Everyone has that one friend. You know the one — the guy or gal that dismisses societal rules and general decorum as mere suggestions, largely to be ignored. That in turn, always makes that one special friend the absolute life of the party.
Now imagine a motorcycling equivalent to that off-the-wall wingman. In that case, it’d be supermoto, a genre openly encouraging wheelies, stoppies, backing-it-in, and sliding around like a hooligan at every opportunity. Well, if that sounds like a great way to spice up your life, allow me to introduce you to your new best pal, the 2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM.
This machine is Team Green’s first foray into street-legal supermoto production and it wields an aggressive price of $5,999, taking square aim at the long-established Suzuki DRZ400SM. With an easily accessible level of performance and a relatively low financial hurdle, Kawasaki’s newest addition shines bright as an attractive entry-level machine. Better yet, the KLX300SM offers performance creds to please motorcyclists much higher up the skills spectrum.
Based on the 2021 Kawasaki KLX300 dual-sport, the KLX300SM shares nearly all componentry with its off-road-capable sibling but has a few street- and racetrack-focused updates. First up, the street-oriented 17-inch wire-spoke wheels and IRC Road Winner RX-01 rubber clearly announce their supermoto intentions, and the suspension is a sight stiffer with slightly abbreviated travel, taller final-drive gearing, plus a larger front rotor set the stage for rowdy road use. Now, let’s get into some supermoto!
Powering the KLX300SM is the same charming 292cc liquid-cooled DOHC single-cylinder mill found in the KLX300 and KLX300R. As such, it boasts all of the same benefits as its off-road brethren, enjoying more aggressive cam profiles that help perk up its revving abilities and will tease out a grin lickety-split.
User-friendly electric start and crisp, clean throttle response from the fuel-injection system set a welcoming tone. Decent low-end grunt and willing midrange power will see you scurrying about on surface streets with confidence. Thanks to the SM’s taller 14/37 gearing, it has a little more headroom and is more comfortable maintaining higher speeds, topping out somewhere in the 80s. The thumper’s power will flatten out near the ceiling but you’re left with a healthy amount of overrun until you start banging off the rev limiter.
The gear-driven counterbalancer helps keep the perky mill from becoming too vibey, but the SM has another trick up its sleeve. Beefy rubber-mounted footpegs quell most of the single-cylinder engine’s quakes, meaning that even when wrung out, vibration doesn’t intrude too much on your experience.
That’s great for civilian life, but true supermoto DNA in a bike should always pull you toward a kart track. After exploring the back roads near Folsom, California during our press intro, we headed to the wickedly fun Prairie City Kart Track for further hooliganism … er… testing; yeah, that’s the ticket!
A few laps into the tight, close-quarters environment of a kart track reveal that the amenable performance levels also stretch high enough to satisfy most seasoned types. Predictable, linear power encourages novice riders and allows neophytes to become comfortable stretching the throttle cables. Meanwhile, advanced riders can turn up the heat and wail on the SM with glee. Just like dual-sport riding, supermoto training allows you to practice hard acceleration, hard braking, and flirt with grip on the edge of the tire, all of which will make you a better rider — it’s the main reason all of your favorite World Superbike and MotoGP stars hone their skills on incredibly potent purpose-built supermotos.
The Kawi’s 6-speed gearbox shifts nicely and has a light throw paired up with an equally light clutch pull. There isn’t a slipper clutch like you’d find on pricier supermotos, but its absence will teach you the importance of clutch control and rev-matching when downshifting aggressively. I’d also appreciate a little more positive engagement at the shift lever, although I’m nitpicking.
Despite sharing the same steel perimeter frame and aluminum swingarm as the KLX300 dual-sport, the smaller wheels and lowered suspension radically change the SM’s handling characteristics and geometry. Its petite 56.5-inch wheelbase, steeper 25-degree rake, and shorter 2.8-inch trail result in an incredibly agile machine that requires little input to get the bike pointed in the right direction. Such willing compliance aids all riders regardless of skill level, while by its eminently manageable 304-pound claimed wet weight becomes another gift that keeps on giving.
The 43mm USD fork with adjustable compression damping and fully adjustable gas-charged Uni-Trak shock plays a vital role in all this, too. Set up stiffer, suspension at both ends deliver a pinch less travel — not that you’d miss it in this street-focused application — with 9.1 inches up front and 8.1 inches in the rear. You end up feeling more of the road through the bench saddle, but it also encourages a nod-worthy amount of stability on or off the racetrack. Most importantly, the SM fork doesn’t dive when you pile on the binders, and the shock doesn’t protest too much during hard-driving exits. Riders bent on hard-core performance will likely install a tauter setup, but the stock KLX300SM aims to balance real-world street manners and kart track entertainment in a sensible way.
Braking hardware gets kicked up a notch to support the KLX300SM’s higher speeds and more aggressive use. Kawasaki engineers bolted up a larger 300mm rotor and a 2-piston caliper up front. Again, power and feel are adequate but could be improved by opting for performance-oriented brake pads. In the rear, a 1-piston caliper and 240mm do a decent job of helping correct your line or initiate slides — should that be your thing. Also, ABS isn’t offered, driving home the focus on cost savings.
Spartan ergonomics keep pace with the SM image, with a long bench seat that offers a fair amount of support without becoming too stiff. Thanks to the reworked chassis, the seat height sits more than an inch lower compared to its dual-sport brother, coming in at 33.9 inches. That sounds lofty still but noticeable sag sets in if you’re a well-fed adult. In my case, I was able to flatfoot just fine while astride the bike. Handguards wouldn’t be a bad addition, as it’d make the SM a bit more crash-proof.
Ah, supermoto. It truly is a gift that delights the soul, and the KLX300SM proves you need not drain your bank account or spoil the fun with debt to join the party. Sure, the SM’s braking power could be improved, and I wish those accessory handguards came standard, but when it comes to dialing up some good-spirited motorcycle debauchery, the 2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM proves a willing and able accomplice.
Helmet: Arai XD4
Suit: Alpinestars Missile Ignition
Gloves: Racer High Speed
Boots: TCX RT-Race Pro Air
2021 Kawasaki KLX300 Specs:
Base Price: $5,999
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, DOHC w/ 4 valves
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 61.2mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 56.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/2.8 in.
Seat Height: 33.9 in.
Wet Weight: 304.3 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 2.0 gals.