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2020 Kawasaki KX450 Review | Bike Reviews | Features

Kawasaki is the talk of the town in the 450 class after signing Adam Cianciarulo to ride with reigning AMA Pro Motocross champ Eli Tomac in the factory team.

On debut, AC came up trumps against the favored Tomac at the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas.

Their fierce rivalry is easy to spot and, without a doubt, either could win the Main Event on any given weekend. Their weapon of choice, the KX450 is in the second year of its current evolution. A heavily-revised model was introduced for MY19 minus the
F on the end of its name.

The bike saw improvements in almost every area and that threw it straight into the limelight, earning it the top spot in many shootouts abroad and a solid win in the ADB 450cc bunfight.

STICKING WITH IT
For this year, Kawasaki has stuck with the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so the 450 remains almost completely unchanged. A lot of manufacturers will make huge changes to their bikes and then spend the next few years refining the package to try to get things dialed in.

Things such as suspension valving, ignition mapping, shock linkage ratios, traction control settings etc. that seemed fine in testing somehow come up for “minor updates” in following models as the manufacturer tries to convince you that it’s made more changes than just new graphics.

This isn’t the case with the Kawasaki KX450 for 2020, as the graphics and green sideplates are the only things that got a look in. Literally everything else has remained the same. We can’t really blame Kawasaki’s engineers for taking the year off as they did such an incredible job with the MY19 model.

HOW’S IT GO, MATE?

I was extremely impressed when I tested it at Park4MX in Melbourne and I was equally as impressed when I tested the 2020 version at the Hastings Valley MCC recently on the Mornington Peninsula. It is a completely different track with nowhere near as much traction but higher speeds overall.

The shortage of traction really highlighted the smooth, torquey power characteristics. You could just pull a higher gear and tractor your way around the corners.

The Kawasaki doesn’t make anywhere near the highest horsepower in the class. In fact it’s close to 5hp down on the Honda, but the way the power is delivered is super impressive and very easy for anyone to use. The Kawasaki really comes into its own when the track becomes technical and slippery.

WHAT YA RATE?

HYDRAULIC CLUTCH It was a stroke of genius to fit the hydraulic clutch. The Nissin unit works amazingly well and, in my opinion, is the best hydraulic clutch on the market when it comes to overall feel and action. To me it almost has the feel of a cable clutch while being light as a feather to pull in. The engagement point is neither too narrow nor too wide, so you won’t find yourself accidentally stalling the bike in corners or nearly looping out with the slightest flick of the lever exiting corners. Overall, this is my favourite aspect of the KX and a terrific addition to the production machine.

ENGINE The motor is deceptive. It has an enormous amount of bottom-end torque, which makes it a huge amount of fun to ride. The bottom-end flows into an impressive and strong mid-range, before slightly tapering down at the top end … which isn’t such a bad thing for a 450. This power delivery adds up to what a lot of people would call their ideal engine. You may wish for a bit more top-end to out-drag your mates down the straights, or get you up and over that monster jump a little bit easier. But, in reality, there’s only a very small percentage of the population who can deal with that kind of power and put it to good use on a motocross track. And if you have any lack of throttle control then that extra horsepower can get you in all kinds of trouble. Especially when the dreaded arm pump rears its ugly head. The engine is impressive and ticks all the boxes for 99% of riders. And, for the remaining 1%, it’s not difficult to find a few extra horsepower with some bolt-on parts such as an exhaust or ignition.

ERGONOMICS The ergos of the Kawasaki are lively, fun, flat, slim and team up very nicely with the engine to provide an overall package that will make you want to whip it off every jump and plough into those fluffy corners. The bike almost feels like a 250 on steroids. It is agile and enjoys its time in the air. The ultra-flat seat can actually have you climbing too far forward in corners if you aren’t careful. But once you get used to it you realise that you can’t throw your weight too far forward when you sit down for corners or you’ll end up sitting on the petrol cap.

FORK The 49mm Showa spring-cartridge fork is a huge improvement over the SFF air-spring unit. It works well in most conditions and, other than being sprung slightly on the light side, you will find that for most riders the fork will hold up nicely and do its job well. I found the action to be very plush and, provided I didn’t brake too hard entering choppy corners, it would hold up okay. Weighing in at 82kg with riding gear on means that I’m not much heavier than the average 450 rider but I had to be careful not to over-charge a take-off ramp or braking zone for fear of the fork diving too far. A simple fix is to either go up a spring rate or have your favourite suspension tech weave their magic with a slightly more progressive valving spec that ramps up a tad more into the last part of the stroke. You don’t want to lose the plush feeling in the initial part of the stroke, but a little bit more bottoming resistance will be nice for most riders over 75kg who sneak around the track at an intermediate-to-advanced level.

VERDICT

Kawasaki took us by surprise last year with a 450 that ticked all the boxes. It added electric start, got rid of the tricky air fork and became the first Japanese manufacturer to add a hydraulically-operated clutch to its production bike. For this year, KHI has quite rightly rested on its laurels in the hope that it will be enough to keep them in the hunt.

WORDS: LEE HOGAN || PHOTOS: MAX PETERS

The Recipe
• Showa 49mm spring/cartridge fork
(Replacing finicky SFF air fork)
• Slimmer, more rigid chassis
• Redesigned plastics and seat
• Redesigned airbox
• Slimmer and flatter seat profile for rider
• Electric start
• Nissin hydraulic clutch
• New top-end with finger-follower valve actuation
• Bridge-box piston that was 17g lighter
• A 44mm Keihin throttle body (up 1mm)

Kawasaki KX450 Specs
Engine
Type DOHC, four-valve
Displacement 449.0cc
Bore & STROKE 96 x 62.1mm
Cooling Liquid
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Fuel metering Keihin 44mm EFI
Tank capacity 6.2L
Transmission Five-speed constant-mesh
Clutch Nissin hydraulic, wet multiplate

Dimensions
Wheelbase 1495mm
Seat height 955mm
Ground clearance 340mm
Weight 110.0kg wet

Suspension
FRONT Showa 48mm spring-cartridge USD, 305mm
REAR Showa gas-oil monoshock, 307mm travel

Brakes
Front Nissin twin-piston, 270mm wave disc
Rear Nissin single-piston, 250mm wave disc

Running Gear
Handlebar Renthal Fatbar tapered alloy
Front tyre Dunlop Geomax MX3S 80/100-21
Rear tyre Dunlop Geomax MX3S 120/80-19

Price & Contacts
Price $11,248 ride away
Web kawasaki.com.au
Phone (02) 9684 2585
Warranty None