The affordable, non-intimidating Kawasaki KLX230 just might be the perfect small-displacement play bike.
Kawasaki released the KLX230, which features ABS and a slim, rider-friendly platform, in 2019 and it’s clear the company did so in hopes of enticing smaller riders into the small-displacement dual-sport category. I had the opportunity to run this bike through its paces for a week and my ride on this great bike reminded me how fun small bikes are on- and off-road.
I left Rivercity Cycle in Kamloops, B.C., and made the 220 km trek back to Revelstoke on logging roads and trails, avoiding the highway for as long as possible. I’ve become so comfortable with adventure bikes throughout the years I forgot how much a street-legal dirt bike has to offer. The light and capable KLX230 shines on gravel and easy trails; the fact that it has ABS was a bonus.
At first, I was hesitant about the ABS because it can’t be turned off, but the KLX230 is so light that dirt and gravel don’t hinder the bike’s stopping power. The dual-sport ABS is a design purpose-built in partnership with Bosch to create the best stopping power on any terrain. The front brake is a 265 mm disc with a twin-piston caliper, while the rear is a 223 mm disc with a single-piston caliper. They are not high-performance brakes, but they still offer reliable stopping power.
Enjoying the Ride
I followed Pinantan Pritchard Road out of Kamloops, glimpsing the Trans-Canada Highway below me at times. The highway looked busy, boring and straight – and the road I was on was the opposite. I was alone on a bike that I knew could handle just about anything. I watched a bald eagle fly overhead and wondered how many motorcyclists would have a similar experience while riding on the TC highway. Dual-sport bikes truly offer immersion into Nature without the burly weight and power of adventure bikes.
I crossed the highway and rode back into the woods through Turtle Valley on my way to Sicamous. As I reached the end of this section, the road turned from gravel to pavement. Then, as I roared around a corner, I used the ABS to its full extent to come to a quick and stable stop at the edge of a long flooded section of road. My first thought was it’d be a shame if I’d have to turn back, but then I looked beside me. I saw some dirtbike trails running into the woods – and what a perfect bike I was riding to detour around the water on some single-track.
The KLX230’s 21-inch front and 18- inch rear wheels offer capability on moderately rough trails, although the suspension suffers greatly when riding rock at speed or riding over larger roots and logs. The telescopic fork has 220 mm of travel, which I found to be quite soft overall; anyone weighing more than 65 kg (145 lbs) may have issues with the performance of this fork. The rear has 223 mm of travel with adjustable preload that certainly helps with varied terrain for the type of riders this bike will appeal to.
Small Roads are Better
Once I got back on the road past the washout, I made my way to the highway. The bike’s handling at highway speed was relatively on point with what I expected: not great. Of course, the KLX230 isn’t meant to be a highway hero, but it will get you from trail to trail while grudgingly handling the highway in between. In saying this, I would love to have a bike like this in the city to zoom around and then hit the local trails after work or on the weekends.
The KLX230 will travel at more than 100 km/h, although I’m not sure how many riders would want to ride at that speed because of the heavy vibrations and noticeable wandering of the lightweight, 134 kg (with fuel) machine. The fuel tank offers 7.5 litres of fuel-filled fun, with the KLX230 safely taking me to around 120 km before filling up; fuel economy varied greatly during my ride, depending on the type of terrain ridden. This range is perfect for popping out into towns for refuelling between stints on the trails.
The KLX230’s six-speed transmission gains speed in a timely manner, but still offers just enough low-end torque to ride up hills on the trail without being intimidated. However, in terms of a full-on dirt bike, the gearing is too tall, making the KLX230 feel gutless on steep climbs. I found myself downshifting to ensure I’d have the power needed to make it up more technical steep sections. But the bike is ideal for gravel roads and exploring intermediate trails. The KLX230 also offers a versatile riding position, whether standing or sitting, and the thin width of the tank means an incredibly wide-range of riders will enjoy this machine.
Ideal for the Shorter Rider
I stand at 5’4”, so I’ve adapted to never being able to touch the ground comfortably when on a bike. Although the KLX230’s seat height is 885 mm, I was comfortable sitting on it and the balls of my feet were firmly on the ground. The bike’s slimmed-down tank, which allowed my legs to extend straight below my hips instead of bowing outward as they do on bikes with wider seats and tanks, contributed to my comfort and confidence.
The overall body styling of the KLX230 gives a more dirt-oriented look than some other dual-sport bikes on the market do. Still, I found the front of the exhaust to be quite low and I would expect that to be one of the first things damaged if I was riding more aggressively off-road. If I owned this bike, I would invest in a skid plate (made from ABS plastic), hand guards and a rear rack to carry gear. These accessories will cost slightly less than $400 combined if ordered from Kawasaki.
The KLX230’s fuel-injected, air-cooled engine offers easy and carefree electric starts. However, the bike does not have a kick start, so if your battery dies, you’ll have to bump-start the bike down the road or trail. The KLX230 has an override safety sensor to ensure the engine stops running if the bike falls over. (This certainly worked, but almost too well…)
I laid the bike down on its side to see how easy picking it up would be, and I believe doing so would be easy for a rider of any size. However, although the bike lay on the ground for no more than two minutes, when I picked it up and attempted to restart it, the engine turned over but didn’t start. I tried bump-starting the bike and turning the ignition on and off before leaving the bike to sit for a few minutes. After more than five minutes, it finally started. I understand the issue was the sensor, but I can visualize a new rider getting quite anxious or upset if that was to happen each time they dropped the bike.
A Great Play Bike
I can foresee the KLX230 ABS appealing to different demographics in motorcycling, making it a fantastic all-round machine. It could be a versatile family bike – whether you want to get your kids into riding on their first street/adventure bike or introduce your spouse to riding, this bike can do it all in a beginner-friendly fashion.
Alternatively, I can also visualize anyone living in or near a city who is looking for something at an economical price point that offers a fun experience being attracted to the KLX230 – it’s nimble in heavy traffic, but easy to get on the trails. As well, this bike will appeal to a rider looking to downsize from their big, heavy adventure bike. You can have more fun, hit more trails and, best of all, not worry about whether you’ll blow out your back when picking the darn thing up.
The Kawasaki KLX230 ABS version will set you back a modest $5,499; the non-ABS version is $5,299. When I spoke with dealerships, they didn’t stock any non-ABS versions, so those may be hard to get your hands on.
The KLX230 is a capable, versatile and easy bike to ride. In my opinion, it does a great job of filling a gap in a market that hasn’t been addressed for quite some time: light, compact, affordable small-displacement dual-sport.
Overall, if you’re looking to get into the dual-sport game on an easy, fun and non-intimidating platform, the KLX230 is a great option – and may be a better investment than some higher-performance models that cost more than double the price. Your wallet will stay fatter while that smile remains plastered across your face.