Kawasaki offers the KLX140L (left) with larger wheels and corresponding seat height to fit older kids or adults who think they’re young.
When Kawasaki decided to develop the ultimate playbike, it slapped together a development team of pro motocross riders, youth testers and the vital ingredient of Kawasaki’s motocross engineers. The result is a high tech, high performance enduro bike that’s versatile enough to appeal to a wide range of riders, young and old.
The 2008 Kawasaki KLX140, and the bigger wheeled KLX140L (17/14 vs. 19/16), is more than just your mama’s mini. Kawasaki challenges playbike competitors with better ergonomics, more power, beefy front and rear disc brakes and suspension options, which are uncommon in entry level bikes.
The rolling hills of the Hungry Valley OHV and I-5 Motocross Track in Gorman, California, served as the stomping grounds for a fun day of test riding both versions of the KLX140. It doesn’t take long to detect KX inspiration all over the design. With fatty footpegs, rubber-mounted handlebars and even KX-style grips, these mini enduros are attractive, inviting and completely addicting. It will easily turn anyone into a giddy, giggly 10-year-old, even if you actually bought it specifically for your kids.
The KLX has all of its controls along the handlebars. You won’t find the nostalgic kickstart on the 140, only a push-button electric start and two accompanying on/off switches stand between you and a rollin’ good time. Yes, there are two switches, a toggle engine kill switch and an ignition marked by an orange LED. When turning off the machine, the LED stays lit to remind you the electric power is on, but despite the orange glow it’s still easy to forget to turn it off because another one is used to kill the engine. Even the choke is put right in front of your face. In a creative and convenient design, it’s mounted next to the power button between the triple clamp and the number plate. You can’t complain about that, it only makes life easier. It would still be nice to see a kickstart on the 140 though, if nothing else but for back up purposes. especially with so many buttons to remember – or forget as the case may be.
Electric start is supposed to be a convenience, but preparing the 140 for take-off is a bit of a chore all considered. Moving left-to-right across the handlebars, you flip the first switch on, push the LED lit power button, pull the choke and finally push the ignition button to fire up the engine. That’s a pretty involved process, especially when you factor in the manual clutch, but there’s no denying it does its job.
The little air-cooled mill is one of many great features about the KLX. At 144cc it’s larger than many entry-level bikes but is able to fit in a package that still fits smaller riders.
Most other bikes aimed at this level are gimping out with an engine displacement of under 125cc. Both 140 models are boasting a 144cc air cooled engine and a jaw-dropping redline of 10,500 rpm. The 4-stroke, SOHC engine has a compression ratio of 9.5:1 and a bore/stroke configuration of 58 x 54.4mm. The power boost is evident, especially on the open trails where there’s ample room to test what’s in the belly of the mini beast. Whether riding the track or railing the trail, the power is smooth and useable. For the pit bike zealots or the advancing rider, the steel cylinder makes boring out the engine a fun possibility. As it is the bike has plenty of midrange power. The bike ran the best for me in third and fourth gear where it was easiest to access that power with a smooth and reactive response.
The KLX engine is complimented by the bike’s five-speed transmission, which is easily controlled by the cable-operated clutch. A spring damper in the clutch gives two stages of engagement, allowing for the use of half clutch through idling speeds. This allows for an easy learning curve for those getting used to the shifting aspect, which on this bike is super smooth and effortless. The close gear ratio helps the gears engage easily and instantaneously, all the while accelerating smoothly. When riding the bike in the hills, I found that it likes to be revved a bit, but don’t be fooled by its shy voice. An added perk to the mini is an ultra-quiet spark arrestor, which is contoured to suit the compact physics of the KLX. The pipe has a plastic end cap which stays cool to the touch even after being revved and ridden for hours. Definitely a finger-saving feature for younger riders.
With any electric start setup, the weight of the machine becomes a concern, especially for entry-level bikes like the KLX. This little rock-stomper weighs in a bit dense for my taste at a claimed 198lbs dry, but the miniature ergonomic design distributes the weight surprisingly well. It weighs about 45 pounds more than the much smaller and weaker Yamaha TT-R110, but it’s nearly 40 pounds less than the famed CRF150F.
Even at 115 pounds, our lightweight tester still found the bottom end of the KLX suspension package.
