First Impression: 2013 Kawasaki KX450F
Lots of New and Lots of Fun
First Impression: 2013 Kawasaki KX450F
By Scott Hoffman and Kris Keefer, photos Hoffman
2012 is just shy of being half over but that doesn’t hinder the powers that be from introducing the 2013 motocrossers. Some manufacturers offer little change while others have launched new models. Kawasaki made some pretty big changes in 2012 and they are back again with a host of new components, updates, and the introduction of the all-new Kayba Air (Pneumatic Spring) Fork for 2013.
Versatility and tunability again seem like the Kawasaki theme for the 2013 KX line. The sheer number of tunable components is amazing. The 2013 450 should cater to a very wide range of riders at nearly every level of talent.
Yes the KX looks very similar but don’t let the white rear fender and newly styled front fender and number plate fool you—there is much more. The 2012 KX450F is still a powerhouse in the motor department, yet Kawasaki set out to make it better. They achieved this by shorting the piston, revising the cam profile, reprogramming the ECU settings, and altering the wedge-shaped crank to mimic what Ryan Villopoto has been using. Other minor changes include silver engine covers compared to the fast-wearing back covers in 2012.
The chassis also got some love, the Air Fork being the major change. Don’t be afraid, the new Air Fork is a solid entity and has been fully tested for the past few years before going into production. And no, they will not collapse if you blow a fork seal and yes they are more tunable than a traditional coil spring fork. The new fork is almost two pounds lighter than a spring fork and offers 20 percent less friction due to not having a coil spring binding up inside. New 2013 KX owners will have to invest into an accurate pump to set the fork air pressure before each ride. The good news is that it’s as easy as setting tire pressure. Kawasaki sells a pump for $49.95, part number (K56019-060A). The air fork pressure adjustability is like having several spring rates at your fingertips. We messed with pressures but found 35 worked best initially.
The swingarm has also been beefed up with 4.2 percent more torsional rigidity. This also complements revised rear shock valving and now a 33-way rebound adjustment. Front and rear brake rotor profiles have been changed as did front brake pad material for improved braking performance. The front brake master cylinder is now a pushrod style for a smoother and cleaner feel for the rider. Other niceties include wider grips that are now 20mm closer together as well as softer compound for rider comfort.
Our first outing on the new mount was a one-day test at Zaca Station, which is located just north of Santa Barbara, California. The track is a hilly track with a hard base and tacky soil when moist. The hilly track is great for testing with ample areas to open a 450 to the stops.
First and foremost the most noticeable change is how responsive and free revving the 2013 KX450F is over the 2012. Both are powerhouses but the 2013s are snappier and ultra-responsive. The motor will not disappoint and is ultra-fast and hooks up like nothing else. The engine changes are very much noticeable and our pro rider raved about the performance with an ear-to-ear grin. The novelty is that the performance is not set in stone and can be tuned by changing couplers or, for the more advanced, purchasing software to create your own ECU fuel and ignition maps. Our pro liked the standard setting and even messed with a few other created settings but our vet rider preferred the mellow coupler, especially when the track started to dry out and get slick. The KX is amazing and has the ability to go from wild to mild back to super wild, if desired. The 2013 KX450F will again be a powerhouse in the class and the engine revision makes it that much more fun to ride and manage. The engine is full pro power, yet very, very tunable—some like it hot and some like it a tad off the juice.
The chassis is much the same as the 2013 but the bike does feel different due to the changes and the new fork. Overall it offers up a lighter feel and you can sense these traits on the track. It’s as if the 2013 KX glides over the chop instead of hammering through it like the 2012. The ’13s are more balanced in stock trim, which translates into a fun motorcycle to ride or race. The fork’s ability to be tuned with air pressure, as well as traditional compression and rebound adjustments, is amazing. The bottoming control is very precise on the fork and once you get it dialed it for your ability it sticks to the ground and leads the bike, for the most part, where you want it to go. Our +200-lb rider had a few front tire push issues that were tuned out for the most part but the need of a stiffer shock spring may have contributed to the slight front push.
Getting the balance and settings applied for the rider is very important and very easy to achieve. When we tested running less air pressure in the fork, one rider was amazed how it affected the balance on the bike, especially when leaving jump faces. The awesome factor is that testing different settings takes no more that a few minutes. Tire pressure was another factor that made a difference. We started the day at 13 pounds but as temperature increased, so did the tire pressure. We battled with a busy feeling bike on the chop until we rechecked the tire pressure after the mid-day sun and realized it was up to 14.5. We went down to 13 and the bike was back on track and riders were as happy as a clam with the motorcycle again.
Following the first day of testing, all agreed that Kawasaki headed the 2013 KX450F into the right direction. The engine is improved, free revving, more responsive, and the performance is ultra-tunable for riders from the pro caliber down to off-road racers. The chassis changes make the bike feel lighter on the track and thus far the new Kayba PSF (Pneumatic Spring Fork) is an amazing component and definitely complements the KX. The 2012 is very similar to the 2013 yet very much improved in areas that needed to be addressed. Kawasaki has stepped up to the plate and created a better mousetrap. This trap hauls butt, skips over nasty bumps, and has no issues being tossed over 80-foot gaps if asked. 2013 KX450F owners will easily notice the improvements over the 2012. And the new changes continue to give the KX a lighter feel compared to previous year’s KX450Fs. The KX is better but is it the best of the bunch? That will remain be be told at a later date.
Look for a video from the test coming very soon.
The new 2013 Kawasaki KX 450 IS a hugely improved bike over last year’s model. The new revised motor is a strong point on the track, it has a tremendous amount of throttle response and low end hit. I call it an exciting feel. It is a controlled power and not arm ripping like the older model KXs in the past. Mid to top end is plentiful but the bike lacks a little overrev for me. I could use third gear around corners and lug it a little with a fan of the clutch and it’s right back up in the meat of the power.
The chassis is also vastly improved. Overall balance of the bike is way better for me, and this is huge because I have had some problems with balance in the past with this model. The new Kayaba Air Fork is really controllable and very good on big slapdown landings. Even on small chop the front end still seems to track good and I have plenty of front-end traction in corners. I can also feel the weight loss in the front end in the air. I tried going stiffer and softer in the front and the standard PSI was a great setting. The shock was a little soft on g outs but a little stiffer high speed made the bike stay up in the stroke a little better.
The bike also pivots a little better off berms and line changes are easier with this year’s model. The only real complaint I had was the loud muffler sound and still rock hard grip feeling. I am really eager to keep riding this bike. It is a blast to ride and will be a huge threat to all of the other manufacturers that didn’t step up their game in 2013. —Kris Keefer
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