2024 Kawasaki KLX300/KLX300SM Review – First Ride
A winning formula gets even more… winning-er
Kawasaki’s media guy Brad Puetz (pronounced like the actor, though this Brad is not nearly as good looking or famous) said something that stuck with me. “Between the Versys 650 and this, these are the two bikes journalists tend to buy most from us.” As a previous Versys 650 owner – purchased from MO’s former Editorial Director Sean Alexander, and then passed down after me to another former MO staffer Tom Roderick, we can certainly attest to the first part.
2024 Kawasaki KLX300/KLX300SM
Kawasaki has an unexpected success with the KLX300 and KLX300SM, so instead of massive changes for what's essentially an entry-level motorcycle, Kawasaki decided to make it look better. Now both bikes look closer in resemblance to their KX motocross cousins.
KLX300 Editor's score: 84.5%
- Completely unimtimidating
- Surprisingly capable
- A great way to get started in the dirt
- Brakes are a little soft and wooden, even for my inexperience level
- A fuel gauge instead of a fuel light would be nice
KLX300SM Editor's Score: 81.5%
- Completely unimtimidating
- It's so light, tossing it into corners is effortless
- If your commute isn't very long, it's a fun way to get to work/school
- You'll be doing a lot of shifting – and there's no quickshifter
- Short trail means you lose some stability at full lean
- Not the ride of choice if your commute involves long highway stints
But the second bike may surprise you. It’s the KLX300. Kawasaki’s buyer demographics show that a surprisingly large percentage of KLX300 buyers aren’t total noobs like you might think. In fact, we’re told nearly 40% of these buyers have 20 years of riding experience – or more. And you know which MO staffer bought a KLX300 and has at least 20 years of riding experience? Yep, Evans Brasfield. In fact, he was so enamored by it that he built it into his version of a lightweight adventure bike in a two-part series that you can read here and here, with the ultimate goal of tackling the LA-Barstow to Vegas ride with Ryan. It would end up being a transformative experience for both of them.
Considering the KLX’s popularity, it turns out we’ve written a lot about the KLX300 here on MO over the past few years. Digging through our archives, in addition to Evans’ escapades with his personal KLX, I’ll refer you back to our review of the 2020 KLX300R, followed by the 2021 KLX300 Review. And since there’s never too much of a good thing, let’s also not forget the spinoff model – the 2021 KLX300SM, or Super Moto. In 2021, we also put the KLX against its primary rival, the Honda CRF300L in a good old fashion shootout. Opinions were mixed about the bike, with the overall win going to the Honda, but Ryan and Johnny Burns were split on which bikes they would personally choose, with Ryan calling the KLX the better bike if you were mostly playing in the dirt. Nonetheless, that’s a lot of love for the KLX in the past four years and we’re not done yet. Because Kawasaki has revised the KLX duo once again for the 2024 model year.
The short answer is not much. With the rising popularity of the KLX, Kawasaki saw fit to give the bike a more modern appearance by bringing some design influence from its KX line of motocrossers. With that, you have a different beak/front fender with a more aggressive bend than the previous flowing arc of before. This leads to a slimmer LED headlight that feeds to possibly the biggest single difference between old and new – the narrower KX-style shrouds. Assuming a similar shape to the KX shrouds, the KLX version is now a little longer than before, but more importantly, they are 25mm slimmer than the previous version. Not only does this give the bike a narrower profile, but it also looks visually slimmer, too. Rounding out the changes is a new tail light design that’s shorter than before, and to cap off the styling cues, strategic use of black panels can be found beside the headlight and in the lower section of the rear number plate. All to trick the eye into thinking the new KLX is tighter than before.
