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ADV News2023 Kove 450R Rally First Ride Review

2023 Kove 450R Rally First Ride Review

Dakar-proven rally bike you can ride on the street for only $9k. We’ve got the scoop!

Published on 03.10.2023

For the first time ever, US customers will have access to a motorcycle many have been asking (and patiently waiting) for: a street-legal, 450cc “Dakar Rally” bike for adventure lite and dual sport riding. To be clear, we’re not talking about a “dakar-style” bike. Instead, the Kove 450R Rally is an authentic, long-range, Rally Bike at its core — nearly identical to the three that just finished the hardest rally in the world — and it’s coming to America this fall along with a low-seat version and the Dakar spec’d ‘Rally Pro’ model. 

If you haven’t been following the story of Chinese manufacturer Kove Moto (pronounced: koh-vey) and its CEO’s rapid ascension into the spotlight in a few short years, we’ll bring you right up to speed. But first, we should address the 800-pound panda in the room. 


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Armchair analysis of internet forums and social media comments seems to reveal about 10-15% of US keyboard jockeys will take a “hard pass” on anything Chinese. For the remaining majority who are more open minded to hear the story and see what’s unique about it, there’s a lot to unpack from the Kove 450R Rally we tested. With only 5 years in business, Kove Moto, with its charismatic CEO Zhang Xue, himself a former semi-pro MX racer, have already reached some notable milestones as a company and with their racing program — including competing in the FIM World Supersport 300 Championship. 

Kove 450R Rally Pro finishes the Dakar Rally
In a trial by fire, Kove entered three 450R Rally Pro machines in this year’s Dakar Rally. Impressively, all bikes finished the grueling two-week race – considered the most difficult edition in more than a decade. Photo courtesy of Kove.

Kove’s biggest milestone to date came in the way of three Chinese recruits who recently passed the hardest test in off-road motorcycling: finishing the grueling two-week Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on the new Kove Rally Bike, without any prior roadbook navigation racing experience. Critics and market pundits will attest that Kove’s success at the recent Dakar, said to be the most difficult edition in more than a decade, commands our attention and credence to Kove’s next move. They are quite correct in this assessment because the Dakar lays every team and machine bare naked and exposed. Any and all weaknesses are revealed for everyone to see and it’s almost impossible to conceal material defects, flaws and shortcomings.            

What You Get

Kove 450R Rally Review

The standard 450R Rally’s Twin-Cam 449cc water-cooled single pumps out 51 horsepower and 30 ft-lbs of torque — a bit less pop than the 54 horsepower, 31 ft-lbs of torque Pro version also coming to the US. It offers a 38-inch seat height, fully adjustable 49mm forks and rear shock delivering 12 inches of suspension travel and ground clearance, plus 21” front and 18” rear tube-type wheels. The standard model also comes with a color-TFT display (Pro version is equipped with a carbon navigation tower) and defeatable ABS, along with a dry weight of 320 pounds, while three fuel tanks (two front, one rear) provide a total fuel capacity of 8 gallons for a potential 330+ mile range.

Kove 450R Rally Test
Kove 450R Rally Review

The primary inspiration for the Kove’s design appears to be derived from the KTM 450 Rally Replica platform. The most noticeable resemblance to the KTM is around the Kove’s subframe bodywork that integrates the rear fuel tank with a concave fender, as well as how the seat extends over the dual front tanks. 

For this test, we had the opportunity to evaluate the standard 450R Rally with MSRP $8,999. Although not yet fully approved as a dual sport for on highway use, US importer GPX Moto has filed the applications and expects to receive the green light for street legal units in the 4th quarter of this year. The higher-spec Rally Pro with MSRP $13,999 is intended for “race only” and will remain that way. A third model (450R Rally L) also with MSRP $8,999 is a lowered version of the standard model that is roughly 2” lower on seat height, suspension travel, and ground clearance.   

Kove 450R Rally Review

The standard 450R Rally model we tested does fall a notch short of being a rally-ready machine because it lacks a simple means to mount a roadbook reader. However, GPX Moto’s, Gary Goodwin, let us know there is an aftermarket solution in the works. Hardcore rally racers can also opt to go upwards by another $5,000 into the Rally Pro with racing upgrades you won’t find on the bike we tested. 

