2011 Kawasaki KX450 Test

Motocross: 2011 Kawasaki KX450 Test by the Off-Road Illustrated Staff
By Dennis Cox | 2011-04-11

Video by Brennan Wright
Photos by Dennis "Ketchup" Cox


Destry Abbott knows a thing or two about the KX450. He has ridden, raced and lived with the 2011 model for the last 12 months. He has been riding, racing, and tuning on it, virtually day-in and day-out for almost 50 weekends.
He has also raced it in 10 WORCs series events, 10 Hare & Hound Scrambles, One ISDE, and spent countless hours trail riding, testing and generally putting saddle time aboard the Green Machines. If anyone knows what the hot set up for a Kawasaki KX450 is it is Destry Abbott.
Q: How are you setting up your race vehicle? Suspension? Engine? Chassis? Bars,pegs, levers?

A: Our race bikes are a lot more stock then people realize. They definitely look pretty and work really well, just the way they are. Some of the things we change are the fork settings, where we have a really good in house tuner for (Bret). We also use a Fox Shock on the back end (which is really good). As far as the motor goes, it’s basically stock, with a higher compression piston (and we run Trick race gas). Some of the other must haves for me, are my GPR stabilizer, my Zip-Ty products, a larger capacity IMS tank, Renthal handlebars and sprockets, and our Akrapovic aftermarket exhaust system.
Q: Rate the strengths and weaknesses of the 2011 Kawasaki KX450?

A: Its biggest strengths are the spot-on overall handling. It is very stable at speed, which makes it a great desert/hare scrambles machine. It is very easy to ride, and suits amateurs and pro's alike. The biggest thing you have to do, and you have to do this with any bike, is set up the suspension, and fine tune it to your personal preferences.
Q: What about front suspension?

A: We use the stock KYB forks, with new valving and heavier springs. This makes them a little more plush initially, and doesn't bottom out as much. Since we ride our bikes all day, we need a plusher ride than a motocross only guy, and not so stiff. You can do that with the stock forks, using internal valving changes.
Q: How about the rear shock?

A: On the back on my KX450 I use a Fox shock. I like that these units come with a check valve, that helps slow up the rebound, making them better in the high speed stuff. Which also helps make the bike track better in the off camber corners. Another benefit is that it sticks better in the corners, and accellerate out of them better.
Q: What about the ergos?

A: The stock KX450 is really good ergonomically, we don't change much at all. I do install the larger capacity IMS gas tanks for fewer fuel stops, and bars that suit me a bit better, but thats it.
Q: What about the pipe and fuel injection on the KX450?

A: We use an Acropovic aftermarket pipe, which, in my opinion, is one of the best pipes i have ever run on the KX450. It has great bottom end, but revs out on the top. It comes with an extra exhaust chamber on it, that lets it be both smooth and tractable. I also think that it is the best built exhaust system out there. Very durable and rugged. We play around with the black box ignition mapping a bit, and run it about 10% leaner than stock with different mapping. A side benefit, besides more power, is that it helps get us more race milage, and makes the overall engine response better.
Good Stuff
  • The stock KX450 is quiet. Since the 2011 noise regulations require production motocross bikes to come in at 94db, (or less) the Kawasaki accomplished this with a higher-volume muffler. Less bark, more bite.

  • Power, very tractable, no strong hit, mostly low and mid range. Broad spread of power. Sneaks up on you kind of power. Transmission is okay *Ergos. The KX450 fits a wide variety of riders, big guys won't feel cramped.
More Good Stuff
  • Easy rear shock adjuster access for track-side suspension tuning. Makes fine tuning simpler.

  • Starts easily. One or two kicks, most of the time.

  • Black Rims. Love them or hate them, lots of riders seem to love them.

  • Front forks. Nice action, can use a bit of preload for heavier riders but stockers can be dialed in.

  • Overall balance between chassis, motor, and suspension, is among the best-in-class.

  • Reputation. There is a good reason Ryan Villopoto is kicking most everyone's butt on these. While Ryan's bike is indeed, much tricker, the stocker is as close as they come to a works bike without having to shell out mega-bucks.

  • Overall handling. Like Destry says, the KX450 is very stable at speed, neutral in the corners. It does not hold the inside line as well as say a Suzuki, but it is more stable on high speed rough stuff. Great desert bike.

  • Looks. Clean lines, dynamic look from any angle, aluminum perimeter frame combines function with form. Even the graphics are stylish.
Short List: Not Good Stuff
  • A bit heavy, at around 256 lb. with fuel ( 249.9 lb. dry)

  • Retail price is steep at $8149. Ouch!

  • The fuel tank only holds 1.9 gallons. You'll need something bigger for serious off road work.

  • Brakes could function a bit better, especially with this kick-ass motor. Front has little feedback for aggressive riders.

