April 2, 2007 – Back at the starting line

Ever since the first spy photos leaked out onto Internet forums and enthusiast publications last summer, buzz has been growing for Kawasaki’s new entry into the 450 sport quad fray.
Talk of a unique hybrid aluminum chassis, low-profile fuel tank, adjustable shocks and low-mounted coolant reservoir all suggested the company was designing a bike with serious sporting credentials. The KFX450R has been under development since 2004, but made its official appearance in mid-March at a media introduction hosted at Carolina Adventure World near Columbia, S.C.
When the dust settled and the specs emerged, it’s clear the new KFX450R is the result of a major commitment to challenge the established leaders of the sport quad world, namely Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.
Like its most recent competitor, the Suzuki LT-R450, Kawasaki says the KFX450R has been designed for racing success straight out of the crate. While most racers will undoubtedly add modifications to the quad, it’s intended to avoid the extensive and expensive modifications to make it race-ready.
“The KFX450R was meticulously designed with everything owners need to win races,” said Vince Iorio, Kawasaki’s product manager of the ATV and utility vehicle segment. “Every component in the stock configuration was chosen to maximize performance when on the track and minimize the effort an owner takes to prepare the machine.”
He added that the company has specifically positioned the product to offer a strong combination of competition-ready features and high performance compared to the quad’s competitors.
“We wouldn’t have built this product if we couldn’t have beat what was already on the market,” he said.
It’s powered by a 449cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke engine that’s based on the company’s KX450F dirt bike, which Iorio said provided significant cost savings for the company. A lightweight forced piston, dual overhead cam, four valves per cylinder, a 32-bit digital fuel injection system and a cylinder that’s canted forward 9 degrees, compared to its dirt bike configuration, are a few of the engine’s features designed to provide responsiveness, stable performance and efficiency. It generates a claimed 43 hp at 7500 rpm and 31.1 pound feet of torque at 7000 rpm.
Aluminum Components
The transmission, which features the only reverse gear available in the 450cc sport quad class, is mated to an aluminum chassis, which Kawasaki says is no heavier than a quad with a steel frame and no reverse. The chassis itself weighs approximately 20 percent less than a comparable steel frame. The removable subframe and swimgarm are also made from aluminum.
Its single box-tube lower frame is narrower than the competition and enables the use of longer, lower A-arms, helping to reduce roll in corners.
At 394.2 pounds wet, Kawasaki said the KFX weighs 20 pounds less than a race-modified Suzuki LT-R450 filled with fluids.
Other notable features include easy-to-replace “lapped” fenders at all four corners, which will make for easy post-race repairs, and an optional kick-start system targeted toward motocross riders who put a premium on weight savings. In addition, the rear wheels, also made of aluminum, are reinforced to withstand stresses from jumping and racing.
Kawasaki is offering a factory race kit, which includes a programmable ECU that can be changed from a laptop computer, a high performance silencer and a kick-starter assembly with a step guard.
Production of a full line of factory-made accessories has already begun. Some of the accessories will include front and rear skid plates, a unique front bumper, A-arm guards, headlight guards, nerf bars, a digital meter, steering stabilizer and shock covers.
Iorio said the KFX is designed for consumers Kawasaki calls “adventuring enthusiasts” who have a higher technical skill level than standard ATV consumers. The KFX’s customers also will not be using the machine for hunting or fishing and will participate in sanctioned ATV racing events. Furthermore, the company’s research shows the target customer will repurchase another new ATV within 35 months, which Iorio said matches Kawasaki’s product replacement schedule.
“Our development plan calls for changes much more frequently,” he said.
Hitting the Market
The new KFX 450s were scheduled to start hitting dealers in March. Sponsored racers, however, have already began entering competitions with quad.
William Yokley, of the Grand National Cross Country Series, raced the KFX to a fourth-place finish at the series’ first round in Vero Beach, Fla. March 4. Jason Luburgh and Josh Creamer will be racing the bike in the World Powersports Association’s motocross series.
“We’re back in the game in a big way,” Iorio said. “Not only with GNCC, which has been our focus in the past, but also motocross.” psb

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