We recap Matt’s entire 2012 KX 450F Project Bike journey from the day of launch to what’s to come
Words: Matt Bernard
Part 1 – Launched
Kawasaki’s KX450F launches into the DIRT ACTION garage as our latest project bike
Since I was 13 years old, I have ridden either a 125cc or 250F. After eight years of filling out entry forms in the lites class, I am ready to graduate to a man’s machine. Mum will be so proud.
I have always felt comfortable on 250cc bikes but had my hands full when onboard the bigger bikes, mainly because the riding style doesn’t convert from one to the other. There really is a big difference between riding a 250cc and a 450cc machine.
I will be sacking up and riding the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F for the next 12 months. It’s an all-new machine for this year, and a bike that we were very impressed with last month in our launch feature.
I rode the KX at the launch in Appin, NSW. I only did a few laps on the bike, as I was also photographing the day, but I was a big fan from the little experience I did have. My first thoughts on the KX is that it’s way too fast for me at the moment, however, I think by playing with the ignition plugs and also working on smoothing out my riding style I’ll be right at home on the KX450F before I know it.
Its current grips are far too hard for my well manicured office hands, so I’ll scrap those things and replace them with something a little harder. The handlebars felt a little high for my liking too, so I might opt for something in a slightly lower bend in the cockpit.
Going by the reports from Scott Bishop and Shane Booth at the launch, the ignition plugs make a huge difference, so I’ll be keen to test all of those to get comfortable with the big girl. I’ll then ride the bike in standard form to get a feel for it before I start working towards building this KX450F into a trick weapon that I can tame for the 2012 Amcross series.
We will see if I can stay off the double cheeseburgers and race the double instead – both the KTM250SX-F and KX450F at the last round of the 2011 Shell Advance DIRT ACTION Amcross series. I’m excited to get onto a big-bore machine and start racing the 2012 KX450F – it’s going to be arm-stretching fun!
Part 2 – Kermit the KX
The Kawasaki ticks over its first month as a DIRT ACTION project bike
There really is a total difference between riding a 250 four-stroke and a 450 and I’m starting to work out how to make the Kawasaki KX450F work in my favour. The first day of real riding on the Kawasaki KX450F happened at Appin, NSW, which was a day of learning how to hold onto a 450. I rolled the handlebars back and set the levers to the position I was comfortable with and headed out to onto the hard-pack circuit.
The first thing I noticed on the Kawasaki was the grips. I know it’s a petty complaint but those things suck. It would be cool to see the green team get on the Euro bandwagon to slip some nice grips onto the bike from standard so you don’t need to change them as soon as you buy the bike. It’s an easy fix, however, so I’ll get back in my box.
It’s a nice feeling to ride the Kawasaki KX450F; it has power to burn but it’s useable power that even a clubman rider such as myself, who has spent his whole life riding small-bore machines, is able to use. I still got into a few little moments with some whisky throttle, so I decided to try out the different plugs and found myself a lot more comfortable with the tamest of the three plugs. After a few laps, though, I switched back to the standard map plug and at the moment that’s how the bike has stayed.
The suspension is pretty good for a standard bike and I felt really comfortable on the bike, despite spending little time in the seat so far.
What’s To Come
The standard handlebars aren’t for me. So a set of Renthal Twinwall handlebars is being bolted onto the project KX450F in the lower-than-standard McGrath handlebar bend. For this to happen, a set of the Renthal bar clamps will replace the standard Kawasaki clamps as they only house the standard thickness handlebars rather than the oversized ‘bars that will land in the cockpit of the KX. Renthal will also take care of the grips and sprockets. It’s what Ryan Villopoto uses, so what’s not to like?
There are some pretty tricky suspension components going onto this weapon thanks to Suspension Direct that will really turn some heads and I just can’t help but admire a nice exhaust system dressing up the rear end and adding some grunt — not that I need it! I’ll get an engine meter sorted, too, so I can keep you all in the loop with how the hours are ticking over on this bike.
Once the standard tyres start to throw knobs, it will be time to fit a set of Pirelli tyres to the big girl. I have been using the Pirelli Mid-Soft tyres on the Project KTM 250 SX-F and am pretty darn happy with the outcome, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle the grunt of the four-fiddy.
Next ride, I’m going to have a play with the adjustable footpegs and handlebar mounts to continue to find a really comfortable spot on the Kawasaki. It’s full steam ahead on this project at the moment.
Part 3 – Cartwheeling Kawasaki
The KX450F kicks off with a less-than-impressive race debut
I decided to do double duty at the final round of the Shell Advance Dirt Action Amcross: the lites class on the project KTM250SX-F and the opens on the Kawasaki KX450F. It was a big ask, but I was ready for a challenge.
In the lead-up to the event, I ditched the standard bars and grips for a pair of Renthal Twinwall handlebars in McGrath bend and a set of Renthal full-diamond grips. Together, they instantly made me more comfortable on the green machine. The lower bend of handlebars and grips that didn’t take a layer of skin off per ride made the world of difference.
