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2005 Kawasaki KDX220R

Monday, July 25, 2005
2005 Kawasaki KDX220R - Wallpaper
Few sounds in motorsports are as sweet as the frenetic ping of a two-stroke engine. However the bumble bee buzz which has been a mainstay of enduro riding for close to two decades is slowly giving way to the roar of the four-stroke. Yet, despite the public's infatuation with thumpers, two-strokes remain an exciting and thrilling way to experience off-road riding. Need proof? Look no further than the Kawasaki KDX220R.

Recently, we had been pushing our Editor, Kevin Duke, to procure a 220R for testing purposes for quite some time and after a few months of badgering him, he finally came through. I had only ridden a two-stroke a couple of times since selling my 2001 KX250 a few years ago and was interested in revisiting the smell of premix exhaust just for kicks. Doing so on a rider-friendly machine that is legendary in hare and hound circles just made it that much better.

Back in 1980 Kawasaki unleashed the KDX175 and KDX250 on the off-road world and they were an immediate commercial success. Offering up impressive handling in a relatively light-weight package, the new line of motorcycles quickly became a regular site on the trails of North America. In 1983 the 175cc version was upgraded to a 200cc mill and one year later the 250cc model was dropped from Kawasaki's lineup. Kawasaki made its final changes to the KDX family in 1997 when they offered up the 220R in addition to the standard 200.

Unfortunately for Kawasaki, the rising popularity of four-strokes has diminished some of the luster on the 220R and other two-stroke trail bikes. But make no mistake about it this is a very effective weapon on tight trails. The same light-weight and impressive handling that won the KDX-line loyal followers remains on the 2005 model and we had a gas flogging this little two-smoke over the course of a month.
The suspension soaked up most trail bumps and hits with ease. However  it s a little undersprung up front.
B.C. flogs the KDX220R during one of our test sessions at John's Peak in Southern Oregon in spring time.

The KDX200 went unchanged for years with a usable, and some argued, underpowered mill. In an attempt to satisfy the public's seemingly unquenchable thirst for more power, Kawasaki developed the 220R, increasing the bore from 66mm to 69mm, which inflated overall engine volume by 18cc. The result is a liquid-cooled engine that dishes out low-end torque and mid-range power that more closely resembles a 250cc than a 125cc.

While you might expect Team Green to boost the size of the carb as well, they actually opted to utilize a 33mm carb, 2mm smaller than the one fitted to the KDX200. The theory is that by using a smaller carburetor with larger displacement the engine receives a small boost to the low-end torque and mid-range power. The downside is riders who are expecting 250-like power won't experience the kind of top-end scream normally associated with two-stroke motocross machines.

On the trail the power is perfectly suited for tight single-track. A beginner or intermediate rider will have a blast on this bike because it doesn't require such judicious use of the throttle. Twist your wrist and the low-end grunt feels respectable as does the mid-range, pulling bike and rider out of slow corners with impressive prowess. 

"I think the power is really usable," said MCUSA Prez, Don Becklin. "A good rider can certainly keep up with guys on faster bikes and tackle almost all situations, except possibly, huge hillclimbs. It's nice because it never seems to get going so fast that you can't handle what's being thrown at you."

For a two-stroke, the 220R seems to rev-out rather quickly, making the bike feel relatively anemic on top. At 185 lbs, I felt like I could get a few more real world ponies out of the KDX if I dropped a few elbows. Ultimately, riders who crest the 200 mark might be too big for the 220R. Although I'm sure there is some super fast fatty out there that would beg to differ.
BC flogs the 220R in an attempt to test the front end feel.
Although the KDX weighs in at 241 pounds, Kawasaki engineers did an admirable job of making the weights disappear at speed.

Revisiting a two-stroke after years of riding the latest four-strokes is like rekindling an old flame; there's really nothing like the first time is there? When the latest high-po thumpers emerged on the market we all marveled at how easy they are to get along with. No fighting, no fuss, neglect them as much as you want and they'll still get you where you want to go. Prior to riding the KDX, I was lamenting the need the roll through the gears on the two-stroke, but no sooner was I fanning the clutch and working the shift lever when a huge grin took control of my face. I realized instantly that dancing through the gears and working the clutch are a few of the reasons riding a 2-stroke is so much fun. The KDX complies perfectly too, a buttery clutch and an impressively smooth six-speed transmission at your disposal are a couple of the real high-points of this particular machine. Negotiating difficult terrain is an absolute blast since it's dependent on precision riding skill, rather than the luck of the chosen line like it can be when riding a brutish thumper. Missed shifts and false neutrals were noticeably absent throughout our test.

