2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike Review

Testing the bike that Roeseler, Davis, and Walch raced at the Mint 400.

What if you had the chance to go back in time and replay a game or race from when you were just a teenager? After a 43-year hiatus, motorcycles returned to the Mint 400, and Larry Roeseler was not going to pass up an opportunity for redemption after narrowly missing the victory back in 1976. He figured this was his chance to bring home the win, and set out to assemble a team that was up to the task.

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike riding on dirt trail.
Kawasaki lent us the 2019 Kawasaki KX450 that Larry Roeseler, Kellon Walch, and Ty Davis used to win the Over 30 Pro class at the Mint 400 back in early March. The trio also finished an impressive seventh out of the 160 teams who entered.Mark Kariya
2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike in front of mountain.
Kawasaki technician Mike Chavez built the bike in-house, and Bret Leef helped fine-tune the suspension for the three riders.Mark Kariya

Matt Martelli from the Mint 400 informed Kawasaki that motorcycles were returning to the race, and they decided they wanted to enter a bike. When throwing out names for a potential entry, Bret Leef mentioned that Roeseler and Kellon Walch were looking to race. Kawasaki contacted them and the team decided that Ty Davis would be the perfect third rider.

Fast-forward through weeks of riding, testing, and dialing in the setup for the trio of desert experts, and the team had a race-winning machine on their hands—literally. More than four decades after victory eluded him, Roeseler was able to take the top step of the Mint 400 podium alongside Walch and Davis. In fact, the team rode such a dominating race that they not only topped the Over 30 Pro division, but crossed the line seventh out of the 160 teams who entered.

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike left side posed in sand.
Before we rode Mint 400 racebike, we weighed it on our automotive scales. It came in at 268 pounds—22 pounds heavier than the stock bike, which weighed in at 246 pounds.Mark Kariya

Once the race was over, Kawasaki had a trick KX450 on its hands and asked Dirt Rider if we would be interested in testing the race-winning bike. It's no secret the Dirt Rider test team already liked the KX450 being that it won our 450 Motocross Shootout back in October, so of course we jumped at the opportunity.

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike doing wheelie in the desert.
We didn’t anticipate the Mint 400 racebike would feel vastly different than our standard KX450 motocross bike, but that was not the case.Mark Kariya

To get the KX450 motocross bike ready for the desert race, it required some modifications and parts swapping. The parts list included:

Acerbis

BRP

Dunlop Tires

GPR Stabilizer

IMS Products

Pro Circuit

Regina Chain

Renthal

  • renthal.com
  • Front sprocket, 14-tooth
  • Rear sprocket, 48-tooth
  • 999 handlebar

Throttle Syndicate

Zip-Ty Racing

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike sliding in sand.
With 14/48 gearing, you might think the bike would be slightly sluggish, but it was anything but that.Mark Kariya

Throughout the testing sessions leading up to the Mint 400, the Kawasaki team worked with the riders to dial in everything from the suspension to engine characteristics. We were informed they went through a few different valve changes on the fork to reach a good balance that would best suit the three riders. We were surprised to hear they left the shock completely stock, but that seemed to be a good base setting for the three of them.

The EFI received some minor adjustments to match the Pro Circuit T-6 exhaust system, and 12 percent stiffer clutch springs were installed to handle the added load of the taller final drive gearing. Otherwise, the engine remained stock. We also noticed they went with a smaller rear brake rotor—down 10mm to a 240mm disc—to make the rear brake a little less sensitive.

We admittedly didn’t really expect this bike to feel significantly different than our motocross testbike, but we were pleasantly surprised.

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike jumping on sand in desert.
The fork on the Mint 400 racebike offered more control and hold-up than the stock bike, and without any harshness.Mark Kariya

The fork was noticeably better than stock, offering more control and hold-up without any additional harsh feeling. Even though they didn’t make any internal changes to the shock, it felt very balanced with the fork settings, likely due in part to the neutral chassis setup the KX450 has. The lower-rise Renthal 999 handlebar paired well with the GPR steering stabilizer, making the bars feel as though they were still close to the stock position. Naturally, the IMS 2.5-gallon fuel tank was noticeable at first, but after about five minutes we got used to it.

You might think the bike would be a touch sluggish with the 14/48 gearing; however, it was anything but that. Our first day of testing took place in the desert where the traction was limited and there are no speed limits. The bike felt fast, but we had little to compare it against, so we elected to take it to Glen Helen Raceway to see how it would fair against our KX450 motocross bike. The Glen Helen venue not only hosts motocross events, but also several off-road races such as WORCS and SRA GP rounds, so we figured this would be a reasonable test location.

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike climbing up rocks in desert.
Additional torque and better traction were two improvements the Mint 400 racebike had over the stock machine.Mark Kariya

Jumping from one bike to another, we found the additional torque and traction offered by the Mint 400 bike was outstanding. It was tough to pinpoint exactly what was giving us this feeling, but it was enjoyable. The aforementioned gearing allowed us to ride primarily in second and third gear around what would be considered a higher-speed, flowing motocross track. The Kawasaki technicians said if they were racing this bike at a different event with longer high-speed sections and more distance between pit stops, the engine had enough power to pull even taller gearing.

With several rides aboard the traditional motocross setup and two fun-filled days with this desert weapon, we can confidently say the Kawasaki KX450 is one of the best 450s on the market with how incredibly versatile and easily refined it is. Our only wish is that Roeseler gives us a call when he starts putting together his team to defend his Mint 400 title in 2020.

2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike jumping in desert.
The Kawasaki KX450 won our 2019 450 MX Shootout, so it’s a great bike in stock form. Riding the Mint 400 racebike proved how versatile and easily refined Kawasaki’s flagship motocrosser is.Mark Kariya

Gearbox