Fixing The 2011 Kawasaki KX450F - Dirt Rider Magazine

At Dirt Rider, it seems the more you dislike a bike, the more you get to ride it. This isn't a punishment, it's a reward. Because that dislike can turn to joy in a few different ways. For me and the KX450F, and this is true of most bikes, it is largely a matter of getting really comfortable with the machine and used to it, more than making outright changes. Compared to my favorite 450s, the Kawi feels heavier overall with a light front end or steering feel, its power delivery is a little aggressive in spots, and the suspension is just a little too plush. So I rode it a few times and grew used to all of that and pinpointed what I really wanted to do to the machine.Engine

Let's be frank-or Jimmy, if you will. A 450cc monster is more than we all need, but it sure is fun to have. The KX-F puts an exclamation point on that, but it is also louder than all the other bikes on the track. FMF has an answer in the new Factory 4.1 RCT muffler with the popular Megabomb header. This setup drops the sound and actually picks up the power on the bottom. I know I said it didn't need more, but with this smoothing out of the initial throttle opening I could ride a gear higher in a lot of places. It also seems to let the top work longer meaning overall less shifting. That gear-higher stuff will take a toll on the already taxed clutch, and I've had good luck with Barnett's Dirt Digger clutch kits in the past, so that may be next on the motor's feeding program.Handling And Suspension

There isn't much I could do to the bike to reasonably drop the weight by a noticeable amount within a non-factory rider budget, but not riding the Honda or Yamaha 450s and riding my Honda XR650 more helped me forget that I thought the KX-F was heavy. I got used to the Kawasaki, and now it is just fine. But I wanted to dial away the steering "lightness" without changing the brilliant way the bike turns. The answer was one that I've resisted on motocross bikes, but now I feel silly for being like that. I put a Scotts steering stabilizer on the KX-F, and it was just what the magazine guy ordered.The submount (below the bar) system combined with RM Low ProTaper bar (and ProTaper half-waffle medium-compound grips) complemented the riding position and gave some additional flex for my wrists, too. I tuned the stabilizer to have high-speed kick to stop any unwanted headshake feeling, then dialed in the low speed of the stabilizer for just the slightest amount of resistance so it worked; I just wasn't feeling it working. This let me ride lighter on the bar and allowed me to run a slightly stiffer fork setting and still be comfortable. So I could almost let go of the bar and float around the track. OK, not really, but pretty darn close!Miscellaneous Mods

As you can see, the changes have been minimal. I tried a few other things that screwed the bike up, but no need to dive into failures. Some other bits were absolutely essential like the graphics. I have an image to uphold, and when I was showing up to the track with my post-shootout tattered and scratched KX-F, I was just reaffirming what everyone thinks of me: "Dirtbag!" RidePG and Acerbis gave the 450 a visual transformation with good-looking graphics that stick and stay put, plus the black fenders seem to give the bike a meaner look, like its rider. The Gripz material the stickers are produced from make it easier for me to stay connected to the bike when I give it too much throttle. And putting the power to the ground is one of the most important games with the Kawasaki 450. It is one of the most sensitive bikes I have ever ridden in relation to the type and condition of the tires. Want to score here? Try the Pirelli Scorpion Mid-Soft tires for anything loose, and then switch the front to the Mid-Hard if the conditions are that way. They not only get better traction, the handling improves, too. Of course, anyone with any time on a KX-F knows it is only a matter of minutes before the chain guide is shot, so T.M. Designworks to the rescue with a holeshot to protecting and keeping the drive system (and the rear brake rotor) in line and out of harm's way.

Learned

So what did we learn from this experiment? Well for starters, the bikes are all so good these days as a starting platform, the biggest thing you can do to any of them is get used to what they have to offer before you do anything else. Second is to target and identify the specific things that might make a bike better for you. Don't be surprised if the things you originally thought might be issues change shortly after you spend some time on the bike, or even after you try something out (I got accustomed to the KX-F's power more than I changed it, really). Then keep that ride in good shape, because proper maintenance is the first step in high performance. My Kawasaki needs a chain and sprocket now, as a matter of fact.And every year I learn that I can be just as happy with my least-favorite choice as my first pick; it just takes a few days for the world to flip upside-down and then everything changes. As I get used to what a bike is doing and as the comfort comes, so does the appreciation for the characteristics that make a bike stand out. Which on any bike, even my favorite, can be tuned for me individually. Or just plain customized off the chart so my bike is way cooler than it should ever be!Parts List

Acerbis Plastic: www.acerbis.com

Front fender; $24.95

Rear fender; $24.95

FMF Racing: www.fmfracing.com

Factory 4.1 RCT muffler: $374.99

Megabomb header: $274.99

Evo handlebar: $89.99

MX RC Limited Edition grips: $7.99

Scorpion XC tires: See your dealer

Powersport Grafx: www.ridepg.com

Custom Gripz Grafx: $273.95

T.M. Designworks: www.tmdesignworks.com

Baja Rally Slide-N-Guide kit: $169.95

Rear brake caliper guard: $42.95

Indestructible rear disc guard: $79.95

Scotts Performance: www.scottsperformance.com

Steering stabilizer and mount kit: $519.95

Drive Systems USA: www.drivesystemsusa.com

AFAM 52T rear sprocket: $67.95

D.I.D ERT 520 chain: $136.80