2020 Kawasaki KLX230 Review:
On- and Off-Road Test
In the shadow of the loss of the venerable KLR650 from its dual sport lineup, Kawasaki has brought in the new-rider friendly KLX230 to make amends. Although it is close in displacement to the veteran KLX250, the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 is an entirely different motorcycle aimed at a different kind of rider. We tested the new KLX230 on the roads and in the hills of southern Oregon to find out exactly what Kawasaki’s smallest dual sport motorcycle is all about.
- The 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 focuses on urban riders who either like the dual-sport styling, or genuinely want to expand their horizon to include off-pavement motorcycling. Weighing in at under 300 pounds with the two-gallon fuel tank filled, the KLX230 is an excellent around-town motorcycle. With electric starting and EFI, it’s ready-to-ride in seconds, and only the 34.8-inch seat height will give a new rider any pause at all. Styling will please the zombie apocalypse fans, as it signals that it is ready to take on any possible tear in the fabric of society.
- Soft suspension makes the KLX230 a friendly commuter and city motorcycle. Both ends are soft and non-adjustable (save the obligatory spring-preload for the linkage-assisted shock). Even with the light damping and springing, you will be hard-pressed to find a pothole that will faze the KLX230 suspension. When you do hit the irregularities of derelict city streets, you will know they’re there, but they won’t upset the ride. With nearly nine inches of travel at both ends, the KLX230 has more suspension than it needs for street riding. You can ride with abandon, and skip onto curbs as necessary to bypass traffic.
- A tall saddle gives a good view of the competition. The upside of a dual-sport seat height is that you can see over cars and most SUVs. The KLX230 delivers that experience, and it’s a big positive in chaotic traffic—experts and novices benefit from that feature. The seat is narrow, though not especially hard. You can run through the small tank without feeling the effects of monkey butt. Seating is spartan for the passenger, though adequate for short hauls.
- The air-cooled, two-valve motor has enough grunt to do battle in-town. Although 233cc aren’t much, especially with a basic low-revving engine, the power concentrates on the bottom and mid-range portions of the powerband. That means you can get away smartly when the light turns green, with no concern that the four-wheel crowd will be hounding you. The Kawasaki KLX230 is even up for some freeway runs, though you will want to keep them short and look for a 55 mph speed limit, even with its flawless six-speed transmission. Yes, the KLX230 will exceed that modest speed limit, but you will get swallowed up on freeways with faster speed limits and lots of impatient drivers.
- If you do happen to have some urban trails—documented or not—the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 should suit them just fine. Most city trails are typically neither technical nor demanding, though there are a few in Los Angeles if you know where to look. So, if there is a little off-road shortcut needed to get to your destination more quickly, the KLX230 gets the job done nicely. That’s an 18-/21-inch tire combo, so you will roll over most obstacles, and ground clearance is impressively adequate at over 10 inches (sans rider). It’s quiet, which means passersby will be less annoyed, though it does have a bit of a race-readiness look to the uninitiated. Keep the rule-bending jaunts short and sweet, and few will notice or object.
- Riders with authentic off-road rides on their itineraries will have to keep their cross-country racing Walter Mitty dreams in check. Although the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 is a wonderful casual trail motorcycle, you have to ride within its limits. The suspension is extremely soft in true off-road conditions, and the motor is grunty rather than spritely. You won’t be wheelying over obstacles because there isn’t an abundance of snappy torque, so pick lines wisely. In a practical sense, the smooth and steady motor plays well with the forgiving chassis and plush suspension, making the KLX230 a delightfully balanced motorcycle.
- When we say the suspension is soft, we mean it is exceedingly soft. While the fork is plush without being disablingly soft, the shock will blow through its travel without much provocation. Even the slightest g-out means bottoming out the rear end. On the upside, the KLX230 gets plenty of traction, even with the street/dirt compromise IRC Trails tires.
