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A Beginner's Dream Come True

Kawasaki's KFX 50 & 90 ATV
Kawasaki's KFX 50 & 90 ATV

Have you ever found yourself in one of those terrible conversations in which someone older than you feels the need to convince you that they had it so much harder when they were your age? You know the type of dialog: “When I was your age, I had to walk to school, three miles, in a blizzard, uphill each way.”

Well, thanks to Kawasaki, my own early riding stories where I had nothing more than a wobbly three-wheeler completely devoid of features are starting to sound a lot more rugged. While I haven’t reached the point where I follow riders on these new KFX models around shouting; “Darn beginners, these days you don’t know how good you’ve got it!” I could certainly get away with doing so. For 2007 Kawasaki ups the ante with the launch of two new youth ATV models. The KFX 50 and KFX 90 arrived on the scene with a handful of new features that are welcomed on quads of any size or skill level such as electric starting, disc brakes, ignition cut-off, tether cables, and keyed ignitions with the bullet-proof reliability of air-cooled four-stroke power-plants to boot.

The 2007 KFX 50 is powered by a 49cc overhead cam four-stroke mill. Both the KFX 50 and 90 feature air-cooled, two valve engines, which displace 49cc and 89cc respectively. Surprisingly, both engines receive their fuel via 16mm carburetors. Kawasaki equipped the larger 90cc model with a Keihin while the 50cc version gets a Mikuni. Both machines make use of fully-automatic CVT transmission technology, while chain and sprocket set-ups get the power to the ground.

The main differences between these twin siblings lies within the displacement of the engines as they feature virtually identical chassis setups. Both offer a double cradle steel frame and matching suspension stats. Up front, these minis come equipped with 2.8 inches of travel through twin shock absorbers (with preload adjust) mated to a single A-arm. The rear is graced with a single (preload adjustable) shock/swing-arm combo with 2.9 inches of travel. Bringing these beasts to a stop is a pair of mechanical drums in the front and a single hydraulic disc in the rear. Both models come equipped with1.5 gallon tanks and weigh in at 232 and 254 pounds respectively.

The KFX50 even has enough power to power slide around corners.
The KFX50 even has enough power to power slide around corners.

If starring at a spec sheet isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, rest assured, we understand where you’re coming from. Recruiting a few mini test riders for this report wasn’t a problem. We had a line before we could finish asking if anyone was interested. The testing took place on a very sandy, dusty looping trail and included rock clutter and even a few small jumps and a nice whoop section.

Firing up the KFX quads was as simple as grabbing a handful of brake lever and pushing the green button on the ride-side bar, a long shot from the old days of yanking on the recoil string. As a bonus, both models feature backup kickstarting for those cold mornings when the battery doesn’t have the juice to get things cranking. We never had to use it on our test session, but it is comforting to know it’s there. Side by side, it is nearly impossible to tell the two machines apart. The only noticeable difference is a slight variation in height brought on by the fact that the KFX 50 runs 16-inch tires on 7-inch rims while the 90 sports 18-inch "sneakers" mounted to 8-inch rims. Otherwise, the same chassis is intended to suit a pretty wide age group. The 50 is intended for riders ages 6 and up while the 90 is marketed as a 12 and up model which may be a tad on the conservative side.

Once up and running, the KFX quads emit a quiet purr from their spark-arrested silencers. The CVT automatic transmission means a blip of the throttle is all it takes to get the wheels in motion. The 90, in particular, is very well mated to the linear pull of the CVT tranny. The engine is fairly metered and tractable off idle and builds steadily throughout its entire gear range before topping out just slightly above 20 miles per hour. The 50, on the other hand, takes its time huffing along before topping out at about 14 mph. While the 90 can carry enough momentum to spin its way up some pretty decent inclines, the 50 will run out of steam at the first sign of elevation.

KFX50 testing the boundaries in its jumping capabilities.
KFX50 testing the boundaries in its jumping capabilities.

While the engines continually put on a fairly impressive display around the test loop, the same couldn’t be said for the suspension. The 2.8 inches of front travel and 2.9 inches of rear aren’t particularly stunted by the competition. Budget components coupled with outdated configurations result in substandard performance out on the trail. Small clutter and terrain imperfections were swallowed up fairly effectively but slightly aggressive riders or individuals who aren’t afraid to lose contact with the ground will reach the bottom of the suspension’s travel quickly. The front would definitely have benefited by a dual A-Arm setup over the twin shock to single A-Arm design that Kawasaki went with. Neither machine appeared unstable or “tippy” as a result, but the single A-Arm ends up making each of the front wheels feel less independent of each other. We should point out that the suspension did seem to work a little better on the 50. This was most likely the result of the under-powered engine being unable to push the chassis to its limits like the 90 cc version.

Braking, like the suspension, was a mixed bag. The mechanical drums up front were pretty low on power. In fact our testers often complained of a mushy feeling brake lever. The hydraulic disc in the rear, however, performed flawlessly throughout our testing. Not only did the rear brake more than make up for the lackluster front stoppers, it did so with enough authority to lock the wheels from the hand-mounted lever! After a few short rides, our test riders had become adept at using the rear brake to reduce speeds in large chunks while relying upon the front to simply ease the quad to a complete stop. It should be noted that your front brakes should provide at least 70% of your stopping power; but in this case, the rear brakes were doing all of the stopping.

Both models handled quite well around even the more technical sections of our test loop. The 90 carved a truer line around tight corners, most likely on account of the additional power on tap. Steering on both was light and precise. Stronger riders will have the luxury of lofting the front wheels of the KFX 90 to get up and over obstructions such as logs, stumps, or ruts. The 50 will require a bit more caution and deliberate avoidance of such obstacles.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6
Just how well did the KFX90 hold up to the pounding in the whoops?  From these sequences in photos, starting with number 1 and going to number 6, you can see that the KFX90 handled them fairly well.  However, the KFX90 was being pushed to the very edge of its suspension and if one was to do this every weekend, the suspension would most defiantly need to be upgraded to aftermarket or risk premature failure more quickly on the stock suspension.

Both machines offer a throttle limiting screw which allows parents the option of limiting the throttle’s ability to open so that beginner riders can learn to control the quad at slower speeds. Unique to the KFX 50 is a tether kill switch which is mounted to the rear of the ATV. This allows a parent to walk or jog behind with the ability to pull the plug and kill the engine should the rider get in over their head, or achieve speeds beyond what the parent is comfortable with.

The KFX 50 and 90 are excellent beginner machines. For the average 6 year old beginner, the KFX 50 will offer the perfect blend of user-friendliness, reliability, and safety features. However, once the rider’s skills begin to develop and his confidence level increases, prepare to be shopping for an upgrade as it will not take long to find the limitations of the machine. On the other hand, the KFX 90 is a much more purpose-driven entry to the beginner class. The engine offers enough performance to promise that your beginner will not become bored once he masters the initial learning curve. However, the suspension will likely begin to reach its limitations right around then making an aftermarket upgrade essential down the road. Either machine is a viable choice in terms of reliability and trouble-free performance.

See both the KFX50 and KFX90 Specifications Here

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