Bike Tests 15 Jul 2011

Launch Test: 2012 Kawasaki KX450F

MotoOnline.com.au rides and rates Kawasaki’s brand new Open class contender at Appin’s Aussie launch.

Kawasaki’s KX450F is already a proven winner. As the current supercross champion both here in Australia with Josh Hansen and in the U.S. with Ryan Villopoto, its credentials are stacked.

Add to the fact that Dean Ferris is currently leading the Pro Open class of the Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals and it’s easy to see that, as a race bike, pro riders have been able to make the most of the KX450F with Team Green.

So what have they gone and done? Completely revamped it for 2012 using technology learnt while racing for those championships! And the good news is for the consumer is that it’s already in Australian dealerships for a RRP of $11,999.

MotoOnline.com.au was invited out to Appin in Sydney for the national press launch of the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F, handing us a first class opportunity to review the bike with the assistance of Kawasaki’s factory crew and riders on hand.

There’s multiple revisions made for this year (or should I say next?), which you can find below in the Technical Information), and the difference on track is remarkable. In many ways, you could say one of the best just got a whole heap better.

First things first, there’s the highly touted Launch Control, creating massive hype at the push of a handlebar-mounted button. Press it for a couple of seconds, wait for the light to flash, click the gearbox into second gear and hit the start line. From there you’ll discover a retarded power curve that is applied in a smoother manner until you click third gear.

Kawasaki has released an all-new KX450F for 2012 and it's already in Australian dealers. Image: Guy Streeter.

Kawasaki has released an all-new KX450F for 2012 and it's already in Australian dealers. Image: Guy Streeter.

Does it work? I think it does, and factory Monster Energy Kawasaki pilots Ferris and Billy Mackenzie agree. It doesn’t mean you’ll be pulling starts like Mike Alessi, but any electronic assistance does come as an advantage in motor racing as long as you make use of it properly. In fact, factory team manager Troy Carroll said that his team will be racing with it once they take delivery of the 2012s.

The only questionable aspect of the device has to be on extremely short start straights, where you may not be required to shift into third gear. In that case, you’re just going to have to ignore the option and start without it – just don’t get into the habit of using it! Otherwise, it’ll cut out once you do eventually shift third out of the first corner.

Another major aspect that we put to the test on Monday was the changeable Direct Fuel Injection coupler. The bike comes with a Standard coupler, which can be easily replaced with either Hard (flatter power) or Soft (more power) terrain DFI settings that come in the spares. It literally is just a matter of clicking in a new coupler between the triple clamps.

For me in the slick surfaces of Appin, the Hard coupler was the way to go. I’m a self confessed 250F fan, so rounding off the power and flattening the power curve proved itself as the most comfortable option for me. It wasn’t so much easier to ride, more so basically allowing me to be a little more throttle happy without being too focused on every twist of my right wrist.

The Standard one is a sweet all-rounder as you’d expect, while I reckon the Soft setting would be unreal on a nice loamy track with a bit of moisture in the dirt as it’s the most powerful of the three. Either way, the motor’s strong, responsive and downright aggressive if that’s what you look for in a motocross engine.

Kawasaki has fitted a revised gearbox for this year, which is said to be more consistent and durable, however I’ll admit that to me it didn’t feel remarkably different at all. Durability is always a positive though, and I had zero trouble shifting all day long during the launch.

Improved grip at the rear has been a focus of Kawasaki for the new model. Image: Guy Streeter.

Improved grip at the rear has been a focus of Kawasaki for the new model. Image: Guy Streeter.

As you’ll soon find out in the tech info, the majority of the focus has been pinpointed on the chassis, boasting an all-new frame, which is essentially narrower for a more compact riding position, albeit more rigid and highly adjustable.

What’s adjustable on it, you may be asking yourself? Well, to start with the handlebars are four-way adjustable via the triple clamp mounts, and the foot pegs can be moved up or down. Luckily for me, or should I say my designated wrench, my 168cm is about spot on for the setting it’s released with.

TC has spent the week prior to the launch dialing in suspension settings for the assembled media, but since he weighs more than me and has 12 national titles under his belt, you would agree that he’s a bucket load faster too! That meant much of the afternoon was spent fine-tuning the settings to my liking.

At first the handling was rigid, a little bit difficult to ride on a freshly graded and watered track, and took a while to adjust to – especially after riding the 2012 model KTM EXC enduro bikes just a couple of weeks ago.

Once we set the sag to 104mm and backed off the compression in the front-end, any discomfort I’d experienced early in the test had evaporated. At first we softened the forks and it was marginally better, but setting the rear sag put it right in the ballpark and provided a much more balanced ride for me to make the most of. From that point, the personalisation would take some time as the adaption process becomes complete.

