The Kawasaki KLR650 was one of the first motorcycles I rode. I was a penniless student, attempting to tour the southern coast of Turkey on the infamous dolmus buses, but soon tired of adhering to a timetable. Back then, not yet having a motorcycle license wasn’t a barrier to renting one, and I hired the cheapest bike available. The battered, anonymous machine they gave me did not inspire confidence, and I shared my concerns with an Australian biker I met on the dusty road to Pamukkale. “You'll be alright,” he said, “that’s a KLR, they’re indestructible.”
Initially released as the KLR600 in 1984 and upgraded to a 650 in 1987, it came equipped with Kawasaki’s innovative water-cooled DOHC, four-valve engine, a five-speed transmission, and a modern front disc brake. Combined with its dirt-bike geometry, the KLR650 had the power to cruise paved roads at mile-munching speeds and the ground-clearance to continue relentlessly when the paving ended. It was also affordable, proved to be reliable, and is deserving of its place in the annals of two-wheeled wanderlust.
When Kawasaki announced the return of the KLR650 for 2022, the forums erupted with breathless speculation, rife with pundits predicting such horrors as EFI, sensor-driven electronics, and the inevitable hike in price. I spent two days riding the new model through the mountains of New Mexico before loading it up with gear and riding back to Los Angeles, through Arizona, camping on the pine-strewn bluffs of the Coconino National Forest.
2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure
- Newly equipped with EFI
- Hard, waterproof luggage
- Protective engine/cowling crash bars
- Optional all-around ABS
- Auxiliary LED lights
- A USB and a standard 12V socket
- Engine: 652cc, Liquid-cooled, DOHC, Single-Cylinder
- Horsepower: 34.6 hp
- Torque: 33.5 lb-ft
- Drivetrain: O-Ring Chain
- Transmission: 5-Speed, Cable-Actuated Wet Clutch
- Affordable - the base model MSRP is $,6699
- Low running/maintenance costs
- Simple single-cylinder can be repaired in the field
- Would benefit from a 6th gear
- OEM tires do not do the KLR justice
The Same, Only Better
Another victim of tightening emissions regulations, the curtain dropped on the original KLR650 and its carburetor in 2018. Despite receiving only one major update in over four decades of production, its many fans and the motorcycle press lamented the loss of a dual-sport legend. In the current era of fly-by-wire electronic wizardry, the KLR had become something of a dinosaur but, to its legions of supporters, its simplicity and ease of repair in the field were its greatest attributes. A trait noted by the U.S. Marine Corps, which has a fleet modified to run on diesel.
Concerns that the heir to the revered KLR650 moniker would be unworthy and overly complex proved overblown. Kawasaki has hardly changed a thing. Yes, the old Keihin carburetor is gone and good riddance. Thanks to the new EFI, a reliable thump follows every push of the starter button, regardless of weather or altitude, and coupled with an advanced fuel atomizer, improves efficiency, meeting the latest regulatory requirements. Nonetheless, the KLR remains a simple machine, with no fly-by-wire, TFT screen, or IMU sensors to malfunction, and the base model is still well under $7,000.
The other major update is optional all-around ABS. It is not currently possible to deactivate it, which might put dirt-focused riders off, but I tested both ABS and non-ABS bikes, and the system’s subtle intervention settings were well suited to off-road riding. At $300, ABS is likely to be a popular addition. The front brake disc is now 20mm larger than the old model, providing improved stopping power, and the rear disc is thicker and should be less prone to fading on steep descents.
Well-Considered Tweaks Improve The KLR
Kawasaki hasn't squandered the opportunity to make some significant tweaks and the new KLR650 benefits from several enhancements which should appeal to a new generation of riders. Kawasaki has increased torsional rigidity by making the subframe an integrated member of the mainframe, and the addition of a slightly longer swingarm adds stability and a higher load rating. Further accommodated with strengthened loadbearing points, both front- and rear-wheel axle diameters have increased, now 2mm and 3mm thicker, respectively. The rear swingarm pivot has also received a 2mm upgrade promising sustained durability under increased loads.
The new model is slightly (28 pounds) heavier, and the front suspension is optimized to accommodate the change. A new rear monoshock is now adjustable for preload and rebound, a welcome addition to a bike already popular among globetrotters. I loaded over 70 pounds of camping gear and kit on the KLR650 Adventure before riding back to Los Angeles. With a click of preload and a full turn of rebound, the resulting handling was comfortingly similar in feel to the unloaded bike.
The newly adjustable windshield is two inches taller. The standard low position provides reasonable wind deflection and can be adjusted to reduce fatigue and cold air, although you’ll need your Allen wrench to add the additional inch. It is still a sport-sized windshield and offered little respite from a drenching thunderstorm I encountered in the Gila National Forest riding out of New Mexico.
A new, sealed, low-maintenance battery is smaller and lighter, complementing the new 26-amp generator for powering USB and 12-Volt charging ports and a new line of accessories, mountable on a handy half-inch bar fitted above the dash. The updated, backlit LCD is easy to read and displays such basics as a digital speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, and finally, the KLR has a proper fuel gauge.
All-around LED lights are standard, and the Adventure model I tested comes equipped with superb LED auxiliary lights. Crash bars for the cowling and engine also adorn the Adventure model, adding to its off-road credentials. Although the KLR's new seat was redesigned to improve comfort, on the 450-mile ride home from Arizona, my butt would have liked more cushioning.
An all-new cowling and more aggressive styling subtly improve the new KLR’s overall appearance. The base model is now joined by a Traveler and Adventure model. Base and Traveler are available in Pearl Lava Orange or Pearl Sand Khaki color schemes, and the Adventure comes in Cypher Camo Gray.
Slow And Steady Wins The Race
The 2022 KLR650 is still a single-cylinder middleweight, tuned for torque. On the highway, comfortable cruising is limited to around 70 mph, but by the time I reached 60, my left foot was searching for a sixth gear. Kawasaki has made an effective job of balancing the old thumper, and the lack of engine vibration is surprising for a single. On the back roads, I get a chance to throw the KLR into some corners. At slower speeds, the 21-inch front wheel and tall stance result in a bit of flop, but front-end run-out is minimal, and mid-corner acceleration feels composed.
Off-road, the KLR’s supple suspension comes into its own, and riding the trails is fantastic fun. Dunlop K750s are still the standard tires, a road/trail compromise with an emphasis on compromise, but copious low-end torque enables the KLR to maintain traction on loose terrain and is almost impossible to stall; a slip of the clutch will keep the single thumping.
The seated ergonomics are excellent, with a neutral body position and comfortable bend at the knee and arm. Standing up, I find the peg position is a little too far forward, bringing the handlebar too close to my body. It’s worth noting; I am six feet, two inches tall, and bar risers may have solved this issue. That aside, the KLR is a breeze to ride on dirt tracks, and even with the old Dunlops fitted, it was only the deeper sandy sections that forced me to slow down to crawling speeds.
A Budget Globetrotter Free Of Gimmicks
The dual-sport market is awash with powerful, multi-cylinder, technically-advanced motorcycles, many of them supremely capable, stunningly beautiful, and stars on our wish lists, but even the middleweight examples are all well over $10,000. Whether your destination is the corner-shop or the very ends-of-the-earth, there is a strong argument in favor of taking the simplest thing that will get you there and back, and as much as we love bikes like the BMW R 1200 GS, for the same price you can buy a KLR, all the gear you need, and still have money left over for your trip. The new Kawasaki KLR650 is not perfect, and that’s just fine with us.
The 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 is available from dealers now. The Adventure model we tested (non ABS) has an MSRP of $7,699.