2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review (20 Fast Facts for Trail Bike Riders)

Having fun on a dirt bike is all about confidence. A generous slice of the confidence pie comes from being able to touch your boots down securely in the dirt. I’ve ridden all manner of trail bikes, from smaller displacement bikes with not-quite-adult ergonomics to leggy 450cc cross-country motorcycles that are competition-ready. While there is a trade-off to everything, measuring smiles may be the best gauge for bike selection, and that brings us to the new 2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S.

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review: MSRP

Kawasaki brought us the KLX230R in 2020—a welcome addition to the KLX line-up as it filled the gap between the KLX140R and the also-new full-sized KLX300R. For 2021, Kawasaki gives the new KLX230R S a critical feature. Let’s see what this KLX230R variant has to offer.

  1. The seat height of the 2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S is an inch shorter than the standard KLX230R. While an inch may seem like a small unit of measure, it can mean the difference between security and intimidation. The unladen seat height is 35.4 inches, so I can just graze both feet flat on the ground when sitting on the KLX230R S with my 30.5-inch inseam and Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro boots. Nice.
  1. The ergonomics remain full-size on the KLX230R S. The shorter seat height does not come at the expense of the small-adult ergonomics. Instead, the wheel travel is just more than an inch shorter on the S version than on the standard KLX230R. This is key. The rider triangle has not changed, so the seating position does not feel cramped. Although the 230R is not as roomy as the KLX300R, it in no way feels like a kid’s bike. The seat is firm, yet comfortable, making it easy to move around on the bike. If you want more room, the handlebar clamps are multi-position, with stock being in a rearward position.

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review: Price

  1. The KLX230R S’s seat height is over a half-inch taller than the Honda CRF250F, which has about the same suspension travel. The 2021 CRF250F is 11 pounds heavier and is $300 more expensive. Clearly, a comparison test is in order.
  1. While the suspension is shortened from the standard KLX230R, the S still offers nearly nine inches of wheel travel at both ends. We took the KLX230R S on rugged single-track trails, up rocky hillclimbs, across harsh desertscape liberally scattered with volcanic rock, and through sand washes. The suspension handled it all with surprising composure. It’s far from plush—there’s not enough room for that in the travel range—but it’s completely capable.
  1. There is no adjustment to the suspension, save spring-preload for the shock, and that is just fine. The suspension balance is well-matched to the motor’s power and expected use and works impressively well in various conditions.

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review: For Sale

  1. Ground clearance is not an issue on the KLX230R S. Trading away an inch of ground clearance to touch your boots down when needed is a good exchange for a trail bike of this type. There is enough room to ride the S over the kind of rough terrain one would expect a rider would tackle on this motorcycle. Of course, installing an accessory skid plate is never a bad idea if big rocks are a staple of your dirt bike diet—punching a hole in the cases is expensive. While you’re at it, consider a set of handguards. Kawasaki offers both from its accessories arm for a total of less than $100.
  1. The KLX230R S is quite agile, thanks in no small part to the chassis’ low center of gravity. This reveals itself in various ways, from the ease of slaloming through the chaparral as you fly across the desert floor On Any Sunday style, to surfing a deep sand wash, to working through a rock garden. Even picking the bike up after a tip-over is less drama than with a taller steed, as it feels lighter than it is due to its abbreviated height. It’s quite different picking up the leggy Yamaha WR250F and the KLX230R S, despite the two motorcycles tipping the scales at the same exact 254 pounds—leverage matters.
  1. Handling is intuitive, and the narrow chassis can be controlled easily with your legs, whether seated or standing. There’s nothing nervous about the KLX230R S; it is simply willing and able. You don’t need a lot of body English to change lines mid-trail should you suddenly find a rock in your path. There will be minor wandering from the front end with the throttle (almost) pinned, but it’s a predictable looseness that causes no stress once you realize it’s not about to crash.

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review: Trail Bike Motorcycle

  1. The 233cc air-cooled single has enough power to satisfyingly pull 6th gear. The gearing on the KLX230R S is well-spaced, allowing you to ride at high speeds without feeling tapped out. Heavier riders might be tempted to gear the transmission down a bit, but my 115-pound frame was fine with it, as is.
  1. The focus on low- and mid-range torque makes the KLX 230 easy to handle. Power delivery is reliably smooth and composed, allowing you to confidently navigate technical sections with the rear tire never breaking traction. The motor is ready to deliver quicker acceleration if you spin up the engine with a healthy twist of your right wrist. Rev it up enough, and you can steer with the rear end a bit on friendly dirt roads.
  1. No energy is wasted managing more power than you need. The KLX230R S is easy to handle at all speeds—one of its best features. You can ride at a moderate pace on a trail, and should you find yourself faced with a steep climb ahead, no problem—just get on the gas. The 230 will dutifully carry you up and over the rough stretch without getting out of shape. You won’t be struggling to control the extra power you’ve unleashed. Instead, you’ll enjoy riding aggressively and feeling the bike respond to your command.

