2020 Kawasaki KLX230 Review - First Ride

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

Keeping the fun limiter pegged

Rubbin’ elbows, backin ‘er in, and general tomfoolery. That’s what small displacement dual-sports are for, right? What? I’m doing it wrong?! You’re doing it wrong! The truth of the matter is that you get out what you put in. You’re your own fun limiter. If you can’t have a good time on a motorcycle, maybe take up something lame like ball sports. Our time spent in the lush green marijuana-strewn countryside of southern Oregon was an absolute blast onboard Kawasaki’s latest KLX models. Proof that absolute world-class motorcycle journalists (I’m sure there were some there) and newbies alike can jump on the 2020 Kawasaki KLX230 and have all of the fun.

2020 Kawasaki KLX230

Editor Score: 80.5%
Engine 16.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.00/10
Appearance/Quality 7.0/10
Desirability 7.75/10
Value 8.75/10
Overall Score80.5/100

New for 2020, the KLX230 slides in to Kawi’s lineup as an affordable all-rounder dual-sport. What about the KLX250, you ask? So did we. Kawasaki tells us there’s room in the category for both, citing the KLX230’s $800 lower price point, lower 34.8-inch seat height (though it feels shorter), lower weight, at 306 lbs, and lower tech as the biggest differences. At $4,599, it’s a sweet deal and feels like a much smaller and more lightweight package than the KLX250.

We set off through the small town of Jacksonville, Oregon, and wound our way into the surrounding hills. Before long, we quickly darted off the beaten path into some light technical two-trackers, which gave us a great chance to get an idea of the abilities and limits of the bike right out of the gate. What should come as no surprise for a street-legal, low-priced dual-sport was that the suspension was quickly overwhelmed at the pace we were riding. Hard edges, small to medium jumps, and other large impacts quickly introduced us to the bumpstops at the end of the KLX230’s 8.8 inches of travel. As is typical at these events, we may have been riding them a bit harder than the typical customer, though. If you were to roll the throttle back a bit – challenging, I know – or just weigh less than 170 lbs, you likely won’t have much issue with the softly sprung suspenders. Suspension is adjustable only for shock preload.

The 233cc air-cooled SOHC Single comes to live with the push of a button and a spray of FI.

The KLX230’s all new SOHC 233cc air-cooled Single is electronically fed by a 32mm Keihin throttle body that’s fired to life via a handy little black button on the right switchgear. Hooray, electric start! The motor is docile but provides linear power delivery, which we enjoyed on loose surfaces, as you can easily dial in the amount of rear wheel spin you’re looking for. The observant reader may also note the long exhaust which was used to tune in better low-to mid-range. Flipping through the 230’s six-speed gearbox is smooth as butta, and clutch pull is nice and light. Which is good because gear selection is important on a bike like the KLX, should you find yourself on the low end of an ascent. Kawasaki’s choice of fuel injection on the KLX230 allowed them to increase idle in certain scenarios to help lessen the chance of stalling the motorcycle. Releasing the clutch lever slowly, it was quite easy to pull away from a stop without touching the throttle at all. A welcome addition for new riders.

The bike’s low CG, compact engine, and steel perimeter frame also lends to the easy handling. The motorcycle feels small and manageable while sliding through every turn or jumping at each and every opportunity. This was welcome when things got out of hand as it was easy to rein it back in.

Despite all the shots with me standing, the seat is actually quite comfortable. It’s much better than the typical dirtbike 2×4. You also have passenger pegs! Bring the whole family!

During our ride, we enjoyed a nice mix of fire roads, trails, and a handful of more technical sections, with a nice spread of pavement in between, which really gave us the chance to test the motorcycle in every situation it might be used in. Throw it on the back of the mobile home for scooting around the campsite, pick one up to cruise around the ranch, or cut your teeth on it, the KLX230 is up for any task. On the highway, we topped out at 77 mph. That’s more than enough for rush hour traffic in LA. Also, if you did decide the 230 is going to be your first off-road motorcycle, or first motorcycle at all, for that matter, tip overs probably won’t cost you much if anything. Dirtbikes are meant to fall over and keep going.

