By Chris Denison
Photos by Adam Campbell
When Dirt Rider learned that the new Kawasaki KX450F was essentially unchanged for 2014, we weren’t exactly surprised. This proven four-stroke took top honors in the 2013 Dirt Rider 450cc motocross shootout, a title that is not easy to achieve considering the high level of performance in this class. Thanks to a great engine package, solid handling and likable ergonomics, the 2013 KX450F earned the shootout win and has continued to prove itself on the track at the hands of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto. In terms of changes, the 2014 features different grips and minor ECU updates; otherwise, this is the same bike as it was in 2013.
The 2014 KX450F new model introduction was fairly relaxed as these things go; Kawasaki invited the media to Competitive Edge MX Park and simply opened up the loamy track for a full two days of testing. After the first day, we reaffirmed what we already knew about this bike: the engine is incredibly strong, extremely responsive and overflowing with bottom-end delivery. Minor ECU changes for 2014 led to what we felt to be a slightly rich feeling down low, but this was easy to tune out with the help of Kawasaki’s KX FI Calibration Kit. Following the strong bottom, the Kawasaki continues to bark throughout an exciting mid-range which made short work of Comp Edge’s many technical jump combinations and big, steep takeoffs, many of which are right out of corners. Third gear on this machine is extremely versatile as you can ride it just about anywhere, though two of our testers also commented that the green 450 could be short-shifted and still maintain excellent pulling power. The highest RPM ranges are slightly flat, though we hardly ever rode the bike there due to the enticing nature of the torque down low.
Up front, the 48mm Kayaba Pneumatic Spring Fork (PSF) continues to work fairly well, though our fastest test rider struggled to find a setting he was happy with at Comp. For the most part the mid-stroke is fairly progressive, though this can become harsh at the tail end of a long moto. Bottoming resistance is typically excellent, something that we were reminded of several times whenever the wind would give us an extra boost over a particularly big jump. On square-edged bumps, the fork would blow through if the front was too heavily weighted. Good news for new Kawi owners is that the pump for the front fork now comes free with every KX450F motorcycle. In the rear, the shock holds up well while remaining plush enough to soak up braking bumps and chop. The bike remains stable in a straight line, with great front to back balance and good overall feel for a variety of rider weights.
If you steer a bike with the rear end, you’ll love the way the KX450F corners. Riders who typically like to back in and use the throttle to corner will be rewarded with the long, stable feel of the Kawasaki in turns. Quick direction changes require additional setup; you can’t turn this bike on a dime, but it definitely turns consistently once you get it settled into the corner. The ergonomics are universally well liked, with a softer grip compound and a narrower grip length standing as the only real changes to the machine for 2014. Kawasaki still offers four handlebar positions and two footpeg positions for the KX450F. The clutch, brakes and launch control all continue to work well on the 450F, with the blown-out sounding muffler once again being our biggest gripe about this bike.
All together, Kawasaki’s decision to keep their 450F the same for 2014 is a smart one because they already know that the bike works, but at the same time this may open the door for the competition to sneak in and challenge Kawi for 450cc dominance. From here, we’ll continue to test the KX450F until all of the other manufacturers have released their 2014 machines, and then it’s once again an all-out battle for the title of best 450cc motocross bike. But no matter what the competition has up its sleeve, Kawasaki knows that they have a contender on their hands.