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ADV News2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM First Ride Review

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM First Ride Review

We put Kawasaki's budget-friendly, approachable, small-bore Supermoto to the test.

Published on 04.15.2021

Supermotos are a peculiar breed of motorcycle. They take a bike designed for one end of the spectrum and adapt it to perform at the complete opposite, and somehow the combination actually works. Benefiting from a lightweight dirtbike chassis and riding on smaller 17″ wheels, Supermotos offer a level of nimbleness and flickability that is hard to match.

Every time I’ve ever come across a Supermoto on a twisty backroad (and sometimes out on the trail), it’s been surprising how capable they can be. And with an upright riding position, ample ground clearance and long-travel suspension, they can be versatile too. I’ve also been intrigued by their ‘Light ADV’ potential for smaller riders but more than anything, they just look like tremendous fun. Given the chance to get my Supermoto fix on the KLX300SM during a full day of testing in Northern California, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only would we be evaluating the new KLX on some epic twisty backroads, but we’d get to carve some turns on a race track too.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

First Look

This isn’t Kawasaki’s first go-around with a KLX Supermoto. In fact, they used to make a 250cc version of this bike back in the early 2000s. Now for 2021, its water-cooled engine has been bumped up to 292cc and it receives fuel injection along with a host of other refinements like slimmer-profile radiators, a hotter cam, optimized ignition timing, a new engine balancer, and taller gearing to name a few.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review
2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review
The rear shock is fully adjustable while the 43mm cartridge fork offers compression damping only.

The chassis uses a steel-perimeter frame and an aluminum swingarm. Up front, it sports a 43mm cartridge-style USD fork with 16-way adjustable compression damping. The rear shock offers preload adjustment along with 20-way compression and 30-way rebound damping adjustments. There are no advanced electronics or rider aids like ABS or traction control, but it does have a simple digital dash with warning lights for the engine, fuel level, coolant temp, high beam, neutral, and turn indicators.


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While it looks very similar to its KLX300 Dual Sport sibling we recently reviewed, there are a number of differences that set the two models apart. Most notable are the 17-inch spoke wheels and sporty IRC Road Winner RX-01 tires that provide improved agility and grip on asphalt roads. Kawasaki also lowered the suspension by one inch and gave it stiffer springs to tighten up the handling characteristics for sport riding.  

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

All these chassis changes drop the seat height down 1.3 inches to a more-manageable 33.9″ and also reduce the fork rake angle from a dirtbike-friendly 26.7° to a more-sporty 25°. Suspension travel sits at 9.1 inches in the front and 8.1 inches in the rear, with a fairly compact wheelbase of 56.5 inches and a respectable (for ADV Bike standards) 9.3 inches of ground clearance.

Other differences from the KLX300 Dual Sport include a larger 300mm semi-floating front disc (up from 250mm) with a 2-piston Nissin caliper. Plus it gets a set of narrower bars and tall rubber footpeg covers that put the rider in a sportier riding position.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review
The Supermoto gets a 300mm front disc compared to 250mm on the KLX300 Dual Sport.
2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM Supermoto
Suspension travel sits at 9.1 inches in the front and 8.1 inches in the rear, with a fairly compact wheelbase of 56.5 inches and 9.3 inches of ground clearance.

The Supermoto KLX also gets a few styling differences like the smaller, angular front fender and more aerodynamic mirrors. Some of the trail protection has been removed as well like the small skid plate under the frame and plastic guard for the rear brake reservoir. Yet it still retains the engine guards, rear fender tool kit pouch, and fuel capacity is the same at 2.0 gallons.

On The Highway

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review
The KLX300SM is fairly smooth for a single cylinder on the highway at 75 mph.

Heading out for a day of testing on a crisp spring morning, I was curious how much difference there might be between the KLX300 Dual Sport I had tested on the previous day and the KLX300SM Supermoto. At a stoplight I could already notice a reduced distance to the ground as well as  other test riders in the 5’3″ range enjoying being able to get both toes on the ground compared to just one.

The KLX300SM’s narrower handlebars are a subtle change that could easily be missed but the footpeg position is noticeably higher than the Dual Sport model. The additional knee bend might feel slightly cramped on longer rides for a taller rider like me at 6’2”, but you can easily remove the footpeg covers if you want more leg room.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

While acceleration felt similar to the KLX Dual Sport, the taller gearing (37-tooth rear sprocket vs. 40 on the dual sport) did seem to make the Supermoto feel more comfortable at freeway speeds. Where the Dual Sport likes to cruise at around 70 mph, the Supermoto’s sweet spot is around 75 mph. There’s a fair amount of buzz in the bars felt while you are accelerating up to speed but it’s pretty smooth for a single cylinder motor when holding a steady pace.

