2023 Kawasaki KX450X First Impression
Story & Photos by Trevor Hunter
We’ve been a fan of the KX450 since this generation’s inception in 2019, and with no significant changes to either this or the X model in recent years, the 2023 Kawasaki KX450X fit our expectations like a glove on day one. We took our newest test steed to Glen Helen Raceway for some moto and off-road riding and racing to get a quick impression on Team Green’s 450cc off-road racer.
Changes are minimal for 2023. New graphics make up the short list for the new model year, but with many other OEM’s introducing significant changes in the past year, does the Kawasaki still remain competitive? Only time will tell, but our initial thoughts are still positive.
The motor on the KX is really good. No, it won’t blow your wig off with macho dyno numbers or hard hitting, exciting power that feels cool in the parking lot. Instead, it delivers a gracious amount of rider-friendly power that is usable on the track and trails and one that can be appreciated by riders of all skill levels. In recent years, a few manufacturers have aimed to deliver a more “rider-friendly” power, but we feel the Kawasaki has been there for a long time. It has a good, tractable bottom-end that builds into the mid-range before starting to fall off as the revs get too high. This is all with the “stock” black mapping coupler, which is designed to be mellower than the green coupler that comes stock on the KX450 MXer.
The power delivery with the black coupler is smooth and easy to ride. It signs off a fair amount up top, but for an off-road application where traction is usually at a premium or you’re in tight confines, the character of the black couple works well. It doesn’t have the girth behind it to really lug and chug down low – it’s prone to stalling without hovering the clutch – but that is becoming more of the norm for these “XC Racer” bikes which are closer to full moto bikes than they are to a traditional off-road bike. Simply put, this bike puts all of its power to the ground and is more than fast enough for just about everyone including ourselves.
Typical of an off-road bike, the coil spring Showa components come set up pretty soft front and rear. On smoother vet style tracks or tighter off-road terrain, you get a plusher ride that helps find traction and soak up smaller rocks, roots, bumps, etc. With faster riders and on rougher terrain, the soft valving and springs became more apparent and we found ourselves riding midway through the stroke and in a harsher part of the valving. However, not everyone is a “Pro” level racer or riding Glen Helen late in the day. For a good portion of riders, the stock suspension has its place and can and will work well. Before you ship your suspension off to your favorite tuner, put some time on it and you may be surprised…
The handling of the KX is one of the strong suits of this bike. It’s forgiving, compliant, and confidence inspiring. It soaks up hard hits, tracks straight through square edged chop, and relieves the rider of a lot of feedback in comparison to some of the other bikes in its class. In a sense, it almost doesn’t feel like a 450 chassis wise. You can get away with overriding the bike a bit and being more aggressive without the typical repercussions that maybe a Honda or Suzuki would offer. However, it does lead to a slightly heavier, relaxed feeling that isn’t quite as responsive or precise. We’re not here to say that’s better or worse, that’s for you to decide as you prioritize what you look for most in a bike.
Being as close to the moto bike as this KX450X is, it truly is an off-road racer more than it is a trail rider or enduro bike. It’s best suited for grand prix style racing for speeds are up and slow speed, technical riding isn’t all that common. With just a few mods, we feel the KX could very well be a great woods machine, but massaging a few areas will help that transition and make it a more versatile bike.
As we’ve said with many other of these XC bikes, don’t be scared to make this your moto bike. Vet riders or novice/intermediate level moto riders can find appreciation in these bikes with slightly softer suspension, mellow power, and an overall less daunting character to them. Seeing bone stock 450’s MX bikes being raced in Pro Motocross Nationals tells you they are too stiff and aggressive for the average man, but these XC bikes bridge the gap to give you the same platform as that fire breathing motocross bike but in a rider-friendly package. This KX fits that bill and is a great moto/GP offering if you want to go green.
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