Kawasaki’s KLR650 has been a longstanding icon of world travel. Finally revamped in 2008 after decades of stagnant development, the KLR is again getting long in the tooth. It’s been four years without significant upgrades, but if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the KLR650 it’s that motorcycles don’t need to be reinvented every year. Kawasaki has a tremendous on/off-road platform and once again it laughs in the face of newer, shinier motorcycles.
The dual overhead cam Single is easily the most underpowered engine in this shootout. However, the soft power makes a perfect companion to the chassis and suspension. Kawasaki has managed to build a bulbous-looking motorcycle that handles as if it weighs half of its actual 434 pounds. A fuel capacity of 6.1 gallons is held high on the chassis but the Kawasaki initiates turns and changes directions by simply thinking about it. The positive handling traits carry over equally well off-road where the KLR feels more of a big dual sport than cumbersome adventure touring mount. The suspension is capable of absorbing a wide variety of off-road terrain. Obviously it’s not a racer, but potholes, embedded rocks, debris and washboard chatter are all handled best by the Kawasaki’s 41mm fork and Uni-Track shock. The chassis stays planted on fast fire roads and doesn’t deflect on surprise impacts, even when bottomed out.
The seat height is very manageable with all of our testers easily reaching the ground. Also, the stock seat is one of the best we’ve encountered and ergonomics suit a range of rider sizes and riding positions. What the KLR lacks is amenities. The rock-bottom $6299 pricetag leaves little room for creature comforts. The information display is rudimentary and the controls are basic. However, function over form is the KLR’s mantra with a big skidplate and handguards made of plastic, both providing extensive protection for the rider and machine. Kawasaki is the only bike in this comparison that does not have antilock brakes. Considering its willingness for off-road exploration, it’s not something we ever wanted for the KLR.
Despite it’s fairly barebones approach, the Kawi has enough in just the right places to make it an effective adventure touring bike. Aside from a few minor issues, it’s easy to see why Kawasaki chooses to leave the KLR just the way it is.