2012 Kawasaki KLX140L | Review

2012 Kawasaki KLX 140 L Test

It may be a trail bike for budding dirt bike riders, yet the 2012 Kawasaki KLX140L is much more sophisticated than it needs to be. The range of high-end parts belies its MSRP of $3249.

Basically a big-wheel version of the standard KLX140 (16/19 RK Excel aluminum rims on the L compared to 14/17 on the standard), the KLX140L is perfectly sized for riders hovering around 5-feet even.

The Kawasaki KLX140L’s air-cooled SOHC two-valve motor is simplicity at its best, with power that is not intimidating off-idle (it’s a little lean down there) or through the wide midrange, yet will move things along nicely as you approach the stratospheric 10,500 rpm redline (a gentle rev limiter kicks in to prevent a blown engine).

If it’s running, the 144cc motor is not off the cam, so highly technical trails can be traversed if the rider is willing and capable. The 20mm Keihin PB carb is jetted pretty lean to satisfy governmental tailpipe sniffers. A little fiddling with the pilot jetting if it’s not quite right where you ride can improve throttle response down low–unfortunately, the carb is a bit buried, so you have to pull some plastic to get to it. The jetting seems fine through the midrange and top end.

There is plenty of power on tap for just about any situation a young trail rider will need. Hillclimbing power is good–get the KLX140L up in the top of its rev range and it just wants to keep pulling. On technical hillclimbs, it puts the power to the ground consistently.

The light-action, manual clutch has two-stage engagement, claimed to improve low-speed controllability. The 5-speed transmission gives complete flexibility out on the trail with that wide powerband. There’s some fairly complex linkage on the shifter, but no one complained about missing a shift and feel is good.

Even with full-sized guys riding it (yes, we let them and they loved it), the KLX140L’s clutch stood up to some very ugly abuse with 1.2 quarts of oil helping to dissipate the heat.

This friendly electric-start motor (with no kick backup) is just part of what makes the 140L so agreeable. The handling of the KLX is highly impressive. In addition to the 16-inch rear and 19-inch front tires, which allows a choice of premium race rubber for minis, the L also gets a one-inch longer aluminum(!) swingarm than its smaller brother.

With the larger wheels, longer wheelbase and firmed up suspension (still just over 7 inches at each end), the Kawasaki KLX140L is impressively stable at speed. We enjoyed taking it around a tight, smooth MX track (no whoops or doubles) while holding the throttle wide open and shifting as needed. This isn’t what the KLX140L is designed to do, but it illustrates just how well it handles.

In tighter off-road conditions, the 50.6-inch wheelbase and 27 degrees of rake makes the KLX140L as maneuverable as it needs to be. The front end sticks quite well in turns, even in muddy conditions. The rear can find traction when needed, or you can slide it through corners if desired. The stock IRC tires will be fine for most riders, though upgrading to terrain-specific race tires will make things even better.

Suspension is quite good, with smooth movement through the stroke. Considering the intended use of the KLX140L, the suspension is superb. Most riders will never use all seven inches of travel, as they won’t be doing big jumps or slamming through the roughest terrain. The suspension could be a bit softer, but that would make it less sure in turns, so I think Kawasaki nailed it.

The front forks are non-adjustable, which is fine. Kawasaki went overboard on the shock adjustment. Twenty-two levels of rebound damping adjustment is more confusing than helpful on a playbike. The compression damping has four levels of adjustment, which makes far more sense. Regardless, the vast majority of KLX140L riders will leave it stock and be perfectly satisfied.

The disc brakes at both ends are outstanding. Oversized four-piston calipers grab the front 220mm petal disc, while at the rear a large two-piston caliper handles the 186mm rotor. Bite is initially soft–perfect for less experienced riders–and ramps up to provide plenty of deceleration for larger, heavier pilots.

The larger wheels work magic on the rocky, highly technical trails we tested it on, as they will more easily roll over obstacles than the standard KLX140 wheels. Ground clearance is also better, as the L has an additional 0.7 inches of space before rocks and logs hit.

Other than the 0.8-inch increase in seat height over the standard KLX140, which brings the seat height to 31.5 inches, there is little downside to the L. The weight increase is only four pounds for the L, and it tips the scales at a reasonable 209 pounds (claimed wet).

Ergonomics are a bit tight for taller riders, the seat/peg/bar arrangement is unchanged from the standard KLX140, which is designed for shorter riders–slightly taller bars will help. The footpegs offer great support, and are larger than the pegs on a KLR650! The KLX140L’s box-section frame is narrow, so a rider can easily move around on the machine. The seat is comfortable and unobtrusive, providing grip when needed.

Maintenance for the Kawasaki KLX140L is straightforward, so a new rider can learn that art easily. The oil filter is easily accessible, and a beginner can change the oil. It does take tools to get to the air filter–a wing nut holds the cage in place. The KX-style chain adjustment system is robust and impervious to trail damage.

Appearance does matter to younger and new riders, and the 2012 Kawasaki KLX140L is a sharp looking bike. Aluminum swingarm, box-tube frame, box-style USFS-approved spark-arrester/muffler, and sleek plastic with nice graphics–no one is going to laugh at the KLX140L.

Like any youth/small-adult off-road bike, it’s all about getting the right-sized bike for the rider. The Kawasaki KLX140L may be in the same displacement class as the Honda CRF150F, but it is a much more compact machine, so they aren’t exactly direct competitors.

Always be sure to properly fit a bike to the rider, and don’t expect the rider to "grow into it." Get a bike that fits and the rider can learn to dominate. An oversized bike is a bad idea; a slightly small bike can just be more fun–again, full-sized adults had a blast taking this bike on the MX track and trails.

Far better than it needs to be, the 2012 Kawasaki KLX140L is a superb playbike and learner’s bike. If the ergonomics work for the rider, Kawasaki has delivered on every other aspect of the bike.

2012 Kawasaki KLX140L Specs:

  • Engine…Four-stroke, SOHC, two-valve single
  • Displacement…144cc
  • Bore x Stroke…58.0 x 54.4mm
  • Compression ratio…9.5:1
  • Cooling System…Air
  • Carburetion…Keihin PB20
  • Ignition…CDI
  • Transmission…Five-speed with wet multi-disc manual clutch
  • Final drive…Chain
  • Frame Type…High-tensile steel, box-section perimeter
  • Rake/Trail…27 degrees / 3.8 in.
  • Front suspension / wheel travel…33mm telescopic fork / 7.1 in.
  • Rear suspension / wheel travel…UNI-TRAK® linkage system and single shock with piggyback reservoir, fully adjustable preload and 22-way rebound damping / 7.1 in.
  • Front Tire…IRC Motocross 70/100-19
  • Rear Tire…IRC Motocross 90/100-16
  • Front brakes / rear brakes…Single 220mm petal disc with a dual-piston caliper / Single 186mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
  • Overall length…74.6 in.
  • Overall width…31.1 in.
  • Overall height…42.3 in.
  • Ground clearance…10.0 in.
  • Seat height…31.5 in.
  • Curb weight…209.4 lbs.
  • Wheelbase…50.6 in.
  • Fuel capacity…1.5 gal.
  • Color Choices…Lime Green
  • Warranty…6 months base warranty

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: Thor Quadrant

  • Goggles: Thor Women’s Enemy
  • Jersey, gloves and pants: Thor Women’s Phase Storm
  • Boots: Thor Women’s Quadrant

Photography by Don Williams