While I had learned to ride on a Honda Nighthawk what I really wanted to do was a big motorcycle trip and the Honda was just not suitable. So what I needed was a larger displacement, heavier bike that I could mount some bags on that would chew up the highway miles with ease. That is not what I bought, of course, but I still did embark on the trip.
As mentioned before in the Nighthawk write up I have very specific and frankly unreasonable wants and desires when it comes to motorcycles. I want them to have a classic British/Japanese standard look, run with minimal maintenance and not cost a lot. There are a few bikes that get close but only one that really fits the bill. I would have quite liked one of the modern, Hinckley built Triumph Bonneville/T100 bikes but I could not stomach the cost and how heavy it was. The Moto Guzzi V7 classic was quite nice but suffered from a higher initial cost and unknown to me reliability. The Kawasaki W650 had appeal but was never sold in Canada. There are a few more options these days like Royal Enfield and Kawasaki W800. At the time that left the delightfully retro Suzuki TU250X which was pricey for a 250 when purchased new but perhaps I could snag myself a lightly used example for a keen price.
I did manage to find one just prior to the riding season. It was located in Red Deer, Alberta which was 350 kms (217 miles) away. I enlisted the help of my wife to drive up there and prepared to ride it home. When we got the seller’s house I discovered his sister was selling it on his behalf as he had moved away. Unfortunately she and her boyfriend knew nothing at all about the bike. I am far from an expert motorcycle rider having only ridden my previous Honda and when putting the key we got what seem like normal noises and lights but the bike would not start. It had apparently been sitting all winter long so we figured the battery must have gone bad. The sister’s boyfriend went chasing after a new battery while I took my wife for lunch. He returned unsuccessful but the battery shop claimed the original was still good. Re-examining the bike I got a light bulb moment and held the clutch while pressing the starter. The bike quickly fired up.
After a short test drive I exchanged money for ownership and we were off. We had to stop at the Donut Mill in order to snag some tasty treats. As we left I heard my first passerby exclaim “look at the classic bike” which is quite common for a TU250X owner to hear. The bike itself had only a tad under 1600 kms on it (994 miles) so was like new but with a few scratches on tank from the previous owner.
While the TU250X looks retro it is mechanically modern with a twin piston disc brake on the front and an easy starting fuel injected engine. The engine is an air cooled, SOHC, single cylinder making a modest 16.1 hp @ 7200 rpm. Power is sent through a five speed transmission and then onto the rear wheel via a chain. The starter is electric but in the Japanese market one could have a kick starter.
We took home a dozen for the family to share.
Not far into the journey I realized it would be a long one as the temperature was only 6C (around 42F for those that do not speak metric temperature) and my very cheap gloves were not very warm. Compounding the issue was an extreme wind which blew the bike around and chilled me further. Every half hour or so I would pull over and jump into my wife’s truck to warm up. Despite it being April there was still plenty of snow in the fields but luckily none on the roads.
In order to lead up to the planned big bike trip I was able to do a smaller day trip as a practice in concept. The bike was reasonably comfortable and capable of highway speeds unless there was a big hill or strong wind.
The TU is a delightful bike which is a very light and toss-able. Reports from owners suggest that they are extremely reliable and with a very easy maintenance schedule. There were two things I felt I needed to resolve on my example. The first was the previous owner had stripped off all the logos from the bike which made the tank a little plain and generic looking. I was able to source a set of small round badges that while not stock worked well. I also bought a more retro looking Suzuki aftermarket gel seat. It was on the pricey side but improved the looks over the stock two part seat.
For the long trip I reverted back to the front portion of stock seat since it was a known quantity and a little more comfortable. For the road trip I had convert a motorbike designed for the city into one fit for traveling long distances. The design of the TU250X Suzuki appears to actually discourage mounting of bags with how they positioned the turn signals so the first step is to relocate the signals to the rear. There are kits available to do this but they cost money and I had some L-shaped brackets lying around that looked like they would do the trick. The wiring had to be cut and then extended with some old Mercedes wire I had left over from my old 220D parts car. A set of Chinese moped bags completed the bike transformation.
The trip was an epic 4500+ km (2800+ mile) journey through the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. The bike performed admirably with many along the route in disbelief that such a small motorcycle was capable of the trip. You can read about the whole adventure in thirteen parts starting here.
Since the big trip the TU250X has participated in the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (not visible in the photo but with light snow), occasional commuter and several smaller day trips.
The latest such trip was to the Red Rock Coulee in southern Alberta.
Here water has eroded the top soil to expose large, round, reddish boulders around 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in width. They look rather like large cinnamon buns.
These rocks make for quite the sight again the flat prairies that surrounds them. The TU250X remains part of the fleet and is nosing up on the 10,000 km (6,200) milestone with hopefully many more trips to come.
I was mystified by the horsepower figure you provided (6.1) and looked it up; it is 16.1. Can you say what your fuel economy was on your trip?
That was obviously a typo. I’ve corrected it now.
Actual mileage reported by TU250 owners is in the 70s. That is tempting but the 75 mph top speed (similar to other 250s except for the 90s era Ninja EX-250) relegates this to a backroad highway cruiser for me, as it would be pegged to the stop from fillup to fillup if taken on the major highways here.
