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There are skeptics, cynics and haters. But, there are also fans, followers and even fanatics. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the Kove MX 250, but very few have actually ridden one. For those who haven’t yet heard, China is now making motocross bikes. The Kove MX 250 is the first of its kind, and it certainly won’t be the last. It came ashore shortly after the company’s 450 Rally bike, and between the two of them, they mark a new era of Chinese involvement in motorcycle sport.

It’s important to take note of why the Kove MX 250 is different from every other motorcycle that has been imported from mainland Asia so far. The pit bikes and play bikes that we’ve seen have been, for the most part, based on products from other parts of the world. We would go just short of calling them copies. The Kove 250 isn’t like that. You can certainly see similarities to other makes, but no more so than any modern motocross bike. The Kove is staking out its own ground and its own identity.

The Kove MX 250 is the first real motocross bike from China. More to follow.

Kove has only been around as a motorcycle brand since 2017, although its manufacturing centers have been in existence far longer. The MX 250 motor is a joint venture between Kove and a Chinese firm called Zongshen. Kove’s engineers redesigned the top end, the clutch and several other components. It’s a 249cc single with a double-overhead-cam electric-start; a 6-speed gearbox; and Bosh fuel injection. There is only one clue that the motor has been used elsewhere; there’s a plugged-up hole that once housed a kickstart shaft. Virtually everything is sourced in China, which allows the MSRP to come in at $5999. To put that in perspective, other 250 four-stroke motocross bikes range from the $8099 Suzuki RM-Z250 to the $10,299 Husqvarna FC250.

The frame is unlike anything from Japan. It’s made of steel and has a central backbone, like a KTM, but the geometry and construction are quite different. There is, however, a strong resemblance between the Kove’s Chinese-made suspension components and the Showa units that come on the Honda CRF250R. The closed-cartridge fork is made by a company called Yu An and looks so Showa-like, it makes us wonder if Yu An might be a vendor for Showa. We know that many mainstream Japanese companies source parts in China, but it’s hard to track down the specifics. Service technicians say that a Yu An valve stack is virtually interchangeable with a Showa’s and that the actual valving is just like that of a 2022 Honda. The Yu An shock also looks like a Honda’s but with the clickers on the opposite side. That theme continues with the brakes, which are made by a Chinese company called Taisko. They are dead ringers for Nissin brakes.

We did our best to break the Kove MX 250 in the worst conditions. It wouldn’t die.

The great thing about the Kove is that it feels normal. Everything is right—the seat, the bars, and the riding position are very modern and comfortable. This isn’t what we expected. Usually bikes from mainland Asia are laid out in weird ways. From just sitting on it, you would swear it’s a mainstream 250 from Japan or Europe. It fires up easily and sounds just like any other 250cc motocross bike.

In performance, though, the Kove is realistically a step behind most other 250 race bikes of today. The importers in Utah freely admit as much. It’s around 5 percent heavier than most (237 pounds without fuel versus 227 for a Husky FC250) and makes about 17 percent less horsepower (37.5 versus 44.4 for the Husky). Most of the power is way up high, so to get around the track, you scream it, just like any other 250. It jumps all the same jumps, goes up all the same hills and feels just like it should. But, when you go head to head with another bike, the Kove gives up ground. To compensate, you tend to over-ride it somewhat; you rev it higher, rush your shifts and abuse the clutch. What’s surprising is that the bike doesn’t complain. It takes the abuse even thrives on it. Our first real test day at Glen Helen was after two days of rain, and the track was a muddy mess. That made it even more difficult to get around the track without over-revving and over-clutching. The Kove was fine. Other bikes pulled over with clogged radiators and steaming motors, whereas the Kove kept on turning lap after lap as if the conditions were optimal.

The Kove MX250 sells for $5999.

In the handling department, the Kove is good, maybe even exceptional. Once you get the suspension in the ballpark, it’s well balanced and drops into turns nicely. In the straights, it’s as stable as anything on the track. Admittedly, this is common with motocross bikes that have underwhelming power output. Horsepower and handling are inversely related—always have been.

Still, with a first-year bike from a new manufacturer, you would expect major flaws to expose themselves quickly. There’s simply nothing that objectionable. We did have to spend some time figuring out the suspension settings. Our test bike was a display model taken straight from the floor of the AIM show in Vegas. It had no setup and no break-in. After putting some initial time on it, the suspension still felt slow and over-damped in every direction. We didn’t know where the clickers were supposed to be, so we turned to our settings for the Honda CRF250R. It turned out that it was still over-damped, so we kept going until we were 15 clicks out for both compression and rebound in front, 12 for low-speed compression in the rear, 10 for rebound, and two turns out for high speed. There’s no question that the bike is stiffer than the average 250 motocross bike, but that suits us and our oversized test riders well. The real takeaway here is that the suspension is surprisingly normal and mainstream.

The Taisko brakes look like Nissins but aren’t quite as strong. The good news is that you can buy an entire rear brake system for just over $200.

There’s a real place in America for the Kove MX 250, but that place might not be on the starting line at Loretta Lynn’s. You can’t give away 7 horsepower in the 250 class today and expect to win races. But, we would guess that 90 percent of the laps ridden on motocross bikes aren’t during official races. They are during practice, training and play. The Kove is perfect for that. It might even have a place in the garage of a pro racer. Imagine a training program where a rider is on the Kove during the week, doing his three 30-minute motos, then turns to his fresh race bike—whatever that is—for the weekend. Go ahead and wear it out, because parts are about one-third the cost of anything else. The Kove might not be to the point where it can go head to head with more established brands on the track. That day will probably come, but frankly, we’re in no hurry. Right now, we would rather have at least one motocross bike that sells for under $6000.

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