There are times when we simply don’t understand big companies like Kawasaki. There are times when their products, strategy and marketing make no sense at all to our little brains. This isn’t one of those times. Kawasaki just released its first updated two-stroke off-road bikes since 2003. The new KX85 and KX100 got more attention than any other dirt bikes in the Kawasaki line. It makes perfect sense. Our only question is why it didn’t happen sooner.
      By paying attention to its little two-strokes, Kawasaki is accomplishing several things. First, it reaffirms the company’s commitment to youth. Without modern entry level bikes, there’s no new blood coming into our sport. It’s hard to get a 13 year-old excited about a bike that was designed before he was born, especially in an age where video games are outdated every year.  Another big factor is that the two-stroke underground is gaining strength. By investing in a new motor that isn’t a four-stroke, Kawasaki seems more in touch with the grass-roots cries for a return to simpler times.
      In truth, Kawasaki didn’t risk that much with the new KX minis. It seems that every nut and bolt is different on the outside, but that’s not the case. That would have pushed the price of the new bike outside the range of most moms and dads, and definitely beyond lawn-mowing income. Kawasaki engineers looked at the project pragmatically and decided where they could get the most bang for their R&D bucks. The result is amazing. You would never guess how much of the old bike is encased in this new shell. The biggest news of all is the price, which increased only marginally. The KX85 is priced at $4349. That’s $100 more than last year’s KX and $1000 less than a 2013 KTM 85SX.
      First, the list of things that are the same: The chromoly-steel perimeter frame has the same geometry; only a few brackets have been moved around to accommodate the new body work and a radiator that is over twice the size of the old one. The cases of the motor are the same and it has the same six gear ratios and the same four-spring clutch. Oddly enough, the exhaust pipe is the same, even though the top-end that it connects to is totally different. The most significant design change is the power valve. Formerly, it was a layout from the early days of two-strokes, when everyone had a different take on the concept. Now the design is similar to the sliding guillotine on the last generation of the KX125, and seals the top edge of the exhaust port much more effectively at low rpm. All the porting is new, as is the head on the 85—although the 100 still uses the original head.
      The piston is now has a single ring and the crank is “stuffed” with a nylon material to increase the crankcase compression. Kawasaki gave the 85 a more modern fork with a modern valve stack. It’s still an open-chamber design, just a more up-to-date one. The shock is more modern, as well, with clickers to adjust compression damping. The brake received a petal design. By far the most important change from a marketing standpoint is the body work. The KX looks like it was designed by people who are still alive. That will have a huge effect on the bike’s sales.
      Yes! Not only does the KX look different, it is different. To put a point on it, the KX85 is much, much faster. Kawasaki claims a 20-percent increase in peak power, and that seems accurate. If you aren’t familiar with the old KX85, you might need a little update. It was considered the most beginner friendly of the 85s. It was smaller, lighter and slower than a YZ or KTM. Kawasaki resisted the urge to super-size the bike in fear of losing that novice appeal. To compensate, there was the KX100 with a bigger bore and bigger wheels. But as it turned out, racers shied away from the 100 because it wasn’t the ideal bore/stroke configuration for the Supermini class, so it was, effectively, another novice machine.
      With the new KX85, the novice appeal is still there for one very important reason. Its seat height remains very low, and that’s the most important single factor. Riders are quick to adjust to horsepower, but no amount of practice makes your inseam longer. As far as suspension goes, the new 85 is, in fact stiffer. That’s a compromise that’s unavoidable. An 85 is expected cover a wide range of rider weight, from about 90 pounds to 120. Additionally, the range of rider skill goes from future James Stewart to future chess champion. If you look up impossible on Wikipedia, there’s your definition. Now, the KX is aimed a little higher on the food chain.

      In the Supermini class, the rules allow big changes. Most engine tuners change the stroke for the best results, whereas Kawasaki increased the bore by 4mm to make the KX100. So, oddly enough, most of the Kawasakis in the Supermini class started off as 85s before being heavily modified. That might change. The new KX100 has an increase in power similar to the 85’s. We know that engine tuners will find ways to get even more out of the bike very quickly. We don’t know if it will change the status quo, but it’s nice to know that the  bike at least has a fighting chance now. The real reason for the 100’s existence isn’t racing. It’s a stepping stone to bridge the increasingly big gap to a 250F. The bottom line is that both the 85 and the 100 are vast improvements without vast increases in price. Will they spark a new war among manufacturers in the mini classes? We can only hope.

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