MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2022 KAWASAKI KX450SR SPECIAL RACER

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2022 KX450SR BETTER THAN THE 2021 KX450SR?

A: No, because the 2022 KX450SR is a first-year model. For comparison, KTM has been building the 450SXF Factory Editions for 10 years. Husqvarna has offered the FC450 Rockstar Edition for six years, and the Honda CRF450WE is in its fourth year of production. Kawasaki is late to the party, but for a first-year effort the company did a good job of closing the gap.

Q: WHAT DOES “SR” STAND FOR?

A: “SR” stands for “Special Racer” and has been the Japanese model designation reserved for the works bike used by Kawasaki factory riders.

Q: WHY ARE THE KTM AND HUSKY LIMITED EDITIONS CALLED 2022-1/2 MODELS BUT NOT THE CRF450WE OR KX450SR?

A: The Factory Edition and Rockstar Edition are actually next year’s 2023 production bikes released months early, while the Honda CRF450WE and Kawasaki KX450SR are just spiffed-up versions of their 2022 models—nothing on the KX-SR or CRF-WE is a precursor to future models. The KTM and Husky machines have totally new frames, engines, bodywork, airboxes, ECUs, subframes, swingarms, along with the added bling of fancy triple clamps, wheels, graphics, etc. The Kawasaki and Honda don’t have new frames, engines, airboxes, bodywork, subframes or a new swingarm, but they do get a healthy dose of aftermarket bling.

Q: WHAT SPECIAL PARTS DID THE KX450SR GET TO SET IT APART FROM THE STOCK 2022 KAWASAKI KX450?

A: Here is a quick list of the 10 major updates that Kawasaki made to the KX450.

(1) The cylinder head features a ported and polished intake tract (see above). Everything is cleaned up to a bright, shiny finish. 

(2) The 450SR gets a complete Pro Circuit Ti-6 Pro titanium exhaust system.

(3) The ECU fuel-injection mapping has been refined.

(4) The stock 49mm Showa forks have been replaced with 48mm Kayaba forks, while a Kayaba shock does the rear suspension duties. The fork legs have DLC (diamond-like coating) on the fork tubes to increase surface hardness to prevent scratches and rock dings. Additionally, the inside of the fork’s stanchion tubes has a hard-coat, low-friction surface treatment to help reduce stiction, especially in the initial part of the fork’s stroke. Of course, the KX450SR gets the side benefits of the proprietary Kayaba design, including larger 25mm cartridge pistons and the race team’s smaller 22mm front axle.

(5) The stock forged Kawasaki triple clamps have been replaced by XTrig ROCS (revolutionary opposing clamp system) triple clamps with PHDS (Progressive Handlebar Damping System) bar mounts.

(6) The 450SR clutch cover is a larger volume, billet-machined Hinson cover with “Kawasaki Racing Team” engraved on it; however, there are no actual Hinson parts in the clutch.

(7) Kawasaki touts that the KX450SR comes with D.I.D. DirtStar ST-X rims, but a quick check of the stock 2022 KX450 reveals that the same, black-anodized D.I.D 66-09-14 rims are on both the production model and the Special Racer—with the only difference being that the KX450SR rims are imprinted with white D.I.D. DirtStar STX logos.

(8) A D.I.D. gold chain runs on a black-anodized Renthal rear sprocket. 

(9) The KX450SR gets the race team’s Monster Energy race team-inspired color and graphics. 

(10) The subframe has been reinforced where it has been prone to breaking under the weight of the stock muffler. This new subframe fits on late-model KX450s.

THE GEAR: Jersey: Alpinestars Techstar Factory, Pants: Alpinestars Techstar Factory, Helmet: Alpinestars Supertech M10, Goggles: EKS Brand Lucid, Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10.

Q: WHAT IS THE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE (MSRP)?

A: The 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR (Special Racer) retails for $12,400. For comparison, that is the exact same retail price as the 2022 Honda CRF450 Works Edition. It is, however, $700 more than the 2022-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition. That is strange, because the production 2022 KTM 450SXF’s $10,699 base price is $1100 higher than the 2022 Kawasaki KX450’s $9599 price tag. If you do the math, you discover that the Kawasaki KX450SR costs $2800 more than the stock KX450, while the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition only costs $1000 more than the stock KTM 450SXF.

Q: WHAT DID IT WEIGH?

A: The 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR hits the scales at 233.5 pounds, which is a 1/2 pound less than the stock 2022 KX450, a 1/2 pound more than the stock 2022 Honda CRF450 and 10 pounds more than the stock KTM 450SXF.

With just a remapped ECU, Pro Circuit Ti-6 pipe and cleaned up intake port the KX450SR cracked 60 horsepower.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2022 KAWASAKI KX450SR RUN ON THE DYNO?

