2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S Review

Jean Turner | January 26, 2023

Kawasaki is raising the bar on low seat height.

Low, stable and agile, the lowered KLX230 S sets a new standard in the delicate balance between dual-sport performance and an easy reach to the ground.

Photography by Kevin Wing

It’s the question our industry has seemingly been grappling with for ages: how do you make a capable off-road bike with an approachable seat height? How do you allow an easy reach to the ground without sacrificing ground clearance and overall chassis performance? As it is, so many small-displacement dual-sport motorcycles have butter-soft suspension, and simply chopping the suspension will result in less travel, leaving you to bottom out at every bump in the road, right? This was the suspicion in the back of my head as I attended the Kawasaki launch of the all-new KLX230 S. After all, this was not actually a new model, per se, but rather a low seat-height variant.

Yet from the first night of the launch, at a fireside chat with Kawasaki marketing and R&D members, it became clear that there was more to this model. Far more time and effort were put into this design than a simple suspension-lowering job that you can often find from a local suspension shop. You know the one, swap out the link and raise the fork tubes in the triple clamp. Done. In cases like these, not only is the overall geometry not taken into account, but overall execution suffers, evidenced by the fact that your kickstand is now too long.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S left side
The platform isn’t all-new, but there is a lot more to the KLX230 S than shortened suspension.

Don’t get me wrong; there are suspension gurus out there that can do it right, but even at their best, it’s still an extra step for the consumer, and odds are that someone seeking a lower seat height is often on the young or beginner end of the spectrum and looking for a less complicated way to reach the ground.

Kawasaki decided to take another look at this consumer, and also at the overall size and dimensions of the “average” rider. Upon reviewing the metrics, it became clear that there is a substantial subset that is underserved by today’s dual-sport market. “A deeper dive into the data showed an opportunity to satisfy more potential customers by prioritizing lower seat height,” came a quote from the Kawasaki team. “With this, we also recognized that it was critical to stay authentic to the ‘KLX’ concept by offering a lower seat height while maintaining true dual-sport capability.”

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S streetbike
Inseam-challenged riders will find a lot of confidence on the KLX230 S in stop-and-go street riding.

The Kawasaki team urges the importance of balance in the overall execution of their products and further explained the key to finding balance between low seat height and off-road suspension capability. “There was a priority in the development of this model to maintain comfort for small-bump compliance as well as controlling suspension bottoming to enable the rider to tackle more difficult off-road obstacles. This was achieved by a total redesign of the spring rates to both the front and rear suspension.”

In other words, the chassis of the KLX230 S is no mere chop job from the existing Kawasaki KLX230 platform. There is far more that went into the execution of the mighty “S,” and when you have the manufacturer designing and testing the overall balance of the lowering process, rather than a local suspension guy that may or may not know what he’s doing, you already know you have that level of professional execution on your side. There’s so much more that goes into the overall balance of a box-stock motorcycle than most people may realize. Right down to the torque specs of the motor mounts, everything is tuned to offer you the best possible ride. Now, shorter riders can rejoice, because this level of testing, balance and final execution has now been done for you!

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S off roading
Less suspension travel doesn’t have to mean less fun in the dirt.

So, what’s the secret? In short, (pun intended) it’s a progressive shock spring and revised fork internals. Suspension valving and spring rates ensure a nice plush feel at the initial stroke and decent hold-up throughout the stroke to help prevent bottoming. Throughout our ride in California’s Central Coast, along backroads, highways, dirt roads and Jeep trails, I intended to find out how much bottoming would be prevented.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S street riding
A lower center of gravity adds up to a stable, yet agile ride that is delightfully playful on backroads.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S Review | The Ride

The first thing that struck me about the 2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S is its very well-balanced feel, front to rear. What that means for the rider is a responsive, quick-steering and stable ride. When you shorten suspension travel, you essentially shorten two sides of a triangle. And what you end up with is a squattier triangle. What that means for the rider, along with less ground clearance and less suspension travel, which initially sounds like a bad thing, is a lower center of gravity. While the weight of the KLX230 S hasn’t significantly changed from its base model, where the bike carries its weight has changed, and that makes a big difference when it comes to tipping weight. If a beginner rider starts to tip over on a lowered model, the lean angle at which they can still correct it is higher than that of the regular bike. There’s a larger margin of error, and the lowered model is more forgiving in this sense. Chalk one up for the S.

This lower center of gravity also plays a role in the handling of the bike. Lower CoG will allow it to rock side to side with a lighter feel. Through the paved backroads of California’s Central Coast, the KLX230 S was delightfully playful, daring you to carve quicker into turns.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S dual sport
To my surprise, I didn’t manage to bottom out the suspension at any point during our ride. Kudos to the progressive springs!

But what about that lack of suspension travel and ground clearance? This was the question in my head when we first swung legs over the little guy. After all, it would be pretty easy to blow through those few precious inches, right? Turns out, not so much. This is thanks to progressive spring rates, which is a pretty notable investment in a bike of this price point. A progressive spring rate brings together the best of both worlds—a soft, cushy initial feel coupled with good hold-up and bottoming resistance for the bigger hits. And the KLX230 S is a perfect example of how that can work at its best.

Having spent some time aboard the KLX230 standard model, it makes me wish I could put this suspension on that bike. It has a nice positive feel, good holdup, and while it’s not quite as squishy as the standard, it’s still very comfortable, and I must confess, preferred over the standard’s boingers.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S engine
It doesn’t get much simpler than an air-cooled, fuel-injected engine. Beginners, or any riders looking to minimize maintenance schedules, will find much to love about Kawasaki’s 230cc mill.

