With Evan Edge
Motorcycles are expensive these days. If you can’t spare more than $3,000 for a new bike, your options are severely limited. You won’t get a medium displacement street bike for that coin. Pure motocross bikes are out, as well. Fortunately, some of the options available can provide just as much or more fun than most of the more expensive bikes.
The mini dirt bike pit racing craze really started with the tiny, 50cc bikes that no reasonably-sized adult could ride, much less race. Aftermarket kits providing taller handlebars, longer shift levers and higher seats became popular when adults tried to convert these tot-sized weapons.
Like virtually everything about motorcycles, more was soon perceived to be better. More displacement. More power. More suspension travel, etc. The focus shifted to bigger bikes, including Kawasaki’s own KLX110.
The same process that the 50s went through was applied to the 110s, e.g., more of everything (including more braking). The 110s are still a bit cramped for larger or less pliable adult human beings, but certainly roomier than the 50s. Air-cooled 125s with larger wheels became another starting point for pit racers.
The new 2008 Kawasaki KLX140 and 140L (the version with larger wheels) represent the best available box-stock pit racing bike retailing for less than $3,000. As we discussed in our introductory article on these new play bikes, Kawasaki tried the make their new 140 capable of handling faster, larger and more aggressive riders straight off the showroom floor.
The KLX140 and 140L are not just about pit racing, of course. Adults might think so, but these bikes actually are focused on younger and less experienced riders. The pit racing capabilities are just a bonus.
Kawasaki invited us to test these new models recently in Southern California. We rode them hard, particularly with Evan Edge (weighing in at roughly 145 pounds), and came away impressed.
The bikes handled aggressive riding by a 145 pound expert much better than the similarly sized air-cooled 125s we have tested. Sure, we still bottomed the suspension landing larger jumps (particularly, the forks), but the damping held up much better, and the chassis felt stiffer and more secure.
Kawasaki 2008 KLX140
We were blown away by the brakes. They were very strong for this category of bike with pretty decent feel. They even stop a bigger, heavier rider well. Most competitors’ machines feature a drum brake in back, and a relatively small disc up front. Kawasaki has a 220mm front disc gripped by a stout-looking twin-piston caliper, and another disc brake in back . . . this one measuring 186mm with a single piston caliper. Kawasaki even threw in the petal shape to the discs it features on so many of its more expensive bikes (intended to reduce weight and aid cleaning).
Both bikes were fun to ride, but the 140L (with its larger 19″ front and 16″ rear wheels) was a blast to ride. With a 145 pound rider aboard, balance was pretty good front-to-rear, and the bike felt extremely light and nimble.
Each model features electric starting, and they lit instantaneously every time we hit the magic button. A starter motor can add considerable weight, but both bikes still come in at less than 200 pounds dry (claimed weight).
Both models have adjustable rear suspension. While the KLX140 only offers five-way preload adjustment, the larger KLX140L has a relatively trick shock with four-step compression and 22-step rebound damping adjustability.
The engine in each bike actually displaces 144cc, and we found power significantly stronger than the aforementioned 125cc models. The increase in power actually exceeds what we expected from the bump in displacement. Power comes on smoothly, but tapers off quickly like most air-cooled singles.
Short shifting the five-speed transmission with manual clutch is the way to make the best progress.
The ergos on at least one of the bikes should work for most kids under 5’6″. Above that height is when things begin to get a little bit cramped on the 140L. The only complaint we have about any of the control placement is that the gear shift lever is a bit short for larger feet.
Evan actually thought second gear could have been taller, allowing the bike to pull a little bit longer out of tight corners. When you complain about gears being too short on a bike like this, you know that stock power is pretty good.
Kawasaki 2008 KLX140L
Both bikes are extremely quiet (as you might expect) and offer an environmentally-friendly way to ride. At $2,699 for the KLX140 and $2,999 for the 140L, it is hard to argue with the value and fun these new Kawasakis offer. For additional details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site here.