Of course, those changes also apply to the Super Moto model as well, but the obvious difference here is the use of 17-inch wheels at both ends instead of the 21/18 combo the dual-sport version uses. The SM also gets slightly stiffer suspension for lower ground clearance. As a result of the wheel and suspension difference, front end geometry is also a little different. The KLX has a 26.7° rake angle and 4.2 inches of trail versus the SM’s 25° rake and 2.8 inches of trail. Wheelbase is slightly shorter for the SM, at 56.5 inches (vs. 56.7 inches) and seat height is clearly lower for the SM as well, with its 33.9-inch saddle height comparing to the KLX’s 35.2 inches. Finally, there’s a bigger front brake disc (300mm vs. 250mm), and different color options: the KLX will be offered in Battle Gray and Lime Green for $6,199 or Cypher Camo Gray for $6,399. The SM will be offered in Battle Gray or Phantom Blue for $6,599. See the table below for the breakdown of differences between the two models.
3.0 x 21
4.6 x 18
Front Suspension Travel
Rear Suspension Travel
What hasn’t changed is the 292cc four-stroke, four-valve, liquid-cooled, DOHC fuel-injected Single. It pumped out 23 horses and 15.2 lb-ft of torque to the wheel in our comparison test in 2021, so expect similar numbers this time around. In fact, basically all of the mechanical components remain the same, including the fork with 16-way adjustable compression damping and the shock with preload adjustability as well as 20-way compression adjustment and 30-way rebound adjustment. Suspension-wise, the only difference between the standard and SM version are the spring rates between the two bikes.
So, since we essentially have the same KLX300 minus some slimmer, sleeker bodywork, you probably already know how they are to ride if you’ve read any of the previous stories and reviews linked up above. The thing is – I don’t.
This is the time in the review where I reveal a secret that I don’t exactly hide. I’m not a dirt guy. Looking through past stories and reviews on MO, you’ll very rarely see me on a dirt bike or ADV model. This is for a few reasons. First, Ryan’s our off-road guy and is way more qualified to properly evaluate those bikes than I am. Second, we’ve usually had enough other people on staff to cover in case Ryan wasn’t available (in this case, Evans would have been the natural choice). Third, and most importantly, my dirt skills stink. My skills in the dirt are the inverse of my abilities on the pavement. I didn’t come up through the dirt ranks and have always ridden on the street since the very start of my riding career. In short, riding in the dirt just isn’t my world.
That’s what makes me the perfect candidate to throw a leg over the KLX300. I don’t quite have 20 years of riding under my belt, but If ever there were a perfect motorcycle for an adult to start riding in the dirt, the KLX300 is it. And so, there I was, completely out of my element. Turns out, they were right. The KLX300 was the perfect motorcycle for me, meeting me at the intersection of clueless and intimidated, ready to shepherd me along.
As with any beginner-friendly motorcycle, the key to the KLX is the fact that it’s lightweight and easy to touch the ground on. Only having 23 horses on tap means I don’t have to worry about whiskey throttling to oblivion. Everything is just… easy.
I’ll admit there was a bit of uneasiness about me when I threw a leg over the KLX, as I was not in my comfort zone. And once we hit the dirt section of the ride my heart rate started to pick up. Luckily, Puetz picked an easy off-road route for us that consisted of fire roads leading to an OHV area. With two fingers over the clutch and one on the brake, navigating the terrain turned out to be easier than I expected. The long-travel suspension soaked up a majority of the choppy stuff I encountered, leaving me able to focus on where I was going, which line to take, and how much power to be doling out.
Once in the tighter terrain of the OHV area, the nimbleness of the little KLX proved to be its winning formula. Its lightness allowed me to position it (mostly) where I wanted and I was still able to grip the bike with my knees while standing, despite the narrower shrouding, to make finer adjustments. While there’s not a lot of power on tap, there was still plenty to climb up some rolling hills. I took advantage of the light clutch pull many times to either power out of a situation or temporarily halt the action to roll over a crest (at the same time, more experienced riders in our group took this opportunity to jump these crests…).
Meanwhile, coming down steep hills was manageable with one finger on the front brake controlling my speed. That said, even with my meager dirt abilities, the spongy front brake didn’t offer much in the way of feel or power. Any power I could muster with one finger on the lever slowed me down enough, but if I added a second finger I’d creep to the point of locking the front without much warning.
