Kawasaki KLX140 Review

By: Dene Priestley

Trail tweenies and the lesser lanky learner used to always miss out when shopping for a well spec’d dirt machine. Not so now with the toy-makers all offering a huge range to suit all sizes. Kawasaki has just deepened the pool with its great new pair of cool KLX140s

Kawasaki KLX140 Review
Kawasaki KLX140

Oh to be a kid again! Playstation and Xbox, iPods and MP3s, email, TXT and Sky TV - where were you all when I was a tweeny? Hell, we had phones with slow round dialers, shitty cassette players, two boring TV channels, and if you were a noter, a half decent trolley. I did however, luck in and scored myself a mini-bike made from a Zundapp scooter. It was a fairly average and unreliable effort to be fair, but still held its own against those fairly common and ugly Tru-Test bikes.

Zap forward to today and kids have got more gadgets than Maxwell Smart ever did, and when it comes to motorcycles, they are certainly spoiled for choice and quality in a market where one size certainly does not fit all.

The newest pair of arrivals in this market are Kawasaki's KLX140s. These are ideal machines for the 10-14 year age trail rider; and with spacious ergos and tough torquey power, plus beefy brakes and suspension, adult beginners or those of lesser statue may slot straight onto these and be as happy as a knitting nanna for many years of riding fun.

I have to admit that in the testing to bring you this article a not-so-little old me spent a half day on the big wheel KLX on the WMCC trails in South Woodhill Forest and had a  fantastic time chasing my daughter around on its twin. From then on, the girls did the riding, but never did the bike feel stressed in my charge. And while it is happy to be revved and raced rapidly through the bush, it is also just as happy to lug away at a leisurely pace with a heffalump on board without even a hint of bogging or stalling.

Technically speaking
The two KLX's main difference is just as the name sounds: Big Wheel and Small Wheel. The biggie has a 19-inch front and 16-inch rear wheel, as apposed to the 17-  and 14-inch of the smaller model. This transpires in a seat height difference of 20mm, with the taller being 800mm from terra firma. This also means a slightly longer wheelbase and a tad more ground clearance (250mm), but look closer and you'll spot the biggie also has a swish piggyback reservoir shock system rather than the standard shock on the small wheel. This also gives the bigger machine adjustability not just in preload, but also four-way compression and 22-way rebound damping settings. This is to cater for higher speeds and heavier riders who will naturally be on the bigger of the two bikes. The small wheel machine has five-way preload adjustability.

Up front both bikes wear beefy 33mm telescopic forks and overall suspension travel is 180mm front and rear. To put it in the scale of things, this makes the bigger KLX140 26mm lower than the CRF150F in seat height, and 5mm lower than the TTR125LW, although with a slightly longer wheelbase. The smaller KLX is just a smidgen taller than the TTR125 small wheel.

To haul up the action when necessary, the KLX's have relatively big brakes, >>   with 220mm disc up front stopping with a 27mm twin piston caliper. At the rear is a 186mm disc. No drum brakes here.

The chassis is a perimeter box section frame said to be designed from the earlier steel-framed KX's, with a lightweight alloy swingarm rather than the steel units most junior bikes possess. Nice die-cast hubs and RK Excel rims also help with lowering the unsprung load.

On the mechanical front, the engine is a 140cc air-cooled electric-starting four-stroke that should offer years of maintenance light riding. Although suitably hushed with its unique exhaust tail, the engine is happy to peddle with a credibly revvy redline of 10,500rpm. Also, while on the subject, the exhaust pipe cap is actually plastic and while I was loading, I noticed I could hold the end of the pipe in my bare hand even after a day of riding and not even come close to burning, so this may be a scar saver for young unwary fingers or thighs in a fall or recovery. A great idea methinks.

The identical KLX engines drive through a close ratio five-speed box well suited to the trail, and another unique and well thought out feature is an extra spring damper within the clutch unit. This gives the clutch action a two-stage progressive engagement, allowing half clutch to being used when very slow or idling along (where many learners spend their first few hours) without harming the clutch or causing excessive wear. In fact, the system is said to actually increase overall clutch durability.

The handlebars wear the same grips as found on the KX range, with an engine on/off switch to the left, and the magic starter button on the right hand side. In the centre between the top triple clamp and number board is the on/off ignition button with light to let you know when the system is alive, and to stop you leaving it on to go flat (no back up kick starter), plus a convenient pull choke knob.

