clear at all speeds. The rear suspension consists of long-travel dual shocks with preload adjustability only. Front suspension is a pair of stout 37-millimeter conventional forks. For comparison, a 1974 GT-750 Suzuki I have in my garage uses 36-millimeter forks. Front suspensions have improved a lot since the GT-750 “Water Buffalo” rolled out of Hamamatsu.

The TU-250X frame is tubular with a rectangular frame backbone and uses the engine as a stressed member. While this may not seem like a high-tech chassis, the end result is impressive. In real world riding nothing short of a washboard gravel road at 60 miles per hour could unsettle the bike. This sure-footed nature will be appreciated by everyone from pothole-dodging commuters to weekend corner-carvers to light-duty tourers.

The transmission is standard Suzuki perfection with first gear set low for brisk acceleration. Gear-changes are buttery smooth and the cable-actuated clutch is feather- light and easy to modulate. Once in top gear, the TU tools along at 65 miles per hour all day long while delivering a respectable 70 miles per gallon even with my 215 pounds aboard. Owners can expect the mileage to improve once the bike was broken-in. Lighter riders without such a heavy hand should easily see fuel economy in the 80s. With its 3.2-gallon tank (12 liters to you Canadian readers) riders will go well over 200 miles before the low fuel light comes on. Fuel injection means not only does it fire up fuss-free on cold mornings but it will also run just fine on any octane of gasoline. Top speed is somewhere north of 80 mph on level ground.review119b

The view of the road ahead is accented by the large chrome headlight bucket. At a GPS-confirmed 60 mph the speedometer indicated a reasonable 62 mph. While no tachometer is offered for the TU, its power delivery and sound do a fine job of letting the rider know when it is time so shift. The stock exhaust is quiet and attractive but I can’t help but think how cool a cocktail-shaker muffler would look on there.

Acceleration, while never ‘arm-yanking’, is spirited. Keeping ahead of traffic at stop- lights was never an issue. The counter-balanced engine uses a GZ250-sourced bottom end with a single overhead cam and two-valve top end. Rocker arm and set-screw valve adjustments are easily accessed through access caps on the cam cover. The O-ring rear drive chain should last tens of thousands of miles with regular cleanings and tensioning. A center stand is not included and there are no mounts on the bikes frame to add one.

Over-sized cooling fins make the engine appear much larger than its 249ccs. With the “TU-250X” lettering covered up most guessed the engine to be a 350 or 500. The lettering decals, thankfully, are put on after the paint and are easy to remove.

Spirited riding on technical roads rewards the conservation of momentum. If you want to go fast through the twisties you can’t afford to do anything silly, like slow down for corners. The lightweight and stiff chassis allows the bias ply tube-type tires to hold the road amazingly well. Whether you prefer an upright flat track style approach to corners or a knee out, head down road-racing approach, the TU responds just fine. As the saying goes, it’s a lot more fun to go fast on a slow bike than slow on a fast bike. This thing just oozes fun.

When the ‘Go’ turns to ‘Whoa’ the dual-piston single disc front brake does a fine job of reigning in the TU and the drum brake out back is more than enough for such a low-mass machine. While the brake components may seem low-tech, the results are excellent without running up its bargain pricing.

Color is limited to red with black accents at this time, though I would expect more color options in the future. Chrome use is tasteful, neither over-done nor superfluous. At this time, the TU-250 really is in a class all its own. It is light, sure-footed, sized for adults, has great ergonomics, classic styling, and has the support of several hundred local dealers should it ever need service work. However, even with all the TU-250X has going for it, I fear that American buyers will dismiss it due to its 250cc displacement. That would be a real shame. The best thing any dealer could do is to remove the “TU-250X” lettering from the side cover before putting the bikes on the display floor. Note my fellow reviewer liked the TU enough to purchase one for herself. It really is that good. The sub-four thousand-dollar price tag is the cherry on top.

Extra-big thanks to The Motocycle Shop in Watertown, South Dakota for the loan of the TU-250X. They can be reached at 605-882-2930 or on the web at TheMotocycleShop.com

by Susan Starr

review119dThere is something you need to know right from the start: I am not a supermodel with legs (and arms) as long as a giraffe’s. Often, I can’t reach things on the top shelf in the closet. So, a lot of bikes don’t fit me. And don’t get me started on riding gear. Lucky for me, I found my perfect fit. It’s shiny, red and hails from Japan.

I started riding in 2006. I had wanted a motorcycle, but the offerings were slim for me due to my modest inseam. Also, even after taking a Rider Training course, I was still having occasional trouble shifting. Kevin suggested that I check out the new Genuine Buddy 125 scooter. Hey, I can sit on this thing and my feet actually touch! Being an automatic (or CVT or whatever Kevin calls it) means that there’s no clutch or finicky shifter to deal with. I can concentrate on riding. It was love at first test ride and I signed the paperwork that day. I love riding Buddy around town, often using it to go shopping. Soon, I was making up excuses just to ride. “We’re out of milk. I’LL go!” Most of you know what I mean. But Buddy’s harsh suspension, while tolerable in the cities, was outright punishing at speed on country roads. I decided to get a motorcycle. The search was on.

Over the winter, we spied a used Ninja 250 for sale—and cheap!!! Kevin went to look it over, measured the seat height and convinced me to buy it. I couldn’t wait to take it out, but soon discovered that I didn’t like the riding position. My arms were stretched too far and my back arched funny. Kevin added bar risers, which helped, but I never really got comfortable on it. I went back to riding Buddy, while Kevin started commuting on the Ninja. I think that was his plan all along. (Called it. Ed.)

