Make no mistake about it: Kawasaki’s commitment to off-road is legit. Armed with a high-dollar off-road race team, a growing army of loyal Kawasaki riders and a strong product base, the Green Machine has pledged to go toe-to-toe with KTM in an all-out battle for off-road dominance. The tip of the spear? The 2009 KLX450R, a bike that Kawasaki has thrown into the 450 off-road class with confidence, and a machine that we’ve personally tried to drill into the ground with countless miles of off-road nastiness.Allow me to put this right up onto the table: durability is not a concern with this machine. Sure, many naysayers will claim that the Kawasaki doesn’t have more than one season in it, but we’ve buried that notion with our own bare hands. Dirt Rider’s 2007 Kawasaki KLX450R-bless its little soul-made it through our Long Haul testing gauntlet with impressive results. We raced, rode and even drug this bike through some of the worst conditions this side of the Divide, and it hung tight the entire time. If your beef with the KLX is in durability, get your facts straight: this puppy can run the great race and still have a lot left to give.On to the specifics: the motor on this machine is, for lack of a better word, righteous. The powerband is smooth and strong, the gearing is a perfect match for the engine’s character and the low burst of torque is insanely rideable for most trail and off-road applications. Whether you’re cruising along on a flowing trail or trying to bang up a sand hill, the Kawasaki sure knows how to get the power to the ground. Yes, in stock form the KLX is a bit “corked”, but that’s why we put a Two Brothers exhaust on it. By opening up the power a little (without sacrificing too much on sound, mind you), we were able to achieve a freer, higher revving motor attitude that still retained the good, usable torque found with the stock pipe. While we certainly don’t condone putting a megaphone on this well-muffled beast, an exploration into different mufflers can definitely give the bike more life on the trail; keep the sound down while you do. Our Leo Vince sure did. As far as complaints, the biggest drawback to the motor is its hard-starting, cold-blooded personality and somewhat wheezy off-idle throttle response. This isn’t the most crisply jetted bike in the class, but the power still does a fine job of oozing out the rear wheel. And the charging system is a little on the weak side and we did have to keep an eye on the battery if the bike sat for a few weeks.Our test riders were varied in their opinions of the Kawasaki’s handling, but one thing that all agreed upon was that the suspension on the KLX is inherently soft. While the machine can tackle most off-road applications with solid compliance, anything beyond a normal trail ride will be a bit much for the Kawasaki. In order to give the bike more legs in high-speed scenarios, we turned to Race Tech for a little tuning and tweaking, which ended up giving the KLX better bottoming resistance and a little firmer feel higher up in the stroke. This allowed the bike to better react to hard/ fast hits and thus was more adaptable off-road. Cornering-wise, the Kawasaki has some odd traits. While the bike in stock form can handle most turns with a certain level of stability, the front end has a nasty habit of tucking in when the bike is leaned over too far. This leads the rider to feel that the KLX is too top-heavy and is a sure path to getting worn out in a hurry. To combat this, we added a Scotts steering damper and found that this was a huge help in getting the bike to be more reliable and less “knifey” in the turns.The ergonomics of the Kawasaki are sound, although bigger riders noted that the cockpit feels cramped when ridden back to back with a bike like the BMW. The stock headlight is weak-it shines more to the sides than it does forward-but will certainly get you home after a long trail ride. One mod that we found of interest to this bike was a Rekluse auto-clutch, which enhanced the trail ability of the already strong bike. While this mod wasn’t for everyone, it allowed the motor to be more easily ridden in tighter trails and rocky sections, and it certainly jived well with the stock gearing. However, the down-low jetting was a problem at higher elevations, making the bike easier to stall in some situations.All in all, the Kawasaki is a strong stock machine, and we feel that our mods only enhanced the versatility and ease of use of this bike. Way better for going fast on now, even better as a trail bike. Is this the machine for you? Depending on what you’re looking for, it very well could be: great power, workable suspension and proven durability are all benefits that we’d verify any day. The Kawasaki KLX450R may not yet be the perfect stock off-road bike, but any way you look at it, this bike is definitely on the right track. Especially if you like hitting the trail.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the KLX450, and it is definitely a good trail bike. I like it best when conditions are pretty technical, and the ride is more about getting through than about how fast I can go. I like the quiet exhaust, and the power worked well in any trail conditions. I actually don’t mind the stock suspension and pipe, but the Race Tech mods and the Leo Vince exhaust certainly sparked things up a notch on our bike. Usually I am not a fan of an auto-clutch, but the Rekluse fit the personality of this bike very well. In fact, I can’t really fault the performance of the KLX. The problem is, the bike doesn’t fit me, and I don’t think it is the best choice for any tall rider. The riding position is pretty open when standing, but a little scrunched seated, and the transition from seated to standing is working for me.” -Karel Kramer/ 6’1″/225 lb. / B rider“Ahh… Lighter, narrower, nimbler. As I chased Mark Finley (aboard the WR) on Trail’s # 2 & 3, it quickly became apparent that the Japanese machines were at the head of the class for us, as we likened the 2009 breed to their MX counterparts. The engine and chassis felt the same as the MX machines that we bounce off rocks, trees and berms in Northern California on, though the softer suspension, steering dampener and 18inch rear helped with the overall ride ability in the trails. The Kawi was fitted with a clutch assist too, which I had never used though fell in love with by the second corner. The engine was milder then the previous Berg that I’d just ridden, though the bike felt more balanced and wanted to turn much faster in tighter corners. Again I’d have to fit heaver springs and a taller bar to tailor for my spec’s, though being the last bike that I rode, I’d definitely progressed up a class as I moved from the BMW, to the Husaberg and now on to the Kawi.” -Brett Nicholas/ 6’7″/ 240lbs/ Intermediate“The Kawasaki 450 with Rekluse Pro felt alright to me. The major default for this bike to me was the jetting with the Rekluse Pro Installed. The Kawi’s handled great with plenty of power for both Moto and Woods riding. The Kawi turned and cornered great and the electric start was nice! During Moto riding the suspension soaked up most jumps and whoops without hitting the stoppers. Most impressive thing about the Kawi was the overall feel on both Moto and Off-road; I feel this bike does both really well. Like I said before the Recluse Pro feels great and is nice but the bike needs to be jetted spot on to use it this one was not the bike stalled on me four times in the enduro test using the Recluse as intended. After the forth stall I went into over-ride mode using the clutch in corners and from there out had no problems. Would I own or race a Kawasaki 450? I would say yes. I feel that Kawi have proved themselves in the Off-road scene, the motors and bike is overall durable but I would have to ensure that bike is jetted perfect for the Rekluse Pro.” – Jeff O’Leary/ 6ft 1in/ 172lb/ Regional / National Pro AAI can nit-pick this bike apart but when it comes right down to it I really like riding the KLX. I don’t have any of the turning issues a lot of our riders spoke of other than the bike can feel heavier when you get off of one of the lighter bikes. The Rekluse made the bike a trail tractor and brainless to ride in the most technical stuff. Adding the pipe perked up the power without making it too loud, now it sounds like a motorcycle. The only thing I’d do to this bike is add an adjustable leak jet and fuel screw and just ride it.And when I ride it I can go as fast as on any other bike and what I really notice is how much faster my novice friends rode this bike. They just seemed to get along with it and were not put off by anything on the bike, where on a few of the other bikes they were notably slower, for sure they got more tired. And if there is another area the KLX stands out is in that I feel it has a great seat that you can sit down on!-Jimmy Lewis 5’10″/185 lb./A rider