  • Hard to see side plate numbers, but hey, that is nitpicking!
Overall Conclusions
After a year of steady use, the 2011 KX450 has proven it has the chops to take on a wide variety of off road riding situations. It is fast, has a smooth, easy-to-ride powerspread, and comes with easy to adjust, good all-around suspension. We like it. An excellent do-it-all machine, that feels equally at home on the trail, on a cross country course, in the desert, or lining up for duty at the local motocross track.
More Info On Destry
Q: What do you like to do when you're not racing?

A: I would say my favorite thing to do is spend time with my family. Both our kids are in sports at school, so that keeps us really busy. Some other things I really enjoy are b-ball, tennis, golfing, road and mountain biking.
How To Ride
Q: What is the most important technique to master when you first set out racing?

A: I would say corners and standing up. I do some group classes here in Arizona and that’s something I really push with my students and kids. Everyone wants to practice jumps, but the corners and learning how to use your leg is what’s going to help you save energy and win races.
Destry Abbott: Stats and Tats
Tats: None Born: July 13, 1972 Resides: Peoria, Arizona Birthplace: Phoenix, Ariz. Height: 6'0" Weight: 195 lbs. Marital status: Married; Charlotte, Children: Kelsey and Cooper Nickname: Dusty Rabbit Bio Info:

2010 – Abbott finished fourth overall in the AMA National Hare and Hound series despite breaking his collar bone during round six and missing two races. He had one win in Jericho, Utah and finished second in Ridgecrest, Calif. & El Centro, Calif. and also earned third at the opening and final rounds in Lucerne Valley, Calif. At the Tecate Enduro, Abbott won the Vet class and helped the Kawasaki team earn second place in the team competition.
2009 – Finished runner-up in the AMA National Hare and Hound series with one win (El Centro, CA). Finished off the podium only one time. Competed in WORCS series to finish 10th overall with a second-place finish in Olympia, Wash. Finished 11th in class and 25th overall at the International Six-Day Enduro in Portugal. Helped USA Trophy Team to finish fifth. Competed in Baja 1000, team finished second in class.

2008 – Earned his fifth AMA National Hare and Hound championship by winning four races and earning three podium finishes. Attended his fifth ISDE in Serres, Greece, helping the Trophy Team to a bronze medal. Acknowledged with the AMA Racing Sportsman of the Year award for his determination to show character on and off the track. This was especially noted when his teammate Josh Morros crashed in a Hare and Hound race and he stayed with him until help arrived.

2007 – Abbott finished runner-up in the AMA National Hare and Hound series, winning one race and finishing on the podium five times. Finished 10th overall in the WORCS series.

2006 – Abbott clinched his fourth AMA National Hare and Hound championship by winning three of the seven races. Finished 11th overall in the WORCS series.

1999-2005 – Captured several championships including his first three AMA National Hare and Hound and three Best in the Desert titles.

Championships

Best in the Desert: 5 (1999, 2002-2003,)
AMA National Hare and Hound: 5 (2000-2001, 2004, 2006, 2008)
Career Wins: BITD: 20, H&H: 32, Tecate Enduro Vet class: 1
Dirt Illustrated Spec Sheet:
Year...................................2011
Manufacturer.....................Kawasaki
Model................................KX450F
Engine Type......................Four-stroke single w/DOHC, 4 valve head
Engine Displacement........449cc
Bore & Stroke....................96mm x 62.1mm
Compression Ratio............12.5:1
Cooling...............................Liquid-cooled
Fuel System.......................43mm Keihin throttle body
Ignition................................Digital DC-CDI
Starting System..................Primary kick
Transmission......................Five speed, manual clutch
Final Drive..........................Chain
Rake and Trail....................26.7 degrees/ 4.6 in.
Wheel Base........................58.3 in.
Seat Height.........................37.8 in.
Front Suspension................Uni-Trak linkage system and Kayaba shock w/50mm piston, 22-position low-speed
Rear Suspension.................Uni-Trak linkage system and Kayaba shock w/50mm piston, 22-position low-speed
Front Brake...........................Single semi-floating 250mm petal disc with dual piston
Rear Brake............................Single 240mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Front Tire...............................Dunlop 90/100-21
Rear Tire................................Dunlop 120/80-19
Fuel Capacity.........................1.9 gal.
Dry Weight.............................249.9 lb.
MSRP.....................................$8149
2012 KX450 Changes over the 2011 Model
  • All-new Launch Control Mode, said to increase chances for getting the holeshot

  • New pre-programmed ignition maps, interchangeable trackside, no PC required

  • Upgraded engine with more top-end thrust and a wider powerband

  • New adjustable bar and footpeg positions

  • New slimmer frame and minimalist bodywork

  • Upgraded transmission for easy, reliable shifting

  • New pipe and silencer help centralize mass

  • New higher price: $8399 MSRP