- Smooth fun trails are a blast on the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230. The engineers got the chassis sorted out nicely right out of the box on the first try—not bad for a truly all-new motorcycle. The front end doesn’t push or oversteer, and everything works together. The power builds leisurely, which matches up nicely with the demands of the likely KLX230 rider. A new trail rider doesn’t need snappy throttle response—controllability and predictability should carry the day, and that’s how the little mill works. The EFI is flawless, as is the clutch, so the KLX230 can be worked slowly through technical trail sections, and it is even a decent hillclimber when traction is abundant. If you are truly going to ride the KLX230 off-road quite a bit, going with something like Dunlop D606s will improve the experience without ruining streetability—save the IRCs for resale.
- Dual-sport riding often means tying together trails with twisting roads, and the KLX230 enjoys that duty. You might expect that the soft suspension means the KLX230 will be vague in the twisties. Well, that might be true if it had more power, but it doesn’t. With the affable power available, the KLX230’s chassis reacts predictably and confidently. The pavement stretches will certainly be part of the fun.
- The braking works well on both the street and dirt. The discs and no-name calipers at both ends work have both good power and feel. ABS is a $300 option, though we’d go without ABS if a lot of time is going to be spent on the dirt. Those looking to ride the KLX230 on the street most of the time should certainly spring for ABS, especially with the stock IRC tires.
- Everything is simple on the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230, and that will be a relief to new riders. Don’t worry about power modes, traction control, ABS levels, or anything else. You hop on the KLX230, and you go riding. There’s a horn, a switch for turn signals, high- and low-beam for the headlight, a killswitch, and a starter button—that’s it. The LCD dash is also minimal—it has a fuel gauge and clock, though no gear position indicator (something experts and novices often like).
- Maintenance is not going to take up much of your time. Change the oil regularly. Inspect the drive chain, even though it will rarely require attention. Clean the air filter whenever you venture into the dirt. There are probably a few other things in the manual, and you should pay attention to them, but we’ve just covered about 99 percent of what you need to do in the real world.
- Styling is inspired by the KX450 raced by three-time and current AMA Pro Motocross Champion Eli Tomac. The KLX230 is a good-looking motorcycle, though we would like to see the bulbous headlight replaced by something sleeker with LED lighting. The turn signals are unobtrusive and durable in falls.
- Motorcycling is continuously looking to engage new riders, and the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 does just that. The KLX230 has enough performance to get a new rider going without anyone feeling intimidated. It is a real dual-sport motorcycle that is happy in the dirt, just as long as you aren’t irrationally exuberant. Entry-level motorcycles are the bedrock of the sport, and the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 is a welcome addition to that sector.Photography by Kevin Wing
Helmet: Alpinestars Supertech M10
Goggles: Nenki Motocross
Pants + Jersey: Alpinestars Techstar Factory
Gloves: Alpinestars Techstar
Backpack: Alpinestars Tech Aero
Body armor: Forcefield Armor Pro Shirt X-V
Knee braces: Alpinestars Fluid Tech Carbon
Socks: Fly Racing Knee Brace
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro
2020 Kawasaki KLX230 and KLX230 ABS Specs
Type: Single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 66.0mm
Compression ratio: 9.4:1
Valvetrain: SOHC; 2 valves
Fueling: EFI w/ 32mm throttle body
Final drive: Chain
Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 37mm fork; 8.7 inches
Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted spring-preload adjustable shock; 8.8 inches
Front tire: 2.75 x 21; IRC Trails GP-21F
Rear tire: 4.10 x 18; IRC Trails GP-22R
Front brake: 240mm petal disc w/ twin-piston caliper (ABS: 265mm)
Rear brake: 220mm petal disc w/ single-piston caliper
ABS: Optional ($300)
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase: 54.3 inches
Rake: 27.5 degrees
Trail: 4.6 inches
Seat height: 34.8 inches
Ground clearance: 10.4 inches
Fuel tank capacity: 2.0 gallons
Curb weight: 291 pounds (ABS: 293 pounds)
Color: Lime Green
2020 Kawasaki KLX230 Price: $4599 MSRP
2020 Kawasaki KLX230 ABS Price: $4899 MSRP