Ultimately, pure horsepower isn't the highlight of the KDX, but rather it is meant to fulfill the needs of riders who get their internal combustion fix on tight and sinuous trails as opposed to scaling cliff faces and sand dunes. The backbone of the KDX is a high-tensile steel perimeter frame derived from Kawasaki's classics KX line of motocross machines. A short 56.5-inch wheelbase coupled with an aggressive 26.5-degree steering angle offers impressively quick turn-in capabilities and agility I've all but forgotten about. The KDX feels as nimble as advertised with a light front end feel, but remarkably it remains planted when railing fast corners and traversing bumpy terrain.

BC flocks to water like a duck. Here is tries to ski the KDX across a massive puddle during late spring.
The KDX made a big splash with our group of testers, proving that older technology can still bring a smile to the face of riders who have the opportunity to test the most technologically advanced bikes on the market.
"The handling characteristics are the highlight of the KDX for me," exclaimed our graphics guru, Brian Chamberlain. "Although weighing 241 pounds, more than today's modern 4-strokes, the bike feels very light while riding. The KDX is very agile and its steep rake offers very quick steering, making it a good choice for tight single track."

Up front a 43mm conventional cartridge fork does a nice job of suspending the front end over rough terrain. For most trail situations, the fork absorbs most big hits and really rocky material with aplomb, but the desire for a stiffer front end was espoused on more than one occasion. For the intermediate riders in our group, the fork performs within reason, but more advanced riders seem to push beyond its performance capabilities. Under heavy braking, the front end is overwhelmed, using up every inch of travel before traction is jeopardized. It's a good thing this bike is light.

"The KDX's suspenders perform well for their intended use," continued Chamberlain. "You won't want to attempt any supercross whoop sections or land any huge airs, but when ridden in its intended environment, the KDX soaks up the bumps well offering a plush ride without shaking up the bikes stability. Larger or more aggressive riders will find both front and rear to be a little under-sprung." 

Out back the single shock and Uni-Trak linkage system is much better suited for aggressive riding. With 16-position rebound and compression adjustability, it is up to the task of keeping the rear wheel planted, insuring the power is delivered to the ground and you're heading in the right direction.

Not surprisingly, the KDX feels incredibly comfortable on the trail. A cushy seat provides a plush platform for the backside and actually allows the rider to sit for long periods while traversing tighter trails. It's not overly soft, but it's an improvement over the 2x4 feeling of most motocross machines.

Power  Who says the 220R doesn t have enough power. Chamerlain had a blast ripping off wheelies on the KDX.
Although it doesn't possess the kind of power exhibited by a 250cc motocrosser, the KDX provides more than enough grunt on the trail.
The KDX is ergonomically accommodating to almost all riders, putting you in a comfortable sitting position that everyone claimed fit them like a glove. Feet fall naturally on the pegs and the arms reach out to the grips, offering plenty of space between the torso and the bars. The seat height on the KDX measures in at 36 inches, which will leave shorter riders on their tippy-toes, but we didn't have any problem dealing with stops and pauses in the action. Of course, for those who prefer to dismount in order to soak in the views, Kawasaki fits the KDX with a side-stand for convenience.

The 220R brakes offer up plenty of stopping power with a single disc up front and out back working in concert with one another. They weren't the strongest we've ever tested, but they definitely felt adequate enough to bring bike and rider to a rapid stop. Lever feel provides ample feedback and is surprisingly progressive.

The KDX may not have all the latest-and-greatest technology available, but Kawasaki fits the 220R with some nice extras that make life on the trail much easier. The brush guards are a nice addition, but for those that are serious about riding fast through tight trails rife with Manzanita and other painful foliage, an aftermarket set of aluminum guards would be a welcome addition. Also just in front of the tail light is a nice little repair kit flush with all the tools one would need to make on the fly repairs. Up front, a headlamp is fitted for those with enduro aspirations and an easy-to-reach on/off switch is fitted to the bars near the throttle grip.