Even for this 5’8,” 115-pound tester, the 140 never felt heavy while riding. I washed out in a couple soft corners, but was able to pick the bike back up like it was nothing. The concise ergonomics are no fluke. Kawasaki deliberately designed the 140 to be stouter than some of its competitors, and the L model one-ups the standard 140. The differences between the two are substantial enough to make a noticeable difference. The 140L has an additional 0.8 inches of seat height and 1″ of wheelbase thanks to its 19/16 tire combo (compared to 17/14).
The heart of the bike comes wrapped in a box-section steel perimeter frame. With bikes this size, the steel is economically more feasible, but Kawasaki helps make up for it by attaching a lightweight aluminum swingarm. The Excel aluminum rims help lighten the unsprung load and can be credited partly for the smooth handling. I rode this bike as hard as I could and was definitely pleased with its strength and durable feel through and through.
Each model has a conventional 33mm telescopic fork in the front that utilizes the same 0.49 kg/mm spring rate and non-adjustable damping and rebound settings. Both models front and rear have seven inches of wheel travel, and I used all of it. There are times when the front suspension is too soft. I tested the bike on two different size tracks. The mini track was obviously friendly to the makings of the 140 and it was a lot of fun out there. It has just enough preload to bounce around and over things. There was a decent size step off which the 140 had no problem pouncing from. However, landing some bigger jumps on the larger track was murder. There I hit bottom pretty hard more than a few times.
We spent time on the track and trails, but the KLX proved to be capable on both. Some mods will be necessary for serious pitbike bandits, but for the market segment it targets, the 140 is strong out of the box.
Out on the trails there were fewer jumps and the plushness made it more comfortable for the most part. That cushiness pays off through the flatter, rockier stuff where it teams up with the rear shock to turn the terrain into a seemingly smooth path. However, that soft front end can still brutalize a rider’s confidence on some of the steeper downhills. More aggressive, heavier riders will want to consider stiffer springs up front. The larger model is clearing the ground by 10 inches, and the smaller 140 is only an inch lower. All in all the 140 is fun and easy to throw about. The longer footpegs add to the comfort and ease of moving around atop the bike.
Much of the KLX140’s maneuverability can be attributed to the rear suspension options that come with both models. The 140’s suspension is definitely something that sets this bike ahead of some of its competitors. The rear shock features a five-way adjustable preload. Impressive, but the bigger-wheeled 140L is packin’ a shiny aluminum shock with a piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable pre-load, four-way compression and 22 clicks of rebound. The suspension setup is a powerful additive to this little fun factory, all the while widening the range of riders that can comfortably use it.
The 140’s wow factors and KX influences are hardly limited to the rear suspension. The braking system is equally as impressive. Kawasaki’s engineers managed to beef the brakes up by using twin-piston calipers in the front that are the same size as those on the KLX250/450. You won’t find the typical mini bike drum brake in the rear, the KLX has disc brakes with a large capacity front and rear master cylinder, keeping the bike highly manageable. In the corners especially, the brakes are responsive and predictable. The front and rear work well together, creating a balanced feel much like what you find on a bigger bike.
Kawasaki’s KLX140 is helping to expand the realm of possibilities for stock playbikes. Both versions are extremely user friendly, resulting in a faster and safer progression for beginners and younger riders. Kawasaki put a lot of attention on making this bike comfortable, friendly and fun, without compromising the riding experience. Other entry-level bikes have an awkward weight distribution not to mention stilted power.
I wish I could’ve learned to ride on a bike like the 140. Its agility allows you to fine-tune skills and have a better feel for what makes riding fun – things like sliding sideways into a corner, skating around a berm, bouncing off banks and chasing hills. Kids and adults who are young at heart will have a lot of fun on the KLX140, you can’t help it.
Out of the box and off the showroom floor this bike can easily access any designated off-road riding area, expanding one’s personal horizons and fair pricing helps make them obtainable. Starting at $2,699 ($2,999 L) puts them in the middle of the road with their competitors. In relative terms, this is a small price to pay for an investment in family fun. Sure, this bike will please in the pits, but more importantly this bike has the ability to ignite the passion within for riding a dirt bike. That in itself is a gift to the human spirit, giving us freedom to let the good times roll.
Let us know what you think about the 2008 Kawasaki KLX140 in the MotoUSA Forum.