Product Test | We Ride the All-New 2019 KX450F
By Jeff McConkey and Billy Rainford
For 2019, the Kawasaki KX450F is all-new. This isn’t a ‘bold new graphics’ treatment. Hardly. This is a complete reworking of the big 450 motocrosser from the green brand.
Jeff McConkey and I were invited to take the bike to Motopark and put it through the wringer and give them our thoughts.
Thank you to Kate Rundle and Cesare Costantini from Kawasaki Canada for giving us this opportunity. Motopark welcomed us with open arms, too, and we thank them for the privilege of hosting this ride at their track.
Let’s break the changes down, one by one, and go over what we thought of them.
Billy – What can we say? This is what every bike will look like within the next couple years. The older I get, the more I appreciate the little things that make my life easier. Surprisingly, I didn’t stall the bike even once, but after throwing a leg over the bike in the pits, a simple push of the button fires this beast to life.
The day will come when we all sit around a camp fire and reminisce about the days when bikes had these funny things on the side that you needed to kick to start them. Young kids will look at us like we have two heads. It’s coming, people!
Jeff – As a vet rider, electric ltart nowadays is a must. Let’s be serious, most of us riders/racers are crippled in some way or another and this was just a huge ease on the body. I, myself, suffer from restrictions and complications from leg and pelvic injuries and this just made life easier.
The 450 takes a really solid kick, and, halfway through a moto after going down, this is the last thing you need to be worrying about. I also feel that it is a huge safety issue, and will help keep riders out of vulnerable positions after going down or stalling. The button was easy to push and I did not find it in the way at anytime while riding.
Even More Powerful Engine
Billy – I always think I’m a 125 2-stroke or maybe a 250F “specialist,” if I had to describe myself. I never really think I need or can use everything a 450 has to offer. This new KX450 changed my mind.
I felt comfortable with the power delivery, right off the bat. Riding a 125 is so much different from a 450 that I was never sure I’d enjoy it. I had a huge smile on my face as soon as I rolled onto the track at Motopark.
I don’ get the chance to ride these days, except for these ride days, so I’m as rusty as you’ll ever see an ex-rider. This bike felt so good that I even did some of the jumps I wasn’t doing last time I was there, and they seemed easy!
We were running the Standard map and it was perfect for me. You could lug it or rev it, it was equally happy doing either.
Jeff – I found the power to be very “usable.” The bike produced power in all situations, but it was “usable power.” I felt like it was easy to roll on the power and it wasn’t arm jerking or uncontrollable. The motor pulled very hard, but it was sneaky. By sneaky, I mean you were able to get going very fast without really knowing. It was just that smooth of a power curve.
The bike was very fun to ride around in 3rd gear. It could be revved, and it made serious power, but it could also be lugged and not lack any power down low while accelerating. The bike’s power was so good, I had enough power that I was able to pull a few 3rd gear starts! Definitely an easy bike to go fast on, but with such smooth power, it was just easy to ride in general.
Billy – I was a little surprised to learn this is the first hydraulic clutch on a Kawasaki motocrosser. To be honest, a clutch has never been something I’ve complained about, even in the old days.
This new clutch system makes for a perfectly smooth and easy pull and I didn’t get tired or arm pump, so it must have been good.
Not only that, I didn’t stall the bike, once! Great addition to the overall performance of this bike.
Jeff – For me, this was a great addition to the 2019 bike. I, personally, find the hydraulic clutch allows you to get a better feel and a lot less play when the clutch heats up during the longer motos. It was very easy to pull and had a great feel throughout the entire motos.
Starts for me with the new hydraulic clutch were much better and I really enjoyed the feel compared to the traditional cable feel.
Lightweight Aluminum Perimeter Frame
Billy – We never got the chance to ride the 2018 model from Kawasaki, but this new bike feels great, everywhere. I felt very comfortable in the corners, accelerating down the straights, and in the air on this bike…and that’s saying something for the amount of rust showing on my riding!
Jeff – The new frame made for a great center of gravity. I just felt like the bike sat well everywhere. It wasn’t awkward or heavy front or rear in the air and gave a very stable feel. I don’t feel like the bike was too rigid anywhere, and it gave just the right amount of flex. The bike just had a very comfortable feel in all situations.
Lightweight and Light, Nimble Handling
Billy – Most of today’s 450’s feel pretty good, but this one felt great. I always rode green bikes in my day, so looking down at a green fender felt right, right away. However, that will only do so much before you actually hit the track.
I found the feel of this bike to be the perfect balance between a full-on race machine and a comfortable rider. Like I said earlier, I could turn this bike very well. I could also go for inside lines wherever I wanted.
I had no problem carving inside under some of the main lines that swept wider at the higher speeds of some of the Pro riders on the track. It all added up to a very confidence-inspiring ride.
Jeff – Within two corners of getting on the track, I instantly noticed and loved the lightweight feel of this bike. I prefer a ‘front end low’ style of ride, and I could immediately ride this bike the way I wanted. The front end felt so light, but never did I get the feel that I was going to loop out.
I was able to get the bike to drop into the ruts, and sit through the corners, which also allowed the bike to come out straight and track into the next obstacle.
Increased Front/Rear Traction
Billy – We were riding the bike with the suspension in its stock form. Not only that, I weigh 60 pounds more than Jeff and we left it the way it was!
Again, the bike tracked perfectly straight for me and I really wasn’t asking for anything more from it. The only thing stopping me from going faster was the skill to do it!
This new bike is a game-changer for the 450 class, that’s for sure. Pro riders will have a blast getting it set up perfectly for them, which won’t take nearly as much effort as in years past.
Jeff – The bike hooked up well everywhere. From starts, to tracking up jump faces, the bike stayed in a straight line and wasn’t hard to control at all. Exiting corners was made easy and the bike sat well for me when accelerating. The traditional ‘swap’ or ‘buck’ wasn’t there and the bike was easily controlled and went where pointed.
