Building a bike that fits everyone is a very difficult assignment to be tasked with. The manufacturer is left with the duty of making a machine that will fit the average guy spot on, but you can’t make everyone happy. What about the guy that is taller than average, the racer who wants more hit and even the guy that would like smoother power that won’t wear you out? Believe it or not, you can change many of these settings very easily with the many tunable options that are built into the new 2012 KX450F. Kawasaki just introduced their new 450 at the world famous venue “Red Bud” in Buchanan, Michigan. The track was groomed to perfection and the Red Bud loam was plentiful. We spent a full day on the new 450 and had just enough daylight to play with its long list of settings.
Although the KX450F won our 2011 shootout, Kawasaki didn’t settle for making minor tweaks to last years platform. They went all out and did some major redesigning, which resulted in one very innovative new ride. The list of changes goes like this: A system known as launch control is new to the Kawi and is derived from the 2011 supercross race bikes. There are three pre-programmable ignition maps that allow the rider to choose the stock setting, a more aggressive setting and a mellow setting for low-traction scenarios. The engine has undergone many changes and from the first day of testing, I agree with the new setup. A slimmer frame makes for an easier to ride, smaller and more maneuverable package that requires less energy to handle. The transmission has also seen some upgrades that are targeted for easier shifting. The handle bar and footpegs have been given tuning options to help fit the rider. You have four different handlebar positions to choose from and the footpegs can be lowered 5mm from the stock position. A new fuel tank, redesigned bodywork, a new pipe and a shorter muffler all contribute to lowering the center of gravity. And like always on the KX450F you get the cool looking DLC coated fork tubes and black rims that make any bike look great.There are so many different settings and adjustments to play with that the majority of our first day of testing was dedicated to playing with handlebar positions, footpeg mounts and the different ignition settings that come stock. It really gives you a chance to feel for a setting that you are comfortable with, without having to purchase expensive aftermarket pieces. This is probably one of the biggest pros, especially for the rider on a budget. Just think about playing around with clamp offsets before you gamble upwards of $500 for a set of triple clamps that might not be exactly what you wanted.
After taking a few laps I was very impressed with the motor and its usable torque that offered the right amount of hit. I must say I was easily able to find confidence in this Kawi and on the first day I built up enough manhood to huck LaRocco’s Leap. Talk about an adrenaline rush! I think to this date that was the most amount of time I have spent lingering in the air on a dirt bike. Adding to the characteristics of the motor, this bike pulls hard. A bike that revs strong is a must when the track conditions are super loamy because you can leave it in a low gear longer without having to up shift and lose momentum. I played with the three different pre-programmed couplings to see how the power was affected but I’d like to spend more time messing with them and hit some California tracks so I can get a solid idea of what they are capable of.
The suspension setting that the Kawi 450 comes with is a very good starting point and I could comfortably ride motos all day long here at Red Bud. The track is smooth and the ground is a little softer than some of the hard packed tracks back on the west coast so that could have some effect on what I’m feeling today. The bottoming resistance is better than other stock bikes I have tested previously, but then again there aren’t any significant slams on this track that would require a much stiffer setting. I played with the clickers a bit and for the first part of the day I didn’t even want to change them! As the track got rougher, I ended up with a comfortable setting by going in two clicks on the compression for both the fork and shock. Doing this helped absorb the harsher sections of track.
I rode last years Kawasaki KX450F for I think a total of three laps at Racetown at the end of our shootout day as I was one of the 250F riders. Needless to say, my time on last years bike was very limited. I did however notice a few things from it that are definitely different this year. Mainly for 2012, the chassis felt smaller and therefore required less energy to ride. I also noticed that the 2011 felt longer than any other 450 and gave me some troubles when it came to leaning. Also, the motor was very aggressive and packed a punch that was a lot to handle on a hard packed track. We aren’t on a hard packed track by any means here at Red Bud, but I can tell that the new motor was aimed at making usable power, not just boat loads of it. This matches the new chassis well and makes for a very solid mount.
I would love to give you the full test now but I need to get back out on the track and finish what I started. I still haven’t decided which of the four handlebar positions I like best. We will have a much more detailed test coming in a future issue of Dirt Rider once we have more time to play with its many different features. This bike has a lot to offer so this quick introduction of the new Kawasaki KX450F will have to hold you over until we can ride it on some more familiar soil. Stay tuned!