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2020 Kawasaki KLX230: Enough To Be Your Lightweight ADV Bike?

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2020 Kawasaki KLX230 Review

Is the KLX230 enough? Enough to be a lightweight Adventure Bike? The short answer, hell yeah it can be! There are a few parameters to that enthusiasm, but we’ll get into that as we go through the new 2020 Kawasaki KLX230. Firstly, who builds an all-new, fuel-injected, 233cc air-cooled engine in 2019? Kawasaki did and the obvious answer to “why” is for the Asian Markets. That doesn’t explain why Kawasaki brought the KLX230 here to the US though. This brings us right back to the parameters of whether this small dual sport is enough motorcycle for ‘your’ style of adventure.

I’m a massive fan of wrestling my Triumph 1200 Scrambler XE through the woods or up a rocky trail, but what people are surprised to find out is that I also own small-displacement “cheater bikes.” Mine happen to be an air-cooled 200cc Suzuki DR and a KTM 250 EXC-F. Both are perfect reference points to conduct this test. 

2020 Kawasaki KLX230 test

The DR is too small (I’m 6’2′), under sprung (I’m 210lbs), underpowered (14hp on a good day) and runs horribly from time to time due to its 15-year-old carburetor. But, it makes you feel like Graham Jarvis as you yell “Jarvis” while blasting by your friends struggling to hold up a full-size dirt bike.The KTM is my “full size” dirt bike that everyone told me would be too small. Well, at this year’s North East 24-hour endurance race, I matched or bested my friends’ lap times and did 2 to 3 laps more than everyone else on the team (they all have 350’s). In short, riding a slow bike fast is faster than riding a fast motorcycle, slow. You can also learn the fundamentals properly on a smaller motorcycle.

Answering The Big Question

The biggest problem facing the KLX is the smallest thing about it. Its 233cc power plant is just “too small” for us power-hungry Americans. By my seat of the pants-dynometer, the KLX makes just north of 20hp from its single overhead-twin valve heart. Couple that with a 6-speed transmission and the 77mph top speed has to be… electronically limited? Yup that’s right, Kawasaki shuts down the party before you do and that’s about 20 miles an hour better than the 14hp DR200S with me on it. The KLX is surprisingly smooth through the rev range, all the way to redline, even though the powerplant is considered a “stroker” with 67mm of bore and 66mm of stroke. For comparison, my KTM 250 EXC-F has a bore of 78mm by 52.3mm of stroke yet it feels less refined north of 50 mph than the Kawi.

Stand up ergos on the Kawasaki KLX230

Impressions of the KLX230 motor are “it’s better than expected… by a lot.” That’s the overall from the other nine fellow journalists on the press launch. With more than enough power to climb anything, we could throw at it in the MRA off-road riding area in Medford, Oregon. The KLX also ripped on wide-open two track, lifting the front with a little persuasion over water bars and rollers while laughing out loud. Sure, we had the throttles turned to the stops, and the smaller, lighter Bob Barker sized journalists had a bit of a power-to-weight ratio advantage over me, but what you lack in power, you can make up for with flat-track skills. Trying to make up for a lack of skill with power is never a good idea.

Kawasaki KLX230 air-cooled, fuel-injected 233cc powerplant.Kawasaki designed an all-new air-cooled, fuel-injected, 233cc engine and mated it to a 6-speed transmission.

Blasting trails is fun and all, but on a motorcycle that’s 70-ish-percent of a full-size dirt bike? Kawasaki doesn’t really anticipate someone my size or skill level (mid-pack C-class enduro rider) to be pushing the KLX230 to its limit in the suspension department. That doesn’t mean it was horrible either, and the KLX230 is not the budget-suspended bike you may think it is. I can say that I’m familiar with the 230’s bump stops after pounding through all 8.7 inches of travel in front and 8.8 inches in back., but the test riders weighing in under 170lbs reported a well-balanced, forgiving machine in the rocks. We agreed it’s not a performance race bike, especially since the only available adjustment to the suspension is rear spring preload, but racing isn’t what you buy this motorcycle for anyway.

2020 Kawasaki KLX230 ChassisThe short 54.3″ wheelbase combined with its 10.4″ ground clearance contributes to the bike’s maneuverability.

