Ahhh, the twenty-nineteen Green-Machine. There is a lot to love about Kawasaki’s new 450 and after an initial 20 plus testing hours have been racked up, this quick-read breaks those loves down and also highlights what I look forward to improving moving forward. As we all know, the KX450 was ranked high during our shootouts (it almost won the damn thing) for the new year, and for good reason! This completely brand new bike harnesses a lot of great features that will keep it a front runner moving into the future.
First and foremost, the chassis. When you look at this 450 on the stand, the bike looks big. When you sit on the bike, it feels big (tall). If you weigh the bike, it still is “big” (3rd heaviest bike in class, weighing in at 242lbs wet). BUT, when you ride the 2019 KX450, it DOES NOT feel big. Kawasaki has designed this chassis in a way for it to feel more slim, nimble, and easy handling than ever before. This bike is so playful in so many ways, and literally lets you put it anywhere you want. The cockpit dimensions were a bit off for me, as I’m short (period), and I felt the bar bend was too high. Not only do I dislike the 7/8th Renthals that come stock (sorry Kris), but it was even more of an excuse to change them out entirely for a low-bend, oversize bar. I chose a set of Pro Taper EVO (Husqvarna OEM bend) as the replacements, because I wanted low and a relatively mild sweep. The combination seems to work well as of now, but I literally just put them on and need more time to test. *(On a side note - why can’t Kawasaki use a different glue for their throttle side grip?? As an FYI, it takes an act of god, razor blades, and a Dremel to remove the damn thing).
Moving onto the suspension, I was able to log the first 10-12 hours on all stock settings (adjusting minor clickers here and there) before sending the fork and shock to Race Tech for some love. In stock trim, the forks where a bit soft on harsh landings (bottomed out quickly) and they also liked to “pack up” in the mid-stroke. What I mean is, under braking or de-cel at speed, the fork likes to stay in the mid-stroke portion of the travel, translating into a harsh feeling/un-stable front end. Obviously, we sped up the rebound quite a bit, to get the fork to stay higher in the stroke, but the improvement was marginal. After riding Race Tech’s re-valve, bottoming resistance has been greatly improved, but I am still struggling with the same mid-stroke instability. Some things that have helped it (but not perfected it) have been speeding up the rebound settings again, and turning in high-speed compression on the rear shock. By doing so, it makes the rear shock ride higher, thus transferring more weight to the front with hopes to make the forks work as they should. I am pretty picky when it comes to front-end feel on my bikes, so this is going to be a work in progress to get it where I want. Part of the reason I wanted a lower-bend handlebar was to see if it would help me put more weight up front (from a body positioning stand point) to settle down the front. If not, I plan to turn back to Race Tech in the near future for new settings if I cannot get it where I want. Stay tuned.
As for the shock, I think it works well all around. In stock trim, it was too stiff for the forks, which I believe made the front-end feel ever softer than it should. After Race Tech massaged it, we lowered the spring rate for my weight (145lbs) with some internal valving to compliment it, and the shock is more supple and forgiving. I have a feeling that if/when I perfect the forks, the overall chassis/suspension combination on this bike is going to be hard to beat.
With all of the new 450 power plants being so good these days, to dissect and nit-pick each of them is a real chore. The same goes for the KX450 motor. It is very free-revving and easy to ride across multiple different tracks and conditions. It definitely is not the fastest, it definitely does not have the most torque, but the usability and “racey” feel makes up for all of that. We had the guys at Kawasaki help us with some new map settings during initial testing, and we found two that we really liked. The first one Kris developed, with the intentions of a more aggressive, “snappy” race-feel to make the bike stay alive across the RPM range (which you can find by clicking on the 2019 KX450 “Optional Settings” article). We have currently been using this map the most. The other is for the nasty, slick days out here on the west coast. When blue groove becomes your friend, the more linear map really keeps the power plant more subtle, but useable from bottom to top.
Next on my to-do list, is an exhaust. This is not to say the stock system is bad (I mean… if we are judging by looks, it’s bad). But, it actually sounds good and I do not mind the performance either. I am interested to see what improvements can be made by bolting on a new system. Is there any specific brand requests from anyone reading this? (Editors Note: We tried the FMF full system and although it was good, we wanted a little more excitement down low. FMF has since re-configured the headpipe and we will test ASAP).
Want to learn about a specific system, tell Kris! I am sure we can make it happen. -Dominic Cimino
Ok, this was supposed to be a “quick-read”. I guess it is easy to talk about something that you really like, and that is the case with this new 450 from Kawasaki. As stated, there is a lot to love about this bike, and we are just scratching the surface on the things that will prove to improve. My focus is to really get the forks dialed in, to polish of the great chassis combination that this bike has to offer. I am confident that when this happens, all of the others things that we will get to test moving forward will become the cherries on-top. You know the drill - keep an eye on KeeferIncTesting.com for all of this stuff and more. Thank you for reading!