450 SML Shootout In-Depth | 2022 Kawasaki KX450
FIRST PLACE | KAWASAKI KX450
Rider Scores: 5-1-1-2-2-1
The Kawasaki returns with zero changes for 2022, but it drew rave reviews from testers and remained atop the field as the shootout winner.
The most significant and impactful change for the KX last year was the clutch assembly, complete with beefier clutch plates, different fiber plate groove patterns for better oil flow, and a single coned-disc spring that provided positive engagement with less slip.
While the coned-disc spring would typically 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, and all testers praised this boost. This improvement in bottom-end power rounds out the KX450’s powerband, which is solid and smooth throughout the rpm range. There are no holes in the Kawasaki’s power delivery.
The Showa suspension drew mixed reviews from our testers, as some felt it was ideally balanced and controlled, but others thought that the fork was too soft and under sprung. Despite this, the green bike drew praise for its excellent handling characteristics, particularly cornering and stability. Though the Kawasaki has a long, plated feel, it corners quite well with great front-end traction, 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 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 ’23. Are you listening, Kawasaki?
TEST RIDER FEEDBACK
“The Kawi has a solid motor that you can trust all around the course. You can change the couplers for different maps but it would be nice to have a switch on the bars!” – Connor Ericsson
“The KX450 is the best-handling bike in the field as far as being comfortable and able to trust it. It rides smoothly and isn’t too busy. The suspension works well from corners to jumps. It could be a little bit stiffer for me, though.” – Connor Ericsson
“Kawasaki has very usable power. It is not too fast, and it’s not too lazy. The standard coupler was good but not great, but the aggressive coupler gave it some pep to its step that was fun but usable. This was the most efficient bike for me.” – Kordel Caro
“The Kawi is very nimble and I can put it where I want. The bike allows you to ride loose and with confidence immediately. The suspension is predictable and it rides up in the stroke so it is plush. Overall this is the most confidence-inspiring bike for me.” – Kordel Caro
“The engine is amazing…very smooth but with big power all the way through the powerband. I like the aggressive coupler the best, and there are no holes I the power delivery at all. I would change the pipe – not for power gains – but simply for weight and better looks.” – Rene Garcia
“The Kawasaki is well rounded. All of the components work great. The rider triangle is very comfortable, and the bike is the most adjustable with two footpeg positions and four bar positions. The suspension is straight-up amazing and the bike handles great.” – Rene Garcia
“The Kawasaki has great power everywhere, only falling short to the Yamaha in the initial crack of the throttle way down low. I love the fast- and free-revving character of the KX engine, and for me, the standard couple was the easiest to enjoy.” – Donn Maeda
“The KX450 has very good suspension balance and although the fork is a tad soft, I trust the bike completely. The Kawasaki is super stable and corners surprisingly well for a bike of its size. I could race this bike I bone stock form.” – Donn Maeda
“The KX has an easy-to-ride powerband. It could use a little more down low, but it has plenty of mid and top. As is, it feels a little flat out of corners. Maybe gearing could help. It is only lacking down low in comparison to the Yamaha and KTM, though.” – Kyle Puerner
“I love the balanced and stable feel of the Kawasaki. It has the best chassis, great suspension, and the bike seems to do a lot of the work for you. I love the ergonomics of the KX and I am the most comfortable on this bike. I could race this bike stock.” – Kyle Puerner
“Second gear is vicious! I love the hard-hitting coupler, and the hydraulic clutch feels great. I like to abuse my clutch a little bit and the lever pull is light and the action is smooth and it doesn’t fade.” – Brian Smith
“I love the way the bike handles. It is stable and never gets headshake anywhere. The bike feels as planted as a Lamborghini in the corners and the suspension is perfect for me. I couldn’t feel the bumps anywhere. I am in love.” – Brian Smith