A: Every MXA test rider loved the KX450SR powerband. They raved about how smooth it was off the bottom, how linear it was through the middle and how blazing fast it was on top. It had seamless power that you don’t find on many bikes–even if that is what every R&D department is aiming for. After breaking in the engine and suspension, we took it to the dyno, along with the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition and Honda CRF450 Works Edition. We like to dyno bikes on the same day to control for humidity, temperature, and barometric pressure variations. Of course, we use the exact same dyno and operator that we have used for years.

The dyno numbers confirmed everything the MXA test riders said about the KX450SR engine. On the dyno, the three bikes were virtually identical from 5000 rpm to 7200 rpm. From 7300 rpm to 9000 rpm, the KX450SR was on top of the heap, but at 10,200 rpm it was passed by the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition by a 1/2 horse to sign-off. This rpm victory by KTM doesn’t mean very much because it was 1800 rpm after peak, which on all three bikes was around 9500 rpm. Peak horsepower on the KX450SR was 60.5 horsepower. The Honda CRF450 pumped out 60.1 and the KTM 450SXF’s peak horsepower was 59.85.

But, the big surprise was how far up the Kawasaki KX450SR’s power output came from its lowly sixth place on the 2022 MXA 450 shootout dyno runs, where it only produced 56.9 horsepower. The horsepower difference between the weak-sister 2022 KX450 and the revitalized KX450SR was 3.6 horsepower. That is a major gain with little more than a Pro Circuit exhaust, remapped ECU and touched-up intake tract. We fully expected the Honda CRF450WE and KTM 450SXF Factory Editions to be strong, because they were already strong, and they only needed to gain 1.5 horsepower over their stock brothers to be bumping up against 60 horses.

The switch from Showa to Kayaba was a big plus because it put new eyes on the KX450 forks softness issue.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2022 KAWASAKI KX450 RUN ON THE TRACK?

A: Once the MXA test riders saw the dyno charts, they were amazed, because their last experience with a 60-horsepower production bike was the 2019 Honda CRF450. Its brutal hit and hard pull overpowered the rigid Honda chassis to make for a very scary ride in the rough. By 2021, Honda had knocked a couple ponies off of peak power and went for a broad, manageable style of power instead of trying to win the King of Horsepower trophy. 

Test riders have memories like elephants, and that 60-horsepower 2019 Honda was lodged in the “bad memory” part of our test riders’ brains. They all wanted go back out on the track with the KX450SR to see if it had any of the 2019 Honda’s evil manners. They were happy to report that the KX450SR powerband was brisk, steady and nonconfrontational. It delivered a nice spread of power that was always just right for whatever situation was at hand.

We love this engine, but we can’t help but wonder why Kawasaki didn’t remap the ECU, make a production version of the Pro Circuit pipe, and run a Dremel through the intake port of the stock KX450 four years ago. 

The Pro Circuit Ti-6 exhaust helped boost power in the right places.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2022 KAYABA SUSPENSION WORK? 

A: Kayaba had the lucky assignment to “shoot fish in a barrel” when it got the contract to replace the 49mm Showa forks that come on the stock 2022 Kawasaki KX450. Although the stock 2022 Kawasaki KX450 uses the same 49mm Showa A-kit-replica coil-spring forks that are on the Honda CRF450 and Suzuki RM-Z450, none of the Showa-equipped bikes are set up properly when it comes to front suspension. They are too soft. All Kayaba had to do was make a fork that had firmer compression damping, and Kayaba would be hailed as a savior—and that is exactly what the company did. Don’t get too enamored by the DLC coating on the Kayaba fork legs. In case you didn’t notice, Kawasaki’s Showa forks already had this. Like most modern motocross bikes, the KX450SR works best when its front and rear suspension are balanced, which allows the chassis to be flat and level, as opposed to diving all the time.

Our Pro test riders thought that the Kayaba forks could be stiffened up even more, but Pros don’t buy $12,400 production bikes. We hate to say it, but the target customer for a 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR is a rich 40-year-old Vet rider.

The 2022 KX450 needed different triple clamps because the Showa fork stanchions were larger than the Kayaba tubes.

Q: WHAT SHOULD KAWASAKI HAVE CHANGED ON THE KX450SR?

A: When you live with a production KX450 for any length of time, you notice that the flaws that were on the 2019 KX450 are still blatantly upfront on the 2022 KX450. Do the Kawasaki engineers not know that the engine overheats easily? We run a 2.0 kg/cm2 Twin Air Ice Flow radiator cap. Do they turn a blind eye to how easy it is to shatter the front fork guards? We broke one on our Kawasaki KX450SR in the first hour of riding. Do we really have to fiddle with green, white and black couplers when the competition allows riders to change maps with the push of a button? What’s with the touchy, feely, grabby, squeaky 250mm rear rotor? Would it kill Kawasaki to mount the 240mm rotor from the KX250 or the KX450X on the KX450? How long do we have to wait for Kawasaki to replace the marshmallow-like, rubber bar-mount inserts that twist in even the most minor crash? The KX450SR comes with Xtrig’s PHDS (Progressive Handlebar Damping System) bar mounts, but we would prefer the lighter and lower Xtrig Fix bar mount. 

