When the KLX230R showed up at our doorstep, we were all a bit skeptical about riding it to be honest. It looked like a fun “play” bike, but we weren’t sure if it would be up to the challenge for experienced adults riding aggressively. I’ve always had the opinion that 230’s were “wimp” bikes since I grew up riding tracks and open, whoop-filled California deserts where having more CC’s is better. However, after hating the ride quality of my 450R in my new home, I was open to trying just about anything. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a blast riding the KLX230R on the same trails that I struggled on with my 450R, and I was finally able to keep up with the group. Even as I write this review, I can’t believe I’m saying that. But don’t think I’m saying the KLX is the end-all-be-all, but it did really impress us.
The KLX230R engine is extremely user friendly. The power delivery is smooth and predictable with just the right amount of torque for most situations. The bike is able to make quick work of hill climbs, but there is no replacement for displacement, as we all now. There were times where I would have loved to have more power, but this bike never failed me when I needed to climb a hill. In fact it tractored up pitches safely as I dabbed my feet and walked right up terrain I could never ride on my CRF. We have a wide variety of terrain on our local trails and one has repeatedly given me issues. I started it with a high-speed third gear entry, but with a quick downshift to second halfway up the climb, I crested the summit with ease and the whole crew was in disbelief. In fact they all parked their white and orange bikes and proceeded to give it a try on the KLX just to see how it did.
One particular local hill climb really surprised me however, and proved just how capable this bike is. The climb is short, technical and extremely loose. The initial start is rutted out and evolves into a rough rock garden just past the halfway point. With no good run-in for the 230R to hit the climb with momentum, I decided to see how it would do hitting it in first gear. I made it up just before the rocky section but got thrown off-line. Instead of making life easier and heading down to restart, I picked up were I was and somehow made it up and over the rock section to clear the climb. Albeit, I was bouncing off the rev limiter a bit trying to make it up, but the motor never waivered and kept the power coming. The little Kawasaki that could continually surprise us. The mellow power band certainly makes the bike great for beginners too as the fear of looping out or feeling like you’re going to get spit of the back of the bike isn’t really a concern. Kawasaki has done a nice job of keeping the bike torquey enough, but not scary.
The Kawasaki KLX230R feels like an oversized playbike, most like a 110 on steroids. Agility is the bike’s strong suit, and the design just begs to be catapulted around corners. I had no issues putting the hurt on bigger bikes in the group as soon as the twisties came into view! I figure this is a result of the shorter wheelbase and full-size wheels.
While the 230R makes forest riding enjoyable, it falters when it comes to riding fast and loose desert trails. The nonadjustable Showa suspension had me bouncing all over the place in whoop sections and the somewhat smaller bike didn’t make my 6’1” height feel any more comfortable bottoming out whoops in fourth gear. I frequently blew through the travel at 165lbs and got bucked off the trail any time there were deep whoops. Although the full-size wheels were great in the forest, the tires didn’t feel like they were wide enough for sandy terrain and had me fighting for straight lines and confidence in the soft stuff.
Whether you are a beginner just learning how to ride, a teenager looking for the next step or an intermediate level rider looking to add a play/trail bike to the stable, the Kawasaki KLX230R is a solid offering. It is a low-maintenance machine that packs plenty of predictable power and torque for a wide variety of riders. As an advanced desert rider with intermediate level skills in the tech I found new lines and fun with the KLX. Normally ridden in a crew of 350s and 450s, the KLX230 comes up short on faster, desert trails but makes that shortcoming up big time when we’d hit rut tracks and tight, twisty singletrack flowing through the woods! The soft Showa suspension is both a blessing and a curse. The Cadillac like ride is great until the whoops and rougher sections of trail arrive, with bottoming out and bucking being a consistent thing on harder impacts. For riders under 160lbs this may not be a huge issue, or if you stick to slower speed trail riding, it may give you the traction you’ve been searching for. If you’re heavier or ride lots of whoops, then a suspension tune may be in order, which is probably easy to justify with the low price tag of this bike! The Kawasaki KLX230R has a playbike personality in big bike package, which is reinforced with its $4,399 price tag. If you’re in the market for this type of bike, or even if you didn’t think you were, this is a damn fun machine that will give you smiles for miles and could also be a great “loaner” bike if you’re looking for a way to justify that extra bike in the quiver to get newer riders stoked on the sport.