2020 KAWASAKI KLX230R REVIEW
Review by Sourpatch | Photos by Drew Rohde
I’ve been riding moto for a solid 15 years now, but almost all of that time was spent riding in the California desert aboard my Honda CRF450R. It wasn’t until I moved to Bend, OR that I got experience true trail riding. While I thought my current CRF would hang just fine in the wooded Oregon singletrack, it was an absolutely horrible time. The rest of the crew easily navigated technical sections of lava rock and tight twisty trees with their smaller, and much more expensive, Husqvarnas and KTMs and wondered why I never wanted to go ride with them. Just like anything, having the right tool for the job makes a world of difference. Lucky for me, Kawasaki gave us the opportunity to ride and review their 2020 KLX230R for the last couple of months, and it’s turned out to be exactly what I needed to navigate the twisty, technical and tight singletrack of Central Oregon.
The KLX230R was designed by Kawasaki to be a capable and affordable bike for a wide variety of riders. The KLX230R is powered by a 233cc fuel-injected, air cooled four stroke engine. The two-valve SOHC design keeps the engine’s maintenance low without hindering its performance. A fuel-injected design means the KLX230R is able to start up easily, no matter the altitude or temperature. Something that’s very important in the high desert.
Kawasaki designed the engine and chassis at the same time, giving them the opportunity to optimize the agility and reliability of the bike as a whole. The compact, high-tensile steel perimeter frame, short 53.5-inch wheelbase and low 36.2-inch seat height deliver superb handling out on the trail. Kawasaki also pulled some inspiration from their KX line of motos for the ergonomics of the chassis. The frame, seat and 1.7-gallon fuel tank were all designed to provide easier grip for better chassis control for shorter riders or those who are new to riding and want the added security of being able to put both feet on the ground.
Jumping into the squish, Kawasaki equipped the KLX230R with long-travel suspension, featuring a 37mm fork paired with a Uni-Track rear shock. The 230R comes with a full-size 21” front wheel and 18” rear, allowing for better obstacle roll over and tire selection. Thanks to the longer-travel suspension and full-size tires, the KLX230R also has decent ground clearance (11.8 inches), however it’s noticeably lower than a true full-size dirt bike. For example the KX250 has 13.4 inches of clearance, however the seat height is also two inches taller.
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.
The Wolf’s Last Word
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.
ENGINE: 233cc, 4-stroke single, SOHC, air-cooled
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE: 6-speed/chain
FRAME: High-tensile steel, box-section perimeter
FRONT SUSPENSION: 37mm telescopic fork/9.8 in
REAR SUSPENSION: Uni-Trak® linkage system and single shock with adjustable spring preload /9.9 in
FRONT BRAKE: Dual-piston caliper / 240mm Rotor
REAR BRAKE: Dual-piston caliper / 220mm Rotor
WHEELBASE: 53.5 in.
MEASURED SEAT HEIGHT: 36.2 in.
FUEL CAPACITY: 1.7 gal.
MEASURED WEIGHT: 253.6 lb. wet
Tight, Technical Trail Performance
All the Fun
Non-adjustable suspension is soft for adults
Overwhelmed on high speed whoops
Narrow tire spec
We Can’t Keep It
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