KLR is King
You get what you pay for but Kawasaki's KLR650 provides one of the best entry-level adventure bikes.Photos by Trail Zone Magazine and Lance Turnley
A few months ago I was out four wheel driving with some mates checking out some trails Morton National Park just south of Nowra NSW doing a reccy on potential adventure bike loops. You see I'd just got the nod from Clubby to join the Trailzone team as dual sports editor and all things adventure bike. We had pulled up at Tianjara Falls just off the road that runs south to Nerriga and beyond to Braidwood. We were just having a snack out the back of the Jeep when four guys pulled in on adventure bikes. Keen to promote Trailzone and it's additional content I immediately struck up a conversation with them.
The first guy was on a big arse BMW GS1200 Adventurer totally accessorized and definitely looked the money. The next a BMW Funduro complete with 19 inch front wheel, then a guy on a Suzuki V-Strom who was clearly loved his bike despite the fact it looks like a road bike (I shouldn't talk ill of the V-Strom as I haven't ridden one yet) and a Kawasaki KLR 650 that was probably a couple of years old. They each sang the praises of there own bike but the guy on the Kawasaki KLR650 was the only one to say it's a perfect entry-level bike. He said he'd had a big get off his enduro bike and as a result adventure bike cruise had taken his fancy. To me the KLR looked too much like a trail bike to be taken seriously as an adventure bike so I decided to do a little research. What I found is a bunch of web sites dedicated to the KLR and like DR riders there no limit to the modifications punters out there are making to build an economical adventure bike.
It was about the same time Kawasaki released their completely restyled 2008 KLR650, which appeared to be a big, step up from the previous model. I wasn't that fussed on the road bike styled fairing but it was starting to grow on me.
What Is It?
Like I said previously you get what you pay for. Underneath the fairing, silver radiator shrouds and the large carry rack it appears to be just a big 650cc trail bike with a 23 litre tank. Its only when you look at the upgrades from the previous model can you see that Kawasaki has improved it marginally by making a heap of small improvements that when combined make a big difference while keeping it within its current price bracket.
What Does It Cost?
The Kawasaki KLR650 retails for $7,990, which is only $300 more than the Suzuki DR650SE at $7.690. For that extra $300 you get a larger capacity tank, an effective fairing and a proper carry rack. The DL650 V-Strom comes in next at $9,990 then everything after that is over ten grand and out of your budget if you're looking at a KLR. Mind you the Kawasaki KLE500 is also $7,990. Haven't figured that one out yet.
What Do You Get For Your Money?
As I mentioned before on the surface it's pretty much straightforward steel framed 650cc trail bike. It's only when you look at the improvements over the previous KLR you start to see real value as a dual sport bike. To do this Kawasaki has given the KLR a little bit more road bias by focusing on new suspension and brakes. The new 41mm forks now have less static sage resulting in better pavement handling with the front suspension travel reduced by approximately 3.5 cm. The redesigned Unitrak linkage is designed to compliment the front suspension with less sage and also has had its travel reduced by a bit over 2 cm.
One thing for sure is that the KLR pulls up well courtesy of the new 280mm petal style front brake rotor similar to the ones on Kawasaki Ninja sports bikes. The rear brake has also been upgraded and where traction was available pulled up really nicely.
One area that the KLR has it all over the Suzuki DR is its rear carry rack, which really proves its value with each piece of luggage you load up. We strapped on a Wolfman Alpha carry bag plus a camera tripod. The rack is wide and flat so once everything was secured nothing rolled over the side and the bike felt perfectly balanced throughout our testing trip.
Up front the KLR now has larger shrouds and a taller windscreen offering better wind protection. My first thoughts were that the front fairing looked like a rejected sports bike design and not very 'adventure bike like'. However I have to admit that it works effectively and for the taller rider you just need to fit a slightly taller aftermarket screen, which Kawasaki is currently sourcing. The hand guards also offer excellent wind protection but offer little protection for the lever in the event of a fall unlike Barkbusters.
Another big plus over the DR is the standard 23 litre fuel tank giving it a greater range to qualify it as a serious adventure bike. With that long fuel range Kawasaki has improved the seat design with new urethane foam and after four straight days of riding it proved its worth. Kawasaki has fitted a high capacity 36W alternator that powers higher output headlights with the extra capacity to power a GPS or any other electronic device that somebody convinces us we can't do without.
Who's Buying It?
The KLR650 is a very serious contender as an entry level option for the adventure bike enthusiast if you can't afford BMW anything or a KTM 640 Adventurer. Seriously though, with its improved pavement ability it doubles well as a suburban commuter. Really no kidding, it came in really handy when we had to shoot down the road to pick up the off road explorer flyers.
Where Did We Ride It?
Over four days we covered 1,600 kilometres on the KLR over what we estimated to be about 30% pavement and 70% dirt. Most of it was open dirt road through the Victorian High Country. The first and last part of the trip was straightforward highway cruising, until we reach the speed humps of McDonalds car park in Nowra. The tar lasted a little longer than expected with the State government spending money on roads of little use instead of hospitals but this is no place to get political.
From there it was back roads all the way and the KLR's high cruising speed almost caught us out a couple of times but its off road heritage shone through when its counts.
What's There To Like?
Out of the box the KLR650 is the most adventure ready bike at this price level. It has a 23 litre tank, an effective fairing and an excellent carry rack. The seat is very comfortable and I liked the overall ergonomics both standing and seated. We proved that you could take a dead standard KLR and get straight into long distance touring with greater refuelling intervals than the Suzuki DR650SE and the Yamaha XT660R.
What's Not To Like?
The KLR650 motor is renown for its reliability. Kawasaki claim that there's improved throttle response from a new throttle position sensor and revised ignition mapping, revised cam timing to improve high rpm performance. The redesigned cylinder head has new intake porting for greater low-end torque and quicker throttle response and improved top end power.
To me the engine felt terribly restricted as result of a small air box and an over baffled exhaust system. I can't help but think opening up the air box and an aftermarket bike will completely transform this bike. Mind you I'd like the suspension to be a little more dirt bias but that's just my preference. One thing for certain the rubber pegs have to go if your serious about adventure riding and replace them with some aftermarket enduro pegs.
The Final Word
Regardless of the KLR's lack of punch in the engine department, it can be fixed, and straight off the showroom floor it is the best value for money for anyone getting into adventure bike touring in that price range. It isn't as responsive as the DR650 but there's no need to spend money on a larger tank or luggage rack not to mention it comes with an effective fairing and that's why Kawasaki dealers cannot get enough of them.