The Pro comes standard with carbon fiber rally tower and instruments as mentioned above plus a steering stabilizer, titanium exhaust, Tri-nitride lower fork coating, and bib mousses. And while the spec sheets show only a tad more horsepower and torque than the standard model we tested, early reviews from Asia suggest that the Rally Pro model has noticeably more power.

Key Features on Kove 450R Rally

  • 8 gallon fuel capacity with front and rear tanks
  • Quick-release fairing and windshield
  • Single action, quick release seat
  • Carbon fiber skid plate 
  • Quick access tool compartment tucked in the bottom of the skid plate
  • Color TFT Display
  • Three-mode ABS (on, off, rear off)  
  • Fully adjustable suspension front and rear with 12 inches of travel.
Kove 450R Rally Review

A standout feature of the 450R Rally is the Kove’s 6-pin, quick release fairing. The model we tested had turn signals preventing the complete removal of the fairing without detaching wires but this still offers easy access to the space around the steering head for mods or repairs. You also have quick access to the air filter and battery under the seat by pulling forward on a loop-ended cable connected to a spring-action latch that releases the seat’s rear locking point of contact. The seat goes back on even easier and it can be done in a single motion. 

Kove 450R Rally Test
Kove 450R Rally Review
Tucked in the right front corner of the skid plate is a pull out door cover that gives access to a tool kit.

The carbon fiber skid plate is stout and wide at its base and sides providing some wind block and pockets of space in front of the footpegs and levers. Tucked in the right front corner of the skid plate is a pull out door cover you open with a quick release pin. Inside is a small tool pack rolled up in a nylon case. Accessing the tool kit was quick and easy; putting it back in the locked position was a different story and one of the points needing refinement we found. 

Off Road Assessment

Kove 450R Rally Review

The Kove 450R Rally we tested came on DOT 50/50 dual sport tires made by CST with standard innertubes inflated to 18 lbs. The forks and shock were said to be set up for a 180-200 pound rider, in the mid-range of compression and rebound settings. Having just spent a week rally racing across the center of Mexico on a Husqvarna 501 FE with a custom “Rally Lite” setup (i.e. larger fuel tank, small windscreen, frame-mounted tower, and rally road book), I was able to make theoretical comparisons to one of the more common North American Rally Bike alternatives in my head.

Kove 450R Rally Review

Materials, Craftsmanship and Construction

On our maiden test to probe this new specimen in search of the weak points, we went into the evaluation with some guarded cynicism toward cheap components and rushed engineering that would expose the Kove 450R Rally as a fake imposter. A reasonable amount of skepticism is useful when working through a hypothesis because the best way to prove your hypothesis is to exhaust every effort to disprove it first. Mr Xue and the Kove team went through that exact process of validation by sending three riders into Saudi Arabian deserts last January.  

Kove 450R Rally Review

As far as the controls, the throttle assembly, brakes, levers and shifter all appeared up to Japanese materials and construction standards. The footrests, although thoughtfully designed, appeared slightly cheaper and unfinished. The Kove’s side stand is a simple winner with its stout design and large foot, especially when compared to flimsy, over-articulating kickstands found on European enduro bikes.

Off Road Ergonomics 

Kove 450R Rally Review

The overhead profile of the Kove is shaped like an hourglass, narrow in the center and flared-out at front and back for the fuel tanks. The flat seat is long and relatively narrow at both ends, allowing you to sit forward, when called for, in more-aggressive flat track and powersliding scenarios. Conversely, the flat and consistent shape of the seat provides the space to move all the way back for more relaxed cruising or to stretch out under panic braking scenarios. For an ADV Lite buildout, there is some space in front to fix a small tank bag and still maintain a proper, seated riding position. North American Kove distributor, GPX Moto will offer a rack system for carrying soft luggage on the rear.