Billy – Another improvement was to the brakes on this new 450. I knew I wasn’t going to be railing the outside berms in most of the corners, so braking hard and getting to the inside lines was my goal.
With the excellent suspension and strong brakes, this was easy to achieve. I grabbed inside lines everywhere and the brakes were consistent and predictable for me — perfect finger and foot feel.
Jeff – For 2019, Kawasaki added a 250mm rear disc to go along with the oversized 270mm front disc which made stopping this bike super-easy. I was very hard on the front and rear brakes and they both performed very well and stopped this bike easily. Both brake levers were in good positions stock and super-easy to apply.
Large-Diameter Coil-Spring Fork
Billy – The first place anyone should start when spending money on a new bike is on the suspension. That’s just the way it should go. It may not be the way kids today usually prioritize, but it really should be.
I’ve ridden a ton of aftermarket company’s stuff, and will say that it definitely makes a huge difference.
The 2019 KX450’s front forks are back to the “traditional” coil spring design. I think people will appreciate this and should be very happy with the way these ones perform, even in stock form.
I had no complaints about the bike pushing, bottoming out, or feeling harsh. I liked them everywhere. The front end feels very light, in a good way.
Jeff – I was very happy to see that the 2019 KX450 was using the Spring/Coil Fork. The feel from the front end was very stable and instantly comfortable. I was able to ride front end low with confidence and I really didn’t feel like the front end got away from me at anytime.
Going into the heavy braking bumps and chop, the front forks didn’t load up, which allowed me to brake later. On a few occasions, I over jumped a few sections and the forks reacted very well and allowed me to keep pushing.
Slim, Ergonomic Bodywork
Billy – I was most impressed with the feel of this bike. You could slide back and forth with ease and I found myself able to get into the correct positions with no problem.
The flatter front end of the seat/tank area is great in corners.
Sliding back was no problem and everything just feels like it’s in the right place. At 6’3″ tall, some bikes feel very cramped, but this one felt great in all circumstances.
We didn’t have to clean the filter or do any work on the bike, so we can’t really comment on any of that until we get our long-term test unit. *hint, hint*
Jeff – I had a bad pelvic break in 2013, so to get on a slim 450 was a dream come true. This bike was easy to squeeze and grip and the super-slim bodywork allowed me to move in all conditions. As a rider, I move and ‘flail’ around maybe a little too much, so the slim mid-section of the bike was a nice change.
The 5mm wider, and 3mm positioned rearward foot pegs gave me a great platform and never had me searching. I was a huge fan of how slim this bike felt.
Billy – Like I said, I don’t get the chance to ride as much as I’d like these days, so this was a real treat for me. I also sometimes wonder what bike I would get if I were to have one in the garage.
Traditionally, vet riders/racers end up on a 450 because they are fast enough to get their poor style around a track with the least amount of effort. I’ve always been against this idea.
However, after riding this new KX450, I would definitely consider this bike for my own. It didn’t feel like I was lugging around a big bike. No, it felt like a nimble-and-fun bike.
For a guy who swears up and down that he’s a 125 guy at heart, giving this 450 such a positive review is saying something! This bike was not only fast, it was fun to ride.
You can do what you want on this bike and not feel like you’re just sitting on top of a massive motor, pointing and shooting, if you know what I mean. This bike is the complete package.
I also know that the Kawasaki Pro riders are all extremely excited to get their bikes all set for racing. When they say the bike is a huge improvement, you know Kawasaki is onto something.
If you’re in the market for a 2019 450, you really need to test one of these out before you make any decisions. Manufacturers are never happy about magazines doing “Shootouts” these days for fear of the results. Well, Kawasaki should be asking them to do them this year!
Also, thanks to Kate and Cesare for getting out on this bike. Thank you to the entire Motopark gang for welcoming us like they always do. They had the track in perfect condition.
Jeff – My impression of the 2019 KX450 was a great one. I have always been a big fan of the green body and black wheels. The new slim bodywork was a huge hit. I instantly noticed the flush seams between the shrouds which allowed me to move and have a greater freedom when changing body positions and riding positions.
The controls and rider cockpit were very nice for a taller rider like myself. At no point did I feel out of position due to the bike. I really haven’t felt a bike yet to give this much freedom to a rider’s movements.
The motor on this bike was incredible; it was super-smooth, but very fast. With it being so smooth, it made the transitions from corners to straightaways to obstacles super-easy. This bike is a serious contender in stock form.
I really loved how it didn’t have the traditional 450 ‘hit.’ In the past, 450’s have jerked the bars out of your hands, or have left you in need of a new rear fender after looping out. Not this bike. Like I said earlier, the power was just so easy to use. Don’t get me wrong, though, this KX450 has more than enough to put you on your butt!
Slowing down the big green machine was really a treat. The brakes were very powerful, but not too touchy. They allowed you to stay on the gas a little longer, yet still make the corner in full control.
All in all, this is a great bike from the gang at Kawasaki. I don’t think I have felt this comfortable on a stock bike, ever, and I can honestly say this is one of the best bikes I have ever ridden. If I had to complain about something, maybe it would be something minor like the stock bar bend, but, who am I kidding, I actually liked it.
I give the new 2019 Kawasaki KX450 a very solid 2 thumbs up, and I really can’t wait to get back on it. Thank you to Kate Rundle at Kawasaki Canada for setting this up, and a huge thank you to Cesare from Kawasaki for spending the day with me. Dan and the gang from Strikt had my kit on fire, and the boys from Scott Sports Canada/Mica Sport Canada had my google game covered. As always, the Motopark crew gave us a fantastic track and a killer lunch. Thanks, everyone!