Kawasaki calls the KDX220R a “do-everything off-road bike”, and after riding our test unit for a few months I’m inclined to agree with them. During my time with the KDX, I rode it on trails, fire roads, and even a natural-terrain motocross track that we often use for setting up suspension on our MX test bikes. Despite it’s age, heft, and relative lack of power, the KDX220R took everything I threw at it in stride and proved an entertaining and comfortable bike for general riding.
The 216cc water-cooled two-stroke motor gives the bike excellent rideability, with smooth power delivery and respectable thrust in the low-end and lower mid-range. For relaxed trail riding the low-end grunt makes it easy to ride smoothly without downshifting too often. However, when riding aggressively, particularly on short straightaways connecting two tight corners, I often wished that the KDX would rev out a little further. The motor feels choked up in the top-end; perhaps a pipe and silencer combo would open it up and give a longer pull.
The suspension is softly sprung compared to the motocross bikes I typically ride, but it works exceedingly well on the trail, using the entire length of the stroke to soak up bumps and keep the bike tracking straight. The softer suspension means the bike likes to tackle obstacles a little differently than an MX bike, rolling the back wheel and carrying the front through large roller whoops (BMX racers would call this technique a “manual”) rather than skipping over the top. Sharp edged acceleration bumps are a breeze, as the combination of suspension action and a thick, plush seat allow you to stay seated longer on the corner exit, keeping weight on the back wheel without punishing your spine and kidneys.
Braking hard into a corner, the KDX forks get way down in the stroke, which is both good and bad. The upside is that the front end dive really loads up the front wheel, giving you more confidence in the front end on corner entry. The downside is that with the fork already way down in the travel from heavy braking, there isn’t much stroke left to absorb any sharp-edged braking bumps you might encounter. In this situation the fork can feel fairly harsh, and particularly nasty braking bumps can even cause the front end to bottom. However, unless your local trails are hammered by fast off-roaders every weekend, it is unlikely that you will encounter braking bumps like these anywhere but a motocross track.
In bermed or rutted corners, the aforementioned fork dive keeps the front planted as you trail-brake to the apex. However, in fast, flat corners the feedback from the tires is sometimes vague, and the back end can sometimes break loose rather suddenly. Overall cornering manners are excellent for general off-road use, particularly on tight, twisty trails.
At an MSRP of $4,499, the KDX220R is definitely a viable choice for the rider looking for an all-around off road bike, and a good choice for beginner and novice riders who are big enough and strong enough to deal with its size and weight. More advanced riders can made the KDX220R’s performance grow with their skill by doing engine and suspension modifications. After all, this is essentially the same bike Jeff Fredette rode to several ISDE medals in the 1990s. You can find additional details on Kawasaki’s web site.