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2008 Kawasaki KLR650 Comparison

Monday, September 8, 2008
2008 Kawasaki KLR650

The Defending Heavyweight

Kawasaki s pavement prowess with the KLR is so authorative it s hard to get past. It is surprisingly nimble for such an awkward looking package.
Kawasaki's pavement prowess with the KLR is so authorative it's hard to get past. It is surprisingly nimble for such an awkward looking package.

This was our third go-around with the big Kawi, and once again it left us impressed. With every passing mile this bike continues to hint that it might really be more than a dual-sport machine. Knowing when you have a good thing going is sometimes hard to do, but Kawasaki doesn't have that problem when it comes to the KLR650. The bike's popularity over the past two-plus decades has been astounding, and the changes for the heavily revised 2008 model have only bolstered the machine's status with the dual-sport crowd - and others.

Kawi admittedly is pushing the bike in a more touring-friendly direction, but there is now so much road-going capability mixed with just enough off-road capacity that this bike is really more of a mini adventure-touring machine. The Suzuki was vital in pointing this out because it proves that even the 650 class of DS bikes still offers a heavy dose of dirt performance.

Sure, the KLR is porky, but it's amazing how slimming forward motion can be. The 650 is like that fat kid in school who somehow kicked ass at sports and was way more athletic than he should have been. They're both freaks of nature, but we've talked before about the bike's low center of gravity, even with the enormous 6.1-gallon tank, which lends itself to seamless side-to-side transitions and deceptively quick handling. It's entirely possible, and ridiculously fun, to find the edges of the stock Dunlops.

With so much going for it  why can t Kawasaki put a better instrument panel on the KLR
With so much going for it, why can't Kawasaki put a better instrument panel on the KLR?
Attempting some high-speed weaves made it very apparent how effortless it is to pick the bike up from a lean and toss it back the other way. The Suzuki, on the other hand, literally takes muscle to pull upright again. At lower speeds, the lighter weight and slimmer chassis of the DR give it more of an advantage, but the KLR rules the high-speed maneuverability and stability.

Neither machine has much in the way of tunability with the suspension. Both fork sets offer no adjustment but the shocks will give riders a bit to play with. The Kawi has five different preload and four rebound settings. Riders can fiddle with compression damping on the DR's piggyback shock. The Kawi overwhelms its sticks with ease when the terrain or rider get's aggressive off-road. But, it is extremely forgiving on the pavement. Every test rider, at some point or another, compared it to a Cadillac; it's that cushy.

It's clear that the Kawi is built to go longer distances and you can't do that if you're just poking along, so the KLR is also built to be comfortable at speed. It can sustain freeway speeds for long periods with a soft seat and suspension, bulky fairing and usable windscreen.

"Riding at highway speeds on the DR made me long for the smooth handling and stable feel of the KLR," says tester Greg Anderson. "The short but effective windscreen and fairings of the KLR go a long way to increase protection from wind buffeting and the overall riding experience when traveling over 55 mph."

We didn t let the ghosts along Bear Camp Road or this painfully obvious sign deter us. It was just the right type of country for these bikes.
We didn't let the ghosts along Bear Camp Road or this painfully obvious sign deter us. It was just the right type of country for these bikes.
Engine performance is also friendly in this regard with a double balancer and fluid delivery. The KLR excels at providing smooth, usable power with its 651cc Single. Changes to cam timing, intake porting, a new piston and rings and exhaust system all contribute to its performance and the 40mm Keihin carb controls fuel delivery much better than the DR's similar sized Mikuni. You have to be a wheelie master to get the front end up, and the thought alone of trying to find the balance point with such bulk is terrifying, but it isn't really necessary for the bike's intended use. We'll take the Suzuki into off-road situations where elevating the front wheel is needed, but aren't so bold with the Kawi. We're happy listening to the barely discernable exhaust putter as we cruise gravel roads in comfort.

"Neither of the two bikes is in danger of winning a beauty pageant, but looks aren't as important as function for our two contestants," commented one tester.

He definitely speaks the truth. The general consensus among our group is that the KLR makes the Suzuki look like a prom queen. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and honestly, the Kawasaki grows on you after getting to know it a bit. But it still isn't the companion you can't wait to introduce to family and friends.

