WHAT YOU GET, WHAT YOU DON’T GET
It almost goes without saying that the KLR is the best
value in the adventure bike world. But we’ll say it anyway.
The price makes it hard to ignore. Anyone who is about to
spend $20,000 on a premium machine like the BMW GS or
a KTM 1190 must hate that the KLR even exists. It makes
you come face to face with the impracticality of virtually any
other motorcycle. If it makes you feel better, the KLR has
its limitations. It’s not especially fast. Even by the standards
of 650cc singles, the KLR is a little sleepy. It goes freeway
speed comfortably, but there’s no rush of acceleration
available if you’re doing 65 and you need to make a quick
pass. It lumbers forward, but doesn’t like it.
After transitioning to a fuel-injected world, it’s interesting
to go back to a carburetor. The startup procedure takes a
little more effort. You usually have to use the handlebar-mounted choke, and then you have to remember to turn
it off. There’s a fuel petcock with a reserve position. Learn
where it is and how to reach it in a hurry. There’s no fuel
gauge, so you don’t know how much range you have until
you run the main tank dry. You’ll have a few frantic seconds to fumble the petcock into the reserve position. Fuel
mileage is also a little disappointing. The KLR gets around
50 mpg, which isn’t that much better than a 125-horsepow-
er BMW. Fuel-injected singles do much better. The next
change that Kawasaki makes to the KLR will doubtlessly be
This year Kawasaki addressed two long-standing complaints: the suspension is stiffer and the seat has been
upgraded. Both are welcome changes. The suspension
used to bottom and wallow even on the street. KLR riders
just accepted the fact that the shock and fork had to be
upgraded. With stiffer springs, the bike is now usable in
the dirt without modification. That isn’t to say it’s great, but
the main complaint of it being overly soft is no longer valid.
Same goes for the seat. It has new foam and a different
contour. Now you can get through almost a full tank before
you have comfort issues; it used to be only 60 miles or so.
The overall comfort rating is decent.
HOW GOOD IS IT?
In most ways, the KLR is better than it should be. The
fairing keeps wind off your upper body, the handguards are
huge, and its overall off-road capability is comparatively
good. It’s more agile than any of the twin-cylinder adventure bikes, but don’t get carried away. The Suzuki DR650
and the Honda XR650L are both more off-road-worthy,
especially the Honda. It is, however, more of a dirt bike
than the heavier-but-faster BMW Sertao 650.
Bottom line: if the adventure bike market were driven
by pure Vulcan logic, no one would buy anything else. In
terms of value, the KLR is a hands-down winner. Passion,
status and pride are different issues. In those categories,
the KLR’s price might be a deterrent. A 30-year-old bike
that costs less than some scooters doesn’t turn many
heads. Kawasaki offers the bike in a special edition this
year, called the New Edition. The name is probably an
internal translation that made it to the public by accident,
but it offers a little more bling for $100 more. Then you can
build up the bike with a world of high-end accessories like
bags and guards, effectively doubling the price of the bike.
The KLR can be anything you want. Just understand that
there’s still a pre-Cambrian reptile under it all. ❏
The 2014 Kawasaki KLR650 got its first changes in a long
time. The bike has stiffer suspension and a new seat, both of
which are welcome. The New Edition offers premium colors
for $100 more.
The KLR is all about value. For $6499, nothing does as much
The frame-mount fairing, 6.1 gallon fuel tank and luggage
platform are three features that set the KLR apart.