It took me almost an hour to change the grips. Man, what a pain. The throttle side is vulcanised to the throttle tube so it took a knife, a file, some sandpaper and a few colourful words to get the thing off and ready for the fresh grip. If I had my time again, I would just buy another throttle tube.
I’m sure it would be the cheapest option for the manufacturers to attach the grips this way but it’s a pretty difficult and painful way just to change the grips. After the glue had set, I used Ballard’s tie wire and their trick tie-wire pliers to ensure a grip solidly attached to the handlebars. I always wire and glue my grips on — some might say overkill but I hate a slippery grip.
Next on the list was a set of race numbers. I headed to Shockwave Signs to get some vinyl die-cut numbers for the weekend. They look cool and were nice and easy to read for the lap scorers. Little did I know I wouldn’t make it that far!
Practice Makes Perfect
I headed out in practice and felt pretty average. I was struggling to turn the bike and the bike was a bit of a handful on the tight layout of the Goulburn circuit.
Between races, my old man took to the suspension. It was all set off pretty hard after the bike was used at the launch and since I’d be riding mainly motocross I hadn’t really noticed it, but on grass track it was a handful. We went back to the middle on all the settings and slowed down the rebound. With the changes made, I was pretty keen on the first race.
I had one of the last gate picks as the officials ran the event off position in the series and then read down the entry list. So, after never doing a round and running the highest number in the class, I was out in gate 40. I angled to the first turn and was confident of a cracker start. I planned to be Eminem and go “round the outside, round the outside”, and as the gate dropped I got a good jump and rocketed with 38 other 450s. I was in the first line of traffic into turn one when a blue flash cleaned me up like a spill in aisle seven.
With an almighty thump, a rider from the inside had come in mega hot and cleaned me up. I high-sided out of turn one and felt a burning sensation in my foot. Oh, crap. I picked up the KX450F and went to kick-start the big girl and start circulating. The big girl had copped it worse than me. The rear brake was bent to buggery; the footpeg had dented in, the front brake had snapped clean off and the front end was in a pretty bad way due to what I think is a bent triple clamp bolt. Back to the pits.
I was feeling sore and sorry for myself and the Kawasaki was in a pretty crook state, so I parked it for the weekend. It was a real bummer.
Happy To Be Green
Though the first race didn’t go to plan, I’m having a blast on the KX. I’ve had a few days on it, a day at Appin, NSW, and a day on a private grass track, and I’m really becoming comfortable on it.
Now that Amcross is over, the modifications will continue. Suspension, exhaust and some trick graphics are on the list to join the quality Renthal products that are already on the bike.
I’m currently back to the hard-pack map in the engine, which is making it easier for me to hang on, and I’m really getting comfortable on the thing. I’m also going to try the KX450F optional lowering link which drops the rear around 6mm, so I’m looking forward to that.
Part 4 – Dual-purpose
The Project Kawasaki KX450F receives a very tidy-looking exhaust after last month’s carnage
The crash at the final round of the Amcross series left me with a very sore body and a bent and twisted Kawasaki. I was bummed out, sore and felt sorry for the big green machine after getting bounced down the track like that — I needed to make it up to her.
After giving the bike a good, thorough wash, I assessed the damage and went about rectifying the parts that had copped a good whack. The rear brake was replaced with a genuine part and I have attached a brake snake from Ballard’s Offroad to help keep it straight if it happens to cop a whack again. I pulled the triple clamps apart and what I thought would be a bent triple clamp bolt turned out to be straight. With everything loose I straightened it all out and it seems to be fixed and sorted. I have left the foot peg as it is for now, as I want to replace the pegs with some big, fat, meaty buggers to keep my feet planted when I’m trying to hang onto the big girl. The front brake was an easy fix and a standard lever replaced it, too.
Horses For Courses
I thought it was about time to kick this Kawasaki project into gear; it has the very cool Renthal handlebars and the Renthal chain and sprocket is ready to go on, but it needed something to really get this project happening.
What better way to give this bike a new lease on life than by adding a Yoshimura RS-4D exhaust? I needed to make her feel better and I couldn’t think of a better way than this extremely sexy-looking exhaust pipe. I first saw one of these exhausts at the Yoshimura launch that the guys from Serco put on in Sydney; you can tell how well they are made and it’s instantly evident as soon as you bolt it onto the bike. It fits easily, lines up nicely and was a very simple 10-minute job.
I’ve ridden the bike once at Appin since I fitted the pipe and I have to admit I was expecting to be presented with an uncontrollable motorcycle with all this hard-hitting power. However, I think it has made the bike easier to ride. It definitely has some more pokes, but it feels to have shifted the power to the bottom-end and broadened the curve to make the bike more usable. I guess the easiest way to explain what I feel on the bike is it that it’s meatier but it hasn’t become any more aggressive. I’m pumped to get on a nice, loamy grass track to give the thing a run.