The overall intensity of riding was light during our excursion. We did some dirt roads and covered quite a bit of ground, but nothing you couldn’t traverse in a pickup truck. We were limited to how much abuse we could really put the 230 S through. I did manage to scrape the frame rails at one point but did not ever feel like I bottomed the suspension. Or if I did, it was progressive enough to not deliver a noticeable thwack to my handlebars. We got both wheels off the ground in several spots, half flinching as I landed, waiting for the thwack that never came. Shoulda’ sent it harder.

Fit and finish are nice, though nothing lavish. The LED lights are another nice upgrade over the standard KLX, as is the more compact headlight mask that doesn’t look like a mini 1950s television set. The streamlined front end is a welcome revision.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S dash
Rider interface is clear and straightforward.

Switchable ABS is another welcome change to this model-year update. It’s quick and easy to disarm the rear ABS (not the front) with the push of a button on the left switch block. But it’s worth noting that the ABS is very natural feeling on the KLX230 S, not overly intrusive at all. In fact, I can’t honestly say I ever felt it cut in. But as mentioned, we weren’t going very hard. Another nice touch to the ABS is that once you turn it off, it stays off even when you kill the motor. If you turn off the key, however, the ABS will reset itself once you turn it back on.

Also new on the S model is an ECU that supposedly runs smoother and offers better cold-weather starting. It is a little odd how high it revs, but hey, it works.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S front
The new LED headlight and mask are welcome upgrades.

As for the dreaded freeway test. Well, it can do it. It’s not a mile eater, but you already knew that. I got up to about 72 mph, where it happily cruised without complaint for several miles. But if you’re primarily looking for a highway runner, you might want to keep looking. A better test of this little air-cooled 230’s mettle is its off-road prowess, and that remains its wheelhouse. As much fun as the responsive and agile nature was on the paved roads, it was even more fun in the light-duty dirt roads. Hopping off rocks and taking the rough way through washouts was an absolute blast. I challenged the KLX to lose its footing, but the low center of gravity and its, um, not-light curb weight help it stay steady and stable. Responsive throttle and adequate brakes also help maintain the comfort of control.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S handlebar controls
Switchable ABS is great to see on any dual-sport. Although the KLX’s ABS is very non-intrusive, the ability to switch off the rear is essential for many off-roaders.

The KLX230 S is certainly a beginner’s friend with steady, predictable roll-on power and that all-important reach to the ground. But it’s also a treat for more advanced riders—the little devil horns will pop out real quick and the progressive suspension will invite you to push harder than you might think you can on a bike of this size. This is important to note because the low-seat-height factor of the KLX230 S can also be appreciated by more experienced riders who perhaps don’t have the mobility they once had to throw a leg over an XR400. Everything about the KLX230 S is easy, fun and capable no matter your size or experience level.

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S shock spring
A progressive shock spring does an excellent job of maintaining a plush initial feel while providing excellent hold-up throughout the stroke.

Bottom line, you’d be hard pressed to find a more willing and able accomplice for a greater variety of riding, whether it’s dirt, street, highway, backroads or fire roads, the KLX230 S is a stout companion capable of a good time. CN

Truth About Seat Height

It’s hard to pinpoint a real-world seat-height measurement on any motorcycle. When you factor in the arc of rear suspension travel, static sag, rider sag, seat-foam density, that number on the spec sheet quickly becomes less meaningful. I’ve often seen riders look at a spec sheet and say, well I have a 31-inch inseam and that bike has a 32-inch seat height. Therefore, it’s too tall for me.


2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S seat height
This is what 31.5-inch inseam on a 32.7-inch seat height looks like. Don’t be fooled by spec sheets!

This is one of the greatest misconceptions out there in my experience. For anyone shopping for a motorcycle that can fit their limited stature, I encourage them to visit a dealership and sit on the bike for themselves. There is no substitute for actually feeling the size of a motorcycle underneath you and experiencing it firsthand.

As for myself, I have a 31.5-inch inseam and the KLX230 S has a published 32.7-inch seat height. But what happens when I sit on the bike? You can see I can comfortably flat-foot on both sides. On dirt bikes with seat heights of up to 40 inches, I can still reach the ground (one toe, but still…) once seated on the bike.

Take seat-height measurements with a grain of salt, because they have limited relevance to real-world ergonomics. Go to a dealership and start swinging legs over motorcycles to see for yourself what fits best.CN

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S Specifications

2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S Specifications

MSRP: $4999 / $5299 ABS
ENGINE TYPE:  4-stroke single
BORE X STROKE:  67 x 66mm
FUELING: DFI w/ 32mm Keihin throttle body
IGNITION: TCBI Electronic Advance
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed, return shift w/ wet multi-disc manual clutch
FRAME: High-tensile steel, box-section perimeter
FRONT SUSPENSION:  37mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable
REAR SUSPENSION:  Uni-Trak linkage system and single shock w/adjustable spring preload
FRONT TIRE:  2.75 x 21
REAR TIRE:  4.10 x 18
FRONT BRAKE:  Single 240mm petal disc (265mm for ABS) w/ dual-piston caliper
REAR BRAKE:  Single 220mm petal disc w/ single-piston caliper
WHEELBASE: 53.5 in.
RAKE/TRAIL:  27.5°/4.6 in.
SEAT HEIGHT:  32.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY:  2.0 gal.
WEIGHT (NO FUEL, CLAIMED):  295.5/297.7 lb. CA model (ABS: 297.7/299.9 lb. CA model)
Cycle News Magazine 2023 Kawasaki KLX230 S Review

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