As experienced off-road motorcycle riders, we're often focused on full-size machines that offer incredible performance. But there is a range of bikes that are for markets like entry-level riders and women—two groups that are a very important segment of the industry—with controllable power, suitable suspension, and assorted features that make those first days in the saddle a less daunting. The 2017 Kawasaki KLX140 hits all of those marks, and then some, for a bike that actually appeals to riders of all skill levels.
An air-cooled single overhead cam four-stroke engine with 144cc displacement, a Keihin PB20 carburetor, and an easy-to-use electric starter powers the Kawasaki KLX140. A five-speed manual transmission and a cable-actuated clutch are matched to the engine. The box-section perimeter frame is made of steel and provides a 30.7-inch seat height, which is perfect for someone of a smaller stature. Both ends of the Showa suspension offer 7.1-inches of travel, and the Uni-Trak linkage-equipped shock features fully adjustable preload plus 22-way rebound damping, two features that are not typical in this class of motorcycle. A pair of Nissin disc brakes—220 mm on the front and 186 mm on the rear—brings the bike to a controlled stop. The lime green plastics, body panels, and pattern of the printed graphics that cover the 1.5-gallon fuel tank make the bike look just like everything else in the Kawasaki model line. All together and weighing in at 205 pounds with all fluids, this package is more than enough to overcome what a new rider will face when on the trail.
On The Trail
Knowing that the intended rider of the Kawasaki KLX140 is an adolescent or female, the sizing of the chassis is close to perfect. At just around two and half feet of seat height, it's possible for a rider to easily place one or both feet on the ground when on the saddle. This reduces fear of falling over that new riders often have as they learn to balance. The inclusion of an electric starter was a wise move by Kawasaki—it's far easier to push a handlebar-mounted button than it is to fumble with a kickstarter, especially for someone inexperienced with the whole process or when in a tight situation.
The characteristics of the four-stroke engine are exactly what we'd hope for and expect. The power delivery is mellow and easy to control, with no sudden surge that could fling a rider on their back. But that's not to say that it's weak or slow! There's low-end pull to get out of a tricky situation, to lift the front-wheel over a small obstacle, and to playfully blast through soft berms. The middle of powerband feels almost endless, and this is what riders need most when riding on rolling trails or even backyard pit bike tracks. Considering the overall size of the bike, the speeds it's capable of are surprising, especially when an experienced rider is at the controls. The transmission and clutch are practically flawless, as we jammed through gears without issue and barely felt the clutch fade, even with heavy abuse. Although the decision to go for an air-cooled engine over liquid-cooled seems questionable at first, it actually eliminates any chance of a radiator being busted in a crash, which would certainly happen at some point.
Suspension often seems like an afterthought for this category of bike, but the use of Showa components shows that wasn't the case for Kawasaki. With 7.1 inches of travel from the fork and shock, riders can traverse terrain littered by rocks, roots, and bumps without worry. Now, this package has limits, so a full-size motocross track wouldn't be in this bike's best interests, but there's plenty of suspension to soak up a landing should both wheels get off of the ground. We like the range of adjustment for preload and rebound on the shock, but must admit that riders probably won't spend much time fussing with settings when first getting accustomed to the bike.
Small details of the KLX140 ultimately make a huge impact on the bike. The stock exhaust system keeps the sound of the engine to a minimum, and the spark arrestor-equipped silencer means that riders are able to openly ride OHV areas without worry of legal troubles. Nissin's disc brake system brings the bike to a controlled halt whenever pressure is applied to the pedal or lever, and maintenance is far easier than old-school drum brakes. There are some drawbacks in the fit and finish, like the steel handlebars that are easily bent in a crash, but this is to be expected in a bike of this category, and luckily an aluminum 7/8-inch handlebar will fit in the mounts.
When introducing someone to off-road motorcycle riding, it's crucial they have a great time from the moment they swing their leg over the bike until they get back to the pit area. If the experience is terrible, there's little chance they'll give riding another try. We know of people who have been turned off of riding due to the size or speeds of the motorcycles they tried, and we have to think that if their first laps were on the KLX140, things would have turned out much differently for them. The bike is the perfect size for a comfortable ride and the power of the engine is plenty to learn on, while offering enough speed for a thrilling ride. We'll even confess that some of our very experienced testers couldn't wait to play around on the green machine. All said, this is a perfect play bike.
2017 Kawasaki KLX140 Specifications
Price: $3,099 Engine Type: 144cc air-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke Bore and Stroke: 58.0 x 54.4 mm Compression Ratio: 9.5:1 Valve Train: Single overhead cam Induction: Keihin PB20 carburetor Transmission: Five-speed Final Drive: Chain Front Suspension: Showa 33 mm telescopic fork Rear Suspension: Showa shock with Uni-Trak linkage Front Brake: Nissin single 220 mm hydraulic disc Rear Brake: Nissin single 186 mm hydraulic disc Front Tire: 70/100-17 Rear Tire: 90/100-14 Wheelbase: 49.6 inches Starter: Electric Clutch: Wet multi-disc manual Seat Height: 30.7 inches Ground Clearance: 9.3 inches Fuel Capacity: 1.5 gallons
Curb Weight: 205 pounds