I did not really keep track of mileage. I probably was not stellar by bike standards since I spent most of time at full throttle with plenty of long mountain grades. Still it was likely impressive by car standards. To me fuel is one of the smallest costs of owning a bike (tires, insurance, etc are bigger) so I don’t worry about it.
You’re 100% correct about new bikes being overpriced, and in Las Vegas, where Japanese motorcycle dealers are basically a monopoly, it’s worse. I likewise looked at a new TU250X. And while the MSRP + destination is slightly steep at $5k, the local dealers, with their $400 “assembly fee” and $400 “DMV fee” and miscellaneous other fees, plus another $400 in sales tax, turn this into a near $7k bike out-the-door. No thanks.
You could gain a bit more power and starting quality with mushroom air filter and – most important – Iridium spark plug.
The thoughts on the TU250X forum are that there is not much power to gain from bolt-ons so I have just enjoyed as is.
Had one. Still in the family. Nice little bike
I admire you for undertaking long trips on what is, to me anyway, a somewhat underpowered bike. Many years ago I had a Honda CB550K which had (I think) 38 bhp and while it seemed adequately powered, sustained highway speeds seemed to leave little in reserve. Of course the bike was several years old by the time I acquired it so some of the horses may have been worn down before my ownership.
My one long trip on the 550 saw my brother and I ride the 300 plus miles to my aunt and uncle’s house in southwestern Michigan. My brother had a Honda 750 which had considerably more power and was much more suited to long distance cruising. At this point I’m not sure why I bought the 550 instead of a 750 except that it probably had to do with not wanting to spend the extra money. In any case we carefully plotted a route from our starting point in Kentucky, trying to avoid population centers and major highways as much as possible. We were successful in doing this even though it added a couple of hours to the time the trip would have taken in a car. I enjoyed the trip immensely and regret that we never were able to coordinate our schedules to do something similar before I gave up two wheeling.
I can confirm the main highways are not a lot of fun on this bike. Built from the secondary roads.
Based on experience (six motorcycles owned/ridden over 30 years), the KLR 650 is by far the best answer to the question you needed answered: city bike/touring capability/reliability.
Yes, it is a thumper. Yes it looks goofy.
Spend a bit more; get a KLR.
That would have been a really good choice. I don’t often take the easy route.
You got guts, man. The smallest bike I ever owned that was used for distance travel was my Honda CB350. And I was 26-29 at the time. Traded it on a Triumph Bonneville 750, and had a BMW R90/6 at the same time which promptly taught me that anything under 500cc is a bar hopper and local errand runner, period.
Most of my touring life was spent on a Triumph Trident 900, basically a fairing-less sport tourer. Nowadays, I use its successor Sprint (same bike but with a quarter sport fairing) for trips of 150 miles and under. Anything more goes to the dresser. Current model is a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic. Which could possibly carry that Suzuki as a spare if I could rig up davits.
Strap a Grom where the right saddlebag would go!
While I admire your fortitude in riding long distances on a 250cc neo-retro perhaps it’s time to step up a real CC. Have you considered a BMW airhead? Technically interesting, in production for decades and actually intended for long haul riding Alternatively keep on the UJM track with some sort of Honda 750
I have pondered it but just not sure I want to do all the upkeep a proper classic requires.
I tracked my TU’s mileage meticulously on FUELLY: 72.9 lifetime average over 6000 miles. High 82, Low 68. I had removed all the stickers; it was my little secret that it was a 250.
This was a great bike; I should really have brought it with me when we moved to Naples, Italy — and where we’ll be for a few years. This bike would fit right in here. At the time I thought it would be an ordeal to bring it, and found out later it wouldn’t have cost me a penny.
Sold to a young guy who proceeded to customize it to his liking — very murdered out. We’re still friends, lol.
People have made longer, more demanding trips on far smaller bikes. The TU is quite pleasant to ride because of its wheel sizes. It’s a superbly balanced machine, mechanically flawless.
And lovely. I always got complements and eager thumbs up wherever I went.
One vintage alternative that’s actually practical is my ’76 Yamaha XS650. It’s the Japanese Bonneville with electric start and typical (working) Japanese electrics that over the many years have proven to be reliable as a stone ax, easy to work on when required, great looking, and later versions are quite excellent handlers (the ’70 to 73s not so much). Not many 40+ year old bikes would be up to modern touring without breaking a sweat, but these classics sure are!
What a great trip, I took a look a it. David Saunders sounds a lot like me.. I never do anything the easy way either.
When I was a kid I rode my 80cc Suzuki 2 stroke around southern BC looking for summer work. Didn’t find anything.. was having too much fun exploring.
I too have a 2016, it really is a handsome bike, sort of like a baby Bonney. It always gets the compliments. I have 2 larger bikes but the TU is in a class of it’s own.
Just revisited the links.. had to chuckle about the ferry part as nothing has changed in 35 yrs other than too many people everywhere. lol
The TU is multi talented.. here with a custom luggage carrier, no fenders. As the author did, move the turn signals back, add panniers, maybe include the fr fender and you’re adventure ready.. about 20 lbs lighter than stock. Cool!