After sampling Kawasaki’s updated KX450F earlier this September at Muddy Creek Raceway in Tennessee, we knew the Kawasaki was good. Yet, being the skeptics we are, we weren’t exactly sure how it was going to stack up against the other three M&M-colored machines. After a full day at Racetown though there isn’t a doubt in our respective minds where the Kawasaki ranks.
Tight moto tracks and big power 450s don’t always mix. But here at Racetown there are a fair number of fast sections where power is your ally. And this is one of the many areas that you’ll be glad you’re on the new KX450F.
The Kawasaki accelerates – hard. The new fuel injection system and massaged motor make this the standout engine for 2009.
“I loved the motor on this bike!” exclaimed Armstrong. “It has a very smooth and controllable powerband, not to mention it revs to the moon.”
“By far the Kawasaki is king in the motor department,” agrees Toye. “Power comes on strong right from the get-go and the engine spools up really quick. Plus the thing never signs off. It just keeps making power the whole time.”
Our man Simon, who isn’t the easiest to impress, also raved about the Kawi in the engine department: “Kawasaki has the best motor by far. The new EFI on that bike is ridiculous. It just has so much power bottom to top that it’s almost hard to ride but once you get used to it, it’s like riding a rocket ship. Really, I’m not joking, the muffler’s loud and when you’re really on it, it sounds like you’re going to the moon.”
The sheer acceleration force generated by the Kawasaki’s 449cc DOHC engine can intimidate a novice rider, yet, the well engineered fuel mapping enables the engine to produce power in such a smooth, tractable way, that you never have to worry about it surging or catching you off guard. Just make sure to sure to hang on.
The final major plus in the engine department is how easy the KX-F is to start. One kick, maximum two – even when you tip over. Next to a 2-stroke, it’s an easy bike to start.
Okay, so the Kawasaki is fast. But how does it handle in Racetown’s tight sections? One word: excellent.
“The handling on this bike is awesome,” states Armstrong. “It turns in quick and is easy to get into the tight corners. It’s also very stable and planted feeling in the fast stuff.”
Big and burly, the Kawi is so well balanced that it can feel relatively nimble for such a heavy, powerful machine.
“The bike really got down and cornered well,” concurred Simon. “Plus with all the torque the bike has, it makes exiting the corner easier as its got plenty of power to pull you out.”
Similar to the RM-Z, all of our testers were surprised by how sharp the Kawasaki steered, which up until this year’s iteration was an area in which the previous KX450F lacked. Also impressive is the smooth suspension action, with everyone raving about how well it absorbed big impacts. While everyone agrees that the Kawasaki is a trustworthy tool in the corner, some of our testers had issues with getting its Kayaba suspension sorted out.
“I couldn’t get the suspension dialed-in to where I was happy with it,” said Simon. “Entering the corners is where I was having the biggest problem. Through all the small braking bumps it was just all over the place. Every time we would make an adjustment it would be better in one area of the track but then it would make it so it wasn’t working so good in another area.”
“The suspension was harsh on the braking and acceleration bumps,” added Armstrong. “So I reset the sag to 108mm, and went out two clicks in the compression on the fork and in on the high-speed [compression] on the rear shock. This helped the bike work better through the smaller bumps of the fast sections on the track, but it still could have been better.”
While not as diminutive as the Honda, the Kawasaki’s dimensions were well received by all of our different sized riders. Its slim cockpit, standard Renthal aluminum handlebars and extra wide footpegs were appreciated by everyone. Additionally, despite being tied with the Suzuki for the heaviest motorcycle award, our testers were pleased with how centralized the Kawasaki’s weight feels.
Honda spanked the group in 2008 and looked to bully the class again in 2009, but Kawasaki turned out to be stronger and tougher than expected.
“It’s a big improvement over last year,” commented Simon. “It’s a pretty narrow bike and is definitely getting closer to a 250F size. It’s still a bit bigger than the Honda.”
“The Kawi doesn’t feel as light or as small as the Honda,” said Toye. “But it’s not that bad. It certainly doesn’t feel all that heavy in the air.”
No shifting hang ups or transmission problems were reported but we noticed that gearing felt a little lower as compared to the other bikes. Considering its shorter final drive gearing and copious power output you’re not going to find yourself working the clutch that much, but when you do need to use it, it feels light and responsive.
Although the braking components didn’t receive any attention from Kawasaki engineers this year, again, like the drivetrain, there were absolutely no complaints. Everyone loved the Kawi brakes, just like the Yamaha and Honda.
Call it Déjà vu, but just like our first encounter, the new KX450F continued to enamor us. Sure it isn’t the most comfortable MX’er nor the easiest to ride. But it is in fact the fastest and best handling motocross machine of 2009. If you want the best, the Kawasaki is it.