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Kawasaki KLR: The Never-Ending Legend of the Unbreakable Bike

Kawasaki KLR 650

Believe it or not, the first production model for the Kawasaki KLR 650 left the factory in Japan in 1987. That first design remained unaltered since day one to twenty years later. Kawasaki did the first significant makeover in 2007, and after that, the KLR launched across the globe.

For example, in 2001 and 2002 Gregory Frazier did it while riding a Kawasaki KLR 650. Rapidly, it gained a massive reputation for being an inexpensive bike with a huge delivery.

In addition to the “indestructible” reputation, the huge gas tank made it the bike of choice for institutions as well as riders. For example, the US Army had some Kawasaki KLR 650 remodelled to be diesel. This funny video shows just how durable this motorbike is.

After the 2008 makeover, which was massive, the bike received some mixed reviews. The biggest criticism was about the plastic parts that made the body. They would break in any minor crash. Other than that, the Kawasaki KLR 650 kept its reputation as the best dual sports bike in the market for the money.

Kawasaki KLR 650 2018

This is the last incarnation of the Kawasaki KLR 650 until the brand releases it again. Officially this motorcycle model isn’t produced anymore. Although it is a legendary motorcycle, it went through a significant interior makeover to meet emission regulations. The issue in this case for Kawasaki was to apply the change and increase the price.

To do that was to attempt to change the reputation the motorcycle had earned for 30 years. The Kawasaki KLR 650 had to go from an inexpensive bike with no technology to compete with other models.

Brands like Suzuki, Yamaha, and BMW have been doing the high-tech, top-notch dual-sport bike for many more years. This situation obliged Kawasaki to make this decision, and hence, the Kawasaki KLR 650 2018 is the last incarnation.

Kawasaki KLR 650 Test

That being said, I was lucky enough to ride the dusk of the legend. Knowing what I know about the reputation of the Kawasaki KLR 650, I was not thrilled to see it parked.

It is a big bike (I got the 8-bit camouflage finish, which is really nice) and feels exactly how it should. Once you put one leg over the seat and take the position, the touring-bike sensation is right there.

We are not talking about a fancy bike by no means; it is an old-school design. The electric starter makes it roar and start. It is a noisy bike with a lot of vibration that you feel right away coming up to your neck from your rear through the back of the spine.

Both hands on the handlebar and I rolled the Kawasaki KLR 650 to the pavement. You feel like you´re driving a tank because the Kawasaki KLR 650 is a big bike with analogue clocks right in front of you. The torque is not what you would expect for a bike that is made for dirt.

In change, the lack of balance that you get with the dirt-ready tires is exactly what you would expect. Although it is a modern incarnation of a classic bike, it does weight as much as they did in the old times.

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First impressions

The suspension is also a dirt-bike feature and not at all city-friendly. That is the fact that you realise about the moment you break in your first traffic light. The entire bike moves forward and backwards as if it was a huge block. Although the rear shock is adjustable, it is mainly made to absorb huge hits. Also, the front fork is way too stiff for little movements.

The Kawasaki KLR 650 has no ABS technology. It is replaced by a petal-type disc that works wonderfully well, on dirt. On the city streets, the lack of ABS is an annoying fact. Again, breaking at your first traffic light, you realise that you don´t have the ABS and might slide a little.

As the bike was not responding so well in the city, and I was expecting that to happen, I took it to the road. The Kawasaki KLR 650 is not particularly torquey and is not particularly fast. Its 651cc engine is more durable than it is spicy. If you want a bike that can go on for hundreds of thousands of kilometres, this is a perfect choice.

By the time I reached the 100km/h mark, the bike had started vibrating and by 130km/h that got worse. I reached a peak of 150km/h, and the vibration was extreme for a 2018 bike.

Going off-road

The plan though wasn´t to stay on the highway but to get down for some dirt-fun. The Kawasaki KLR 650 main focus is dirt; it is mainly an off-road vehicle. So, there we went, the Kawasaki KLR 650 and me, down a dirt road with some ups and downs and small jumps. I know the route very well and, while it is a dirt road to have some fun, it is not an extreme course.

The thing about the Kawasaki KLR 650 is that it is not particularly torquey, so it feels like a big, heavy bike. This can be quite an issue when you are about to jump off a rock and need the bike to accelerate and respond.

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Suspension in the dirt road was everything that the bike needed to perform excellently. All the stiffness that made the city ride a less-than-desirable experience made the dirt road a great one. Although this motorcycle is not equipped with ABS technology, believe it or not, that is a plus. It is fun to slide a little while you are off-road riding and this bike gives you that freedom.

