Bikes 2 Jan 2009

Full Test: 2008 Kawasaki KLX450R

Kawasaki has entered the 450cc enduro battle grounds with the KLX450R. Moto Online takes the new weapon for a spin to find out how it performs.

KLX450R left hand side


The Kawasaki KLX450R’s engine comes directly from the KX450R motocross model, but is littered with changes to suit more relaxed enduro riding.

Its 449cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke engine has been a winner in the motocross ranks around the world, and is slightly modified to suit the more natural terrain found in off-road enduro riding. It has four valves, double overhead cams, and a compression ratio of 12.0:1. The bore and stroke are 96.0 x 61.2mm, creating a powerhouse of an engine.

Kawasaki has tuned the engine for better low-mid range torque than the motocross version, and this improves the throttle control at low speed when in the tight sections of a trail. It is also much smoother than the KX450F engine, but still devastatingly quick.

The cam timing has been revised, the exhaust valve diameter has been decreased by 1mm for improved efficiency, the flywheel is double the weight for a smother power hit, and the gearbox has been changed to specifically suit enduro riding.

The exhaust header is also much longer to give smoother power again, and reduces sound somewhat. The exhaust pipe also comes with a tiny hole, again making the bike extra quiet.

The KLX engine is electric start like all modern enduro bikes, while it still retains the kick start option in case of a flat battery. Both work well.

Durability over the motocross model is increased thanks to the titanium exhaust valves of the KX being replaced with steel valves (the intake valves remain the same as the KX). Also more durable is the cooling of the bike, with the radiator getting a reservoir tank. A sealed chain is also better for long distance riding.


Just like the engine, the chassis is also based off of the KX450F motocross model, but with revised suspension settings to suit off-road riding.

The KLX450R features the same lightweight aluminium perimeter frame of its motocross brother, and is a composite structure made up of forged, extruded, and cast components. It is designed to have rigidity with balance that contributes to light handling and quick turning.

The Kayaba suspension features an inverted fork up front, and a single shock absorber at the rear of the bike.

The fully adjustable AOS (Air-Oil-Separate) fork has been set for off-road riding and is noticeably softer than the motocross fork, yet still is the same quality and everything. The oil and air are kept in separate chambers for stable damping performance during long rides.

At the back of the bike, the shock is fully adjustable too, and is also set for enduro riding conditions.

The rear wheel is 18 inch, compared with the 19 inch on the motocross version, and it features the same quality petal disc brakes front and rear. The wave shapes help cool the discs while cleaning the brake pads up too.

The seat is wider on the KLX, while the shrouds are also designed to optimise when the rider is in the seated position, unlike the KX model where it is designed for a more aggressive standing position.

Styling and Features

The KLX450R enduro model comes straight from the showroom floor ready to rip up the nearest trails near you. Full registrable and ADR compliant, the Aussie version of the KLX comes with all the necessary features to make it road worthy — even if you do plan to solely take it into the bush.

It has lights front and rear, along with indicators and the quiet sounds of the exhaust pipe. A self-retracting sidestand is also attached to meet requirements.

The American model is very bare and basic (and doesn’t meet Aussie requirements), so the front headlight on the Aussie model is squarer and very much like that on the Honda CRF450X. The indicators have all been added by Kawasaki Australia, and the rear mudguard extender is also another part added in Oz to pass ADR.

The bulky handlebar-mounted indicator switch block is also added by Kawasaki in Oz, while a tidy instrument panel is simple and efficient. It’s easy to use and features a speedometer, clock, odometer, and trip metres.

While the bike looks much nicer in American-style race trim, the good news for Aussie buyers is that it comes with all the American parts in the spares, including the headlight, and tidy bar-mounted start/stop switches.

The mudguard extender can be removed for racing purposes too, and allows you to make use of the great looking integrated LED tail light (this is not in use when the Aussie-spec one is connected).

Simply disconnect the ADR compliant wiring harness, and plug in the American-spec one, and no wires will need to be cut. This is only for racing purposes though and it will not be street legal.


Engine: 4-Stroke, Liquid Cooled, DOHC, 4-Valve, Single
Displacement: 449cm3
Bore & Stroke: 96.0 x 62.1 mm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Carburettor: Keihin FCR40
Ignition: Digital AC-CDI
Starting: Electric and Primary Kick
Transmission: 5-Speed
Rake/Trail: 27.1/117mm
Wheeltravel-f/r: 305/315mm
Tyre Size Front: 80/100-21
Tyre Size Rear: 110/100-18
Front Suspension: 48mm Inverted, Kayaba AOS with 22-Way Compression and 20-Way Rebound Damping Adjustment
Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak® with Adjustable Preload, 22-Way (Low Speed)/ Stepless (High Speed) Compression Adjustment, 22-Way Rebound Damping Adjustment, Temperature Compensating Rebound Adjustment
Wheelbase: 1,480 mm
Front Brake Type: Semi-Floating 250 mm Petal Disc with Dual Piston
Rear Brake Type: 240 mm Petal Disc with Single Piston Calliper
Fuel Tank Capacity: 8 litres
Ground Clearance: 315 mm
Seat Height: 935mm
Dry Weight: 115 kg

I start up the all-new Kawasaki KLX450R and give it a quick snap of the throttle. It revs up instantly but there isn’t much noise. I jump aboard and click it into gear before powering off down the trail.