While we’re talking products, I’m also using FunnelWeb Filters in the Project Kawasaki KX450F. The air filters look like no other air filter on the market. They’re riddled with pyramid-shaped objects to increase airflow and make filter changes less frequent. I’ll go into more detail next month on those, but for now check out www.funnelwebfilter.com.au
Part 5 – Breathtaking Easy
The Project Kawasaki gets the FunnelWeb treatment
I’ve been continuing to rework the Kawasaki to my liking for the Amcross series that kicks off in March next year. Last month, the guys from FunnelWeb Filter sent through some air filters for use throughout the project, so this month we load them into the bike and go through the benefits.
I used the FunnelWeb filters on the Project KTM250SX-F last year and was thoroughly impressed with their performance. The filters are a single-layer design with one side of the foam cut into pyramid shapes; this design doubles the filter’s surface area without increasing its size. Therefore, the extra surface area traps more dirt, meaning a longer lifetime on the bike and more protection for the engine. The second notable feature of the filter is the seal. Most filters retain the regular foam seal design but FunnelWeb use a moulded urethane frame. This allows a better fit to the air filter cage and inside the airbox and as the filter ages it will retain its shape.
The filter is easy to install as the Kawasaki KX450F has quite an open-styled airbox area which makes it easy to change. It’s recommended you run a smear of grease around the seal that connects to the airbox to allow a perfect connection.
I stand by my comments last issue about the Yoshimura exhaust: it has definitely given the big girl some more grunt yet I don’t think it’s made it any harder to hold on to. It’s really impressed me. At the moment, I’m using the mellowest power curve and, combined with the Yoshimura RS-4D exhaust, I’m feeling right at home.
The pegs are bound for the skip bin and a set of Kite Performance pegs will be bolted on to the Kawasaki next month. They’re a nice, wide set of pegs with replaceable teeth; they look super cool, too.
While we’re talking about what’s to come, a GET engine hour meter will be keeping track of the service intervals, a set of Cycra MX handguards will keep my knuckles safe from roost and a Cycra Speed armour skid plate will also be fitted.
I’ve seen the 2012 Hart & Huntington US race bikes on the internet that feature a white rear guard and I’m a big fan, so I’m looking to get one of those fitted up to give the Kawasaki a different look. With that in mind, I started designing the graphics that will be slapped onto the big girl. Hopefully it will turn some heads.
Part 6 – Keeping Track
Time ticks over as the KX gets some trick suspension
Leading up to Christmas, the KX450F had been out for a few rides, but looming magazine deadlines and a break at Christmas had the Kawasaki sitting with a little free time.
So what better time to check the suspension in with Factory Spec and Suspension Direct for their combined treatment on the springers? That’s where the forks and shock are at the moment. Kenny at Factory Spec is working his magic on some very special parts that have been supplied by the guys from Suspension Direct. Remember the Honda CRF450R a few issues back that had the Kashima-coated suspension? Well, that’s the same stuff that’s going on to the Kawasaki.
I was absolutely blown away by the way the Honda performed. I’d never ridden a bike with coated suspension before and it really does make a difference. I can’t wait to get the suspension back in the bike and give it a thorough testing with the coatings and the suspension valved for my weight and ability — that will be next issue.
While the suspension was out, I went about fitting the new GET engine hour meter. It took about 25 seconds. It’s the easiest hour meter I’ve ever installed. You simply degrease your frame, peel off the backing paper and stick it on — presto. It operates wirelessly; the vibration of the frame kicks off the timing so no wires are required. You can use it for partial timing as well, which is resettable, and you can check your hours by pressing a button on the meter rather than starting your bike. It really is the duck’s guts of hour meters.
The first round of Amcross is getting closer so the guys at Ficeda hooked me up with some Cycra handguards to protect my office hands from the roost flying off the back of furious 450s. To go with the Cycra theme, the guys also sent through a Speed Armor skid plate. It’s a bright green plastic number that will certainly look the goods once it’s attached with the world’s biggest cable ties that Cycra supplies.
I’ll be using Motul oils and lubricants on the project Kawasaki KX450F. Motul oil is first class and, together with their lubricants, makes it one of the best brands on the market.
As I mentioned a few issues ago, Pirelli tyres will keep the big girl tractoring. I’ve decided to use Pirelli Mid-Soft tyres again; I used them throughout the entire Amcross series last season and was extremely happy with their performance and wear. With last season in mind, I’m looking forward to using them again this year. James Stewart uses Pirelli now, too, so they must be good!
The graphics are still a work in progress — a fried hard drive with the designs on it has stumped proceedings for now — but I’ll be getting back on to that and giving this bike a new look and lease on life. I also want to put on a gripper seat cover bike to stop myself from flapping off the back of the bike when she hooks up. It’s all guns blazing on this project at the moment.
Part 7 – Spring Loaded
From the list of modifications to be made to the Project Kawasaki KX450F, suspension can now be ticked off
Last issue I mentioned that the KX450F was stripped down and the suspension was at Factory Spec Suspension in Sydney getting some pretty trick work completed on the fork and shock. When I walked into the Factory Spec workshop, Kenny was polishing off the final touches on the KX’s forks and I admired a very trick-looking shock hanging on the wall. Told that the factory-looking shock was the new hardware set for the KX, I was pumped!
