Best Motocross Bike Winner—2020 Kawasaki KX450

Andrew Oldar

Best Motocross Bike Winner—2020 Kawasaki KX450, by Andrew Oldar

The Kawasaki KX450 was all-new last year and took a decisive victory in the 2019 450 Motocross Shootout. For 2020, Kawasaki’s flagship motocross bike receives only cosmetic updates with the color of number plates being changed from white to green and different radiator shroud graphics. With all but one of the other manufacturers making mechanical changes to their 450 motocross bikes in 2020, Kawasaki stuck with its tried-and-true setup—which proved to be more than enough for it to claim its second consecutive 450 Motocross Shootout victory and retain its accomplishment of being the best motocross bike in stock trim.

Related: 1st Place Of The 2019 450 MX Shootout: Kawasaki KX450

2020 Kawasaki KX450 Engine

"The KX450 engine is very reactive! The throttle response is quick and snappy. Also, the Nissin hydraulic clutch is absolutely amazing! It has such an easy pull with tons of feel on the track." —<em>Tanner Basso</em> (Jeff Allen/)
Before we began testing, we mounted a Dunlop D404 street tire on the rear wheel and ran the KX450 on our in-house Dynojet dynamometer, where it produced 51.9 hp at 9,200 rpm and 32.9 pound-feet of torque at 6,800 rpm. With these figures, the Kawasaki ranks fourth in horsepower and third in torque among the six bikes in the test. After the dyno pulls were complete, we fitted Dunlop MX33 soft-to-intermediate-terrain tires, as we did on all of the bikes to ensure consistency in traction among them for the entirety of the test.

Related: 2019 Kawasaki KX450 Mint 400 Racebike Review

The KX450’s strong engine is very lively, yet easy to ride. It has quick bottom-end power, decent midrange, and good top-end. With its great low-end, lugging the bike a gear high is possible on nearly all parts of the track, even in fairly tight corners. It doesn’t pull as hard or as long as the Honda, KTM, or Husqvarna in the higher rpm, but it’s still very good in this area of the powerband and offers more than enough top-end for the vast majority of riders.

The KX450 produces 51.9 hp at 9,200 rpm and 32.9 pound-feet of torque at 6,800 rpm. (Robert Martin/)
The Kawasaki powerplant has a great balance of response and controllability, which further contributes to the engine’s quick and playful character; the type of quality that enables the rider to blip the throttle and maneuver the bike easily, such as hopping over braking or acceleration bumps at a moment’s notice. The Nissin hydraulic clutch works excellently with a remarkably easy pull and consistent feel, enabling the rider to precisely manipulate the power delivery. The green machine’s noise output is in the middle of the pack of the six bikes.

Of the three optional power couplers, the standard green coupler has an even power curve and is a good stock setting. The white coupler allows the bike to rev quicker, makes the throttle response even crisper, and lessens engine-braking. The black coupler offers more torque in the midrange, is slightly slower revving, and increases the amount of engine-braking, which can help the rider in certain scenarios such as when slowing down prior to entering a corner, and can be minimized by carrying a taller gear on deceleration.

2020 Kawasaki KX450 Suspension

"The Kawasaki's suspension is not quite as plush and planted as the Yamaha, but more comfortable than the KTM and Husqvarna. The stock settings are very good. I tried some changes, but made no more than a few clicks and got the results I was looking for." —<em>Allan Brown</em> (Jeff Allen/)
The Showa 49mm coil-spring fork and Showa shock on the Kawasaki have very good base settings. Every test rider made very few changes—no more than a few clicks—and found the results they were looking for. The balance is just about spot on. The Showa components favor plushness over performance, but there’s a good balance between the two. It’s not quite as plush and planted as the Yamaha, but more comfortable than the KTM, Husqvarna, Honda, and Suzuki.

For riders heavier than 170 pounds and/or intermediate-level and above, the fork has a tendency to occasionally bottom on hard impacts such as jump landings, but stiffening the compression adjuster by four clicks helps minimize it. The shock is consistent and predictable; it holds up well in rollers and does not become unpredictable in the case of a rider mistake. Pitching is not an issue and is easily controlled with body position. Bump absorption on acceleration is very good, which is not only a testament to the suspension’s performance, but also the comfort of the chassis.

2020 Kawasaki KX450 Chassis/Handling

"The KX450's chassis is phenomenal. It flexes enough to where it complements the suspension in absorbing impacts, yet is rigid enough that it handles nimbly as well." —<em>Andrew Oldar</em> (Jeff Allen/)
The KX450’s chassis is well thought out and has an excellent balance of everything. It has ideal characteristics in terms of comfort and rigidity; it’s stiff enough to where it reacts quickly and predictably, yet flexes enough to allow for great bump absorption. The bike turns well with the front wheel, but still offers confidence-inspiring stability at speed, which makes for a consistent and predictable ride.

The Kawasaki is the narrowest bike from front to rear with slim radiator shrouds along with a thin midsection and number plate area. The seat is remarkably flat and easy to move around on; it feels like you are sitting on it but handles like you are in it, which makes for a good balance of the two. The KX450 has very few downsides, one of which is the rear brake; it’s overly sensitive and locks up too easily. Also, the stock Renthal 971-bend handlebar is high; a bar with less rise would improve the rider triangle.

Why The 2020 Kawasaki KX450 Won

"The Kawasaki finds traction easily and is not overly rigid. I enjoy that it does not feel 450-like in terms of weight and handling; its slim feeling complements its lightweight character well and makes it really fun to ride." —<em>Eric Storz</em> (Jeff Allen/)
The KX450 is very fun to ride and a great racebike in stock trim. It’s the easiest bike to hop on, feel comfortable, and immediately ride at or near your potential with its lively engine, excellent hydraulic clutch, plush suspension, chassis that has ideal flex characteristics, narrow bodywork, and comfortable ergonomics.

Why The 2020 Kawasaki KX450 Shouldn't Have Won

<strong>Left:</strong> After unveiling a completely new platform in 2019, Kawasaki made no mechanical changes to its flagship motocrosser for 2020. <strong>Right:</strong> The Kawasaki weighs 244 pounds, making it the third-lightest bike in the class and the lightest Japanese motorcycle in the test. (Jeff Allen/)
The rear brake is too sensitive and the stock handlebar position is high.


The Kawasaki KX450 wins <em>Dirt Rider</em>'s 450 Motocross Shootout for the second year in a row. (Jeff Allen/)
Helmet: Shoei VFX-EVO
Goggle: 100% Accuri
Jersey: Alpinestars Techstar Venom
Gloves: Alpinestars Techstar Venom
Pant: Alpinestars Techstar Venom
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10


PRICE $9,299
ENGINE 449cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 51.89 hp @ 9,240 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 32.87 lb.-ft. @ 6,830 rpm
FRAME Aluminum perimeter
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 49mm inverted coil-spring telescopic fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 12.0-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa shock adjustable for spring preload, high-/low-speed compression damping, and rebound damping; 12.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin 2-piston caliper, single 270mm disc
REAR BRAKE Nissin 1-piston caliper, single 250mm disc
WHEELBASE 58.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 37.6 in.

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