This was our first experience on a two-stroke in a while and we all came away very impressed with the 220R. The biggest complaint from the motocross contingent is the lack of power, but even the speed-greedy testers in our group admitted that the bike possesses more than enough gumption for trail riding. The only locations where it might be at a serious disadvantage is in wide-open desert situations, some hill climbs and the infamous sand dunes where a paddle would likely burn-up too much of the tiddler's power to be much fun.
The KDX is fast enough for most intermediate riders. Experts might find it a little underpowered in some situations.
At $4,499 we think the Kawasaki KDX220R is a steal for riders who spend the majority of their time in tight, woodsy trails.

The KDX line has been a fixture on the trail for the last 25 years and after spending a month in the mountains of Southern Oregon, we can see why. It's definitely not race ready and those with designs on trophies and contingency money might be better served looking across the Atlantic towards a certain Austrian manufacturer with high-end stock components. With the price of the leading off-road machines inching toward the $7k mark every year the $4,499 KDX220R is a steal for woods and trail riders. Heck, even the KTM EXC is $1,300 more than the KDX.

If you find your days on the trail growing a little stale and redundant, go ahead and revisit that old flame. She may be a little old fashioned, but once you fan that clutch and scroll through the gears you'll remember why those high pitches screams left you satisfied every time.


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Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Great handling
  • Comfy ergos
Lows
  • Lacks power
  • Needs a few aftermarket upgrades
  • Suspension undersprung

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Comments
KDX 220R   May 18, 2011 11:25 AM
I have a 98 kawasaki KDX 220r with high flow preformance reeds,Racing Gears,twin air air filter and FMF Gold Seris Fatty Expansion Chamber as will with a FMF Powercore2 Silencer. These Bikes are incredible there built good in a 185pound rider and this bike does about 98 to 100mph, These bikes are truely built for an off road rider, My Bike is dune broke and I love pinning it 6th gear whide open. The Bikes are super reliable I Call mine the one kick Wonder.. And If you take your out to the dunes you cant go wrong with an 8scoop Sand Snake Paddle. Keep The 2 Strokes Strokin!!!!!!!!!
alan -kdx220r  January 17, 2011 12:06 PM
i downgraded from a 2006 ktm 525 last year to a kdx220r & have no regrets in doing so.The little kdx may not have the out & out horsepower of the ktm or be as trick but smiles per mile its just as good & a heck of a lot lot cheaper to run/maintain, i`ve added a fmf pipe along with a few other sensible mods & i`m very pleased with the way the bike now performs...it can easily keep up with bikes twice its displacement & twice its price (on the right trails)...fun doesnt come much better than that.
SoCalDave -kdx220  January 11, 2011 12:12 PM
I had an 02 kdx220 I bought new in 04. A really fun bike but it needed a few upgrades to make it reliable. The stock bars were cheap steel so I put on Pro Tapers with full hand guards. The shift lever was really cheap and had to be replaced and I put skid plate on it. An FMF Gnarly pipe and Q series silencer really made the bike come alive. It was alot of fun to ride and after replacing some of the cheaper stock parts was super reliable.
R.Schmidt -Pres. of Revanche2strokes.com  December 14, 2010 07:09 PM
Roar of the 4 stroke, don't you mean noisy drone of the 4 stroke? The same drone that is killing the sport and we just accept this? Doesn't it seem odd, that the 4 strokes that are "replacing" the 2 strokes are always sooo much bigger, engine-wise, and heavier, and more expensive? Also, doesn't it strike anyone else as odd, that just a few years ago, the 2 strokes we know and love were touted as being light and inexpensive and easy to work on and now they are inferior to a machine that has been around for a hundred years and was sooo inferior before? The 2 stroke would still reign as supreme, if the rules were fair, if I was a 4 stroke guy, I'd hate it that the bike I loved and raced was only superior because the real "best" machine was hamstrung in such a way that it cannot compete fairly!
brandon -kdx220r  December 2, 2010 05:53 AM
i have a 2003 kdx bone stock.. the bike has never been taken apart.. everybold you look at has the factory paint to make the lines meet. im 195 pounds and i love this bike. it is very good for the trails and on straight aways and it get very good gas milage.. for me i belive the bike has enough power but im geting pipes and a jet kit for it to make it a little faster.. my bike if im on a open straight road or trail i can start of 2nd wheelie and right into 6th.. and if you cruising in 5th i can pull it right up and go into 6th without feathering the clutch or anything.. but anyways kdx220rs are deff the best and most reliable bike ever!!
Matt -KDX220R  July 19, 2010 05:49 PM
I just picked up a 04 KDX220R and after my first ride(43 miles) I am very happy. I consider myself a beginner to intermediate rider and the bike had plenty of power for me. I loved the big soft seat and the soft suspension.
Joseph A VASQUEZ -MASTER C  February 9, 2010 11:06 PM
I raced the Moose racing Searies in nothern califonia on my 2005 kaw. KDX220. It was a five race searies I put my KDX THROUGH a battery of tests full throddle mud, sand, creek rocks, tight tree deer trails, the KDX HANDLE really GOOD. I got 1st in my class even though I raced against bigger bikes.