Acceleration is adequate for passing slower cars but beyond 75 mph the speedo creeps upward under a full throttle. The bike feels stable on the highway compared to a typical dirt bike and the saddle’s padding is comfortable for a flat, single-piece design. Although, I would remove the seat strap which is placed right in the center of the seat for some odd reason.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review
For a flat, single-piece saddle, it is surprisingly comfortable but the seat strap encroaches on the seating area a bit. The strap can be removed in a matter of minutes though.

It’s a bike that could definitely be used for brief stints on the highway or a short commute, but there’s no wind screen to deflect a direct blast of air to the chest and fingers get cold quickly without any hand guards. I didn’t get an opportunity to do a full top speed test, but somewhere around 90 mph is achievable on a downward slope.

In The Twisties

Riding in the foothills of California’s Sierras, the KLX300SM felt in its element. The sport-biased tires offered plenty of grip and the bike was even more flickable than its Dual Sport counterpart. We had an abundance of tight curves to feast on during our test, and the stiffer, shorter suspension offered even more confidence to push our limits.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

The KLX300SM loves to turn and the tighter, the better. Only on high-speed sweepers did it start to feel less planted. Rough pavement and potholes we came across never upset the suspension and the bike’s mellow horsepower output lets you flog it everywhere.

There was definitely an improvement in stopping force with the larger 300mm front disc (compared to 250mm on the Dual Sport). I felt like it added about 10% more braking power and required less pressure on the lever.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

The taller gearing does dampen the acceleration a bit compared to the Dual Sport and getting the front wheel lofted in first gear took some clutching and a fair bit of body English. It gets you up to speed effectively when banging through the gears though. Performance is spirited but unintimidating.

At The Track

As lunchtime rolled around, we headed to the local Kart track in Prairie City and it was time to squeeze into our leathers. The roughly 1/2-mile course features 13 turns, elevation changes and a miniature version of the Laguna Seca’s corkscrew. While most of the turns are very tight in the 10-15 mph range, there is a long straight and big hairpin turn where you can catch some speed. A few turns were banked while others were off camber, so there was plenty of variety to give the little Supermoto a proper test.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

Prior to this day I had actually never ridden any type of motorcycle on a road-based track before, so this was a totally new experience to me. I was definitely feeling some jitters for the first few laps and hung out in the back of the pack until I gained my confidence. What I soon learned was that the smooth power and flickable chassis of the KLX300SM are pretty stupid proof, even without the aid of ABS or traction control.

Some of the turns were so tight, it required a steady throttle to avoid tipping. They keep coming in rapid succession, requiring you to quickly lift the bike up and flip it back over the opposite direction. Getting down into a speed tuck on the long straight I was able to clock about 67 mph before hitting my braking marker. Slowing the bike down for the big hairpin turn was no problem with the large 300mm front disc and the rear tire stayed planted, rarely exhibiting any chirps or skips. Coming out of the hairpin there is a quick right-to-left transition that requires you to scrub speed quickly. Some riders would go leg out on the slower turns but despite my off-road background, I felt more comfortable with my knee out.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

It wasn’t long before my virgin knee pucks touched asphalt and I let out a “Whooa!” that many of my fellow journalists hanging out in the bleachers got a laugh out of. And pretty soon I was scraping a knee on nearly every turn pretending I was Valentino Rossi. What I wasn’t expecting was a Marc Marquez impression… Going through the big hairpin with knee down, pushing my speed a bit, I began to scrape the footpeg and it unweighted the bike causing the front to tuck. Somehow I was able to use my knee and some quick-twitch muscles to get the bike back on a solid rubber footing again as I let out another “Whooa!”. 

It was a lucky save. Perhaps I have the forgivable nature of the KLX300SM to thank for keeping me from an embarrassing moment. But it also left me wondering why the footpegs on a bike designed for twisty bends touched down so soon. Kawasaki has raised the footpeg position by adding extra-tall rubber covers, which doesn’t actually provide any additional ground clearance under the peg. What you end up with is just a more cramped riding position and no real benefit for it. A proper set of rear set pegs, that actually raises the pegs and increases ground clearance would be preferable. Even so, this is probably not going to be a problem for most riders unless they are doing track days.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

Off-Road?

