QUIKSPIN: 2011 Kawasaki KX450F - Jekyll And Hyde

14 August 2012
The old formula “what wins on Sunday sells on Monday” is still as true as it ever was, which is why Kawasaki’s overhauled 2012 KX450F is perhaps the most surprising MX offering of the last decade. Sure it’s a faster, slimmer, better suspended, slicker handling machine than its predecessor, with the usual set of engine refinements (new piston, cam and exhaust), but the real triumph is that they’ve managed to shake off the performance tunnel vision and create the most universal bike to ever turn a knob in anger.
Four optional handlebar positions (courtesy of reversible bar clamps and two optional mounting positions in the top triple clamp) lets you find the most comfortable cockpit arrangement, while a second 5mm lower footpeg position is perfect for the lanky limbed among us.
At 189cm tall, I found a degree of comfort I’ve never experienced before on an open class MX weapon by choosing the lower peg position coupled with the ’bars mounted in the forward triple clamp holes and with the ’bar clamps reversed. Up until now, to go from a tight, standard configuration to a spacious, customised layout was only possible with expensive aftermarket triple clamps and pegs.
Complementing the new ergos is a 4mm narrower frame, flatter seat/tank junction and sleeker plastics to make the KX-F feel nimbler and easier to move on.
The next port ‘o’ call of customisation comes via the three interchangeable ignition maps. By simply plugging in a different coupler on the right of the steering head, the formidable 449cc DOHC powerhouse instantly goes from pussy cat to tiger. Designed to smooth the power output for slippery track conditions, the soft map also doubles as the perfect beginner map for riders either not experienced or fit enough to hang on to the more aggressive settings. With the standard map coupler in place the KX-F produces a stronger bottom-end hit than last year’s model and keeps pulling right through to blistering top-end over rev. With a twist of the wrist the big Kawi will hurl you out of corners and over obstacles without bouncing a valve and is more than enough to satisfy all but the highest-level pilots. Dial up the aggro map and be warned - with brutal, neck-snapping throttle response and huge horsepower, the KX450F in this trim is an animal!
Kawasaki has also included a button-operated “Launch Control” system which activates a smoother traction map for starts, returning to the preset map once in third gear. Does it work? Absolutely. Is it for everyone? Maybe not. Club level riders will love its forgiving nature and get better starts than ever, but more experienced riders may find it a disadvantage as it takes some control away from them.
Visually the KX-F has come in for an upgrade. Huge FMX grab-hole sized vents in the airbox let air flow freely into the engine, but the redesigned radiator shrouds are still cheap and easily broken.
Kawasaki has created the Volkswagen of MX bikes – a machine for the masses with a breadth of appeal other manufacturers will struggle to match. This year at least.
Configuration Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke Single
Cylinder head DOHC, four-valve
Capacity 449cc
Bore and Stroke 96 x 62.1mm
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Cooling Liquid
Fueling EFI, Keihin 43mm throttle body
Power Not given
Torque Not given
Type Five-speed
Clutch Wet
Final drive Chain
Frame material Aluminium
Frame layout Perimeter
Rake 26.9°
Trail 113mm
Front 48mm USD, AOS-type, rebound and
compression adjustment, 314mm travel
Rear Uni-trak, rebound and compression
adjustment, 315mm travel
Wheels Wire spoked, black alumite
Front 21 x 2.5
Rear 19 x 4.5
Tyres Bridgstone 403 /404
Front 80/100-21in
Rear 120/80-18in
Front Single rigid mount, 250mm petal disc,
dual-piston caliper
Rear Single 240mm petal disc, single-piston
Weight 113kg (wet, claimed)
Seat height 955mm
Max width 820mm
Max height 1275mm
Wheelbase 1480mm
Fuel 6.2L
Adjustable ergos
Plug ‘n’ Play power
Launch control
Engine case paint wears
Heavy clutch lever pull
Flimsy plastics