gplassm -KDX200/220  December 19, 2009 04:09 AM
I just picked up another KDX200 after selling my last one (a '96 model) a few years ago. I have had Husky's, KTM's, Hond CR's, XR's, and evn a DRZ400, but I eventually figured out that the KDX is the best bike for the kind of riding I do. My new one is an '04, with a Dual Sport kit and a street plate. I live in New England where the trails are rocky, boney, and tight, and I have not been able to find a bike that compares with the KDX in terms of reliability, comfort, and performance. The video said it best "The KDX offers a combination of smiles per dollar that is tough to beat". I was disapointed to hear that they stopped production of them. So, if you come across one, in good condition, at a good price (they are *everywhere*), buy it and keep it for a long, long time.
John -KDX 200  September 3, 2009 10:53 AM
I had a 1986 KDX from 1994-1997. Riding with RT 180's, YZ 125's, YZ 250's - the KDX would eat them for lunch on the trails. Coming out of slow turns on trails can best be described as very brief turbo lag, but after that moment eneded, it would dirty the gogles of all our group! I loved this bike in the woods. Agile, quick, attentive and just fun. I really enjoyed this article and it brought back some really fun memories - reason I found it - I am looking for another one to replace the 250! happy riding everyone and thanks again! PS, dont tell my friends their 125 and 250 would run circles around me on the track!
mike -kdx220r  May 15, 2009 07:41 AM
Coming off a Husaberg FE501 my first couple rides on the KDX220r were scary. I thought I was riding a paint shaker, this was in 2002. Fast forward to 2009 and I love my KDX! Entered a couple of Hare Scrambles this year and the bike is perfect. Haven't done a top end just tranny oil and air filters thus far.Only change from stock was front(stiffer) springs and handlebars. Best purchase I could've made for what I use it for. Keep your orange Austrian $$$pit Go team green!
Glenn -KDX 220R  April 11, 2009 06:37 PM
My son, Robert, owns and rides a bone stock 2000 KDX 220R in tight Michigan woods single track. I ride a 94 Suzuki RMX 250 with aftermarket suspension, pipe, etc. Robert kicks my butt all day long on his smaller, less powerful bike. He's ridden my bike hard many times, and claims that his bike is just plain better all around. I still love my powerhouse Suzuki - but I think he's on to something. All I know is the kid flat out hauls the mail. He's now serving with the Air Force in Iraq and I'm keeping his bike safe. I think I'm gonna put heavier springs in it for him - cause he's now about 200 lbs. We're gonna tear up the woods when he comes home this summer. 2 strokes rule. Peace.
joe -kdx220r  March 28, 2009 07:03 PM
I recently purchased a 2000 kdx220r.I have always been a two stroke fan and because of it i still am.I live in Kentucky so riding in the woods up and down hills is a must.I have had a couple of 250 two stroke motocross bikes but never felt right in the woods on them.The kdx makes me feel right at home.My next off road bike purchase will be a newer kdx they are awesome!Thank you Kawasaki for the great product.I hated to see them go.