kawasaki, kx450f
Chris Tedesco

4th Place of the 2018 450 MX Shootout: Kawasaki KX450F

Kawasaki defends fourth place shootout finish with no mechanical changes

The Kawasaki KX450F enters its third year of the current-generation machine and the only tweak the green bike received for 2018 was new radiator shroud graphics. The KX450F finished fourth in our 450 MX Shootout last year, and it repeated its result this year despite not receiving any mechanical changes.

The engine on the KX450F doesn’t feel like it makes as much power as the three front-runners or have as much excitement, but it makes power in a very predictable way that is user friendly and easy to get used to quickly. The bottom-end is the weakest part of the powerband, and a few test riders stated they would have liked to have a bit more pull on the bottom-end, especially in the morning when the track was deep and loamy. The midrange is where the KX450F shines as it comes on with authority but not so abruptly that it feels like it’s getting away from you. The top-end pulls hard as well, but the bike doesn’t have as much over-rev or overall power in these areas as the Honda, KTM, or Yamaha.

kawasaki, kx450f
"The Kawasaki is an easy-to-ride, all-around good bike." —Bryan McGavranChris Tedesco

The KX450F comes with three swappable ignition couplers: stock (green), mellow (black), and white (aggressive). The mellow, black coupler works well at the end of the day when the track is dry, hard-packed, and baked out. The white, aggressive coupler gives more of a lean, crisp power delivery with better throttle response and more overall power, but not so much that it feels uncontrollable. Meanwhile, the green, stock coupler fits right in the middle of the black and white options. While the couplers come in handy, having to stop and swap them out is a bit of an inconvenience in comparison to the on-the-fly mapping adjustments available on the Honda, KTM, and Husqvarna.

Two of the most common complaints from test riders about the engine was how loud it was and the lack of an electric starter. The KX450F engine emits a louder and raspier note than most other bikes. As far as the kickstarter, last year this would not have been nearly as big of a deal, but with four of the six bikes coming stock with electric start, the KX450F almost seems antiquated when you have to pull the lever out and kick it to life.

The suspension is perhaps the area where the green machine can be most improved. The Showa Separate Function Fork (SFF) Triple Air Chamber (TAC) fork is set up on the stiffer side, and most test riders felt it was harsh. Many commented it doesn’t have a very plush feel anywhere in the stroke, and one tester said he could feel the harsh feeling in his hands on small braking bumps and in the chop. The fork feels the harshest near the bottom of the stroke, which can be remedied to some extent with clicker adjustments, but the overall feel of the fork remains and clicker adjustments didn’t add any plushness or feelings of comfort; they just allowed the fork to move more in the stroke.

kawasaki, kx450f
"The Kawasaki KX450F has a strong engine and maybe the best ergonomics in the class." —Allan BrownChris Tedesco

The fork does have good bottoming resistance and accordingly handles the big impacts well and seems to work better the more aggressively you ride. The fork does not have as much of a connected feeling to the ground as a spring fork, but this can be Band-Aid-ed to a certain extent by softening the compression. The shock had a much plusher and more comfortable feeling than the fork and helped contribute to the chassis’ straight-line stability.

The chassis and ergonomics of the KX450F are best summed up as comfortable. The bike has a skinny feel from front to back beginning with the radiator shrouds and extending all the way back to the side panels. This makes the KX450F easier to put your leg forward when cornering and overall easier to move around on. The seat feels skinny as well, and the bar and levers have a neutral bend that most riders will like and adjust to quickly. The bike does feel a bit reluctant to lean into corners, but softening the front and rear ends helps tremendously in this area. On the other end of the spectrum, the KX450F has excellent straight-line stability. The clutch pull is on the stiffer side and the grips are some of the hardest stock units out there, but these were the only two areas that test riders mentioned they weren’t a fan of as far as the chassis and ergonomics on the KX.

kawasaki, kx450f
"The Kawasaki has a mellow powerband with a comfortable chassis feel." —Michael WickerChris Tedesco

Test riders liked the powerband of the KX450F engine but just wanted a little more bottom-end snap, over-rev, and overall power to get it closer to the engines of the three front-runners. The fork wasn’t the most user friendly and felt stiff for the most part with a lack of plushness in the entire stroke. Meanwhile, the shock was much plusher and easier to dial in. The chassis and ergonomics are very comfortable and easy to get used to shortly after getting on the bike. Kawasaki maintained its fourth-place finish in the shootout because it does most things good, but it doesn’t do anything particularly great.

kawasaki, kx450f
"The Kawasaki may be a tad dated with design, but that's not always a bad thing… Don't fix something that isn't broken." —Ricky YorksChris Tedesco
kawasaki, kx450f
"The Kawasaki feels neutral in a good way. It does nothing better than other bikes, but nothing worse either." —Steve BonifaceChris Tedesco

Likes

"The Kawasaki does everything good and nothing terrible." —BJ Burns

"The Kawasaki doesn't do anything great, but it also doesn't do anything bad." —Bryan McGavran

Dislikes

"The Showa Triple Air Chamber (TAC) fork on the Kawasaki KX450F has a harsher overall feeling than all of the others." —Andrew Oldar

"I still have to kick this thing? The Kawasaki seems old just because it doesn't have a button." —Sean Klinger