Kawasaki really has a bike that offers a lot with the KLR. What we can't figure out is why the instrumentation is so barren. A speedometer, odometer, tach, trip meter and water temp gauge and some warning lights cover the spectrum. It's easy to lose track of how long it's been since your last refill of the cavernous gas tank. We'd like to see, at minimum, the addition of a fuel gauge and a clock. Some upgrades in the rider interface would be worth the boost in cost. If you think the Kawi is lacking, the DR is even worse! Even though the DR is much more minimalist in design than the KLR, a speedo, odometer, trip meter and lights for neutral, turn signals and high/low beam is one of the puniest info packs we've encountered. Here's an area where both OEMs could take a few notes from BMW.
Some riders complain about the tires for off-road use  but it isn t the rubber that s holding the KLR back. The Dunlops are actually a good match for what the rest of the bike can handle in the dirt.
Some riders complain about the tires for off-road use, but it isn't the rubber that's holding the KLR back. The Dunlops are actually a good match for what the rest of the bike can handle in the dirt.

This bike is really built to go around the world. Sure, we'd all like to hop on a loaded BMW R1200GS and set out, but for most that just isn't a reality. The KLR has a lot of things going for it in terms of becoming a globetrotting platform. It's affordable, common and relatively interchangeable with models from the last 20 years, so parts are readily available. It has a huge support network, plus it's so ugly it probably won't get stolen. Seriously though, the bike's range and its ability to give the rider a larger scope as well make this bike possibly one of the best adventure-touring bikes available. It can't be classified with the more powerful multi-cylinder machines of the genre, and so is something of a loner in that respect. But who says a big bike is really necessary?

Better At:
Street riding
Storage/Utility
Visibility

Worse At:
Hooliganism
Weight
Versatile suspension

Loose Change:
Kickstand is terrible
Oil sight window for quick inspection
Engine guard

Challenge Accepted

Since we've had plenty of experience with the new KLR and its classmates this year, this was a good opportunity to put a fresh set of cheeks in the saddle. What we needed was someone who could appreciate both street and off-road riding, but never blends the two. Greg Anderson is all about sporty riding and his garage shelters a Yamaha R6 and Honda CRF450R, arguably the best of their individual worlds. We told him to leave his leathers at home, packed an extra set of dual-sport gear and made him ride in our dust for a couple days. As our DS newbie, Anderson has a perspective on this funky form of motorcycling which is probably similar to that of many people out there.

The seating position is a little more cramped on the Suzuki. The Kawasaki has a very comfortable layout for sit-down riding.
The seating position is a little more cramped on the Suzuki. The Kawasaki has a very comfortable layout for sit-down riding.
"Dual-sport bikes have never filled me with a sense of awe and wonder, but after my recent experiences during the China Hat ride in Central Oregon I now understand their purpose, and the passion surrounding the sport itself," he admits. "When looking at both the KLR650 and DR650 it's hard not to think of the correlation these two bikes have with the late Ranchero and El Camino. The vehicles were not really cars and not altogether trucks, as are our two dual-sports are not really road bikes and not truly off-road machines. What we do have are two bikes that fill a much needed and unique niche of the motorcycling market."

Out of four testers, three confirmed that the Kawasaki was a little better overall, but each did so with a slight grimace as we forced them to decide. The DR certainly stretched a few heart strings in its short time with us. Our newer riders in particular found the DR more appealing, mostly due to a lighter weight and ease of maneuverability in most situations. It scored major points as the best 650 DS we've ridden in the dirt, with the exception of BMW's whiz-bang Xchallenge.

Here's how it boils down. The KLR requires a slower pace off-road, but can get to the same places as the Suzuki. The same can't be said for the DR when it hits the pavement. Riders get too sore and tired or simply run out of gas. If it weren't for a few shortcomings like the uncomfortable seat, short fuel range and lack of important instrumentation it might have knocked off our perennial dual-sport Megatron. Faulting a bike for having too much fuel is hard to do, so all considered, the Kawasaki has managed to hoist its big self to the top one more time.


