2009 Suzuki TU250X - Retro Redux

Tragically Hip, Penny-Pinching Commuter

By Ari Henning, Photography by Scott Darough

From across the street, you'd be forgiven if you mistook the new Suzuki TU250X for a well-kept T250. Except for the single-cylinder four-stroke engine, front disc brake and a few other modern amenities, it pretty much is a '71 T250. Small, lightweight and stylish, the TU is great for beginners or nostalgic riders who want the retro look coupled with modern reliability and performance.

The little Suzuki is powered by an efficient 249cc air-cooled single, updated for the 21st century with fuel injection and electronic ignition for instant starts and smooth running in all conditions. Replacing the blue haze of its pre-mix predecessor, the TU sucks straight 87 octane. To keep emissions low, exhaust is treated to a last-minute dose of fresh air from the well-hidden pulse-air plumbing before being forced through a catalytic converter housed within that tapered chrome muffler.

The 18-inch spoke wheels and large fenders exude classic style. Smooth lines, lustrous paint and an inviting size attract the eye, but look a little closer and you'll see a number of styling details usually reserved for more expensive models. The bar ends, horn, chain guard and various fasteners are chrome-plated-not the sort of attention to detail you'd expect on a bargain-priced motorcycle. Even the engine cases and fork lowers have been polished, adding to the TU's glimmering appearance. Kudos to Suzuki for cramming so much style into such an affordable package.

Bulbous side panels conceal most of the engine's unsightly life-support systems, keeping the engine window clean and uncluttered. Turn the right-side screw with a coin and the panel pops off to reveal the battery, fuse box and tool kit. Removing the left-side cover provides access to the air filter.

Slip into the TU's sumptuously padded saddle and the swept-back bars place your hands at an agreeable height and width. Large, rubber-swathed footpegs offer a secure perch, with the big, knurled rear brake lever and shift lever within easy reach. A simple analog speedometer with odometer and tripmeter grace the top of the chrome headlight bucket. The minimalist dash is finished with large neutral and low-fuel lights inset in the black triple clamp.

Dab the starter and the little single jumps to life, settling into a barely-audible pitter-patter idle. Not too experienced with a clutch? The TU's short gearing and robust low-rpm torque make learning the basics simple. Setting the bike into motion is as easy as releasing the clutch lever. Left to idle, the 250 will creep along steadily at walking speed.

Once underway, the TU feels smooth and stable, propelled by a gentle wave of tractable power. A long wheelbase and low center of gravity contribute to a planted feel, whether plonking along in a parking lot or cruising down the boulevard. Power is sufficient to get the jump on city traffic, but brisk acceleration requires quick movement through the five-speed gearbox and a heavy hand on the throttle. Shift action is succinct, but things can get sticky when the engine gets hot sitting in traffic or after sustained high-rpm cruising.

Although its small size and humble displacement are best suited to cross-town jaunts or gentle back-road meanders, the Suzuki fares pretty well on the freeway. With the throttle rolled to the stop it tops out at about 85 mph, with the engine turning at what sounds like 8000 rpm. At freeway speed vibration is minimal, and the large mirrors provide a clear view of the rushing commuters bearing down on you. Despite the narrow 90/90 Cheng Shin front tire, the bike is unruffled by rain grooves and pavement irregularities, thanks no doubt to its generous trail. Braking equipment is more than ample to quickly slow the little TU from maximum speed, and the front brake lever has a taut, responsive feel. With 3.2 gallons of the cheap stuff on board, you can easily ride 150 miles between fill-ups. With a gentle wrist we were able to get about 68 mpg. Caning it on the freeway dropped that figure to 50 mpg.

The TU's 30.3-inch seat height and 328-lb. wet weight mean even smaller riders shouldn't find it a handful. The relaxed ergonomics proved acceptable to a surprisingly broad spread, from our tallest (6'2") to our shortest (5'4") test riders. Chalk it up to that soft, wide seat and those excellent handlebars.

While classic styling and an affordable price tag will attract riders to the TU250X, its sweet demeanor and reliable performance will seal the deal. If you're looking for a retro-style commuter or a friendly first bike, this just might be it.

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