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review: Trail Motorcycle

  1. When it comes to lifting the front wheel over obstacles, you will notice that the motor is not snappy. The smooth power delivery is a feature most of the time. However, you can forget about blipping the throttle and easily lofting the front wheel over a rock, log, or dip. It can be done, though, at medium-to-high levels of effort—throttle and body positioning—to make it happen.
  1. If you plan to ride aggressively, the 2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S’s stock Dunlop Sports D952 tires will need to be replaced. The rear tire is okay, but the flimsy front tire isn’t confidence-inspiring. The front can give way when turning. There’s just not enough consistent stability and bite, even at the KLX230R S’s relatively low speeds. The rear tire is adequate, but a pair of Dunlop Geomax MX53s will slip right on and do the bike a lot of favors. 
  1. Braking is also compromised by the choice of rubber. It’s not the 240mm front disc’s fault that there’s a lack of security when braking on slippery downhill trails. The D952 doesn’t provide a tacky enough contact patch. I quickly found that I needed to supplement the front brake with the rear disc and engine compression braking to feel secure when slowing my downhill momentum. Feel at the lever and pedal is good, so the pair of disc brakes do a fine job of slowing the bike in less demanding circumstances.

  1. Electric start and EFI are great features. Starting the KLX230R S requires just a push of the button—no petcock or choke to fool with. The ECU could use minor tweaking, as it has a tendency to unpredictably idle high—likely a problem caused by making the motor eligible for a California Green Sticker. Dynojet can set you up with a Power Commander V, if it’s worth $400 to you to fix the problem. The engine never hiccupped, sputtered, or flamed out, whether in the high desert at 2400 feet above sea level or the local mountains (over a mile high).
  1. If you fall, be sure to switch the bike off and back on before restarting; if you don’t, it won’t fire up. Also, if you don’t remember to push the power button to shut the KLX off at the end of the day, it will drain the battery—it’s easy to forget.
  1. I’m not a fan of the red power light. Whenever I look down while riding, I see a red light—usually not a good sign. A Kawasaki green light would be less distracting and more accurately illustrative. As there’s no petcock, a low-fuel light comes on when the 1.7-gallon tank needs refilling—it takes a lot of riding to get it to come on.

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review: Specs and Photos

  1. The Kawasaki KLX230R S is inexpensive, and sometimes obvious about it. There are quite a few extraneous brackets and mounts on the KLX230R S, which tells you the parts are repurposed from other motorcycles. Prominently observable is the mirror-mount on the clutch perch—not something you’d want to have hit you in a tumble. There are also mounting tabs on the fork legs for an ABS sensor and a reflector—neither present on the S. Riders with larger feet than mine felt the footpegs could be larger. Styling is excellent, however—it’s a great-looking trail bike.
  1. Most of the above recommendations and observations are irrelevant if you’re buying the KLX230R S as a campground motorcycle. It’s perfect, as is, for that use. It’s all about low seat height and adult ergonomics.
  1. The 2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S is a very welcome surprise. It reminds me how satisfying it can be to ride full-out, wringing as much as I can from a bike, rather than to ride at half throttle, managing a powerful engine. Uncharacteristically, I found myself suggesting “one more ride” at the end of each of my test rides on the KLX230R S because it’s so much fun to ride, and the lower seat height of the KLX230R S opens the door to a wider riding audience than its taller near-identical twin.

Photography by Don Williams


2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Specs


  • Type: Single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Displacement: 233cc
  • Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 66.0mm
  • Compression ratio: 9.4:1
  • Valvetrain: SOHC; 2 valves
  • Cooling: Air
  • Fueling: EFI w/ 32mm throttle body
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Final drive: Chain


  • Frame: Steel perimeter
  • Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 37mm fork; 8.7 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted spring-preload adjustable shock; 8.8 inches
  • Tires: Dunlop Sports D952
  • Front tire: 80/100 x 21
  • Rear tire: 100/100 x 18
  • Front brake: 240mm petal disc w/ twin-piston caliper
  • Rear brake: 220mm petal disc w/ single-piston caliper


  • Wheelbase: 53.1 inches
  • Rake: 25.7 degrees
  • Trail: 4.3 inches
  • Seat height: 35.4 inches
  • Ground clearance: 10.8 inches
  • Fuel tank capacity: 1.7 gallons
  • Curb weight: 254 pounds
  • Color: Lime Green

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Price: $4399 MSRP

2021 Kawasaki KLX230R S Review Photo Gallery