The 2018 Kawasaki KX450F is in it’s third year of the latest generation model and the only change made to the ’18 machine are new radiator shroud graphics. With that being said, we had a general idea of how the bike would perform in relation to last year’s model, so we took it to Pala Raceway to see how it would handle the track’s notoriously big jumps, long straightaways, and fluffy corners.
ENGINE: The KX450F engine delivers a very smooth, linear powerband that makes it feel very easy to ride, especially for a 450. It’s not short on power by any means, but it is delivered in a way that most riders will find easy to manage. It has slightly less of a bottom end hit than other bikes in the class, which most of our test riders liked due to how the bike didn’t want to try to jump out from underneath them, especially on tighter parts of the track such as deeply rutted corners. Make no mistake, the bike makes a decent amount of power, it’s just delivered in a way that is easier and more manageable for most riders to modulate. An example of this would be that the bike can comfortably pull third gear in almost any corner.
Similar to year’s past, the KX450F comes stock with three different power coupler options – stock (green), mellow, (black), and white (aggressive). Most of our test riders ranging from novice to pro-level ability opted to use the white coupler because it made the throttle response a bit quicker and more crisp at all rpms.
SUSPENSION: Returning for the fourth year in a row is the Showa SFF-Air Triple Air Chamber (TAC) fork. We set each of the three air chambers to the recommended stock settings – 152 PSI in the inner chamber, 16.7 PSI in the outer chamber, and 174 PSI in the balance chamber and left them there as we were able to get the fork where we wanted it with only adjusting the clickers. Our novice-level and intermediate-level test riders both went two softer on the rebound. They also both went softer on the compression, but in different amounts. Our intermediate-level test rider found that the fork handled the big impacts well and didn’t bottom out, but was a bit harsh in the chop and square edged bumps. To help alleviate this, he went two clicks softer on the compression. Also, to help the bike lay over in corners and not have so much of a tendency to want to stand up on him, he went two clicks softer on the rebound as well. This enabled him to feel more comfortable in these two areas and still be able to send all of the big jumps that the main track at Pala Raceway has to offer. Meanwhile, our novice-level test rider went four clicks softer on the compression and two softer on the rebound to get the fork to move more through the stroke and settle more in the corners.
All of our test riders were happy with the performance of the shock stating that it had an overall plush feeling. Each set their sag at 104mm and all but one didn’t touch the clickers on the rear shock all day. The rider who did make adjustments is a professional Supercross racer who opted to go two clicks stiffer on the low speed compression and a quarter turn stiffer on the high speed compression as well. The general consensus was that shock kept the rear end planted and didn’t hop from side to side when charging through braking bumps, which made the bike more predictable at high speeds.
CHASSIS: The chassis on the KX450F is agreeable to many riders of different sizes and skill levels. The latest chassis set up does have a bit of a “long” feeling overall, but is less of a “steer with the rear” type of bike than it was in years past. This makes cornering feel more neutral. Although, test riders commented that it doesn’t have a very intuitive “lay it over” type feeling that some of the other bikes in the class do and that initiating their turn a little sooner than they normally would helped in this area.
The bike is fairly slim and doesn’t have any sort of protruding pieces of bodywork that make it difficult for the rider to move frontwards or backwards on the bike. It feels balanced front to rear and our faster test riders commented that it is easy to lean off the face of a jump making scrubbing and whipping feel effortless.
CONCLUSION: Being that the 2018 KX450F is essentially the same as the 2017 model, we didn’t expect the bike to feel any different than last year, and it didn’t. The bike has plenty of positive qualities including a very smooth and predictable powerband, a plush feeling shock, and an overall comfortable feeling chassis that’s easy to get used to. The main caveat of the KX450F is the fork, which isn’t the plushest feeling fork and can be difficult to set up, especially for the average rider. Another downside to the Showa TAC fork is the three air chambers that need to be checked before a day of riding. Between that and checking the front and rear tire pressures, that’s five air pressures that need to be checked before you hit the track, which in our opinion is overkill. The KX450F is also not the most intuitive cornering machine on the market either and takes a little bit of extra effort on the rider’s part. We will be putting several more hours on this bike before shootout season and look forward to seeing if it can improve on it’s fourth place finish in last year’s 450 Shootout.