On the road, the KLX230 will leave my thinly framed DR200s wobbling wide into the first ditch if I tried to hold the same line as the Kawi. Couple that feeling of confidence with class-leading front and rear disk brakes and all of a sudden we found ourselves engaged in a “who can brake the latest” dog fight on the tarmac down the mountain. Did I mention this bike is fun? Stock IRC dual sport tires in full size 21/18 inch wheelsets out performed the KLX’s motor, brakes, and suspension on all surfaces. 

The KLX230 also comes in an “ABS” model. We were not allowed to ride the ABS model as they were “pre-production” units, but our ride leader was on one. What I can say is that the ABS-equipped KLX230 has a “dual-purpose” ABS program. That means it works on both the street and off-road. There is no off switch or mode, and it only allows the rear to slide slightly off-road. Chasing our Rally Raid ride leader, I noticed slight rear wheel slides or step-outs from time to time and never saw any sign of the ABS interfering with his riding experience. The ABS model rings in at $4,899 and the non-ABS KLX230 lists for $4,599.

Kawasaki KLX230 dashThe all-new LCD dash doesn’t have a tachometer but is still a nice modern touch with a fuel gauge, low fuel warning light, speedometer, odometer, clock, and indicator lamps.

Who’s It For?

Who is the KLX “enough” for? Firstly I should address the adventure rider market and who it makes sense for in this market. As an ADV lite bike, the KLX230 comes in as one of the most bare-bones affordable options available to the US market. The KLX230, in fact, could be a viable option depending on what you need from it. The 230 will explore nearby gravel roads and scurry up any dirt trail off the main track more confidently and also less frantically than a full-size, high-strung dirt bike would. Doing a longer adventure ride like a Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR) is possible, but you’ll have to be realistic about expectations for carrying capacity and camping. 

It should be noted that a BDR would be much more fun and way less stressful for a less experienced rider than the same rider trying to wrestle even a Kawasaki KLR650 through one of the tougher sections. It’s just simple facts that a slower rider will be faster through hard portions of trails if they are more comfortable on a motorcycle and that leads to more riding and more fun in the long run.

Kawasaki KLX230 street test

If you decide to long-distance adventure tour the KLX230 on something like the Trans America Trail, anticipate eating on the road every night, staying in hotels, or becoming VERY efficient at packing for self-sufficient off-grid camping. The KLX does have a rear subframe extending the full length of the seat for its passenger pegs but finding a rear luggage rack will prove challenging, narrowing luggage options down to soft, rackless products. 

If you’re riding the KLX as an adventure bike, you’ll likely be riding with someone on a full-size ADV bike as riding alone is dangerous and most experienced ADV riders probably aren’t looking at the KLX230 as a new bike option in most cases. Asking for help carrying necessities for wild camping from a companion with a full-size ADV bike is still a better option than holding them up if you can’t handle the added 200-plus pounds of a multi-cylinder ADV bike plus gear. 

Kawasaki KLX230 Headlight“Largest headlight in its class” whatever that means.

For the budding adventure rider with a partner who’s already experienced this can be the perfect bike for getting into the sport. Having a low cost of entry, a light curb weight of 291 pounds, an extremely low center of gravity, and rock-solid reliability (not carbureted) you’ll be riding more and death gripping your bars less.

Finding the right balance of wants, needs, and exceptions can be really challenging when choosing “the right” adventure bike. The KLX makes sense in a lot of ways for some riders but not all. If you’re 6’2″ and up like myself, you’ll look slightly silly perched on top of the KLX before you’ll feel uncomfortably cramped, but that feeling will eventually set in as well. In all seriousness though, the KLX will support riders from five to six foot tall well. 

Off-road testing the KLX230Suspension travel is 8.7 inches in front and 8.8 inches in the rear with shock preload the only adjustment.

If you’re above the six-foot range, the handlebars will feel too close to the seat and too low for anyone who wants to stand on the pegs all day. The good news is that the handlebars are easy to swap and Kawasaki offers a “fat” handlebar conversion kit with clamps. The stock bars are ⅞-inch and also painfully cheap to look at. 