Less technology but more fun

Despite the fact it doesn´t have ABS technology and is fun, the brake rotors being petal-cut do a great job. They handle the bike´s weight flawlessly, and you never get that fright of losing control. Another feature that this bike doesn´t have and many on its category do, is traction control.

There is no way to turn modes or to change the way the bike responds, it is all very old-school. You get the feeling that you are driving an old motorcycle, and for people like me, who really has driven one, it is excellent.

I spent a little over two hours having fun and decided to go back to where I started.

As I got back to the place where I took off, I realised that I never had to refill the gas tank. The 6.1-gallon gas tank is huge; way bigger than any other bike in its category. That is, I would say, a great feature that Kawasaki maintained since day one. The fuel economy of the Kawasaki KLR 650 is phenomenal.

Kawasaki KLR 650 Specs

These are the specs of this legend´s last incarnation. Not much has changed since the previous major remake it went through in 2008, ten years ago. In addition to the tried-and-true specs, this model had improved suspension and braking systems.

  • Engine – 4-stroke, 1-cylinder, DOHC, water-cooled
  • Fuel System – Keihin CVK40
  • Ignition – Electric CDI
  • Transmission – 5-speed, return shift
  • Final Drive – Sealed chain
  • Front Suspension – Wheel Travel41mm telescopic fork/7.9 in
  • Rear Suspension -Wheel TravelUni-Trak® single-shock system with 5-way preload and stepless rebound damping/7.3 in
  • Front Tire – 90/90×21
  • Rear Tire – 130/80×17
  • Front Brakes – Single 280mm petal-type disc, 2-piston calliper
  • Rear Brakes – Single 240mm petal-type disc, 2-piston calliper
  • Length – 90.4 in
  • Width – 37.8 in
  • Height – 53.1 in
  • Seat Height – 35.0 in
  • Curb Weight – 432.0 lb**
  • Fuel Capacity – 6.1 gal

Kawasaki KLR 650 Price

As we stated above, the price of the Kawasaki KLR 650 along with its indestructibility is this bike´s highlight. The MSRP that Kawasaki suggests is $6,699, which is way lower than any of its competition. It is true that the price tag also reflects some of the things that the Kawasaki KLR 650 lacks.

For example, the absence of ABS and traction control for a bike this big that is ready for dirt is a big thing. Also, the lack of comfort given by a regular seat instead of a modern one is a little annoying in the open road. Again, the price tag represents where Kawasaki is aiming with the design.

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Changing the price tag and transforming a budget ride into a luxurious one is very difficult. Kawasaki is aware of the move and has decided to remove the Kawasaki KLR 650 from the market.

The money investment that was needed to bring the design and the bike to 2019 would have a tremendous impact on the price tag. If you can get your hands on one that is NOS at a Kawasaki dealer, it is a steal for the price.

Kawasaki KLR 650 Accessories

Trans Handlebar Bag – Holding up to two pounds of soft goods, this zipped bag that fit the handlebar of the Kawasaki KLR 650 is convenient. It is also compatible with other gas-tank accessories.

Tank Bag – With a rubberised finish made of a close-to-vinyl material, this tank bag is completely waterproof. It is at least two times bigger than the trans handlebar bag and fully compatible. You can carry your wallet, the bike documents and your own in one and water or other stuff like that in the other.

Saddlebag Set – The saddlebag set is not made of a hard material, but of a vinyl one that is soft but very resistant. The design fits perfectly in the rear part of your Kawasaki KLR 650 and is very convenient for long trips. Inside you can fit whatever you like with the tranquillity, it will travel safe and sound like you.

Soft Top Case – Just like the trans handlebar bag and the tank bag are fully compatible, this accessory and the saddlebag set are too. Made of the same material than the last one, the three together should be more than enough.

It is not the most technologically-advanced bike in the market or the best looking. Neither is it the best in its niche, but it really is the one that has the biggest bang for the buck ratio. It can take you to a lot of fun on and off the road for less than $7,000 and is virtually indestructible.

If you want more, there are many more options to choose from at different prices. The Kawasaki KLR 650 is the perfect budget bike for fun rides and intensive use.

Did you ride a Kawasaki KLR 650 yet? Do you agree with my impressions of it? Feel free to leave us your opinion and share this article with fellow riders, we would love to hear what you think.

Happy riding!

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