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Comments
João Paulo Lourenço -rider across de forest  January 8, 2011 11:53 AM
I Realy like klr 650 because is very fiable and very esasy to ride.
i live near forests and i like to ride trough de streets and verify the away how the engine starts is very good to ear..
i did´nt made a big treep yet but some day i want to make it..until there bye..
Tony Oz -Oz  October 16, 2010 06:24 AM
I've owned both but for riding long roads and bush (outback Australia) the DR with a long range tank, corbin seat (or better), and a 3rd party windshield is a better bike. The KLR is too bulky, that said, its a great bike too, and better than the Suzy in Stock format, but with the extras I've mentioned the DR is the best all purpose bike available, including BMWs, KTMs etc, the dr is unstopable and can be thrashed unmercifully without breaking.
Chris -Blue Ridge rider  September 23, 2010 01:31 AM
Having recently decided to give up my Cruiser due to tiring of riding it on a gravel road I aquired a thumper.I bought an old XT 350 and after changing the gearing am enjoying it on the road.Going from 1100 cc's to 350 is alittle bit of a shock but being able to negotiate rough roads and gravel makes it worth it.My wife loves to ride also so I can see either a KLR or DR coming to my place soon.I am leaning toward the KLR because I am not wanting a true trail bike but rather a fire road capable,dirt road tourer.The KlR comes with so much of the stuff that you want...racks,big tank and hopefully a good seat.I have tried one out although it was just a 10 mile ride on pavement and it seems to have a suv feel to it.If the DR had a few more amenities I would possibly be interested in it.
I keep wtching for the perfect used machine to appear with all the bells and whistles and at the right price...who knows?Thanks for sharing all the info here.It is great to hear the pros and cons before you buy.Happy trails!
JoeH -Rider,owner  September 18, 2010 08:19 PM
I purchased a 2009 KLR and have 1500mi on it. Have had Hondas and Harleys and all are good. The KLR has good power range, comfortable for it's stature, 54-56 mpg, and hopefully will be as dependable as it's reputation. Whats not to love!
papad61 -05 DR650  September 12, 2010 07:53 PM
Seems the XL is geared more for off-road and the KLR is on-road. I wanted a motorcycle that was better for both.?
dirtbikeDBA -owner, rider  July 12, 2010 11:00 AM
I bought a 2009 KLR 650 last April and have put 1300 miles on it with most of the roads being gravel. I started to notice a pool of oil under the bike and realized that the oil seal behind the water pump blew. I took the bike back to the dealer and they replaced the seals. 40 minute ride back home and now the oil leak is even worse. Either the tech horked up the seal or I've got a bad balancer shaft. Haven't taken the bike offroad at all - got a KLX 450R for that. Might try some ATV trails with it though.
murray -new owner, rider  April 2, 2010 05:31 PM
I just purchased a 2009 Klr 650 and I find it to be the most comfortable bike i ever owned. I am 6'6 260lbs and Ive always had honda cbrs 600-1100. I will never go back know I could go on and off road. It was a little hard going from a 1100 back to a 650 as far as speed wise. My only wish is if kawaski can make a KLR in a 1100cc that would be wonderful.
jim -owner klr 2009  March 6, 2010 11:10 AM
I love it needs gas gauge
ryde4ever -I enjoy watching my buddy on his KLR...in my rear view mirror  February 5, 2010 06:40 PM
They are both great bikes. But the DR is a better performer on and off the road. New seat, DynoJet kit, and a small wind shield and that KLR can't touch you in the twisties or the dirt. They are both good bikes but I prefer the performance over the comfort.
Jody -Worst ever  October 29, 2009 09:47 AM
I just bought a 2009 klr 650, and it sucks. I can't even ride down a dryclay road and my1700 roadstar handle better in sand. I guess I'm just screwed out of five grand. Worst handling bike i'v ever owned.
John S -KLR 650  October 25, 2009 08:43 AM
It was love at first sight with my '99 KLR 650 and it rode like a dream. I bought her on the spot!
bville-owner -klr650  August 11, 2009 04:09 PM
I love it,93klr650,he still stong brough him used agood while ago dont remember how long...iam tall so i like the heigh...i like caddy's. 2 me klr's r the caddy's of the daul sports...DC
jas -dr seat tank  July 15, 2009 07:07 PM
just put road legal nobblys bigger tank and long distance seat on the dr which r all avalable and make the dr look mean.
Sport -What about reliability?  June 28, 2009 08:35 AM
