The KLX range is legendary and the new 230SM is the latest in a family going way back to 1979... With 17in wheels and road tyres, it sure is a lot of fun. Here is our test... Action Pics: HMC Photography
Kawasaki re-joined the supermoto class in Australia in early 2023 with the KLX230SM. Based on the KLX230S, the LAMS approved SM has 17in wheels, road tyres, sportier steering geometry, bigger front brakes, road oriented suspension and taller gearing.
I love fanging around on small capacity motorcycles. Ever since I started riding, I’ve preferred the sensation of pushing a slower bike to the limit, rather than let a powerful bike take me for a ride and try to tame it. I owned 250 two-stroke road bikes, raced 250 for years before inevitably having to take the big capacity classes on but even now days as I near 50 (few years to go, yikes) I still love them.
I still go for the small bikes as often as I can. Why? They make me smile and I love the challenge of keeping them on the boil through the corners… Handing back the ZX-10RR after 50-odd laps at SMSP and swapping it for the KLX230SM would be a downer for many but for me, I was really happy to take it home on the trailer!
Read the tech breakout below for full info on the bike when compared to the KLX230S, but in short, it has the 17in wheels and tyres, a larger front brake rotor, slightly taller final gearing, revised suspension settings with reduced travel at both ends, slightly different engine mapping for more torque, rubber footpegs, and plenty of blacked out parts including the engine. Geometry is also a bit sharper.
The KLX230SM is a small, accessible bike suited to the new rider, commuter of just those wanting a little fun bike. The wheelbase is short, the seat height is not crazy tall but it is 845mm, the reach to the handlebars is short, the steering lock good and it weighs in at 135kg. Parking is a cinch, so is getting it off the stand (which is also easy to access), and the electric start works first pop. Great for newbies.
At $8,839 R/A ex Sydney, the SM is approximately $1400 more than the S version. It is also $200 more than the bigger KLX250 and only approximately $150 less than a 2023 Kawasaki Ninja 400…
Powered by a 233cc 14kW/19Nm SOHC air-cooled engine with EFI and a six-speed gearbox, the KLX230SM is about as basic as you will see these days. The frame is a steel cradle design and suspension is basic at both ends. It’s a no frills yet stylish package from Kawasaki… But we would like to see it priced a little more within reach of those new riders it is targeted at. Anyway, let’s ride it!
My first ride was a quick one hour spin all around my local area, just to get a feel for the bike. The first tick is how well a tall rider like myself can fit on the KLX. At 187cm, I actually fit the bike! I would not be able to take a pillion far, to be honest, as I needed all of the seat, but I could squeeze forward. The overall position is comfortable. It’s narrow, with medium sized ‘bars (so still good for lane splitting).
The mirrors are clear and vibe free in most rpm, certainly at most speed limit/rpm combinations in the top few gears. The switches are basic and intuitive, the dash much the same, just easy to read and basic to use. I didn’t even adjust the gear-lever or brake pedal. Front brake and clutch levers are fixed. The clutch is smooth and light, fuelling predictable and turning circle tight so it’s great in town all up. The only issue I noticed is a low speed weave below 40km/h. After checking tyre pressures, I concluded the steering-head bearings were a bit tight. Over 40km/h it was fine…
The next ride was a longer one with plenty of time in 80km/h zones and a very brief blast of 10km on the motorway. The KLX is happy at low speeds, medium speeds and really capable at running between 70 and 90km/h, but from 90km/h you are really stretching the throttle cable and it won’t stay with traffic on a 110km/h motorway unless the road is dead flat. Top speed is 120km/h on the rev limiter downhill!
The engine has a nice broad spread of torque that really has no trouble keeping the SM and a heavy rider like me (100kg in gear) motoring along happily at the town speed limits, and has some in reserve for a bit of fun in the hills. If you keep shifting along and keep it in the torque it goes really well…
The gearbox action is light and smooth, the ratios good and the gearing spot on. It’s a pleasant engine. It is also super frugal on the fuel, averaging 3.5L/100km but with only a 7.5L tank, range is limited to around the 200km distance maximum. Still, filling up was only around $14 on the most expensive day.
Hitting the twisties was next. The IRC tyres are sticky and grip well, I had a few very small front ‘tweaks’ during the photoshoot but it was freezing cold and I was asking a bit much of the tyre to be honest! Riding normally, they are great. The SHOWA forks are supportive even on the brakes, but the compression damping makes sudden bumps a bit of a jolt through the handlebars. It’s a compromise.
That firmness is definitely better than the forks being too soft… up front there is also a single 300mm rotor, with an unbranded two-piston sliding caliper fitted. The master-cylinder is a conventional one and there is no span adjustment on the lever. The front brakes perform well, good feel, power and modulation. The rear single-piston sliding caliper is great, both ends work well…
The shock is basic and has preload only but it does the job and to be honest, I didn’t even add preload despite being the weight of a small rider with pillion! I had no issues with it, it gives a smooth ride over bumps and enough rear control. The seat is comfy, too, but of course it is narrow so I found one hour at a time was enough between stretches and a walk around or a Boss coffee can!
Being so light, the KLX is really good fun to flick around the corners. I rolled the handlebars back a few degrees, then tilted the levers down and adjusted the mirrors and found the seating position better for fanging after that. The KLX230SM steers really quickly but is also stable, has lots of ground clearance and the best bit is that being a motard you can hit all of the bumps and keep it pinned!
