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2021 450 Shootout

450 SML Shootout In-Depth | 2021 Kawasaki KX450


2020 Kawasaki KX450

Rider Rankings: 4-2-1-1-1-4

The Kawasaki KX450 finished second in last year’s 450 Shootout, but thanks to three well-planned updates for 2021, it topped the charts in this year’s comparison test with the most first-place votes among test riders.

The most significant and impactful change for ’21 is a new clutch assembly with beefier clutch plates, different fiber plate groove patterns for better oil flow, and a single coned-disc spring that provides more positive engagement with less slip. While the coned-disc spring would normally yield a firmer feel at the clutch lever, the Kawasaki’s hydraulic clutch assembly overcomes the stronger spring and maintains buttery smooth action at the bars. By eliminating unwanted clutch slip as the throttle is rolled on, the new system gives the KX450 a beefier low-end response than last year’s bike, and this boost was praised by all testers. This improvement in bottom-end power rounds out the KX450’s powerband, which is strong and smooth throughout the rpm range. There are no holes in the Kawasaki’s power delivery.

The other engine change is a dry film lubricant coating on the piston skirt that is designed to reduce friction and increase durability. Could we feel a difference? No, but the KX450 revs quickly and produces gobs of usable, easy to control power with loads of torque.

The third change for ’21 is a set of oversized Renthal Fatbars that reduces vibration and increases the control the rider has over the front end of the bike. Ergonomically, the KX450 is spacious and comfortable as delivered, and the bike has the most adjustability in class, with six handlebar positions and two foot peg position settings.

The Showa suspension drew mixed reviews from our testers, as some felt it was ideally balanced with good control, but others felt that the fork was too soft and under sprung. In spite of this, the green bike drew praise for its excellent handling characteristics from cornering to stability. Though the Kawasaki has a long, stable feel, it corners quite well with great front-end traction and lays over in corners easily and remains predictable throughout with no surprises. At speed, the bike is super stable and remains balanced under braking in the roughest of chop, and it flies well and responds instantly to mid-air body English corrections.

The biggest shortcoming of the KX450? Three different map settings are available, but they must be accessed by switching ignition couplers. Thankfully, the bike’s powerband is so good that choosing between one of the three is easy and there should never be a need to change them. Still, a phone app or handlebar-mounted button would make the green machine even harder to beat in ’22. Are you listening, Kawasaki?

Test Rider Mike Sleeter.

Rider Feedback

“The Kawi hits hard initially and continues to make solid power all the way through the powerband. It has great power.” – Ericsson

“Kawasaki has a bike that handles very well and is overall a nicely balanced bike that you can get into the inside line with ease. The suspension handles everything well and has great holdup.” – Ericsson

“The KX450 engine is nearly perfect. Fun, lively, and exciting; yet easy to ride. It has zappy low-end punch, strong mid-range, and excellent top-end pull!” – Foster

“The KX chassis is the best balanced, most compliant, and most effective in class. From great stability to excellent turn-in control and quick cornering, it’s nearly flawless. Its only flaw is an under-sprung fork.” – Foster

“’ Awesome’ is the only word I can use to describe the Kawasaki engine. It has better low-end power this year and no weaknesses. I could race this in the pro class completely stock.” – Garcia

“I was very comfortable with the suspension and really required very few changes as I was testing it. The bike is super stable, and it corners far better than you might expect a stable bike to…this bike is perfect.” – Garcia

“Last year, I hated the judder spring in the clutch as it seemed to constantly slip. The new clutch system feels almost as great as the Rekluse Torq Drive clutch we installed, as it has better engagement and low-end torque.” – Maeda

“The Kawasaki is big and stable. It’s hard to crash a cruise ship. I trust this bike and feel the most comfortable at speed on it.” – Maeda

“I love this bike’s motor. It makes good, manageable power down low with super-strong mid-range and great top-end overrev. All this, and it remains easy to ride!” – Puerner

“This is the best chassis of all the bikes as it has a well-balanced predictable feel. I feel very safe on the Kawasaki, even when I am riding over my head.” – Puerner

“I love the KX engine! It revs very freely and gives the bike a light feel. The new clutch made a big difference for me under hard acceleration as the bike absolutely tractors!” – Sleeter

“The shock is great with good comfort and traction, but the fork is under sprung for me and causes the front end to dive and knife in the turns. With a stiffer set of fork springs, the Kawasaki would be the perfect bike.” – Sleeter

Chase Curtis

Chase Curtis is an avid motocross and MTB rider, and he is the SML Video Editor. Completely self-taught, Chase is one of the best video editors in the sport and one of our biggest assets.

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