Suspension Direct had sent over a complete Kashima shock body which boasted an SDi Elite bladder cap and, holy smokes, does it look unreal — just like a factory shock.
Along with the trick shock, Factory Spec and SDi teamed up to give the forks a very impressive treatment. Using Kashima coated outer fork tubes, SDi Elite fork caps, SDi elite billet free pistons and SDi Elite Spring Perches, the KX forks were revalved to suit my 95kg frame and were ready for action. The Kashima coated forks and shock body allow for a reduction in stiction, giving the suspension an extremely smooth action. I feel it really helps with the small, choppy bumps; it’s like the shock from the front wheel isn’t able to transfer to the handlebars.
When reinstalling the shock, I also installed an SDi Elite Full Linkage System, which lowers the rear of the bike slightly and improves the steering and overall stability of the KX.
As soon as the suspension was back on the bike it was loaded for our trip to Coonabarabran, which you can read all about next issue. I spent quite a few laps around the rough sand track at Goanna Tracks and had an absolute ball on it with the new suspension.
As I’ll be racing the DIRT ACTION Amcross series this year, I also went and punched out some laps on the grass track at Goanna to get a feel of the bike on the style of track I’ll mainly be riding it on.
Firstly, forget the suspension for a second; on a big grass track, the big girl has some serious horse power — she’s a freaking weapon! Big, meaty and broad power made it a blast to ride on the loamy surface. The suspension matched the engine’s performance and I was very comfortable to push harder and harder.
I’ve got some ARC levers ready to bolt on and the side race numbers to match the Shockwaves Signs front plate are set to hit the printers, all ready for the first round of Amcross.
Part 8 – Smooth-sailing
A little bump in the road for the rider is smoothed out as Amcross round-one looms
You know you have a great bike when every weekend your plans involve riding first, and everything else second – I have a very understanding girlfriend who luckily loves bikes. A few weekends ago I headed to Howes Valley to what I call heaven. It’s my girlfriends families property which I have mentioned plenty of times. I absolutely can’t get enough of it, its grasstrack nirvana. John jumps on his tractor slashes in a grasstrack which I can moto the crap out of until I get sick of it, have a BBQ lunch and head back out on one of the now many tracks we have there. It’s perfect as far as I’m concerned. This particular trip had the tracks prime thanks to the rain we have had recently, it was loamy and perfect. I was having a blast on the KX. I certainly need to get a gripper seat for the thing as I kept sliding back and wheel standing out of ruts and turns thanks to the monstrous power this big girl possesses. I’m much more confident with the suspension now thanks to the Factory Spec and Suspension Direct treatment. I feel that the front end is a lot more stable and the rear has a very positive feel to it, I haven’t even touched a clicker and I’m already way more confident than I was with the standard set up. More riding and some adjustments and I’ll be 100% on the big girl I think.
Last month I mentioned I had a set of ARC levers to bolt up. I have now put them on and they don’t only look trick but they serve a purpose, I won’t have to worry about breaking a lever mid-moto now, as they simply flick out of the way. They have a nice feel to them, and I like being able to adjust the lever to where I am most comfortable.
I’ve been doing some testing with the FunnelWeb filters and I think I get at least an extra half days riding out of the the FunnelWeb filter over the standard Kawasaki filter – they are a very cool and effective design.
Practice Makes Perfect
I’m itching to do well this year at Amcross. I’m not one that enjoys running 15th, especially getting roosted by some rocket ship 450s. With everything going well so far, the only thing that would upset it would be a crash wouldn’t it? So, of course that’s what I did. I tucked the front at the end of a high-speed straight and copped it heavily in the ribs, thought I’d broken my wrist and my ankle felt like it was going to burst inside my boot. Oh goodie, I thought. Actually, I thought holy crap what the hell is wrong with my ribs and why can’t I breathe, then, oh crap, Damo’s gonna kill me, then I thought, oh crap, Amcross is in a month.
After a few hours I was sitting in Hawkesbury hospital with my girlfriend Katrina (told you she understands) I left drugged-up and my fat blue arm in a sling. Xrays and bone scans have since cleared me of any broken bones – woo-hoo. But I’m still hobbling around and am pretty sore and sorry; it’s nothing Nurofen can’t fix so I’m still all guns blazing for Amcross. The bike came out ok from the cartwheel, just twisted and the ARC levers did their thing and swung out of the way.
The Shockwave Signs side numbers have been printed, look awesome and are ready to be applied. The Renthal rear-sprocket is set to go along with the Renthal chain and Pirelli Mid-Soft tyres next month I’ll hopefully have good news from Amcross round one.
Part 9 – Pile-up Progression
With round one out of the way, the hours tick over on the KX
Picton sucked. Well, I sucked. The bike was really good but I wasn’t. Anyway, I finished 11th in the last moto of the opening round of the Dirt Action Amcross and that was the highlight. I got caught up in a first-turn pile-up in the first race and wore a 450 across my back, which was super — just super. I finished 25th or so in that, which was pathetic really. Then I think around 15th in the second race and 11th was the aforementioned highlight — I wanted to be inside the top 10, so I left the Picton track pretty pissed.