The KLX230SM offers riders more versatility than a lot of other machines. It will handle bumpy roads very well, a little dirt no problem particularly dirt roads, and will still commute and be fun on the twisty tarmac. It is simple, easy maintenance, would be cheap to repair after a drop or slow slide.
The KLX also has endless potential for customising. I’d love to see one with a full system, filter, billet anodised parts, suspension tune, sticky tyres and a graphics kit. It could be such a cool little machine…
There is a KLX300SM in overseas markets, it would be great to see that Down Under some time… All up, a cool little bike great for learner riders or those after a fun commuter. Go check one out!
Kawasaki built the KLX230SM to offer an urban fun bike in the KLX line-up. The KLX230SM has ABS as a standard feature, while the road-focussed suspension settings provide 204mm travel at the front and 168mm at the rear compared to longer travel on the S version. The wheels are 17in front and rear.
Combined with the 845mm seat height, 135kg wet weight and closely spaced ratios in the six-speed gearbox, the KLX230SM is designed to be a good commuting companion. The smaller rear sprocket (43 versus the S at 45) means taller and more commuter-friendly gearing.
The footpegs feature rubber inserts for added comfort also. A compact LED headlight is the centrepiece of the KLX230SM’s front-end. The front guard also has a shorter redesign, while the blacked-out engine, frame, swingarm and handlebars complete the style.
The engine is the same as found in the KLX230 range: a 233cc, air-cooled, fuel-injected, four-stroke single, rated at 14kW/19.8Nm, but with ECU updates including a revised fuel map to offer improved throttle response in cold temperatures. A fuel injection system, featuring a 32mmm throttle body, delivers precise response, further facilitating control according to Kawasaki.
Kawasaki says a gear-driven engine balancer helps to reduce engine vibrations, ensuring smooth power delivery from idle to limiter. The exhaust pipe length was selected to contribute to the engine’s low-mid range performance. The exhaust features a tapered silencer with an oval cross-section. Together with fuel injection, electric start offers hassle-free starting at the push of a button.
A six-speed transmission covers a wide range of street-riding situations and allows more comfortable cruising on the highway, Kawasaki states. It is also effective on long straights. A 14/43 final gear ratio was selected.
Designed from the start for dirt-riding use, Kawasaki claim the all-new high-tensile steel perimeter frame offers the handling stability needed for confident riding. Designing the engine and frame together allowed greater design freedom, enabling the engineers to achieve a compact chassis.
Great care was taken to minimise engine height, which allowed an optimal frame line to achieve the ideal rigidity balance. Achieving an ideally positioned centre of gravity, and keeping the seat height low were also possible. The short wheelbase was designed for easy, manoeuvrable handling – another welcome feature for new and intermediate riders. High ground clearance allows riders to more easily clear obstructions they encounter, like gutter jumping!
The frame was also designed to be easy to grip with the legs, offering superior chassis control to the rider. Seams between the shrouds, seat and side covers are very flush, which facilitates control as well as moving around on the bike.
The flat design of the tank and seat was designed to give the rider greater freedom of movement when changing riding position, and facilitate sitting farther forward. In addition to commuting, touring comfort was also a consideration when deciding the seat shape (width) and thickness.
A 37mm inverted fork handles suspension duties up front, with 204mm travel. At the rear, New Uni Trak rear suspension has 168mm of travel . The single shock with pressurised nitrogen gas is adjustable for preload, allowing riders to set the bike up for their weight or a passenger.
A 300mm front disc is gripped by a twin-piston caliper up front and a 220mm disc operated by a single-piston caliper slows the rear. Kawasaki’s first dual purpose ABS system, jointly developed with Bosch, was carefully tuned. ABS is featured, provided by Kawasaki and Bosch.
All-digital instrument panel offers at-a-glance information care of a large-display easy-to-read LCD screen. Features include a speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge, clock and indicator lamps. Brightness was a priority when designing the KLX230SM headlamp, with a large-size 60/55 W bulb…
There are two liveries: Ebony, which has gold alumite rims, and Lime Green. Recommended retail prices are $7,594 for the Ebony and $7,494 for the Lime Green version. The recommended retail price does not include dealer delivery, pre-inspection, registration, stamp duty or CTP costs to get the motorcycle on road. Check the calculator in the link below for your postcode pricing.
2023 Kawasaki KLX230 SM Specifications
Price: $8,839 R/A Sydney (click here for the R/A price for your postcode)
Claimed Power: 14kW[18.8hp]@7,600rpm
Claimed Torque: 19.8Nm[14.6lbs-ft]@6,100rpm
Wet Weight: 135kg
Fuel capacity: 7.5L
Engine: Four-stroke, single-cylinder, SOHC, two-valve, air-cooled, 67.0 x 66.0mm, 233cc, 9.4:1, EFI, 32mm throttle-body, electric start Gearbox: Six-speed, final gearing 14/43 Clutch: Wet, multi-disc
Chassis: Tubular, semi-double cradle
Rake: 26.5° Trail: 86mm
Suspension: 37mm inverted forks, 204mm travel, single shock, 168mm travel, preload adjustable
Brakes: ABS, 300mm petal rotor, two-piston caliper (f), 220mm rotor, single-piston caliper (r)
Wheels & Tyres: Aluminium spoked wheels, 17in, 110/70 – 17(f), 120/70 – 17in(r) IRC Road Winner
Seat height: 845mm
Ground clearance: 230mm
Overall width: 835mm
Overall Length: 2,050mm
Overall height: 1,120mm
Instruments & Electronics: Digital LCD display, ABS