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2000 Kawasaki KLX300R: MD Ride Review

Wheelies are a snap . . . some clutch required.
Wheelies are a snap . . . some clutch required.

With all the focus on off-road, four-stroke bikes these days (generated, largely, by Yamaha’s ground breaking YZ400), we were anxious to sample Kawasaki’s offering — the KLX300R.

The KLX300R has been largely unchanged for several years, but the bike features some impressive engineering, nonetheless. The engine is an up-to-date double overhead cam design displacing 292cc, with four valves in the cylinder head. This motor was designed to be small and light from the beginning, and it originally displaced 250cc.

Featuring automatic compression release, we found the bike very easy to start (far easier than some of the off-road, four-strokes available).

The ergonomics are comfortable, and the bike just feels extremely light.
The ergonomics are comfortable, and the bike just feels extremely light.

With a gear driven counter-balancer, the motor is quite smooth, and contributes to reduced fatigue on the trail. The motor also features a six speed transmission with well-spaced gearing.

The chassis and suspension components are also first-rate. Featuring Kawasaki’s trademarked perimeter frame (borrowed from the KX motocrosser line), it is both stiff and strong. Hung from the frame is a 43mm upside-down cartridge fork (with 20 step compression damping adjustment — no rebound adjustment, however) in front, and Kawasaki’s uni-track rear suspension (adjustable for compression, rebound and preload).

Excellent brakes — again borrowed from the KX line, feature generously sized discs, with a twin piston caliper in front and a single piston in the rear.

Details include a stock, O-ring chain, headlight and taillight, odometer, 2.9 gallon gas tank, hand guards, and a U.S. Forrestry Service approved spark arrestor.

With an MSRP of just $4,699 in the U.S., the KLX300R is not intended to compete heads-up with Yamaha’s WR400, or Suzuki’s DRZ400 (both of which are several hundred dollars more expensive). Nevertheless, the KLX300R has a strong following among serious trail riders, and even some racers.

High speed stability is surprisingly good . . .
High speed stability is surprisingly good . . .

The first thing you notice about the KLX300R is its light weight. Kawasaki claims a dry weight of 231.5 pounds, but expect a wet weight (without fuel) to be in the 260 range. Nevertheless, this is a pretty light four-stroke trail bike. It feels even lighter than it is, however.

Starting the KLX300R (as noted earlier) is a relatively easy affair. No special levers to pull, or buttons to deal with (other than the choke when cold). It does help to find “top dead center” (I’ll leave you to other articles on this complicated art). After doing so, however, without touching the gas, stroke through swiftly and the bike lights right up. Fairly easy stroke, too.

Riding the KLX300R is even better. Although certainly down on power compared to the latest 400s, the 292cc mill is torquey and strong, nonetheless. Even with its incredibly restrictive stock exhaust installed, the KLX has no problem handling most hills and trail obstacles (short of expert stuff).

It’s the handling that really shines, however. The KLX300R simply feels lighter and more nimble than any four-stroke I have ever ridden — even lighter and nimbler than several two-strokes I have ridden. The handling immediately inspires confidence, and I noticed no significant trade-off between straight line stability and turning (both were quite good — the turning was excellent).

. . . but corners are where the KLX rules.
. . . but corners are where the KLX rules.

The chassis is stable at high speed through rutted trails, yet it absolutely rails through turns. The bike almost feels small (it isn’t, particularly) in the way that it can be man handled and obeys your every command on the trail.

The stock suspension settings are fairly good (although, I prefer a rebound adjustment in the fork). I didn’t touch the suspension, and I am usually pretty picky about rebound damping. Had an adjustment been available in the fork for rebound damping, I probably would have turned it in at least one click (making rebound slower).

Four-stroke dirt bikes are the best wheelie machines on earth. Second gear is about right (enough momentum, but not too fast), and the KLX obliges by wheelieing easily and confidently in second gear (although liberal use of the clutch is required). Finding the balance point on this bike was easy.

We expect that Kawasaki is developing a more expensive and sophisticated machine for four-stroke motocross use to compete heads-up with Yamaha’s YZ426 and the other cutting-edge four-stroke motocrossers. The debut of such a bike won’t displace the KLX300R, however, which will remain a light and nimble trail machine that potentially pleases novice and experienced riders alike.

At this price point (and, we understand, discounts are available from dealers), there really isn’t a better choice in a four-stroke trail bike. For those of you wanting the power of a 400, the KLX300R won’t deliver without expensive modifications (some of which are available from off-road legend Larry Roesler’s firm — Stroker Speed Equipment). More than one pro has considered the KLX300R’s sweet handling chassis worth the investment, however.