This may seem like a lot of complaining, but we aren’t done. Why doesn’t Kawasaki spec a set of matched clutch and brake levers to deliver a much better tactile feel to the rider’s fingers? They must know by now that the rear brake pedal height can only be adjusted upwards, not downwards. This doesn’t affect riders who run their brake pedals high but makes it hard for riders who prefer their brake pedals low. Kawasaki’s stock plastic is very brittle plastic. The radiator wings, front number plates and fork guards crack. We order aftermarket plastic because it is more durable. 

The lower chain roller—the one under the frame that keeps the chain from whipping as it spins off the countershaft sprocket—self-destructs quickly. Considering Kawasaki’s long-term problems with its rear chain guide, you should order TM Designworks parts for your KX450 on day one. The lower 8mm airbox cover bolt strips out the threads in the aluminum subframe very easily. Kawasaki knows that the T-plate insert that holds the rear fender on falls to the ground every time you remove the upper airbox cover bolt that doubles as the left-side seat bolt. We run Bolt MX Hardware T-plates because they don’t fall out. While several manufacturers offer Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-accessible tuning, Kawasaki wants $700 for its calibration mapping tool.

The Kayaba forks, remapped ECU, Pro Circuit exhaust and cleaned up intake port turn the KX450SR into a great bike, but the age-old Kawasaki flaws hold it back.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Function. We hate that Kawasaki wants us to spend $2800 more than the cost of the stock 2022 KX450 for the Special Racer but didn’t take time to fix the most obvious flaws, such as the exploding chain roller, splintering fork guards, stripped bolts and low strength radiator cap. Instead, they just went shopping for shiny bits.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Power. Love that powerband. It reminds us of the days when Kawasaki was the king of horsepower.

(2) Finger-followers. The KTM was the first motocross bike to come with finger-followers (small levers that activate the valves instead of rocker arms or buckets) over 10 years ago. Honda followed suit in 2017, and the Kawasaki KX450 joined the party in 2019.

(3) Plain bearings. Kawasaki followed KTM’s lead when it switched to plain bearings, which are essentially bushings coated with an anti-friction material. They offer more surface area per contact patch, longer fatigue life, no brinneling and no moving parts—perfect for connecting-rod use.

(4) Clutch. Although the new clutch isn’t perfect, it is much better than what they had before; it, too, was borrowed from KTM.

(5) Handling. Thanks to the Kayaba forks, the KX450SR came around to being a sweet turning machine.

(6) Weight. The 2022 Kawasaki KX450 is the second lightest Japanese-made motocross bike on the showroom floor at 234 pounds, and the KX450SR is a 1/2-pound lighter. That makes the two KX450’s the fifth and sixth lightest bikes after the GasGas MC 450F, KTM 450SXF, Husqvarna FC450 and Honda CRF450.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: If the KX450SR had been in the 2022 450 Motocross Shootout, it would have stood a good chance of winning, but only if the Kawasaki engineers had spec’ed a smaller rear rotor, contemporary electronics switchgear, improved durability, a longer-lasting chain roller, higher-pressure radiator cap and better plastic. 

MXA’S 2022 KAWASAKI KX450SR SETUP SPECS 

This is how we set up our 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

SHOWA COIL SPRING FORK SETTINGS
The 2022 KX450 Showa forks were too soft. We had to run either one 5.0 fork spring with a 5.2 in the other leg or two 5.2 springs. The Kayaba forks on the 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR had a big advantage when they were called up to do a tour of duty on the KX450SR—and that was that they already knew where Showa went wrong. These are the numbers we ran on the 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR for hardcore racing:
Spring rate: 5.1 N/mm
Compression: 12 clicks out
Rebound: 12 clicks out
Fork-leg height: 2mm up (0mm)
Notes: If you don’t think the KX450SR is turning as well as it should, slide the forks up in the triple clamps to put more weight on the front wheel and steepen the head angle.

SHOWA SHOCK SETTINGS
The Kayaba shock worked well from day one. We recommend this shock setup on the 2022 Kawasaki KX450SR (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 54 N/mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/4 turns out
Lo-compression: 18 clicks out
Rebound: 12 clicks out
Race sag: 105mm
Notes: The shock was easy as pie to set up. The rear end had minimal wallowing and worked very well under braking in chop and square-edged bumps. Light riders under 150 pounds might want to switch to the optional 52 N/mm shock spring, while faster or heavier riders will need the 56 N/mm spring.

 

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