Life is all about timing, and unfortunately Kawasaki missed the timing when it released this 2009 KX450F a week after Honda released its ’09 CRF450R. Instead of surfing a wave of buzz, the Kawi is left knee-boarding in the foam. The KX450F is nearly all-new, but the look isn’t radically different. Our advice: Worry about performance and not about looks. Kawasaki built the KX450F to be a serious weapon with beauty that goes all the way to the bone.In terms of feel, the ’09 KX450F doesn’t feel all new but radically revised. In other words, the best things about the previous KX450F-stability matched with crisp steering and strong, long power-are as good as or better than ever. Kawasaki smoothed the delivery of the 2007′s brute force in 2008. For ’09, the engine has better power than ’08 with more control across the board. The well-sorted EFI delivers smooth energy while providing just enough mid-hit for excitement and plenty of rev. In general, EFI takes away the feeling of hit, but the riders will immediately think this bike is faster than others in the class thanks to the mid-hit and the loud and somewhat raspy exhaust note. It is fast, but it isn’t faster.Kawasaki’s 450 isn’t the lightest handling or most nimble feeling bike in the class, and never has been; but efforts at making the bike slimmer have paid off. In turns the steering effort (the work it takes to move the handlebar) is very light, and the work required to transition the bike from one turn to another is also reduced. This bike prefers to keep momentum up through turns rather than being stabbed into them. And all this discussion of turning assumes that you’re staying on top of the ride height and suspension settings. If you want rock-solid steering precision and front wheel traction, it’s vital to get the ride height correct. Our best results were with 109mm of race sag. We had the front tire sticking well at that setting. At 115mm of sag front traction was spotty and let loose suddenly. This is not a set-it-and-forget suspension package.While the steering effort is light, Honda has changed the benchmark for the way a 450 should flick side to side and the KX doesn’t have as light a feeling, and the bike itself doesn’t feel much lighter than in ’08. Plus, depending on the rider’s impression, the ’09 feels changed at speed. Some riders said it felt heavier at high speed, others called it a feeling of added stability and most claimed it got more planted. Regardless, the KX450F has great stability, and combined with the newfound steering lightness, the handling is a pretty good mix that will sit well with a lot of riders.As far as suspension goes, there is a learning curve with the bike. A setting of 109mm of sag is lower than normal for past Japanese bikes, and pushing down on the rear suspension may make you believe the rear shock rebound is far too slow. Spend your initial setup time testing sag settings, and then play with the damping adjusters. We actually slowed the rebound slightly at both ends and added a few clicks of compression. Even one click is a change you can feel. Faster riders opted for settings that didn’t actually feel plush but added control which allowed optimum lap times. The smooth and manageable power delivery helps keep the ride more balanced, so the suspension will feel like custom-revalved goods compared to a year-old stock set. Once dialed in, this suspension package should cover a wide array of riding abilities, with faster riders searching for additional hold-up through the clickers and slower riders enjoying the forgiving softer/quicker-than-stock settings available. Likely, pro-level guys will need to almost have the KX-F maxed out on compression damping to keep the heavy feeling out of the ride and to keep the bike from being vague or squirrelly. The suspension is really good, with good control and just the right amount of feel for the ground, though we did feel the bottoming just a little too much.Previous KX-F owners will feel at home on the ’09. Its ergonomics and feel are almost identical, but with less of a “sitting in” feel to the saddle area. All control efforts are very nice with minimal muscle required.The Kawasaki has the easiest and most consistent starting of any of the new EFI bikes. It is impressive cold and a snap hot, but it is best after a fall or stall. There EFI smokes a carb, and the bike not only doesn’t dribble fuel, it usually lights right up.Kawasaki has big plans for this bike, and the confidence in it is well-placed. There are no major weak areas, aside from a loud exhaust note, and plenty of strengths in key areas: power, handling and suspension. Those are strong points that should have the competition worried.
Modifications We’d Like To Try: Quieter exhaust system, different front tire for hard terrain.Opinions
Weight: 225 lb
Senior IntermediateAs much as I’ve wanted to like the ’06 to ’08 KX450F, I just couldn’t get physically comfortable on it. The seat felt low and sloped and the handlebar high. But the ’09 walks a much nicer balance. It still works for short guys, but taller riders find it a lot easier to get along with. The same is true of the handling. It has the stability I long for combined with good suspension and excellent cornering. I don’t like the front tire, the exhaust is too loud and the seat gets soft too soon. Otherwise, it is easy to like this bike a lot.For a rider with my modest skill and fitness, the KX450F is a bit too powerful for a tight track like Piru MX, but it felt great in the sand at LACR or in the faster conditions at I-5MX. Kawasaki’s sport bikes for the street have always had a reputation for monster motors, and that power-hungry attitude seems to have worked its way into the motocross division. If you like power, you will like this bike.Jimmy Lewis
Weight: 185 lb
Senior ProForget all this EFI jibber-jabber, just go and ride the bike. You’ll never know it was fuel injected-just like your truck or car has been for the last decade. I’m pretty sure the manufacturers are being very conservative with the settings so far, but Kawi has been the best at being the least different from carburetion, especially in regard to ease of starting. And it has the most hit stock, something we’ll be able to easily tune back in with the available FI software and tuners. Plus, you’ll soon be able to e-mail your buddies your favorite map or maybe even buy a super-mega-horsepower one off some guy on Thumpertalk. Other than that, I think Kawi has taken a strong step in the handling and styling direction that KTM has been at for a while, which has been a bit extreme for most riders till now. So it’s shaping up to be an interesting year with the biggest leaps in 450cc MX bikes in a long time. After just starting on our 450 shootout, I’ll tell you already there isn’t a bad bike. And green is great if you like green.Jesse Ziegler
Weight: 175 lb
Vet IntermediateI’ve easily spent the most time in the seat of the ’08 KX450F of anyone on staff. And if you’re a returning KX-F buyer, I can assure you that you’ll feel right at home with the 2009. The bike really feels the same. But the power delivery makes the ’09 a better package overall. I’m almost sure the EFI has this motor mellowed out over the previous year. And that’s a great thing. It still has the punch to prove its power prowess, but it drops the real energy to the rear tire with more control. This makes it an easier bike to ride and one that a wider range of pilots will get used to quickly. If I could get more out of the KX-F for 2009, it’d be a no-brain-required suspension setup and a decent exhaust note. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. You have to experiment with ride height to get a setting you like. And you may compromise plushness for control if you really want to push the pace. As for the noise? Well, that’s why pipe companies love KX-F owners.