After a pep talk on the way home from my girlfriend and a couple of days to calm down, I got into some riding to hopefully improve for the next round at Cooma.
The Tuesday after Amcross, I headed to Appin with Boothy and pounded out some laps. I felt instantly better on the bike — I must have just had an off day at Picton. I rode another day at a sand track the Saturday after and I’m heading out tomorrow for another session at a track with Boothy, so round two at Cooma should be a much brighter picture.
At the moment, the bike is looking and performing bloody well. For Amcross, the bike got a little tune-up and a new look. I — OK, my mate Grant — fitted a set of Pirelli mid-soft tyres to the KX, the Cycra MX hand guards went on to protect my knuckles from the roost and the Renthal 50-tooth rear sprocket was fitted as was a Renthal chain. I fitted a full N-Style Pro Circuit Monster Energy Kawasaki replica graphics kit to the bike with the matching seat cover, as well as my #963s designed and manufactured by Shockwave Signs. Along with the numbers, Shockwaves Signs printed swing-arm decals and fork-guard decals to ensure all the sponsors of this bike were covered. The GET hour meter was fitted a week or so before Amcross and I only had half an hour on it before the race. At the moment it stands at 4.0 hours at time of writing, so it’s ticking along nicely now and running well thanks to the Motul oils and lubrication.
I have been using Motul products a lot and it’s really, really good stuff. The Shine and Go is one of my favourite products; it gives the bike a really good look and smells really good, too, surprisingly. The chain lube seems to really penetrate the links and, up until now, had kept the standard chain working well and wasn’t completely shagged when I took it off. The E-Z Lube brought a few slightly squeaky parts back to life and I’m a big fan. When I crashed last month, the bike sat in the warehouse dirty for two weeks and got a little stiff in a few parts and springs, but the E-Z Lube has it working A1 once again.
The Polisport plastics should be getting close now, then a full custom Dirt Action graphics kit by Shockwaves Signs will give the bike a fresh new look. I’m 100 per cent confident with Factory Spec and Suspension Direct after these few rides after Amcross, so I’m looking forward to the Cooma Amcross.
Part 10 – Change of Pace
Another race day done and a new attitude
After the despicable performance I produced at Picton Amcross, I couldn’t even look at the KX450F without feeling like I had let it down. This thing does not deserve to be scraping into the top 15 at an Amcross round, for goodness’ sake – look at it, it’s intimidating. So, instead I put some time in with the bike before the second round at Cooma and tried my best to forget about Picton.
After a quick discussion with Kenny Wheeler at Factory Spec, I decided to adjust the forks to make them a little softer. The SDi Elite Fork Cap set allow a finer adjustment, so I went a few more clicks than I would with the standard suspension and went eight clicks softer on compression. It’s easy to change without any tools thanks to the SDi adjuster handle that is also fitted to the forks.
The bike got a fresh dose of Motul 7100 oil and a clean oil filter. The Funnelweb filters were washed and I gave the bike a good spray with some Shine & Go and lubed the chain. All Motuled up, the big girl was loaded into the trailer and we headed to Cooma for round two of the Dirt Action Amcross series.
Cooma is one heck of a cold place. We rocked up to the track and our marked our spot with the FiftySix Clix and Kawasaki guys who had camped the night and near froze.
I was thankful to have my Fox Fluid Rain jacket on when practice kicked into gear; she was a fresh old morning. Three things made a big difference over the weekend: I got good starts, I stayed on the bike and I didn’t ride like a pussy.
In race one I got a flat tyre towards the end and the useless rubber-mounted bar clamps twisted when I hit a big bump, but I was still pumped with a sixth. Race two was fifth, race three was a cracker with third, I couldn’t have had a better weekend to kick me in the butt and enjoy my time on the Kawasaki.
The suspension adjustments gave me a lot more confidence in the front end, and the Pirelli mid-soft did their job in the loamy conditions. I only needed to change the FunnelWeb filter once; I think it would have been after every moto if I was using standard filters. The whole day went pretty smoothly. I had an absolute ball and I’m motivated to rack the hours up on the bike in preparation for the next round of the Dirt Action Amcross in Young.
Part 11 – Happy Anniversary
Three rounds of Amcross to go and I’m not wishing to send the KX back any time soon
It occurred to me while Damo and I were out on a shoot with the Project KX450F that time really has flown since I’ve had the bike. I picked it up way back in issue #149. So that makes this story the 10th feature on the bike.
Problem is I’m not in any way shape or form interested in discussing a return of the motorcycle to Kawasaki headquarters. Happy 10th birthday, Project Kawasaki KX450F — I’ll do everything I can to keep you.
Way Back When
I remember swinging my leg over the project Kawasaki KX450F at Appin during the Australian launch of the 2012 model. I’d already come to an agreement with Kawasaki to hang on to one for 12 months after seeing some reviews of the bike on line.
