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Hybrid moto/off-road machines are more common as the years roll by and sometimes, just sometimes, these hybrid machines are better than the Moto machines that the manufacturers are selling. A little softer, more forgiving and they even come with a kickstand! The 2023 KX450X hasn’t gone under any dramatic changes since its inception but with the new 2024 version coming out here shortly we thought why not give you an overview of we thought of Kawasaki’s hybrid moto/cross country model.
The changes from the KX450 to this KX450X model are minimal however. The usual 18 inch rear wheel, kickstand, a minimalist skid plate/rear disc guard and softer suspension settings make up most of the changes on the X model. Additionally, a smaller 240mm rear brake rotor (vs the 250mm rotor on the moto bike), a 51T rear sprocket versus a 50T rear on the moto model and Dunlop AT-81 tires front and rear complete the list of differences from the moto KX450. We would have loved to see hand guards and more fuel capacity personally but for now we will review it as it comes.
The KX450X puts out a healthy amount of smooth pulling power from top to bottom. It’s very easy ride both on a motocross track and on our off-road loop from the house. The initial crack of the throttle is the one area we can struggle with at times with this engine just like the standard KX450. It’s very responsive and can be a bit jerky and tough to manage in slow speed situations, especially on a tight/techy trail. With all three couplers, we never could really get it to go away entirely without a remap of the ECU or an exhaust system, but the black (mellow) coupler was the best feeling here. Once you get past the initial crack of the throttle and the crisp throttle response, the engine pulls smooth and hard from the bottom through the top. With the black (richer) coupler that comes stock, you lose some mid range but get a little more top end pull. However, switching to the green (MX standard) and white (lean) couplers brings the KX engine more excitement down low which is nice is soft conditions but doesn’t help that jerky feel. This motor doesn’t have rip your arms off pulling power, but it puts the power to the ground effectively and feels connected to the rear wheel. We do wish that the transmission spacing was a little different for this model but we know that costs money and sometimes that isn’t cost effective for a manufacturer. Being it’s a 450, it has the power taller gears but even with a 51T on the KX450X it still doesn’t like third gear lugging in tight areas of trails or even corners on the moto track. If you’re a west coast type of hybrid rider first gear isn’t low enough in tight areas and fifth gear isn’t enough at some GP style tracks. We stuck with the stock gearing but we would gear it near a 48/49 tooth for faster GPs and stick with the stock gearing on tighter trails. This KX450X can stall if you don’t cover the clutch on lower RPM situations, with that lighter flywheel feeling, but it wasn’t enough that I didn’t feel like it was a huge issue. The Kawasaki crew has a good map developed, just like the one we use on our KX450 so try the Cha Map using the KX FI Calibration Tool. *You can find the CHA map on our site*
This suspension is soft. As with most off-road bikes, it has more comfort in small bumps as well as rocks. If that’s the type of riding you do and you’re 160-180 this might be great right out of the box. The softer springs/valving help keep the bike stuck to the ground on small imperfections as well as square edge and drive through the small stuff whereas a stiffer bike will be deflecting all over hell. However, as speeds and/or rider weight increased, the need to go stiffer becomes apparent to the rider.
In stock trim, the SHOWA 49mm coil spring fork has a bit of harshness on faster terrain due to being a little low in the stroke. Going to stiffer springs will help combat this, but overall the valving is just on the soft side for faster conditions. In tighter terrain, the front end offers good traction/comfort and stays planted, tracking through rocks and small bumps. The Showa shock is again on the softer side, but not quite as soft as the fork. In big braking bumps or deep whoops, the shock has a tendency to bottom so going stiffer on high speed compression helps. Don’t be scared to go as much as 1/2-3/4 of a turn in. I ran 104-106mm of sag and the fork height at 3mm for a blend of stability/comfort/cornering.
The Kawasaki’s best feature may be its handling. The chassis is stable and predictable, soaks up bumps better than any other machine. The rider triangle is one of the best as well. Pair that with the range of adjustments you can make with moving the bar mounts and footpeg mounts and this bike can truly be set up for a rider of any size. I preferred the stock setup, especially with the bar mounts in their current position, but taller riders do appreciate being able to open up the cockpit by lowering the pegs and moving the bars forward.
The KX450X is one of the most stable and comforting chassis’ in its class and is a do-it-all machine here. Despite this bike leaning more towards stability than cornering, I still experienced some twitchiness in the front end at speed. To help this, dropping the forks anywhere from flush to 3mm in the clamps and run 104-106mm of sag helps. This improves the head shake issue as well as helped upon corner entrance where I felt the front end pushing quite a bit. Once into a turn, the KX still feels rear end biased but alluring your weight a little more too the front of the machine helps with the KX450X or any KX for that matter.
In general, the KX is a longer feeling chassis than others as sometimes I feel like I am towing a trailer, but again that’s not a bad thing, it just takes me some time to get used to. What it may give up in cornering performance/precision, it gains in stability and comfort. This chassis is one of the best for hitting square edges, high speed chop, whoops, etc. and not transferring that feedback straight to the rider’s bars. It has a nice sense of tire contact feeling when the track goes to crap. Track/course toughness is the KX450X’s strong suit. You can take this machine anywhere and it will feel the same. You will not get any sudden “bad spots” when riding the KX450X.
The brakes on the KX450X bike work decent. The clutch/front brake lever shape is not liked by anyone that has normal size hands so switching to an aftermarket levers that are thicker will be best. The rear disc on the X model is 240mm, which is much better than the moto 250mm rear disc. The “X” rear disc is less grabby and doesn’t squeak as bad.
Overall, I love the fact that the 2023 KX450X is comfortable and easy to ride but I wish it just a had a little more off-road essentials. I have grown to like the 18 inch rear wheel at Glen Helen because of the extra squish feel of the Dunlop AT81 on square edge but it would be nice to have a spark arrestor muffler and a little more fuel to go on longer rides away from the moto track. So who is this bike for? I think this bike is for a less aggressive type of rider that wants to not only hit the local motocross track but hit a GP or a JDAY off road race in the same week. If you’re more on the aggressive side, the KX450 would be a better base to start from