The one thing I noticed missing in these test is the reliability factor. That is a big thing with me in buying a bike!
red bojangles -south jersey slaw  June 13, 2009 06:54 PM
question. i have 88 klr 650. great bike all around. my only problem is that it sits a little too high 4 comfort. can i adjust the suspension that is currently on it ? any feedback would be great !
klr guy -klr bike  June 10, 2009 09:41 PM
i have owned a 06 dr650 and now own a 08 klr650, the dr was a much more mimimalist bike and very uncomfortable on long rides,but it was the better bike on the dirt roads, and damn near bullet proof, my klr is a better long ride bike, but its weight does make it give up some in the off road dept, also reliability has been an issue with the klr im not as confident taking it far offroad as i was with the dr, the klr has broken several times now, im hoping it was just teething problems, time will tell i guess
jadensbud -650s  May 14, 2009 11:06 PM
Well, I'll be test riding all three this weekend! The XR, KLR and the DR 650s respectively. That's really the only way I'm really gonna know. Not that all these reviews aren't interesting and informative. My gut says I will probably end up getting the Kawi but the DR sounds really nice as well. Guess I'll find out soon enough. Just wish I could have each one for a day and take them off road as well.
BEHARKI -Dual Sporting Reality  May 2, 2009 11:33 PM
My experiences in this arena are fairly extensive; after 54 years of such, guess one could say that with qualification! I've just about owned everything that's out there, from the true dirt bikes to the dual-sports to the over-the road bikes. Please, I'm not bragging, just illustrating how time allows for such a collection! The best handling, riding, and hardest starting, in the dirt category was my Honda XR600 (you all know that one; the Baja Champ). The worst and most unpredictable in between the dirt and the street was my BMW R1150GS. The horizontal boxer style engine, along with the typically German over-engineered chassis (para-this, tele-that) while a great performer, was so damned top-heavy, that I suffered the greatest indignity of my adult life when, while gently back-pedalling out of a mini-mart parking space the thing flopped over on its righthand protruding cylinder (luckily I had an engine guard), going down so fast and so completely that I didn't even get a chance to ask anyone to help, before the nice-looking woman in the F-150 next to me grabbed the handlebar and hoisted the bike enough to get out from under it- Gad, was I embarrased. I'm 6'1' and 215 lbs. but that bike could and did several more times with virtualy no warning, exceed my sense of balance and strength. The most comforting road bike, probably was the Harley Twin Cam 88 cruiser- all 650 lbs. of it, easily kept upright by a seat height low enough to plant your feet solidly on the ground if need be. So after these expriences what am I on now? A '09 Kawi KLR 650. Not the best in every category, but for just all around dirt, street or open road, a mighty satisfying ride.
john ryals -dr650vsklr650  May 1, 2009 05:19 AM
i came close to getting a klr in winter of 08,i went to a dealer and had help to lay it almost on its side to check $ ammount for repair.the dealer had suz and kaw in stock.i test drove both in fall of 07,i chose the dr650 and love it to death,i put a set of challenger tires on for street only ridding.bike is a blast,keeps my off my fz1.i have a drz400 for dirt,.
Hadi Amani -Re-comfort on long trips  April 11, 2009 01:54 AM
It is fairly comfortable, I must say I used to ride a KTM 450 enduro, Both on and off road. That was a nightmare. I couldn't ride it for more than 30 minutes. My ass would hurt like hell! KLR650 is a huge difference. Still my butt hurts after about an hour of riding, But I am heavy and I assume it is because of my weight. but overall I suppose for someone with maximum 180-200 pounds it should be ok for at least 3 hours. I am a new and novice rider, to my experience I believe you can get used to any fairly normal bike after sometimes. 2008 KLR650
Arnold -KLR  April 8, 2009 07:28 PM
In 1993 I rode a KLR from Capetown to Haifa,Israel-about half of the time on dirt roads and trails. With a few modifications this bike can traverse very difficult terrain with relative ease. It can carry parts, water, fuel(up to 18gallons),food,tires,camping gear,etc. required to cross some stretches of the Sahara. Maybe this bike would be suitable for some.
Erbie Gentry -2004 KLR 650  March 30, 2009 08:40 AM
