One of the great joys in motorcycling is watching a young rider develop. Ben Karsian started out with Ultimate Motorcycling when he went through the MSF DirtBike School. From there, Ben was promoted to test rider and has experience on a variety of auto-clutch 110cc trail bikes. As Ben is about to move up the ranks, the 2021 Kawasaki KLX110R will probably be the last of that genre he will be helping us test, so let’s get to it.
The 2021 Kawasaki KLX110R has a new model name. It’s the motorcycle previously known as the KLX110. This year, Kawasaki has overhauled its KLX nomenclature. The R models are off-road, while the models that end with a number (based on engine displacement) rather than a letter are the dual-sport versions. Different ending letters tell you a little something about the model.
There are two KLX110R editions this year. There’s the standard auto-clutch KLX110R version that we’re testing. For more experienced riders, there is also the manual-clutch KLX110R L, which also has longer suspension travel. The L will be Ben’s next test bike, per his request, as he’s ready to move up to a manual-clutch motorcycle.
Ben is familiar with the Kawasaki 110 family, and the 2021 Kawasaki KLX110R provided no surprises.
The KLX110R remains carbureted, as does the Yamaha TT-R110E, even as the competing 2021 Honda CRF110F is fuel-injected. In an odd twist, the 2021 KLX110R does not meet California Green Sticker standards. However, the upcoming 2022 KLX110R, which will be functionally identical, meets California Green Sticker standards for 2022, thanks to updated regulations for dirt bikes under 112cc.
Regardless of this bureaucratic nonsense, if you’re not going to ride frequently, make sure you run the carb dry at the end of the day and drain the float bowl to prevent the small jets from clogging—a chore EFI avoids.
Despite the lean Green Sticker jetting, 2021 Kawasaki KLX110R does warm up fairly quickly, though we are thankful for electric start first thing on cold mornings. Once up to operating temperature, the 18mm Keihin carb works as expected. Ben likes to kickstart the motor because it’s fun, and a warmed-up KLX110R powerplant is typically a one-kick process.
From a performance standpoint, we were impressed with the strong bottom end power of the air-cooled SOHC two-valve motor. Good low-rpm pull and an automatic clutch make for a capable off-road mount when chasing around the bigger kids. The engine revs out nicely, putting out over six horsepower at 7000 rpm. The broad powerband is perfect for confidence-building trail riding. By the end of the test, Ben took the KLX110R on hillclimbs that would have been unthinkable to him when he first swung his leg over a motorcycle.
Ben had no complaints about the suspension. Although he’s not a big jumper yet, he is getting the wheels off the ground. The four-plus inches of non-adjustable suspension travel is adequate for any young novice rider who fits the 110’s chassis, as he does. Watching him ride, the suspension didn’t bounce him around unnecessarily, even in our sometimes-rocky test riding areas.
The mechanical drum braking system is intuitive, though it’s odd to see a larger rear brake than front brake. Regardless, both work as expected, even on steep downhills, and no complaints were lodged.
The IRC Motocross GS-45 tires are undoubtedly a budget-friendly selection that will wear well. Although they worked fine enough, we would upgrade to terrain-specific premium tires. If you shop around, it will run less than $100 a pair for tires fitting a 14-/12-inch rim combo, and well worth it for improved off-road performance. We would just pull off the IRCs before riding the bike and store them for resale time.
The chassis is a mature design, and everything works as expected. Young riders are resilient, and nothing about the 2021 Kawasaki KLX110R wore Ben out. We sent him out solo on intermediate trails—under our watchful long-distance eye—and he impressed us with his ability to conquer more challenging routes without our direct supervision. His high-quality Fly Racing protective gear also gives us peace of mind as Ben gets more aggressive with the throttle.
A fantastic side benefit of a dirt bike is teaching a rider how to perform basic maintenance. While the KLX110R could be a bit more maintenance-friendly, it’s not daunting.
Changing the oil is easy—just remove the drain bolt on the bottom of the motor, which is accessed through a hole in the steel skidplate. To get to the oil filter, the skidplate must be removed. There’s also an oil strainer behind the clutch-side cover, so dealing with that is a bit more involved.
Cleaning the slab-style air filter is more complicated than it needs to be. The tank shroud must be removed—two bolts, a screw, and the gas cap. Then, three screws hold on the vertically mounted airbox lid. The filter itself is easy to pull out. Learning to clean the air filter safely and effectively is the next step. Once the filter is clean, it’s a simple matter of reversing the process for re-installation.
Adjusting the chain is straightforward, though the drum rear brake adds an additional step. Loosen the axle nut, the brake adjustment nuts, and the locknuts to deal with the chain adjustment. The brake adjusting nut and the torque link nut must be loosened to allow the rear axle to move. After the chain slack is set correctly, the torque link nut can be tightened, and the brake adjustment nut set properly. Yes, disc brakes have spoiled us on this one. The only thing left for typical maintenance is double-checking the free play and operation of the front brake lever.
The 2021 Kawasaki KLX110R will continue to launch countless motorcycle riding careers. When Kawasaki added the R, we would have liked to have seen a fuel management update—preferably fuel injection. Of course, not all parents trust EFI and prefer a carburetor, so Kawasaki provides that option. Otherwise, the chassis is excellent, and the riding experience affords fond memories that will last a lifetime. There are few things better for kids than riding a dirt bike.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Fly Racing Youth Toxin Embargo
- Googles: Fly Racing Youth Zone
- Pants, jersey + gloves: Fly Racing Youth Kinetic K220
- Roost guard: Fly Racing Mini Convertible II
- Boots: Fly Racing Youth Maverik MX
2021 Kawasaki KLX110R Specs
- Type: 4-stroke single
- Displacement: 112cc
- Bore x Stroke: 53.0 x 50.6mm
- Maximum power: 6.2 horsepower @ 7000 rpm
- Maximum torque: 4.6 ft-lbs @ 4500 rpm
- Compression ratio: 9.5:1
- Starting: Electric w/ kick backup
- Valvetrain: SOHC; 2 valves
- Cooling: Air
- Carburetion: 18mm Keihin w/ throttle limiter
- Transmission: Four-speed manual shift
- Clutch: Automatic centrifugal
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: High-tensile steel backbone
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 30mm fork; 4.3 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Cantilevered non-adjustable shock; 4.3 inches
- Tires: IRC Motocross GS-45
- Front tire: 2.50 x 14
- Rear Tire: 3.00 x 12
- Front brake: 90mm mechanical drum
- Rear brake: 110mm mechanical drum
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 42.3 inches
- Rake: 24.8 degrees
- Trail: 2.0 inches
- Seat height: 26.8 inches
- Ground clearance: 8.5 inches
- Curb weight: 168 pounds
- Fuel capacity: 1.0 gallons
- Color: Lime Green
2021 Kawasaki KLX110R Price: $2349 MSRP]
2021 Kawasaki KLX110R Review Photo Gallery