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The Mighty KX500 – Destry’s Championship Bike
When Kawasaki Ruled the Desert West
Destry Abbott’s Kawasaki KX500
When I first started my career as a desert racer, it was among a sea of green motorcycles. On the expert line of any race, it was hard to even find a different brand of bike. The open class was dominated by Kawasaki KX500’s, There was really nothing else that was competitive. There were a few Honda CR500’s, but their chassis design was not as well suited to the high speeds. As for XR600’s, when it really came to desert racing outside of Baja, they were heavy and lacked the suspension and power to chase the 500’s.
A few years ago I was practicing a bomb run along side Paul Krause. It was a short fast one that went right into a one line hill climb. If you didn’t get there first, it was going to be a big mess. Paul commented ” Back in the Kawi days, I loved starts like this because I just knew that no one was going to beat me to the start of that hill. With the 500 I could out pull anyone”.
For years in the desert the KX was the choice of the fast guys like; Abbott, Brian Brown, Dave Ondas, Paul Krause, David Pearson and far more. But it was also the choice of many of the slower riders too. Back when I was a fast amateur, I would start catching the slower experts by mid-point of the race. They all rode 500’s and I was amazed at how fast they could go sitting down. The KX was super plush. So lots of the “old guys” would go almost an entire desert race sitting down. It was always infuriating to pass these guys in the tight stuff, just to have them come back by me in the next valley. They would be sitting down while I was working as hard as I could on the pegs!
Of course I was riding a KDX200 for my first year in the desert and it was always a bit of a challenge. But with good suspension it was surprisingly fast. The 500 riders would lumber up to the bottom of some big hill to eye the line, then just chug their way up. I would have to hit it wide open and with a good run. So I did lots of yelling at slower riders as I could come past at the base of the climbs.
By the end of the KX500 era, Destry was the last major player still riding the big green bike. His race results suffered once he got off the 500. One season he had to ride the KLX450. It was nice trail bike, but not really suited to top level desert racing. After that, Kawasaki let him move to the KX450, but the first year or so was on the 4 speed model. His results were much better, but it was still a struggle on gearing. I was sitting next to him on the line at the Ocotillo National that year and he told me that they had actually asked Kawi if they could bring the 500 out of retirement for that race because of the high speeds.
Once the KX450 got fuel injection and 5 speeds, it was back to being one of the best bikes in the desert again. Not just for Destry, but for a whole new group of Kawasaki racers. So the days of the 70 horsepower 500’s are gone. If there was any support from Team Green, Kawasaki would still be a major player in the desert, but that appears to be gone for good also.