Kawasaki KLR650 Is All The Old-School Adventure Bike You’ll Ever need

35 years Old And Still Going Strong

Some bikes are so good right out of the box that they just don’t deserve to die. Kawasaki’s KLR650 might be a dinosaur, but it’s still the ride of choice for those who want a bike as rough and ready as the trails they are riding.

Kawasaki’s KLR650 Is All The Adventure Bike You’ll Ever Need

Kawasaki KLR650 Is All The Old-School Adventure Bike You'll Ever need
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Kawasaki KLR650
Introduced in 1987, it’s still going strong today and might just now be the most rugged adventure bike out there

Kawasaki’s KLR650 has been around since 1987, certainly before the term ’adventure bike’ had been coined and yet here it still sits, available brand new off the dealer’s floor, ready to take on the world.

In the early 1980s, BMW and Yamaha had had success in the Paris-Dakar race with their R80GS and XT550 models respectively. At the time, however, no-one had a crystal ball to indicate just how important this class of bike would become. Then the KLR650 arrived and reflected the times: a big single-cylinder engine in a state-of-the-art chassis, rugged and practical and not bad looking in a chunky way.

Kawasaki KLR650 Is All The Old-School Adventure Bike You'll Ever need
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Multitude of Changes
Revised suspension, engine, brakes, electronics, bodywork and screen.

The gap between big ’traillies’ such as these and pukka off-road bikes was just as large then as it is today: the only difference is that no-one was really considering taking something as large as the BMW or the Yamaha off-road, unless you were Cyril Neveu, five times winner of the Paris-Dakar (as it was known then).

The KLR650 had no Dakar pretensions but became a favourite of adventure riders the world over for its simplicity. Today, that simplicity remains, in the face of ever-increasing complexity of its rivals in the middleweight adventure class. It is motorcycling in its most basic form, but it will still get you wherever you want to go and back home again, most likely with a big grin plastered all over your face.

Kawasaki KLR650 Is All The Old-School Adventure Bike You'll Ever need
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Revised Frame Geometry
Longer swing arm, more rake and trail give more stability on- and off-road

Never let it be said that Kawasaki changed the KLR for change’s sake. The If-It-Ain’t-Broke-Don’t-Fix-It mantra is strong in the Kawasaki factory. However, they do acknowledge that change is sometimes a good thing, even if that change does lag several decades behind everyone else!

For 2022, the KLR650 gets digital fuel injection along with new intake and exhaust camshafts to boost mid-range torque (not that a big single ever really lacked in this respect). A larger generator supplies sufficient voltage to power accessories such as GPS units and heated grips, seats, gloves, suits, etc.

Kawasaki KLR650 Is All The Old-School Adventure Bike You'll Ever need
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Top of the Range
KLR 650 Adventure gets all the bells and whistles but still comes in at less than $8,000!

The suspension has been improved, with firmer springs and this, combined with altered chassis geometry (2° more rake and 8mm more trail and a 30mm longer swing arm) gives the KLR improved stability both on-and off-road, even if it does lack the sophistication of that fitted to BMW, KTM, Triumph, Harley Davidson, etc.

But it doesn’t stop there. The ABS is now off-road tuned (which presumably means the ability to turn it off at the back wheel) and the front disc brake (still in the singular) is 20mm larger, at 300mm.

Kawasaki KLR650 Is All The Old-School Adventure Bike You'll Ever need
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LCD Dash
You even now get a fuel gauge!

The dash is now LCD (full colour TFT? Pah! Who needs that?) and incorporates a fuel gauge (steady on, Kawasaki). The bodywork is new, the mirrors are bigger, as is the screen and the headlight is now LED. Handlebars and foot pegs are rubber mounted to absorb vibration, although the rubber covered foot pegs are not exactly off-road friendly.

The engine, internally - apart from the camshafts - remains as rugged as ever, with a heavy flywheel for good traction, driving through a five-speed gearbox. A 483lb weight is not exactly flyweight for a 650cc adventure bike (a BMW R1250 GS is 549lb) but what that does give you is solidity and, hopefully, unbreakable reliability out in the wild.

But the best thing about the KLR, beyond its simplicity and ruggedness, is the price. With a BMW R1250 GS giving you very little change from $20,000, how could you possibly think you need more than the Kawasaki offers with a price tag of between $6,699 and $7,899.

The standard KLR650 is available with ABS for $6,999, or without for $6,699. The KLR650 Traveler, which includes a top case and DC socket, is available with ABS and USB ports for $7,399, or with ABS but without the USB ports for $7,299.

At the top of the tree, there’s the KLR650 Adventure, which comes with side cases, fog lamps, frame sliders, a tank pad, DC socket, and special graphics in Cypher Camo Gray. This version is available with ABS and USB ports for $7,999, with ABS but no USB ports for $7,899, or no ABS or USB ports for $7,699.

You could spend that much just equipping your BMW GS with all the goodies in the BMW or Touratech catalogue!

You can view the KLR650 plus the whole Kawasaki range here

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
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