A short wheelbase and 10.4 inches of ground clearance make for an easily maneuverable motorcycle on the trail.

Even in the rockier uphill section of our day, the soft suspension and 21/18-inch wheel combo kept the good times rolling (I’ll take the check made out to me personally for including Kawi’s marketing slogan, thanks). The larger wheel combo makes traversing obstacles that much easier, not to mention you have an entire dirtbike market full of tire options. To give the IRC stock rubber some credit, we were told pressures were set to 18 psi, and they did quite well for a budget tire in sand, over rocks, on dirt, and on the pavement. The brakes, both front and rear, were easily modulated and linear in progression though didn’t provide much feedback. Our units were not equipped with ABS though Kawasaki does offer an ABS model for a few hundred bucks more. The additional $300 gets you off-road tuned ABS to allow for a touch more slip and a larger 265mm rotor upfront. I personally would go for the model without, though new riders might like this option.

All I think when I see this picture is, “Wow, that’s a big headlight”. All jokes aside, it also provides a large target for roost should you be following a friend.

Ergonomically, the bike fit me quite well. At 5’8” and 170 pounds with a 32-inch inseam, I was perfectly comfortable on the bike. If I planned to do much standing, I would roll the bars forward a bit from their stock position, but that’s really the only change I felt was necessary. There were guys and gals ranging from 5’2” and less than 125 lbs all the way to behemoths of nearly 6’5” pushing 220 lbs on our ride. Everyone seemed pretty content with the ergos – although standing made some of the taller folk feel a bit cramped. Again, something rolling the bars forward might have helped.

Again at the end of the day, it’s all about how much fun you have. After our day of riding the 2020 Kawasaki KLX 230, we had more than our fair share of laughs after hours as we recalled some of the day’s more harrowing instances, like when our fearless leader was nearly choked to death by his own Camelbak strap (keep em tight folks). At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, having a good time. Rubbing elbows and being at a constant state of WFO may not be how everyone will ride this bike, but I can guarantee that from new riders to old ones, the KLX230 can deliver a fun experience that’s aided by modern technology, like EFI and electric start, without being complicated when it comes maintenance time. We had the fun limiter pegged on these little bikes. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

2020 Kawasaki KLX230

+ Highs

  • Great price
  • Great fun
  • Modern accoutrement (FI & E-start)

– Sighs

  • She a lil soft
  • Lots of shifting required to keep ‘er in the sweet spot
  • Comically large headlight/cowl assembly

2020 Kawasaki KLX230 Specifications

MSRP$4,899 with ABS, $4,599 without ABS
Engine Type4-Stroke, Air-Cooled, SOHC, 2-Valve Single
Displacement233 cc
Bore & Stroke67.0 x 66.0 mm
Compression Ratio9.4:1
Fuel SystemDFI with 32mm throttle body
IgnitionTCBI with Electronic Advance
Rake/Trail27.5°/4.6 inches
Front Tire2.75-21
Rear Tire4.10-18
Front Suspension37mm Telescopic Fork, 8.7 inches travel
Rear SuspensionNew Uni-Trak with Adjustable Preload, 8.8 inches travel
Wheelbase54.3 inches
Front Brake265mm (ABS version)/240mm (no ABS) Petal Disc
Rear Brake220mm Petal Disc
Fuel Capacity2.0 gal.
Ground Clearance10.4 inches
Seat Height34.8 inches
Curb Weight293.3 pounds (ABS version)/291.1 pounds (no ABS), claimed
Warranty12 months
KawasakiProtection Plus 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.

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4 of 21 comments
  • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Sep 24, 2019

    How do the 5'2" folk ride this bike? I'm 5'6" and 155 pounds with an inseam around 28". I can't see this bike being ridable at my inseam. Am I wrong?

    It's off the non-ABS bike gets a smaller front rotor. That's just silly.

    • See 1 previous
    • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Sep 25, 2019

      Good to know. Thanks!

  • KLRJUNE . KLRJUNE . on Oct 03, 2019

    Bring back the Bighorn as a 4 stroke 350. Hatta forks for everybody.