Kove 450R Rally Review
Kove 450R Rally Review

In standing positions, where we spent most of our time with the Kove, the very thoughtful hourglass profile of this design is ideal for a wider variety of forward leaning positioning of the hips as well as the centeredness of the knees. Considering the dual front fuel tanks, this is unique in comparison to the splaying of the knees effect typical large-capacity aftermarket tanks have on the rider profile, especially while standing forward in “send” mode.   

Kove 450R Rally Review

The handlebars on the bike we tested came positioned closer (back) toward the rider with the handlebar perches appearing to be reversible, thus allowing the rider to potentially adjust the handlebar position forward by ½ to ¾ inches to open up the rider position. The handlebar perches feature a set of rigid, polycarbonate bushings on both sides that appear to be intended to reduce vibrations. Everything else about the pilot’s view in the cockpit looks similar to a comparable 450/500cc enduro motorcycle, except the conspicuous absence of any handguards. 

Power and Brakes

Kove 450R Rally Review

After some warm ups and getting used to the controls, we set out for a 100-mile loop that ran the full gamut of 2-tracks, sand washes, whoop sections, silt, deep sand, heavy washboard chatter bumps, a dry lakebed, and lastly small to mid-sized sand dunes. The motor felt somewhat bogged down on the low end in deeper sand or soft dunes, and not quite as perky in the midrange of the powerband compared to other performance 450cc enduro bikes. Overall, the power delivery was friendly and felt adequate for typical off-road riding scenarios. However, the bike comes geared high for the street and could benefit from going down a tooth on the front sprocket.

Kove 450R Rally Review

The ABS on the bike we tested required six button taps on the left thumb switch to disable the system. By the end of the first day and after 100 miles of off-road riding, you’ll be habitualized into turning ABS off at each start up while off road but a single off button would be nice. As far as stopping power, the brakes easily brought Kove down to speed but they did feel a little hard to modulate delicately in the initial bite.

Suspension and Handling

Kove 450R Rally Review

On our first ride, we noticed the positive handling effects of the bike’s lower “center of gravity” distributing the fuel weight to the lower and center of the bike. In all but one of our riding environments, the Kove 450R Rally was manageable and predictable with no big surprises. The suspension absorbed intermittent bumps and rocky terrain equally as well as comparable-sized enduro bikes. Even without a steering stabilizer we found the fully-fueled machine remained straight and stable over loose rocks, and mid-sized bumps and ruts. 

With a fully adjustable fork and rear shock, some refining is always going to be in order. The one area where the stock settings came up short for us was the long sections of sandy washboards 4”-5” deep. The bike seemed harsh through miles of chatter bumps with the effects of fatigue lasting well into the next day. It should be emphasized, however, that our limited time with this machine did not permit us to fine tune any settings on the forks and shock. In spite of this, in all of the other riding environments, the suspension and handling of the bike met our off-road riding standards. At 6’1” and 205 pounds, I never bottomed it out through the big bumps, drop-offs and whoops we rode. 

On Road Comparisons 

Upon first start up, the 449cc DOHC Zongshen motor sounds just like its Japanese and Austrian branded counterparts and seems indistinguishable with the first throttle revs. Shifting up through the gears on straight, flat asphalt, the taller-geared Kove sounds and feels mostly the same as a Honda CRF450L with slightly less of a mid range punch than you’ll notice on performance enduro bikes. This is likely attributable to the fact the bike was loaded with an additional 6 gallons of fuel and the aforementioned taller gearing. A small TFT screen displays a graphic tachometer, current gear, ABS indicator, fuel gauge and speedometer, each of which are easily legible from the seated position. 

Kove 450R Rally Review

Cruising above 70 mph in 6th gear with 8 gallons of fuel, you can stay seated here, comfortably, with very little engine vibration, wobbling or turbulence. The fairing system and tallish gearing are doing their respective jobs in concert. A Toyota Prius in cruise control is blocking your path in the fast lane? Give the Kove a quick twist and and you’ll feel that perky high-end of the powerband sending you through to top of 5th and into overdrive 6th gear. 