The cockpit is big enough for dad to ride arse on seat (I'm proof), and not even too hunched for a standing adult. The test pilot duo of Tori and Zoe liked the cockpit positioning also and found they could sit or stand comfortably even though they are at the upper end of the KLX riding niche.

From the saddle
At the push of the button these bikes rumble humbly and totally non-offensively to life. They don't seem to suffer the cold-blooded nature of some other wee thumpers and are off the choke and ready for action in under a minute. The exhaust note is casual at every rev except full squeal, which most will never find unless upside down with throttle buried in the turf. I hit some steep sandy hills in third and came away impressed how clutchable she was, as several bigger bikes I've ridden would have protested and retrenched in similar situations. If you do the right thing and chop down and rev her up the same slope the small KLX hauled me up like a ski platter.

In the wet single trail (it rained all bloody day), I never got into top but the odd fourth gear rev out proved potential of a sprightly performer given the opportunity for an open area sprint. With half my girth, the girls were having an even better time and wheelspinning in all gears in the saturated conditions. Woodhill rarely gets slippery unless completely sodden and unable to drain. It was one of those days and great fun for all on the nimble little Kawasaki's.

The KLX is slim through the centre, with the fatty pegs mounted close in to the frame, allowing good, tight leg gripping of the midsection. This is very KX typical, and part of the reason Kawasaki utilised the race-bike design team and ethos to influence the overall project. They were obviously keen for these bikes to be really serious practical machines rather than the awkwardly balanced mass distribution and subsequent handling of some entry level kids machines available from some lesser available brands.

As you've picked up already, I had a fun day on a bike not designed for me, but at a pinch any adult could get around with a grin on the larger KLX140. I had it airborne and bottomed several times, fishtailed nailing through the slop and rode the berms. Thirteen-year-old Tori also had a great time, rain or not. She found the bars wide and steering light and precise, the seat well-padded and comfortable, and the power just about perfect in every situation. She was definitely more suited to the big wheel, and found the smaller of the two a little short and feet vulnerable when, in her words, some big chubby oaf took off on the bigger wheeled bike. Guess who?

You know you want one!
I think Kawasaki have read the market well and come up with a great family trail machine. An enthusiastic rider could also make one of these perform well lapping their local MX track or bermed and bumped paddock, and have a blast doing so without aggravating third world war with their neighbours. On the small block the whole family could roost the sheep and jump the culvert, let alone the practical nature of a convenient low maintenance bike for just getting to the bottom paddock, vege garden or just checking the mailbox. I have noted comments on USA sites also dub it a great potential pit bike, with talk of the possibility of boring the steel cylinder, although that market has pretty well shriveled up and curdled here in NZ.

Both bikes are well set up stock, with the big wheel giving extra availability to custom with its flasher piggyback shock. I did note this unit could also potentially mount onto the smaller KLX machine, but costings may make this a futile exercise. Better to lower the biggie.

With modern, sharp, KX-inspired looks, a stylish yet suitably hushed pipe and dependable and low maintenance air-cooled four-stroke practicality, this is a great mid-sized bike for the up and coming trail/enduro rider. Although they may have to fight mum, or pesky old dad occasionally, as just about anyone can have fun on these smaller dirt bikes.


Big Wheel  (Small Wheel)

Engine: Air-cooled four-stroke single
Displacement: 140cc
Bore x Stroke: 58 x 54.4mm
Compression: 9.5:1
Fuel System: Keihin PB20
Ignition: CDI
Starting: Electric
Transmission: Five-speed
Frame: Perimeter box section
Suspension Front: 33mm telescopic fork
Suspension Rear: Uni-Trak
Suspension Travel: 180mm front and rear
Front Tyre: 90/100-19 (90/100-17)
Rear Tyre: 90/100-16 (90/100-14)
Brakes: Disc/disc
LxWxH: 1895 x 790 x 1075mm (1820 x 790 x 1050mm)
Wheelbase: 1285mm (1260mm)
Fuel Tank: 5.8ltrs
Seat Height: 800mm (780mm)
Dry Weight: 90kg claimed (88kg claimed)
Price: $4995.00 ($4595.00)