After a few laps I started to regret my decision. I’d raced 125s and 250s since I was old enough to get on one and despite testing 450s regularly I was pretty worried about racing one for a year. It absolutely hauled arse; I was flapping off the back and visiting Arm Pump City each lap.
I remember hopping off the bike and Boothy asking if I’d like a rag in the airbox to slow it down. I nervously laughed and sat wondering if I’d made the biggest mistake of bike selection since working here.
Fast forward 10 months and my thoughts couldn’t have changed any more drastically. I love the KX and I’m seriously stressing about returning the bike back to Kawasaki. I’ve gelled with it and I’m more than happy to have it sitting in the DA shed.
So why the change of heart? Obviously, I’ve become more comfortable on the bike and my riding style has changed to suit a 450 more. I’ve gone from sitting at the peak of the power and losing control regularly to trying to short-shift it and not get caught up on the rev limiter on a regular basis.
I put a lot of my confidence down to the interchangeable ignition plugs — they made the power so much easier for me to handle. Hats off to Kawasaki for implementing these changes.
The Yoshimura exhaust helped shift the power to more bottom end so that I could use it to my benefit. The suspension changes boosted my confidence through the roof — it’s set for me — and I’m more than comfortable with the factory spec setting that’s been developed using the Suspension Direct parts.
The ignition plug, Yoshi exhaust, suspension modifications and also the lower, more comfortable McGrath Renthal Twinwalls have been the key to my comfort on the Kawasaki KX450F.
Where We Sit Now
I’m now sitting in the top 10 in the DIRT ACTION Amcross series and am looking forward to the rest of the year. Damo has talked me into racing the Hattah Desert Race, which I’m slightly nervous about — I don’t know if I’ll make it to the end of it. But if I had to choose any bike to have a crack at, it’d be the KX.
I’ve got three rounds of Amcross to go, Bega, Goulburn and Leeton. I’ve been ripping great starts on it; now I just need to hang in there and hopefully notch up some good points and edge higher up the ladder.
I scraped through for a second in race one at the Cootamundra round, which helped me hop into ninth, so a few more results like that and I’ll hopefully get home well inside the 10.
Part 12 – Desert Ready
Getting the project Kawasaki KX450F ready for the Hattah Desert Race
The Kawasaki KX450F performed well at the Bega round of the DIRT ACTION AMCROSS. The track was fun, yet very rough. After the second race we made some slight suspension changes, which made the last, bumpy and rutted moto a lot more fun than the second one.
Before I went out for practice, Dad noticed my header pipe was moving significantly when I revved the bike. Under observation I realised a spring had fallen off. Luckily, we had a spare and were able to sort it out before race one.
After Bega, a brand-new set of Pirelli Mid Soft tyres were fitted for maximum traction in the sand of Hattah. I went the Mid Soft on the recommendation of the guys at Pirelli, as Full Soft tyres are great in the sand but they don’t perform as well down the long, harder straights like those at Hattah.
Suspension-wise, the sag was checked and set at 105mm. We wound the compression in to firm up the rear to handle the big bumps and slowed the rebound down, but only two clicks.
The KX also got fresh Motul 7100 oil and a new oil filter. The FunnelWeb filters were washed and oiled and the four were ready for the sands of Hattah. A new set of Renthal soft compound full-diamond grips were fitted and the whole bike was given a full once-over to ensure all bolts and spokes were tight and to the correct torque measurements. The rear wheel was also adjusted as far back as possible to increase stability and, for the same reason, the forks were dropped to flush with the triple clamp.
My number 963 was shelved for the Hattah race and a fresh 863 front plate from Shockwave Signs was fitted. The guys there also knocked up these trick overlays to replace the nines on the sideplate with eights. This saved the need for a full replacement set of numbers for one event while still looking trick and in keeping with the design of the bike.
A trip to Ballard’s Offroad saw me stocked up with some spare brake pads — and we were set for the trip to Hattah.
Part 13 – Desert Performance
The KTM Hattah Desert Race prompted a few key changes to the Project Kawasaki KX450F, which you may have read about last month. So, how did they all work out?
Factory Spec Suspension
The first lap of Hattah, I basically trail-rode half the lap. It was so darn dusty I couldn’t see much at all. While it was pretty smooth, that would all change on laps two and three. The bumps ranged from metre-deep sand whoops to rolling bumps through the trees to choppy acceleration bumps. Despite the absence of a steering damper, the Factory Spec suspension handled the varying terrain and bumps well.
Funnelweb Air Filters
The dust was absolutely crazy on the first lap. I did prologue and the start on the same air filter and it performed flawlessly the whole race. With a bit of clean air on the first lap, I think you could do the whole event on one filter. As my dad was there, he kept the filters cleaned and oiled and supplied a fresh one every lap.
Pirelli Mid Soft Tyres
The Pirelli Mid Soft tyres were perfect for the conditions. They performed great in the deep sand but equally well on the harder terrain. With the Pirelli tyre stickers on them, they looked factory, too, and it certainly got plenty of attention during the street party.
