I have to admit right up front that I am nowhere near the level of MX rider as is our 11-year-younger, pro-level Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek. But to be honest, very few riders without a factory contract are. So the fact that “Dude-K” thinks that most four-stroke 450s are overkill makes me feel a whole lot better, even though they intimidate me quite a bit more than him. Anyway, when I ended up at Kawasaki’s press launch for the 2010 KX450F at the brand-new Pala Raceway near Temecula, California, due to a scheduling conflict, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.
Last year, the KX450Fcame out guns a blazin’, joining Suzuki and Honda with fuel-injection, and nearly knocking Big Red’s CRF450Roff its high horse (eight consecutive CW Ten Best wins). You would think that the comprehensive redesign the KX received last year would get it through more than one model year, but it just doesn’t work that way in the MX world. So for 2010, Kawi has once again dramatically updated its big Thumper. Among the major changes are a bridged-box (slipper-type) piston, new crankshaft, camshaft, clutch, ECU, radiators and exhaust. And that’s just the engine! The chassis got a new fork assembly, shock, swingarm, chain, brakes, front fender, firmer seat and Bridgestone tires.
As it turned out, there was no reason to fear the big 450F. The combination of the open and flowing Pala track, its loamy soil and the bike’s forgiving nature made the KX450F a perfect choice. Power-sapping straits, a third-gear-pinned step-up jump and some rather long tabletops, meant that I was actually able to use a lot more of the bike’s power than I expected. Without riding the KX back-to-back with the competition it’s difficult to make comparisons, but bottom- to midrange power delivery was strong exiting corners while the top-end felt more than impressive. Shift action from the five-speed gearbox was crisp and positive and I never mis-shifted or hit a false neutral during our test. The new clutch not only had excellent feel but helped put the power down very effectively when snapping out of turns.
But what really makes the KX450F a nice ride is the chassis. The DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon), AOS (Air-Oil Separate) Kayaba fork and new shock, swingarm and linkage provided a plush ride on what was, okay, a smooth, well-prepped track. We’ll send kid Dudek somewhere rougher for a better evaluation, but us old guys will take smooth every time! Another trait that I really liked was that the big KX was very easy to steer into tight inside ruts. The bike handled with crisp precision and never had a tendency to run wide or turn sluggishly. I didn’t have reason to mess with suspension clickers all day; the bike tracked through straightaway ruts quite well, never kicked or did anything unruly off of jump faces, stayed planted in mid-corner and jump landings were only harsh when I failed to downside a few of them early in the morning (rider error!). The $8049 KX450F feels like a contender for the crown again; who knows, maybe 2010 is the year we see Green instead of Red.