Kove 450R Rally Review

Kove claims a top speed of 105 mph and we can confirm it will do triple digits. Cruising at 85 mph, you could stay here for a minute, but it’s more comfortable at around 75 mph. It’s not the bike you’d choose for hours of highway riding, but it can help you connect up trails much more comfortably than you can on a street-legal enduro. Compared to a Husqvarna 501s or KTM 500 EXC-F at these speeds (as delivered without fairings), the Kove feels significantly better and way less vibey. The same can be said, with less emphasis, in comparison to Austrian 690/701 Enduro models as delivered. 

ABS System (Standard Model Only)

The Kove 450R Rally comes with a useful front and rear anti-lock braking system (ABS) that automatically defaults to what is translated to say “BOTH OPEN” (meaning both on) with each start up. Future iterations of this model we tested will likely improve the Chinese translation to say to BOTH ON  / BOTH OFF and hopefully will have a means to override the default setting that enables full ABS at each start up. With the current configuration, riders can keep both front and rear ABS turned on, turn off the rear only (front stays on) or disable ABS entirely for a genuine off road experience. 

Kove 450R Rally Review

Aerodynamics 

The quick-release fairing shrouds and windscreen are narrower and shorter than you’ll find on mid-sized, twin-cylinder bikes and most aftermarket frame mounted navigation towers. Despite this, the wind breaking effects of the Kove’s fairing appear quieter and less turbulent while seated. Conversely, in standing position, the bike’s aerodynamics provided less wind deflection as compared to frame mounted fairing kits we’ve raced with on 450cc and 500cc dirt bikes.

Final Thoughts

Kove 450R Rally Review

Having to objectively unpack all of the dynamics of Kove’s emergence requires one to look well beyond broad-swath generalizations. Weighing heavily on our particular interest in Kove are the Chinese team’s results at their maiden Dakar Rally. Credit is due first to the athletes and then to Mr. Xue’s machines. The skeptic in all of us wants to question whether the Kove Dakar Rally Team raced on a substantially similar bike as the model we tested. We checked with a handful of competitors who were there in the Dakar bivouac including the Duust Rally Team (who helped train these riders in Dubai prior the rally). All indications suggest that the bikes in the promo video and Dakar bivouac share the same components, wheels, hubs, disks, sprockets, triple clamps and fairing array as the model we touched and tested, short of the Rally Pro suite of extras.  

Kove 450R Rally Review

With the unique opportunity we’ve had of being the first US publication to test ride a bike that could perhaps become a market disruptor, we’ve asked tough questions, paid attention and listened carefully with our BS detectors turned up to full blast. What rises to the top is not just a 320-pound motorcycle from China. Instead, we are following up on a story that’s still unfolding and the first few chapters have gotten their hooks into us. It started with Chang Xue’s dreams of Dakar. That’s what early adopters bought into and what GPX Moto owner Gary Goodwin has invested in. They’re buying into what Chang Xue recently called “the starting point of a longer-term dream.” 

Kove 450R Rally Review

There will always be riders that will opt to go with the establishment brands and buy what’s readily available at their local dealers. But the idea of owning an ‘uncorked’ Rally bike that can survive the toughest rally on Earth for just $13,999 (a lot less than KTM’s ultra-exclusive 450 Rally Replica, sold for $27,000+) will be appealing to many. Even better, the standard version opens the door to even more rally-fans at only $8,999.

Strong Points

  • Dakar Rally-proven platform. It’s virtually impossible to hide or conceal weakness in this arena
  • Suspension, levers, brake assemblies, disks, wheels and exhaust system all appear to have high-quality materials and construction.
  • Ease of fairing removal.
  • Beefy skid plate constructed of carbon fiber.
  • Large 8-gallon fuel capacity for long-distance adventures off the beaten track.

Blind Spots:

  • Powerband is a bit sluggish in the low to mid-range compared to other performance-oriented 450-500cc enduros. 
  • Missing handguards, a staple on all dual sport and ADV bikes, are noticeably absent.
  • The carbon fiber compartment holding the tool kit is difficult to close and lock after opening. 
  • Currently no means to easily attach a roadbook reader. 
  • Chinese translation on the TFT display menu could use some refining.
Kove 450R Rally Review

The Kove 450R Rally is a legitimate, race-capable Rally Bike that comes with a number of features that are unique for a mass produced motorcycle available in the US. It’s a long-range ‘adventure lite’ platform that also happens to be a Dakar-proven Rally bike. Let that Dakar part sink in for a minute and ask yourself if that’s even important to you. The first shipment of 70 (imported as “competition only models”) are due this May and almost all of them are already pre-sold. 

