We have only two days of testing on the 2024 Kawasaki KX450 so far, but they have been two very long days. The first was at Kawasaki’s official introduction, and the second was with all the other 450 motocross bikes for the first day of our 2024 450 Shootout. We still have a very long way to go before that’s complete, but I thought I might offer a little preview of what we have found so far.
Virtually everything is different on the 2024 KX. Here are just a few of the more interesting features:
- It has a center-port exhaust with a tall head that looks like nothing else in the motocross world.
- The intake boot now goes over the shock, much like a Honda.
- The air filter is flat and slides into place like a floppy disk from 1987.
- The airbox has a removable plug for more airflow.
- The front brake is a Brembo.
- The rear brake caliper is a re-designed Nissin.
- It has a handlebar switch with mild and aggressive maps available on the fly.
- It has traction control.
- Kawasaki now offers a smartphone app for engine tuning.
- The shock preload ring is now locked into place with an Allen set screw.
- It now has ODI lock-on grips.
First of all, the Kawasaki has won all of our 450 MX shootouts since its last remake in 2019. To be honest, we were a little afraid of change. The big lightning rod for criticism on the old KX was that it wasn’t especially fast. We figured that the new KX was going to be a mauler. That would, in our opinion, ruin everything. Surprise! The new KX has about the same power output as the old one. Congratulations to Kawasaki for resisting the low-hanging fruit. On the flip side, it gives up peak power to Yamaha and all the Austrian made 450s–even the GasGas. It still has more peak power than the Honda and the Suzuki. It did gain a little power on top, but it also sacrificed some in the middle. The good news is that it’s still a very sweet motorcycle. It offers excellent throttle control down low and will rev-out if you ask nicely.
It’s the KX’s overall handling that has won our hearts, year after year. Forgive us for showing a little bit of our age here, but it always reminded us of a 2008 Honda CRF450R. We’re pretty sure that was the target that Kawasaki was trying to hit. Since that time, most other motocross bikes have turned to what we call Supercross specs. They have become very quick steering, more rigid, less stable and more demanding. Kawasaki took a half-step in that same direction with the 2024 model. It has noticeably more responsive steering. It’s more of a point and shoot bike than ever before. What they didn’t do was give it a stiffer chassis. The overall feel is still very compliant. That makes perfect sense to us. If you want a more rigid chassis, there are lots of ways to accomplish that with engine hangers and glide plates. Going the other way is more difficult.
The compliant frame combines with fairly cushy suspension settings to make for a very comfortable ride. The Kawasaki is a bike that virtually anyone can feel at ease with. It’s not a pro-level bike that has to be dumbed down for everyone else. Quite the opposite. If you plan on taking it to Jett and Eli next year, you will have to find more bark, more rigidity and more pro-level tweaks.
We tried doing a little of our own engine tuning at the track with Kawasaki’s “KX Rideology” tuning app. If you are familiar with Yamaha’s Power Tuner, it’s virtually identical. The bike sends a WIFI signal that your phone can pick up. You plug in a private PIN so that no one else can mess with your bike’s settings. Then you can throttle advance and fuel mixture for different rpm levels and throttle openings. The problem is that it’s a trial-by-error process. We don’t have enough testing time to offer a pre-cooked map, but we know from past experience that when you combine more fuel with more spark advance, you get a little more snap.
That’s what we did in the low-rpm, low throttle opening zones of the KX with good results. As it comes, the bike is pretty tame and we had a wet, tacky track. There were no real traction issues, so by inflating all the numbers down low, we gave the motor a little more excitement. It still wasn’t anything like a Yamaha, but we did learn that there’s more to be had. One interesting aspect about the KX is that a punch of the button on the map switch always offers a milder map than the one you upload. Because of our tacky conditions, we never felt the need for a milder power delivery or for traction control.
We loved the old Kawasaki, but it has reached the end of a very fruitful life span. Kawasaki engineers were brave to start with a fresh sheet of paper and, to their credit, they didn’t lose any ground. Now they are sitting pretty with a platform that can take them well into the next generation. For more on the 2024 Kawasaki KX450 and how it fits in with all the other 450s, pick up the February print edition of Dirt Bike.
See you next week!