2020 Kawasaki KLX230 first ride review

2020 Kawasaki KLX230 first ride review

When Kawasaki announced their new Kawasaki KLX230 street-legal, dual-sport model, it left me scratching my head. Didn’t they just release a KLX250? Was a KLX230 replacing this model or supplementing it?

This was the question on most everyone’s mind as we sat down for dinner at the press briefing in the small town of Jacksonville, Oregon, just outside of Medford. Kawasaki was actually launching three new models, the Kawasaki KLX230, KLX230R, and KLX300R, but only the non-R 230 would be street-legal. I’ll talk more about the latter two “R” models in a future article.

"Kawasaki PR Manager Ken Essex immediately assured us the KLX250 wasn’t going anywhere and that these new models were going to be filling holes in their lineup. The new Kawasaki KLX230 is aimed squarely at new riders looking to get on a dual-sport motorcycle as well as existing riders looking for a completely approachable dual-sport for their first foray off-road."

The Kawasaki KLX230

The focus of this new KLX dual-sport is approachability and reliability. Kawasaki wanted to offer an extremely user-friendly option that anyone interested in getting into dual-sport riding could handle.

Unlike the larger KLX250 with liquid cooling and dual overhead cams, the Kawasaki KLX230 features a 233 cc, air-cooled, four-stroke, two-valve, single overhead cam engine. Translated, this engine has a little less bite than the KLX250 but features very friendly power delivery. If you’re new to riding off-road and accidentally grab too much throttle, the consequences will be much less severe. The simplicity of the design should make it pretty damn reliable, as well as easy to maintain.

It’s also lighter. The claimed weight for the Kawasaki KLX230 is 293 pounds (297 for the California version). That’s more than 10 pounds lighter than the KLX250. That weight includes a full tank (two gallons) of gas on the KLX230. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to test the range prior to the warning light illuminating on the digital dash.


According to Kawasaki, the engine is tuned for low-end and mid-range performance. The engine is fed via a fuel-injected 34 mm throttle body. Combined with an electric starter, it’s a simple system to use and requires no knowledge of carburetors or a choke.

Fueling was smooth but the idle took a little bit to get used to as it wouldn’t sit still. Talking to the folks from Kawasaki, the idle on the Kawasaki KLX230 and 230R is designed to fluctuate in an effort to benefit new riders. I read up on all of the specifics and the easiest way I can break it down is that the bike’s FI system increases the idle at certain times in order to prevent the bike from stalling and to improve bottom end feel. For an experienced rider, it was odd and it took a while to get used to.

The engine is housed in a high-tensile, steel perimeter frame. Kawasaki explained that it allowed the engineers to keep the engine height and center of gravity low, giving the chassis light and balanced feel. While the swingarm on the 230R is made of aluminum, the 230 dual-sport features a box-steel design that my buddy Abhi Eswarappa from Bike-urious confirmed with a magnet.

The 37 mm front fork features 8.7 inches of travel and the rear shock (which mounts to the bike via Kawasaki’s Uni-Trak linkage system) offers up 8.8 inches. Basic preload adjustment is available at the rear, but overall the suspension feels very soft and underdamped. Kawasaki claims 10.4 inches of ground clearance, but that gets eaten up rather quickly due to the soft suspension.

The same goes for the seat height. Listed at 34.8 inches, it sounds pretty intimidating at first glance. I can promise you that this bike is far from intimidating and the seat height squats far lower than 34.8 inches once you sit on it. Plus, the Kawasaki KLX230 is much narrower than a traditional street motorcycle, which makes for a straighter path to the ground for your feet. The result is a very approachable machine for shorter riders.

Kawasaki KLX230 is slowed down via a dual-piston caliper clamping down on a 265 mm rotor up front and a single-piston caliper with a 220 mm rotor in the rear. Braking isn’t anything impressive in the traditional sense, but the lack of bite makes it easier to live with for newer off-road riders. I say this because it’s harder to lock up the wheels, which can cause the engine to stall or the front end to tuck.

The bikes we rode were the base versions, but an ABS version will also be available. The ABS is a first of its kind for Kawasaki as it features a dual-sport program that allows for more slip at the rear wheel prior to engaging. However, there is no way to override the ABS completely.