Moto/off-road or off-road/moto?
Kawasaki KX450X vs Honda CRF450RX
The battle of battles, two new off-road/cross-country racers, who is the better animal?
Both are based off their motocross brethren, yet one feels more like a cousin. This is a growing market, however if you live in California, 2021 models are the last year you can legally ride a non green-sticker bike on public lands. It’s closed-course racing only people. But if you are lucky enough to pick up a ’21 or an older model year, it’s grandfathered in for the life of the bike off-road in California.
Of the two rides, Kawasaki is the leanest when it comes to morphing into the off-road world. It comes with an 18″ rear wheel, skid plate, kickstand, and lighter spring rates and valving but slows down from there. The gearing went up one tooth in the rear and the rear brake rotor is smaller than the MX bike (thanks). The engine tuning is the same as the MX bike but it comes standard with the more-mellow black coupler. Items it comes up short on include: handguards, larger fuel tank, full wrap skid plate, O-ring chain and wider-ratio transmission, and ability to adjust engine maps on the fly. Regardless, this a good bike but almost too moto-friendly for real “off-road.” Yet it shines in closed-course grand prix or cross-country.
The Honda X is based off the all-new 2022 CRF450R model. While the R had a few hiccups out of the gate, the X seemed very refined and ready for what it’s intended for right out of the crate. The X gets all of the off-road niceties as the Kawasaki and more. 18″ rear wheel (check), full-wrap skid plate (check), sprung and valved for off-road (check), off-road ignition mapping, kickstand, handguards, larger fuel tank, and O-ring chain, check check check check check.
After riding both bikes on motocross tracks and in off-road conditions, they are similar but also very different in terms of what they can and can’t do. Depending on the day, we would pick the Honda and other days it’s the Kawi. Ya see, the Kawasaki 450X is very moto, just a softer version. For some it’s the perfect vet bike or grand prix race bike. If you want moto with a sprinkle of off-road, the KX450X might be your thing. In open desert riding it also shines and works really well. However, when introduced to tighter off-road conditions, this is where it’s not as fun compared to the Honda. The suspension is not true off-road plush, the engine does not chug along in 1st-2nd gear conditions and wants to stall if you are not always covering the clutch. The gearing helped a little but it just does not like tight conditions. The fuel mapping is not conducive to really slow conditions and can be a little herky-jerky. When the trails open up, it’s more at home and has room to stretch its legs and smiles return the riders’ faces.
Honda did its homework and created a really good off-road bike. As soon as you get on the RX it feels off-road. The front wheel is really planted, almost too planted in some conditions. The engine works better than the KX in 1st-2nd gear conditions and chugs up technical sections with less effort. Both bikes could use a wide-ratio transmission and/or a 6th gear for western state riding but some brands have a model for that. It is amazing that the RX feels so different than the motocross bike, despite the fact they are so similar. Where the Honda is easier to ride and works better and is more refined in tighter off-road conditions compared to the Kawasaki, it can’t do some things the Green Machine can. The Honda RX can be too soft for some riders on the moto track and can have a slightly heavier front-end feel, maybe due to the larger fuel tank or softer sprung fork and valving. Nevertheless, that feeling is there. Coming up short or jumping long on the Honda is not something you want to do—stick to the vet tracks with smaller jumps. With just clicker adjustments and 10cc of oil added to the front fork, the Kawasaki X was able to attack most main tracks at the moto compound with more ease than the Honda. Yes it was still softer than a moto setup, but the Kawasaki felt very similar to a standard KX450.
It really boils down to what you are looking for in this category. If we already owned a track bike, the Honda would be the first choice via feedback from several of our test riders. The Honda still feels like a race bike yet totally at home on the trail at casual speeds or your race pace. The versatility of the Honda is that it can be ridden mellow like a trail bike but in a split second it will come to life and act like a race bike. The Kawasaki is more of a race bike and does not feel like going on a mellow trail ride, it wants to be ridden faster to start working. On the other hand, if we had to pick one bike for just grand prix or closed-course off-road, hit the moto track now and again, and mostly western-states-style faster desert riding, some of our test riders picked the KX450X. However, you will probably need to accessorize your KX with a larger fuel tank, skid plate, and handguards, just saying.
If you are in the market, it’s up to you to figure out which way you lean. And just because it says off-road, this category can be more than just off-road, a lot of vet riders or those starting off might enjoy the slightly easier to ride and plusher suspended bikes over a full 450cc moto bike. They are still race bikes but the knife edge is not as sharp for the off-road element.
In the end, it’s totally awesome both Honda and Kawasaki have produced bikes to fit this category. Both manufacturers have done a great job and both bikes perform really well in stock form. Although they are both considered “competition off-road bikes” the two offer different strengths depending on which way you lean, to the left side of motocross or the right side of full off-road. The Kawasaki KX450X leans a little more toward the motocross side while the Honda CRF450RX leans a tad bit more to the off-road side. Don’t get us wrong, both cross over and both are race bikes, what you choose depends on what you’re looking for.
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