Unfortunately, we didn’t spend time testing the bike off-road. However, I did take a few dirt detours off the side of the road while we were waiting at photo stops. Overall, the suspension feels firmer than the KLX300 Dual Sport, but it’s well up to the task. A lighter rider than me (I’m 215 pounds) might find it a bit harsh on rough roads, but the ground clearance is adequate and you can get decent traction on the smooth tires as long as you stick to hard-packed terrain. Going through a few mud patches, I definitely felt the tires slip quickly but these are 100% road tires. Throw on a set of Continental TKC 80’s and it would be a nimble, manageable machine that can handle trails in the ‘Adventure Bike’ range and still tear it up on the street.

The Bottom Line

The KLX300SM is first and foremost a sporty bike that is a blast to carve esses on. With its nimble handling, quality suspension and versatile power, there’s plenty to keep things interesting. Yet all of its sharp edges have been rounded for those looking for something less intimidating and easier to handle. It has a low weight, reasonable seat height and mellow power delivery that leaves you with a safety net in case things get out of line. 

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

For those smaller riders looking to turn the KLX300SM into a ‘Light ADV,’ the potential is there (with mods) if you want to wander beyond the pavement on occasion. It’s still a dirtbike at heart, so with a proper set of 50/50 Dual Sport knobbies and some trail protection, it would be easy to manage (better than a 500+ pound ADV Bike). With its 17” wheels and shorter suspension, it’s also more nimble and easier to get a foot down than its Dual Sport sibling. The 17” front may be a hindrance on rough terrain or in sand or mud, but the bike’s lighter weight can help compensate with more control. One might consider lacing up a 19” front wheel if your travels take you off-road more regularly.

It’s fairly smooth on the highway for a single cylinder and has adequate passing power to be safe. Sure a twin-cylinder machine would be better for longer stints, but when you are a smaller rider, sometimes you have to sacrifice somewhere. Add a windscreen, larger fuel tank, heated grips, hand guards, soft bags, and I think this bike could do the miles.

2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM review

With its rock-solid reliability and a long maintenance interval (7,500 miles) compared to most dual sport bikes, it would also make a great urban commuter or errand runner. And it’s economical too, with a price tag that won’t have you digging in your seat cushions for spare change.

Gear We Used

The new KLX300SM is available in Lime Green and Oriental Blue for $5,999. All KLX300SM’s are manufactured in Kawasaki’s Thailand facility. More information on the 2021 KLX300SM can be found on the Kawasaki website

Kawasaki KLX300SM Specs

ENGINE:4-stroke, 1-cylinder, DOHC, 4-valves, liquid-cooled
DISPLACEMENT:292cc
BORE X STROKE:78.0 x 61.2mm
COMPRESSION RATIO:11.1:1
FUEL SYSTEM:DFI® with 34mm throttle body
IGNITION:Digital DC-CDI
TRANSMISSION:6 speed
FINAL DRIVE:sealed chain
RAKE/TRAIL:25.0°/2.8 in
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL:9.1 in
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL:8.1 in
FRONT TIRE:110/70-17
REAR TIRE:130/70-17
FRONT SUSPENSION:43mm Inverted Cartridge Fork with 16-way Compression Damping Adjustment
REAR SUSPENSION:Uni-Trak with Adjustable Preload, 16-way Compression and Rebound Damping Adjustment
WHEELBASE:56.5 in
FRONT BRAKE:300mm single disc
REAR BRAKE:240mm single disc
FUEL CAPACITY:2.0 gal
GROUND CLEARANCE:9.3 in
SEAT HEIGHT:33.9 in
CURB WEIGHT:304.3 lb
MAINTENANCE INTERVAL:Oil change and valve check every 7500 miles
WARRANTY:12 months

Photos by Kevin Wing

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
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3 thoughts on “2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM First Ride Review

  1. Pingback: 2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM First Ride Review - ADVENTURE & OVERLAND MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL

  2. Really? No switchable abs? In 2021? Kawasaki is always 3 steps behind, even when they come out with an updated model.

  3. Bizarre that Kawasaki didn’t at least offer ABS on the new SM. Had they it would have been my first bike instead of Z400. Got my sale either way but switchable ABS would have made it ideal starter bike.

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