First Ride: 2009 Kawasaki KX450F

September 11, 2008
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By John Basher

With all of the buzz circling around the 2009 Honda CRF450, it seems that many people forgot about the new Kawasaki KX450F. If you fall in that category, then shame on you! Kawasaki went whole hog on their 450 for 2009, utilizing electronic fuel injection, a new frame, different suspension settings, and even new styling. It is easy to understand that this is the biggest change that the KX450F has received since its inception in 2006.

To introduce the bike, Kawasaki rolled out the red carpet for MXA. With the rest of the MXA wrecking crew back home in SoCal testing the Honda CRF450 on familiar ground, Daryl Ecklund and I were fortunate to make the trek to Tennessee, where the green crew decided to hold the KX450F intro at Muddy Creek (which has been owned by Sam Gammon since 1977). The track is set in a valley and can best be described as off camber with a multitude of jumps. The dirt is reminiscent of Arenacross dirt, which is tacky yet hard pack. It was perfect soil for the KX450F’s 120-rear tire to dig into. And as you can see from the photos, it is a viable candidate for a Fox Dream On ?? backdrop.

Now for the million dollar question – what do we think about the bike? Lets begin.

(1) I am starting to see a trend in which electronic fuel injection changes the personality of the engine it is attached to. Last year the KX450F was blessed with a solid amount of bottom-end snap, the 2009 model is very linear, smooth and electric. Smooth has become the operative word for both the 2009 CRF450 and KX450F. Personally I enjoy the feel of a 450 grunting out of corners, but the 2009 KX450F lacks in that department. For those who find that a 450 is too powerful, you will enjoy the smooth delivery of the KX450F. For me the power was most substantial in the middle of the powerband.

(2) How about the handling? Last year the KX450F had a big strike against it in the handling department. It pushed in the front-end and the rear wallowed under acceleration coming out of corners. Kawasaki tried to combat those issues by changing the triple clamp offset (moving from 24mm to 23mm) and raising the swingarm pivot by 3mm to increase chain torque (this same change was made on the 2009 KX250F). Kawasaki also moved the fork legs up 10mm to put more weight on the Kayaba forks. Did this setup work? Yes. Last year we were forced to switch to 22mm offset clamp set, but this year the 23s work quite well (handling was further improved by clicker settings). The rear end tended to track straight off heavy acceleration, although I personally believe that it still has a few peccadilloes.

(3) How does it compare to the 2009 Honda CRF450? Based on our test ride at Muddy Creek it would be premature to let the cat out of the bag. This has been a busy two weeks for MXA with the Honda intro in Texas last week and the Kawasaki intro in Tennessee this week. Since the bikes were both ridden on unfamiliar tracks (and ones that were vastly different from one another), we don’t think that we have enough info to make the call just yet. However, should you see the MXA gang at Gorman, Piru, Glen Helen or Cahuill Creek in the next few weeks, stop by for an on-the-spot update.

To be thorough, MXA took test rider and AMA National??  and WORCS rider rider Daryl Ecklund on the trip back East. MXA doesn’t test any bike by riding it for one day. We will now start our normal test regimen of racing, riding and dyno time when we get back to SoCal. Look for a complete review of the bike in an upcoming issue of MXA.

“Initially the suspension was too stiff for me. Once we got the clickers dialed in the forks became very plush and responsive to many different obstacles, bumps, and ruts. I like the Kayaba AOS suspension.” - Daryl Ecklund

“After having ridden the 2008 model for the past several months, I was anxious to try the 2009 KX450F. With several changes I was pleased to find that the front-end push was drastically reduced, which gave me an ear to ear grin underneath my helmet.”John Basher

“The shock settings were in the ballpark, but the forks seemed extremely stiff to me. However, once we made some changes the bike started handling much better and I began feeling very comfortable on it.”Daryl Ecklund

“I can not lie. I wasn’t too happy to see that the KX450F came stock with a Dunlop D742 front tire. However, it worked quite well on the Muddy Creek track, but we will probably want to ditch that tire for a D742FA, D756, or Bridgestone M403 in the future.” - John Basher

“Enginewise, there are both pros and cons. A positive would be the response of the throttle due to the fuel injection. A negative would be that I had to short-shift through the gears quite frequently.”?? - Daryl Ecklund

“Kawasaki did not jump off the deep end when it came to changing the frame. How do I know? The ergonomics felt comfortable almost immediately. If you love the KX450F because of how it feels then you won’t sweat jumping on the 2009.” John Basher

“At really low rpm the bike had a tendency to flame out, or stall. I raised the idle adjustment three clicks and that seemed to solve the problem.”- Daryl Ecklund
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