2016 Kawasaki KX450F - FIRST RIDE REVIEW

As close to a factory bike as you can get.

2016 Kawasaki KX450F off-road action

A strong racing heritage has been key to Kawasaki's success, both domestic and abroad. What wins on Sunday sells on Monday, and Kawasaki has always made sure that the technology you see on its race bikes slowly trickles down to the consumer. For 2016, Kawasaki has released an all-new KX450F that is as close to a factory bike as you can get. A new chassis, engine, suspension settings, and bodywork are just a few of the numerous improvements done to the 2016 KX450F.

With the engine, Kawasaki’s goals were to shave weight and increase power. Internally, highlights include a new throttle body, piston, intake port, intake valves, and camshafts. Also new are the exhaust and cases, along with a revised airbox that flows more air into the engine for added power. Kawasaki says the improvements are aimed at increasing mid- to top-end power and over-rev, while also smoothing the power delivery.

The frame is also completely new. It weighs 3.1 pounds less than the previous frame, and it’s slimmer—by 6mm—to improve rider comfort. Targeted changes to the frame spars are said to improve the bike’s handling. These changes, together with slimmer bodywork, make the 2016 KX450F look and feel drastically different than last year. There’s also an improved swingarm with better torsional rigidity for increased rear-wheel traction. And although the Showa suspension isn’t new, the fork and both have new settings to match the chassis. The fork has new thinner inner tubes that save weight and increase rigidity.

2016 Kawasaki KX450F off-road cornering action

ON THE TRACK

When compared to the 2015 KX450F, the 2016 KX450F is drastically different. Last year, we complained about the harsh action of the Showa SFF-Air fork, but for 2016 it’s not a problem. Aided by the new chassis and swingarm, the overall performance and feel of the Showa fork has improved dramatically. Last year, the fork was hash, and difficult to fix with minor clicker and air-pressure changes.  Now, the initial settings work well for the majority of skill levels. The overall action of the fork and shock is balanced and predictable.

Throughout our testing, we didn’t make any major changes aside from a few minor clicker and air-pressure adjustments to stiffen up the fork on hard landings and g-outs. Additionally, the new lighter chassis contributes to a nimble feel. The KX450F used to feel big and heavy; the new 2016 bike feels light, nimble, and maneuverable. The slim bodywork also makes it easy to move around or slide up for corners, which, incidentally, the KXF dives into without hesitation.

2016 Kawasaki KX450F static side view

As for the improved engine, its power comes on strong right off the bottom and continues to pull well into the top range. The changes to the motor have given it broader power, as well as an ability to rev. In short, the new KX450F motor is smoother, more powerful, and easier to control. For the first time, Kawasaki is also offering a handheld Kawasaki Accessory FI Calibration Kit, which makes EFI adjustments a breeze. The kit can also program any of the three available DFI Couplers, allowing for custom settings to be done and easily swapped out trackside.

THE VERDICT

The 2016 Kawasaki KX450F is one of the best bikes in its class, offering solid suspension, predictable handling, and a very strong motor. When compared to last year’s bike, Kawasaki has fixed the majority of the problems. We think it will be tough to beat in comparison tests and, most importantly, in racing.

UPS:

—Feels light and nimble

—Turns well

—Suspension is plush, not harsh

—Kawasaki FI Calibration Kit (sold separately) makes changing power characteristics a breeze

—DFI couplers allow for quick changes to the power output and can be programmed with the FI Calibration Kit

—Slim new bodywork is comfortable; there’s nothing to get caught up on

—Two-position footpegs and four-position handlebar clamps make it easy to customize the rider compartment

—The Showa SFF-Air suspension offers a wide range of adjustability

—Strong, progressive brakes

DOWNS:

—Suspension is a little soft for fast and heavy riders

—The standard Renthal bars bend easily

—Showa SFF-Air fork can be confusing to adjust

—Loud exhaust

SPECIFICATIONS
|2016 Kawasaki KX450F
LIST PRICE|$8799
ENGINE TYPE|DOHC single
BORE x STROKE|96.0 x 62.1mm
DISPLACEMENT|449cc
TRANSMISSION SPEEDS|5
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL|12.4 in.
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL|12.4 in.
FUEL CAPACITY|1.66 gal.
SEAT HEIGHT|37.8 in.
FRONT BRAKE|disc
REAR BRAKE|disc
CLAIMED WET WEIGHT|240 lb.

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F action.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F action.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F action.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F action.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F action.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F action.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F static.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F static.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen

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2016 Kawasaki KX450F details.Jeff Allen