Otherwise, there really isn’t much to say about the KLX300 that hasn’t already been said before. Now I understand why it’s so popular for budding off-roaders or those looking for a bike to play with in the dirt. There’s easily enough capability there for experienced riders, but it’s all so accessible to newer riders, too.
What About the Super Moto?
The world’s most underrated form of motorcycling, the KLX300SM provides a fun entry-level bike for someone with a short commute that wants to make every corner on the way to school or work an absolute blast. Its 17-inch wheels are fitted with IRC tires measuring 110/70 in front and 130/70 in the rear. These aren’t the stickiest tires out there, but they work fine for the daily grind. Fortunately, you can find sticky rubber that should fit right on to these wheels should you want.
Right off the bat, you notice the difference in suspension between the two models. Stutter bumps the longer-travel suspension of the KLX would soak up and keep away from you no longer have a place to hide on the SM. Still, compared to a sportbike or most other road-focused motorcycles, the SM’s 9.1 inches of travel up front and the 8.1 inches in the rear soaks up more than those could even dream. This makes for a relatively smooth ride. If you’ll be on the slab for long periods of time, you’ll be complaining about the dirt-focused seat and lack of wind protection long before suspension travel comes to mind.
Speaking of which, the little 292cc Single has enough spring in its step to get you moving away from traffic off the line, but expect to put your left foot to use as you’ll be shifting up and down a lot. Consider it the tradeoff for having smooth, linear power that’s easy to manage.
The lightness of the SM helps it flick easily, an effort also aided by the 25° rake angle and 2.8 inches of trail, but that short trail number also means the SM doesn’t feel as planted and confident while leaned over. Is this something a newer rider is going to notice or feel, especially if they don’t have anything else to benchmark against? Probably not. But it’s something worth noting if you might be in the camp looking to hound your local go-kart track. Better rubber will help mask the negative effects of short trail, but that’s a bandaid rather than a cure.
The other major difference between the SM and the dirt variant is the bigger front brake. Now, with all other components being equal, the braking performance from the SM follows the same track as the standard bike – that is to say it’s wholly adequate for the job. A rubber line means there’s some squish in the lever, and immediate stopping power is not the name of the game here. But this average braking power is well suited to the IRC tires, as a massive braking system would overpower the rubber at hand.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. The KLX300SM is an entry-level motorcycle after all, and judging its performance to top-shelf supermotos isn’t entirely fair. As a gateway drug to those upper echelon dirtbikes with slicks, the SM serves its purpose well. You can have fun playing on the weekends, and if your commute isn’t very long, it can even make a decent daily.
As for the standard KLX300, I’m starting to see now why Evans bought one. It reinforces the long-held truth that little bikes can be fun for vets looking for something to play with as an addition to their collection, or for noobs getting their feet wet in the sport. As someone with lots of experience with one facet of riding and very little in the other, Evans understood the KLX was the right choice for him. If this story rings true for you, maybe you should give it a look.
2024 Kawasaki KLX300 Specifications (KLX300SM)
4-stroke single, DOHC, liquid-cooled
Bore x Stroke
78 mm x 61.2 mm
Return shift with wet multi-disc manual clutch
High-tensile steel, box-section perimeter
43mm inverted cartridge fork with adjustable compression damping /10.0 in (43mm inverted cartridge fork with adjustable compression damping /9.1 in)
Uni-Trak gas-charged shock with piggyback reservoir with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload/9.1 in (Uni-Trak gas-charged shock with piggyback reservoir with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload/8.1)
Single 250mm petal disc with a dual-piston caliper (Single 300mm petal disc with dual-piston caliper)
Single 240mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
3.0″ x 21″ (110/70-17)
4.6″ x 18″ (130/70-17)
26.7°/4.2 inches (25.0º/2.8 inches)
56.7 inches (56.5 inches)
10.8 inches (9.3 inches)
35.2 inches (33.9 inches)
302.1 pounds (304.3 lbs) (both claimed)
Lime Green, Battle Gray, Cypher Camo Gray Matte (Battle Gray, Phantom Blue)
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Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at Motorcycle.com in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.
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