There's a lot to get excited about this year in the way of big-bore motocrossers. Fuel injection this, steering dampners that, new suspension, frames and all the other new fangled bits that make you want a new bike must have you wondering what to buy next.
Never one to be outdone on race development, Kawasaki stepped for '09 with some nice refinements to their already-impressive 450. The folks at Kawasaki were good enough to invite Motocross.com out to Tennessee to give the new bike a thorough flogging at the famous Muddy Creek Raceway (a track you MUST ride some day). I spent the day cruising around on this pristine track, chatting up Kawasaki technicians and watching Jeff Emig and Tim Ferry blast around the track to show me how it's done properly. Overall, I came away very impressed with the new green machine.
The most major revision for this year is the inclusion of a fully programmable fuel injection system. EFI is a major improvement for any 450, as it really takes the harshness out of the power application and creates a no-hassle tuning solution. This system gets its injectors straight out of the race-proven '07 Kawasaki ZX-6R. In use, the EFI really make this bike much easier to ride by smoothing out the power curve, delivering reliable, predictable power from top to bottom. All of the low-end chugging that you get with contemporary carborated bikes is gone, letting the rider roll on and off the power with confidence. This results is a bike that is less taxing to ride, which keeps you out on the track longer.
The fuel injection system is fed by an aluminum pump that is attached to the plastic gas tank. The pump stages a small amount of fuel at all times in a rubber boot, ensuring that if the bike is tipped over or crashed the EFI system will still have pressurized fuel to be re-started. One of the best aspects of this new system, aside from great throttle response, is the ease of getting the bike started. One to two kicks and it's up and running, whether you dump it over in a corner (which I may have done a time or two) or just pull it off the stand for the first time.
Along with the EFI system, the consumer has the opportunity to purchase a full FI calibration tool which will plug directly into your Windows based computer. The calibration tool comes with 7 different settings to play with, ranging from hard hitting full-power mode to a beginner mode. This system will offer tremendous logging capabilities, up to 6 hours of data stored in an on-board device tucked away behind the front number plate. You can also use this for real-time data acquisition, plug it in to your bike and into your computer via a supplied adaptor cord and you're instantly monitoring 10 different characteristics of your engines performance.
To soak up the bumps, Kawasaki has continued the shiny black DLC coating to the fork legs and added a Kashima inner coating to the outer fork tube which I'm told increases rigidity. The rear shock has been improved as well, by increasing the piston from 46 to 50mm which improves damping characteristics. Overall the bike feels a bit heavily sprung, but a few clicks on the compression in either direction (depending on weight and riding capabilities) and the bike rides right, as if it was setup just for you.
Like last years model, the '09 450 is incredibly stable and turns well. A slight slimming to the frame and revisions to the suspension continue to keep this bike as one of the best handling fo' fiddy's on the market.
Along with the other upgrades, the Kawi gets the obligatory cosmetic refresh this year. The shrouds have gone from a two-piece set to a single piece of plastic that has two colors molded together. It forms the same color pattern as last year's model, but now achieves the same thing with a few less parts. All other plastics have had a slight trimming and re-shape.
Most importantly, in the way of cosmetics, is the inclusion of a second color option with Monster Energy livery, green hubs and black plastic.
I'm anxious to spend more time on this bike to give you a more thorough evaluation of it's riding characteristics, but from the time I spent on it out in Tennessee, I'd say it has to be in contention for premier class supremacy this year.
Stay tuned for a full test, coming soon...