2012 Kawasaki KX450F - First Impression - Dirt Rider Magazine

Kawasaki is the first to pull the trigger in regard to 2012 450 motocrossers. Yes, the KX450F is all-new in a sense, yet also kind of refined, tweaked and a bit skinnier with updated bodywork and some interesting new gizmos. The green ride also offers a slew of ergonomic as well as performance-tuning options standard, making the bike adjustable for a wide range of riders right from the box. We were among a few lucky dogs to get the chance to ride the 2012 at the famed Red Bud track in Buchanan, Michigan, home of the infamous LaRocco's leap. No, I did not huck the gargantuan gap, no bike is that adjustable.The list of changes on the 2012 KX is long, yet the bike still has that KX feel many are very fond of. In fact, the 2011 KX450F won Dirt Rider Magazine's shootout this year. First off, the frame is 4mm narrower and the flex points have been refined. The steering head area has a little more give while the center of the bike is a tad more rigid. In our mind, one of the most attractive elements of the new machine is how adjustable the 2012 truly is. It can easily be altered to fit standard-size riders and tall or short riders via the four-way-adjustable bar mounts, the ability to lower the footpegs 5mm and an optional lowering link (sold separately) that drops the rear end 6mm. Then on the performance side, Kawasaki now has three ignition/fuel maps preprogrammed into the ECU, or what it calls DFI or Digital Fuel Injection. These three maps can easily be switched between the standard setting (good overall with a nice hit in the mid), a mellowed-out power curve (more bottom, less hit) or a full performance setting (longer pull in each gear and lots of top-end). To change the setting, simply swap out a wire harness coupler cap to one of the two supplied units. And if you wish to make further changes, it's still possible to further alter the performance traits with optional tuning software, which we found very helpful, even with the 2012's potent standard settings.Another industry first is the electronic Launch Control. The concept is fairly simple yet innovative. You push a button located on the handlebar for three seconds in neutral, first, or second gear until a red light begins to flash. From there, the system activates a separate timing and fuel setting for maximum traction during starts. When the rider shifts to third gear, the Launch Control deactivates and diverts back to the standard ignition/fuel settings.The basic engine remains largely the same, yet internal components have been updated for durability and performance. The cam has a slight increase in lift, and the piston has been refined including a thinner ring. Inside the guts of the beast, the tranny has been beefed up as well as the shift fork length tweaked for better and smoother shifting.The 2012 also received a nice face-lift with new bodywork, fuel tank and a shorter muffler, which Kawasaki says helps mass centralization. The 2012 chassis has a slimmer feel and doesn't feel as big on the track, yet it still has that KX stability and a heavier-than-most feel. The muffler is claimed to meet the new 2012 AMA/FIM sound regulations. At speed the sound of the bike still has a meaty rasp. We will have to break out our sound measuring tools at a later date.The suspension complements the chassis with slight valving changes. Both our 165-pound intermediate and our 220-pounder were able to tune the fork and shock to their liking with subtle changes, going between two to five clicks stiffer on compression front and rear and one to two in or out on rebound front and rear depending on conditions.

The power on the 2012 KX is full of spunk and able to be tuned to the liking of the rider via three ECU harness couplers, or additionally altered using optional Kawasaki software.

Just like the last few years, the engine on the 2012 is a powerhouse. The stock delivery is very similar to the 2011, yet we felt it had more hit. But the novelty is how different the power delivery is between the three map/fuel settings. The stock setting is a midrange monster that many will love the first time they get a chance to twist the throttle. The mellow coupler gives the bike a smoother bottom and a more ridable transition into the midrange. The off-idle bottom in corners was actually easier to ride, yet a little flat through the upper mid and top. The third coupler links up the hot-rod map. This setting really wakes up the top-end, and each gear pulls way further than stock. This was our favorite.However, after testing all three settings we kind of liked traits in each map. If I owned a 2012 and one of the three provided settings weren't exactly what I was looking for, my first purchase would have to be the Calibration Kit software. This is an amazing tool--almost like having your own personal exhaust shop at your fingertips. The electronic Launch Control is a pretty nifty device, and we did over a dozen starts to test the new unit. The changes are again subtle, but on second-gear starts there is less wheelspin when dropping the clutch, and there is way less clutching needed to keep the front end from lifting when the rear starts to really dig in.If we had to nitpick the 2012 KX, we have only a few items. First, the paint on the clutch cover starts to wear off before the first tank of fuel is burned. Second, since there are three preprogrammed maps in the ECU, why not just put a three-position switch instead of different wiring couplers that can easily be misplaced or lost? The aftermarket will surely fix this. The only chassis issues we had, which could have been track related, were the front end had a light push entering corners and didn't seem to bite in certain conditions. Suspension settings and lowering the fork 5mm helped but didn't completely take away the sensation. We will have to do more testing once the bike gets back to California.At the end of the two-day venture to Red Bud, we were really impressed with the new 2012 KX450F. The changes make the KX a better motorcycle in our opinion. The chassis is slimmer, has a new look and feels smaller. The power is amazing and very adjustable, and the suspension caters to a fairly wide variety of riders' weights and abilities. These days it is hard to find a bad 450 motocrosser, yet thus far, the 2012 Kawasaki raises the bar, especially when talking about its vast adjustability to both chassis and performance as well as new innovative additions such as adjustable peg position and electronic Launch Control.

Specifications: 2012 Kawasaki KX450F
MSRP: $8,399
Claimed weight (tank full): 249 lb
Seat height: 37.6 in.
Ground clearance: 13.0 in.
The power on the 2012 KX is full of spunk and able to be tuned to the liking of the rider via three ECU harness couplers, or additionally altered using optional Kawasaki software.