2020 Kawasaki KLX300R First Ride Review

First test of Kawasaki’s all-new 300 four-stroke off-road motorcycle.

Kawasaki KLX300R in Jacksonville, Oregon
Riding the 2020 Kawasaki KLX300R in Jacksonville, Oregon.Kevin Wing

Kawasaki introduced three new off-road and dual sport motorcycles to its KLX lineup for 2020, one of which is the KLX300R—the largest-displacement model of the trio. Kawasaki's concept for the KLX300R was to bridge the gap between a playbike and racebike with usage being 90 percent trail riding with friends and family, and 10 percent local enduro competition.

According to Kawasaki, the target customers for the KLX300R include new riders who want to step up from a 230cc or 250cc four-stroke trailbike, motivated to do so by skills and/or physical size. Also, experienced riders who are not in the market for a full cross-country or motocross racebike, rather seeking an affordable off-road motorcycle to ride with friends and family that is much easier to ride and a lot less expensive to maintain than a used 250 four-stroke motocross bike, which comes in around the same price point as a new KLX300R at $5,499.

Kawasaki invited us to Jacksonville, Oregon, to test its new 300 four-stroke off-road bike. We rode the green-sticker-legal motorcycle on the plethora of trails at the Lily Prairie Staging Area—which consisted mostly of single-track and two-track—and came away pleased with its overall capability.

KLX300R right side
Kawasaki has two different target customers for the KLX300R, one of which is new riders who want to step up from a 230cc or 250cc four-stroke trailbike, motivated to do so either by skills and/or physical size.Kevin Wing

20 Kawasaki KLX300R Engine

The KLX300R fires to life quickly and consistently with its electric starter. The engine offers a smooth, predictable power delivery with an impressive amount of torque that enables it to easily climb hills without the need to slip the clutch, which has a light and consistent pull. The Keihin 34mm throttle body helps provide crisp throttle response with no hiccups whatsoever, even when twisting the throttle quickly. Engine-braking on descents is average and helps control downhill speed.

The first three gears in the six-speed transmission are very distinct. First gear is quite low and best utilized in slow-going, technical terrain. Second gear is versatile, and is ideal for average-speed single-track and two-track trails. Third gear is a noticeable jump up from second gear, and works perfectly for more wide open, faster-paced trails.

Being that the location of the intro was all trails with the exception of a fire road with lots of switchbacks, we didn’t get the bike out of fourth gear, so we can’t attest to its fifth- and sixth-gear capability from our first ride on it, but we can safely say the bike goes plenty fast in fourth gear for most of the riders who will be purchasing it.

Kawasaki KLX left side
The other target customer for the KLX300R are experienced riders who are not in the market for a full cross-country or motocross racebike, rather seeking an affordable off-road motorcycle to ride with friends and family that is much easier to ride, and a lot less expensive to maintain than a used 250 four-stroke motocross bike.Kevin Wing

2020 Kawasaki KLX300R Suspension

With a KYB 43mm coil-spring fork adjustable for compression damping and a KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, compression damping, and rebound damping, both of which offer 11.2 inches of travel, the KLX300R has very capable suspension components underneath it for everything from beginner to more advanced-level trail riding. The base settings are excellent and the bike is balanced from front to rear. Small bump absorption is very good while still offering plenty of hold-up on hard impacts, even when jumping to flat. With these qualities, the KLX300R’s suspension will suit a wide range of rider weights and skill levels, and there’s room for adjustment on both ends for those who want to do some fine-tuning.

KLX300R climbing
The KLX300R offers smooth, predictable power delivery with an impressive amount of torque that enables it to easily climb hills without the need to slip the clutch.Kevin Wing

2020 Kawasaki KLX300R Chassis/Handling

Matched to its easy to ride engine and balanced suspension is a neutral-handling chassis that is plenty capable of tackling challenging single-track and two-track trails. The bike responds well to rider input, especially footpeg pressure, which makes it easy to maneuver in switchbacks and when making sudden direction changes. The chassis stays composed at speed as well, even when hitting minor square-edge acceleration and braking bumps. Sharing similar styling to the KX motocross bikes, the KLX300R boasts narrow radiator shrouds and a slim midsection, making it easy to maneuver forward and back on.

KLX300R’s KYB suspension in action
The KLX300R’s KYB suspension components offer very good small-bump absorption while still having plenty of hold-up on hard impacts, even when jumping to flat.Kevin Wing

If there is one very minor criticism we have for the bike, it would be the fuel tank and seat. Being that it’s a trailbike, the ability to sit as far forward as possible is not nearly as critical as it is on a competition-based off-road motorcycle such as a motocross bike, but if Kawasaki were able to lower the height of the gas tank, it would enable the very front part of the seat to be flatter like it is on the KLX230R, which would create less of a dip, or pocket, and make it easier to sit slightly farther forward on. Placing the fuel tank lower in the frame may also lower the center of gravity and improve on the KLX300R’s already-good handling characteristics. The handlebar also feels slightly high in relation to the seat height, but this sensation can be reduced by rolling it back. Also, like the KX full-size motocrossers, the KLX300R features Kawasaki’s Ergo-Fit adjustable handlebar positions with four settings (+25mm, +15mm, standard, and -10mm) to tailor the riding position to further suit the rider’s height and preference.

The KLX300R uses the same size front disc brake as the KX450 and KX250 with a 270mm rotor, along with a 240mm disc at the rear, both of which offer plenty of predictable stopping power. Dunlop Geomax MX52 intermediate-to-hard terrain tires come standard and worked well in the dry, fairly hard-packed conditions we tested in. When it comes time for a KLX300R owner to replace the stock tires, Dunlop recently released its new Geomax MX53 tire, which is replacing the MX52 once the supply of them are depleted. With that being said, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the MX53 come standard on the 2021 or 2022 KLX300R.

KLX300R wheelie
Responding quickly to rider input yet maintaining good predictability, the KLX300R offers a very neutral-handling package.Kevin Wing

Overall Impression

Kawasaki did a great job with its new KLX300R. Its powerful yet easy-to-ride engine, progressive suspension, and neutral handling characteristics make it a great choice for those who aren’t looking to race motocross or off-road, and want a bike they can enjoy riding without the high price tag and more frequent costly maintenance. Plus, it’s green sticker legal and comes stock with a United States Forest Service (USFS) approved spark arrestor, so you can ride this bike year-round in California and lots of designated OHV areas around the country, and have a great time doing so.

KLX300R on trail
For an off-road rider who isn’t looking to race and wants to enjoy riding trails or in the desert with their friends and family, the KLX300R is an excellent option.Kevin Wing

Gearbox

TECH SPEC

PRICE $5,499
ENGINE 292cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER N/A
MEASURED TORQUE N/A
FRAME Steel perimeter
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 43mm coil-spring fork adjustable for compression damping; 11.2-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, compression damping, and rebound damping; 11.2-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin 2-piston caliper, 270mm disc
REAR BRAKE Nissin 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc
WHEELBASE 56.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 36.4 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 2.1 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 282 lb., 287 lb. (CA model)
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT kawasaki.com