With a few hours since the last oil change, the Kawasaki got a full dose of Motul lubrication: an oil change, plenty of Shine & Go, plus the LubezAll treatment across a lot of the moving parts to ensure everything was in working order before we headed down. The air filters were also oiled with Motul Air Filter Oil. All worked wonders and helped the bike to perform without a single drama.
The Kawasaki KX450F was awesome in the sands of Hattah. I wasn’t sure if it would be too much for me to hang onto for the long, rough laps but it was the perfect mix of usable power and endless grunt. I tossed up whether to put the soft-terrain map into the bike but, to be honest, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the bloody thing when I started getting tired. So I left it as it was. My setup for prologue was pretty much spot on; I’d made my shock harder before we left. But when the sight lap revealed what was basically a long Amcross lap, I changed it back to the settings I’d been using all year. That worked really well. The shock was a little soft after the second lap, so we firmed that up and it was good to go.
The KX450F has a couple of races left before it heads back to Kawasaki HQ. Goulburn Amcross is in a few weeks, then the final round of Amcross is at Leeton. Hopefully, I can get some good results and make it inside the top 10 by the end of the series.
Part 14 – Kicking Goals
The Project Kawasaki impresses as the season comes to a close
Before Hattah, I fitted a brand-spanking-new set of Pirelli Mid Soft tyres in preparation for the deep sands of the desert. After the event, they were just like new — they’d hardly worn at all. The bike went back into the trailer with what was basically a brand-new set of tyres.
I spent a week in Spain and then a week recovering so the KX waited patiently while I was overseas. When the jet lag disappeared and I became a human again, I got out and had a good ride the week before Goulburn and was pumped to see the same Pirelli Mid Softs still looking darn good. So the big girl got a nice wash, a shine and some fresh Motul oil and was loaded into the Mercedes Vito as we headed off for round five of the series.
When we rolled into Goulburn, I instantly had a smile smacked on my face. I’m a fan of fast tracks. I hate riding tracks that are tight and technical at Amcross; it’s all about wide-open, flowing grass tracks — and Goulburn had nailed it.
Practice went sweet and the bike was handling really well. Since Hattah I’d my forks dropped down to be flush with the top of the clamps and kept them there for the fast straights on the Goulburn track. I rode the first race and worked my way from around fifth or sixth into third and finished the race there. I was stoked.
I scored another third in race two but felt my front brakes had a problem. They started howling like crazy under heavy braking and weren’t working all that great, almost as if there was Shine & Go on the disc.
For race three, my dad whipped out the pads, cleaned the disc up with some Motul brake cleaner and fitted some new genuine Kawasaki pads. I lined up for the final moto around the same area I’d had for the last two races. The Kawasaki launched out of the gate and I pulled the hole shot. Holy crap — what do I do now?
Longest Race of my Life
I led the pack around for the first lap and took a shithouse line into the deep muddy section. I lost the lead and was spewing. I could see my girlfriend Katrina jumping up and down on the sidelines.
I went in deep under brakes into the next turn, railing the loam and taking the lead again. I stayed in front for another three laps before I was passed by a rider. I made a few mistakes and he pulled a gap. I fought it out with Phil Cunningham on his big Husky for second and held onto it; I crossed the line absolutely pumped to finish second.
When I got back to the pits I was informed that the officials had made the decision to dock the race winner a position for cutting the track — so I would be awarded with the win! I might not have got the opportunity to cross the line in the lead but the day’s third, third and first points haul had allowed me to jump into sixth and within reach of fifth.
I’m really feeling comfortable on the Kawasaki and the faster and harder I’m riding the better the Factory Spec suspension is handling the big hits and the better I’m feeling on the bike.
The week after Amcross, Boothy and I headed out to Appin to punch out some motos. It was good to get some more laps but the track out there was certainly in need of some love. However, the Pirelli Mid Softs survived yet another ride and are begging for another.
Part 15 – Project Complete
The Kawasaki KX450F ends its time at DIRT ACTION
The last 12 months with the Kawasaki KX450F have flown by. We have completed the whole Dirt Action Amcross series, raced the Hattah Desert Race and had a ball — and absolutely no mechanical problems — along the way.
My time with the 450 got off to a rough-and-tumble start. I entered the final round of the 2011 Dirt Action Amcross series in the open class, a secondary class to what I was racing at the time. I got as far as the first turn of the first race where I was wiped out by a rider on the inside.
The 450 was bent and parked in the van for the rest of the meeting. It wasn’t the most enjoyable start to our time together, but it only could get better — and did.
As soon as I bolted the Renthal Twin-wall handlebars to the KX450F I was comfortable on board. The standard ’bars were a little high for my liking and I was much more comfortable with the McGrath bend Renthals.
The standard suspension on the KX450F was pretty good. I took it to Factory Spec for a revalve and was hooked up with a bunch of trick-as Suspension Direct components for Ken at Factory Spec to work his magic with. Kashima coated fork tubes and a Kashima coated shock body were just the start of the list of trick parts that were used to build the suspension on the bike.
