Lots of people want vintage bikes, but not everyone has the patience and mechanical aptitude to keep an old machine running—or the money to pay someone else to do it for them. So, buy a newer motorcycle with retro styling, and get the benefit of modern technology and quality control, right? But not everyone has the money for a pricey new Harley-Davidson or Triumph, or even a Kawasaki Z900. Don’t worry—Suzuki’s got your back, with the TU250X.
A retro, before it was cool
Harley-Davidson makes retro bikes because, well, it never really stopped making those bikes to start with. The stereotype is that everyone else makes retro bikes bikes Triumph proved the idea was profitable with the Bonneville line.
That’s not exactly true; Honda had the GB500 cafe racer in the 1980s, and the other Japanese manufacturers have played with the idea as well. Suzuki brought the original TU250 out in 1994 as a laid-back, easy-to-ride bike with vintage styling. The current-generation machine came along in 2004. That makes this machine an “authentic” retro bike from wayyy back, before the idea was cool. That just might be the perfect selling point for hipsters …
So, at first glance the TU250X appears built along the lines of the stereotypical Japanese beginner bike—cheap, cheerful, and just a tad bit chintzy. When you take a closer look, you see that isn’t the case with this little Suzuki. The TU250X is a well-built machine, with attention to detail and quality.
The TU250X is built around an air-cooled 249cc single, with electronic fuel injection and five-speed gearbox. Considering this machine hit the market long before modern econobikes like the Z400 or the Rebel 300, it’s surprising to see the Suzuki has EFI. That was actually a problem for the little bike, though, as it kept the price a tad high when it hit the North American market, and probably hurt its sales. These days, at least in some markets, the MSRP seems to be more in line with the competition in this price category.
Cleverly, the designers tuned the TU250X with the Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve System (SDTV). Basically, the intake duct has two butterfly valves controlled by SDTV, which opens or closes these valves to optimize engine smoothness, making for linear power delivery. However, the TU only makes about 16 horsepower and 12 pound-feet of torque, so don’t expect this thing to deliver tire-shredding acceleration.
Outside of the engine, this bike isn’t a mechanical wonder, but it’s got what you need. There’s a single-disc brake up front, with two-piston caliper. In back, Suzuki put on a drum brake. It’s got to be a purposeful attempt at retro appeal, as drum brakes were decidedly out of style when this bike was designed. There’s a set of standard coil-over twin shocks, skinny front forks, steel tube frame. The bike might be built with quality in mind, but it certainly doesn’t have the flashy tech of a swanky new Bonneville T120.
The right look
The budget bike competition all comes with EFI standard now, along with ABS, and traction control and leaning ABS are probably coming soon for these machines. The TU lags behind these bikes from a technological viewpoint. However, it does one thing very, very well: It looks good.
In an age where everyone’s using all sorts of plastic parts on their retro bikes to cover up ugly bits like radiators or cheap exhausts, the TU uses no such trickery. The long, chromed exhaust, the spoked wheels, the bulbous signal lights, the two-part seat and the dual analogue gauges are all straight from the 1970s. Looking at this bike, you’d think it was from around the same time as the original GS series. Suzuki even goes to the effort of putting a fairly decent paint job on the TU. Or at least, it did—chances are, the TU has seen its day.
A dying breed
See, the TU was considered an oddity in North America, where we typically didn’t see the manufacturers putting that much effort into their small-cc machines. Over in the Japanese domestic market, there was much more interest in the 250 class, thanks to government regulations, and it paid off to have an attractive small-bore bike with a high-end finish.
Not so much anymore. Before COVID, at least, there were rumblings of serious weakness in the Japanese market. Add in ever-tightening emissions, and the fact that it’s much cheaper to build bikes around mega-platforms like the affordable GW250, it’s likely the TU and bikes like it are probably on the way out. It wasn’t for sale in North America this year, although that doesn’t mean it won’t come back. Suzuki’s execs sound a bit depressed about the whole motorcycle scene these days, though, so don’t sit around waiting for them to re-introduce it. If you want one, buy it now, especially since dealers are trying to clear out leftovers, like this lightly-used 2018 model in Georgia. You can buy a useful aftermarket luggage rack, and hey—you’ve got yourself a budget-friendly machine for touring the back corners of North America or even developing countries, as long as you don’t mind the slow lane.
Photos: Cycle Trader