The standard 450R Rally can do a lot of things for a lot of riders, and is a direct alternative to building your own custom adventure bike (for a lot more money) based on a lightweight dual sport like the Honda CRF450L, Husky 501s or KTM 500 EXC-F. Kove’s Dakar Rally-proven platform with a 330+ mile range, on-road smoothness and cruising stability offered via a well-counterbalanced motor, tall gearing, and fairing array, opens up a range of new possibilities for adventure riders. 

Recommended service intervals are 5,000 miles for valve clearance checks and 2,000-3,000 miles for oil changes, plus it comes with a 6-month warranty. Moreover, there are numerous accessories available for the machine including a rear rack, phone/gps mount, steering stabilizer, light bar and crash protection available on the GPX Moto website.

Kove 450R Rally Review

Zhang Xue had a vision that started with hunks of clay to model a motorcycle after the best prototype he could find. Some call that theft. Others call that art. Whatever you call it, his vision culminates with the race-capable machine we test-rode for this review. Now that we’ve “touched the dream” we want more of it. We look forward to getting our hands on the higher-spec Kove 450R Rally Pro, as well as more seat time on the Kove 450R Rally for further testing, once the street-legal certification has been completed.

Kove 450R Rally Specs

ENGINE TYPE:Water cooling, oil cooling, single cylinder 4-stroke, dual overhead cams
ENGINE DISPLACEMENT:448.9cc
BORE X STROKE:94.5x64mm
FUELING:Bosch EFI
STARTING:Electric start
MAXIMUM POWER:38kw (51 hp) @ 9500rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE:40N m (29.5 ft-lbs) @ 7000rpm
RAKE:27.7°
DIMENSIONS (L*W*H):86″ x 31″ x 55″
WHEELBASE:58 inches (1473.2 mm)
TRANSMISSION:6-speed
SEAT HEIGHT:38 inches (965.2 mm)
FRONT SUSPENSION TYPE:49mm fully-adjustable inverted fork by Yuan
REAR SUSPENSION TYPE:Fully-adjustable single shock by Yuan with linkage system
SUSPENSION TRAVEL (FR/RR):12 inches / 12 inches (305 mm / 305 mm)
GROUND CLEARANCE:12 inches (305 mm)
BRAKING:Front: Single-disc dual-piston caliper/ABS; Rear: Single-disc  single-piston caliper/ABS
DRY WEIGHT:320  lbs. (145 kg)
MAX SPEED:105 mph
TIRES:Front 90/90 – 21 Rear 140/80 -18
FUEL CAPACITY::8  gallons
MAINTENANCE:Oil change every 2,000 – 3,000 miles; Valve clearance check every 5,000 miles
MSRP:$8,999

Photos by Rob Dabney

Author: Scotty Bloom

Scotty ‘Breauxman’ Bloom grew up riding dirt bikes and following the desert race scene in Southern California. He would go on to achieve his dream of completing the Baja 1000 and turned his passion into a career as a moto journalist. After covering the action in the Dakar Rally for several years, Scotty founded the Baja Rally. What started out as a small two-day competition in 2013, has now grown into a full-blown six-day roadbook navigation rally covering nearly 2,000 kilometers.

Author: Scotty Bloom
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Joe John
Joe John
March 10, 2023 6:07 pm

So you are saying this 450 is a better highway touring bike than a 690 or 701? I am skeptical of that statement. I also wonder how much engineering this shares with the GPX moto 450 because that bike has a lot of detractors.

Scotty B
Scotty B
March 10, 2023 7:09 pm
Reply to  Joe John

It is loads more comfortable simply because it has wind protection but it is also less vibey at 75mph.

