Best Dual Sport 2012: Kawasaki KLR650

December 27, 2012
By Motorcycle USA Staff
The KLR650 may not be the sexiest bike out there, but it’s easy
on the wallet and will take you nearly anywhere.

At a glance the Kawasaki KLR650 is about as far from sexy as a motorcycle can get. A pretty bike it ain’t. Nor is it particularly impressive in its performance output. But when the zombie apocalypse ravages the globe (and you know that it will), the KLR is the ultimate head for the hills machine.

MotoUSA got re-acquainted with the KLR this year as a long-term project bike. The big dual-sport from Kawasaki has survived gnarly off-road events, leisurely gravel/dirt road play rides and long-distance tours with plenty of dirt and freeway miles exchanged. Dual-sport riding demands versatility, and the Kawasaki epitomizes this requirement. It’s largely a bike of compromises, doing nothing particularly great, but it can does almost everything well. As I explained to a non-riding layman, who chatted with me at the fuel pump next to my heavily laden KLR asking what kind of bike it was, I simply said: “If there’s a road on a map – this bike can ride it.”

The KLR lives up to the dual-sport aesthetic. This is a bike that’s been around the world many times over, not the least by our own intrepid Dr. Frazier. The level of aftermarket support is astonishing, as we’ve discovered during our KLR 650 Project Bike. Oh, did we mention, it rings in at a modest $6299? There’s a lot of smile per dollar in the KLR, but not many bells and whistles.

In motorcycling terms, the KLR650 is a stone ax when compared with, say, the latest big-ticket bikes from the now popular Adventure-Touring class. Does it have a high-performance engine? Hardly. Our long-term project bike milks out a piddly 30 horsepower from the 650 Single. High-end, semi-active suspension components? Nope. The non-adjustable fork and bare bones shock are effective enough, but up-spec they are not! Traction control, ABS, multiple engine maps… Are you kidding? The carburetor answers to the sophistication of the KLR’s electronics.

Simplicity of design is one of the defining traits of the KLR. While the current incarnation was significantly redesigned in 2008, it essentially remains a bike developed back in the Reagan administration. A resilient mount, with easy to understand technology – most KLR riders can wrench on their own bikes. They can also enjoy the shared online encouragement and technical support of fellow loyal devotees to the KLR cult. There’s plenty of ADV/Dual-Sport tribes out there, but the KLR650 tribe is particularly strong and enthusiastic.

For dual-sport riders who simply want to trek anywhere the map shows a squiggly line and the promise of a path… the KLR650 will get you there, and is our pick for Best Dual-Sport of 2012.