2008 Kawasaki KX450F
Placing the well-rounded Kawasaki was one of biggest challenges our testers had to face during the showdown.
Killer Sex Appeal/Stability
Our Green bike was by far the hardest to place in this shootout. While first and fourth place were fairly clear-cut, the Kawasaki
spent much of its time dicing with the Suzuki on our testers' notepads. In fact, the debate still continues as to where exactly the Kawasaki falls in the grand scheme of things, but at some point our testers were forced to soul search and put pen to paper.
Kawi has built a reputation in the past couple years as having a monster 450 MX motor. That's still the case with the 2008 Kwakker, but it seems as though every year the rev limit gets shorter. Our short-shifters loved the massive low-end punch, but anyone looking to squeeze another 500 rpm down the straight will be cursing under their helmets. The 12.0:1 compression ratio (lowest in the test) makes awesome output until about the 7-8K mark but falls immediately off the pace requiring an upshift.
The Kawi isn't the quickest turning machine, but what it lacks in nimbleness it makes up for with stability. Jeff Willoh was comfortable enough to stand on the pegs through many of the turns.
That in itself is something of an issue. The Kawasaki
is like the Honda in that it is a very good all-around package - except for the transmission. Doh! Our testing crew ranked the tranny last due to false neutrals and an unrefined feel. Luckily, the clutch pull and response is good since we had to reign in the soaring front end during plenty of corner exits. Once the KX-F gets through the gears and up to speed it doesn't deter from its path very easily, something we came to trust and appreciate on the rough outdoor tracks. While the tranny leaves room for improvement, the chassis and suspension leave little to be desired.
One of the reasons it's so hard to shake is the extra poundage tucked under its belt. Even though the Suzuki weighs two pounds more, at 237 lbs tank empty, the Kawi feels much heavier than even the RM-Z, much less the featherweight Honda and Yamaha machines. It isn't as though the KX-F won't turn, however. The front end still digs for plenty of grip under the Kayaba fork and the UNI-TRAK rear suspension searches for traction on the gas or off. We could barely get the 21-inch front meat to deflect, but the rear would hop a bit going hard into the braking bumps. One of the things we did like about the Kawi's suspenders was the amount of success we had with clicker settings. A full range of adjustability is put to good use with the KX450F
We say it every year, and though it has nothing to do with actual performance, the Kawasaki smokes all the rest with its stunning good looks. Let's be honest, showroom appeal counts for a lot in sales and the Kawi definitely has the upper hand in dealership demeanor. Hey, if you look good then you feel good, and if you feel good then you ride well, so maybe it does mean something substantial?
Another vital piece of a bike's personality is the exhaust note. With the other machines our testers had no complaints, but the Kawasaki drew distasteful sneers and sideways glances every time it left the pits. One of our riders mentioned that he actually liked the raspy note, which makes him a freak since the rest of the crew finds the nasty sound as appealing as the neighbor's 7 a.m. Saturday leaf blower. If there is any redeeming qualities it's that the bike is easy to find on the track and at least it sounds like you're hauling ass at all times.
We fall in love with the Kawasaki every time we lay eyes on it. There isn't much sweeter in the motocross world than a fresh KX-F.
Kawi received runner-up marks for its competent brakes. Overall the components don't clamp down with the same authority as class-leading Honda, and one of our faster riders claimed the front was a little mushy at times. The good thing is that squeezing the lever doesn't require the same forearm strain as the Suzuki, which fell two spots below the Kawi as a result.
A simple misstep with the coarse transmission and some extra weight were all that the KX450F
really suffered from on our scorecards. A little refinement in the cog system would take care of those complaints and Team Green doesn't even need to lose the pounds, but, as Suzuki demonstrates, hiding them more effectively is just as good.
is the least aggressive steering of the bunch. It still turns quite well, but it does plow through corners at times. It also felt a bit top-heavy, which also makes it feel more cumbersome during both turn-in and mid-corner. The Kawasaki's cockpit is by no means bad; the others just seemed to be better suited to my preferences. However, the Kawasaki is definitely the choice for most larger, taller riders.
In contrast to the Suzuki, the KX-F mill felt like it had the most character. It's got a great useable bottom-end which transitions into a big fat, juicy mid-range, but it does sign off relatively early up top. Not a big deal though, because you can just grab another gear and you're right back in that incredible mid-range.
This bike was really fast too. I love the muffler; it makes a rattling sound when I'm in the higher revs. The motor has power wherever I want, it also revs faster than in the previous years. Unfortunately, I have two very important words - "missed shifts." I had that happen to me several times with the Kawasaki and it's a huge ding on the ratings for transmission - not happy with that.
Every year Kawasaki is the baddest looking bike on the track, and this season it has the motor to back it up. It's tough to beat the KX-F down low with all that power off the bottom. It makes blasting corners pretty fun and I found myself getting lazy with my shifting. The only time I had to work the left toes was on long straights since it runs out of steam pretty quick.
If there's one thing I really don't like about Kawi's 450 it's how big the bike looks and feels. We didn't need the scales to tell that it was considerably heavier than the others. Maybe a hearty appetite is what gives it all that motor muscle, but Kawi should consider putting it on a diet for next year. With the other bikes feeling lighter each year I'm tired of hoisting that big boy around the track.