Joe John
Joe John
March 10, 2023 7:53 pm
Reply to  Scotty B

Fair enough on the wind protection. I don’t find the 690 or 701 vibey at highway speeds but everyone has different sensitivity. 50hp is enough to get in and out of traffic without difficulty I’ll admit. My old CRF 450l was a total nightmare above 60 on the highway so good for kove for making a bike that is dakar and highway ready. I’m not a hard no on chinese bikes but I would still rather have more data points on reliability before I drop thousands. Just me. Good review though. I think a lot of people will be keeping there eye on this one.

Dontcryjoe
Dontcryjoe
March 11, 2023 9:41 am
Reply to  Joe John

Yet the 450 Honda has no issues winning dakar but he joe is crying again

Joeblows
Joeblows
March 11, 2023 9:40 am
Reply to  Joe John

You can see Joe crying on advrider website as well. Obviously he isn’t a real rider.

Joe John
Joe John
March 16, 2023 1:29 pm
Reply to  Joeblows

Cool brah

Steven T Kamrad
Steven T Kamrad
March 11, 2023 5:43 am

Looking forward to the video! Great review and option for the US and rally fans.

Boonedoggie
Boonedoggie
March 11, 2023 5:59 am

Great objective review. Good on dude for living his dream. For those hating on Chinese made bikes, look up where Harley and even top tier manufacturers like KTM are sending their new models….

Muddaholic
Muddaholic
March 31, 2023 10:37 pm
Reply to  Boonedoggie

HD is making a bike for the Asian market. KTM is seeing declining 890 sales as people dont want them for several reasons. BTW .. Are you a BOT ?

GregJ
GregJ
March 11, 2023 7:15 am

Kove bike’s definitely sound like a market disruptor in North America. While I’m skeptical of long term durability, I expect we’ll see these out on dirt this summer. I do like the idea of a rally ready light enduro for $14K.

Joeblows
Joeblows
March 11, 2023 9:43 am

Those manufacturers are sending their cheap lines to China but keeping the top tiered bikes being made elsewhere

Beefed
Beefed
March 11, 2023 2:47 pm

I wouldn’t buy those ones either but at least they have aftermarket and dealer network for their bikes.

Jeff
Jeff
March 16, 2023 6:31 am

Admittedly I am one of the ” 15%” but you have my attention! Impressed with fuel capacity, range, and low weight. I am in Canada, so we’ll see if it makes it up here ( if ever)and if it remains a good deal after importation.

Joshua
Joshua
October 17, 2023 9:33 am
Reply to  Jeff

Feel free to contact us anytime at http://www.kovemotocanada.com

Muddaholic
Muddaholic
March 31, 2023 10:34 pm

Another moto mag pushing products made by a CCP friendly company. How can any self respecting publisher spend any time supporting Chinese products. Ever heard of the Uyghurs ? How about the rampant IP theft? Tiananmen Square ? The threats of starting a major war by invading Taiwan? The list goes on. Ya, go buy your China bike. Enjoy it and ignore these facts. Hope the money they pay you guys at ADV pulse to write this puff piece is worth it.

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
July 18, 2023 11:55 am
Reply to  Muddaholic

Oh man, were we supposed to get paid to review this bike? Shucks! Guess we missed out.

appliance5000D
appliance5000
January 11, 2024 7:42 pm
Reply to  Muddaholic

Love the right wingers and their “principled” stand against the CCP. Hey Uyghurs are Muslims – you hate them remember? Tiananmen – you’d have cried “antifa” and tried to run them over with your car. and the list goes on. I guess saying CCP Bad, makes you feel good, but it’s all kind of pretend when you support fascism and racism and other “not so free” stuff…and it is boring.

Arjay
Arjay
October 19, 2023 2:40 am

Surely this has to be the new standard. Long overdue. Roll on Japanese Big 4 (yes Kawa KX and Suz DR) 450 rally ready (25-30L tank standards) adv bikes. Please! please! please!

D Ell
D Ell
January 13, 2024 11:28 am

The Kove has arrived here in Canada we have a Hight seat version in our showroom right now and taking orders for more.

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