2014 Kawasaki KX450F Review | Motocross Motorcycle Test
The Kawasaki KX450F has a track record championship-winning success in the past few years. Since January 2011, Ryan Villopoto has piloted the machine to win three AMA Supercross championships, two AMA Motocross championships, and a sweep of all three main events at the inaugural Monster Energy Cup.
That success results in useful feedback to further progress each machine from year-to-year and, luckily for us, this technology ends up on the same bikes that we can purchase right off of the showroom floor. Such is the case with the 2014 Kawasaki KX450F.
While the big, green machine was relatively unchanged from last year—with one significant exception—it’s clear that Kawasaki went with the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Regardless, the KX450F is an incredibly powerful, fun bike out on the track.
The KX450F did very well on the first day of testing on the tight, technical, hard-pack course of Milestone MX Park in Riverside, Calif. However, I knew the true test of the 450cc powerplant would be at the bigger, loamy, wide-open tracks such as the famous Southern California track Pala Raceway, and Zaca Station MX in Central California. The 2014 Kawasaki KX450F excelled in these conditions with the deeper ruts, bigger jumps, and more space to really open the bike up and see what it is capable of.
The first thing that I noticed while getting on the Kawasaki was the simplicity and ease of starting the machine. The bike has a very predictable, smooth kick all the way through. So long as you give it a strong, consistent kick, the bike barks to life instantly. Ease of starting is just one of the many notable, praiseworthy characteristics of the KX450F’s motor.
After a few laps, it became apparent how easy the bike was to ride in third gear, which proved to be the most versatile cog among the many sections of the track. Clicking up into fourth usually meant lugging the bike, so and a downshift back into third gear was necessary. Second gear handles the insides and tighter turns very well. When necessary, it didn’t hurt to drop down another gear into first for the extremely tight, inside lines.
Shifting the KX450F transmission is simple and smooth, and I was hard pressed to miss a shift during my time on the bike. The clutch action had a nice, consistent feel with plenty of room for adjustment as well. Although, with the amount of power the KX packs, use of the clutch is not always necessary.
Launch Control is a unique Kawasaki feature returning to the bike for 2014. Holding the button on the handlebar for three seconds activates launch Control. Launch Control essentially retards the ignition timing until the rider shifts into third gear and allows for better traction on starts. That, in turn, leads to easier holeshots!
The KX450F also comes with three different plug-in maps: stock (green), mellow (black), and aggressive (white). The black map was noticeably a bit less snappy on the bottom end hit, which was very helpful toward the end of the day when the track had deteriorated and traction was harder to come by. The white map is more responsive, crisp and packed a much bigger hit, especially in the mid-range.
While some may be skeptical about air forks for motocross, the Kawasaki KX450F’s new Kayaba PSF units worked like a charm, especially on the tracks with bigger jumps and rougher braking bumps. I immediately experienced the forks bottoming resistance during my first ride on the bike at Milestone MX Park on a missed jump.
The front forks refused to bottom out and soaked up each impact with a progressive, plush feeling. While the stock 36 psi proved to be a little stiff for my 130-pound weight, a quick drop in air pressure to 32 psi proved to be the answer as I was able to utilize much more travel on the front forks.
In addition to having great bottoming resistance on any size jump, the KX450F’s PSF forks also soaked up the impacts in the whoops with no problem whatsoever. I soon found out that the more momentum I carried into the whoops, the more the bike wanted to skip across them instead of jar into each one. As a result, I was able to hit them at faster speeds while still feeling in control of the bike.
In the choppy, square-edged braking bumps, the forks seemed to be slightly harsh. However, similar to their performance in the whoops, the harder and faster you ride it, the better. After finding this out, I carried more speed into the corner and it proved to be much smoother.
The Kayaba forks work wonders when cornering and navigating through ruts. The front-end tracks nicely in everything from the hard pack to loam, which made outside lines a no-brainer. In the more rutted, inside lines, the forks once again excelled as they tracked with ease and were confidence-inspiring thanks to how well the front end settled in each of them.