I started to believe that there weren’t any bikes out there that fit me, when Kevin told me about a bike that Suzuki was going to start importing into the U.S. He went on and on about this “wonder single” available in Europe and Japan. I tried not to get too excited and filed it away in the back of mind.

review119cFast-forward to the Motorcycle Show and I finally got to see one in person. It looks cute. Really cute. Not a fan of red….but the paint looks very nice. And the seat doesn’t look too tall. Hmmm… I take a deep breath, swing a leg over and settle in. Off the sidestand, most of my feet were still in contact with the floor! The handlebars seem to be just about perfect and the all of the controls are easy to reach and operate. I really wanted to fire it up and ride around the Convention Center. The Suzuki rep thought otherwise.

I tried to not think much more about it, citing excuses like “I really should replace the upstairs windows in the house” and such. A few months went by and Buddy and I were tearing up the streets of Minneapolis when the bug bit again.

By now it was late spring. The few TUs that had made it to Twin Cities dealers were long gone. No one had one to sit on, let alone test ride. We started looking at used bikes again. The bikes with the lowest seat height were small cruisers. I couldn’t find a single one that I was comfortable on. The smaller Dual-Sports had an almost-perfect riding position, but my feet were about 3” from hitting the ground. I liked the Buell Blast, but used ones were scarce and fetched a hefty price.

About this time, MMM contributor Lee Bruns told us about a new TU still in its crate. The Motocycle Shop in Watertown, South Dakota, had one, plus two in use by the local Rider Training program. Kevin really wanted to go to Watertown to help Lee with a motorcycle event. Whatever. I just wanted my bike. But hey, road trip! We left the Twin Cities and 200-some miles later pulled into the parking lot of the shop. It was already sitting outside, shining, taunting me…..

The shop kindly arranged for me to ride one of the trainer bikes. Since we had both brought gear, Kevin hopped on the bike to ride it out to an area for me to finally get my demo ride. Lee and I followed in his sidecar.

Geared up, I was given a brief reminder of the controls and finally fired it up. I hadn’t ridden a bike with a clutch for a long time, but it was all coming back to me. I took it easy and didn’t kill or dump the bike. I would ride a bit, while Lee and Kevin sat back and talked about stuff that I presume two motorcycle addicts would talk about. Occasionally, I’d stop by them and then take off again.

After an hour, I decided it was time to come in. “You wanna ride it back to the shop?” It was only a few blocks away, but on a busy highway. Lee and Kevin followed me back. They already knew I was going to buy it. Once back, the deal was struck and I had my new bike. Kevin rode it back to Lee’s place and they tucked it away in the garage for the night.

When it was time to head back to Minneapolis, Kevin had plotted a course consisting mainly of county roads. This would allow us to break the bike in slowly, as well as allow me as much saddle time as I would like on roads that weren’t too busy. He took the first leg and found a good spot to stop and let me have my turn. I geared up and took off and he followed me in my car. If I was nervous about hitting the open road, it didn’t last long. We took our time and I enjoyed the feeling of the sun above me, casting our shadows against the cornfields. There was almost no wind that day and the TU was purring along, as mile after mile rolled under its tires. At gas stops, we would figure out the gas mileage and we were averaging upper-50s to mid-60s.

Our route brought about some wonderful roads and great roadside attractions. Kevin had told me about some of the places he’s been to on motorcycle road rallies and now I was face to face with Lou T. Fisk in Madison, Minnesota. Later, we stopped in St. Bonifacius to look at some missile. Eventually, we pulled into my driveway and the Suzuki was parked alongside Buddy. At long last, it was in my garage.

Still feeling a little apprehensive, I would take short trips on it during the week. On weekends, Kevin and I would venture out on longer rides so I could get used to my new bike. Still getting used to clutching, shifting and braking (both brakes are mounted on the handlebars on most modern scooters) I was gaining confidence with every mile. It’s been over a year since I first laid eyes on the TU250X and I can’t wait until the snow has cleared from my alley so I can take mine for our first ride of the season.

What I like the most about the bike, besides it’s 30-some inch seat height, is that it’s a very forgiving motorcycle. The clutch works smoothly and isn’t hard to pull.

review119eThe ride is wonderful and never jarring. It’s about an effortless a motorcycle as I can imagine exists. It handles well, mainly due to 18” wheels in front and back. Kevin started telling me about the virtues of evenly-matched tire sizes and some other technical jargon but, truth be told, when he starts up with that stuff my eyes just sort of glaze over and my mind starts thinking about things like quilting or kittens.

I would think that this bike will appeal to a lot of different riders out there. Shorter riders will obviously like the seat height, which measures a little over 30 inches.

New riders will appreciate the TU’s fuel injection. No leaky petcocks and no choke to fiddle with. They will also like how very forgiving the bike is. More than once I’ve accidentally taken off in second. You can do it, just don’t make a habit of it. Again, the clutch and transmission both work very well. And it’s not very heavy, so I can comfortably maneuver it in and out of the garage.

Seasoned riders will like this bike as well, with its wonderful handling and retro look. Kevin LOVES riding it. He tells me about how well it handles and how much fun it is in the corners, as well as how great it looks.

Easy there, cowboy — this one’s staying in MY garage.

MMM

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