The Bogey List of People for the KLX230

  • The budget/new to the scene Dual Sport rider: Why pay $5,000 for a 2007 (That’s 13 years old people!) KTM 450 EXC with some 200 hours on it when you’re new to dirt bikes. Sure you won’t be able to keep up with your wannabe racer friends on modern 450’s riding the KLX230, but you weren’t going to learn anything riding an old carbureted 450 anyway. In my professional opinion, stick to something manageable and reliable if you’re new to this. 
  • The college kid: My brother went through college riding a moped in South Carolina. If you can’t imagine how much fun having a reliable, small, quiet, four-stroke motorcycle would be in college, then the KLX might not be for you; as you might not know how to have fun.
  • The KLX 140 upgrade: maybe you’ve outgrown your KLX 140 and the liquid-cooled KLX250 seems just too tall at 35 inches, even though the seat h is listed as 34.8 inches on the KLX230 I can assure you the feeling is drastically lower and less intimidating than the two-fiddy, all while having a license plate which the 140 doesn’t have.
  • The farm bike: Yup, I said it, and Kawasaki said it too. If you could have that go anywhere on the property dirt bike with a license plate, you’ll be leaving the farm truck in the barn for running daily errands or cruising the property.
  • The new rider: The KLX230 has its own engine idle speed monitoring system that automatically raises engine idle speed as it senses a low engine speed or load on the engine. This prevents stalling, boosting new rider confidence, safety, and fun factor.
  • Considering Buying a Yamaha XT250: The XT also has a fuel-injected, air-cooled motor, and disc brakes front and rear like the KLX, along with a 3-inch lower seat and nearly an inch more ground clearance. But the KLX230 gets an extra gear (6 speed vs 5 speed), 1.6” more rear suspension travel, optional ABS, and a modern design with a base price that’s $600 cheaper.
Small bike, light adventure bike

That Bottom Line

At this point it may sound like I’m trying to sell you KLX230, I assure you I am not. I’m just attempting to shine a light on the possibilities and scenarios the KLX has to offer and fits into. Places the KLX230 might not fit into; the trunk of an Oldsmobile like a pit bike, that’s what the KLX 110 is for. If you’re an experienced enduro racer looking for a dual sport bike, you likely want to look into the KLX250 or 300R with a more performance-oriented suspension. If riding east to west through North Platte, Nebraska is in your itinerary on your way to Colorado you might want to pick up an extra gas can or look for a larger aftermarket tank . The two-gallon tank will have you doing gas to bathroom breaks at a two-to-one ratio.

Simple and budget-friendly dual sport - Kawasaki KLX230

In short, the KLX230 is not a weapon for hauling a 100 pounds of gear a 100 miles into the depths of Canada in an attempt to escape civilization and cell phone signal. It’s just not enough for that. The KLX needs to fit you, and you need to fit it. It can be enough. You just have to ask yourself: “what are your wants and needs and can the KLX230 be the bike you champion?”. 

2020 Kawasaki KLX230 Specs

Engine: 4-stroke, 1-cylinder, SOHC, air-cooled
Displacement: 233cc
Bore x Stroke: 67.0 x 66.0mm
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Fuel System: DFI w/32mm Throttle Body
Ignition: TCBI Electronic Advance
Transmission: Six-speed with wet multi-disc manual clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 37mm telescopic fork/8.7 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Uni-Trak® linkage system and single shock with preload adjustability/8.8 in
Front Tire: 2.75 x 21
Rear Tire: 4.10 x 18
Front Brakes: Single 265mm petal disc with a dual-piston caliper
Rear Brakes: Single 220mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Frame Type: High-tensile steel perimeter
Rake/Trail: 27.5°/4.6 in
Overall Length: 82.9 in.
Overall Width: 32.9 in.
Overall Height: 45.9 in.
Ground Clearance: 10.4 in.
Seat Height: 34.8 in.
Curb Weight: 293.3 lb. / 297.7 lb. CA model**
Fuel Capacity: 2.0 gal.
Wheelbase: 54.3 in.
Color Choices: Lime Green
Warranty: 6 Months
Kawasaki Protection Plus™ (optional): 12, 24, or 36 months
Availability: Currently available on US dealer showrooms

Gear We Used

• Helmet: Shoei VFX-EVO Zinger
• Jacket: REV’IT! Tornado 2
• Pants: REV’IT! Tornado 2
• Boots: REV’IT! Expedition H20

Photos by Kevin Wing Photography


Author: Steve Kamrad

Steve has been labeled as a “Hired Gun” by one of the largest special interest publishing groups in America. His main focus now is video content creation as a “Shreditor” (thats shooter, producer, editor all in one nice, neat, run and gun package). If he’s not out competing in a NASA Rally Race you can find him on the East Coast leading around a rowdy group of ADV riders. Some say Steve_Kamrad has the best job in the world but he’s not in it for the money. He’s a gun for hire that can’t be bought and that’s the way we like him.

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