Like my KLR a lot, the 6 gallons of gas comes in handy when lost on fire roads in the Ozark Mountains around Hot Springs. That was the #1 reason for buying it, second reason was it was the first dual sport 650 that came up for sell between the three dealers in Hot Springs, Honda, Suzuki, and Kaw. All that blather being said, why does no one mention the gear tensioner in the engine that continually breaks. The KLR forum was screaming about it when I bought mine, everyone was changing it, and still are from my understanding.So I checked mine, tensioner good, tensioner spring broke, replaced both, less than 5000 miles, had I released the pressure for the automatic adjustment the chain would have really been lose, and Kawasaki ignores the problem that is YEARS AND YEARS OLD. You motorcycle media people are the only ones that can tighten the screws enough to change THEIR MENTALITY, and should warn your readers. Look up Doohickey on the forums if you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Erbie Gentry -2004 KLR 650  March 30, 2009 08:40 AM
Like my KLR a lot, the 6 gallons of gas comes in handy when lost on fire roads in the Ozark Mountains around Hot Springs. That was the #1 reason for buying it, second reason was it was the first dual sport 650 that came up for sell between the three dealers in Hot Springs, Honda, Suzuki, and Kaw. All that blather being said, why does no one mention the gear tensioner in the engine that continually breaks. The KLR forum was screaming about it when I bought mine, everyone was changing it, and still are from my understanding.So I checked mine, tensioner good, tensioner spring broke, replaced both, less than 5000 miles, had I released the pressure for the automatic adjustment the chain would have really been lose, and Kawasaki ignores the problem that is YEARS AND YEARS OLD. You motorcycle media people are the only ones that can tighten the screws enough to change THEIR MENTALITY, and should warn your readers. Look up Doohickey on the forums if you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Larry -2008 KLr 650  March 19, 2009 06:37 PM
I purchased a 2008 klr 650 back in April 08 to combat high gas prices and to get back into the riding game. I commute back and forth to work and go adventure riding on my days off with another coworker who has a 2001 klr 650. We ride through some pretty tough terrain early in the day and head out for a 50 to 60 mile trip to a pre determined place to eat. In my opinion it is the most capable do anything bike on the market.
Mark -08 klr 650  March 14, 2009 10:03 PM
I bought my klr in January. I took it to Hungry Valley off-road park here in Southern California. Its a little to big and heavy for off-roading. You definitely wouldn't want to lay it down. It seems it would cause a lot of damage and it would be heavy to pick up. hat said, I had a great time with it off-road. It handled great and predictably. Its a lot of fun in town on the streets where it belongs. If you want a bike for off-road buy a 250 dual purpose or just get a dirt bike.
dan -DR650 does it all  February 18, 2009 05:13 PM
I've been riding dirt and street since 1972 and I prefer dual sport motorcycles. My '06 DR650 is the most versatile, fun, do-it-all bike of the dozens of bikes I have owned. One week after I bought it, I put my '05 VStrom 650 up for sale because the DR was much better off road and still was tremendous fun on the street. It is light, maneuverable, has plenty of power, good brakes and corners great in the twisties. I've ridden my DR on almost every surface imaginable, including rocky single track goat trails, forest service dirt/gravel roads, deep water crossings and I have toured the Blue Ridge Parkway with my DR twice. The only modification that I found necessary to make it comfortable on longer rides was a new seat - I ordered a Corbin for it the 2nd day I owned the bike. With that one change, the DR does everything well and is more comfortable on the road than my VStrom. My riding buddy has a KLR and a XR650L - the KLR would be my choice over the DR only if I was doing long distance, highway touring - in all other categories, the DR has the KLR beat. The XR650 is a better dirt bike but the DR is much better on the street than the Honda.
Ldiddy -Love the DR  February 18, 2009 03:06 AM
I rode both bikes before I bought the DR. I get all of the comfort issues, but with a few small and relatively inexpensive changes (seat, risers, larger tank), you get similar ride comfort on longer trips without giving up the dirt performance. The KLR takes the cake looks wise, but I'm not buying a bike for looks.
maxplay777 -DR650SE  February 17, 2009 05:24 PM
I chose the DR over the KLR in '07 because it reminded me of the dual-sport bikes I learned to ride on in the 80's and it's lower seat height. I recently had the dealership lower the seat height and wish I'd had them do it when I bought it. What a difference! This is a big selling point for the Suzuki if you're vertically challenged like me.
