Kawasaki’s KLX140G is one of those little strokes of genius that sometimes happens well outside the limelight of the latest high-tech motocross or off-road models in a motorcycle manufacturer’s lineup.
The KLX140G is an all-new model for the “Good Times” company, but it isn’t really all new, and that’s part of what makes it such a smart play. Its engine and frame are clearly in the “tooling’s paid for” column, having been used on other KLX140 models for years, but for 2017 Kawasaki has figured out a way to open up the goodness of its fantastic little playbike to a more mature audience. That makes it an excellent trainer for adults seeking entrée into the world of off-road riding and a fun, “full-sized” playbike or pit racer for the rest of us, all at an affordable price of just $3699.
To create the KLX140G, Kawasaki engineers simply took the company’s popular KLX140L and stretched it out a little, incorporating the L model’s four-stroke Single into a slightly larger package that features the same mainframe with a larger, longer subframe, a longer swingarm, full-sized 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels, disc brakes and more suspension travel. The result is a lightweight trail bike with a manual clutch that offers a user-friendly character for full-size folks.
Long a staple of Kawasaki’s four-stroke engine range, the engine couldn’t be simpler. The air-cooled SOHC design has proven itself reliable over decades of service in the company’s playbike line. Its 58.0 x 54.4mm bore and stroke give the KLX an actual displacement of 144cc. Fuel is fed to the engine via a Keihin PB20 carburetor, with cold starting made easy by pulling the choke lever mounted on its cast aluminum triple clamps. The KLX140’s compression ratio is a pump gas-friendly 9.5:1. Like we said, simple.
The starting procedure itself is also as convenient as it gets, as the KLX140G retains the keyless electric starter found on the entire 140 line. Firing up the engine only requires a single press of the handlebar-mounted starter button, and you’re off and running. The system is reliable enough that it eliminates the need for a kick starter.
And just like Kawasaki’s larger machines, power is transferred through a manual clutch—no foo foo centrifugal automatic clutch here—to a five-speed transmission. However, the KLX140G’s clutch incorporates a spring damper to give it a progressive, two-stage engagement feel. Kawasaki says that this feature facilitates half-clutch use when riding at extremely low rpm or idling speeds, giving new riders a little more confidence by making the clutch easier to feed.
The KX140G’s chassis dimensions are what truly separate it from the smaller KLX140L. Its box-style, high-tensile steel perimeter frame incorporates a larger subframe and larger wheels to give the G model a 2.4 inches of additional seat height and ground clearance. The KLX140G’s seat is perched at 33.9 inches vs. 31.5 inches for the KLX140L, giving the G more of a big-bike feel.
Helping to keep the costs down are Showa suspension components that fit the KLX140G’s playbike orientation. Up front, nonadjustable 33mm telescopic front forks deliver 7.5 inches of wheel travel. Out back, Kawasaki’s trademark Uni-Trak rear suspension features a piggyback shock with an aluminum shock body and reservoir. The preload-adjustable shock also features a four-position compression damping adjuster and a 22-position rebound damping adjuster to tailor its 7.9 inches of wheel travel to suit the rider.
So, what’s it like to ride?
Thumbing the electric start button quickly brings the KLX140G motor burbling to life. The exhaust note is quiet, thanks to its muffler, which features a USFS-approved spark arrestor so that the Kawi can be ridden on public land, but the KLX140G mill still offers plenty of pep despite its small displacement. Throttle response is smooth, and the KLX delivers a silky spread of power that won’t intimidate new riders. In fact, the KLX’s engine emits very little vibration and what little buzz escapes is quelled even further by its rubber-mounted handlebar.
As riding skill increases, the KLX140G can continue to provide plenty of fun, even for advanced riders. Our expert tester, Nic Garvin, had a riot while lugging the KLX140 through the rocks like a trials bike, blasting berms and skimming over the sand at our favorite Southern California riding area. Even though it has a small, 1.5-gallon fuel tank, the KLX is such a fuel miser that you can ride the bike for hours without having to replenish it. And if you should find yourself well away from your truck when the KLX sputters, its fuel petcock sports a handy reserve setting to help get you back. Sometimes we wish today’s high-tech, fuel-injected off-road bikes had this feature.
