Off-road motorcyclist Jean Turner heads to Hammertown to test ride Kawasaki’s all-new Teryx KRX 1000 side x side. Here’s what she thought about off-roading on four instead of two wheels:
Sampling Kawasaki’s all-new 1000cc Sport UTV through the eyes of a rookie
Story and photos by Jean Turner
“What’s it like to drive one of those things?” Like many other moto-heads, I had the same question about UTVs. As an off-road motorcyclist I’ve spent plenty of hours on the trail, where I now see plenty of UTVs and side x sides, but I’ve never spent much quality time inside one.
“It’s like a 450 on four wheels,” I’ve heard some say, but as for finding out what this rapidly growing craze is all about, there is obviously no substitute for climbing aboard and twisting the throttle—er… mashing the accelerator—for yourself.
That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to head to The Hammers in Johnson Valley, California to test out Kawasaki’s all-new Teryx KRX 1000 side x side. Kawasaki’s new demo tour was kicking off at the 2020 King of the Hammers, and would I like to be one of the first to take one for a spin? I think you know the answer to that.
Shortly after saying yes, it occurred to me that I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no experience and no frame of reference for test driving a UTV, especially one of this caliber. Fortunately, I recruited the aide of my friend Jennifer Morton who happens to be a kick-ass off-road racer in the SCORE 1600 class. She was more than happy to come along for the ride and help show me the capabilities of a class-leading 1000cc sport UTV.
On our drive out she took the opportunity to show me how to properly position the driver seat for my size—far more forward than I’m used to sitting in my F-150. She explained the mechanics of the CVT transmission—how it works, what the belt is doing and how simple it is to not abuse it. “Anyone who claims they’re going through three belts in one weekend, that’s operator error,” she said. Much like throwing a chain on a mountain bike, it sounds easy enough not to do as long as you understand the mechanics of it.
Upon our arrival at the Kawasaki test rig, we got an up-close look at the mighty Kawasaki Teryx KRX 1000. A row of them sat poised, ready to roll for the next batch of test riders. As a shameless rookie, my first inane question was “what makes this one so special?” After all, Kawasaki has had the Teryx for several years. Wasn’t this kinda the same thing? There were a few older Teryx models on hand, and one glance answered my question. The sheer size and stance of the KRX 1000 was like looking at a trophy truck parked next to a Toyota Tacoma. The visual comparison did a lot of the talking, but Kawasaki’s Joslyn Petty explained the category to me.
As the sport UTV market came on strong in the past few years, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) put some limits on the category. Engine size has settled in at 1000cc, and some manufacturers have punched up the power with turbos, but the KRX remains naturally aspirated. This explains the “450 on four wheels” remark. This is the premier class production UTV. Got it.
The chassis is where the real performance comes in. It’s not about speed, it’s about agility, and a stripped down display unit revealed the inner workings of the KRX. This is, again, where Jenn’s knowledge came in handy. She marveled at the four-link trailing arm rear suspension, how the wheelbase is so much better than the Honda she and her husband had just purchased. She pointed out the intelligently placed air intakes located high on the bodywork behind the headrests (apparently on other models, the air intakes sit directly behind the front wheels which means they’re fed a straight shot of your own dust). She noted the sturdier automotive-style doors, beefy undercarriage protection and beadlock wheels which stand out in the category – things I know not of. I simply nodded along.
Now it came time to test drive. First we had to pass a quick breathalyzer test.
“Seriously?” I asked, almost waiting for the punchline.
Joslyn just laughed. “Yeah, I’ll do it, too,” she said.
That was a first.
A quick run-through of the controls, including drives modes, power modes, diff lock and our radio contact with the lead driver, and we were ready to mount up.
2020 Kawasaki Teryx KRX 1000 Walkaround
Here’s a quick walkaround video of the 2020 Kawasaki Teryx KRX 1000 that Jean was about to test drive:
I expected things to feel somewhat foreign when I climbed into the cockpit. But I was pleased to feel how “normal” everything felt. All the controls, right down to the door handles, felt very automotive-like. The contoured bucket seat made me feel locked into the KRX. This is quite a different feeling than what I’m used to on a dirt bike, where your body works as part of the suspension and the bike dances around underneath you. Here, where the KRX goes, my body goes. If it slams into the ground, so does my spine. Hmm…
The radio buzzed with staticky commands from our ride leader. I didn’t catch a word of what he said, but gave a thumbs up like everyone else did, and we were off.
As we departed from the dusty desert basin of Hammertown, our group spaced out as we sped toward the surrounding foothills. The suspension felt remarkably supple—far smoother than I anticipated it would be at cruising speed. “Perhaps this thing is more of a Cadillac than a beast,” I thought.
I was fed a steady stream of dust as I followed the group, and at one point the dust wafted away just in time for me to realize I was going to smash into a set whoops at a much greater speed than I intended. I braced for the inevitable impact of what would surely be the front bumper slamming into the face of the whoop… but the impact never came. Holy suspension travel! We went gliding into the whoops with far more ease than I expected. Now I understand the “450 on four wheels” remark.
The plush initial feel of the suspension made me suspect the KRX would blow through on harder impacts, but don’t be fooled by the supple feel at the top of the stroke; this suspension soaks up the sudden impacts with excellent speed-sensitive capability. I’m sure this is typical of the category, but again, this was my first time exploring the capabilities of a 1000cc sport UTV.
Once at the rocky foothills, we began to climb up toward the ridges. I was happy to leave the dust of Hammertown in our rearview as we explored rocky climbs, some off-cambers, sandy sections and even a little rock crawling. It was enough to scratch the surface of the KRX’s capabilities, and enough to make me realize that much like a 450 motocross bike, I can probably spend all day in this thing and not get anywhere near its limits.
The rocky climbs and tricky descents were particularly amazing to me. In four-low, the KRX puts its big torque to work and simply gobbles up hills like they aren’t even there. Just pick your line and stare at the sky until you see the horizon again, and you’re there. The downhills are nearly as effortless with the engine holdback. “Give it gas down the hill and then let off. Don’t even touch the brake,” came the voice on the radio.
“Alright, if you say so. I assume you know what you’re talking about since it’s you I’ll be slamming into,” I thought.
Jean gets coached on a rocky descend in this video:
Sure enough, the engine holdback is incredibly strong, like the torquey climb in reverse – almost like I was being lowered down the hill by a winch. I was even able to apply throttle as we made our way down the rocky, off-camber two-track. For a newbie like me, it was comforting to know that it was not physically possible for this thing to run way with me. (Quite unlike a 450 motocrosser.)
I couldn’t find much to complain about on the KRX, but did note that the passenger-side air-intake obstructed my “blind spot” view a little. While I realize I won’t be changing lanes on the I-15 in the KRX, you still want your peripherals about you when you’re blazing across the desert, crisscrossing trails in an open area on a busy weekend.
Our outing on the KRX was likely pretty tame by an experience rider’s standards, but for me it was an eye-opening experience. Rather than simply exploring on my own, the demo course was a great way to learn the capabilities of the Teryx KRX 1000, even if it was on a mild scale. It’s only a taste, after all. But it was enough to spark my imagination, and envision trail adventures with the whole family, bringing a cooler and having a picnic on a mountain top with my mom and nephews. The possibilities quickly get the gears turning in your mind, especially when you look around at the Southern California desert and feel the treacherous terrain daring you to come out and play. With a tool like this, it’s never been more possible.
For information on Kawasaki’s Teryx KRX 1000 demo tour and other test ride events, visit https://www.kawasaki.com/Experience/Events.