Dana Mark Quinn -DR650 V KLR650  February 10, 2009 04:56 PM
You are right about the klr beinging the heavyweight of the two,but having owned a 1994 and now a 2009 klr,I just cant agree to most of what you say.I have two good friends who ride dr's well one now,the other has purchased a new 09 klr.there is a very good reason why the klr enjoys as much after market support as it does.Its better in thee canyons,fireroads,singletrack and on and on.This is of course my opinion,but I believe sales figures and the number of klr clubs world wide bear this out.Its just a better dual sport and been for over twenty years now.
Nor Cal KLR -400 or 650?  February 4, 2009 03:17 PM
Let me start by saying I like to ride dirt more than street. That said, I own both; an 06 KLR650 and an 07 DRZ400. My KLR is a great commuter bike that I can take around town, down the highway and up a fire road/jeep trail. It's too heavy and bulky for any single-track action. I like to use my DRZ when I'm too lazy to load my dirt bikes in the truck. I can ride it from my house to an OHV area, hit some fairly aggressive trails and ride home - usually not more that 70 miles round trip. This is where I draw the line between the two: Comfort on an extended ride. The KLR is a grossly overweight dirt bike meant for more street than dirt. She's big and plush. The DRZ is heavy dirt bike that was made street legal - comfort and highway travel are not really part of its design. The factory setup on both bikes is slanted towards street riding, but adding/changing tires, bark busters and footpegs is good step in the adventure direction. Had it not been for KTM (and a few other companies) kicking their dual-sport lines into overdrive, both bikes would continue to battle for domination of the DS world. Just my two cents on the subject.
Victor -KLR  January 26, 2009 09:54 AM
I just bought a 2004 KLR 650, I LOVE IT! It is the best all around bike I have ever owned! If you want one bike, it is the bike to have. I thought about a new one, however, I do not like all the extra plastic. If you take all that plastic off- its fine, probly better than the old model. Better brakes, front fork, and rear end. But, I can't get past all that plastic crap. If your only doing streets, its fine, probly the way to go. I just love the old design, its so perfect- probly why it went from 87-2007.
China Lake sailor -2008 KLR 650  January 25, 2009 11:10 AM
Got a 08 KLR 650 last June 08 due to gas prices in California, drove it everyday 146 miles one way, from Ridgecrest to Victorville along HWY 395, everything OEM. Now I got almost 8K on it have no problem. It's nearly 100 mph capability has enough to pull against those crazy truck drivers, my only complain though was the lack of gas gauge. I have to use the reset mileage trip meter to make sure Im not hitching for a ride to the next gas station.
Antoine -400 or 650?  January 24, 2009 02:10 PM
I'm considering the purchase of a DS single. As I have two other bikes for the road I'm really looking for something that will entertain around town and up the fire roads, and with enough power to loft the front end. I wish you had compared the Suzuki 400 and 650 in this regard.
Ken -Long trips  December 8, 2008 07:06 PM
Yes Doug, the foot position and seating surface are a big issue on long trips. A wide seat, and pegs more or less under your torso, allow you to move around a lot while riding, to avoid iron butt. But you can take anything cross-country. You just have to have the right attitude about it. Some of my best multi-day rides have been on unusual small bikes. Did a long one on an old Yamaha SRX-6 that was possibly one of the most enjoyable vacations of my life. It isn't about making time on a ride like that. It's enjoying the time.
doug -comfort on long trips  November 21, 2008 02:02 PM
While so many use the kl650 for long trips, I'm wondering how comfortable is it. I have a vulcan 750 which i gotten use to and can drive for 10-12 hours a day. Even though many would say they couldn't take that small a bike cross country. I have also heard bikes are more comfortable if your legs are under you as opposed to in front or behind you, especially on long trips, Any comments would be appreciated.....
jkhuddle -owner, rider  November 3, 2008 05:32 PM
I chose the KLR over the Suzuki and have not regretted it yet. It does everything and more than what I ask of it. I did put Avon Distenza tires on it and made a completely different ride out of it. I love the Avon tires for both off and on road.