We had a busy week with some very diverse bikes. The 2023 Kawasaki KX450SR arrived and we couldn’t wait to get it out on the track. This was the winner of our massive 12-bike 450 shootout in 2022, when we gathered all the standard 450s as well as all the special editions. Normally, that would have been an impossible job, but we had a head start. All the standard models were unchanged from 2021, so our only job was to figure out where the special editions fit in. The Kawasaki was on top because it was a distinct improvement over the standard edition, which was already our favorite. As for the KTM Factory Edition and the Husky Rockstar Edition, that was the first look at the new chassis and we struggled with set up. The Honda CRF450RWE was powerful but hard to ride.
This year the Kawasaki KX450SR has a very interesting change. It went from KYB suspension to Showa. Last year the bike was designed to mimic the look of Eli Tomac’s KX450 from 2021, and Eli preferred KYB despite the fact that Showa came on the production bike. Nowadays, Jason Anderson and Adam Cianciarulo both run Showa, so the change made sense. The fork is still an upgrade over the stock unit, with a titanium oxide coating on the inner fork tubes and 39mm compression damping pistons with a 25mm cartridge cylinder. The inner surface of the outer fork tubes have what Showa calls a Dimplush texture and a Kashima coating for oil retention.
Here are the other upgrades:
XTrig ROCS triple clamp
D.I.D. DirtStar wheels
D.I.D. 520ERT3 gold chain
Renthal Ultralight aluminum rear sprocket
Pro Circuit Ti-6 Pro Exhaust
Hinson clutch cover
Monster Energy graphics
The bike is pretty much a rocket. We weren’t sure if we wanted that; after all, the KX450 has been our favorite 450 since the rebuild in 2019, despite that it’s not especially powerful compared to the Yamaha and KTM-powered bikes. We figured that it might work as well with more power. The SR disproves that theory. With the mapping, the pipe and the head work, it’s just as fast as anything on the track but it still has the smooth, easy-to-ride character that we love. The suspension feels distinctly different from the stocker, but we don’t have enough time on the bike yet to have settings figured out. We will by the time the test goes to print in the May 2023 print edition of Dirt Bike.
SUZUKI DR650 REVISITED
When I said diverse, I wasn’t kidding. Another bike we tested this week was the 2023 Suzuki DR650S. Yes, the Suzuki is still in production and it’s still made in Japan–NOT Southeast Asia. We figured we should ride it while we still can.
There aren’t that many riders around who remember, but the DR650S’s bloodline can actually be traced back to the ‘70s. The first four-stroke off-road bike that Suzuki manufactured was the 1978 SP370. It was a two-valve, air-cooled, five-speed four-stroke with a kickstarter. In 1981, the SP was punched out to a 500 and actually began to look like the present day DR. That was when it got a four-valve head and double counterbalancers. A single-year SP600 appeared in 1985 and then the official beginning of the DR650S came in 1991. In 1993 it became the DR650SE with the introduction of the electric starter. That was a huge step forward and was fundamentally the same as the bike we have today. In 2001 and 2006, it received a few updates and along the way, the big Dakar-inspired fuel tank was reduced in capacity.
Six weeks after Dakar, the World Rally Raid Championship is having its second stop with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in the UAE. Starting Sunday and running until March 3rd the event will feature a total of 1311 kilometers of racing. American Ricky Brabec, who was injured during the Dakar Rally, is now cleared to compete again. So is Skyler Howes. Unfortunately, GasGas rider Sam Sunderland is already out. Reports are that he broke his leg in preparation.
BACK IN THE DAY: JUHA
Australian Lyndon Snodgrass is the first imported winner of the GNCC XC-2 class since Jason Thomas of Wales did it in 2015. That started us thinking about the great invasion from overseas of the 2000s, led by Shane Watts in the year 2000. Next up was Finnish Juha Salminen, who won in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, Juha was interviewed in Dirt Bike about his American adventure.
“I started feeling really bored in Europe. Every day was the same, the same people and the same stories. And KTM saw that because I was down at every race. So then I started thinking: Should I change teams? That was one option, but I didn’t want to do that because I felt KTM was the best. Another option was to do some motocross, but then I’d have to start from the bottom. Then I thought about the U.S. Guys like Paul Edmondson had asked why I didn’t go there. Some of the people from KTM in the U.S. said they would help me. KTM was thinking that at the same time. I knew GNCCs from magazines and stuff like that, but I didn’t understand exactly what it was. The racing is so different. I didn’t have any idea which way I would go. I was like a flag on a pole. I had one good race here last year, but it’s completely different when you are going to race a whole series. I talked to Shane Watts about this. A lot of the riders in Europe are fast, but to have the commitment and the training to race for three hours, not everyone can do that.
“In Europe I rode the four-stroke. I use the 250 two-stroke here because the other guys ride two-strokes. I didn’t have any experience with this kind of racing, so it’s better to just use what the other guys are racing, and maybe you make less mistakes. I don’t know, I really like the two-stroke, especially in this kind of race, a three-hour race with all kinds of ruts and roots.”
Juha was XC1 champion in 2005 and 2006, winning 17 races along the way. He was replaced at the end of the 2006 season by the man who had won almost everything in Europe in his absence: Brit David Knight. Juha’s mechanic, Antti Kallonen, stayed behind to work on a new line of U.S.-only bikes called the XCs. Antti remains in the U.S. to this day, acting as the off-road racing manager for KTM as well as the organizer of the U.S. ISDE team.
See you next week!