AS THE EARTH COOLED
Kawasaki first came out with the bike in the mid 1980s as
a 600. It was high-tech for the day because of the liquid-cooled, DOHC motor, but it didn’t yet have the electric
starter, the fairing, or the trademark mammoth gas tank. And,
it was universally panned by enthusiast magazines (we plead
guilty) because it wasn’t as dirt-worthy as the Honda,
Yamaha or Suzuki dual-sport 600s of the day. Then it started
taking its own direction. The fuel capacity was increased, a
fork-mounted fairing was installed, and it received the gift of
electricity in 1987. Back then, most 650s and 600s were
kickstart only, and the starter really set the Kawasaki apart.
Then it went on one of the longest production runs in history.
The bike was fundamentally unchanged for 20 years. It never
was a huge seller, but it became a cult bike for commuters
Kawasaki knew it needed an update in 2008 and saw
the developing adventure bike segment as an opportunity.
At this point, the product planners could have really blown
it. They could have reengineered the bike to the point
where it lost its appeal— but they didn’t. The bike got a
frame-mount fairing, new styling and some mechanical
updates, but it remained essentially the same. Most important, it remained affordable. Then, the KLR came into a
new age, selling more than ever.
RIDING THE KLR
Let’s be clear; the Kawasaki is no race bike. It never was.
Despite having what seems to be a very modern motor, it
makes only acceptable power. The torque is good, but it
doesn’t rev very high. By comparison, a Suzuki DR650S is a
little more powerful everywhere. The Husqvarna and BMW
650 singles are a lot more powerful everywhere. The KTM
690 is on another planet. The only bike in this class that
makes the Kawasaki look fast is the aged Honda XR650L.
The Kawasaki has manners, though. The motor doesn’t
vibrate much, and the throttle response is sharp. There’s a
Keihin CV carburetor somewhere under all that bodywork.
We know, because there’s a handlebar-mount choke lever
connected to it. The KLR likes having a carb. You can ride
it from sea-level into the mountains and it hardly notices. In
the distant future, the bike will probably become fuel
injected, but there’s no hurry. The only real advantage will
probably be an increase in gas mileage. The Kawasaki gets
about 50 mpg on the road, whereas fuel-injected 650s
generally get around 60 mpg.
We still insist on taking the KLR into the dirt whenever we
get the chance. It’s okay if you have the right attitude. First,
you have to get your head around the size of the bike. It’s
physically larger than more street-oriented bikes like the
Honda NC700X. Most of that is because of the huge gas
tank and body work. It seems like the bike is as big as a full-size BMW GS or KTM Adventure, but in truth the KLR is
lighter than any of the big boys. It’s right around 400 pounds
without fuel. With a 6.1-gallon tank, that’s almost 40 pounds
of gas, and you can certainly feel the difference.
The suspension and ground clearance are what limit the
bike’s off-road capabilities more than the weight. The KLR
The KLR motor gained electric start
over 20 years ago and hasn’t changed
In 2008, Kawasaki gave the KLR a
frame-mount fairing that gave the bike
a second childhood.
Riding dirt with the KLR isn’t difficult, but you have to accept the fact that you
won’t win any national enduros. The most limiting factors are suspension and