It goes even quieter. This bike really is a quiet beast, deceiving in the noise department, but devastatingly quick when the throttle is opened up. It sounds like I’m going extremely slow and the bike isn’t hauling at all, but when a corner comes up I realise just how fast I am actually going.

The corner approaches quickly and I throw it in just in the nick of time. It is soon after that when I tell myself to calm down and adjust to the purring noise of the green machine.

After I realise the sound of the KLX is super quiet, I instantly begin to enjoy the ride more as I can read the power better and take advantage of the solid engine mounted into the KX450F motocross-based chassis.

It might sound silly that I needed to adjust to the low decibels singing out of the exhaust, but compared with every other 450cc enduro bike I have ridden, the Kawasaki sounds kind of soft. It proved me wrong almost right away when I gave it a handful and almost landed on my arse though.

Some may mistake the new KLX450R for being a motocross bike with lights and indicators and the like to meet ADR standards. But that point couldn’t be any further from the truth. It is based off of the ultra successful KX450F motocross bike, but is night and day different once up and running.

This bike is an all out enduro machine, set to rattle the cages of the popular Yamaha WR450F, as well as the Honda, KTM, and other machines in the class. The Kawasaki might stem from a motocross background, but right away it is noticeably an enduro bike through and through.

Kawasaki is now a contender in the off-road market

Kawasaki is now a contender in the off-road market

It looks cool at a stand still, although I must say the more naked American version looks a little meaner with a different style front light. The US model doesn’t meet the ADR requirements though, and the Aussie version falls right in line with the rest of the Australian enduro bikes on the market with bulky lights and mudguard extenders etc.

One thing that stands out is that the Aussie model comes with the Australian-made Barkbusters hand guards. This is a real asset to the bike, and Kawasaki Australia is onto a real good thing by releasing the KLX with the guards. I found myself thanking the guys at Kawasaki as soon as I stumbled across the first tight and gnarly tree section of the trail.

Once I am deep into the bush on the various trails available on the day of the test, I truly notice the huge differences to the motocross version of the Kawi. The suspension is extremely soft, even for enduro riding, and it is set to suit medium paced enduro riding.

The rear tracts well on the rocky sections as the soft setting of the Kayaba shock absorber allows the (aftermarket) Michelin S12 tyre to grip quite well, and the muddy conditions on the day of the test allowed the plushness of the suspension to shine.

When I build speed on the fast and open sections of fire road, the softness of the suspension does stand out, and it would be a little better if it was stiffer at high speed so it could absorb all the bumps a litter better. I imagine it would be a little under sprung for a heavier rider also, although we didn’t play around with the settings at all on the day.

In saying that, the suspension (both front and rear) only really bottoms out on the major bumps when at high speed. Apart from those moments, it mostly tends to not bottom out and just gives a plush feel that does make the ride forgiving – especially for the cruisier riders.

The Kayaba forks are much the same as the shock – set soft and give plenty of feedback at all times. On steep downhills they allow me to brake hard and still get plenty of feel, but when I attack things they tend to fall through the stroke a bit more than I’d like.

Overall, the suspension setting is fine if you are a trail rider looking for a bit of fun out in the bush with your mates, but if the pace picks up a bit and you ride a bit quicker than the average punter, you might want to stiffen things up a bit all round.

With the soft suspension in the back of my mind, it is a credit to Kawasaki on how well the KLX steers. The mud made the terrain tricky and slippery on the day, yet the ergonomics and alloy chassis allowed me to place the bike when I wanted it – even when things got slightly out of shape. The brakes were also up to the task with a heap of feel both front and rear too. Good lever feel is essential in slick conditions and the KLX passed this aspect with flying colours.

Right hand side

The KLX450R is not just a motocross bike with lights, it's a real enduro weapon

The front grip is excellent, and the size of the bike feels a little larger than the likes of the 2008 model KTMs, but the manoeuvrability is still good. I could get it turned in tight stuff and whip it around in no time when I would have to go back and forth for various photo opportunities.

I mentioned earlier that the engine’s note from the exhaust is deceiving, and that is no lie. Give it a handful and it will whisper as it takes off. I feel like the engine isn’t revving at all, but the bike zaps into life and takes off, leaving me to catch up to it without noticing how quick it jetted into life.

One thing’s for sure, this is the quietest bike of all in the class. The power is actually one of the most aggressive of all in the 450cc enduro field, and second gear truly wakes you up if you are napping on the ride.

I prefer to lag it in third gear and use the massive torque of the engine that the Kawasaki 450cc engine is known for – even if it is in a tamed enduro version. When I lag it like that, the engine is much more user friendly and rideable. Even though the hit in second gear is strong, the power of it is smooth overall. I wasn’t able to open it right up in any of the taller gears in the conditions on the day, although the five-speed ‘box works without a fuss on all occasions.

So what does the Kawasaki KLX450R compare to? It is very trail orientated like Yamaha’s WR. It is a friendly beast with loads of power, but the suspension package is set to accommodate the masses. Some of the European makes are much more racy and built to go fast on, yet the Japanese brands such as the KLX and WR suit the common Aussie rider.

The green machine is here to stay, and I for one can’t wait to get it out in the pack with the rest of the 450cc enduro weapons. It’s sure to be a force to be reckoned with when the comparo is run and won. As Kawasaki says, “Let the good times roll”.