2012 Kawasaki KLX110L | Review

Kawasaki KLX 110 L Motorcycle

Once kids have learned the basics of off-road riding on the auto-clutch, short-travel suspension Kawasaki KLX110, the next step up in both size and features is the 2012 Kawasaki KLX110L, which features longer suspension and a manual clutch for advanced riding.

As this is being written in December, it’s the perfect Christmas present for the right youngster.

To test this bike, we didn’t grab the nearest top young motocross star and have him shred the KLX110L around a track. That’s not who this bike is for. It’s a trail bike that is all about the magic of family off-road riding, building the kind of memories that kids will remember for the rest of their lives.

Non-offensive, though certainly capable, the 2012 Kawasaki KLX110L will allow a young ride to keep up with older siblings on parents on most trails, just so long as the hills aren’t huge. Even then, it’s not difficult for an adult to push the bike through the toughest terrain, if necessary.

Didrik Thordarson is a prime candidate for the KLX110L. He is too tall for the standard KLX110, and he is due to up his abilities to include a manual clutch. Didrik had had some minimal manual clutch experience, so we could watch him try to master the manipulation of the 110L’s clutch lever throttle, and shift lever.

We outfitted Didrik with the proper protection that fits–a must for a rider of any experience level. His helmet is a HJC CL-XY Fuse helmet. We liked the way it fit and the ease of which he could slip his nicely fitting adult-sized Utopia Warrant MX goggles into place. He liked the contemporary graphics and the light weight of the plastic shell. The Nylex interior is removable, so it won’t develop a smell that will knock out mom.

Axo’s SR Jr Jersey, pants looked good and fit well. We haven’t extensively tested Axo’s youth apparel, but have had good experiences about the durability of the adult Axo gear. The Axo Ride Jr gloves fit a bit small, though Didrik does have longish fingers. 

We were most impressed with the Axo Boxer Jr boots.

This is outstanding off-road footwear that is built to adult standards. The fit was great, and Didrik liked the red accent closures. Shift toe protection, a full MX sole, a hard toe with steel toe protectors, and plenty of plastic. Didrik complained that he couldn’t feel the shifter initially, though that problem solved itself with some break-in time.

Getting started from a standing start is the most difficult part of learning to use a manual clutch. The electric starting on the Kawasaki makes the clutch mastering job much easier. A stab of the button along with cracking open the throttle started the KLX110L up every time. There’s a backup kickstarter, but we never needed it. We suspect that most kids will prefer that dad operate the kickstarter, if the need arises.

The 18mm Keihin carbureted perfectly. We did up the idle a bit to help with the stalling, but you’ll need tools to accomplish this goal. An easily accessible finger-operable idle knob beats a screw hidden behind the stylish, though functionally unnecessarily, faux radiator guards. On the other hand, Kawasaki may be trying to keep young hands from making that adjustment.

Didrik found the KLX110L to be a bit challenging initially. The engagement of the clutch is over a fairly narrow range and far out in the lever travel. This means he would let the lever out for quite a while before the 110L would start to creep forward, and then the clutch engages quickly and the bike either stalls or jumps forward abruptly. It isn’t the best design for learning. Though Didrik had it nearly mastered in a day, we’d like to see a longer engagement sweep.

Once underway, the clutch issue disappeared. Didrik quickly learned to shift quickly and get the most acceleration possible out of the mild 111cc two-valve mill (the KLX110L got a power boost in 2011). There, he worked on upshifting and downshifting technique (the latter being a bit harder), as well as learning to slide the back end a bit while twisting the throttle wide open in third gear around the turns. 

Didrik is a fast learner, and he came back talking enthusiastically about the KLX110L’s power. He liked the four-speed transmission, especially when wide-open in the top gear on straights. It was the fastest he had gone on a motorcycle, and he liked it. The drum brakes are basic, though predictable and adequate for this application.

The IRC Motocross tires work well in everything from hardpack to mud, providing confidence in cornering–a great all-around choice.

The wheels are on the small side, and the same size as the standard Kawasaki KLX110, so the added height of the bike is due to the longer travel suspension. Surprisingly firmly damped and sprung, even an adult can ride the KLX110L without instant bottoming. This allowed Didrik to pound his way over tough terrain without getting out of shape.

There’s no suspension adjustment, and we would have preferred a bit more plushness in the 5+ inches of travel, but Didrik’s limited amount of experience meant he never noticed. He just pounded the bike without an moment of concern.

One thing that Didrik immediately liked was the KLX110L’s ability to jump and land controllably. Here, the firmer suspension was welcome, and he made the most of it. His skills aren’t perfect, and the Kawasaki kept him on two wheels even when landing awkwardly.

In tight terrain, the pesky late-engaging clutch was an occasional problem. Didrik learned to manipulate the throttle and gearbox more efficiently to work around that issue. Handling is more than sufficient, and in rocky terrain the 8.5 inches of ground clearance gets the small bike through.

There aren’t much maintenance requirements for the KLX110L. Changing the oil and oil filter isn’t difficult, and the chain adjustment is straightforward. Getting to the air filter is more of a chore than it needs to be. It is housed behind a shroud, so tools are necessary to get to the slab of foam in a minimal airbox.

Trips through a mudhole didn’t produce so much as a burble, so the filter is well protected from the moister elements.

Speaking of the shroud–actually a one-piece tank cover/shroud combo – Didrik managed to break the right side of the shroud near the mounting point when misjudging the position of a tree in a turn. The trunk wedged itself between the shroud and the steering head, cracking the shroud all the way through. Fortunately, the shroud didn’t flop around due to the one-piece design. The shroud is unnecessary and, seemingly breakage prone, but does give the KLX110L the look of Supercross champion Ryan Villopoto’s KX450F, which is an important selling point to a youngster (and dad).

Christmas or birthday, if the time is right and your young rider has outgrown a previous bike, and it’s time to start using the clutch, the 2012 Kawasaki KLX110L is a desirable next step on the way to a lifetime of off-road fun.

Riding Style

  • Helmet: HJC CL-XY Fuse
Goggles: Utopia Warrant MX 

  • Jersey and pants: Axo SR Jr
  • Gloves: Axo Ride Jr.
  • Boots: Axo Boxer Jr.

2012 Kawasaki KLX110L

  • Engine…Four-stroke, SOHC, two-valve single
  • Displacement…111cc
  • Bore x stroke…53.0 x 50.6mm
  • Compression ratio…9.5:1
  • Cooling System…Air
  • Carburetion…18mm Keihin PB
  • Ignition…CDI
  • Transmission…Four-speed with wet multi-disc manual clutch
  • Final drive…Chain
  • Frame Type…Backbone frame, high-tensile steel
  • Rake…24.2 degrees
  • Trail…1.9 in.
  • Front suspension…30mm hydraulic telescopic fork
  • Rear suspension…Swingarm with single hydraulic shock
  • Suspension travel f/r…5.2 inches/5.5 inches
  • Tire sizes f/r…2.50×14/3.00×12
Tires…IRC Motocross
  • Brakes…Mechanical drums
  • Overall length…61.4 in.
  • Overall width…25.6 in.
  • Overall height…39.0
  • Ground clearance…10.4 in.
  • Seat height…28.7 in.
  • Curb weight…168 lbs.
  • Wheelbase…42.3 in.
  • Fuel capacity…1.0 gal.

Photography by Don Williams