What was impressive from the outset was the traction at the rear, really tracking the slippery hard-pack surface well in a variety of instances. Even when it was a little stiff for my liking, I could instantly notice it’s ability to find grip when on the gas.

The thinner ergonomics and basic comfort of the bike is to be saluted, especially since taller riders have the option to expand the seating position to their liking. For me though, the standard cockpit is on point.

Kawasaki has a lot to live up to with its latest and greatest Open class weapon, but judging by the initial impressions of Ferris and Mackenzie at the launch, it’s set to carry on right where its predecessor left off – in the winner’s circle.

Factory Monster Energy Kawasaki rider Billy Mackenzie was on hand during the launch. Image: Alex Gobert.

Factory Monster Energy Kawasaki rider Billy Mackenzie was on hand during the launch. Image: Alex Gobert.

Technical Information

Kawasaki has produced one of the most technically advanced models available in the Open class market for 2012, building upon what was already a solid bike in 2011.

The advanced design of the aluminium perimeter frame and motor received a host of refinements to create a more compact and mass-centralised chassis propelled by more useable power than ever.

The new frame features a slimmer mid-section. The redesigned frame rails reduce width by four millimetres and, combined with slimmer radiator shrouds, provide a narrower cockpit. The top of the fuel tank has been lowered to compliment the flatter seat, which also has firmer foam.

Another new modification for this year is the reinforced ribbing in the new frame’s swingarm bracket area, which revises the frame’s rigidity balance to help increase rear wheel traction. Plus, the rear suspension tie rod arms are two millimetres more narrow for less rigidity. This also contributes to rear traction according to Kawasaki.

Adjustability on the KX450F is high with the new upper triple clamp providing two mounting positions with reversible clamps, resulting in four different options and a total adjustment range of 35mm. The foot peg brackets can also be mounted in two positions, allowing the rider to adjust them by 5mm depending on their height.

Also revised in the handling department is a narrower 80/100-21 front tyre, while the rigid-mount front disc complete with an aggressive new peal design reduces unsprung weight. A 60mm shorter muffler helps centralise mass, adding to the lighter handling characteristics and it too improves engine performance.

Engine modifications have been minimal, with Kawasaki again producing the 450cc powerhouse complete with the Digital Fuel Injection (DFI) that features a 43mm throttle body. It does have a revised bridged-box bottom piston for improved mid to high rpm performance, while a 0.2mm thinner top piston ring and revised surface treatment on the oil ring reduced friction to help through all rpm ranges.

The new frame is thinner and the ergonomics assist in the handling department. Image: Guy Streeter.

The new frame is thinner and the ergonomics assist in the handling department. Image: Guy Streeter.

There’s also a revised intake cam profile that increases valve lift by 0.4mm for better bottom-end, and at idle, a smaller portion of intake air is diverted to the bypass circuit for better throttle response.

The main change motor-wise is an upgraded transmission. It has an increased amount of engagement dogs and slots three to four, while revising the angle of them for better gear engagement. A 0.9mm shorter shift stroke reduces the load when changing gears, plus a 2.8mm wider first gear is designed to increase durability.

Perhaps the biggest news is that the KX450F features an all-new Launch Control Mode, which changes DFI settings with the push of a button to maximise traction out of the starting gate. The Launch Control system activates a separate engine map designed to ensure efficient race starts in slippery conditions.

The map retards ignition timing, allowing tyres to gain grip in low-traction situations, and allowing riders to focus on their lines. Once the rider shifts into third gear, the system is automatically disengaged, switching back to the normal engine map. This is accomplished without sacrificing any of the mid-range grunt or straight-line speed.

Another step forward in technology is that there are two optional plug-in DFI settings (plus virtually unlimited DFI mapping capabilities with the use of Accessory Kawasaki Racing Software Kit) – thanks to its advanced Digital Fuel Injection (DFI) system. A Standard coupler can be replaced with either Hard (flatter power) or Soft (more power) terrain settings that come in the spares.

Other features that we have become used to on the KX450F include the Kayaba AOS Cartridge Fork complete with the Diamond-Like Coating (DLC), the Uni-Trak rear suspension system, Aluminium K971 bend handlebars and trick black wheel set.

Kawasaki's 2012 model KX450F was launched at Appin in Sydney. Image: Alex Gobert.

Kawasaki's 2012 model KX450F was launched at Appin in Sydney. Image: Alex Gobert.

Rider Wear

Jersey/Pants/Gloves: Answer JS Collection (Wired Red)
Helmet: SixSixOne Fenix Shards (black/white)
Goggles: Oakley Mayhem
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10
Neck brace: Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support
Knee brace: PodMX K700

Note: Products are clickable if reviewed in the Product Centre

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