2008 Kawasaki KLX450R - Dirt Rider Magazine

With this week's introduction of the new KLX450R off-road bike, Kawasaki officially closes the door on the 450cc, off-road ready, high-performance four stroke class. And we couldn't be happier. We love new motorcycles as much as you, but to finally have all the major manufactures competing for this class really put us in a happy place. Here's Dirt Rider's official first impression of Kawasaki's newest trail weapon.

The KLX450R introduction was held just southeast of Wickenburg Arizona and, going with the desert-themed press event, featured a camping atmosphere complete with the bright stars you'd expect while away from the city life. Like, for instance, the highest concentration of AMA championships, ISDE medals and Baja victories since our annual Dirt Rider 24 hour. Kawasaki-backed riders Destry Abbot, Nathan Woods, Ricky Dietrich, Jeff Fredette and Larry Roeseler were all on hand to help introduce us to the new bike and to ensure our riding egos stayed in check.Even with the celebrities on hand, it was hard to keep my mind and eyes off the new green bike. So, I learned as much as I could while throwing my gear on and this is what I came away with. The KLX450R is really close to its KXF450(R?) brother. And it's really different. The biggest visual differences between the new off-road bike and the current motocrosser are a bigger tank (2.1 gallons), a headlight, a taillight, different side panels, a quick-access air box door, a very quiet muffler (yes!), a long, drop-style header pipe, a new ignition-side cover and clutch cable routing and a big beautiful electric motor attached to a magical little button which makes the bike go "vroom" without a single kick. Oh, and it has an 18" wheel and a side stand. That's about it. And it has a simple computer too. That, I swear, is everything.But, on the inside is the difference that really counts to the minds of American off-roaders. Is this just a KXF with off-road attachments? Or, did Kawi build a real off-road bike with a capable motor, tranny and everything in between? Well, they sure didn't leave it in moto trim, that's for sure. For starters, the bike's cylinder head has a revised cam for better bottom end power and torque and 1mm smaller exhaust valves (from 41 to 40mm). Also, the exhaust valves are steel now instead of Titanium to increase durability. The intake still features the Titanium units. In between the head and the transmission, everything is the same as the moto version but the gear ratios on the KLX are drastically different as is the clutch actuation and ignition. First gear on the KLX is a bit lower, then second, third, fourth and fifth get taller and taller all the way through. The ignition sports a beefier setup for running the electronics with double the amount of flywheel mass on the crank. The bike also has softer springs and different suspension settings. Hello off-road!So, I cranked the beast up and hit the loop. Kawasaki and its fleet of all-star off roaders set up a couple trail sections for us. One was a quickie and one was about right for us: 24 miles of single track! I hit the long loop right away and while shooting photos I got used to the new type of green 450 power.The first thing you'll notice is the noise. It's pretty loud but for a chain rolling around it's not too bad. Also, I heard the side stand bounce around after some jump landings but that's about it. I didn't really hear the exhaust note, because it's almost non existent and that's the best thing I've heard all year. Don't let the quiet nature fool you though, the bike still makes gobs of power and it has a direct link to its motocross pal. This, it will remind you if you crack the throttle open.Riding the bike was a real treat. I didn't know what to expect but I have to say I'm more than surprised.The transmission is geared to the moon and top speed has to be over 100 mph. I couldn't find a road long enough to hit the rev limiter in fifth. I thought this was going to be a problem in the tight stuff, but, since it makes a million horsepower the bike will hardly stall, even if you try. I cruised in third gear, silently, and could pull out of some deep, soft corners with a little clutch. This is going to be a fun bike to learn about in the next few days.The suspension wasn't bad either. It has a lighter spring rate with a bit less compression and a bit more rebound dampening than the KXF and it works well at everything up to race pace. If you were going to push it, you'd want to stiffen her up.My quick trip around the desert (and it's billions of fear-inducing cacti) with the new Kawasaki KLX450R couldn't have been better. Especially since I got to do it with some of the world's off-road heroes. I even went on a night ride with Nathan Woods and his freshly healed hand. Well, not exactly "with" him. He was a bit in front of me...like a mile or two.This bike is being thrown into our intense testing fleet right now as Karel Kramer is taking it on a couple hundred miles in Nevada right now!Stay tuned to the pages of Dirt Rider for one of the coolest first tests we've ever done.