2023 Kawasaki KLX 230 S First Ride Review

Written by BJ Hessler | Photos by Kevin Wing Photography. Posted in Bikes

As more folks get excited about off-roading and dual-sport riding, Kawasaki is rising to the challenge of meeting the needs of smaller-stature riders. With the KLX 230 S, they’ve taken a truly off-road capable, street-legal motorcycle and redesigned it to suit riders who prefer the comfort of both feet down at stops or who may have a hard time getting a leg over a taller dual-sport bike. The result is an affordable, approachable, capable, and downright fun motorcycle.

The updated 2023 KLX 230 S is an affordable, approachable, capable, and downright fun motorcycle.

Wheels and Suspension

Although Kawi lowered the seat height, this machine still rolls on 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels, the combo you want for off-road riding. IRC Trails GP tires come fitted from the factory; they worked perfectly well on our test ride through central California, which included mud, gravel, and rocky fire roads. They felt sticky and safe at highway speeds on tarmac as well. If you want a more street- or dirt-oriented rubber, the 21-18 rims make it easy to find alternative tires.

2023KLX230S Review seatThe narrow seat helps shorter riders reach the ground while maintaining sufficient ground clearance.

The front suspension has 37mm telescopic forks with 6.2 inches of travel, while the preload-adjustable rear uses a Uni-Trak linkage system offering 6.6 inches of travel. Progressive-wound springs kept the ride comfortable on the street but stiff enough for the unpaved sections of our test.

Of course, there are compromises made to offer a lower seat height. Kawasaki reduced suspension travel from 8.7 inches on the standard 230 model, giving the S a 2.1-inch lower seat height while still maintaining 8.3 inches of ground clearance.

The KLX 230 S rolls nicely on smooth pavement and handles slow, rocky off-road stuff well. However, the front end feels light and not as planted as one would hope at higher speeds on broken pavement. It might leave some riders feeling a bit insecure when pushing hard in fast, bumpy corners, but it’s likely not a big concern considering the model’s target market and intended use. Different tires would make a difference here as well.

2023KLX230S Review frontA 21-inch front rim means many tire options are available.

Engine and Power

This 233cc engine has been around since 2020, so any early-production bugs should be worked out by now. Both the low- and high-end of the power band are impressive, especially at this price point. Even better, electronic fuel injection is standard, so this bike is ready for cold mornings as well as mountain trails above the tree line, unlike the wheezy, carbureted one-lungers of old.

For beginner riders, low-end power is important as they learn to balance the bike and lift their feet at take-off. Although this is a small four-stroke SOHC single-cylinder engine, riders don’t have to wind it up to feel the power delivery, which

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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

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Motorcycle Review: 2022 Kawasaki Z900RS SE

Kawasaki’s built itself a thoroughly nostalgic retro bike that thinks it’s a super naked

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I don’t normally like retro bikes. Too many — I’m looking at you, Honda CB1100 — tend to remind me just how bad the “good old times” really were. Some things are better left un-revisited, and amongst them are fat, heavy motorcycles with crap suspension.

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Kawasaki’s latest Z900, the RS SE, however, is a completely different animal. Oh, sure, it’s got the “Yellow Ball” paint job (complete with a stylized “Z” carved into the stripe), duck-tail rear seat unit, and a four-into-one exhaust system that does a pretty good Kerker imitation (save for its chrome covering).

But, at its heart, it’s really more of sporty naked bike. In SE trim, you see, the RS gains a seriously sophisticated S46 Öhlins rear shock (with the requisite remote pre-load adjuster so you can adjust the rear ride height), totally recalibrated front fork, and some Brembo M4.32 front calipers mated to a 17.5-mm Nissan radial master cylinder with stainless-steel braided lines. The bodywork may be saying mid-‘70s classic, but the running gear is thoroughly modern speedster.

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Sitting on the classic pleated saddle and reaching out to the high-rise handlebar, the same dichotomy persists. The aforementioned saddle is a traditional (almost) completely flat affair, simpler and, it must be said, far more comfortable than the sculpted seats adorning more ‘modern’ motorcycles. Ditto for the handlebar, which is 65 millimetres higher and 35 mm closer to the rider than the basic Z900s, and the 20-mm lower footpegs. Sitting on the RS SE, you’re immediately reminded of what a UJM — that’s “Universal Japanese Motorcycle” — used to feel like.

Grab the binders or heel the incredibly quick-steering chassis into a sharp bend and, all of a sudden, you’re on a super naked, the M4.32s all bite and stoppiness, with the sportbike-sized 180/55ZR18 (rear) and 120/70ZR17 (front) Bridgestone Battlax Hypersports offering track-worthy grip, the suspension keeping the whole party on an even keel. No doubt I’ll feel the ire of Triumph fans, but I’d prefer riding the SE through some California twisties than a Speed Triple. Hell, the Öhlins’ed and Brembo’ed Z900 might make a pretty good track bike, too.

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2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle

Prior to 1984, street-legal motorcycles that could also be ridden off the pavement (without immediately crashing) were known as “enduros” or “scramblers,” and for the most part, they were lightly modified street bikes with knobby tires, high-mount exhausts and perhaps a bit more suspension travel than their street-based counterparts. They were fine for plonking down a dirt road, buzzing around the farm, or exploring nearby canyons. But on balance, they were small bikes, with limited power, short range and truly limited ability to tackle truly tough terrain – let alone mount an epic journey to the far corners of the globe.

But spurred by wanderlust and books like Ted Simon’s epic 1974 travelogue Jupiter’s Travels, and Elspeth Beard’s 1982 Lone Rider, a new type of motorcycle riding – now called dual-sport, adventure or “ADV” riding – was beginning to take shape, and motorcycle makers began to take notice just as major technological shifts were happening in the motorcycle industry. BMW is generally credited to be the first maker of a dedicated “adventure bike” with the 1980 R80 G/S, an 800cc ugly duckling of a bike that was clearly designed to leave the pavement and haul a rider and their gear to places heretofore unreachable by motorcycle – and most any other kind of vehicle.

In 1984, Kawasaki launched the KLR600, a modern, powerful, sturdy, capable and affordable 600cc single-cylinder model that also tempted riders to start mapping out epic ‘round the world (”RTW”) odysseys. A couple of years later, the bike grew to 651cc, and the KLR650 remained in Kawasaki’s lineup – largely unchanged – for the next three decades. In that time, adventure riding – and adventure bikes – continued to grow in popularity, getting a massive boost in 2004 when Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charlie Boorman released their first RTW adventure bike TV series, Long Way ‘Round, which gave adventure riding massive exposure in popular culture (below). Two sequel series then followed, as did skyrocketing adventure bike sales.

But in 2019, KLR650 fans – now numbering in the millions worldwide – held their breath as the model suddenly went missing from the roster for the first time. Then the pandemic set in and for 2020, the KLR was again MIA. Would it ever return? Late in 2021, there was rejoicing as the KLR650 reappeared – and with several notable improvements.

Recently, Kawasaki’s Good Times Demo Tour swung through the Portland area, and Media Relations Supervisor Brad Puetz was kind enough to bring a pair of top-spec $7,999 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure models with him for two days of riding around the Pacific Northwest with Forbes.com.

Good news: The updated KLR650 hasn’t strayed far from the successful recipe that has earned the bike

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