Launch control is a pretty awesome thing. The idea behind it is that at the start of a race, you whack the throttle wide open, dump the clutch, and the computer makes all the hard calls for you. This tech is the reason MotoGP and F1 starts are so drama free and smooth. All the guy behind the controls has to do is keep it pinned wide open and it'll go as fast as the tires will allow. Kawasaki's launch control on the new KX450F is special though. In all the wrong ways..
"2012 Kawasaki KX450F riders can easily activate the new Launch Control mode – a key feature never before seen on a production motocross bike. The push-button system is activated by a touch of the switch on the left handlebar, and optimizes off-the-line acceleration by altering ignition timing in first and second gears to help maximize grip and reduce the chance of excessive wheelspin. Shifting into third gear automatically deactivates Launch Control Mode and returns the ignition timing to the parameters of the installed ignition map. The Launch Control’s effectiveness is further enhanced by a chassis designed to maximize suspension performance and rear wheel traction."
The thing they're calling "launch control" is literally retarded. It's an ignition retard switch that activates a different map for the first two gears and automatically shuts off once you click into third. That's it. No traction control, no fancy computer magic, just an ignition retard that cuts power in the first two gears.
The funny thing is that a lot of MX racers use another, much more effective and race-legal form of launch control. The device consists of a fork clamp with cut-out that catches a button that's attached to the fork guard. It works like this: Roll up to the start line, compress the forks and push the button into place. The forks are now held in their compressed position and the bike will be less likely to wheelie. Simple, easy and mechanical.
Kawasaki could, if they wanted to, build a real launch control system for use in MX bikes. The tech is all there and has been for years. The problem is with the rule books. In the same way that NASCAR stifles technological advancement, the AMA prohibits the use of traction control. Computer controlled launch control is really just a highly refined traction control system that incorporates wheelie control, allows for some wheel-spin and juggles a whole bunch of variables while deciding how to best achieve maximum acceleration. A system like this would probably add two pounds of weight, and not really cost all that much to adapt to MX. Traction control on an MX bike would have the same effect as BMW's S1000RR system--everyone but the fastest pro-racers are both faster and safer. The one percent of guys who can really ride would shut the system off or modify it to suit their needs.
So that's why this isn't real launch control. It's just not allowed. Still, I can't help but wonder why didn't Kawasaki just bolt-on an effective, cheap, low-tech device like motion pro sells at the factory instead of a gimmicky power-killing switch 90 percent of riders will never use.