Driving it in faster into a corner proved to be no problem for the brakes on the KX450F. They not only had good stopping power, but they also did not fade during the course of a long moto. While strong, they do not have the type of excessive bite to where you may find yourself on the ground if you grab just a little bit too much front brake. The rear proved to be strong, yet predictable as well with plenty of room to either drag it for a gradual stop or lock it up to either slide or come to a screeching halt.
In the rear, the Kayaba shock features a 33-position rebound damping adjuster with dual compression adjustability, allowing 22-position high-speed and stepless low-speed damping adjustments. I opted for the softest settings and the rear shock, due to my weight. It worked well through the choppy braking bumps, but was also progressive on the bigger, harder landings. The shock also did not fade throughout the course of a moto, which may be attributed to the Kashima Coating treatment applied in order to reduce friction and heat.
Most of the more simple parts on the KX450F have a comfortable feel stock out of the box. The levers have an agreeable bend and the clutch pull is consistent and easy, which is nice during the course of a long moto. The stock Renthal 971 bend aluminum handlebars have a nice, roomy feel as well and they can even be moved frontwards or backwards in the different bar mounting holes on the triple clamps.
The footpegs are another component with further adjustability with the rider being able to choose between the stock position or 5mm lower than stock. The Bridgestone tires hooked up well in everything from the sand, intermediate, and hard-pack conditions and had minimal wear over the many hours logged on the Kawasaki KX450F.
Oil filter access was as simple as removing two bolts and the cover located directly in front of the clutch cover. The air filter was also easy to access, clean, and oil with two tabs on the filter and cage to ensure that it secures properly at a slight, diagonal angle.
The only complaint about the KX was the loud, raspy-sounding muffler, which is very noticeable in the higher rpm. If someone offered a quieter aftermarket system, I would consider it if I rode in sound-sensitive areas.
With the incredible motor and slightly stiffer suspension, the 2014 Kawasaki KX450F is a perfect bike for riders in the Intermediate to Expert skill level range. The motor’s perfectly placed powerband is one that the more advanced, skilled riders will rave about. The suspension loves to be ridden hard and, the faster you push it, the smoother the ride. The ease of adjustability of the air forks is a big plus for those of us who regularly ride at different tracks, and the performance mimics that of more weighty spring-equipped forks.
The bottom line is that if you’re a rider/racer looking for an extremely competitive, yet fun, 450cc machine with an incredible motor right out of the box, the 2014 Kawasaki KX450F is an excellent weapon of choice and may be the perfect bike for you.
Helmet: Vemar VRX9
Goggles: Oakley Airbrake MX
Neck Brace: Leatt-Brace Pro-Lite
Jersey, gloves, and pants: Moose Racing Racewear M1
Boots: Sidi Crossfire 2
Andrew Oldar is sponsored by Moose Racing
Photography by Don Williams
2014 Kawasaki KX450F Specifications
Engine…Liquid-cooled, four-stroke single with DOHC and four-valve cylinder head
Bore x stroke…96.0 x 62.1mm
Fuel Injection…DFI with 43mm Keihin throttle body
Rake / trail…26.9 degrees / 4.4 inches
Front suspension / wheel travel…48mm inverted, Kayaba PSF with DLC coated sliders, 22-position compression and 20-position rebound dampening adjustment / 12.4 inches
Rear suspension / wheel travel…UNI-TRAK linkage system and Kayaba shock with 50mm piston, 22-position low-speed and stepless high-speed compression dampening, 33-position rebound dampening and fully adjustable spring preload / 12.4 inches
Front tire…Bridgestone 80/100-21
Rear tire…Bridgestone 120/80-19
Front brake…Single rigid-mount 250mm petal disc with dual-piston caliper
Rear brake…Single 240mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Overall length…85.8 inches
Overall width…32.3 inches
Overall height…50.2 inches
Ground clearance…13.0 inches
Seat height…37.6 inches
Curb weight…248.0 pounds
Fuel capacity…1.64 gallons
2014 Kawasaki KX450F Suggested Retail Price: $8499.