The KLX140G’s five-speed transmission shifts smoothly, and its ratios are perfectly spaced to maximize the power. With a light and linear clutch modulation, it’s easy to keep the engine in just the right rev range, which helps new riders to develop their skills. We can also report that there’s enough power to get you into a little mischief, as one of our vet testers found out when he ate it big time on a rocky uphill. Other than a few scuffs and scratches, the tough little KLX was none the worse for wear, and having the ability to restart the bike without resorting to a kickstarter while in a precarious position on the side of a hill was a real plus.
While there’s a decent amount of suspension travel at both ends, the KLX’s 33mm Showa fork is a limiting factor in the overall package. It’s Cadillac-plush if not pushed too hard, but its 7.5 inches of travel is quickly used up when tackling rough ground at higher speed, and since it is not adjustable, there’s no way to make it any stiffer when out in the field. Out back, the adjustable shock and Uni-Trak rear suspension deliver a plush ride, and it can be firmed up for rough ground, but doing so will only exaggerate the softness of the fork.
But the full-sized little green machine is still a lot of fun for most riders, regardless of their experience level. We really appreciated it in low-speed technical sections where its slim, light-steering chassis delivers nimble and precise handling. The KLX140G’s relatively light weight has a lot to do with that. On our scales, with the fuel tank filled to just under the fuel filler neck, the 140G weighs 217 pounds, placing 48.1 percent of that weight on the front wheel and 51.9 percent on the rear wheel—right in the full-size dirtbike sweet spot. At higher speeds, the KLX’s larger wheels help to deliver a solid, predictable feel through the bumps.
Adding to the KLX’s capability are strong and linear Nissin disc brakes, front and rear, and IRC Volcanduro tires that offer solid grip over a wide variety of terrain. The brakes feature petal-style rotors just like the big KX motocrossers, but their sizes are more appropriate for the 140G, with a 220mm front disc clamped by a dual-piston caliper. A 186mm rear disc and single-piston caliper reside out back.
Our only real issue has to do with the KLX140G’s ergonomics. Kawasaki did a pretty good job of stretching out the KLX140G by using the existing KLX frame, but while the G’s tall handlebar rise helps to make the cockpit feel roomy from the waste up, the seat-to-pegs relationship is bound to be a little cramped for most adults. It’s easily dealt with by alternating between the seated and standing positions, but the KLX140G’s seating position is still more minibike than big bike. On the plus side, the KLX boasts a slim waste line and a comfortable seat.
At the end of the day, we really dig the Kawasaki KLX140G, and we would love to have kept it in our stable for longer than Kawasaki could allow. It seems that the G is in high demand for new rider demos, and our test unit needed to be turned around quickly so that it could be prepped for just such an activity.
There are other choices for adult-sized beginners, but we applaud Kawasaki’s decision to enhance the market with the KLX140G. It delivers just enough performance to make it a lot of fun for experienced riders, but it isn’t likely to intimidate newbies. If that’s the kind of bike you are looking for, we say go for it.
Why should the kids have all the fun?
2017 Kawasaki KLX140G Specifications
Engine: Air-cooled, SOHC, single-cylinder-four-stroke
Bore x Stroke: 58.0 x 54.4mm
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Fueling: Keihin PB20 carburetor
Ignition: Digital DC-CDI
Final Drive: Chain
Front Suspension: 33mm Showa telescopic fork, non-adjustable; 7.5 inches of travel
Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak linkage system and Showa single shock with piggyback reservoir, adjustable preload and 22-position rebound damping; 7.9 inches of travel
Front Wheel/Tire: 21-inch/2.75×21 IRC Volcanduro
Rear Wheel/Tire: 18-inch/4.10×18 IRC Volcanduro
Front Brake: 220mm petal-style disc w/Nissin two-piston caliper
Rear Brake: 186mm petal-style disc w/Nissin single-piston caliper
Chassis: Tube-type, semi-double cradle steel
Rake/Trail: 27°/4.6 inches
Overall Length: 78.9 inches
Overall Width: 31.1 inches
Overall Height: 44.7 inches
Ground Clearance: 12.4 inches
Seat Height: 33.9 inches
Wet Weight (measured): 217 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 1.5 gallons
Wheelbase: 52.4 inches
Color: Lime Green
Warranty: 6 Months; Kawasaki Protection Plus™ (optional) 12, 24, or 36 months