With heavier springs, a revalve and the SDi parts, the bike handled on a whole different level. Once the suspension was bolted into the bike I never looked back; I began to get more and more confident on the bike. I stuck to the mellowest plug on offer from Kawasaki and, combined with the Yoshimura exhaust system, the engine was broad, strong and easy to use. The more I rode it, the better it felt.
OK, so maybe not bulletproof, but Matt-proof. This thing handled the year really well. It was the first 450 I’ve had for a full 12 months and, being mainly a 250F racer, I got spat off the thing a lot. I never bent a subframe, the ARC levers never snapped and the bars stayed straight. It stood up to the test, without a doubt.
Mechanically, the extent of the mechanical issues I had with the bike was a snapped spoke from coming together with another rider. I kept the Motul 7100 flowing through the KX, changed the FunnelWeb filters often and got through the year without a DNF. The Kawasaki was a dream bike to live with for 12 months. I have very little to complain about. The oil filter cover is pretty darn sharp, so you need to watch that, and I wore out the chain runner after about 10 hours.
The Dirt Action Amcross series wrapped up at Leeton which you can read all about in this issue. I entered the round equal seventh. If I had a really good day I could maybe jump to fifth, but it would take some luck and for me to pull my finger out.
The first two races I didn’t use the holeshot button as I pulled a mega holeshot without it at Goulburn and started well back. When the tracks are so fast it’s hard to catch up if you don’t have a great start and it showed. I finished seventh in the first and 10th in the second. I was so bummed and knew I had to turn it around.
I forgot about my fluke holeshot without the button and went back to using the Works Connection holeshot button in the last race as I had all year. I pulled a great start and rounded lap one in fourth or fifth. I hung with the front guys for a couple of laps and ended the race in sixth. I was pretty happy with that as I was riding like a busted arse in the first two.
I didn’t know until I crossed the line that two of the guys who were near me in the points had gone down in a big pile-up and had only scored a few points. I ended up taking home fifth place in the overall points and, after leaving round one outside the top 20, I was absolutely pumped with fifth.
Like a 12-year-old kid on the podium, I’d just like to thank Rudi, Bargs and the team at Kawasaki for all their help and to agreeing to the project; my mum, dad and Katrina for their help at all the races; Damo for giving me time off to practise; Daimler Trucks Sydney for getting me to Leeton; and all the suppliers who came on board with the project Kawasaki KX450F. It’s one wicked machine, so thanks. I’ll miss the big green machine!
What Went Into the KX
Numbers with airbox $125 + GST
Fork guards $40 + GST
Swingarms $35 + GST
* Discount when ordered in a full kit
Pirelli Mid Soft fronts 80/100–21 $99
Pirelli Mid Soft rears 110/90–19 $119
1L Motul 7100 10W40 $24.90/4L $89.90
Shine & Go Silicon Clean $19.90
Chain Lube Off Road $23.90
Brake Clean Contact Cleaner $18.50
Air Filter Oil $29.90
EZ Lube $16.50
Pro Circuit Kawasaki Kit $349.95
FACTORY SPEC SUSPENSION
Fork and shock revalve with heavier springs in front and rear $870
SUSPENSION DIRECT PRODUCTS
MX Spring Perch (SDETCV24MX) $129
Complete Linkage (SDECLAK09) $539
Billet Free Pistons (SGFA09) $179
SDi Elite Fork Caps (SDEFCY06) $299
Oversize Shock Bladder Cap (SDESBC52-S) $59
KYB DLC Compression Pistons (SDEKCP6) $189
Kashima Coating (shock body) $459
Kashima Coating (fork tubes) $699
FUNNELWEB AIR FILTERS
Twinwall Handlebars $149.95
Soft Full Diamond Grips $14.95
51T Alloy Sprocket $79.95
Racing Chain $129.95
Wireless Hour Meter $69.95
MX Handguards $29.95
Performance Footpeg $199.95
Launch Control System $129
Composite ARC Levers $99.95
Odds and Ends
THUMBS DOWN TO …
The standard footpegs on the KX are pretty crappy and became flogged out pretty quick. I’m also not a fan of the rubber-mounted handlebar mounts that come with the Kawasaki.
THUMBS UP TO …
The Kawasaki’s reliability.
Goulburn Amcross. I led the final race of the day for nearly the whole moto; the bike and I gelled that day and I had an absolute ball.
Picton Amcross. I got shocking starts, rode like a pussy, got caught in a massive pile-up and left the round well outside the points.
Finishing the Hattah Desert Race. Racing that event with Damo was an awesome experience.
Well, there’s just so many. Probably the first-turn wipe-out in our very first race. Honourable mentions to the get-off at my girlfriend’s farm at the end of a long straight and to going over the ’bars at Hattah.
Suspension Direct coated fork tubes and shock body.
The Motul lubes kept the bike in tip-top shape. The full range of products that Motul does is top-shelf stuff. The air-filter oil worked with the FunnelWeb filters to keep any dirt or dust from passing through the filter, Motul 7100 kept the internals happy, the E-Z Lube kept the moving parts in good nick and stopped them from rusting, Shine & Go took care of the looks department and the Brake Clean was used often to make sure none of the above ended up on the brake discs and pads.