Kawasaki met us at Milestone MX Park recently so we could take delivery of our 2017 KX450F. We spent most of the morning doing some whips, shredding berms, and busting out sweet lookbacks for all of you reading this, but after all of that fun was had, we went out and spent a few hours to get acquainted with the new green machine. For 2017 Kawasaki did not just flip over the 2016 version they did do a few “key” revisions to the new model. Kawasaki revised the ECU settings, added new triple clamps (modeled after the factory motocross race team) designed to increase rigidity for better corner entry, made front fork suspension valving changes to improve damping feeling, the air valves on the fork have been interchanged for better valve position, the seat base has been reinforced to prevent cracking under heavy loads (think seat bouncing), rear shock linkage ratios are updated with a new linkage and pull rod, updated rear shock valving settings along with a lighter overall spring weight material, a new swingarm for better suspension clearance and to keep from getting rocks/debris from getting stuck in swingarm area, and for the cosmetic side of things Kawasaki went with in-mold graphics, built into the shrouds, for better durability and a more scratch resistant surface.
In-mold graphics find its way on the 2017 KX450F.
Engine: The engine character as expected was similar to the 2016 model. It comes on smooth and builds rpm’s very calculated. There isn’t really anything too arm jerking about the power delivery, which is good feeling on a 450cc sized machine. There is already plenty there for you to be had. The rpm response feels a little crisper and cleaner than in years past. Last year’s bike had a de-cel pop that was tough to get rid of, but it seems Kawasaki has remedied this for 2017. Mid-range is very broad on the KX450F and pulls hard into a very healthy top end pull. The new ECU settings are responsible for an over-rev that feels improved from the 2016 version. Coming out of corners in second the 2017 can be revved out slightly further than the older model. Third gear also pulls longer on the 2017, especially when the track is tilled up deep and it is very soft. Kawasaki may not have the most exciting 450-engine character, but it does get you from corner to corner very effectively.
A new linkage ratio and pull rods are one of the new revisions that make the KX450F feel more balanced when the track gets rough.
Suspension: The 2017 KX450F is still using the Showa SFF-Air TAC fork, which wasn’t our favorite out of the bunch in 2016. My initial impression of the 2017 updated SFF-Air version is that it does hold up better in the stroke. Last year the fork bottomed and when we did finally get it to hold up in the stroke, it became really harsh in the mid-stroke. Milestone had some really deep ruts and good size braking bumps and the 17 fork was slightly better on this day. The baseline standard air pressures have changed from 2016 and now the settings are set at 152psi in the inner chamber, 16.7psi in the outer chamber, and 174psi in the balance chamber. These 2017 baseline settings are softer than last year’s, yet felt improved on the track. Beefier valving has made this new air pressure setting possible and is a better direction for comfort around the track. I didn’t feel the need to change air pressure on this initial test, but went a couple clicks slower on the fork rebound, which helped make the Kawasaki stick better in ruts. It wanted to pop out of ruts, but with rebound slowed in the fork the KX 450F’s ride attitude in ruts was much better. With the swingarm change I unfortunately couldn’t feel any positive or negative affects while testing. The rear end of the 17 KX450F felt the same to me as the 16. With the valving changes they did make to the suspension in 2017, I do notice a better overall balance/ride attitude while riding aggressively.
Chassis: The triple clamp change that Kawasaki made was for the better. Initial “lean in” coming into corners has improved and makes the front end feel more connected to the ground. It still doesn’t feel like a Suzuki or Honda coming into corners, but the 2017 KX450F feels more like a front-end steering bike than ever before. It does feel long especially through mid corner, as it will take a little more body english to make it stick completely around a long rutted turn. Straight-line stability is still very good and bump absorption by the long feel of the aluminum frame makes for a plush ride over square edge bumps.
The updated Showa suspension holds up better and has more damping feeling when falling from the sky.
It still takes some work by the rider to get the Kawasaki settled all the way around rutted corners.